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

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