How can you make money off your book if you give it away for free? Oh, my friends, let us count the ways! Some of them aren’t entirely, exactly 100% free but they’re at a steep enough discount it’s basically the same thing.
- Enroll Your Book in a Subscription Service
Kindle Unlimited and Scribd are the two most popular such options. These are free to the customers, but you still get paid a fee based either on how many times your book is downloaded or how many pages get read by the downloader. Either way, your reader picks up your work because it costs nothing extra, and you get some money up front.
- Do a Limited Book Giveaway
If you enroll in Kindle Select, or get picked up by BookBub, they will make your book available for free to a large number of people, and help to promote that free giveaway. You don’t get money directly from this giveaway, but it can boost your sales in a number of ways:
- Improve your book’s rankings on Amazon
- Get more readers, which can mean more reviewers, which means more sales
- Increase the visibility of your name and brand
- Put eyes on your other books, which are not available for free
- Go Crazy With Reviewers
It’s no secret that one of the most important factors in Amazon’s book ranking and recommendation algorithms is the number of reviews your book gets. They don’t even necessarily have to be positive reviews (though positive is better for lots of other reasons).
It’s also no secret that one of the best ways to get reviews is to give copies away to people who might review them. As of this year, Amazon no longer allows a “if you promise a review, I’ll give you this book” exchange…but you’re still allowed to give it away and “see what happens.”
- Use it as Newsletter Bait
Some people will tell you that newsletters are dead as a viable form of marketing for authors. Those people are wrong. Your newsletter, and the growing list of its subscribers, is among the most powerful tools in your book selling arsenal.
But by now all of your friends, fans, family, and colleagues have already signed up. You need fresh leads, people who’ve never heard of you before. Strangers like free stuff…like a free book. Offer one in exchange for subscribing, and you’ll see your numbers soar.
- The Loss Leader Principle
A “loss leader” is an item stores sell at a steep discount (often at a loss, hence the name) to get customers in the door, where most of them will by other things that bring in enough profit to make the loss leader worth it. This is the core financial mechanic behind why Black Friday works, and can work for you.
Many of the items on this list rely on this basic principle, it is far from an exhaustive tally. With a little imagination, you can come up with 18 more ways to put your book in one person’s hands and either sell more books to that person, or get them to lead other people to buy your book.
- Climbing the Ratings Ladder
Amazon ratings are based on number of purchases, number of downloads, and number of pages read. The more that happens, the higher your books go up. The higher they go up, the more often Amazon recommends them to potential buyers. Similarly, a surprising number of Amazon shoppers look at the top 10 or 20 books in favorite categories while browsing.
The Big A does keep separate listings for free vs. paid books in terms of sales rank, but both influence one another. Success on one does help boost the ratings of the other.
- Contests and Giveaways
Make your book a prize for any kind of contest, drawing or giveaway you want as a way to get people to leave reviews, share about your book on social media, like your page, or whatever else you want. Ebooks are free to give away, and print books are cheap enough to almost always make this worthwhile.
For a pro twist, make your book – or your entire library – the prize for some kind of contest for a local charity. For example, the most cans of food donated just before Thanksgiving, or the most hours of cleanup in a local park. This gets shares from participants, and often attention from the local press.
- Library Gifts
This one’s a no-brainer. Gift your books to your local library/libraries/schools/book clubs. It puts you in circulation in your community among exactly the kinds of people who like to read, talk about books, and share what they’ve read with other biblophiles.
Two bonuses come with this one. First, it’s really, really cool to see your own work in a library. Second, if you handle the donation well library staff will be more open to readings, workshops, and other author events you propose later on.
- Print-Ebook Linking
If somebody buys your print book, offer them the ebook for free. If somebody buys your ebook, discount a print copy by the price of your ebook. This seemingly small offer has a surprisingly big impact on sales. As far as we’ve been able to find out, nobody really knows why. But it does.
- Reviewers, Part 2
Giving books away for free is one of the best ways to get reviews at the beginning of your book’s life cycle. As the books gets older, though, many of the better reviewers will look at sales rank and how many reviews are already there when deciding whether or not to give your book their time and attention.
Guess what? If your book giveaways have garnered lost of sales, high ranks, and a bunch of reviews…those second-round reviewers will be more likely to do their thing.
- Tax-Deductible Donations
It’s cheesy, but it makes real money. Gift your books to PTAs, homeless shelters, service organizations, silent auctions, and anywhere else like that you can think of. You get to deduct the sale price of the book (rather than your out-of-pocket cost), and you can usually get a mention on their website or in the larger press.
Besides, helping non-profits is just good karma.
- Fluffing Up the Fan Club
Every author has at least a handful of people who really love them and/or really love their work, and will bend over backwards to help you with your writing career. Some are your family and friends. Others are strangers who somehow love your work even more than you do.
From time to time, offering a free copy of one of your books to these folks can really energize them. This is especially effective if you combine it with a contest, giveaway, review drive, or launch party.
- Racing with Rocket Fuel
Here’s an interesting fact about human buying habits: if somebody just misses a sale or giveaway, they’re more likely to just buy the thing they wanted than if the deal hadn’t happened. Here’s how this works:
- Step One: Set up a situation where the first X people to buy your book get it for free.
- Step Two: Give it away for free to those people
- Step Three: Person X-plus-one buys your book at full price
This also works if you do it by degrees: the first 10 books are free, the next ten are discounted by $3, the ten after that discounted by $2, etc.
- Little Free Libraries
You know those tiny give-one-take-one libraries that are sprouting up all over the place now, and are also still common in bed and breakfasts, resort common rooms, and some employee break rooms? People go to those looking for new authors to try out.
For just $15 or $20 worth of your stock, you can be one of those authors for some people in your neighborhood. Simply show up and drop a copy in each within a ten-minute drive of your house. And bring some copies on vacation for those hotel collections.
- Want some more methods or some more details on some of the above methods for making money by giving away your books for free? Check out Training #237 – 12 Ways to Profit from Giving Away Free Books.