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Giving Away Free Copies of Your Book as a Promotional Tool

Over the past year, I’ve learned that one of the best ways to promote a book is to give away free copies. Yes, free.

That’s crazy! You might be thinking. If we give away free books, then we’re losing possible sales.

Initially, I thought that too. I didn’t want to give away free copies, especially to my closest friends and family because they were among the few I knew would actually go out and purchase my book without arm-twisting.

But over the past year, I’ve realized I was wrong. My sales didn’t go down through the distribution of free books. In fact, they went up. The people who received my book for free helped promote it through Amazon reviews, blog write-ups, interviews, and numerous other ways. Their promotion helped carry the news and excitement about my book beyond the scope of my personal reach.

When giving away free copies of our books, of course, we’ll want to employ discernment and strategy. We’ll need to evaluate how many copies to giveaway, to whom, and when.

How many?

Many traditional publishers devote a percentage of the marketing budget to giving away books (exactly how many will likely depend on the size of the publisher). Often they’ll send free books to key blog reviewers, magazines, book distributors, major reviewers (like Publisher’s Weekly, Romantic Times, etc.) to solicit early reviews. This is one of the benefits of having a traditional publisher—they can get your book in front of a wide variety of reviewers.

My publisher also gives each author a specific number of copies for Influencers—people who agree to help spread the news of the book. The author compiles a list of names and addresses of friends who want to help. My publisher sends the free book once it becomes available to those on my list. (See the end of this post if you’re interested in being an Influencer for The Doctor’s Lady.) Obviously, in self-publishing and some small publishers, the author would need to take on the full cost and responsibility.

On top of what my publisher does, I giveaway books on blogs that host me for interviews. Giveaways spark interest, attract more people to the interview, and spread additional buzz about the book. The winner may become a devoted fan who will hopefully talk about the book to others within their circle of influence.

To Whom?

We should ideally fill our Influencer list with people who are excited about and willing to help promote our book. They need to know that in exchange for a free book they’re agreeing to positively support us in some way—usually through a blog review or interview, but the promotion can be something simple too (see this post for more ideas: 10 Simple Ways to Support Authors You Love).

We should also let our Influencers know that if they read our book and can’t support it (for whatever reason), then they aren’t obligated to do anything. In fact, we’d prefer that they not damage our promotional efforts by saying something negative. If they didn’t like the book, we can inform our Influencers that they can still help us by donating the book to a local library or to someone they know would enjoy it.

When?

If possible, we should generate interest and pre-orders by getting free copies out before release date. My publisher starts sending out giveaway copies in the month preceding the book’s release, so those who sign up to be Influencers usually get a sneak peek ahead of the general public.

It’s also helpful to giveaway copies during the couple of months after the release. This helps to keep the momentum and excitement going.

I’m giving away free copies of The Doctor’s Lady!

The Doctor’s Lady releases in less than two months!

I’m currently compiling a list of Influencers to send to my publisher. If  you'd like to read my Christian historical romance AND host me for a blog interview during September or October, please send me an email at jodyhedlund (at) jodyhedlund (dot) com with your mailing address (or use my contact page). I’ll send you additional information about the blog tour and add you to my Influencer list. Then you’ll be eligible for a free promotional copy of my book in August.

As always, I’m incredibly grateful for anyone who's willing to help promote my book in anyway, big or small! Thank you to everyone for your generosity and kindness in supporting me and my books!

So, what do you think? Have you considered the idea of giving away free books as a promotional tool? Do you think it helps? Or do you have hesitations about giving away books?

Photo credit: Flickr

31 comments:

  1. My book comes out in November, but my publisher does not send out books to influencers. I'm given a certain amount of books, and I'll use those to give to people who have agreed to be a part of my blog tour.

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  2. I think giving away free books is a must and only helps. And two months? Wow! I felt like Preacher's Bride just came out. Awesome. :)

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  3. As usual, an interesting and helpful post.

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  4. This is some great information. I'll need to keep this in mind next year.

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  5. I just self-published an e-book (The Husband's Guide to Getting Lucky), and the cool thing about that is that you can give away a billion copies, and it costs you nothing. :) I'm getting read to do another Free Book Day soon. Woohoo!!

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  6. Oh, yes, for both Cinders and Monarch I've given away a lot of free books. For Monarch, my publisher has been very gracious with the ARCs. It has been a really nice, and I hope it pays off!

