Marketing in the Bazillion-Book Marketplace, Pt. 3 – Giving Away the Farm

billboard-951520-mWhen I write, I do my best not to “give away the farm,” or tell too much too early, lest my readers lose interest. However, it is in my best interest to keep this concept in mind when marketing it, too. Giveaways can work, or every author on the internet wouldn’t be running contests to win tote bags or handing out bookmarks at events.

They can also leave you with no farm.

“Swag” used to be called “marketing collateral” and “advertising specialties.” Now, it is the core of author “goodie bags” given at book fairs, signings, and online release parties. Rack cards, bookmarks, key chains, mouse pads—seemingly anything a person can buy with a book cover on it at VistaPrint or CafePress. But let’s get serious. You aren’t giving things away for the love of giving, and you shouldn’t have to bribe the general public to read your book. That said, in an environment where “viral” and “buzz” are keywords of note, it is always smart to give people something to talk about.

In marketing parlance, “thought leaders” are people whose opinion is important to your audience, which means they are the most important recipients of your attention. So, if you are making a list of people to provide with a giveaway, always start with people who have large followings of their own.

In the indie book world, this means book reviewers and bloggers, especially ones with high traffic. Book clubs are another source, though word-of-mouth will be smaller and slower. Contests are good, but they cost entry fees and have to be won. Industry/trade magazines are the cream of the crop, but it is no simple task to be seen in Publishers Weekly without buying advertising. Keep in mind, your novel’s thought leaders may not just be “general book reviewers,” so be as specific as possible, such as Civil War historians, garden club presidents, or chefs in Seattle.

There are some primary rules of thumb:

  • Make a budget and stick to it.
  • Set a baseline of average daily sales before your giveaway and track increases accordingly.
  • Only repeat a giveaway if it makes sales. Don’t spend more than you sell.
  • Giving away your product is always the best option, but don’t give it to everyone.
    • An e-book may be cheapest and easiest, but a signed print book is more personal and will have more perceived value. (If you don’t have a print-on-demand version, go to CreateSpace or Lightning Source and get one.)
    • While KDP Select may sound like a good way to accomplish a giveaway, don’t buy into exclusive sales anywhere. You can change the price to $0.99 for a week on the KDP Dashboard anytime. Smashwords (and others, like oAuthor) will provide a coupon code.
    • The Goodreads Giveaway is a route to the same end, and not a bad one, but in and of itself, is not enough. (My opinion on the problem of Goodreads another day.)
  • Remind readers of your book. Random gifts have nothing to do with your novel. If you are selling your novel as a “beach read,” give away a beach towel with your cover on it. If your book is digital-only, give away a branded e-reader cover. A mug with a random quote is ineffective, but a funny line from your book superimposed on your cover, much less so.
  • Contests and raffles are great, but make sure you get something for it. Make people buy a copy of your book or put a review on Smashwords or sign up for your newsletter. To my mind, one Like on Facebook is not worth a $10 prize.

What to give away:


  • Sharables on social media (memes, videos, coupons, etc.)
    • Make sure to include links to your book.
    • Include the cover or elements of your cover, like the font or graphics.
    • Size your memes appropriately for the social media venue.
    • Use lines of dialogue or short excerpts, as well as your blurb.
    • Create more than one and plan a cycle.
  • Your signature
    • Never let a print book leave your hands without signing it. If you can inscribe to a specific person, do it.
    • Authorgraph allows your Kindle readers to request an “autograph” for an e-book. Make this accessible on your social media sites and websites.
    • A traditional book signing makes you money (or should, anyway), but are still hard to arrange for indie books. Setting up/lobbying for a signing for indie authors at your local bookstore can’t hurt, but takes time and the bookstore has to make money somehow.
  • Excerpts/samples
    • Not only on sales sites, but on your website, your blog, and anywhere else you can find.
  • Advice or information (if you are an expert)
    • For instance, blog posts about book marketing. 😉
  • Printed draft copies of your book (great as contest prizes, even better covered in red ink and spilled coffee)
  • “Your name in my next book.” (Also great for contests.)


