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 Amazon, Revise and Re-Release Your Book, 5-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.
Turning Whine Into Gold
It was 2001 and as a dance critic, I’d been getting paid for my published writing for eighteen years. I had this writing thing in the bag! I just needed an agent to get my recently drafted novel out into the world.
(Experienced authors: I hear you. Quit laughing.)
In search of that holy grail I went to my first meeting of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, nearby in southeastern PA, to learn from other seekers.
I got there early. The preceding board meeting hadn’t broken up yet, and the agent/editor chair for the upcoming conference was talking about which agents she’d contacted and whom she might yet approach, tossing names around like she knew these people.
A swirl of emotions ran through me.
1. Jitters: Would any of those agents think my manuscript was good?
2. Overwhelm: I had so much to learn about the industry.
3. Desperation: I wanted that knowledge.
4. But…I had no idea how to get it.
That agent chair knew, though, so before that meeting had let out, I had joined the organization and, knowing my way around the newspaper biz, volunteered to play a small public relations role in putting on the conference. Working side-by-side with other writers—some much more experienced, others pressing first tentative words to the page—I started to get a sense where I fit in on the road to publication.
The realization came like a slap: I wasn’t nearly as far along as I had originally thought.
That kind of early ego pummeling created fertile ground for my first true step in the right direction: setting aside hopes of overnight stardom and creating a base of knowledge on which to build a career.
In a few more years I would hear an agent say, “Give me a so-so story that is beautifully written and I won’t be able to do a thing with it. Give me a great story that is written so-so and I can make a best-seller out of it.” The all-important feedback I received in my early years of critique groups, workshops, conferences, and even agent rejection told me I was weighing in on the wrong side of that equation.
I had thought that my 18 years of arts journalism would give me a leg up. It did not. While I was indeed a wordsmith, I did not yet wield the storytelling craft that could make me a published novelist.
From then on, while deepening my commitment to both organizational and personal goals, I created programs that brought me the teachers I needed, all the while learning the ins and outs of the ever-changing publishing industry. I ate up everything I could learn about the power of story, improving my novels while unknowingly laying the groundwork for what would become my developmental editing specialty.
During this time I made a promise to my husband: if I couldn’t get a novel published before my youngest left school in five years, I’d give up my fantasy and get a full-time job.
All too soon, my time was up. But I couldn’t possibly quit now! I felt like I was standing with my toes at the very edge of a diving platform, weight tipped forward in anticipation of the signal to dive in. I revised the promise to my husband: I’d really meant that I’d give up “when they left college.”
I stretched that as far as I could. Eventually my youngest son finished a five-year engineering program; after a gap year, my eldest finished a two-year master’s degree. But look what I’m holding in his graduation picture from 2012: a newly minted advance reader copy of my debut novel.
The photo was taken one year after I’d gotten an agent (on query 113). By then I’d heard it takes ten years to make a novelist, and apparently, I would add my name to those who would prove that saying right.
So what had changed during those years?
I was no longer operating from my emotions, but from knowledge.
1. Due to my intense study of storytelling, I no longer wondered if an agent would think my manuscript was good—I knew it was well-crafted. I just needed to find its perfect advocate.
2. Due to all of the tips I picked up while attending conferences and networking events, I was no longer overwhelmed by the submission process.
3. Due to leadership roles I’d taken on for various conferences, I could toss around the names of agents and editors as if I know these people—because many of them I’d met, hired, corresponded with, picked up from the bus station, moderated on panels, or pitched to in person.
4. Due to those relationships, I saw agents and editors as like-minded spirits: entrepreneurs who want to see great stories put it into print.
Comparing the two lists in this post, you’ll see that once my feet were planted on a firm foundation of knowledge, I was ready to contribute as a team player.
Because the first step toward an author’s life isn’t getting an agent.
It’s gathering all the knowledge you need to produce a great story, and then learning how to step up as an equal partner in its publication.
If you are on the road to publication, tell us about an action you took that netted a huge boost, or about someone whose support you feel you could not have done without. Those of you self-publishing: how does this post relate to your journey from writer to author?
