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.