Monday, September 23, 2013

Why do book giveaways and discounts work for some authors and not others?

Guest post by Vanessa Finaughty of Fireblade Publishers

Free books give readers an opportunity to try a new author without spending money. Let’s face it, in today’s world of indie publishing, far too many authors publish books that haven’t been edited properly (or at all), and, like everyone else on the planet, readers dislike paying good money for sub-quality products. If readers enjoy the book and find it of high enough quality, they’re likely to purchase other books by that author. If you’re lucky, free books will also earn you more reviews, thereby making your book more attractive to other potential readers.

Every author, particularly the independent author, wants the answer to the obvious question: how do I sell more books? While some authors swear by giving away free copies of their books, reporting that doing so increased their sales volumes drastically, other authors find that giveaways and discounts do little, sometimes nothing, to increase their overall sales.

What’s the difference between these authors and how do you know if it will work for you? There’s no easy answer to these questions. Myriad factors are involved, including how often you publish a new book, the total number of books you have available for purchase, how entertaining and original your books are, how well edited your books are, how well designed and eye catching your book covers are, the length of your books, whether or not your books are part of a series, what genre you write in, and how well you promote your giveaways and discounts, amongst others.

Let’s take a quick look at each of the above factors:

How many books do you have available for purchase and how often do you publish a new book?

Being prolific keeps readers coming back for more, and it’s a known fact that most authors experience greater readership (and sales) if they have more books out there. If you take too long to write your next book, readers will move on and many will forget about you and your books. With each new book you publish, you also have a new opportunity to market another book, which will draw more potential readers to try your products.

How entertaining and original is your book?

Your books have to entertain readers and make them want to read your other work. No one will buy another of your books if the first book they read is boring and unoriginal.

How well edited is your book?

Your books are products and, as such, you need to provide high-quality products. No one will pay for another of your books if they feel cheated out of the money they spent on the first book they read. In fact, this could earn you flame reviews that can irreparably damage your sales. Make sure your book is well edited, because most readers are educated enough to notice blatant spelling errors or typos, and many will find it offensive that you thought them so illiterate that they wouldn't notice the errors.

Is your cover well designed and eye catching?

They say ‘never judge a book by its cover’, but, when it comes to a literal book, this is exactly what readers do. If the cover is dull and inconspicuous, readers’ eyes will rove right over it and move to the next cover, the one that catches the eye with its boldness and interesting design. Your cover should also clearly depict what your book is about – readers should be able to tell the genre from the cover, at the very least. Your title should also be clearly visible and able to catch the eye from a distance (or from thumbnail view, if it’s an e-book).

How long are your books?

Studies have shown that most readers prefer longer books, probably because they feel that longer books are greater value for money. If your book needs to be short to avoid being overly wordy and padding it with boring nonsense, that’s okay – but be sure to charge a little less for shorter books, so readers still feel as if they’re getting a deal.

Are your books standalone books or part of a series?

Series sell better than standalone books. If readers enjoy the first book, they’re likely to want to read the rest of that story and, as such, will purchase every book in that series even if they don’t purchase any of your other books. However, after enjoying an entire series written by one author, the chances are readers will sample your other work too.

What’s your genre?

Some genres sell better than others. For example, you’re likely to earn twice as much selling romance or erotica books than you are any other genre.

How well do you promote your freebies and special discount offers?

This might sound obvious, but many authors discount their books or make them either permanently free or free for a limited time, then expect the downloads to start, yet they don’t advertise the fact that the books are free or discounted. You need to make use of all social media at your disposal, and announce the giveaway or discount on your blog and anywhere else you can.

So we’ve covered how to increase the chances of your freebies and discounts resulting in more overall sales. So, again, why do some authors follow all these ‘rules’ and see fantastic results when they offer free or discounted books, while others do the same and see little or no results, and how do you know which category you will fall into?

There is no ultimate answer to the first question. What I have noticed, however, is that free books work best when the free book in question is the first book in a series. Once readers have sampled and enjoyed a series, they’re much more likely to purchase the rest of the series, because they want to know how the overall story ends, and they want to read more about the same characters they’ve come to know and love. For standalone free books, there’s always the chance that readers will enjoy the book so much that they want to sample your other books, but keep in mind that it could be that none of your other books’ plots interest them. However, I find that discounting standalone books works better than discounting books in a series – many readers purchase the entire series in one go or as soon as they’ve finished reading the previous book if they enjoyed the first book, so they wouldn’t benefit from discounts unless the books were discounted at exactly the time they were planning to purchase. When standalone books are discounted, a reader who enjoyed another of your books is more likely to purchase the discounted book to see if it’s as good as your previous book.

As for knowing which category you will fall into – the only sure-fire way to know that is to test the waters. Discount some of your books or offer some for free, then advertise the offers, and wait and see.


  1. Studies have demonstrated that most book lovers lean toward more extended publish your books, presumably on the grounds that they feel that more drawn out books are more stupendous quality for cash.

    1. I think it also depends on the contents of the book, as a longer book is not necessarily value for money if the contents are not of good quality.

  2. What reader doesn't like free books? I've participated in such giveaways and promos, and even though I've yet to win, it's proven time and time again how effective it is at making me interested in the book and the author. This is definitely something the Phoenix social media here could work on. Anything to help the publishing industry.

    1. I totally agree! Free books are a great way for authors to gain exposure for themselves and their work.