Once of the common concerns entrepreneurs have when writing a book is how many they should give away and how many they should sell.
The typical advice in this area is, ‘Give away as many as possible! The more books you have out in the world, the more likely you are to get a call from a potential client who wouldn’t have found you otherwise.’ The theory is that making a sale to that one client will be enough to make up for the cost for all the other giveaways (or a significant portion of them).
However, following this approach doesn’t guarantee success. I know of some entrepreneur-authors who have invested thousands in their book and have given away almost all of them without seeing a return on their investment.
So what can you do?
The key is understanding your numbers — what is the cost of the books you’re giving away and what are the different ways you can make back that investment?
The cost of giveaways
After the initial costs of getting published, your book will incur ongoing costs for printing and postage. After all, when you run out of books you’ll need to get more printed, and you’ll need to pay to post them.
For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume that printing costs you about $5 per book, and that posting individual books costs another $5 per book (these are fairly standard numbers for short print runs and postage in Australia, so if you’re based elsewhere please use numbers that reflect costs in your area).
Using these numbers, if you print and post 500 books, you’re looking at a total cost of $5,000.
(Number of books x per-unit printing cost) + (Number books x per-unit postage cost)
= Total print run cost
At a minimum, you want to make back this $5,000 before you go to print again. Ideally you want to make a profit.
How can you do it? The two main strategies I’ve seen are focusing on book sales and focusing on strategic giveaways.
Strategy 1: Sell enough to cover costs and give away the rest
The first option to ensure you get a return on your publishing investment is selling enough books to cover that expense. So if your book sells for $25, you will need to sell 200 copies to make $5,000.
Total print run cost/Book RRP = Total number of required book sales
Once you’ve sold those 200, you can then give the final 300 away for free, knowing that even if no other sales come out of the exercise, you’ve covered your costs. And, if you do get any sales as a result of the giveaways, that’s then a bonus.
But how do you sell 200 books?
Most of the entrepreneurs I work with are so focused on giving books away that they don’t think about sales at all. In fact, they consider any sales to be a bonus, because the main goal of their book isn’t book sales.
But what if you could sell that many copies in a single transaction up front? Then you’d be free to do what you want with the rest.
In my research on different ways to fund your book, I was lucky enough to speak to two entrepreneur-authors who sold hundreds of books before they went to print. One was Geoff Green, author of The Smart Business Exit: Getting Rewarded for Your Blood, Sweat and Tears who presold 350 books at $32.95 each, adding up to over $11,500 and covering his initial print run of 1,000 books. The second was Carolyn Dean, author of Fully Booked: Dental Marketing Secrets for a Full Appointment Book, who presold 750 copies of her $29.95 book.
In both cases, these entrepreneurs didn’t focus on selling individual books to a high volume of readers. Instead, each partnered with larger organisations to sell books in bulk. 300 of Geoff’s presales were to a local law firm he was partnering with, while Carolyn sold 500 books to one partner, 200 to another and 50 to another.
If finding an organisation to partner with or selling 200 individual books feels a bit overwhelming, another approach is looking at the ratio of sales to giveaways instead. When you cut it back, selling 200 books for every 300 giveaways means you are selling one book for every 1.5 giveaways.
Monitoring this could be as simple as marking certain boxes as giveaway books and other ones as sale books — if you burn through your giveaway books before you’ve sold enough to cover the cost, that’s a sign that you’re giving your book away too freely or you need to up your sales efforts.
Or, it could mean you need to focus on strategic giveaways instead.
Strategy 2: Focus on strategic giveaways
The problem with focusing on book sales is that it takes a lot of volume to achieve a decent result. And, unless you already have a large email list or are partnering with organisations that do, it can be very difficult to achieve that volume of sales.
This is something I experienced when I offered presales of my book, Book Blueprint, last year.
The plan was to sell as many copies as possible before I went to print, thereby offsetting my publishing costs, dictating how many copies I should get in my first print run, and avoiding the bleak possibility of being left with thousands of books going mouldy in the garage.
How many books did I sell? 11. (And three of those were for my mum, so I actually only sold eight.)
However, there were other benefits of the campaign. The first was that I had about 40 people sign up to download the first two chapters of the book (which was pretty significant for me, since I only had about 100 people on my list at the time). The second was that I recruited beta readers who were in my target market, about 10 of whom made it through the entire book and gave me testimonials I could use.
