Have you ever wondered how to launch your book without a launch team?
One way is to try a different type of book launch: The free book model.
Launch teams are great and they can be highly effective, making the whole launch process fun for the author while promoting their new book far and wide. But a launch team isn’t the right promotional strategy for every book or every author.
You might not have enough people in your network who can devote the time or energy to be on your launch team. You might not want to ask for favors. You might not have the resources to manage the team.
Or, maybe, you aren’t a big fan of social media, and you know your readers aren’t either.
Whatever the reason, it’s possible to successfully launch your book without a launch team if you understand the various book launch models, and plan your marketing strategy around the one that fits you, your book and your audience best.
If you are looking for alternative strategies for your book launch, so you can get those coveted online reviews and expose your book to a wider audience, there IS another way.
Launch Your Book with a Free Offer
Offering your book for free can create massive buzz and get copies into the hands of thousands of readers who might not otherwise take a chance on picking it up.
Depending on how you execute your free offer, you can also use this model to build your following and cultivate relationships with key influencers.
This method IS NOT for everyone, but it pays to make an informed decision when planning your book launch. So let’s dive in and discuss WHO can benefit from the free book model, WHAT options exist, and HOW it works.
Traditionally vs. Independently Published Authors
Before we move too deeply into the topic of using free books to create buzz about your book, we need to address the differences between independent authors and those who work with traditional publishers.
When published traditionally, you don’t have autonomy when it comes to the distribution of your book. That is your publisher’s area of responsibility. This means that your publisher can control how you distribute your book and the price at which you distribute it. Everything shared here in this article needs to be reviewed with your publisher to make sure it aligns with your contractual agreement.
If you’re an independent, or self-published, author, you have complete autonomy over the distribution of your books. You can determine retail outlets, pricing and even whether you only want to offer ebooks or if you want to have audio and print versions as well. You also have full responsibility for all other aspects of marketing your book.
Getting your book into the hands of readers is all on you.
Free book promotions can benefit traditional and independent authors, but it’s unlikely a publisher will consent to offering a book for free during its initial release. Still, some publishers are willing to offer buy-one-get-one deals (Buy a copy and show proof of purchase to get a second copy for free), or to deeply discount the book for a brief period of time. It never hurts to ask.
What is the ‘Free Book’ Launch Model?
The free book launch model is a campaign that provides your book for FREE to the public in order to generate interest and exposure.
Offering your book for free might seem counter-intuitive, but it’s a strategy that can work with thoughtful execution.
This strategy isn’t specific to the new release of your book. You can use it any time you want to create a publicity event around your book. As an author, it’s hard to generate more excitement than when you make your book — which can cost anywhere from $5 to $25 — for free.
You may have heard the concept of a free book funnel. That’s what we’re talking about here, but to have a “funnel,” your book has to be part of a longer journey readers take with you.
Not all authors have comprehensive journeys for their customers — a path from free content to paid content and services at various pricing tiers. For some authors, the only offer or product is the book they’ve published.
So we’re looking at leveraging a free book offer as part of your book launch, whether you have a funnel or not. In this case, you have two common options:
- You can offer a free print copy of your book, charging readers the cost of shipping.
- You can offer a free digital copy of your book.
Each has its merits, depending on how your book fits in with your overall business strategy.
Free with Shipping Launch Model
Like the name implies, Free with Shipping means you offer your book for free, but pass along shipping costs to the reader.
Flat-rate shipping is the easiest to implement. Offers like this can carry shipping charges between $5 and $20. Usually, though, shipping is $5 to $10 for U.S. residents (if the author is in the U.S.) and $20 for Canada. Rarely is this model applied globally because international shipping rates vary so widely, and not all countries have reliable delivery systems.
Authors who use this type of strategy include Russell Brunson (Traffic Secrets) and Ruth Soukup (How to Blog for Profit). These are not affiliate links. I’m sharing them so you can see how each author chooses to execute the “free with shipping” model for their books. Shipping for Brunson’s book is $10, while Soukup’s is $7. You’ll find a variety of differences between the two as you move through their offer process.
