You may have heard of the idea of giving away free books. Yes, it works wonders if done correctly: you can giveaway a book for a short time and get lots of downloads – it’s a great way to gain new readers. You can offer one book (usually in a series) “permafree” to entice readers and get them hooked, and they’ll continue buying the rest of your books. You can also giveaway a book for free on your website to get people to sign up to your email list, so you can let them know when you have other books available.
You should be doing ALL of these things.
But I want to talk about something totally different, that very few people are doing, that is marketing gold for indie authors starting out.
I don’t usually grab free books because I have lots of books already. And I try not to give my email out all over the place. But I just signed up for a contest with KingSumo giveaways: they are offering a year’s pass to a bunch of coworking spaces around the world. That’s a big, juicy prize, that I could make use of.
Check out the contest, it’s stupid easy to enter. There will probably be thousands of entries. But I signed up anyway, even though it’s a slim chance, because the prize is desirable.
After signing up, KingSumo gives me the option of earning extra contest entries by sharing – the more I share, the more entries I get. I’d never heard of the hosts of the giveaway, “Hacker Paradise” – but now they have my email and know I’m interested in working and living abroad, travel and using coworking spaces.
You can use prize giveaways to sell more fiction
First of all, let me say that this won’t work if you just giveaway your own books. People who don’t know you probably won’t want one; and people who do know you probably already have one. This also won’t work if you giveaway a Kindle or and iPad or something everybody wants.
You need to offer something of intrinsic value that appeals only to readers who enjoy your genre. I recommend preparing a box set or “library” of bestselling books in your genre.
For example, if you write sci-fi, you could find the current bestselling books, order six from Amazon, and offer as a prize those six books – maybe with some small extras to make it fun (like tickets to the new Star Wars movie).
You don’t need to ask the authors’ permission to buy their books and give them away for free. However, if you want to take it up a level, you could ask them to send you a signed copy to include in the prize you’re offering, but that’s unlikely if you only have a website selling your own book – which is why it’s much better marketing to build up a genre-specific platform, rather than just an author website.
Build a genre-specific list
For example, I’m working on a lot of popular fiction, including some paranormal romances (angels, mermaids, vampire, etc). This is a crowded genre with lots of competition, but also a huge and often net-savvy readership – which makes it perfect for giveaways like this.
I’ve already set up a genre-specific platform at www.edwardcullensucks.com. I’m not using it well right now, but it’s there – the idea is to turn it into a genre hub with multiple bloggers talking about paranormal romance books, news, have reviews and contests, etc. It’ll be a site to promote paranormal romance authors and for readers to connect with authors. There are far too few genre-specific websites like this.
Eventually I’ll start writing articles but it would take a long time to build up enough content to get the traffic I want. Instead, I can buy 10 hardcover, bestselling books in the genre, and offer a big prize. It’ll probably cost me around $100 to buy all the books. (You could do paperback but I think people value hardback more).
Then I’ll launch my contest and share it on Paranormal Romance sites and Facebook Groups. I should get a lot of entries – and these will be readers who enjoy paranormal romance. Again, you could do this with any genre. If you have a business book, you can giveaway the top 10 bestselling business books. If you need more exposure, put it on Facebook and target readers who have liked any of those books or authors. Spend another $100 on ads.
You’re just finding the ideal kind of reader and they’re giving you their email address: there is no better way to build a targeted list quickly than a giveaway like this.
You’ll see me start doing this soon, as I’m going to focus on building up genre-specific sites and lists, both to help other indie authors, and to promote my own books.
If you want to give your books some extra visibility, you could include your book in the set with the other bestsellers, but I would caution against doing this – it may look fragrantly self-promotional. I may consider doing it if I know my book is designed and written just as well, or better, than the other books in the set.
Also, readers in some genres are more forgiving than others. But it’s risky, so it may be better just to use the famous books for the giveaway.
How to use your list to market your books
So now you’ve got a list of targeted readers. Great! You know they like the type of books you’re writing. But they don’t know who you are. They don’t like or trust you yet.
An email list is a great way to sell books, but you have to use a strategy.
You can’t just email everybody and tell them about your book. First you need to gain their trust. It takes time. People will unsubscribe if they don’t like what you’re sending them; people will always unsubscribe after you send an email so don’t worry about it too much, but if you start out with a spammy self-promotion email, you’ll lose everybody.
Now that you know what they like, you need to send them more content that they appreciate. An easy thing to do would be a weekly or monthly genre-wrap up: search for breaking news in your genre and collect them together in a report – all the news they would be interested in that they may have missed. Or fun, personal stories about the authors they love. Or review books and movies and TV shows they’re probably watching.
The other thing you can do is send them links to other books they might enjoy. You could send a list of 10 new books in the genre every month – but you’d need to curate them and make sure they are awesome. This also gives you a way to promote indie published books that may not have as much marketing support.
Plus, there’s an added bonus: if you use affiliate links to Amazon, you’ll get a cut of anything they buy. So sending out a list of ten books every month to readers of a specific genre might actually earn you money – and if the list grows big enough, you can charge authors to promote their books (the BookBub model).
This can be ongoing, and you could hire a virtual assistant for a couple hundred a month to make these monthly posts for you, however you can also use an autoresponder sequence, which means you write all the emails at once and schedule them to go out. There’s a science to it, and I’m not an expert, but I’m learning: The autoresponder on Creativindie is only 3 or 4 emails, but people enjoy them. I’ll build it up to 10 or so soon.
The autoresponder I have on DIYbookcovers is about 20 emails, and packed full of step-by-step publishing help.
They are useful, so people tend to open and read them, which gets them in the habit of opening my email. That means when I send an update, or news, they are more likely to open it because they’ve gotten used to me providing them with useful content and not being promotional or spammy. Even though they didn’t know who I was when they signed up, they’re getting used to me and learning that I know what I’m talking about.
That sounds like too much work!
If you want to go the easy route:
1. Make a contest. Get 1000 people to sign up.
2. Email the losers and say “you didn’t win, but you might like my book” with a link. It won’t be nearly as effective, but it will still work better than most of the other ‘book marketing’ you’re trying to do.
Indie authors are bizarre creatures.
They’ll travel to attend a conference where nobody is in their target readership and try to actively sell the book face to face, and maybe sell one or two copies. They bemoan the publishing industry “gatekeepers” for not opening up to indie authors. They wish for a savior who will find, enjoy and market their books for them. Technology makes it easy for indie authors to reach their target readers and grow their platform quickly, and it’s not that difficult to learn, but authors complain because they don’t want to do it. People talk about competition in the publishing industry and “discoverability.” I think it’s nonsense.
There are lots of ways to build a platform quickly and sell a shit-ton of books: but you need a well designed product, you need a book readers will enjoy, and it helps to write in genres or about topics that are popular. I’m able to give away advice for free because I know nobody else is going to make use of these strategies as well as I plan to. I’m also aware that people aren’t really going to believe in or understand what I’m talking about until I’m personally selling tens of thousands of my own books – which means I need to write more books and publish some fiction, which are my main goals for the next few years.