Book Giveaways: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Authors are willing to try a lot of things to promote their books. Giving copies away for free is one of them.

That’s not to say that free book giveaways are a bad thing. In fact, there are some significant benefits to doing so.

Here’s what you need to know about the potential positives and negatives of free book giveaways:

Photo credit: Jessica/Flickr
Photo credit: Jessica/Flickr

The Positives
It’s pretty simple. Giving your book away for free will significantly increase its reach. After all, who isn’t willing to accept something for free? And when they get it, then they’re likely to read it. And when they read it … well, maybe they’ll love it. Maybe they’ll tell their friends about it. Maybe they’re rave about it on Amazon. And maybe … just maybe … you’ve built a fan for life. When your next book comes out, you’ll have a loyal reader. And then, they’ll be willing to actually pay whatever you charge for your new release.

The Negatives
Let’s start with the simplest of the negatives: there’s no money to be made when you’re giving something away for free. In fact, you are likely taking a loss when you do this. That’s especially true if you’re giving away print copies of a book. But even with electronic copies (which cost nothing to actually create or give away), you’ve still invested a whole lot of time, energy (and possibly money) in the giveaway campaign.

But, apparently, that isn’t the only drawback to giving your book away for free. As I discovered in a recent conversation on LinkedIn, there’s another, more obscure problem: a de-valuing of your product.

The conversation started with this post:

This is a question I pondered in my last blog post, after I’d received a one-star rating for my blog anthology, “Out Where the Buses Don’t Run.” It then occurred to me that the person that gave me the one-star rating won my book via a Goodreads giveaway.

Has anyone else encountered something like this, where they’ve given copies of their books away, either as a promotion or as a way to garner reviews, only for that to turn around and bite you? I’m beginning to think a book giveaway wasn’t such a great idea to begin with.  

And the responses seemed to back up this claim. Here are some of the highlights:

It’s true people devalue the free. When I was a stage performer, free shows would end up badly promoted and lacking tech support. — John Kulm

Yes, especially with Amazon’s free books. My worst reviews came from giving my book away. Most people connect free to garbage, so I’m sure these readers (the ones who left the bad reviews) were already biased to think the book was no good.  —Richard Houston  

There is definitely a correlation in marketing that goes something like, “In the absence of other signals, the buyer equates quality with price.” —Lucy Gold (500+)                      

So maybe there is something to be learned here. Maybe free book giveaways have a certain caché that come with them. This is something all authors should keep in mind before launching such a campaign.

But before you get too down on book giveaways, I’m going to include a quote from one last comment in that same conversation on LinkedIn:

I think giveaways are a great way to promote your book, but they are more effective if yes, you have a larger number overall, but also if it is part of a promotional event where people realize you are giving away a few number of books for the purpose of promoting it, not necessarily because you just want to give them away — which, unfortunately, can sometimes SEEM to be the case, even if it isn’t.

I’d say keep doing it, but maybe on a smaller scale, and only as promotional ventures that truly make sure people are aware they are being blessed with a free book instead of being given “just” a free book. —Jessica DuBois


So there you have it! All you need to know about the potential benefits and drawbacks of a book giveaway. Make your choice wisely and best of luck!