Should You Give Away Free Books?

As many of you know, I write romance. My next book (not self-published) came out the end of November. As a romance writer, I’m a member of several online writing communities.
Periodically, there are discussions about the pros and cons of giving away books as part of the marketing effort. Does making a book free continue the book-devaluation process started by online booksellers like Amazon and the flood of indie publishers in the last few years? Or it is a smart technique to pump the sales of your other books?

For fiction writers, there is a general consensus that giving away the first book in a series, or creating a short prequel to the series for that purpose. Or to promote a similar book that points to other similar works. If you can do that AND collect the person’s name for your mailing list, it is gravy. Mark Dawson, a prominent marketing expert, suggests leveraging Facebook ads to promote free books while adding to your email list.

Non-fiction writers often have different motives in creating books. They do it to promote speaking careers or their expertise in a particular area to obtain consulting or coaching gigs. Earlier this year, Entrepreneur published an article suggesting giving away books should be a cornerstone of a non-fiction author’s marketing plan.

In either case, developing a strategy and setting a budget are important parts of the planning process. If your plan is to give away 500 to 1,000 books, it would be good to check out bulk printers. Their prices are much lower than a print-on-demand company such as CreateSpace. (CSP can format your book to your printer’s specifications.) If you want to leverage ads to promote your book, you will need to set a budget and learn how to cap your spend amount in whatever advertising tool you use. (Pay-per-click ads like Google and Facebook run are notorious for running up hundreds of dollars of cost before the advertiser figures out how to control their spending.)

If at all possible, you want something in return for your free book. At the very least that something is a name to add to your mailing list.

For my November release, I followed Mark Dawson’s Facebook plan as outlined in his free videos. The results of this first experiment were satisfactory. I added 127 new emails to my list, they haven’t all disappeared at the first sign of a mailing, and each name cost around half a cent.

When I sent out my mailing for release day, there was a significant uptick in sales, although I can’t track exactly because my books are sold through a publisher, not self-published.

Giving away books may be the right strategy for you. If you would like to explore your ideas, feel free to arrange a complimentary coaching session.

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