Since the offer is “free with shipping,” you have to provide a print copy of your book. Books take up space. For this model to make sense, you have to be able to buy and store inventory of your books. It can work if you have a relationship with an on-demand printer who will print any number of books per run but to save on printing costs, bulk orders are favored.
Even with a free book, you still have to find a way to attract readers. Readers can’t take advantage of your offer if they don’t know about it.
Because shipping print copies of your book carries hard costs (purchase of the book and shipment of the book), this model is best applied when combined with other money-making offers. When you have bigger offers for your readers, you can afford to pay for people to discover your book and also to delivery that book to them.
In addition to fulfillment costs (printing and delivery), you might also have marketing costs in the form of social media ads, giveaway programs or priority placement with online retailers.
Generally, authors who offer books free with shipping will use paid ads to drive traffic to the book offer. Therefore, it’s ideal to have other products readers can buy to offset your marketing costs. This is where you start hearing folks use the term “funnel” in relation to this strategy.
Here’s what a “free with shipping” funnel could look like:
- Ads drive traffic to a page with the book offer
- Reader buys book, entering payment information
- On the purchase confirmation screen is another offer, such as “Your book is on its way but if you want to start reading it today, get the ebook for just $10.”
- Every additional purchase takes the reader to another slightly higher offer, until they finalize their purchase.
- Additional offers might be made via email after the purchases closes.
I recently worked my through a funnel like this until reaching an ending offer of $997. Even before that, though, the “free” book ended up costing me $200 after agreeing to some of the complementary smaller offers.
So, if you have the ability to invest in paid marketing strategies and you have other products you could sell at incrementally higher prices, the “free book with shipping” model could work for you.
Free with Kindle Launch Model
As the name implies, this model is focused on distributing ebooks instead of print copies. Kindle isn’t the only way to distribute ebooks for free if you want to adopt this model, but it’s one option.
If you want to use Amazon to distribute your free book offer, you’ll need to be enrolled in KDP Select. This allows you to offer your ebook for free for up to five days out of each 90-day KDP Select enrollment period. You can offer the book for free in all Kindle marketplaces, but your title might not be available in all countries.
You can also offer your ebook for free through other channels, such as BookFunnel or Smashwords. The drawback is that these books might not be available in Amazon’s marketplaces and there are some restrictions on what content you can publish.
So here, we’ll focus on setting up your free promotion through KDP Select.
Authors who use this model include Angela Sue Garvey (Tiny Homes and Tummy Tucks), Lisa Bloom (The Story Advantage), and Danny Iny (Online Courses). These books aren’t currently free on Kindle, but linking to their Amazon pages lets you see their reviews and rankings.
This model works really well if you have a network of people who have sizeable networks of their own. Even with a free book offer, you have to find a way to make sure people know your book is available AND it’s worth taking the steps to get it from Amazon.
If you know 10 people who each have a network of 100 people, that gives you a potential audience of 1,000 people.
This type of offer lends itself well to collaborative relationships because most people who have audiences love to share great offers with them. Speaking for myself, I will share just about any free book offer I encounter with my audience. Though I don’t know which specific genres my audience favors, I know they love to read and appreciate hearing about new books.
At the most basic level, this offer is as good as creating a free book promotion during a specific window of time on Amazon. But if you do that, drive traffic directly to Amazon, you”ll succeed in getting book downloads but you won’t know who is downloading your book.
A better option is to drive traffic to a landing page with the free book offer that collects email addresses before sending folks to Amazon for the book.
It’s an extra step for readers, but it’s the only way you can ensure you have a way to know and reach those who have taken advantage of the offer. By collecting email addresses from those interested in the book, you can stay in touch with them and even ask them to post reviews on your behalf.
There are some drawbacks to this model, however.
As mentioned before, Amazon might not make your book available for free in all countries. Also, it’s easy for folks to accidentally sign up for Kindle Unlimited (a paid subscription service) when they are trying to get your free book. In both situations, readers might feel like the offer wasn’t an honest one, especially if they don’t know you well.
One way around this is to educate your potential readers, so they know exactly which button to click on Amazon and how to follow the process. You can offer an instructional video or screenshots to help.
