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The unsung heroes of the writing world – first-time authors, business book authors, authors who’ve endured years of struggle, and comeback kids – are all resistant to the idea of giving their work away.

After all, who buys the cow when the milk is free?

Although it seems counter-intuitive, free books actually can boost long-term business potential. In today’s digital age, the best outlet is the eBook, which offers advantages other publishing opportunities can’t.

What “Free” Means for eBooks

Most people want to read bestsellers so they can tell their friends they read the same book everyone else is talking about. But short of appearing on Oprah’s Book Club (you’re a little late for that!), gaining readership can be difficult.

Free ebooks provide some notable benefits:

  • Exposure: While we hear of the unknown author who struck gold with a million Kindle books sold, these stories are few and far between. It’s nearly impossible to convince readers to spend hard-earned cash on an unproven author, even at 99 cents. Think back to the last album you paid for by a band you’d never heard. Draw a blank? Free eBooks get your name out while limiting readers’ risk. It’s a win-win.
  • Feedback: Last year, a discouraged writer published a book with my company. She’d received so many rejections that she considered her free eBook a last-ditch effort. She posted her work and forgot about it; months later, she found the public loved her book and were leaving helpful reviews. She tweaked her book with this feedback, eventually picking up sponsors to back her writing efforts.  This kind of feedback is also helpful for writers lacking in confidence. As people provide comments, writers can refine their material until they have something they believe in enough to pitch to other outlets or offer to clients at a price.
  • Sharing: Most authors aren’t professionals; they own a business, have regular clients and workloads and write as a hobby or as a sideline. These writers aren’t looking for million-dollar deals – they just want people to like what they wrote. Free ebooks can land in the hands of thousands, and that’s inspiring.
  • Authority/Expertise: People are now introduced as “Joe Blow, author of 5-Second Abs You Wish You Could Have.” The public is always impressed when they know someone is an author – they assume that Joe Blow must know everything about fitness. Think most people couldn’t use credibility like that in the business world?
  • Leads: Ebooks can be interactive, and subtle advertising is business gold. Add links to your company website, ask for reviews, and embed social media buttons in your footers or back pages. People who liked your free work are more likely to consider your paying work, so lead them there.

But I Don’t Want to Give It Away for Free!

Some argue that eBook giveaways are wrong. You’re right. If your primary goal is to make money with your book, and you have the right resources to allow you to turn a profit, by all means, give paid publishing a go.

If you’re like most of us and lack millionaire friends who want to help you promote your book to the general public, it’ll be hard. Unknown writers must have backing, get lucky, or work their butts off marketing themselves (which most don’t want to do).

On principle, many say they worked hard to write their book, and they’ll be damned if they’re going to give it away for free. I certainly sympathize with this. But would you rather your work read by few or by many?

If you want just a few readers for the dollars they bring you, then in most cases, you have to put a lot of elbow grease in marketing the book – and yourself.

The Bottom Line

Authors should strive to maintain the same tone and quality in free eBooks as they would if they were charging for them. A writer is trying to “sell” something to readers, whether that’s a follow-up book, a service, or expertise.

Free eBooks only lead to success if a writer makes a great first impression – it’s a lot like a job interview.

So let go of your ego and give the public a taste of what you have to offer. Free samples work for everything from detergent to cheese, and they just might convince people to buy the cow.

Editor’s note: If you’re ready to write your ebook – but you just don’t know HOW – then you’re in luck. Damn Fine Ebooks, the game-changing ebook-writing course that teaches you how to plan, write and finish your ebook in just 12 weeks, is open now to new students. See you there!