Photo by Yevhen Liashchevskyi from Pexels
It’s childishly easy, but like with most of the “free” things, you will need to pay for those free books with your time.
As a reader you can give to an author one very precious thing they desire like nothing else in the world — your review.
How not to pay for a book ever again? Reach out to the author, ask politely for a copy and promise to write a review. End of story.
Of course, if the author is traditionally published and a household name in their own right, I don’t guarantee you can use this method. James Clear sold a few million copies of Atomic Habits and this book has over 52,000 reviews on Amazon. For him, a single review has a different value than for folks like me — I sold over 100,000 copies of my books and have about 1,000 reviews on Amazon.
I doubt Brené Brown will jump from joy at the opportunity to give away a copy of her book to get a single review. She has easily over 50,000 reviews on Amazon.
So, I cannot vote for those few authors with gargantuan sales, but an average — and sane — author will jump from joy at the very thought of getting a review. You see, for us, authors, our books are cheap. We can send you a digital version, usually in any possible format, with just a few clicks. Fast and free. Paperbacks are more of a hassle, but if you have a book in a print-on-demand Amazon system, you can send a copy to most of the first world countries for something like 10 bucks. No-brainer.
A free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Why would any sane author jump at such an offer? Because reviews make or break the book. Yes, there are some aberrations — books with poor reviews which sell like hot cakes — but they are rare. And usually, they are about some controversial topic, hot political debate. So negative reviews of the one side of the conflict actually sound like great reviews for the other side.
But normally the success of the book is the function of its reviews and vice versa — reviews are the function of the book’s success. Statistically speaking, Atomic Habits shouldn’t have 52,670 ratings. Only about 1 in 100 readers even bother to give a book star ranking, not to mention writing a full out review. So, James would have needed to sell almost 5.2 million copies on Amazon to get such a high number.
But this book is really good, so people are more likely to evaluate it.
Amazon: Ratings & Reviews
Recently, Amazon modified their book review system quite significantly. What we see on Amazon as the rows of golden stars next to the book title are readers’ evaluations in the form of a simple 1–5 star evaluation aggregated together with the actual reviews and evaluations given to a book when posting a review.
Sticking to the Atomic Habits example, here is how we see it and what it means:
52673 ratings of the book
(Only 6,126 actual reviews)
BTW, only about 6.1 thousand people actually wrote a review on Amazon for Atomic Habits; the other 46,000 readers just clicked on the star rating on their Kindle or on Amazon. Which gives you the idea how valuable reviews really are.
If we extrapolate Atomic Habits’ results, it means that only 3–5 readers in 1,000 write a review, no matter positive or negative. And getting the first thousand readers, especially if you have little to no reviews, is difficult for most self-publishers.
Reviews are gold for authors. What would you do if someone told you they will give you gold for something, which doesn’t cost you much (or nothing)? Jump with joy seems like the right reaction. 😉
How to Get a Book for Free?
Step #1: Get on Their Email List.
First of all, if you aren’t on the author’s email list, you are missing out. By far, the easiest way to obtain a free copy of the book is to become a part of the launch team. And how do you become a member of this exclusive circle? You volunteer!
That’s assuming an author has an email list and assembles the book launch team. However, if they don’t they are not much of self-publishers. I wouldn’t even bother with connecting with an author who doesn’t have an email list.
Also, if you haven’t been following an author for some time, but you want to cold-email them, signing up to their list is the best first step you can make. It’s the easiest way to obtain an author’s email.
I know authors who value their privacy a lot, but there is no workaround here — if you have an email list, you need to email them and reveal your email address.
Step #2: Send Your Pitch.
Be concise and clear. I think, the subject line: “I Want to Review [book title]” will make the author take notice and open the email.
Then keep the pitch short and simple:
I’m a habit nerd and read almost all the books on this subject. I’m very interested in reading “Atomic Habits”.
If you provide me a free Kindle copy of the book, I can guarantee I’ll post an honest review of “Atomic Habits” on Amazon within 2–3 weeks.
The above message is stripped to the bone from non-essentials. Here is the breakdown of necessary elements:
a) make a relevant connection (“I’m a habit nerd”).
The author needs to know that you aren’t a completely random person, but you have interest in reading their very book.
You can work different angles here; you can mention for how long you have been following the author, how you loved his/her other books and how they impacted your life, or how someone recommended the book for you.
b) state the offer (“a free Kindle copy of the book (…) an honest review”)
There are three important things in this short passage:
-free copy; set the expectations from the start;
-Kindle copy; tell your preference, it will be a hurdle for the author if you don’t state it. For example, I read digital books only on Kindle. If someone sends me the PDF version, I’d have needed to ask for the Kindle file. That’s another message and wasting time of the author.
-an honest review; you cannot promise a favorable review, it’s actually against Amazon’s Code of Conduct.
c) timeline; (“within 2–3 weeks”)
It’s another carrot for the author. State the exact time (realistic though!), and your offer will be even more tempting. Of course, the sooner you can review the book, the more tempting it will be for the author.
Step #3: Follow up.
If you don’t get a reply within a week, send the follow-up to the first email. ONE follow-up. Believe me, it’s easy to miss an email in the crowded author’s inbox. But if you spam multiple times, you are not likely to get any answer.
Step #4: Do the Work and Swagger
You get your free copy, read the book and write a (hopefully) stellar review.
Do it in the promised timeline. If you cannot keep the deadline, send a message to the author and tell them how life got in your way. Publish the review, wait till it appears on Amazon (Goodreads, or anywhere else you promised to publish it) and send the email with the link to your review to the author. Let them know you kept your promise.
Bonus: Sharing is Caring.
Share your review on social media and tag the author. You will get bonus karma points (and find extra favor with the author).
Step #5: Happily Ever After
If you follow the above process, you will not only get on the radar of the author. They will remember you. They will feel they owe you.
Now you can rule the world. 😀
Or simply cultivate the relationship with the author. It may result in some very unexpected benefits. When two people connect, magic happens.
Inspiring Story to Drive the Point Home
Allan Dib, the author of 1-Page Marketing Plan, actually reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in reading his book. I was interested. I got the Kindle version, read the book and wrote a review.
About two years later, Allan referred me to another author. I got two free paperbacks from David Jenyns! The read was excellent and right down my alley. I connected with David. He got interested in my book advertising service. We jumped on the call, and he hired me to teach his team how to run Amazon ads. I got a great read AND earned several hundred bucks. Plus, I thoroughly enjoyed the consulting gig.
The above story is not an aberration. Having goodwill and trust begets win-win deals. I hired a couple of my readers as proofreaders. I promoted books of other authors who reviewed my books. A free copy of the book and a free review is just the beginning of a relationship and possibilities that can arise.
You can hand out gold to self-published authors. Use this power, and authors will flock to you ready to give away their books.