Another potential challenge is that not everyone has a Kindle device. This isn’t a problem, though, because the free Amazon Cloud Reader can be downloaded to any computer or mobile device. The Cloud Reader app allows anyone to read Kindle books, even if they don’t have Kindle devices.
How Free Book Offers Affect Reviews
Does making your book available for free affect your reviews?
Generally, the more people who have your book, the more reviews you get. But everyone knows Amazon prioritizes verified reviews over unverified reviews. If you’re offering your book for free through KDP Select, reviews from those who download the free book will be considered verified.
However, if books are bought directly from you and shipped to the consumer, Amazon has no way to verify the purchase or the review. This is the same if readers buy books from brick-and-mortar retailers or other online stores and go to Amazon to post a review.
So, as much as verified reviews are important, every review counts. I wouldn’t let fears over unverified reviews stop you from considering a free book offer to support your launch. And keep in mind that if you want to get your book reviewed, you’re going to have to ask for it. That’s why it’s so important to do what you can to get email addresses for those who take advantage of your promotion.
Which Book Launch Strategy is Right for You?
Offering your book for free to drive interest and get a higher number of people with your book in hand, so they can review it and recommend it to friends is an option for you to consider. As mentioned before, it’s not right for everyone.
But if you’re someone without much of a network to staff a book launch, leveraging the people you do know to help you promote a free offer related to your book could yield better results than a straight book launch.
The choice is yours.
How do you get more book reviews?
Many authors ask that question, and the answer is surprisingly simple: Ask for them! But how can you go about asking people to read and review your book without seeming like a shameless self-promoter?
In this article, we’ll discuss six ways to get more book reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. These methods will help you build credibility and visibility as an author, which leads to more opportunities from publishers, agents, and readers alike!
1. Understand the Importance of Book Reviews
One reason authors shy away from asking for reviews is that they don’t understand the value themselves. Do you? Maybe you’ve been to a writer conference and heard peers talking about reviews being important, but you don’t quite understand why.
Aside from helping potential readers make informed purchasing decisions, book reviews are essential to the success of a book. The average consumer assumes that a high number of reviews indicates popularity and quality. It’s the equivalent of testimonials on a consultant’s website — we all want to know the experience of other buyers before we invest in a product for ourselves.
Behind the scenes, book reviews have a huge impact — mainly on Amazon. For promotions, books usually need to meet certain review standards to qualify. Promotions get your book in front of a wider audience, which means more sales and — hopefully — even more reviews. We assume 25 interviews is the minimum to qualify for promotions, but we know for a fact there is no such thing as too many book reviews. More is always better.
2. Know the Rules for Amazon and Goodreads Reviews
If you’re focused on getting online reviews for your book, you need to know each website’s rules.
Over on Amazon, you can’t review any products — including books — unless you’ve spent at least $50 using a valid credit card or debit card on the site in the past 12 months. Promotional discounts don’t qualify toward the $50 minimum. Reviews from verified purchasers (people who bought your book through Amazon) are prioritized by Amazon’s algorithm, which is something to keep in mind when you’re looking at your reviews and average star rating.
On Goodreads, any registered member can review any book, but there are standards of conduct to follow. Read through each site’s policies so you know what you can and can’t ask readers to do, and also so you can educate them on how to satisfy review requirements.
Though you can use giveaways and contests to promote book sales and social sharing, you can’t reward people based on reviewing your book.
Both sites have strict rules against conflicts of interest. Amazon doesn’t allow you to incentivize reviews. You can’t offer anything in exchange for a review, including entries into a prize drawing, gifts, purchase rebates or invitations to special events. You also can’t review books written by relatives or anyone who has shared your home address. Sometimes, Amazon will allow reviews when the potential conflict of interest is explicitly revealed in the review.
I’ve worked with John Doe for several years and it’s so nice to finally see his business philosophy and practices captured in a book that anyone can read and review.
3. Use Your Email Signature to Invite Book Reviews
The simplest way to make sure you’re asking for reviews often and consistently without being pushy is to add an invitation as a P.S. in every email you send. You can include it as part of your automated signature or copy/paste it as a P.S. at the bottom of your emails.
