It seems counterintuitive to give stuff away for free to get more book sales. But this strategy can totally work if you deploy it correctly. Whether it’s deleted scenes, a post-HEA look at some of your beloved characters, or even a whole book, free content is a great incentive to get people to notice you and your work.
A recent article in Publishers Weekly by Jane Friedman talks about how it seems foolish to give away your work when all you want to do is sell it, but by doing so, you’re building value and goodwill. It’s recontextualizing the medium for demonstrating your talent in a way that gets you noticed and encourage readers to buy your work down the line.
What Does Free Content Do?
Free content engenders familiarity, trust, and, most importantly, a relationship with the reader. If you know the fanfic world, you know that authors there give, give, give all the time, most with little thought of ever being published for their fanfic. BUT if they decided to publish fanfic or any other kind of work, they have a built-in fanbase who already knows exactly what they can expect from them and who already loves what they do. Why? Because they gave it to them for free and they’ve gotten their readers invested in their work by interacting with them.
(I’ve seen this happen repeatedly – fans who tell fanfic authors “if you publish this, I’d buy it in a heartbeat!” I’ve bought published fanfic from authors who I “know” from commenting on their work over the years, and it’s like seeing a friend get published – a weird sense of joy and pride and “I know them!”)
If you’re a brand-new author just starting out without that built-in fanbase, just the blurb on Amazon or an excerpt from your book on your website might not be enough incentive to get people to actually buy. (Even a 99-cent book can be a tough choice for people sometimes.) But give me a way to read something for free and judge for myself if I like the author’s style and story? There’s so little risk that why wouldn’t I try it out to see if this could be my new favourite author?
How Do You Get Your Content Out There?
A BookBub promotion (or the like on a popular book promo site) can be such a huge boon for authors, especially those relatively early in their careers – BookBubs boost sales and chart position, yes, but they also introduce authors to new readers who are willing to take a chance on them for very little to no cost to them. Especially in the romance world, where there are so many books vying for readers’ attention, having a killer promotion or free giveaway is a great way to increase your visibility.
Going on Kindle Unlimited is also a way to increase visibility and get page views and/or sales. You’re putting your book in Amazon’s library so that people can check it out, again at very little risk for them. If you have more than one book, putting one up on KU and leaving the other(s) for sale in wide release is a potential strategy to deploy. (I have complicated feelings about KU for authors, which I will discuss in another blog post, but it’s definitely something to think about to expand your book’s reach.)
So, what do you give away when you’re just starting out and you only have one book that you need to sell? Obviously, you can’t put out a whole other book that you haven’t even written yet! But you can write something to give away for free on your website/social media (called a "lead magnet"), like a scene from an alternate viewpoint, a prequel or sequel, a deleted scene – something that will pique interest in your book to encourage people to buy it and create trust in your work for the next time you have something to sell. If you've already been pumping out free content on your site (through blog posts or other work) and garnering attention for that, you're ahead of the game since you've already got a built-in audience who knows what to expect from you.
Get creative in your thinking when you're coming up with ideas for giveaways. Having a strategy to hook in new readers while putting very little pressure on them to buy in is a necessary part of promoting your book.
How do you promote your work? Let me know in the comments below!