Why I’m Practically Giving My Book Away

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“You’re giving your book away?” My wife asked the other night in shock. Yep. And that’s not so crazy as it sounds.

Why I'm Practically Giving My Book Away

I’ve long held the belief that an author’s greatest enemy isn’t people ripping off her work. It’s anonymity.

In other words, if you’re an artist, you should be more scared of people not knowing who you are or what you do than you should be worried about how much money you can make off your work.

The strategy of free, from a marketing perspective, works. Here’s why.

1. Free is a great way to get people’s attention.

The other day I was at the mall returning a pair of shoes that didn’t fit. While I was there, I passed through the food court and was greeted by eager fast food vendors hawking free samples. And guess what? I stopped to try some delicious bit sized gyros.

It’s hard to get people to care about you when you’re just one more voice in a crowded food court. But unexpected generosity is one of the best ways for people to discover your work, your art, your product. (Click here to tweet that.)

2. Once people are paying attention to you, some of them will want to pay you.

I learned that lesson first from my blog. After a year of writing every day, giving away nearly a decade’s worth of writing and marketing experience, people starting asking me via email if they could buy something from me.

And so I let them.

Here’s the lesson. When you attract a large enough audience, some — but definitely not all — will pull out their checkbooks and want to reciprocate your generosity.

This isn’t the reason you create, but it’s a beautiful byproduct of the process that allows an artist to make a living.

3. The hardest part of marketing is getting people to talk.

The reason why any of us buy anything is because most likely we heard someone we trust recommend something we want.

When I launched my first trade book, I pushed the publisher to give away a copy of the book to nearly everyone I could think of. That ended up being at least 300-400 books, maybe more. Most books don’t sell that much in the first few months if ever. And here I was wanting to give them away.

That book sold about 20,000 copies in the first six months of its publication. Turns out if you write something that hits a nerve, that connects with people, and you get it into people’s hands, they will help it spread.

So why am I giving my book away?

  • Because I want this book to reach as many people as possible without price being an impediment. I don’t write books to make money. I write books to spread ideas.
  • Because if the idea spreads, it’ll all even out in the end.
  • Because I hope it gets people talking.

Seth Godin learned these lessons when he self published Purple Cow (because publishers didn’t like the idea) and gave away a copy to anyone who agreed to pay shipping. He printed 10,000 copies of the book and gave away every one. Shortly after that, a publisher wanted to buy the rights to the book and he went on to sell 250,000 copies later that year.

All that to say: free can work, if you do it right.

What do you think about the strategy of free from a marketing perspective? Share in the comments.

57 thoughts on “Why I’m Practically Giving My Book Away

  1. I think it is an interesting marketing strategy. Who’s ever heard of it before? I’ve heard of it when Seth Godin did it last year with his What will you do when it’s your turn book (which was a great book, by the way) and it worked like a charm for him. I supposed sometimes, enticing people with what’s to come could bring in more interests when the product is finally ready. I am so looking forward to receiving your book πŸ™‚ I hate having to read it on my little mobile phone’s screen, I can’t wait for the book!

    1. Interesting. I don’t recall Seth doing this with Your Turn. I just saw him selling the book and giving away extra copies (one for free for every copy you bought).

      1. Erm ya, that’s what I mean. πŸ˜› Not giving it out for free like you are doing. My bad πŸ˜› 1 get 2, 3 get 5, 3 get 8 … πŸ™‚ I still have my one copy to give away, not sure who to give it to yet.

      2. Ever thought about doing some marketing in Thailand for your books though? It’s impossible to find your books in stores in Thailand πŸ˜› I’d love to get my hands on the rest πŸ˜€

  2. In the millennial writing pardigm, I think it’s crucial. Before the days of blogging, self-publishing, and downloadable PDFs, we inherently believed the author of a published work was an authority because the book had passed the editorial and publishing hurdles. In today’s world where just about anyone can put their ideas into writing in some form, gaining the trust and confidence of your audience is vitally important, and free access to your work goes a long way toward accomplishing that.

  3. I think it is great move because you are in the long term game. It will page huge dividends down the road. The best part about it is the book is awesome! If you don’t already have a copy, you need to go get one.

  4. I think it’s a great move but you have to follow it up, as you do. I gave away a small book I had written and 3400 people downloaded it. But right afterwards a personal crisis happened and so I lost all motivation. Oh to have access to those people who got it. But it is a lesson learned.

    1. I’m sure there will be long-term benefit, both for you and them, in having made that exchange. Be encouraged, Anne. 3400 more people now know who you are.

  5. Hi Jeff – is there any possibility you could extend the offer to a pdf copy instead of the paper copy for those of us who don’t live in the USA?

  6. I agree that free is a great way to get your name out there. People get what your giving away and whether or not they personally like it all that much they may know someone who would and pass it along guilt free as there are no charges. But how do you know when is the right time to make the transition into charging?

