Self-Printing Promotion: Complimentary Copies

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Hands down, the best way to sell copies of your self-published book is to give copies of it away for free. Strange but true.

Don’t give them away to just anyone, of course – I don’t recommend you walk through the streets with a cart full of books chanting, ‘Help yourself!’, for instance – but disperse them amongst carefully chosen book reviewers, booksellers, bloggers, journalists and other people associated with the subject matter of your book. These aren’t necessarily review copies, so to speak; the people you give them to may not even have an outlet in which to publicly review your book. But if they’re interested in the topic and you’ve written well about it, they might tell some or even all of their friends.

And you never know, one of their friends may be a producer on the Oprah show.

It could happen… right?

WHAT COMPLIMENTARY COPIES LOOK LIKE

Clean and new, for starters. Mousetrapped has a glossy cover and just picking it up can leave an obvious thumbprint; I always make sure to shine them up before I send them out to important people, and not to commit any crimes in which these fingerprints could be later used as evidence against me. (Side note: I find the chamois leather-type thingy Apple gave me to clean my iPhone works really well for cleaning glossy books.)

With POD-produced books, it’s not unusual to find a couple of books here and there with a slightly creased corner, unevenly cut edges or a smudged first page. Don’t be tempted to give these to your potential reviewers or in fact anyone you’re trying to impress with your book – instead, put your best foot forward. This is especially important with POD books where the expectation of quality is already low.

I wouldn’t sign complimentary copies unless the recipient asks you to.

If you’re sending your book to bloggers or book reviewers you hope will write about it, then give them all the information they need or the places they can go to get it. In my previous post on printed materials, I talked about my info sheet. I enclose this or something like it with complimentary copies, where applicable.

Many self-publishing books and blogs recommend you send out PDF versions of your book for review. In my opinion, this is not acceptable (except in pre-publication; see below). Just like you have to spend money to make money, you have to give away books in order to convince others to buy them. Self-published books are harder to get reviewed than their traditionally published counterparts, and you’re only going to make it worse if you don’t play by the rules. Be as professional as possible. This means sending out physical copies of your book. Do you think the New York Times reviews PDF files? Do you really?

WHO TO GIVE THEM TO

To date, I’ve given away about 40 free books and this includes about 10 that were presents to friends and people who’d helped me write, produce or promote it.

When I give away a book, it’s generally because:

  1. The recipient has helped me, been especially nice to me or given me a copy of their book
  2. The recipient has blogged about my book (prior to reading it) or interviewed me
  3. The recipient has a blog, business, column or is otherwise connected with the subject matter of my book.

If I find someone I think might be interested in reading the book with a view to reviewing it, I send them a message like this:

Dear Whoever,

I recently published Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida, a travel memoir of the eighteen months I spent living in Orlando and working in Walt Disney World. As book blogger for RelevantSite.com, I wondered if you might be interested in reading it? If so, I’d be happy to send you a complimentary copy. There is no obligation to review but if you like it, you might consider mentioning it in one of your posts. But as I said, there is no obligation. You can find out more about the book at http://www.mousetrappedbook.com. If you are interested in receiving a copy, please forward a postal address and I will mail one to you immediately.

Kind regards,

Me

I DO NOT send them messages like this:

Dear Whoever,

I really need to get my book mentioned on RelevantSite.com and am wondering if you’re the person to make that happen. If so, I’d be happy to send you a free copy of my book, Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida. Before I do though, I’m going to need a guarantee that you will post a review of it. Perhaps you could send me your passport? I’ll send it back after my (positive!) review goes live. I also need you to do it ASAP. Like, yesterday. I got bills, y’know? I’m also gonna need a signed declaration – notarized, obviously – that you’ll accompany my review with links to my blog, site, Twitter feed, Facebook profile, Flickr albums and Goodreads page, and that you won’t use any photos of me in which my left side predominantly features. That’s what’s up.

Laters,

Me

Now there’s some self-publishing guides that insist you should take no notice of the nay-sayers (read: sane people) and send your POD’ed book to The New York Times along with your misplaced sense of entitlement and delusions of grandeur. If that’s what you want to do, feel free, but you may as well flush a copy of your book down the toilet, along with some stamps, an envelope and the time you took to write the address label.

I also think paying for reviews or asking your friends and family to post five-star reviews on sites like Amazon – or even worse, doing it yourself – is unethical, dishonest and completely besides the point. And people can tell: there is a currently a book in the same genre of mine on Amazon.com that has more than thirty reviews, and all of them are either 4 or 5 stars, or 1 or 2 stars. This is a sure sign half of them have been written by friends or family as favors, and half of them are actually true reviews. Which ones do you think are which?

