Writers in the Storm

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July 31, 2019

Why ‘Free’ is a Cornerstone Marketing Strategy

Penny Sanseveri

From a business standpoint, giving something away for free to get a sale may seem counterintuitive. How can giving something away for free help you make money in the long run?  

Think of offering those freebies as a marketing expense: the cost of exposure. Free promotions are a great way to get you exposure in front of your target audience. This exposure can help expand your following, and eventually this will lead to sales down the line. The key is to know how to take advantage of free.  

Let me give you an example: One author I worked with held a freebie promotion that led to 37,000 downloads of her eBook. The following day, when the promotion was over, she sold 1,300 eBooks. While 37,000 seems like a lot of lost sales, it’s actually a conversion number. You can’t get all the 37,000 downloaders to become fans. Within that group are your fans and readers, perhaps around 1,000 or so. They are the people who take the time to read the book, and who may even write a review. You’ll gain enough of a following to start building a fan base, and you’ll continue to market to those people in order to keep the connection strong.  

Don’t worry about the freeloaders. Instead, focus on those downloaders who will take the time to read your book and become fans. 

How can you make this work for your book? Below are the first few benefits of free, as well as ways to use free promotions effectively to get more fans and sales. 

1. It Makes Your Book Attractive 

Being discovered by readers is a real challenge for authors these days, since there are an estimated 350,000 books published every year. Readers are inundated with choices. By making your book free, you make your title attractive, and make it easy for readers to choose your book— especially if you’re an author they’re unfamiliar with— over another author’s book.  

Freebies are a way to introduce readers to you in a risk-free way, and there’s a good chance they’ll want more. By offering a risk-free introduction to you and your books, you gain fans who will pay for your books in the future. 

2. Promotion is Easier 

As mentioned above, offering something for free now can turn into a potential sale in the future. To make the most of this free promotion, and to make sure you reach the most potential readers, spread the word about your promotion. Share it with your email list, in your newsletter, with social media fans, etc.  

For instance, take advantage of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program, which allows you to offer your book for free through KDP Select. You will have to sell your book on Amazon exclusively during this period, but it can be one of the most effective ways to make sure your book is seen by a large number of readers at once. 

There are other free giveaway opportunities available on sites like Library Thing and Goodreads. Both of these sites allow members to give away copies of their books. Again, for these freebies to work, you do need to promote your giveaway, both on the site you choose and to your own network. 

3. Pricing is Competitive  

So how should you price your book once your free promotion is over? As mentioned above, readers are inundated with choices, and pricing can make a huge difference in which books readers will choose. If you want to build a fan base, you’ve got to price your book competitively within your genre or niche. How do you determine pricing? Look at books in your market and find the average price. Amazon is a good place to do this research, but keep in mind you may see a lot of eBooks listed for free as part of a promotion or the Kindle Lending Library. Look at regularly-priced books. 

How to Use Free Promotions Effectively to Grow Fans and Sales 

1.Give away more than your book: The concept of free extends beyond your books. Think of all of the additional freebies you can share with your fans, such as tips, videos, webinars, and content. They’ll all bring people back to visit your website, read your blog, and buy your other products.  

2.Stay relevant:As you grow your fan base, make sure to keep people’s attention by checking in with them on a regular basis. You can start to grow this relationship by using the last page of your book to thank them for their purchase, encourage them to send you feedback, and ask them for a review. Let your fans know you’re interested in them and that you appreciate them. Once you have gained followers, cultivate this relationship by sharing ideas, posting great content, and making connections on social media. The more you reach out, the more effective you’ll be at building and growing your fan base.  

3. Invite fans into your world:Use your blog, social media, videos, and more to draw readers into your world. Be informative and entertaining by providing additional fun, free content. For fiction authors, share tidbits about your characters, blog in character, ask fans to help you select music for the characters, or post fun quizzes. Nonfiction authors can use their expertise to create tip sheets, informational videos, and mini eBooks. Identify how you can connect with fans in different ways, and be sure to offer variety. 

It’s important for you to remember that there’s no single marketing strategy that will help attract and retain fans. Instead, marketing is made up of a series of actions and consistent engagement over time that will help you to increase your following and keep them interested and involved. Freebies are only one marketing tool, but you now have the understanding and tools to make sure you’re using freebies effectively to get more exposure, fans, credibility, and sales over the long term.   

For more book marketing tips, check out my new book, 5-Minute Book Marketing for Authors - Updated 2019 Edition.It’s out now and features easy and effective ways to market your book every single day in as little as 5 minutes!

Have you ever tried free? Any tips for us?

Penny C. Sansevieri, Founder and CEO Author Marketing Experts, Inc., is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. She is an Adjunct Professor teaching Self-Publishing for NYU. She was named one of the top influencers of 2019 by New York Metropolitan Magazine.

Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most innovative Amazon Optimization programs as well as Social Media/Internet book marketing campaigns. She is the author of eighteen books, including How to Sell Your Books by the Truckload on AmazonRevise and Re-Release Your Book5-Minute Book Marketing for Authors, and Red Hot Internet Publicity, which has been called the "leading guide to everything Internet." 

AME has had dozens of books top bestseller lists, including those of the New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal.

To learn more about Penny’s books or her promotional services, you can visit her web site at www.amarketingexpert.com. 

9 comments on “Why ‘Free’ is a Cornerstone Marketing Strategy”

  1. I've found first in series free an excellent way to attract readers. In anticipation of a new book in a series, I made the first book free, starting well in advance to make sure the free pricing was in place everywhere. I've done NO announcements of the dropped price, but within 24 hours of Amazon's price matching, the book jumped to #250 in the Kindle free store and top 10 in two sub categories. For my other series where the first book is free, sales do move through the rest of the books. I do think it's best if you have a series of at least 4 books.

  2. I so appreciate this helpful blog! The four books in my Pepper Kane Mystery Series have sold fairly consistently but not spectacular.y since a small press published them starting in 2016, Assertive and fun social media 2-way engagement focusing on lifestyle and writing is key. However I want to step things up beyond this, and offering Book 1 at $.99. Will try to now persuade my publisher to try this for a short time, say 1 week. He is reluctant to try the exclusivity to Amazon, but perhaps your great post can persuade him! (And thanks, Terry Odell, for your input!)

    1. I do NOT go exclusive. I go wide. All the other channels allow a price of free, and once they've gone into effect, I request that Amazon match the price.

  3. I think this strategy works best when authors have (or plan to write) a series in fast succession. For me, a writer who writes stand-alone novels, I don't think it would be quite as useful to offer my debut for free.

  4. Wonderful advice, Penny. I think it works for stand-clones as well. Free is free, and readers go for it. I've just run a free promo with a review promo and got more 'takers' than any other single promotion. Thanks so much for the sage advice. I'll look at your website for marketing help!

  5. I met Penny at a writers convention a few years ago and the class was SRO. She knows her stuff. I know she keeps up on everything related to social media and you can follow along with each platform with her step-by-step tutorials. I really love her new book "5-Minute Book Marketing for Authors - 2019 Edition." Best advice in town!

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