Wednesday, November 11, 2015

When and Where You Should Be Giving Your Book Away for Free

If you are a new self-pub author, or even if you are an established self-pub author, the idea of giving your book away may at first strike you as counter-intuitive. You're trying to sell books, right? But here's the thing, no one knows who you are or how great your writing is, and when you're competing with lots of other authors, many of whom are well-known and already have a following, actually getting people to read your book at all is your first priority.

But not just anyone. You need to find your readers: the people who are fans of your genre, who are interested in your subject matter, who will be excited to find your book and will gladly spread the word to their friends and peers that they should read your book, too. To help you get your book into these highly valuable readers' hands, there are online resources you need to use where giving your book away works for you: NetGalley, Goodreads, and blog tours. Remember, you need to find your readers and engage with them. This is known as "building your platform."

NetGalley is a site that allows publishers (including self-published authors) to make their books available for free to readers who have indicated interest in your genre and who understand that their participation is hoped to result in a positive review (if in fact they enjoyed the book) posted on either Goodreads or Amazon or both. Usually this is done immediately prior to or simultaneously with your book's launch. The book is made available as an electronic "ARC" (advanced reader copy), and the publisher controls who they invite to read the book, and whose requests to read the book they grant. There is a wide variety of readers on NetGalley. Anyone can sign up to be a reader, and the audience there runs from highly professional bloggers who have hundreds of followers reading their book reviews, to people in the industry, to your standard hobby reader and fan.

With NetGalley, there is a risk that a reader who can't stand your book (there are always a few) will disregard NetGalley's suggestion that in this case they send a note directly to the publisher, opting instead to thank you for the free read with an aggressively negative review on Goodreads and/or Amazon. This risk comes with the territory, and if you're self-published you should have a thick-ish skin already. Don't let the odd "this book sucks!" get you down. If anything, it just makes the many more enthusiastically positive reviews feel that more authentic. NetGalley is free for readers, but costs $$$ for publishers to access and use the platform. If you can afford it, I would recommend you hire a book PR/publicist group with experience in your genre to manage your NetGalley presence for you. They already have some favorite readers upon whom they rely to post well-written reviews for the books they liked, and they may already have a "do not grant request" list of readers to avoid. I hired Wisdom House Books to handle my NetGalley account, and they kept me up to date on activity with regular reports and kept track of it all much better than I would have done on my own. Spreadsheets give me hives.

You can also engage readers directly through Goodreads' giveaway feature. Readers browse the giveaways regularly, and I've had fantastic experiences with the Goodreads readers as far as posting feedback and reviews. These folks are avid readers--huge fans. You want to get your book into their hands. Pestering readers in your genre to read your book is generally frowned upon (duh), as is plugging your book in the various discussion forums. Instead, just give your book away through the Giveaway tool. It's extremely easy to set up a giveaway, then watch your numbers for how many people have shelved your book as "to read" skyrocket, then ship the books out as soon as you get the list of winners from Goodreads. It really could not be easier. Just make sure you already have print copies of your book on hand and ready to go (signed is nice!), because you need to mail them out pronto as soon as the giveaway ends. Browse through the current giveaways on Goodreads now if you've never had a look there before. You'll get a good idea of what kind of blurbs people write for the giveaway, how people time their giveaways (launch anniversary; as a pre-launch of the sequel interest-builder; on the anniversary of a historical event that features prominently in your book; to celebrate winning a prize recognition--you get the idea). Be sure to plug your giveaway on your blog, Twitter, Facebook, and anything else you've got going. It might even be a good time to spend a little money advertising a Facebook post about the giveaway.

Along these same lines, consider doing your own "friends and family" giveaway on Facebook. Friends and family can be weird for self-published authors. Some feel like they should be given a free copy of your book just because (ignoring the fact that it costs you money for printing and shipping and the artwork, layout, editing, advertising...) and at the other end of the spectrum some will buy three copies just to watch your Amazon rank bounce up. Most friends and family who get your book for free, if they like it, will sing the book's praises loudly and often. Let them be your biggest supporters.

Lastly, but by no means least, you can reach out to book bloggers to do a blog tour. Of all of the giveaway options, this is the route that gets you the most directly and personally in contact with the people who like to read what you like to write. Again, this is an opportunity to hire a book publicist/PR group to set the tour up for you, make a pretty banner for you to put on your blog, approach bloggers they know and have worked with before, help with plugging the blog tour, etc. Naturally, they'll want copies of your book to send to the reviewers, and they may in turn review it themselves, send you questions for an interview, invite you to a livechat, or other means of putting you directly in front of readers. The blog tour was by far the most fun I had in getting to know my readers, and getting a view into reading fandom out there was both energizing and incredibly fun.

Well there you have it. There are some very important times to give away your book, particularly if you're a new author starting out. Please comment below on your own adventures in deliberate (as opposed to pirated) book giveaways--I love to hear from fellow authors.