The Power of Free for Marketing Books

Updated on March 14, 2019
Willow Shire profile image

Willow Shire is an author who struggles with depression. His non-fiction focuses on depression and the writing life.


Being a new author, the hardest thing is to gain readers. You can write anything you want, but getting people to buy in is another story. We have to overcome several hurdles.

  1. Indifference - Readers don’t think the book applies to them.
  2. Procrastination - Readers don’t see the point in buying it right now, maybe later.
  3. Skepticism - Readers don’t think you can write a book.
  4. Worry - Readers are concerned your book isn’t for them.

I attended Wizard World Cleveland last weekend. It was our first convention as a bookseller. We didn’t know what to expect. In building our booth, I tried to jump these hurdles.

Crush Reader Indifference with Kindness and Explanation

To beat indifference, we made sure everyone knew what I was selling. We had big posters showing the covers of the books with their “Urban Fantasy” tag lines.

As people passed the booth, we watched their facial movements. You can tell when someone has no interest in books. For those that had even a minor twitch, we would call out “Do you like Urban Fantasy books?”

Many of those people didn’t, but the question forced them to stop. They felt compelled to answer or have us repeat the question. Some ignored us or scoffed. We didn’t take it personally. My work isn’t for everyone.

Of those who approached, many asked, “What is Urban Fantasy?” One person said, “I don’t know, but my Kindle tells me I do.”

We went into the explanation that Urban Fantasy books involve magic, monsters, and myth in the modern day world. Some people have a stringent view that it has to be a romantic book, but that’s not the case. Romance just sells more books. Add magic to your modern world story, mix in some fantasy creatures, and you have yourself an Urban Fantasy.

The terminology is confusing. I don’t like that it’s Urban instead of Modern, but educating people is part of our jobs as authors.

We beat indifference by grabbing a reader’s attention and telling them what the book is about.

You also have to be kind and ask them personal questions. I like, “Are you enjoying the convention?”, “What is your favorite thing so far?” and complimenting any items they’ve bought. This builds a relationship with that reader. Many authors won’t ask them questions. This sets you apart, showing that you are interested in the reader—and not just selling to them.

Beating Reader Procrastination with Deals

Procrastination is beaten by offering limited time deals. If you are at a convention, create a convention only special. I offered multiple bundle deals.

  • Buy both paperbacks for x
  • Buy all the ebooks for x
  • Buy both paperbacks and all ebooks for x

I have a set of short stories only in ebook form. These bundles did the trick to upsell those short stories to paperback readers.

Some people only like ebooks. If you don’t sell ebooks directly, you’re making a BIG mistake. Sell ebooks at your conventions. Chances are you already have them on Amazon and other providers. Set up your own delivery system and use that to upsell your bundles.

Reviews Are Powerful Tools Against Reader Skepticism and Worry

Skepticism and worry are beaten with two approaches. Many readers don’t want to take a chance on a new author. They might think you have no right to write. Looking at you, they might make a snap judgment on appearance. They might not like your cover. There are a million reasons they might be skeptical or worry.

I did two things.

First, I printed out a review sheet for Fury, Revenge, and Greed. As people perused the books, they could instantly see reviews. They didn’t have to go online. They didn’t have to ask a friend. The reviews were right there.

This tells them you have readers who love your book and know you can write.

The Power of Free to Smash Skepticism and Obliterate Worry

The final piece of the puzzle was my free offering. I offered a free copy of Greed : An Urban Fantasy Heist to everyone, giving them a sample of my writing. When you talk to someone, you can tell if they will buy or not.

Most times, I would pick up on this and say, “You can always download Greed for free. It’s a good introduction to my writing style and some characters.”

Many people responded, “Really? For free?” They would say how appreciative they were for the offer. Readers don’t know if they’ll like books. Offering a free sample does two things:

  1. They can find out if they like your writing. If they don’t, you don’t risk bad reviews when they purchase a book they hate.
  2. You hook them with your free offer, and they come right back for more.

A perfect example was a reader who showed up the first day. He downloaded the free story and read it over the weekend. Coming back to the show on Sunday, he kept saying, “I have to read this series.”

It led to an immediate review and recommendation on my Facebook page.

Give potential readers a sample of your writing for free. I don’t think this should be free chapters. Personally, I think it should be a short story, novella, or novel. I’m partial to the short story, because I want to sell my other books.

Make sure you grab their email address so you can follow up. Just because they read your free ebook, doesn’t mean they’ll follow through. You want to follow up, build a relationship, and turn them into a sale. With proper email marketing, you can target everyone who signed up at the convention to extend convention deals for a limited time.

With this free offer, you need to do two additional things.

First, have a way for readers to subscribe right away. These are people who are extremely interested in your story.

Second, have something you can give them with a link to get the free ebook. I like bookmarks. Each of mine has my website and says, “Get your FREE ebook.” Many people get nervous giving their email at a convention. I have been burned by vendors who end up spamming or turn out to be scam organizations.

The bookmark solves this problem. The reader gets to go to your website, check you out, and then sign up for the free ebook.

If you’re not already set up to offer a free sample at conventions, give it a try. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results. Just make sure you can follow up and turn them into sales.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Willow Shire


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    • profile image


      12 months ago

      You are welcome.

    • Willow Shire profile imageAUTHOR

      Willow Shire 

      12 months ago from Central Pennsylvania, USA

      Thank you! :-) My shelf is myriad of genres, too. Fantasy, sci-fi, general fiction to all sorts of non-fiction. It's like a squirrel nest; it keeps collecting more books.

    • profile image


      12 months ago

      Awesome Hub, Will!

      I truly dig your work, your tips for authors and your personal choice for branding your own work. This all spells out Smart Marketing to me.

      I'm an avid reader of a multitude of genres. However, you never truly know what kind of books you like unless you take a chance and read it. I have so many books from the Eragon Series, to Alex Cross, from the NoteBook lol.

      Reading is everything!


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