How to Run a Powerful Book Promotion
Companies have given away free samples of products for years in the hope of attracting paying customers, and author-entrepreneurs are no exception. Years ago, when print sales dominated reading, this tactic was too expensive for most authors. Pre-Kindle, only those who had the deep pockets of a publisher to invest in the production and distribution of free paperbacks could do it. Due to the mainstream adoption of ebook and digital audiobook reading, though, more authors than ever are able to run giveaways.
It’s easy to see why readers might see “download my book for free” as a more appealing offer than “buy my book”. Sceptical authors believe the tactic devalues books in general, and encourages a “price war” in which authors race to the bottom. However, thousands of successful authors who earn real money from their writing can testify to the power of giveaways and the enormous advantage they’ve given them. Giveaways are phenomenally powerful. That’s why Hello Books exists — an SPF sister company that helps authors run free book promos.
But when does it make sense to run a free book promo? Why do authors feel comfortable giving away copies they could have sold for cash? And how do you organise a giveaway effectively? Today’s blog post will answer all these questions and more. Keep reading and not only will you learn how to run a giveaway that generates meaningful revenue but also how to ride the momentum to grow your business long term.
How to Get Started with Giveaways
First of all, you should only run a free promo if you have a clear reason why. That’s where some authors fall short. Lacking clarity, they run free promos without a strategy, hoping it will help their sales in *some way*. Without an end goal to keep in mind, though, they often end up disappointed. Whether your reason is to make money, spread a message or build market share, it doesn’t matter. Knowing what it is while planning your giveaway will help you plan strategically and improve your chances of getting a desired result.
For example, everyone wants thousands of readers, but is that enough for you if your promo doesn’t lead to lots of immediate paid sales? That’s fine if you only want to raise awareness of your brand, but many professional authors need to generate a profit. Hence, they hold off on running free promos while they only have one book in a series, opting instead to focus first building a sales funnel in the following order:
- They write more books so readers have full-price ones to buy after reading a free one.
- They place a link to their newsletter in the back of their free book to capture reader email addresses.
- They enter their book into Kindle Select so it can accrue paid page reads alongside free downloads.
This is wise. Why? Authors that have none of these ducks in place have no way to make money during a giveaway; they have no full-price books, no way to contact readers when they publish full-price books, and no Kindle Unlimited readers downloading their books alongside freebie hunters to earn them page reads income. Many authors fail to make a profit because of this oversight. Get it right, however, and a single giveaway that costs a few dozen or hundred dollars can lead to thousands in profit over the long term.
“How?” you might ask. Well, it starts by getting into the free ebook charts on retailer websites. To get to the top of those charts, authors must list their books as free and get impressive download figures in a short sales window. For context, it can take over 10,000 downloads in a single day to hit the top 10 in the US Free Kindle Store! That’s no small feat but doing so sheds a spotlight on an author’s brand. Once you hit the charts, sales snowball as more readers discover your work.
Sound simple? The issue is that 10,000 sales is a ludicrous amount. Nobody has that many friends. So, how do you get 10,000 people to download your book in one day without being a celebrity? In short, most authors book slots with book promo specialists, like SPF’s sister company Hello Books, to help them reach thousands of readers at once. Having built massive email lists of discount-hungry readers, these services offer paid slots to authors who want to promote their free giveaways.
No single service can guarantee a bestseller, but scheduling a few in tandem can often deliver impressive results and predictable ballpark download figures. Some savvy authors also run targeted Facebook ads and encourage newsletter swaps with comparable authors to hit even greater hights. If you don’t want to do this, though, Hello Books organises it all as a part of their standard $30 service.
Is a Giveaway Right for You?
To answer that question, you should first look into the benchmarks of a standard free book promo. Relying on paid page reads during a free run can help cover costs if your book is in Kindle Unlimited, but many authors can’t because they publish wide. Hence, we won’t factor those in here. Instead, we’ll focus on using read-through to make a profit, which is something any author can do, no matter how you publish.
According to an article written by sci-fi bestseller Malorie Cooper on Kindlepreneur, authors who sell paid books can expect up to a 75% read through from book one to book two. However, in her words:
“if you are giving away Book 1 for free […] you should be expecting something closer to 3 – 6% when it comes to people who read Book 1 and go on to buy Book 2.”
Given those benchmarks, a typical book shifting 20,000 free downloads during a successful free run should result in selling between 600 and 1,200 paid sequel copies. Assuming that sequel is priced at $2.99 or higher, that means you can expect at least $2 per sale, or $1,200 to $2,400 in total royalties. You can never know exactly how many free downloads a service will deliver for your book without testing it yourself, but some give expected download figures on their website, which can help you calculate your potential return on investment.
How to Maximise Success
Conventional logic suggests engineering an effective free giveaway means scheduling lots of promo services all on one day to get your free book as high in the charts as possible, then making your book paid again to capitalise on the exposure. At one point, this tactic worked well. However, retailers like Amazon now suppress the sales ranks of books that reach a high point in the chart with a sharp sales spike. Hence, most successful authors agree you generally get more book sales long term by spreading your promo juice over five or more days. On his YouTube channel, book marketing maestro David Gaughran explains:
“There may be less bragging rights with this promo stacking approach because your peak rank on Amazon won’t be as high, but you will stay higher in the ranks for longer, for much longer afterwards. And you’ll make more money.”
Admittedly, the tactic doesn’t work as reliably for free book promos as discounted ones because a free book must move from the free to the paid charts after the promo ends, throwing off retailers’ recommendation engines that drive their organic sales. However, you should still consider the strategy if you want to make your book “sticky” in the charts. Scheduling companies like Hello Books in succession, with your download figures trending higher each day, could even deliver you a better financial result. This is particularly true if you have other paid formats and lots of sequels on offer to sell in the long tail of downloads that precede the promo.
The core purpose of orchestrating a free book run is to funnel new readers into your author platform. Once you’ve done that, you can mobilise them to help you achieve goals you could never imagine. You’ll have to start small but, providing your sales funnels are optimised to convert readers into superfans, your paid sales will increase with every release after your first giveaway. Here’s an example of how it can work:
Give away 5,000 free copies of book one.
Get 100 new email subscribers.
Sell 20 copies to your 100 organic email subscribers.
Give away 10,000 free copies of book one via read-through.
Sell 300 copies of book two.
Get 200 new email subscribers.
Sell 60 copies to your 300 organic email subscribers.
Give away 15,000 free copies of book one.
Sell 600 copies of book two and three via read-through.
Get 300 new email subscribers.
Sell 120 copies to your 600 organic email subscribers.
Give away 20,000 free copies of book one.
Sell 900 copies of book two, three and four via read-through.
Get 450 new email subscribers.
Give away enough books and, over time, most commercial authors can sell 1,000+ paid copies during a new book’s launch month. It takes time, but it gets easier as you gather more positive reviews and a bigger budget, all of which can help you organise even bigger free book promos. That may sound unrealistic if you’re just starting out, but don’t get overwhelmed. It all starts with a single giveaway.
If you want to try a giveaway, the Hello Books authors page is a good place to start. Currently, the service caters for crime, mystery, thrillers & action, romance, paranormal romance, general fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and middle grade and young adult, but it’s constantly evolving. With an abundance of services like this available, there truly has never been a better time to be a writer.
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