Your email signature is a great way to get more reviews because it’s passive. It doesn’t take any extra time or effort. Whenever you send an email, the recipient will see your invitation for a book review and may be inclined enough by curiosity or goodwill to either leave you a review or at least check out the book for themselves.
Here’s one approach to try:
Have you read my latest book, [insert title]? If so, consider leaving a review on Amazon [insert hyperlink] and Goodreads [insert hyperlink]. If not, you can check it out here [hyperlink to purchase page on Amazon].
4. Recruit a Launch Team to Support Your Book
Launch teams are a great way to get your book out in front of several people all at the same time. The more people who know about your book, the more people who will buy it. And more buyers means more people qualified to review your book.
Usually, launch teams are created with the specific purpose of getting online reviews published. You can choose to communicate with your launch team entirely by email, text messages or you can gather everyone together in a pop-up Facebook group that only opens for the launch period and closes afterward.
Most authors or publishers offer launch team members a free copy of the book to read and review. Printed advance reader copies used to be the standard, but not any longer. Now, launch teams usually get a digital copy in the form of a PDF, graphics for sharing on social media and closer access to you as the author.
I enjoy using pop-up Facebook groups for launch teams because it’s creates a centralized location to communicate with launch team members and to share resources and information with them. Readers get excited when they are in a Facebook group with the author, especially when the author takes on an active role in posting, commenting and hosting live video broadcasts exclusive to the group.
Asking launch team members to buy a copy of the book so their reviews get the highly regarded “verified purchaser” is becoming more common, but not everyone likes this practice. I’ve encountered several people who’ve served on launch teams for years and are taken aback by this new era of book promotion. I don’t mind explaining the business end of book launches (and importance of verified reviews) to grumpy launch team members, but you have to do what feels most comfortable to you.
5. Get Creative on Social Media
Socializing the message of your book and getting it seen far beyond your own personal network will require thoughtful promotion on social media.
Rather than a never-ending cycle of “buy my book” posts, take advantage of the natural opportunity for creative marketing.
You can mix up promotional content by sharing graphics that feature your book cover, title, or quotes.
This builds both name and brand recognition for your book, and boosts your credibility. Share these images with hashtags relevant both within social media circles (e.g. #bookstagram and #readers) and within your niche (e.g. #crimefiction, #historicalromance and #biblestudy). Choosing a branded hashtag for your book can help you stay organized and aware of how others are talking about your book on social media.
Social media is a great way to get more reviews, but it can also be used as an opportunity for creative marketing.
Vary how you share links to buy the book. Mix it up between putting the link in a post, in the comments of a post or through direct message with people who comment on posts about your book.
You can also share screenshots of reviews and your Amazon ranking on social media to boost your credibility.
Whenever someone comments that they love your book or shares positive feelings about it on social media, make sure to leave a comment thanking them for being a reader and asking if they’d be willing to copy and paste those words into a review on Amazon and Goodreads.
This is an example of a social media shareable graphic that features the book cover, quote from the book, author’s name and branded hashtag.
6. Manage Your Own Expectations
Every author wants a 5-star rating but that’s not how the world works, and it’s not even that important. The only thing to focus on as an author is the number of reviews you get. Everything else is subjective.
Goodreads reviews tend to be a bit more critical than Amazon reviews. Don’t be surprised if your rating is 1 to 1.5 stars lower on Goodreads than on Amazon. On both platforms, you can mark reviews as “helpful” or “unhelpful.” Asking readers to mark positive reviews as “helpful” influences how Amazon displays reviews in the “top views” section, so it’s a task worth asking folks to do.
When it comes to asking for reviews, keep in mind that not everyone who says they’ll leave a review actually does it. Even on book launch teams, where the whole goal is to get book reviews, you’ll find only about 25% of the members follow through on leaving a public online review of the book.
Why? People get busy, distracted or lose their momentum. Sometimes, they don’t finish the book or don’t like it and are too embarrassed to say anything.
