Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Authors: How to offer free ebooks

By T.W. Fendley
Today's topic of "how to offer free ebooks" is one that puzzled me when I first started marketing my debut novel last October, and I've since seen several other new authors struggling with it. I quickly determined that giveaways on Goodreads, blog tours and contests would be one of the best ways to increase my book's exposure to readers and book reviewers.

As an avid reader, I was already a fan of bookstore gift cards, but those didn't really help me promote MY book. Fortunately, most online book retailers offer a way to gift specific ebooks, but each retailer is slightly different. For that reason, it becomes important to have the "right" email address for the recipient and information on what ebook format they use. This is often where readers seem to get confused (at least, I guess that's why they don't claim the books they've won).

As an author, getting accounts with the major online booksellers is step one.

Okay, let's start with Amazon, the 500-pound gorilla in the room.

Amazon: Sending a Kindle ebook can be very easy. First, select the Kindle edition of the book you want to send from the online listing. In the green box on the right, click the gold "Give As A Gift" button. After you sign in to your Amazon account, you'll see the option to "Email the gift directly to my recipient" or "Email the gift to me."  You can send a personalized message if you choose to send it directly, and the recipient will be notified immediately that the book is available.

The tricky part of sending an ebook directly to the recipient (which gets it to their Kindle seamlessly) is getting their Amazon email address. This is the email address they use to order books from Amazon, and NOT the email address that ends in "" for posting personal documents to their Kindle.   

Barnes & Noble: Pick the Nook book version. Under the orange "BUY NOW" button, you'll see a "Buy As Gift" option. Sign in, create a personalized message, and provide your recipient's email address. After you buy, B&N will instantly email them to let them know you sent a gift.

All Romance/Omnilit: This multiformat bookseller offers a variety of options for those with eReaders other than Kindle and Nook (but including those, too). You can gift a particular eBook by first purchasing for yourself. Then click on the little present icon next to the title in your library to send the gift to someone else. The giftee will receive a special notification via email with a custom message designed by you. If they already have an account with either All Romance or OmniLit, the title will display in their library. If they don't, they'll be invited to open an account and find their book waiting for them.

An overview of what file formats are used by the different eReaders is also available on Fictionwise.

For people who don't have dedicated eReaders, free downloads make eReaders available to smart phones, tablets and computers. Links to some of the popular free apps (including Kindle & Nook) are available on my author's website.
If you're an author, please share any tricks you've learned about gifting your ebooks, or any difficulties you've encountered. I know Smashwords and some of the other self-pub tools have coupons that make gifting easy, but I'd love to learn more about this process.

Thanks for reading The Writers' Lens. Your comments will enter you in this week's giveaway contest for Jo Hiestand's latest British mystery, TORCH SONG.

This is T.W. Fendley. You can also find me at and on Twitter @twfendley


  1. OMG, this is awesome - thank you so much!!!! This was incredibly helpful!

  2. I posted a question on Broad Universe about whether ebooks could be sent internationally, and the general feeling was "yes." --You can email books pretty easily, so long as your image data is properly compressed.

    Some of the other comments about what works best for free ebooks included:
    --You can set a 100% discount on Smashwords, or use Kindle Select to give away the story 5 days out of every 90 as a promotion. Kindle usually gets the largest audience.
    --If you have your own mailing list, Smashword codes and direct e-mails could also work.
    --You can offer a pdf on your website.

    Thanks to Arinn Dembo, Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Erin Lale for their input!

  3. Very useful info, T.W. This week I'm sending ebooks to people who won them, so I was glad to find this post. Thanks.

  4. Hi, Shauna -- I'm so glad it helped. It's amazing what authors have to learn to market their books!