In Part 1 of this series, I talked about The Blog Tour. Costs you nothing but time and helps build some recognition for your name. Today I want to shift gears and talk about something else that costs you nothing–the freebie.
Now when I say freebie, I mean a couple of different things. A freebie, to my mind, can be either free copies of your book that is for sale or straight up free reads that you offer on your website, as a bonus for signing up for the newsletter or whatever. Both serve the same primary purpose: Giving new readers a chance to try your work without any monetary risk to them.
Now I can already hear you sputtering, “But, but, but…those are lost sales!” No, my friend, they’re not. You cannot bemoan the loss of HYPOTHETICAL sales. And if you have no name recognition or reputation to drive those hypothetical sales, the chances of someone finding and trying you are considerably diminished. You’re new, after all. You have no established track record with readers. And you’re indie, which means that the Gatekeepers of traditional publishing, whose alleged job is to keep the dreck out of readers’ hands, have not waved their magic wand of approval over your work to say “yes, this meets some minimum standard”. Dude, you’ve got odds stacked against you, so stop thinking about those hypothetical sales and start looking at the things you can to that can lead to ACTUAL sales over the long term. As I am often fond of saying, publishing is a LONG HAUL game.
So let’s look at the first of these types of freebies: Giving away copies of the book you have for sale.
When I did this the first time with Forsaken By Shadow, I had a giveaway offer on my blog. I would give readers a free copy (which is made nice and easy by the Coupon function at Smashwords, where readers can obtain any format their little heart desires) in exchange for an honest review. I can’t remember if I limited it to reviews on Amazon or if it was across the various places I had it for sale. But it was absolutely geared toward getting 20 reviews on Amazon. At that time, 20 was hypothesized to be the magic number that would get Amazon recommending you to others. It would help get you noticed. I’m no longer sure that this is the case, as Amazon keeps apparently tweaking their logarithms and junk. But whatever, this was the goal at the time.
So I gave away a bunch of copies, and I got my 20+ reviews. Sure, not everyone who got a copy reviewed it. Some folks probably forgot. Some may not have liked it and rather than leave a review saying so (even though I asked for HONEST reviews) decided to stay quiet. Whatever. I still got my 20+ reviews. Thankfully they were almost all 4 and 5 star reviews, which does a really great thing: it begins to establish your credibility with readers. The more reviews you get, the less likely it is that you got your friends and family to all come rate your stuff (which is one of the myths floating around about indie authors…in fact the vast majority of reviews I’ve received have been from people I don’t actually know). My sales went up. It’s impossible to narrow down the specifics of WHY. There were a lot of factors at play and there was nothing at all scientific about the approach that I took because I was blitzing trying out a LOT of different stuff. But it absolutely can’t hurt. Because those people, if they like your stuff, will do this other fantastic thing: They will tell their friends. Because here’s the thing. Readers love books. And they like to introduce others to good books. You want to do everything you can to cultivate your relationship with readers because they’re worth more than a multi-thousand dollar campaign.
Which brings me to the next component of this freebie thing. Goodreads. If you have not set up an account on Goodreads, you need to go do it right now. It’s like Facebook for Readers. But way better because it doesn’t have all the lame, annoying games and poking. There are groups you can hang out in (and you’d better be really participating, not just dropping in to pimp your book–that’s rude), friends to be made, pay per click advertising (I’ll come back to that later this week), and most importantly for our purposes today–EVENTS. What I did with Forsaken By Shadow later on in the year was to have a Goodreads Event where I, again, offered up free copies to anyone who would post an honest review. And this was awesome and better than my blog because I had a much wider potential audience here–both the hundreds of people who were my Goodreads “friends” and, because I made the event sharable, anybody on the friends list of those who share the event. When I started, I was aiming for folks to post reviews on Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Goodreads, and assorted other spots where the book was listed. But the unexpected and wonderful thing I found was BOOK BLOGGERS.
Book bloggers can be an author’s best friend. We’re talking about what is tantamount to professional readers who keep blogs devoted entirely to reviewing the books that they read and telling people what they thought about them. If you hook a book blogger and they review your book favorably, they’re gonna have a LOT bigger impact on getting your book in front of a much bigger audience that can lead to potential sales. Of course they can also negatively impact you if they don’t like your book, but that’s a risk you have to take. If you put out a quality product, to the best of your ability, that possibility is much diminished. I’ve wound up with a fair number of book blogger reviews that were quite positive, and I’ve definitely heard from readers who said that that’s where they’d heard of me. I’ve got a list of them on each of my book pages up top so you can see what folks are saying about each title. Book bloggers are awesome because that adds yet another layer of credibility to your work. You’re getting positive reviews from somebody readers trust–there’s a lot smaller chance that you’re related to or friends with all of THEM–meaning that in readers’ minds, they’re a lot more likely to be honest about what they REALLY thought about the book.
Of course Goodreads isn’t the only way of getting in touch with book bloggers. Most book blogger sites have a section on submission requirements. Be sure to pay attention to these to make sure that your book meets their criteria for genre, format, etc. before offering it for review. And beware that many book bloggers still will not review indie published books. That’s changing, of course, but you definitely want to make note about what each blog’s policy is on such things in the same way you would pay attention to the submission criteria for querying an agent or publishing house.
Okay lets shift over to the other type of freebie–the one you have on the website or elsewhere. Now some folks have short stories, novellas, or even whole novels available for free. They may be just on their website or they may be listed out on Smashwords (which then gets the free work into their premium distribution channels–again lots more places for people to try you without risk, which is a Good Thing). I haven’t done the latter yet. I’m slow to produce, so I haven’t yet been able to justify to myself putting the stuff that I’ve written out completely for free.
But I did serialize Forsaken By Shadow. Over the course of 6 months, I did weekly installments in what I called Free Fiction Friday. The hope was that people who regularly came to my blog would read it, like it, and not be able to stand to wait to find out what happened. And it worked. I heard from numerous folks (largely through Twitter) that that’s exactly what happened. Again, no idea how many of my sales this tactic accounted for, but it was some.
What I’ve done with my current (as of this writing) release Devil’s Eye is something slightly different. It’s for sale in all the usual venues, but I am offering free copies to anybody who signs up for my newsletter. Up to this point, I’ve done a lousy job building my newsletter (which, according to what They Say, is a really important component of sales). Adding this freebie as a benefit to readers quadrupled my number of subscribers in less than a month. Now will all of those people go out and buy my next release when I let them know about it in the newsletter? Probably not. But a big chunk of them might. So that’s trading on the possibility of future sales.
My plan for the future, which I’ve talked about before, is to have an archive of short stories–stuff that isn’t available anywhere else–that I offer exclusive access to for newsletter subscribers. Someday in the distant future, I’ll accumulate enough stories to compile into an actual formal release, but in the meantime, it’ll be another good way to build that newsletter.
Now are you noticing the consistent theme here about everything I’m talking about? In all of these scenarios where you are giving away free work (and theoretically giving up that sale), you are getting something in return. Reviews on sales sites. Reviews by book bloggers. Subscribers to your newsletter. All of these things contribute to the possibility of future sales if you hook the readers with the free stuff and create, instead of just a reader, a fan. And if you don’t. Well they probably wouldn’t have bought you in the first place, so you didn’t actually lose anything.
Stay tuned for Part 3.