Focus instead on places like websites, bloggers and online magazines. Unlike national newspapers or literary journals, these need to generate new material on a daily basis and are therefore much more likely to review your book. They also aren’t especially concerned with big names, publicity or whether or not your book is POD’ed.

You will give away more review copies than you’ll get reviews, guaranteed. People forget, they don’t get around to reading your book or maybe they read it, don’t like it and don’t want to appear ungrateful for their free copy. DO NOT harass them or send pointed reminders. Remember they are under no obligation to review your book and acting like you think they are only makes you look like an ill-mannered, needy amateur.

Recently on Twitter I saw a tweet offering copies of a newly-published book in exchange for Amazon reviews. This book was traditionally published and so it was the publishing house – as opposed to the author herself – who was offering the free books. They set books aside for this very reason. On the other hand, people know self-published authors pay for every copy themselves and may feel guilty about giving a honest review. Having said that, this is a good idea and definitely something to consider.

Another option is to pursue pre-publication reviews. Draw up a list of suitable reviewers and offer them a PDF of your (finished) manuscript, with a view to using their review on your website, in the book itself or in other promotional material. If they submit a review, send them a hard copy as a thank you.

To give you an idea of who I sent my (potential) review copies to, some of the, ahem, ‘lucky’ ones were:

  • A blog run by an experienced editor that only reviews self-published books
  • A website/blog dedicated to all aspects of self-publishing on which I’d previously guest-posted
  • Two ‘chick-lit’ review blogs that also review non-fiction
  • An author who was looking for prizes to giveaway on her blog; I sent her a copy for herself as well, and she wrote a post about it
  • The book blogger of a site specializing in women traveling
  • The editor of a newsletter that lists work-travel opportunties
  • The editor of a directory about working abroad in which I appeared last year
  • A website that reviews all genres of books, TV and movies
  • A Disney news blog.

MY PROMOTION SECRET: GIVING AWAY BOOKS

While trying to force my book down people’s throats- I mean, um, encouraging them to buy it, I stumbled upon a great method for increasing your chances of getting free publicity. The principle is pretty simple: in interactions related to promoting your book, always offer a free copy.

Example no. 1: In the week leading up to my book launch, I got a phone call from a local newspaper. The community news editor wanted to ask a few questions for a short piece she was writing advertising the details of the launch. We had a short conversation and as we were about to hang up, I thought to offer her a free copy of the book. She was delighted, and offered me a feature story at a later date. RESULT.

Example no. 2: The local newspaper’s social diarist came to cover my book launch. While she was there, I chatted a bit to her and then I offered to send her a free copy of my book. She told me she also did a radio show where she interviewed local personalities about their favorite music, and asked me if I wanted to come on it. I said yes, and a few weeks later I was on it, talking about my book to thousands of people. RESULT.

Example no. 3: My Google alerts informed me that a chick-lit blog had written a short post about Mousetrapped‘s release. I sent the author of the post an email offering her – yes, you’ve guessed it! – a free copy of the book. She emailed back proposing an interview and later on, she also reviewed the book. RESULT. Bonus: she gave the book 5 out of 5 stars.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Always offer a free copy of the book.

THE GREAT UNKNOWN

Most of Mousetrapped‘s reviews to date have come from lovely people in unexpected places, situations I couldn’t have foreseen, let alone organized. Just like everything else on the path to promotion, it’s this kind of happy luck that propels you forward. Being nice, being friendly and interacting with your fellow writers, bloggers and tweeters is an absolute must. You have no idea what wonderful things will come out of it.

UPDATE (August 2010):

If I had my time over again, I think I’d do complimentary copies a little differently.

I wasn’t at all organized as I was finishing my novel at the same time as I was preparing to self-publish Mousetrapped, so I had no opportunity to seek reviews prior to publication. If I were to do it all again though, I’d make sure I did. About 6 to 8 weeks before my (arbitrary) publication date, I’m make a ‘review proof’ edition of my book: same interior, but with a plain cover. I’d also choose the cheapest paper and shipping options – a kind of Bargain Mousetrapped. I’d order up maybe 25-50 copies and send them out for review instead of PDFs. Having collected the reviews, I’d get permission to put some of them into my book (on the first page under ‘Praise for…’) and throw the rest up on my website or in my Amazon listing’s Editorial Reviews. This would help drum up pre-publication ‘buzz’ for your book, is a much more professional approach then sending out copies every time you come across a suitable reviewer and generally makes a lot more sense.

See all my self-printing posts.

Read more about Mousetrapped, the book I self-printed.

Next on Self-Printing Promotion: it’s my penultimate self-printing promotion post! Of Book Launches and Book Tours. (Monday)

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