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  7. Getting ready for my own launch, so going through the same process.
    Frantic and manic are the two words I use the most at the moment. What about you, are you managing to keep sane. You sound much more collected than I am:)
    Best wishes, Elle

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  8. I've heard this POV from several writers, all whom I respect (including you!), so I really think you have the right idea here. Thank you for breaking it down into a little more detail for those of us just starting out. I'm not big enough or influencial enough to be an influencer (and I'm totally in the wrong genre), but I'll be happy to wave pompoms and do what I can to promote The Doctor's Lady from my little corner of the web.

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  9. Great post! This is one of the things I've been wondering about since I found out my own book would be published. I know that giving away copies is a good thing, I just haven't the faintest idea who to give them TO, in order to have the greatest impact!

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  10. Hi everyone!! I like Marla's point about e-books. It IS definitely much easier to give away e-books! In fact, I just read an article yesterday about how traditionally published authors are giving away backlist titles as a way to draw interest in current releases. Seems that is working very well too!

    And Elle, with my debut book, I was much more frantic! So I can understand what you're going through! I learned a lot with the first book and now am building on that. I definitely feel more confident this time around!

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  11. I'm game if you want a blog influencer. :-) And there have def. been authors who I won their book on a blog and went on to buy other books of theirs. :-)

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  12. I'd love to read it and promote it for you!!! I'd gladly blog it on http://delpylikestoread.blogspot.com and then share it to Facebook!I don't know how to do a blog interview, but I'd be glad to learn. Loved the first book, and I blog for Blogging for Books for Waterbrook Multnomah.

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  13. I'll send you an email!

    I actually love the idea of giving away books. After all, we're not only interested in the financial gain, but of gaining readers!

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  14. This is great stuff, and just when I needed to hear it. Thank you so much Jody!

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  15. Giving away books for promotional purposes makes sense to me. A good book generates enthusiastic readers, and that word of mouth buzz is invaluable. I'm not at that stage in my own journey yet, but would love to be a part of yours. I'm e-mailing! :)

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  16. Great post! And my blog is kid/teen focused, otherwise I'd be signing up! Best of luck with the new launch!!

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  17. @delpgang: Thanks for your offer to help! If you'd like to email me (via my contact page), then I can send you a little more information.

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  18. This is good advice Jody. Sign me up to promote the Doctor's Lady!

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  19. Thanks for sharing this, especially in light in your real-time experience with your first book giveaway.

    I think we have to realize there will be some financial investment in promoting our books. Free is great and I'm always looking for ways to bring attention to my book, but I plan to spend some money and give my book, Guardian Cats, away as a promotional. Thanks for sharing 'To Whom, When and How? with us.

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  20. Hi Jody, I have just come accross your site through Gracie O Neil's blog. I am an aspiring writer and I am new to blogs, twitter ect and have been struggling to find the right way of using social media. I just want to say that I have found your information so helpful and it has given me many ideas and more confidence to try new things. So thanks for all the great information. I would love to help promote your books any way I can.
    I also agree with free books to promote, especially these days when people are struggling.

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  21. Thank you for the insight. Excellent as always. I already assumed that this would be part of the marketing plan but identifying the strongest avenues is one of the components I foresee as giving the most difficulty. Nevertheless I am certainly looking forward to this phase.

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  22. Well, it's not my first novel but I'm still frantic, with two children to homeschool there rarely is enough time, I'm getting lots of fan mail at the moment, glad to have my P.A. to help.
    The new press I'm with is also very supportive. Going out there with a new pen name is a little daunting and they want me to do a lot more marketing then I'm used to.
    It's in my nature though, I'll still be like this when I'm 60, lol.

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  23. I was just thinking about this! Great thoughts!

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  24. I think free is just what everyone wants, of course. But more than that, readers want to feel close to their favorite authors. Being chosen to receive a free book creates a bond that benefits both author and reader.

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  25. I am more than happy to help you promote your book, whether I am lucky to get a free one or not. :)

    Just let me know any info for my blog: gjscyprus at cytanet dot com dot cy

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  26. Jody,
    I'd love to be an influencer for your new book. I loved The Preacher's Bride and can hardly wait to read your new novel.

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  27. A spot on post! And a topic that is important to all writers. I juggle a 50+ hour a week day/job, volunteer work for abandoned animals, all while getting my YA novel ready to submit to agents. Life happens, but that's the joy of it! --Elizabeth

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  28. Grocery stores and other retailers give out free samples. Makes sense to do the same to the right people.

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  29. In addition to all the early advance copies my publisher gave away of my novel STASH, I gave away additional copies to bloggers and book group leaders. Not so much family and friends.

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  30. Classifieds are perfect for selling just about anything at all.
    Here you can sell and buy anything under the sun including both novel and used products.
    Get more with free advertising at postallads4free.com

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