The Why & How of Book Giveaways

To give books away or to not give books away? Many authors and small publishers wrestle with this question. Some believe that giving books away does not reap many benefits and “cheapens” the author’s works. Others believe that giving books away can spur sales.


Just about every industry has some way of using “free” to their advantage. Think about games, software, and apps. Many companies offer a “freemium”, something small for free and then require people to pay to get more bells and whistles.

Since books are simple products—one doesn’t upgrade to a book with more bells and whistles—authors and publishers need to be judicious in why and how they give away free books.

The purpose of giving away free books is usually for promotion. Of course, there are other motivations. Sometimes publishers or authors give away free books for a good cause or charity reasons. Take Pelican Book Group. This publisher, a member of Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA), is offering their complete current catalog of ebooks to readers free for the season of Lent. They want to have anyone who desires experience Christ through fiction this Lenten season be able to.

For most authors, giving away free books is for the intent of making people aware of you and your writings. Since many authors are fairly unknown with a small circle of influence, giving away books is one way to raise awareness, leading to interest, which in turn hopefully leads to readers, resulting in book sales.

Offering free copies of an ebook for a day, a week, or on-going is one way to give away free books. However, some authors find that, often, offering the ebook for free does not necessarily raise the sales for a print book. This strategy works best for authors who have a series of books. These authors can give away the first book in the series with the intent of hooking the reader into buying the subsequent books in a series.

However, for authors who only have one or two books, a book giveaway contest may be a better option. This strategy includes using your book as a free prize to draw the attention of the public. Often authors will run a contest on their blog, website, or social media service offering a free book to the first five (can be more, can be less) responses, or to a random number of people from their response pool.

Now authors and publishers have an additional avenue to host a book giveaway. Amazon has launched a new giveaway service that simplifies and automates a promotional online contest. Anyone who has an account with Amazon can launch a giveaway contest and offer contestants a physical prize (digital prizes are not yet included)—so long as the prize is carried in Amazon’s warehouses.

Amazon’s new giveaway service allows contests to be set up so that the first X participants get the prize or so that every Xth participant receives the giveaway. The costs of all prizes must be paid in advance, but Amazon says that any unawarded prizes will be refunded and the costs reimbursed.

The most important element in having success with giving away free books is that the quality of your book must match the expectation of your audience. If it does not, giving away your book won’t help your sales.

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Do Book Giveaways Work?

Have you wondered whether hosting a free book giveaway will really increase the sales for a book?

free books

The answer to the question of whether book giveaways work is a little more complicated than yes or no.

A new survey conducted by hybrid authors (those who have been published by a traditional publisher and have self-published), while small in size (3,000 readers), unearthed some interesting consumer book-buying information.

  • While a quarter of readers reported they would not pay more than $4.99 for a book, half said that if they really wanted a book, they didn’t care what it cost.
  • Two-thirds of readers don’t pay attention to who publishes a book; only 4% said that a publisher’s “seal of approval” matters.
  • A full 50% say reviews posted by other readers to retail sites are most important to them when selecting a book to read.
  • Some 80% buy books from Amazon and 23% from Barnes & Noble.
  • Free books enticed 35% of readers to sample a new author for the first time, with 21% finding a new author through free books more than 10 times. If readers liked what they read in the free book, the survey found 85% were extremely likely to buy another book from that author.
  • Sixty percent of those surveyed said they do not follow their favorite authors on Twitter, whereas 87% say they follow their favorite authors on Facebook.

I believe one of the important takeaways from this survey is the finding that over one-third of the respondents report that they were enticed to try a new author because of a free book giveaway.

Giveaways do work. However, since readers don’t pay much attention to the “publisher” of a book, I believe giveaways work best for authors with multiple books. The consumer who reads the free book is likely to read the other books by that same author if they liked the free book they read. Thus, book giveaways can help you acquiring a wider audience for an author’s existing and forthcoming books.

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Interesting Book Promotion Idea

It has been suggested over and over again that giving away free copies of a book spurs sales of the book.

Recently, another publisher has embraced this idea to spur sales of a new novel. Algonquin Publishing teamed up with Great Lakes Airline over the Easter weekend to offer 1,000 copies of their novel, Blind Your Ponies by Stanley Gordon West.

Interestingly, this book was originally self-published and sold more than 40,000 copies before being picked up by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill and re-released in January. It is based on the true story of a Montana town brought together by its boys’ basketball team.

Reading and hearing what publishers are doing to promote books is a great way to find inspiration and ideas for promoting your next book. You might not have the clout to team up with an airline to give away copies of your books, but other opportunities abound.

Have you written a book for teenagers? Give free copies to all the youth attending the next youth conference at your church.

If you have a book geared for women, offer to give away free copies of your book to women attending a local church’s women’s retreat or seminar.

Have you published a book geared to homeschoolers? Give free copies of your book to the first 50 people who register for a local homeschool convention in your area.

The ideas are endless. Most conventions, seminars, and other gatherings welcome free products to give to their attendees. Step out of your comfort zone and give away some copies of your next book to generate some sales.