The reason doesn’t matter. Your job is to keep asking.
What Will YOU Do?
Successful authors understand that getting book reviews is an ongoing process. It’s a big mistake to only focus on reviews during your launch period, because your book has a longer shelf life than that. If you want people to continue buying your book, you have to keep asking for reviews.
Think of it from a book buyer’s perspective: Would you rather buy a book that hasn’t been reviewed in the past three years or one that has more recent reviews?
This is why we say getting reviews is a long game. You will get more reviews when you understand the value of reviews on Goodreads and Amazon (so you can communicate that value to others), know the rules for leaving online reviews, leverage your email signature to ask for reviews, consider recruiting a launch team, get creative with your social media promotion and manage your own expectations.
There is no time in the lifespan of your book when reviews won’t be important. Do what you can to make the experience enjoyable and stay consistent.
If you want to grow your social media audience, book giveaways and contests are important tactics to add to your marketing strategy.
Since we care more about connecting with the followers that count than counting followers around here, you might be surprised to see me suggest using book giveaways and contests to grow your social media audience.
Giveaways make strategic marketing sense, though, because book contests attract readers — and readers are the followers who count for you as an author. The best way to grow your online audience is to make yourself known to the people most likely to buy and read your books. Book giveaways accomplish that goal.
If you’re not a published author, you can still use this strategy to grow your social media audience but your contests and giveaways will look different.
If you have one or more books already published, however, these suggestions are all worth considering.
Set a Goal for Your Giveaway
There are two ways to grow your social media audience: Increase followers and increase engagement.
If you want to be strategic about your giveaway, you need to choose a goal. Though you could create a giveaway to increase both your followers and your engagement, it’s wiser to choose one target to track and measure and use to define your success.
Increasing your follower count is a vanity metric, but it’s a goal that makes sense if you’re close to an audience milestone, like trying to get to 10,000 followers to earn the coveted “swipe up” feature on Instagram.
Contests designed to increase follower counts will require participants to like or follow specific accounts to qualify for the prize. People who follow you to enter your giveaway are unlikely to be engaged followers, and they tend to unfollow you after the contest ends unless you develop a reputation for regularly hosting contests. If you don’t intend to give away stuff regularly, plan for the drop in followers and don’t take it personally.
Increasing your engagement is a goal that makes sense on any algorithm-driven social media platform because the activity helps the algorithm decide which users and types of users are most likely to appreciate and engage with your account. Increasing engagement also builds up excitement around your giveaway. Who doesn’t like to see a post with hundreds of comments? If that doesn’t motivate you to suit up and show up for your followers, I don’t know what will.
Though your engagement rate will naturally go down after a giveaway, you can often keep the interest of your followers if you regularly publish high-value content specific to the needs of your followers.
How to Make the Most of Your Book Giveaway or Contest
Anything worth doing is worth doing well, and that’s true for social media giveaways and contests. If you’re going to invest time and energy in creating a book giveaway, you’ll want to do everything within your power to make the giveaway successful.
Once you’ve chosen a goal for your giveaway it’s time to plan your contest. Your planning doesn’t have to be elaborate but there are a few key decisions to make at this stage:
- Choose your channels
- Specify your contest rules and prizes
- Set your contest deadline
- Promote your giveaway
- Host your giveaway
- Announce the winner(s)
Some of these decisions are quick to make and others require thought but the time you invest in the planning stage will pay off in both success and time saved later on by not having to make split decisions while your contest is underway.
Choose Your Social Media Channels
Where you host your contest influences what you can and can’t require of participants who want to enter your contest.
Facebook, for instance, doesn’t allow you to leverage the friend networks of participants for your contest. You cannot host a contest that requires participants to share posts or tag friends in a post to enter. You also can’t offer bonus entries for these behaviors. You can, however, require participants to like or follow your Page, comment on posts or sign up for your email list.
Twitter has rules banning contests that cause users to create fake accounts to enter more than once or flood the channel with the same tweet or almost the same tweet over and over again.
Goodreads Book Giveaways
Over at Goodreads, giveaways are a paid promotion. You pay Goodreads to host your giveaway and there are pricing tiers based on what you want your giveaway to include.
