How does free fit into your book marketing plan?
If there is one commodity that is not is short supply today, it is books for free online.
On any given day there are tens of thousands of free ebooks to choose from on a wide variety of retailers and book promotion services.
On Project Gutenberg alone, there are nearly 60,000 classic books available to download free of charge in many ebooks file types.
Google Books is also another ready source of public domain books.
There are just so many free ways to read books online using web browsers, apps or ereading devices and to add to your collection of free ebooks
Making your book free
Of course, Amazon Kindle books are the most popular free ebooks online. If you are a self-published author and you have enrolled in Kindle Direct Publishing Select (KDPS), you are probably offering your books for free for five days every three months.
If you are open-publishing with an aggregator such as Draft2Digital or Smashwords, you can easily set the price of your ebooks to free.
On top of these choices, do you know that you can also self-publish on Project Gutenberg Self-Publishing Press to make your book available forever free?
Another way to make you your book free is to offer a free ebook download from your WordPress website or blog.
There are so many ways to make online books free, but that is the easy part.
Why are you offering your books for free?
With so many great books and now an increasing number of audio books available with some free book apps, it makes free a competitive market.
If you need a taste of how competitive it is, LifeWire has a list of 25 sites where readers can get free Kindle ebooks.
So if your plan is to offer your book for free, or you have done so already, how are you helping readers find it?
If you think readers on Amazon will jump at the chance, forget it. Trying to find free Kindle books on Amazon nearly impossible. There is no quick link or search function for free ebooks.
If you are in KDP Select and you are using your five free days in the hope of giving away a few hundred copies and getting a few book reviews, then good luck.
With a quick calculation based on the approximately 1.4 million titles in KDP Select, and that most will use the five free days available, it equates to about 10,000 free ebooks being available every day.
If your reason for offering your books for free is to increase your book ranking and to attract more sales, it doesn’t work any longer. Six or seven years ago, perhaps it was a valid strategy because there was far less competition.
You need to promote, promote and promote free books
It is truly perverse. But the only way to give away books is to spend a lot of time, energy and money encouraging readers to grab your book while it is free.
A whole new industry has sprung up because of this need. Two well-known services are Bookbub and Freebooksy. Depending on the genre of your book and type of promotion you buy, it can cost you anywhere up to $700.
That is quite a lot of money to spend on promoting a free product.
I must admit that my preference is to promote books to sell books, and not to give them away. Our sister site, Whizbuzz Books promotes books to sell and doesn’t offer the facility to promote free titles.
But it is a choice. If you want to sell books or give them away, you have to promote, promote and promote. Then cross your fingers and hope for the best.
A better, and proven strategy
Giving away copies of a new book is nothing new. It has been an integral part of book publishing for decades upon decades to help get early book sales of a new title.
Beta readers are a vital part of the publishing process, so they get the first copies. Their task is to check that there are no little typos or errors that the editing and proofreading process might have missed.
Publishers have and still do send out hundreds of advance reader copies before a new title is released for sale. Most publishers send copies to news media in the hope of getting a newspaper review. You don’t think the New York Times buys new release books, do you?
The goal behind this long-lived strategy is to get book reviews written before the release date and to try to build some hype around a new book and to boost book sales in the first few weeks.
Self-publishers can and should use the same strategy. There are many ways to provide pre-release copies in ebook form for beta readers. You can offer a pre-release ebook version download for your blog readers. For local media and newspapers, it is possible with print on demand paperbacks to send them a hard copy.
All it takes is a little bit of planning before you rush into publishing.
You can use Calibre to get your book into epub, mobi and pdf formats to send to readers or offer as a download on your site. For a print book, start the publishing process, but don’t release your book, only order proof copies.
By using this method, you are aiming at building hype for your book. Rewarding your blog readers with a free copy can only help you get book reviews. Local newspapers often have a new books section promoting books by local authors. It is excellent publicity if you can get it.
The best part of it is that you are not competing with thousands and thousands of free books online. You are targeting readers within your sphere of influence, and it has a much better chance of succeeding in getting you book reviews and real sales.
Does free work?
Yes, it can. But only if you have a clear plan about how it will benefit you and your book. The best time to use them is before you publish, and perhaps for a week or two after you release your book.
The only exception might be a free series starter. If you have published a book series, offering book one for free or even perma-free is a strategy that many authors use.
Using a scattergun approach with no backup promotion, such as KDPS free on Amazon, months and months later, is a bit of a wish and a hope. Another downside is that it could cost you possible sales.
As with any promotion or marketing plan, the worst mistake you can make is not to have one.
The two most important questions you can ask yourself are why am I offering my books for free and what do I want in return?
If you can answer these questions, you can then monitor the success of your free promotions.
Related reading: Free Ebooks Don’t Work Like Free Stuff Finder And Giveaways