I’ve spent over 20 years trying just about every possible way you can think of to sell a book. From PR firms to book signings to social media to email newsletters—if someone has sold a book doing it, I’ve probably tried it.
Over and over again, however, there is one key strategy that has resulted in more sales, readership growth, and overall engagement than any other—giving the book away. For free. You heard right. 🙂
This strategy grew out of an intense need to quickly generate sales. It was 2002, and the author/speaker I manage, Andy Andrews, and I had finally gotten his first fiction manuscript published after being turned down 51 times over a period of three years.
At this point, we had already self-published a series of books called Storms of Perfection and sold over 600,000 copies, mostly from back-of-the-room sales at speaking events. Even with that success, it had still taken us three years to find someone to publish Andy’s manuscript, which was called The Traveler’s Gift. When Thomas Nelson Publishers finally gave us a contract, we were elated.
We’d made it! All we had to do was sit back and watch people flock to the bookstores, right?
As you can probably guess, we were dead wrong. The books sat on shelves for six months before retailers started sending them back to the publisher. With our dream quickly crumbling in front of our faces, we had to do something. So we did the only thing we could—we started sending out copies to every friend, associate, and acquaintance we had.
That’s when something crazy happened.
At this time, Oprah had just stopped doing her book club, which gave Good Morning America the perfect opportunity to start their own. Somehow, one of the people we sent a copy of The Traveler’s Gift to knew Robin Roberts, one of the hosts of Good Morning America. The book was passed along to Robin, she loved it, it became the second selection of GMA’s book club, and promptly hit the New York Times bestseller list for 17 weeks.
- Learn how Andy Andrews got into a national book club. His strategy can work for you! – Click to tweet.
- Want to get your book into the hands of readers? Give it away. – Click to tweet.
- What do you think? / The Book Marketing Strategy Every Author Must Implement. – Click to tweet.
- If you write a book, people will automatically rush to buy it…right? – Click to tweet.
- How to do a book-giving campaign if you are releasing an ebook. – Click to tweet.
How You Can Do Your Own Book-Giving Campaign
Since the giving strategy went so well with The Traveler’s Gift, we have fine-tuned our giving process for every subsequent release. While it hasn’t always resulted in a New York Times bestseller, it has always resulted in positive things like:
- Bulk orders – You only have to get a copy of your book in one pair of the right hands in order for something great to happen. Footing the bill to send out a few hundred books is always worth it if you can get an order of 1,000 books out of it.
- Legitimate Amazon reviews – Some of the most incredible reviews we’ve ever received have come from people who received a free book.
- New readers – Encourage those to whom you send a free book to pass it along to a friend when they’re done. Word of mouth is still the best form of marketing you could ever hope for.
- Gratitude – At the very least, this gives you a chance to do something kind for your friends, family, and associates. It’s a GREAT alternative to throwing one of those awkward book release parties where someone invites all of their friends to come over and buy the book they just released. I promise that what you get out of giving will be 100 times better than a couple handfuls of sales from the last people you should make pay for your book.
- Media – Don’t hesitate sending a package to bloggers, podcast hosts, radio stations, etc. Most of them love receiving free stuff. If they like your stuff, they’re usually happy to help spread the word any way they can.
Now that you know the good that can come from doing your own giving campaign, here are the steps you need to take in order to make it the best it can be:
1. Personalize every book. Sure, it’s a little time consuming, but this really shows you took some time and consideration to the person on the receiving end. It is always a WOWing experience to receive a surprise package containing a free personalized book.
2. Include a letter in every package. Write a simple letter expressing gratitude to the recipient. Be sure to sign it by hand. You can send the same letter to everyone, but be sure to write the actual name of each person in the salutation.
3. Ask each recipient to take a specific action. Do NOT be afraid of this one! Most people are happy to take a couple minutes and do any of the following examples:
- Ask them to leave an Amazon or any other kind of online review, good or bad.
- Ask them to tweet a picture of the book (or post it to Facebook).
- Tell them where and how they can get additional copies for friends.
Just be sure not to go overboard and ask to do TOO much. It is best to stick with one action.
4. Get creative. Always ask yourself what one more thing you could do to make this an incredible experience for the person on the receiving end.
Is there anything else related to your book that you could include? What “Kickstart-esque” rewards could you throw in the package?
In the past, we’ve done bookmarks, postcards, wristbands, and more.
How to Do a Giving Campaign If You’re Releasing an eBook
All of these ideas can be applied to digital-only releases as well. Instead of sending a package, send a personal email that includes the digital version of your book.
In many ways, it’s actually easier to get people to spread the word online by asking through an email, since they’ll already be at their computer when they receive it. Just be sure to make it simple. If you ask them to leave an Amazon review, include a link to the Amazon page.
If you ask them to tweet about the book, suggest something they can easily copy/paste or use a service like Click to Tweet.
You can still get creative online. Record a quick “thank-you” video to include in every email. Include a second digital copy and tell them it’s theirs to give to a friend (we’ve done this in physical mailouts as well and experienced great results).
What Do You Think?
- Have you tried a giving campaign for any of your releases? How did it go?
- Do you have any questions about how to implement your own giving campaign?
- Are you planning on doing your own giving campaign now? If so, let us know how it goes!