My biggest challenge as an author is probably the same as any other person’s: balancing time. That’s true on several levels, because I have to balance my writing commitments with family time as well as meeting the demands of my day job. If I zoom the focus to writing specifically, the balance question becomes how much to time to put into writing new material which is critical to keep fans happy versus how much time to put into social media and promotion so that I can reach new fans? In this article, I’ll talk about why and how I give away free content and how I distribute it.
Every author knows (or should know) the importance of building a mailing list. I have tried gaining newsletter subscribers in various ways but the most effective, hands-down, if offering free content. To put it crudely, I dangle a baited hook in front of readers – and “free” makes great bait. Free and easy is even better – for authors and readers alike.
I currently offer two short stories free to subscribers (one for each of my series). I started out offering one free story that followed up on the couple featured in Book 1 of my Wolves of Twin Moon Ranch series. That attracts huge numbers of subscribers. Once I expanded into a second series (the Serendipity Adventure Romance series), I added a second free story, which is the prequel to Book 1 of that series.
These giveaways make effective bait because they are complete stories in and of themselves (not excerpts or deleted scenes). The stories also fit seamlessly into the line-up of my established series so readers can see that the product has value. This impression is reinforced by the fact that the covers are professional, attractive, and again, streamlined into the series. Finally, the giveaways are actually posted for sale on Amazon and have collected many reviews, so the reader can see that they’re the genuine deal. And snap – they grab the reward! As they should; it’s a great deal that allows new readers to try out my story worlds for free. A win-win for us both.
I started out by individually emailing fans epub/mobi/or pdf files of these free stories (and sending ARC copies of upcoming releases to my growing review team the same way). That was a huge time drain! Author friends pointed me to instaFreebie and I’ve never looked back. Newsletter subscribers can use Instafreebie to claim both books in any format they like, and ARC readers can download advance copies of a new release the same way. Interestingly, both of the stories I give away for free also sell reasonably well on Amazon for 99¢ each, so I’ve long since earned back the costs of covers and editing for both.
Most importantly, instaFreebie makes it easy for me. By offering readers a variety of formats in which they can download their reward, instaFreebie saves me valuable writing time. Looking back, I was able to reward the first few dozen subscribers to my newsletter “by hand,” but now that I’ve broken into four digits with my subscriber list, that’s just inconceivable.
Similarly, I used to individually email every member of my review team a copy of the story in her preferred format. It took ages! With instaFreebie, I send one email to my entire review team with one instaFreebie link. The great thing is, if someone needs tech support, instaFreebie helps with that, too, so I’m not left scratching my head about why Jane Doe can’t load a book to her device. (You’d be amazed how many people don’t know how to load a story onto their reading device.) InstaFreebie also gives me some peace of mind in that it distributes watermarked copies of my book, making it slightly harder for a copy to end up on a pirate website.
Even I, a complete technophobe, could set up MailChimp to send all newsletter subscribers a welcome email that leads to the free stories on instaFreebie, so that is automated, as well. The one thing I don’t automate is responses to my ARC review team. Once they send me the link to their review (a requirement to stay on my ARC team), I reply to each and every one personally. They’ve given their time to read and review my books; the least I can do is send even a brief thank you in return.
Finally, the nuts and bolts: I set up my free stories as unlimited campaigns (no limit to number of downloads and no expiration date), because I don’t want readers to come to a dead end with an expired offer. On the other hand, I set up my ARC campaigns as batches of 50 downloads with no expiration date just in case someone were tempted to abuse the system and share the link with the world. It’s never happened and I hope it doesn’t, but just in case, I do ARC offers in limited batches.
I have a prominent tab on my author website (labeled “FREE BOOK” instead of “newsletter”) that leads to my newsletter sign-up. That page includes a color image of both covers to brighten that hook even more (see http://www.annalowebooks.com/newsletter-free-book). In addition, I include the same color invite to join my newsletter as a live link in the frontmatter of every book I publish, and I put the sign-up link in the backmatter, as well.
Good luck growing your newsletter list and managing your giveaways to make the most of your precious writing time!