There are SO many things that I wish I'd known in the beginning (or even yesterday). We all could use help/encouragement, and some advice is just too good not to share. Like my all-time go-to: If you don't know who's POV to be in in a scene, choose the character who has the MOST to LOSE!
You know me and memes—I'm going to include some writing gold here. Please share your best advice in the comments, so we all may learn from it!
The second in Laura's Chestnut Creek Series, Home at Chestnut Creek, released July 2. It's getting fantastic reviews! Just click on the photo to get more info.
A common frustration for Pantsers is being told that the way they write is “wrong” and what they should do instead is plan more so their first draft will hold together better. This happens because Plotters are focused on ensuring their first draft is structurally sound so revising will be easier. They don’t realize Pantsers have a different goal than they do—to write a discovery draft which allows them to get to know their characters organically. This lets them discover their character’s needs, goals, and the story by letting imagination and intuition to lead the way.
Is one method better than the other? Yes.
Which one that is depends on you though--you are an individual with your own process. Plot and outline if you like. Pants your way through a discovery draft if that works better for you. Or try a bit of both. Basically, if it works for you, do it. But if you find yourself struggling, don’t be afraid to experiment with other ways to create.
In my case, I used to pants exclusively but I grew frustrated because I couldn’t always nail down what was motivating my character and so it was hard for me to choose story events that would reinforce what they wanted, needed, and were afraid of. I began studying story structure and character arc and the value of knowing structure resonated with me. Now I do more planning and because I adapted, writing is even more enjoyable for me.
The only time our chosen creative process can limits us is if we close our minds to other ideas because of pride or principle alone.
Being open to ideas is how we grow, and Pantsers & Plotters can learn from one another. Pantsers may not want to outline but understanding story structure helps them develop their intuition, resulting in stronger drafts. And plotters who experiment with freewriting will strengthen their ability to write fresh premises and unique characters.
One issue I sometimes see with Pantsers is a wariness to use tools that focus on planning and organizing. They worry it will suck the creativity out of the discovery draft. Almost any tool can be adapted to be used by Pantsers though and this can really help them when they hit the revision trail. I’d like to demonstrate how with One Stop’s Character Builder.
Some of you know I build tools at One Stop for Writers with my partners in crime, Becca Puglisi and Lee Powell but you may not realize everything we create is for Pantsers and Planners. The Character Builder is by far the most powerful tools we’ve created, taking all the character description we’ve created over a decade (on character traits, emotions, emotional wounds, skills & talents, fears, motivations, physical attributes, and more) and combining it so writers can cherry pick whatever ideas they need for a character. The long and short is you can plan a highly detailed character much faster. Even better, the tool has built-in intelligence and will pull together certain pieces of information details you’ve brainstormed to show you what the character’s arc is in the story. GREAT for planners, right? But how the heck can a Pantser use it?
Well, let me show you.
Before sitting down to write, most Pantsers know a few details about their main character. In my case, I’d typically know what my character looked like, get a sense of their voice (which gave me an idea of their personality traits), and I might know their past emotional wound. The rest I’d uncover during the discovery draft.
This is the Character Builder. As you can see that while I could go through every tab and create a full character in the brainstorming stage, I don’t have to. Instead I can move around and fill in a detail here or there (like the character’s physical appearance and their wound) and leave other sections alone. But notice the area outlined in red? Each Tab (BACKSTORY, PERSONALITY, etc.) has an area just for Pantsers, where they can jot down ideas rather than do that deep dive.
So, I can leave my ideas if I want. A few words for now about Paul’s behavior, or his personality, just to keep my ideas organized.
Discovery draft writing is a lot of fun. You’ll write, directed by intuition…and then it happens: an epiphany! You realize something about your character that you didn’t know before. For example, I knew my character Paul’s wound was that his wife left him after realizing she was gay. It messed him up bad as you can imagine and made him not want to lose his heart to someone again. I wanted this story to be about Paul moving on. But how? When? With who?