While I expected these people to then buy the full book, instead a number of those downloaders and beta readers contacted us directly about our services.
I sold three one-on-one book planning workshops and four editing packages, adding up to $13,600 in revenue. In other words, giveaways brought in close to $14,000 in new business.
What are strategic giveaways?
These are what I consider to be strategic giveaways, or giveaways that are likely to lead to a return on your investment.
In my case, these giveaways were likely to lead to a return on my investment because the beta readers and people downloading free chapters from my book were entrepreneurs who had professed an interest in writing a book (after all, that was why they were voluntarily reading a book on how to do it!). This meant they were a match for our more expensive services.
Keep in mind that the return you expect to see on your book may vary. Some entrepreneurs want their book to lead to speaking engagements, some want it to lead to partnership, some are looking to increase revenue and others want to achieve all of this.
This means that what counts as a strategic giveaway will also vary, as different giveaways will lead to different returns (e.g. if you’re looking for potential clients, you would be giving your book to those potential clients or to people who are connected with them. By contrast if you’re looking for media attention, you’d be focusing on connecting with journalists).
For this article I’m going to focus on the revenue piece of the puzzle, where strategic giveaways are ones that are likely to lead to sales of other products and services, simply because the return is easier to manage (just look at your bank account). However, if you are looking for another form of return, the general principles in this article still stand.
Measuring the return on your giveaways
If you’re looking for a financial return on your book, rather than focusing on selling enough books to cover your expenses, consider how many of your core products or services you’ll have to sell to pay back your initial publishing investment, to cover the ongoing cost of printing and distributing books, or both.
If we return to the numbers from earlier in this article, a 500 book print run comes with an expense of $5,000 for both printing and postage. This means you need to sell enough of your core products or services to cover the $5,000 cost.
This doesn’t simply mean making $5,000 worth of sales to someone who read your book — there are expenses involved in providing those products and services (staff salaries, sales tax, office expenses, marketing expenses to generate the sale, and more). Instead, focus on the amount of profit in each sale. When you just focus on profit, how many packages do you need to sell to cover the printing and postage of your book?
If you sell a $5,000 package and $1,000 of that package is profit, you will need to make five sales to cover the cost of printing and posting 500 books, or one sale per 100 giveaways.
Total production cost/(Core package price — expenses involved)
= Total number of sales required
If you aren’t getting that many sales for your giveaways, then that’s a sign you aren’t being strategic enough — that the people you’re giving books to aren’t a natural match for your core business offering. If you’re getting more than that many sales, then keep doing what you’re doing!
Accelerate your strategic giveaways with partnerships
If you’re getting a good return on your strategic giveaways — meaning the profit you’re making on sales as a result of your giveaways is more than enough to cover the cost of those giveaways — the next step is accelerating the process.
And the fastest way to do this is with aligned partnerships.
Think about it — let’s say you have an email list of 1,000 people and your combined social media following is about 5,000 people. You might run a giveaway campaign, offering everyone who carries out a certain activity (responding to an email, sharing a post, or something else) a free copy of your book.
The first time you run this campaign, 5% of your total audience takes part, meaning you give 300 books away. You then make enough sales to cover the printing and postage of those 300 books, because the people who responded to the campaign are highly qualified leads.
But what happens next time?
Your most engaged followers have already responded. As a result, unless your follower numbers have increased exponentially since your last campaign, the percentage of responders is likely to go down.
In your second campaign, 3% of your followers respond, and in the following one, only 1% respond. And at the same time, the number of conversions go down, as the people who are responding aren’t as engaged (if they were highly engaged, they would have responded the first or second time). They might also be less qualified than your initial pool of leads.
Before long, you’ve run out of people to market to.
Instead, what if you could partner with people who are already speaking to your audience? People who are interested in what you have to offer, but who may not have heard of you yet?
By offering those partners your book as a giveaway, you could get your business in front of hundreds, if not thousands of potential new clients.
Measuring the return on individual partnerships
This is something I’ve been experimenting with this year — partnering with other businesses to distribute my books to entrepreneurs. These partners have included a coworking space, a business coach and a branding photographer, and all up they’ve helped me distribute about 450 books.
Like any giveaways, it can be easy to say, ‘More of my books are getting out to my target market, so there’s bound to be a return eventually!’
