Updated: May 23, 2022
First, I feel compelled to say if you saw the title and are here for free books, then you may or may not leave disappointed. It depends on when you find this post, as I often host giveaways and contests for my readers (check out my News & Events section) However, the purpose of this piece is to illuminate something that many publishing houses know, but few authors (especially indies) think about. Unless you are the mecca of marketing or the stars align and you have written the perfect book at the perfect time (i.e. ‘to market’), then you are going to give away a lot of free books.
Why on ANY PLANET would I want to give away my book for free, you may ask yourself. Because unless you are bringing in the numbers you want (either in dollars or quantity of books sold), then your biggest obstacle to overcome is climbing out of obscurity.
But wait, I was the <senior class president, lead in a school play, employee of the month>...! Congrats on your successes. Now read the preceding paragraph and let’s move on to the best places to send your free books. And no, your favorite aunt living on a shoestring budget isn’t mentioned, but yes, you can (and probably should) send her one.
*Please note that publishers such as Amazon’s KDP offer discounted author copies for physical books that can save you hundreds of dollars when sending out free copies.*
Reviewers: Whether you are looking for an editorial review or asking a top Amazon reviewer to check out your book, you will need to supply them a free copy of your book.
Writing Contests/Literary Awards: There are many contests that can help propel your author business. They offer an excellent marketing opportunity and sometimes, you even get a shiny token of distinction to add to your cover. At the very least, you’ve won the right to call yourself an award-winning author—forever. My one caveat is that there some bad apples that can (and do) take advantage of unsuspecting authors. If you search the webs for “the best writing contests” or “legitimate writing contests,” you can find a bunch that have been previously vetted. Please do your own research, regardless of what the recommendations are. Most websites will mention any affiliations they have with the contest holders. Most, but not all.
Social media influencers: In an effort to keep this relevant as long as possible, I won’t specify which platforms are best for selling books. Just know that this changes often, as does the popularity of whatever “it” author/books/genres/tropes are making the rounds. Find a good mix of the top and upcoming influencers and research which ones have a following that will like your book(s.) Be sure to follow their submission processes (usually laid out on their profile or given in a link/website) and always strive to exceed expectations. The adage of “delighting” your customer is just as important when giving away a free product as it is when selling something for monetary compensation. You are trying to build relationships, and the best ones are built on trust, right? Show them that they can trust you to deliver a quality product in a professional manner.
Libraries: This one surprises some people. However much we all like to fantasize about the day we walk into a bookstore or library and our books are magically stocked on the shelves, the reality is that as an unknown author (this is mainly for my newbies and indies), you are going to have to finagle this on your own. That means checking out your local libraries and looking for the best way to submit your book to be added to their catalog. Sometimes, it’s a simple form and other times, it’s having a few dedicated readers make requests directly to a librarian to stock your book(s.) I’ve heard of several authors that bypassed the red tape and showed up to the front desk with book in hand and a pleasant smile. Some libraries have dedicated sections to local authors, so make sure you pay them a visit or make a call to inquire. Oh, and in the interest of sending you there as prepared as possible, bring a few copies and make sure you ask what happens to your book if you submit it and it’s rejected for that location. Is it returned to you (rarely), donated elsewhere, or simply recycled?
Little Free Libraries: Although I could have added these to the above, I feel the Little Free Libraries deserve their own category. If you are lucky enough to have stumbled across one (or more), then you know they can offer some terrific finds in many genres. If you aren’t familiar with them or aren’t near existing ones, you can learn more about where to find them, or even how to start your own at https://littlefreelibrary.org. Donating your books to these neighborhood micro-libraries offer a ton of benefits.
One is promoting literacy, which is a win for us all. Another is that it gives you a chance to find readers in your area who may become fans that show up to local events like author readings and signings. And remember, having readers request your books at the local library is the best way to convince their librarians to stock them. Just think what could happen if your donated book(s) end up in the hands of the head of a local book club!
Personally, I’ve donated dozens of books to a multitude of Little Free Libraries. It has become a fun family outing where my children take turns dropping “mom’s books off” to each one. The unique designs are a hit, too. Many perch alongside butterfly gardens or to honor individuals or organizations that have made a difference in their creators’ lives. The website gives important details about what type of books are accepted for each. For instance, some ask that only children’s books be donated, information that can be found by hovering over the location point on the map.
Free books for the win...
Wherever your author business is headed, it is safe to say that it will begin with you giving away some of your books for free. The rewards are often hard to measure, but the potential often outweighs the risks!