Anyone who knows me, personally, knows I love giving gifts. I'm broke, so I don't get to do that much these days but it doesn't mean I've lost my love for the fun of giving things away. In 1999, when I left the country, I literally gave away 90% of my worldly possessions (rather than paying to store them until I could afford to ship them) and to this day, I can honestly say, that was one of the most fun things I've ever done in my life.
My writing is no exception. I enjoy getting feedback more than money--though yeah, I'm in this to make a living. It'd be nice to be able to pay the bills with my writing, even if I don't get rich from it.
One of the most fun stories I've ever written (because of how I wrote it) is my first release Coming Home (Dicky's Story). This book is very different from anything else I've ever written--before or since--for a variety of reasons, but the two biggest reasons are that it's an inspirational (my one and only) and it's written in the first person male voice (first and last time I'll do that!)
The reaction I've received to it has been different from my genre work, as well. From the time I finished its first draft in 2003 until I decided to edit it into a RomCom in 2010, I gave away nearly 300 copies--one at a time. Via email. I have no clue how some of these people even found out the book existed, but a friend of a friend was the most-common explanation in the initial contact message. It was a fair head rush for a while there, in 2004 and 2005 when I got one email after another requesting a copy of it to read. Talk about a writer's most-fulfilling dream come true, readers actually begging for a copy of your book to read? In fact, it was part of the impetus for me to quit trying to climb a corporate ladder in IT management and just write full-time (which I did for a year and a half from 2005 to 2007).
I did not make money giving away 300 copies of Dicky's Story. Obviously. I did, however, make a lot of contacts. My best guess is that probably as much as 30% (or 100 of them) might not have even finished reading the book after I sent it to them; however, I'm guessing that as many as another 100 were converted into "True Fans" who still, today, sometimes write to my old email address (which I can't seem to force into deadness as a result!) to ask if I'd consider writing a sequel, maybe tell Itzick's Story. I have to smile. No, I'm never writing a sequel to Dicky's Story but it sure is flattering that people who read Dicky's Story want more.
In the 3 months since I've released Dicky's Story, I've run a couple of promos where I offered a coupon code to let people get a copy for free but I've only had about 10 of those redeemed. People actually seem to pay full price when I offer a discount or freebie (note: Dicky's Story is currently part of the Smashwords month-long promo at 75% off, so you can just use the coupon code SSW75 at checkout, but I've sold 3 full-price and had no 75% off coupons redeemed so far). I'm not marketing Dicky's Story at all so I'm surprised it's selling at any price, but I think the intent makes a difference. As I've said, I'm more interested in getting readers who want to read everything I write than I am in customers who want to give me all of their money. Sick, I know, but I am an artiste.
This very subtle difference in the intent of the giveaway--the genuine interest in providing the readers with something without requiring they give something (money) back--seems to be promoted as a key marketing strategy by some of the best internet marketing gurus around. It's definitely all about intent.
Jeff Walker, famous for pioneering the "sideways sales letter" insists that your most faithful customers will walk away the second they realize you're selling them something. When the customer thinks you're concerned with improving their lives, they want to show their gratitude (they pay you because they want to) and it becomes a win/win. When the customer (or reader) knows you're trying to sell them your book because you want to add the dollar and change in royalties to your coffers, well, they tend to figure their buck fifty won't make or break you so why bother?
As I said, even though I've offered my book for free, I pitch it in those instances as a really fun read I think they'll enjoy and at the very least, it'll make you laugh for a while, which is always a good thing. I don't talk about how I'm going to change your life (which some readers claim Dicky's Story has done. I claim I'm going to entertain you--and then I do. I guess in a way, of course, just mentioning my book and linking to where it's for sale is using my content as "free advertising," the way Gary Bencivenga advises.
I'm a little afraid to find out what's going to happen when I finally do get off my duff and start sending out pitch-letters to get the book some PR exposure and sell it to the niche audience for whom it really was written (the secular Jewish American community, or about 3 million people in the US; then there's a whole UK audience, not to mention the English-speaking Jews in Canada, Australia, Israel and some other areas of the Middle East).
Offering freebies is also a big part of this blog--not to earn me money, but again, to earn me readership. I decided early on that I did not want to post ads or "monetize" the blog but I might change my mind on that a year from now. We'll see. For now, I like that I can offer this blog's content in good considence, knowing it serves no one but the readers. I think that makes the content a little easier to take in and just enjoy at face value. There's no ulterior motive and even when I link to my own book for sale, I'm not pitching it so much as using it as an illustrative example.
I'm trying to create on this blog that will help my fellow authors and will attract eBook readers to their books--as well as to my own, especially as I complete and publish more titles, but I'm not just here for myself. As Sonia of the Copyblogger pointed out in her recent newsletter on free content, it's not a bad thing to be a resource for your colleagues. It can even be profitable in a sideways sort of way.