However, as I mentioned earlier, it’s very easy to just continue pushing books out into the world without seeing a return. Once again, you need to be strategic.
How do you know if a giveaway partnership is strategic?
Once again, measure the return you’re getting — this time, it’s the return on each partnership.
When I review the three partnerships I mentioned, only one of them has led to a financial return. I’m a sponsor for this partner’s monthly event on branding, which involves giving a free copy of my book to each attendee. He also gives a 30-second spiel about Grammar Factory during the events, so the attendees know where the book is coming from and what we do.
Over the past six months we’ve given away about 100 books. These giveaways have led to two sales, which have added up to almost $10,000 ($9,400, to be specific).
Considering the cost of printing those books was about $500 ($5 per book x 100), and selling them at the recommended retail price would have made $2,495 ($24.95 per book x 100 books), this is a fantastic return — it not only makes back the cost of producing the books, but it has made far more than I would have made on book sales alone.
By contrast, another partnership hasn’t worked out as well financially. This partner received 300 books along with bimonthly presentations and workshops in three different Australian cities. That’s a printing cost of about $1,500 ($5 per book x 300), courier costs of about $100, and travel costs of about $750 every other month (not including the time when my Uber was late and I missed my flight and had to pay $671 to get on a new one that night — arrgh!), not to mention four days away from my business every other month.
Over six months, that’s a grand total of $3,850 (not including the missed flight) and 12 days. And, at the time of writing, we haven’t gotten any clients as a result of this investment.
Total production cost + other costs associated with partnership
= Total partnership cost
Total partnership cost/(Core package price — expenses involved)
= Total number of sales required to profit from partnership
That’s not to say that it’s all about the money — just as there are a range of non-financial benefits of writing a book, there are many non-financial benefits to good partnerships. Just a few include sharing knowledge, building credibility by being aligned with a larger brand, and gaining experience (one of the great things about the bimonthly workshops has been figuring out exactly how much I can fit into an hour without overwhelming my audience).
However, because the focus of this article is the financial return of giveaways, when I review this partnership so far, there hasn’t been a financial return.
I think the main reason is that the audience isn’t targeted enough — yes, their clients are also entrepreneurs, but they may not be entrepreneurs who have considered writing a book, or who are interested in positioning themselves as industry leaders. As a result, even though they’re getting free copies of my book, they may not be reading them as writing a book isn’t on their radar.
So what does this mean for my future strategy?
If this audience isn’t as targeted, we shouldn’t be investing so much to reach them. The more we invest, the more clients we need to convert to see a return, and being unlikely to convert clients makes it even harder to achieve that return.
Consequently, rather than offering the book as a giveaway, I could offer some smaller booklets we’ve done about the benefits of getting published and how to avoid the most common mistakes when writing a book. This still offers the partner, and their clients, value, but doesn’t have as big an impact on our bottom line.
As far as travel goes, I could organise other events in these cities at the same time to ensure each trip has more of an opportunity to deliver a return. Or I could time these events with other events I might be attending where I would have already been paying for flights and accommodation. Or I could see if they are open to me offering webinars rather than in-person workshops.
The downside is that sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to figure this out but, in hindsight, I think I could have been a little more selective about the type of entrepreneurs my partners were targeting — were they targeting small business owners in general, or were they targeting entrepreneurs who are actively working to improve their businesses and establish themselves as market leaders? I now know the second group is far more likely to want to write a book.
Giveaways are an investment; they key to success is knowing your numbers
Writing a book for your business leads to a range of benefits, from building a reputation as the go-to person in your industry, developing strong partnerships, being featured in the media, getting paid speaking opportunities and being able to reach far more people than you could on your own.
However, there is a cost involved — from coaching programs to help you write a book and the upfront costs of getting published, to the ongoing costs of printing and postage. This is often a hefty sum for a lot of small business owners, which means the point of the exercise can’t just be giving out free books.
Instead, you need to structure your giveaways in a way that generates a return on your investment. And knowing your numbers — how much it costs to print and post the book, how much it costs to maintain your partnerships, how much profit you make on the average client conversion, and how many sales you need to make to cover the costs involved in your giveaways — is the key to doing that.
Thank you to Geoff Green and Carolyn Dean, who spoke to me in depth about their partnership and presale strategies for their books (I’ll be covering this in more detail in an upcoming article on funding your book through partnerships).
You can learn more about their books and businesses at: