Distributing Free Books

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by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

It used to annoy me when I’d read about how important it was to offer a free book to readers for newsletter signups or as rewards for newsletter subscribers.

The advice was all well and good, but it rarely got into the nitty-gritty of it.  How exactly were we supposed to give away these freebies?  Surely I wasn’t expected to monitor signups and send out individual emails to subscribers?

The same problem would arise when I’d be invited to participate in group giveaways or when I’d need to submit advance review copies.

How was I supposed to share these files with subscribers or reviewers without manually sending them out?

Method 1: 

At the time, MailChimp (free newsletter software … at least, free for 2,000 or fewer subscribers) did not host files for giveaways.  This meant I needed a workaround.  After a good deal of research, I adopted this approach to use my book A Dyeing Shame as a reward for signing up for my newsletter: For the download links, I used Amazon’s free cloud storage.  I logged in with my Amazon login.  Then I created a “bucket” called “dyeingshame”  and uploaded 3 files: Kindle, epub, and PDF.  When I selected each file on the site, a side menu came up.  I chose ‘properties’, then ‘permissions’. Then I clicked  the green arrow for ‘add more permissions.’   I then used the drop-down menu to select ‘everyone. and saved it.  A minute later, the file was showing as public. I copied the file url and hyperlinked it to the ‘download’ text image on the webpage landing page I set up for newsletter subscribers.

It wasn’t hard, but it was convoluted and took a little time.

Method 2: The good news is that MailChimp now hosts files.  You upload the book files (epub, mobi/Kindle) and then link to the files instead of attaching them in your newsletter campaign.  If you run into any issues, you can always choose my previous method.

The only negatives that I’ve experienced are readers who have had technical difficulties when downloading the files.  I came up with a standard explanation of how to navigate the downloading and reading of the files, but it did eat up some of my time (and, yes, my readership includes many senior readers … many of them are quite tech-savvy on e-readers, but some are not. Your mileage may vary as to whether this proves an issue).

Method 3: That’s one reason why I was excited to hear about instaFreebie.  If a reader runs into a problem, they’re the ones running interference.   You upload your book’s epub file, cover, and info to their site (they will convert the epub to a mobi file for Kindle readers or a PDF).

(Sorry for any blurriness below:)

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Showing a successful upload:

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Once it’s processed after several minutes, click ‘new giveaway’ and ‘create quick giveaway.’  You’ll then see the page below:

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You have the option for setting an expiration date for the free book or a limit to the number of copies that are allowed to be downloaded.  Important to note…instaFreebie will share your free book on their site or allow the freebie to be public unless you uncheck the boxes allowing them to do so.

They provide you with a link to the book for your reviewers, newsletter subscribers,  giveaway winners.  The site suggests that you could even use it for beta reader sharing. You  insert that link on emails to reviewers, new subscribers (using automation … provide the link for your landing page for new subscribers), and winners:

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The readers/reviewers click on the link and get three options for receiving their book, along with any tech support they need.

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The premium version of instaFreebie removes the need for us to set up the link through MailChimp–it collects email addresses and automatically connects them to our MailChimp account.  But, sadly, I find myself again too frugal to use the premium version of a service.  :)  I’ll continue with my email automation through MailChimp that I’ve already set up.  But that is an option for you, if you want integration with MailChimp without any hassle.

There are other methods of sharing files …NetGalley, for instance. But the cost is prohibitive, I find.  BookFunnel is another option, but there is a $20 a year cost …I’d like to hear your thoughts if you’ve used them.

This is an area that’s changing all the time, so I’m interested to hear how you distribute free copies of your books.  What service do you use or do you handle it manually?

And a note that I’ll return to the blog on Sunday this week so that I can have extra time to finish up my book and send it to my editor!  :)

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31 thoughts on “Distributing Free Books

  1. I use Bookfunnel. I tested out both Instafreebie and Bookfunnel, and as a user I appreciated that I didn’t have to give out my email information and there was no promotional component. I felt that was worth the money. It’s very easy and they provide the tech support. When I sent books out on my own, I often had to help people upload them. However, I found the people at Instafreebie very helpful, and I know many authors use them, so I don’t think there’s a huge difference.

    1. Melanie–That makes sense. And Bookfunnel is certainly not expensive like NetGalley is. We do have the option of opting out of instaFreebie promo, but it’s easy to let those checkboxes slip by! Nice to know that you’ve had good experience with the support at instaFreebie.

  2. I think we’re just using the Mail Chimp version for the free IWSG book we give away to newsletter subscribers. (I’d have to ask Chrys, as she handles all of that.) But good to know about InstaFreebie.

  3. From a reader’s perspective I’m truly amazed at all of the work that goes on in the background for authors to provide the books they do. Before blogging, I never once thought about authors doing anything other than writing. Learning just some of the tasks you face makes me appreciate authors like yourself that much more. Y’all do an amazing amount of work so we can enjoy your stories. Thanks for all you do!!

    Thoughts in Progress
    and MC Book Tours

  4. Thank you, I’m going to look into using that for distributing review copies.

    Net Galley is SO expensive. Over $400 for one title to be listed for 6 months.

  5. Terrific post, Elizabeth! I’ll be sharing this with my online writer friends and storing it away for future reference.

    Right now, I’m only giving away one novella (20K in length) to new subscribers. What I did was go through WordPress. I set up a separate password-protected page on my website and uploaded the file onto it in epub and mobi formats. Then I set up a newsletter (I use the MailPoet newsletter plugin for WordPress) that is sent automatically to new subscribers, giving them the link and the password to the book (along with the cover art and blurb of the story, of course).

    I’ve found that to work well, and didn’t require much in the way of set up. I only had one reader contact me with an issue, and I just sent her the file personally.

    1. Kathy–Oh, I like that idea. So you’re hosting your own files on your site. That would be a good workaround for any writers who have a self-hosted site and no Prime account with Amazon.

  6. Elizabeth, I use BookFunnel. I find it easy to use. I just upload the ebook in various formats and use the link in the appropriate MailChimp confirmation message. What I like about BookFunnel is that readers can easily download the ebook and if there are problems, BookFunnel resolves them. I also use Dropbox for other freebies and there always seems to be problems, even though I’ve asked colleagues to test the download method and they don’t have the issues that my readers sometimes have. I use BookFunnel for advance review copies for my launch team and I love it. It’s well worth the $20/year that I pay. BTW: I’m going to check out InstaFreebie. It also sounds great.

    1. Frances–Thanks for this! If I run into any issues with instaFreebie, I’ll give BookFunnel a go…the cost is certainly not prohibitive. I sometimes have issues with my own Dropbox account, so I can imagine others could, too.

  7. This is really useful, Elizabeth! Thank you. With today’s technology, it really ought to be straightforward to be able to share a free book, either through a giveaway or for review, with readers. And it can be an effective way, I think, to generate interest and encourage readers to check one’s backlist.

  8. Thanks Elizabeth for the wonderful article.

    I’ve tried Instafreebie, Bookfunnel, and a whole slew of other options to distribute my giveaways and felt compelled to share my experience.

    After using both, I ran a pricing/service comparison of instafreebie and Bookfunnel as they seem to be the two best services for distributing ebooks. Originally I used both services only for ARCs to send to some readers for edits and as rewards. I found no difference between the two services, except that on instafreebie I was paying $0 and on Bookfunnel I was paying $100. I chose the $100 option on Bookfunnel because of the number of readers I was emailing my ARC too. I asked my readers for feedback and found that my readers found both services easy. One reader had trouble on instafreebie when they tried to claim a .mobi file but Instafreebie customer support was quick to solve the problem. It turned out that the reader hadn’t followed directions! No readers reported any problems on Bookfunnel so I can’t speak to their customer support response although I hear really good things.

    Recently I decided to do a giveaway under one of my pen names to try and build my reader email list before I release the upcoming book in that series. At this juncture, I decided to upgrade to the “plus” account on Instafreebie because I wanted access to the emails of readers who claimed my giveaway.

    I thought about using both Bookfunnel and Instafreebie to do the giveaway but I realized that Instafreebie had been putting books on their blog, social media accounts, and in recommendations after other claims so I thought I would try and aim for them to share my book.

    I was hoping to gain a few dozen new email subscribers or if I was lucky, 100 or so. I started off pretty well and gained about 50 subscribers through my efforts sharing the giveaway on my social media accounts. I also think I gained about a dozen subscribers from the recommendations on Instafreebie. For what’s worth, I used to spend more than $1.00 to acquire readers using Facebook ads. At $20 for the month, the service had already paid for itself.

    The next week I received the surprise of a lifetime. For some reason (and I’d love to know why!), Instafreebie decided to feature my book in a blog post and an email. In the span of 24 hours, over 720 people downloaded my book! In the next week, an additional 554 people claimed the book and I’m still getting residual downloads from their efforts.

    Imagine that. Here I was, hoping to get a few dozen new readers and I ended up with almost 1400 readers to date. I spent $20 for that (plus the additional money that I’ll continue to spend with Instafreebie because the last few weeks earned my loyalty) and gained almost $1400 in value of readers.

    I’ve spoken with a few other fantasy authors and a few friends who write romance and some had similar experiences with Instafreebie. We’re all hooked.

    After this experience, I see no reason to use any other service besides Instafreebie for distributing my free giveaways or building my email list!

    So to recap, I found that Instafreebie and Bookfunnel were both good for delivering ARCs, but Instafreebie’s service was free while Bookfunnel’s was not. For building my email list, Instafreebie was so good that I didn’t have a reason to try Bookfunnel. As far as I know, Bookfunnel doesn’t help share giveaway campaigns and I don’t think they even have social media accounts. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.

    Instafreebie recently sent me this email and I assume to all authors using their site:

    “We’ve recently made some big changes to instaFreebie with the aim of helping authors reach new readers and gain discoverability.

    As a valued instaFreebie author, you’ll have a chance to be selected for the following features we added:

    Our new homepage displays public giveaways from selected authors

    Over 300,000 avid readers engaged 5x a week with content relevant to their genre interests

    Our blog features authors on a daily basis

    More coming soon!

    To be eligible for a feature, all you have to do is:

    Login to instaFreebie

    Create a giveaway campaign or edit an old one

    Check the PUBLIC giveaway checkbox

    Check the “No Limit to Number of Giveaways” checkbox

    The instaFreebie team has a number of new features we are planning to roll out over the next few months to further increase your ability to reach new readers. Your feedback is critical as we continue to build new services and features.

    What features would YOU like to see? How can instaFreebie help you to connect with more readers? Please fill out this survey with your feedback and suggestions! And feel free to email us at support@instafreebie.com with any questions or concerns.”

    My apologies for the long comment. I’m not usually one to participate much in forums online or comment on articles but I felt I had to share this experience. Wow.

    Yours,
    Ralph

    1. Ralph–Thanks for sharing this! That clears up a big question in my mind…how effective is instaFreebie in generating newsletter leads? So, in your case, not only were they very effective in generating leads, they actually (from a cost perspective) beat Facebook ads. That’s remarkable!

      I hadn’t really seriously considered their service to fill that role, thinking that I would use them strictly for delivery instead of generation. Your thoughtful comment is causing me to rethink that approach…thanks for this!

  9. Hi Elizabeth – what a great post with those extra ideas from your readers – invaluable to many and I definitely note your posts …

    Cheers Hilary

  10. Hmmm, how confident are you in Instafreebie’s ability to translate an ePub file into mobi? It would be nice if they gave us the option to upload our own version of the mobi file, assuming we have one.

    1. Ken–I agree…that would make me feel better. Instead, I grabbed the link that provides the free copy, downloaded the mobi, and viewed it with my Kindle. Mine looked good, but your mileage could vary!

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