Outside my office window, a motorcyclist roared past on the highway and I realized something: Paul was into the open road. He rode a Harley! I jumped to the Hobbies section of Paul’s profile as a flood of ideas hit, and I wrote them down:
This epiphany led to another: his love interest would be someone he’d meet on the road. I didn’t want to go with another biker—too nice and neat. I wanted something fresh, so I thought about what he’d see on a ride.
When I am on a road trip, I always notice the old graveyards. The history. The generations of stones. The overgrown grass and wildflowers and low picket fencing. What if Paul stopped at one of these and she happen to be there taking photographs for a magazine?
When the right idea explodes in your brain, it’s so magical. I immediately went to the love interest’s profile (Adina) and after I updated her image to include a camera, I added a new skill to the ones I already knew about her:
(See what I’m doing? Discovering characterization and documenting it as I go!)
When I connect the dots on something else (Adina’s past boyfriend was abusive and she’s determined to not get involved with someone again) or (Paul is quite promiscuous because one-night stands are a good way to keep women at a distance) I just add those details to the right profile and then get back to writing.
If I do this throughout my discovery draft, I end up with a pretty complete character. And remember that Character Arc Blueprint I mentioned? I can use that story structure to my advantage because it works behind the scenes. Once I finish the draft, I can look at the blueprint and see what it pinpointed for their arc journey. When I revise, I can use it to make changes that will push Paul in the direction I need him to go, and to help me see what complications I could add to challenge him on the path to his goal.
(If you are interested to see how Paul turned out using the Character Builder, go here. Not every character has to be this detailed, but this gives you an idea of how deep you can go if you need to.)
So please keep an open mind about tool, my pantsing friends. In fact, I’ve rounded up a few character-focused ones that focus on creativity to help you:
Character Creator: Create a visual of your character. Experiment, try new things, follow your imagination.
Word Storm: If you are trying to understand your character better, note all the words that you associate with your character–good and bad. Once you have your word storm, read each word. Do you get a feeling about a certain word, like there’s an idea there? Follow your intuition. And if you find yourself with writer’s block or you accidentally write the character into a corner during the discovery draft, word storm possible ways out of the situation, from logical to out-of-the-box. If this doesn’t work, go backward in your draft and find the last scene you feel solid about. Word storm ideas on where the plot could go from that point.
Timelines: You can use this tool to explore a character’s backstory, to track events as they happen in your discovery draft, to capture a sequence of places the character visits, to collect the decisions your character made that led them to deeper trouble, or even just a light planning of “beginning-middle-end” ideas that can serve as a loose roadmap if you find yourself going too far afield in your discovery draft.
Are you a Pantser, Plotter, or a bit of both? What tools do you use?
Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, (now an expanded 2nd edition) as well as six others. Her books are available in seven languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world.
Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site Writers Helping Writers, as well as One Stop for Writers, an innovative online library built to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Do you dream of escaping on holiday to finish your current draft? Or wonder how some writers churn out thousands of words while on vacation?
I’m an author and digital nomad (meaning a person with no fixed abode who lives in different locations). The most frequent question writer friends ask me is How exactly do you travel while writing?
As it’s vacation season, I’d love to share a few tips based on three years of full-time travel.
1. Set a goal for each trip: generate inspiration or buckle down and get words out?
In writing world we revere the concept of butt in chair and with good reason. But that isn’t the only way for travel be productive.
One writer friend generated the idea for every book she’s written while on family vacation. For her, travel means “taking my brain to new places to spark my imagination”. Once she escapes her regular packed schedule, then new food, overheard conversations in airports, travel difficulties all become fodder to ask What if…?
On the other hand, perhaps you have a serious word goal to achieve. An Aussie writer friend took a two-month sabbatical in France and with this view from her desk, she completed a 90,000 word first draft. Her approach is similar to mine; use tourist adventures as the reward for achieving your goal.
Clarity on your goal is the foundation for self-compassion.If your dream is for new ideas to flow during this time, don’t punish your brain for not achieving word count.
2. Build in white space (aka boredom)
If vacations are supposed to free up cycles for idea generation, then why doesn’t that work for everyone?
