The very sweet Toni Betzner asked me for a guest post for her blog, My Write of Passage. Having noticed how I do a lot of giveaways and offers, she suggested I discuss the benefits of free.
This got me thinking. I keep reading contradictory information on this. Jack Eason complains that it attracts trolls. Effrosyni Moschoudi – and many others – have told me that free doesn’t work – in the sense that it fails to generate subsequent sales.
Also, this is a question that has troubled me a lot lately, As you all know, I’ve decided to keep Runaway Smile available in its entirety for blog visitors, wishing to both thank my followers and gain reviews.
So, does free work?
Quick answer: yes and no. It does as part of an overall strategy, and it can do wonders to put a new author on the map. However, it can be ineffective or even counterproductive if not used properly.
For New Authors
As I explain on my A-Z guide: How both my books reached #1 on Amazon, free books can be used to build a fan base. New authors keen to build their brand have used free to great effect. This can be done in innovative ways, like Matt Mason did with “Pirate’s Dilemma”, which he distributed via BitTorrent. As he puts it, getting your book in front of 160 million users is usually a good thing.
It has also been used in extremely creative ways by authors like Ksenia Anske, author of the Siren Suicides. Readers are encouraged to pay through a virtual tip jar, if they enjoyed the book. In a fascinating recent blog post titled I give my books away for free: here are my sales numbers, she announced that she has made $4,000 in little over six months that way. Her books were downloaded 1,600 times within the last 6 weeks. She also used her newly found fame as an author to raise money through Kickstarter, raising an extra $3,000.
What about the Rest of us?
I was reading a great post on how to monetize free, at the Author Marketing Experts blog. Penny, its author, was explaining how free stuff can help you sell more of the paid merchandise, but you have to be careful, because some people just want freebies. That’s fine, of course, but they are not your customers. She offers some helpful tips to help us maximize the use of free:
- Why free? You need to be clear as to why you are doing this. Unless you’re a charity, free content should be offered to make sales down the line. This can be done by helping build an email list, raise awareness, build your brand or get new people into your marketing funnel.
- What sort of free? Once you’ve figured out why you want to give away something, you can choose the what. For years, I’ve been giving away my Greek translation of the Tao Te Ching. I set up a virtual tip jar and waited to see what would happen. Four years and 7,000 downloads later, only one person had tipped – 10 bucks. Only ten people had actually thanked me for my work, despite me having a link saying “if you don’t want to pay, that’s fine, a simple thank you would suffice”. Then, a few months ago, I decided enough was enough, and set up a mechanism to ask for people’s emails before they can download the file. The book is still free, but I also link to a print version on Createspace. Downloads have plummeted from thirty a day to just a couple, but last month I made more from selling the print copy that I had from tips during the past four years. I also have collected hundreds of emails from people who are genuinely interested in my message. In my book (pun intended), that’s a win. 🙂
- Make sure it’s really free and worthwhile: A lot of people have content that is purported to be free when it’s not really free. For example, they will give away only a portion of their book, but you have to pay to read the juicy parts. If you give something away, make sure it’s something really valuable. Virtually any electronic product is easy to create and deliver, so put your best foot forward. After all, this is what you will judged by.
- Take names: One thing I learnt from my Tao Te Ching experience: You should never give free away without asking for something in return, even if it’s just a review or an email address. I see people do this all the time; they have a ton of free stuff but never collect emails. If that’s the case, the freebies you are offering may be of great value to your end user, but they won’t matter to your marketing. Get emails. Ask for reviews. It’s called an ethical bribe. You get something (a review or their email) and give them something (the free stuff).
- Make it easy to download: Don’t make free difficult. It should be easy to get your free stuff. If people have to jump through hoops, they won’t do it and the free stuff won’t matter. For example – put your free stuff on your home page. Add links to it on the sidebar. Remind people at the end of your posts. Accordingly, when you ask for people’s email, make it easy. A simple click or two is all it should take. Don’t ask for too much information. If you ask me for my address, birthday, and whatnot I doubt I will want your free stuff that badly. Shorten the staircase. If you make it complicated, it’s not really free, it’s bait. And people will call you out for it.
- Make the free stuff work for you: If you give away something, make sure that it works for you. Add links to your other books. Ask for a review at the end. Encourage people to follow your blog, Facebook or twitterfeed. Every giveaway should include a call to action. You are collecting names and email addresses and building your list, and that’s great. But what do you really want people to do? Define what you want them to do, and then include your call to action in the free stuff. You can also offer specials and change these periodically in the giveaway.
- Follow up! The best kind of free stuff is, as Penny points out, the gift that keeps giving. If you are collecting names and then never contacting your prospects again, what’s the point? People need to be reminded, and reminded again.The real key here is that free stuff can work well for you in so many ways, but free stuff without a goal is just free. Great to get free stuff, right? But then how is all of this hard work going to pay off for you?
- Will it slow down my sales? This is probably the most common question I’m asked on the subject. On my blog, I link to the free copy of Pearseus: Schism on Goodreads. Surprisingly enough, sales of the book on Amazon have increased since doing this. So, in my experience, free does not necessarily slow down sales.
If you still aren’t a believer of free, try it for 90 days and see what happens. If you do it right, free can monetize your audience like nothing else will. The biggest reason is that in an age of pushing things on consumers, your audience really wants to sample what you have to offer before they buy. Free is a great way to do that. It’s also a great way to stay in front of your audience, build trust, and develop a loyal following. But it has to be planned carefully, or it will be an ineffective tool at best.
Speaking of free, read my children’s book, Runaway Smile, online for free!
Great stuff, Nicholas! Thanks!