  7. Jeff, I love what you are doing. I really appreciate your generosity. It isn’t just that we are getting free stuff but we are getting GOOD stuff. I am following closely to see how this pans out for you. Someday soon I hope not just to pay it back but also to pay it forward. God bless you Jeff.

  8. It makes perfect sense Jeff, and I think it’s smart both you and Seth followed that business model. Sharing and caring are indeed powerful marketing strategies, as well as excellent for branding yourself as an authentic teacher, mentor, and speaker. I think many people however ( bloggers especially) are caught up in the idea that they already give so much away for free, why give away more? But when it comes to an ebook-something that is substantial- it is something more than a blog post. It certainly adds to what a person is doing in their blogging space and extends their reach even further, in my humble opinion. Plus, the message you are sharing in this book is important and therefor should be in as many hands as possible.

    1. You’re right, Elizabeth. But here’s the problem with free blog posts and PDFs and so forth: it’s now become common. In order to get attention, you have to not only be generous, you have to be surprisingly generous. I think you are doing a great job at this.

  9. Definitely makes perfect sense Jeff – got my first full length book coming out later this year, and seriously considering giving mine away free for a period to help promote it, and as much as I can afford it. My budget is very small so I can’t pay for many free books – but I will use the Amazon free days you get given and make a big deal out of those. If you believe in the message, the message is the most important thing too. And definitely agree – quality content is key as well.

  10. Well, well, well. thanks for sharing! Completing useful, i started yours tips with my book couples weeks before and i can confirm that you are completely right! And no you are not a writer…You are a good one.

  11. I think Free works well for those who have value to offer. It its simplicity it works as in the case of your sample gyros. I think sometimes it backfires on you because people will question the value of your work BUT once they read or sample your work and realize the quality – they question why you’re giving such great stuff away. This curiosity will bring interest and I believe a valuable customer and fan.

  12. This is a method that works! I give out free eBook copies of my book to readers who want to join my review team and leave a review on amazon/goodreads. To make it even more fun, I also run a giveaway where one (or more) of the reviewers win a physical copy of the book for free without paying any shipping costs. It’s really fun and gets then excited. But one awesome thing I noticed is that some readers who loved the book and reviewed it on amazon, also decided to buy the book too, I guess because they really liked it. Never expected people to pay for something they already have free of charge but hey, I love the token of gratitude.

  13. Obviously, it worked for you. =D You drive a good point, and people really do respond to that! I should know, because I’m one of them. I don’t buy willy-nilly. Either I know the work to be good, or I highly appreciated the person behind the work.

      1. Not sure if you’re shipping these yourself or having a fulfillment place do it @jeffgoins:disqus. Either way, use Media Mail and it should only cost you $3 shipped anywhere in the US. Outside the US, that’s another story πŸ™‚

        1. It’s a flat shipping rate, Jason, for anywhere in the world. And I’m covering the cost of books, as well. I promise you, I’m not keeping any of your $7. But if the cost to ship is a hurdle, let me know. πŸ™‚

          1. I think what’s throwing people is that you’re insisting on sending the paperback (for $7 shipping) when you could simply allow them to download the PDF with no money exchanging hands. You’re giving away the PDF anyway, The whole thing smacks of those infomercials that claim to offer you a second product free of charge–just add $7 processing and handling. It looks and shady even though it might not be.

            1. Yes, I’m charging something. No, you can’t get the pdf by itself for free. Is that my prerogative as the author? Gosh, I sure hope so. Nobody’s making you do anything you don’t want to do. There will be plenty of other free things to download from me in the future. I promise. This just isn’t one of them. πŸ™‚

  14. I think it works well. Like free samples at a grocery store. Having a small taste for free can do what the best marketing sometimes can’t. It was reading your free Writers Manifesto that really got me into reading more of your work and transforming how I thought about myself and my calling. I agree that there is a balance between free and paid, but think the way you’ve approached that balance seems to work well. Once I got a taste, I told others and spread the message.

  15. I think it’s as much a philosophy of living as it is a marketing strategy: always try to add value to other people’s lives. People
    appreciate someone who is authentic and who has something valuable to
    offer. Obviously it’s also important to be able to support your family, so there has to be balance between giving away for free and selling at a fair price. But if you are genuinely seeking to add value to other people’s lives, I believe you are right that “it’ll all even out in the end.” Thanks for sharing “the strategy of free,” Jeff; and for adding value to other people’s lives. God bless you, my friend!

  16. Just curious when we can expect the hard copy books to arrive? I know the PDF is available (thank you!) but there’s just something about holding bound paper in your hands. Plus, as an avid note taker, I know this is going to be one of those kinds of books. And Jeff, thank you sincerely for sharing your gift with the world!

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