  • Copies of your e-book
    • NOTE: Don’t think of this as free because you don’t take money from your pocket. Giving it away costs you the same price as you would charge a reader. Your product must have value—especially to you—if you want other people to buy it.
  • Signed print copies
  • Coupons and sales, or gift cards specific to your book
    • On Amazon, use “Buy this book as a gift” or “Suggest a product for this gift card,” not a generic card
    • Use Amazon “Print-at-Home” gift card holders using your book’s cover
    • Have a “greeting card” or “business card” printed with your book cover and a Smashwords coupon code.
  • Bookmarks/Rack cards
    • These are great for signings, when so many people buy a Kindle copy, and now come cheap, under $50 for 500, at sites like
    • Use a QR code to take people to a buy link or your website.
    • Fit your card to a standard literature rack. Place racks in local businesses (with permission), like used bookstores or the café where you wrote most of the book. Keep track of how fast your cards disappear in each location.
    • Put a stack of your cards on bulletin boards (also with permission). Just one can be forgotten. If there are five, a card can be taken home as a reminder to buy.
  • A book trailer
    • I have been trying Animoto for a low-cost option, and I like it a lot. Otherwise, they range from $50 to $2000, with quality to match. (NOTE: The free account at Animoto cannot be used if you plan to use the video as a promotional tool.)
  • Your book in a box set
    • You will make next to nothing, but co-promotion is great, especially if you are selling multiple titles and genre readers might “discover” you.
  • Charitable donations
    • Not only a good practice in general, this also opens up your readership to people with a vested interest in your success. However, always tie it into your book. If your main character has an illness, give to related research. If she is a firefighter, give to the Fallen Firefighters Foundation. If he loses his dog as a central plot point, give to the ASPCA (and use puppies in your advertising).
    • Engage the charity in advertising for you in newsletters, on their website, etc.
    • You don’t have to give 100% of your sales to make this work, but larger is better than smaller. Long-term is better than short-term, but only if you keep advertising it.

High-cost (especially for contests and raffles)
(Give away a free or discounted copy of your book with all of the following.)

  • Advertising specialties (mugs, key chains, tote bags, mouse pads, e-reader covers, t-shirts)
  • Items replicated from your book (jewelry, clothing, toys, etc.)
    • The only reason to give away jewelry is if your heroine wears a necklace you can have recreated. (This is true for one of my clients, author of The Coin, because a bracelet is central to the plot.) Your hero might wear a jean jacket he uses to save the heroine from certain death. Your heroine might be known for always wearing a bow in her hair. If you are writing an erotic romance… well, you get the picture.
  • Tickets, tours, or entry fees to related businesses.
    • If your mystery novel starts with a murder at the Louvre, or your hero and heroine meet every year at the top of the Space Needle, or they have their tenth anniversary dinner at the 21 Club…
  • Related books
    • Research books you used, coffee table books on your topic, art books focused on your time period…
    • This should go without saying, but only give away used books if they are rare or first editions.

Don’t bother with:

  • Anything with no connection to your book.
  • Anything you pick at random because “someone might want it.”
  • Anything you bought just because your friend sells it.
  • Classic books in your genre
    • Do you really want to be compared to Jane Austen or Nathaniel Hawthorne?
  • Generic [Amazon] gift cards
    • These probably won’t be used to buy your book. (I always spend mine on something from my Wish List.)
    • Even worse if they aren’t meant to purchase books at all, like restaurant or big-box store cards.
  • Unrelated electronics
    • A year from now, when someone asks, “Where did you get the iPad Mini?” your contest winner will answer, “Some book promotion on the internet.” This goes for e-readers, even with your book loaded!!
  • Unrelated jewelry or clothing
    • “Nice earrings! Where did you get them?” “Some book promotion on the internet.”

Because I am gearing up to a book launch at the end of November, with pre-order beginning October 1, I am starting to plan my giveaways now. My current list includes (but will assuredly not be limited to):

  • Five promo memes each for Facebook and Twitter
  • Three book trailers
  • Bookmarks and rack cards with blurb and QR code
  • “Greeting cards” with a Smashwords coupon code (one for free and one at a discount)
  • Advertising specialties featuring promotional memes and/or book cover
  • Authorgraphs to be proactively emailed
  • Signed copies of the print book
  • Printed, marked-up first draft of the book
  • “Your name in the next book” contest
  • Tickets to Dulwich Picture Gallery and a tour of Buckingham Palace (both settings in the book)

While I am planning to give things away, I won’t be bankrupting my marketing budget, nor “giving away the farm” (or the plot). As you start to create your own list, keep in mind that creativity doesn’t stop when you finish writing your book. The more interesting your giveaway, the more interest it will generate.

To be continued…

(Please feel free to place links in the comments to your social media accounts, and I will Like/Follow, etc. Same goes for blurbs and buy links to your books.)

Mari Christie – Writing/Editing/Design

Books Available at
Saqil pa Q’equ’mal: Light in Darkness: Poetry of the Mayan Underworld
A Loaf of Bread: A Collection of Illuminated Recipes

Connect with me:
Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Microcerpt | LinkedIn | Amazon

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