Thanks and welcome 🙂
I found the points you raised to be very informative. I like your systematic approach – a strategy for incorporating free material into a plan to get something back in return, even if it’s just an e-mail address. Audrey Driscoll reblogged your article, and I will do the same on my blog.
Thank you so much for that, it’s much appreciated! Oh, and welcome 🙂
Reblogged this on Audrey Driscoll's Blog and commented:
I’ve been contemplating a post about indie authors giving away books for free, but Nicholas has put forth some very good points here.
When KDP Select first came out, several authors used the freebie quite effectively. It helped that it was new to customers. After a year or so, it seemed to lose its luster somewhat. That’s about when customers became used to the freebie, and about when a few foolish authors (and others) began taking their frustration against freebies out on other authors with one-star reviews; that was a tougher time to have a free book work well (though it was still possible; it just took more effective marketing to pull it off, or more luck, or both). When the Countdown Deal was introduced, the freebie became somewhat better. This seemed to appease the freebie haters (or maybe they finally grew tired of the wasted effort of attacking free books; it really hadn’t been helping them in anyway to do it), and it greatly filtered the freebie market. Maybe a greater percentage of the freebies were serious works; maybe it became easier to find a free good book; maybe it wasn’t so flooded with freebies that their value went up. Anyway, freebies seem to be somewhat better now, but it still takes effective promotion (unless you get lucky) to really capitalize on it.
But the best thing may be to distribute free goodies in person and use them to (A) get readers to visit your social media for that free goodie or (B) compile an email list. Getting something in return for the free goodie is a great suggestion. 🙂
Another great use of the freebie is the perma-free first volume of a series.
That has been my experience as well. Thank you for the excellent – as always – comment! 🙂
Great reasoning as always! I particularly like the “from awareness to advocacy” graph. I’m still at the awareness level, but boy have I tackled that! LOL!
Lol – thanks 😀
Thanks for this very reasoned post; it’s given me something to set against my rather unsystematic use of free.
Glad you found it useful! 🙂
I’m getting to the point of making a lot of decisions such as this one, as the first third of Pride’s Children, what I’ve been calling Book 1, is within a scene and a half of being finished.
It runs around 150K words, and is a mainstream story with a strong embedded love triangle in it, but the HEA doesn’t arrive until the end of the WHOLE thing – probably several years from now.
This part ends in a perfect place.
A marketing expert suggested that I split it into two parts, and then put them out as Book 1 and Book 2 within a month of each other, which is an appealing thought because then Book 3 (the next third splits beautifully) would be out within a reasonable time.
So the splitting and the marketing of what I wish could just come out as one volume (at a bit under 500K words) and be complete, is affected by the modern publishing and serializing trends.
If I do split into 6 or 7 volumes (the rough draft IS finished, I know exactly how every piece goes – this isn’t padding), then I can put them out on a better schedule BUT the individual pieces will not tell the whole story.
It is all a lot to consider, so thanks for putting out your reasons and writing these posts. It really helps – and I think sharing information, even between writers of entirely different genres, is part of the indie revolution, and one of the best things to come out of it.
Ultimately, it benefits readers – and we don’t have all those middlemen between the readers and the writers to confuse the process.
Thank you so much for sharing your experience! I did the same with Pearseus, splitting it up in the way that would be most beneficial to my readers, with the stories as complete as possible. Sounds to me like your idea of a trilogy would work best.
Nicholas,how nice of you to consider the readers! I don’t mean that sarcastically, either. You are very right to advise Alicia to keep the book as a trilogy if breaking it up too much will only annoy the reader. Even in a series, it’s nice to have some kind of denouement at the end, even as you introduce material to pique the reader’s curiosity enough to buy the next book. A book that seems to end in the middle of nowhere often discourages the reader from following a series. Sometimes I think marketers are “one-trick ponies.” They use a simple algorithm to decide how to break a book (or books) up into salable bits without considering its content or the satisfaction of the reader.
I consider each and every one of my readers as a close, personal friend. People ask me why I do so many giveaways; that’s the real reason why 🙂
I agree wholeheartedly with the description of marketeers as one-trick ponies. Especially since they tend to use what worked with one book with the others, regardless of the fact that each book and author are unique.
Exactly! Most authors are also prolific readers. If a marketeer is telling you to do something with your book(s) that you wouldn’t enjoy as a reader, listen to your instincts as a reader!
Couldn’t have put it better myself 🙂
Nicholas, do you think an indie author needs to up her tech-savvy in order to take advantage of some of these suggestions? For example, I had no idea what bit torrent was, and after looking at their website for some time, still have no idea how I would post my work as a bit torrent to an audience. Same for putting books for “free” for a short time when Amazon and Smashwords retailers won’t let you drop the price below $.99. Sigh. I wonder if there’s a new career out there for tech and book savvy folks to help (at a contingency rate) indie’s market without spending all their time doing that, instead of writing. 🙁 If you know of such a service, will you share with your readers?
Great post. Great content.
Thank you, Mara! It sure helps when people are tech-savvy. It’s not necessary, though. To build a reader platform, all you need to do is follow my marketing secret – be fun, be helpful, be real. Or, “if people like what you’re saying, they’ll buy what you’re selling.”
As for your question, yes, there are many individuals and organizations helping out authors with marketing services. Even I do so, at times. My surprise finding is that the cheaper ones tend to be the best. I heard from an author who filled in my survey. They paid someone to design ads and run a Goodreads campaign for them. After spending $5,000 (!), they sold no books. So, don’t spend on advertising over $30 on a single place – that’s my basic finding from the survey!
Oh, and follow this blog, as I regularly share what I find out about great places to help you with your marketing 🙂
I do follow Nicholas, and you have a wealth of info on your site! Thanks so much for the follow up.