GIVE YOUR BOOK AWAY? ARE YOU KIDDING?
DO FREE BOOKS HURT OR HELP YOUR PROMOTION?
A couple of bloggers lately have been up on their soapboxes lately, expounding on how authors are hurting themselves by giving their books away and thus devaluing their hard work, genius and artistry. And of course you’ll find dozens of blogs that tell you that giving your book away is the only way to promote it.
So which is the truth here? What should YOU do and why?
Let’s start from the beginning here. Does it devalue your work if you give it away?
Let’s think about this.
Say a brand new baker shows up in town. Nobody comes to the shop because there are two other bakers in town, locals know they’re good, so why take a risk with a newcomer? The new baker bakes an utterly delicious pie and he stands outside his shop giving away free slices to passers by. Do the passersby think that the pie wasn’t tasty because he gave them a free slice? Probably not. They probably loved it and were delighted to get it for free.
They tell their friends how luscious that pie was, and people start to stop by hoping for a free slice. But the slices aren’t free now. Those who just wanted free food wander off, but those who were drooling over that expected slice of luscious pie buy one. They want it because a trusted friend told them it was good, and they’re willing to pay for it!
Replace the slice of pie with a book, and it’s the same thing. You don’t give your book away free to everyone all the time. (That does indeed suggest ‘really really bad’ to readers today.) Instead you give away some books. You may give away book one of the series to send new readers who liked this first slice of pie to buy the rest. You may give away slices…er books…for a few days at a time through the book discounters in the hopes that readers boast about the great read to their friends, and those friends will go buy the book.
Even with all our social media promotion, the number one reason people buy a particular book is because a friend recommended it.
Essentially, that is the core of successful book promotion today: you are trying to get people to tell all their social media friends that they loved your book. (Which is why you really need to be sure that your book hits the ‘bullseye’ for your readers….)
But if people depend first on a friend’s recommendation for a new read (and second is a trusted reviewer, by the way), and nobody has read the book, how do people get recommendations?
Giving away books ‘primes the pump’ for the word of mouth promotion that is worth its weight in platinum. And it’s a lot easier to give away large numbers of books than it is to acquire large numbers of positive reviews on popular review sites.
I suspect that the lack of free book giveaway options is, to a large degree, why small press commercial books seem to perform so poorly today. Small publishers cannot get their books onto the shelves of the big chain bookstores, and very few small publishers are willing to give their ebooks away for free for promotional purposes, so their ability to get that ‘friend recommendation’ pump going is quite limited.
If you are a first-book author and nobody knows you, give a lot of your ebooks away at first. How is anybody going to know that your wonderful book is out there and buy it? You can tell them through social media, but every author says his or her book is the best there ever was. Readers have all heard that before and want proof, thank you very much. You’ll need to get your book reviewed positively on a lot of review sites. Amazon search algorithms won’t show browsing readers your book (at least not near the top of the very long list of books they offer) even if all the keywords match, unless your book is selling. (This is a Catch 22, yes).
It is an uphill slog and takes a long time to create demand for your first book…unless you start giving it away some of the time.
So do give away that slice of pie to whet appetites. Bakers have been doing it for three or four thousand years; it’s a tried and true route to sales.