It’s worth a bit of your time to review the rules of the channels where you want to host your giveaway so you make sure your requirements are allowed.
Specify Your Book Contest Rules and Prizes
Once you are clear on what you can and can’t do on the social media channel where you’re hosting your book giveaway, it’s time to set your contest rules and prizes.
Easy-to-follow, low-commitment contest requirements tend to have higher participation than ones with several steps. They may also attract entries from people who aren’t actually interested in what you have to offer. They might just want to get something for free.
At the same time, a complicated entry process with multiple steps might turn off even your most ideal reader if they get frustrated by jumping through hoops. The only way to know for certain what’s best for you is to test requirements over a series of giveaways to find out which requirements come closest to achieving your desired outcomes.
If you already know you’re hosting a book giveaway, picking prizes should be easy. However, it still makes sense to decide now whether you will have one winner or multiple winners and whether you’re giving away a single book or a book bundle.
Make sure your prize and your requirements align. A complicated entry process would need a high-value prize to entice participants, while a simple entry process leading to a simple prize is well received.
Set Your Book Giveaway or Contest Deadline
Deadlines create a sense of urgency, which is why every contest needs one. The duration of your contest, though, varies on where you’re hosting it. Goodreads, which charges authors to host book giveaways, recommends a 30-day contest period for maximum awareness and interest. Though you can choose any length of time you want, shorter contest periods tend to increase interest and participation on Instagram and Facebook.
Promote Your Giveaway
People can’t enter your giveaway if they don’t know it’s happening. Promoting your book giveaway is a step you can’t afford to skip, and cross-promotion is key. No matter where your giveaway is taking place, you should notify your email subscribers and your followers on every social media channel where you actively participate.
Amp up the energy when you’re promoting your giveaway. Make it exciting and no matter what your prize is, use language like it’s the greatest gift anyone could ever receive. Enthusiasm is contagious and if you’re enthusiastic about your contest, your audience will be as well.
Host Your Book Giveaway
When you’re ready to kick off your giveaway, make sure you have the time and resources necessary to support its success.
Giveaway contests are not a passive marketing tactic. You can’t launch a giveaway and go off the grid for the weekend. Every person who enters your book giveaway is a potential book buyer, email subscriber and social media super-fan. Treat them as such.
Respond to comments (ignore the spammy ones), thank participants for entering and answer questions daily during your contest period. Not only does this keep your entrants engaged throughout the contest period, it also amplifies your reach and keeps the contest top of mind for everyone involved.
Announce Your Winners
Once the contest ends, you’ll want to announce your winners. It’s important not to let too much time go by before announcing your winner. Remember, you want to keep everyone engaged as much as you can, and the momentum that comes from hosting a giveaway can be leveraged.
Announce your winners on the channel where the giveaway took place, and make sure to notify everyone you promoted the giveaway to that a winner has been selected. Instead of naming the winner in your off-channel announcements, direct people to the official announcement post.
There are free tools that make contest announcements fun for you and for participants. Wheel of Names is a site that puts participant names into a wheel you can spin to have the winner selected at random. Comment Picker is a tool that makes choosing winners from social media post comments easy. It doesn’t have the visual appeal of Wheel of Names if you’re sharing your screen to publicly broadcast the winner selection via live video, but it makes sense if you have a higher volume of entries. The video above shows the Wheel of Names in action on a book giveaway hosted on my Facebook page.
Measure Your Results
Once you’ve concluded your book giveaway and announced the winners, it’s time to assess the success of your contest. You don’t need fancy tools to track, measure and analyze your results.
What you need to know more than anything is the number of new followers you’ve gained during the contest period and the number of reactions, comments and shares on your contest post. All of that data is available within each social media channel.
Your first giveaway might not be a huge success, but remember every contest you host can serve as a data point to tell you what resonates with your ideal audience on each channel.
Wondering whether you should host giveaways and contests to grow your social media audience and promote your books? Borrow my brain for 20 minutes so we can explore whether giveaways should be incorporated into your marketing strategy. You can book your free session here.