In Laura Drake’s article Ideation: Where Ideas Come From, she concludes that creativity happens in the white space in-between, when we’re being still and have nothing else to occupy our minds.
We want to believe that staring at the Mediterranean as we hurtle around cliff corners on the Amalfi coast road will inspire us, but the reality is half our brain will be occupied with new planning functions. Where will we eat? What’s Italian for bathroom? Is little Tommy’s upset stomach a day bug or something worse?
The solution is to build true downtime into your itinerary. Daily walks in the forest. A moment in the garden to write after breakfast. Two hours at the pool with the family and a notepad in your lap.
Pro Tip: For maximum writing potential, don’t move around too much.
Travel is, by its nature, disruptive, and I’ve measured it. I write the most on days I wake up and go to bed in the same location. And the least on days I need to move from point A to point B.
I’ve learned that the ramp period in every location (finding the nearest supermarket, understanding the city layout, getting connected to Wi-Fi) eats the most into creative time.
3. Travel workspace. Are you a ‘zone-out’ or a ‘get in the zone’ kind of person?
You probably know this about yourself. Are you the type who can work at the kitchen table and zone out the mayhem around you? Or do you need a separate quiet space and a closed door?
It may seem obvious, but whatever your most productive writing environment at home, that isn’t going to change just because you’re traveling.
For example, my partner and I tried and failed at traveling and working in an RV. Turns out I’m the type who needs to not hear his delightful singing voice. Now, we always seek rentals with two separated spaces.
Pro Tip:Hotel rooms are hard. Rentals are your friend.
With rental sites like AirBnb or HomeExchange you can afford more space and inspect photos of the room setup and furniture configuration. We often write to the owner before booking to inquire about the quality of the Wi-Fi, and sometimes they can even secure an extra desk for you.
4. Ergonomics matter
Have you seen the articles that say sitting is the new smoking? Well, if that’s true, then hunching over a laptop is the equivalent of inhaling six packs a day.
Ideally, your screen needs to be at eye level. The easiest way is to invest in a cheap Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and place your laptop on a box or a stack of books, so the screen is in front of your face, and the keyboard and your hands rest on the desk.
I use a solution called the Roost, a stand which folds out on a table to hold your computer at the correct height. This is perfect for working in coffee shops, although I will warn that it can be a conversation starter!
5. Backup Online or Take Photos of Your Notepad
You may think I’m paranoid here, but if your ideas are in a notepad and you leave it on the Spanish steps, or your handbag gets snatched, you’re going to wish you had a copy in the cloud.
The easiest solution is to take a photo of your notes at day’s end and email it to yourself. One better is phone apps like Genius Scan, which do a great job of rapidly scanning a lot of hand-written pages (just be sure you send the file off your phone).
For laptop backup, you need a cloud backup service like Backblaze or Carbonite. I plan to write a longer article on writer backup next month, but the short version is your backup cannot be in the same location as your computer (which means when traveling, it cannot be traveling with you).
By this point, I’ll bet you’ve noticed many of my tips could apply to writing in general?
The same goes the biggest writing rule of all. Even if travel serves up inspiration,butt in chair is still what ultimately gets the book written, whether you’re in Mexico, Milan or Milwaukee.
What’s your Experience with travel and writing? Have you managed to be productive writing away from home? Any other tips you’ve learned?
Lainey Cameron is a digital nomad and author of women’s fiction. A tech industry dropout, her first book was inspired by a decade of being the only woman in the corporate board room. The novel won 2ndplace in the Rising Star Award for unpublished Women’s Fiction and tells the story of a Silicon Valley investor who, when faced with her husband’s mistress across the negotiating table, must learn to work with her or jeopardize both their careers.
An avid travel instagrammer, Lainey finds inspiration everywhere. She is currently working on her second novel, a tale of an instagrammer who witnesses a murder and is pursued around the world.
She’s an active volunteer with Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and is on a mission to obliterate the term aspiring writer, which she believes saps writers’ ownership and creative confidence.
** Header photo is on the Mekong river near Luang Prabang in Northern Laos.