Using Free with a Strategy

I realize there’s a huge debate over whether or not free devalues an author’s work.  Because I’m preparing to go to a conference next month where Janet Syas Nitsick and I will be speaking on effective marketing strategies, I don’t feel like getting into a debate right now.  So I’m closing off comments.  I understand the pros and cons of the issue, but the bottom line is that this method works for some authors when done right (myself included).  And I’ll note that if all self-published authors removed their free ebooks, traditional publishers would still offer some freebies so think about how that will affect your ability to compete with publishers.

Now that I’ve rambled on, let me get to the nitty gritty of this post.  😀

Here are some tips I think will best help authors utilize free to their best advantage:

1.  Make the first book in your series free.

Then price your books after that according to your preferred price point.  If you can get readers emotionally invested in your characters and your world, they’ll want to continue reading about them.  This can be done in a series in the traditional sense (where book 1 leaves you on a cliffhanger where books 2 and 3 continue to the overall story, such as in Star Wars).  Or you can have stand alone books featuring the same family or group of friends.  Either way, the characters appear in the other books, and readers feel as if they already know them.  An emotional connection is the key here.

2.  Make it as good as it can be.

Don’t skimp on good storytelling and polishing the content just because it’s free.  You are putting this in front of the world as a sample of your ability to write a good book, a book they will hopefully enjoy so much that they’ll come back to read your other books.

3.  Do free only AFTER you have a backlist.

I wouldn’t do free unless I had other books out there.  If someone really likes your free book, they’ll look for your other books.  If they don’t find your other books, they’ll go on to look for another book by another author.  And chances are, they won’t remember your book or think to go back and see if you will publish anything else in the future.

4.  Be easy to find on the Internet.

If people like your book, the first thing they will do is look for other books on the site they bought your book (ex. Amazon, B&N…).  The second thing they will do is look to see if you have plans for future books.  Have a website or blog to let people know what you’re working on.

5.  Have an email list or at least a newsletter people can subscribe to.

I like the method of using an email list.  But…only if people sign up for it.  Create a form for people to fill out on your blog or website.  Do not abuse this list.  Only email when you have a new release out, and only email them once.  People are not stupid.  They don’t need to be notified several times that you have a book out.  Wait until you have the book available on the places you sell most of your books (for most people that is Amazon and B&N) and send out the links in that email.  If you send out email upon email about your new release, you’ll probably piss people off.  You can either use the list from your own email account (make sure to use “BCC” for the people so you aren’t sharing their emails with others) or you can use a service like Mail Chimp.

A secondary method is having a newsletter blog where people can sign up to get emails when you make a post.  In this, I would update it either once a month to give people an idea of what you’re working on and when books are released or you can use this only when you have a new release.

Naturally, you’ll pass along new release information on Twitter, Facebook, and other social sites.  Again, I would only link it up once per bookstore you’re selling at.  Share the link from Amazon, B&N, etc on social sites.  But I think it’s easiest to reach people with a new release via email and make sure you state you have a new release and the book name in the subject so people know what the email is about.

Also, keep it short and sweet.

So those are my tips on effectively using free to promote your other books.