To Give or Not to Give?

Publicity Tip #13:

Should You Give Your Book Away For Free?


Lately the question that arises most is whether or not it is necessary to support free giveaways for your hard-wrought manuscript – unfortunately the answer is not as simple as, “That was so last year.”

While it is true that a lot of publicity advice regarding free books deals with ‘not selling yourself short,’ there are a number of things to consider before deciding if a giveaway is right for you.

1. Are you a new author?

2. Who is your target audience?

3. What kind of buzz would you like to generate?

4. How are you developing your fan-base?

Are you a new author?

The majority of negative-press I am hearing/reading about book giveaways is from seasoned authors.  They specifically say that since they have built a solid fan-base, offering their book(s) for free no longer generates a significant spike in sales or followers.  In effect, they have saturated their market.  They do, however, still tend to offer a free book when doing a radio show or reading/signing event to help drum up publicity for that particular event.  Most also offer one or two copies on goodreads to remain engaged with those fans who helped build the author’s foundation of support.

For new authors the ‘freebie’ still tends to be a valuable weapon in your arsenal of supplies.  How many books and under which circumstances you choose to do this depend on your answers to the next 3 questions.

Who is your target audience?

Know the stats on your potential readership.  Teen/YA and New Adult are growing markets with an audience who have liquid assets – namely a job with few monetary responsibilities.  This age bracket is also most likely to surf the net and get involved with online author aids like goodreads and twitter.  You can generate a lot of ‘buzz’ by offering a few free books via different platforms.  These are also the readers who search for free books online.  By doing a ‘free day’ or ‘free week’ through your various distributors, you might hook your audience faster.  Don’t do this more than once unless you get a big spike in downloads… the idea, after all, is to get your target market talking about your book and buying it.

If your target market happens to be war veterans and history buffs, a ‘free day/week’ might not benefit you in the same way as the above example.  You would need to pin-point those specific events I mentioned earlier to optimize interest.

What kind of buzz do you want to generate?

The old saying of, “Any press is good press” is not universal.  You are making a name for yourself and building your brand.  If you’re offering a ’20 Ways’ self-help or DIY non-fiction book, offering it for free for a certain amount of time can draw readers/buyer to your website and then you can sell them your platform: lecture on DVD/CD, speaking engagement in person, additional ‘help’ books, etc.

If you’re a fantasy writer with a booth at a local convention, offering the 1st so-many books free could drive readers to your booth at various time throughout the day(s) and then word of mouth can bring in buyers.  Just seeing 20 people walking around with your book as they look at other booths will make people wonder what’s so special about it and drive them over to you to check it out – that’s the theory anyway.

However, there is a growing stigma to fiction books offered for free for long periods of time, “It must not be as good as…” and you can fill in the blank.  Readers will expect your work to remain free or drastically discounted.  Now, this can either be positive or negative depending on what your personal goals are as a writer.  I know of many writers who offer the first book in any of their series for free and then charge standard prices for later volumes.  But again, that is a many-time published author, not a newbie.

How are you developing your fan-base?

This last question takes into account all 3 questions above and your honest answers to them.  Knowing your target audience inside and out is essential to understanding how to use the free-book tool.  If you haven’t done any publicity yet, a freebie on goodreads or Amazon might just be the pick-me-up you need to get the word out.  If you have already done a significant amount of publicity and marketing (publicity is free promotional opportunities while marketing is paid for) with your book at full or partly discounted prices then you may not help yourself by doing a free-day/week.  You might come across as desperate.  That’s why it’s important to know your reader and plan ahead.

Overall, I’d say that the freebie is still a good weapon to have at your disposal – knowing how to wield it is the key.

Categories: Publicity

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