Strategic Ways to Give Away Books

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

In this modern age, many authors and publishers have or are experimenting with the concept of giving away books as a marketing tool.

Over the past couple of years, we've seen the explosion of free ebooks. Many authors and publishers have looked at mass free book offerings as a way to increase awareness of an author and to generate interest in an author's other books.

At first, when ebooks were growing in popularity this technique seemed to work well to generate sales on other titles (especially in series). But lately I've heard many authors complain about dismal results, about how Amazon has changed its way of promoting free books, so that now it's become harder to benefit from offering a free ebook.

I'm sure there are still benefits to offering free ebooks to everyone in general, but I've also seen authors becoming more strategic in how they're giving away books to help with promotion:

1. Give away review copies. 

Since I'm traditionally published, my publisher takes care of providing review copies for me in a couple of ways.

First, they offer my book on NetGalley which is a place where "professional readers" can sign up to request early digital access to new titles. Net Galley website says this: "If you are a reviewer, blogger, journalist, librarian, bookseller, educator, or in the media, you can use NetGalley for FREE to request and read titles before they are published." In response, publishers expect those readers to review, spread buzz, and promote the book.

My publisher also offers my book through a book review program that they've established for readers who sign up to receive free books in exchange for an honest review. Usually the reviewer has to have a blog and agree to leave the review in several spots.

I've begun to see self-published authors taking advantage of giving away review copies as well. In fact, I'm often approached by indie authors who offer me a free digital copy of their book if I agree to leave a review. This can be a strategic way to generate more online reviews, especially because the number of reviews gives out a message about our books, whether fair or not.

2. Give away Influencer copies (or ARCs).

In a recent post, I explained the difference between a Book Reviewer and an Influencer. I summarized the difference this way: A Book Reviewer's goal is to help the reader make wise reading choices. An Influencer's goal is to help the author with promotion. In other words, an Influencer is a team of people an author selects to help with marketing and promotion (NOT just reviews).

Again, my publisher takes care of giving away my influencer copies. I send in the list of people and mailing addresses, and then my publisher mails out books. Indie authors can also easily make use of influencer copies (but would have to be the one to provide the books).

I usually suggest several ideas to my Influencers of ways they can help promote. In the past, they've hosted me for blog tours, helped with a Pinterest photo contest, shared my trailers on their blogs, etc. I try to give my Influencers plenty of ideas for how they can create buzz. But I'm also not watching every move they make and micro-managing them. I ultimately leave it up to them to promote in ways they're comfortable.

3. Give away books as prizes.

Another way to generate enthusiasm for a book, especially around release time, is to offer copies of the book as prizes. I've done giveaways on my own blog by having readers answer trivia questions about easy historical issues that relate to my release. Other times, I've given away books as part of reader appreciation posts.

Most of the time, I do giveaways on other blogs that host me for an interview, review, or guest post. For example, during the launch of Rebellious Heart next month, I'm giving away 20 books. 20 different Influencers are hosting the giveaways on their blogs. The list of dates and blogs is on my Media Page for those who'd like to try to win a signed copy of my book.

Goodreads is another great place to do giveaways. My publisher is doing an early giveaway of Rebellious Heart. Such giveaways always generate new readers adding the book to their shelves, which in turn spreads awareness of the book to all their followers. Sometimes I do another Goodreads giveaway a few months after the book's release when there are lots of reviews in place to spark more interest.

I usually provide most of the books that I give away. I have a limited number of author copies (per my contract). Those author copies come to my house. So when I give away a book, I'm responsible for getting it signed, addressed, and in the mail (including paying for postage). This is often why many authors prefer not to do international giveaways.

Writers: What are some other strategic ways writers can give away their books? What have you seen work? What doesn't work?

Readers: Do you think it helps when publishers/authors offer books for free? Why or why not?

Photo Credit: Flickr  by melenita2012


  1. I would like to be added to your list of reviewers. I post book reviews on my blog, Amazon, Goodreads and Shelfari. (I have sent out many free copies of my book too for book reviews.)

  2. I think that it helps when publishers/authors offer books for free. I've taken advantage of TONS of free christian books before I got my kindle. In fact, some of those books got me to purchase the others in the series. As a reviewer for several publishers, I do get the books free. To be honest, I've discovered lots of new authors through these programs, you included. I've also discovered some new favorites (Sarah Sundin & Dani Pettrey to name a couple). And I've learned that even if I'm not offered to review the book I'll go out and buy it.

    I know that as a blogger, I try offer at least one book a month as a giveaway. Some of them are review copies. Others are ones I need to clear off my shelf. In June I did a couple "books up for grabs posts" as I was cleaning and downsizing a lot of my books. I still have more to go. In that "giveaway" it was first come first served where my readers commented with which titles they would like. Most of my giveaways end up with one winner.

  3. Fantastic issues altogether, you just won a logo new reader. What might you suggest about your put up that you made a few days ago? Any sure?
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  4. I think it does help authors to give away free books. I personally have won 2 of your books, Jody, and a couple other author's books and I've found that because of it (who doesn't like receiving something free?) I tend to talk about those books more, talk about the author, lend the book out to family and friends, etc. Also, it is a good way to get introduced to new authors as I believe it catches reader's attention.

    Looking forward to the release of Rebellious Heart and the chance to win a copy! I'm especially intrigued about the plot and time setting of this upcoming book. Can't wait!

  5. Hi Jody!

    I love the idea of giveaways, because it certainly creates an interest in not just the book but also the author herself/himself. I feel that is important for the authors sake and the reader gets a feeling of "bonding" if you catch my drift.:) I would dearly love to be an influencer and receive a book, but I'm not sure whether I qualify "cost wise" for a "freebie"

    1. Rosie (and other international readers!),

      You could always consider Net Galley. I believe they offer the ebook versions and the eversion is usually available several weeks to a month in advance of the book's release. Just something to consider, since I don't think too many publishers include international addresses in their review programs either. :-)

  6. Rather than seeing books given away for free, I'd prefer to see more sane prices on some books, especially ebooks. It seems to me that someone is far more likely to spend $5 on an ebook that $10. Most of the books I read are around the $5 mark. And I really wish the CBA would offer more of them. Let me put it this way, say I recieved a free book and I really liked the author. Would I then go spend $10-$15 on their next book. Um, probably not. I'd try to borrow it from the library or watch for a sale or something. But if that book were in the $5-$8 price range, I'd snap it up without too much thought. Maybe I'm just odd? But it seems to me that the cost of books is astronomical. So I look for the reasonably priced fun ones and read those. :-)

    1. Naomi, I couldn't agree with you more. When I attend my writer's group, I'm always amazed at the pricing on some of the books there. Yes, writing a good book takes time and a lot of effort, but if they were more moderately priced I would probably buy more books too. Instead, I spend a lot of time at the library finding most of what I want to read on the shelves. Wouldn't it make more logical sense to give very few or none away for free and charge a cheaper price than to give a whole slew of them away and then be bummed that the book isn't selling at a higher price?

      Thanks for the informative post, Jody!

  7. I'm getting into this with Silent Oath being so close to release. I'm giving away ARCs in exchange for reviews and blurbs, and currently I'm holding a Goodreads giveaway for a signed copy of the first book, Locked Within. Next month I'll have a giveaway for a signed copy of Silent Oath.

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