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Free Stuff

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Giving away free stuff is a psychological warfare tactic, I mean marketing tactic. I am reminded of this every time Victoria's Secret coupons arrive in the mail. My daughter immediately wants to rush to the store to pick up free panties, even if she does not need new panties. They're free! This often leads to the purchase of additional overpriced items she also does not need and can harpoon her limited budget in a heartbeat. Freebies have the opposite effect on me. Unless it is something I am in dire need of, the ad doesn't even ping on my radar. Unsolicited marketing materials go into the trash bin on arrival.

Writers are advised to market their own product. There is much confusion over how. What marketing tactics should you spend money on? Should you purchase bookmarks or swag with your book's title on it to give away? Should you give print or e-books away? Should you develop free short stories to promote the book?

Do any of these tactics work? It depends on the audience.

Category 1 Consumers love free stuff just because it is free. They take it home to their hoarder cave and never look at it again.

Category 2 Consumers see the ad and look closer to discern whether it is something they would be interested in. If so, they check it out. If not, they shrug and move on.

Category 3 Consumers see the ad and investigate further. They take home the freebie, and if you are lucky, they purchase an additional item.

Category 4 Consumers aren't in the market for your book and ignore the ad entirely.

Let's look at the pros and cons of marketing materials based on this understanding of consumer buying habits.


If you give your book away, there is no incentive for a reader to buy it, unless it is part of a series or you have other titles. Giving away a one-off book is a negative sum game. Oh, sure, someone occasionally downloads a free e-book, reads a snippet, and decides to buy the print version. This is rare.

Thousands of Category 1 buyers download the book and never read it. Category 2 buyers download it only if they are interested in your genre and/or premise. This tactic could help you gain name recognition if you have a second book of a similar type coming out at the same time. Unless your story is so amazing it makes a permanent impression, they will forget you in a few weeks or months.

If I come across a writer that blows my socks off, I friend them on Facebook so I get news of their new releases. If you use this tactic, make yourself available to be followed on social media to keep your name on your new fan's radar. Post stuff and interact, otherwise you drop off their news feed.

A note about Facebook, if you do an author page instead of a profile, people cannot tag you when they rave about your book on their own page. You are not "friends." You are an advertiser. Fans will get notices from you, but you are not interacting with them. It's the difference between a megahorn and a conversation.


Related short stories may or may not entice people to buy the book. I don't download companion short stories or novellas. They don't interest me. Other readers love them. Offer them after the book is available for purchase, or the reader might forget to look for the book when it is released. Short stories are rarely as intriguing as the book, so make sure they are well-written and cleanly edited.


Free chapters and Amazon's Look Inside feature are the best marketing tools available. Whether the buyer is perusing an online store or an actual bricks and mortar store, the description of your story and the first chapter are usually the deciding factors. A clever cover catches the eye as well. When you offer a free chapter on a site other than Amazon, Nook or Smashwords, make sure there is a link at the end of the chapter so the reader can go straight to the online store to purchase it. If you are making a public appearance, you could print out the first chapter and attach a business card or bookmark featuring the cover of the book and ordering information.


Free bling and giveaways may or may not mean anything to the individual consumer. Category 1 and 3 consumers love giveaways and trinkets. They are excited in the moment, but not likely to become long-term fans. Contests intrigue some and bore others. Category 1 consumers sign up for anything and everything. They may never buy your book or read it. Marketing materials are a multi-billion dollar industry largely because they have convinced the gullible public that they need them. However, giveaways often become throwaways. They can't help you sell a book no one wants to read.


Hoarders stuff them in a dark drawer somewhere and forget them. A few readers collect them like baseballs cards. Authors can sign bookmarks when a person buys an e-book version. Readers rarely turn down a bookmark. If they are like me, they have a fantastic collection of clever bookmarks but end up using a torn scrap of paper instead. Paper bookmarks given away at book sales or writing conferences often end up in the trash bin.

Business cards with the cover on one side and ordering information and short synopsis on the other are well worth the investment. You should carry a few with you at all times. You never know when you'll you strike up a conversation with someone who is interested in what you write. This practice has resulted in multiple sales to people I met while traveling.

You should have a stack of book information cards or bookmarks next to your stack of actual books at a personal appearance or conference. A consumer may not buy the book right then, but may refer to the card later. They may prefer the e-book version to the print version.

When I find out about a title that intrigues me, I keep the card or write down the title and look it up the next time I am online. If I Look Inside and like what I see, it goes on my Amazon wishlist or straight to the shopping cart. I still love visiting a physical bookstore and consult my wishlist before I go. I also share this wishlist with my loved ones when they are looking for gift ideas for me.

The most important marketing tool is a book that a reader can't put down and won't forget. They will happily spread the word to their friends, who will read it and report to their friends, and so on. If giving a few copies away sparks word of mouth publicity, it could be worth the investment. Now, go write that book!

And to reward you for reading to the end, I offer a few free story tools on my website:

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