The Anatomy of a Free (Read that Promotional!) E-Book

Expert: Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Carolyn’s previous post – Ta Da! E-books are great tools for promotion

The anatomy of a free e-book might be just what you need so you can make one work for you. A free e-book I assembled with several fellow authors was one of best and most long-lasting promotions I’ve done. Let’s call it the new math for free publicity. It is: E-book + E-gift = Promotion. Oops. Error. Make the answer FREE promotion.

An old e-friend thought of this promotion. She asked more than two dozen authors from several countries to contribute to an e-book that would be given away. Cooking by the Book could be used as a gift of appreciation to the support teams it takes to edit and market a book and to the legions of readers who cook but who had never read any of our other books.

Authors who had at least one kitchen scene in her book were invited to contribute to Cooking by the Book. Each author’s segment begins with an excerpt from that scene. The recipe comes next, and then a short blurb about the author.

This e-tool was a cross-pollinator. Each contributing author publicized it any way she chose. Participants were asked to promote it and expected to disseminate it at no charge. Each contributor benefited from the efforts, and the contacts of the other authors. It turned out that we had some superior promoters among us:

  • One set up a promotional page for the cookbook on her Web site and most of the other authors followed suit.
  • One promoted it in her newsletter.
  • Mary Emma Allen writes novels and nonfiction but she’s also featured the cookbook in the columns she writes for New Hampshire dailies The Citizen and The Union Leader.
  • David Leonhardt incorporated the cookbook into a Happiness Game Show speech that he delivered over a dozen times in Canada and elsewhere.
  • We all gave away coupons offering this gift at book signings. Because it costs nothing, it is a gift that can be given to everyone, not just those who purchase a book. Some had bookmarks made up featuring this offer.
  • I did a lot of cheerleading, too. I redesigned yy business cards to a two-sided affair with an “e-gift” offer on the back.
  • If we were doing it today, we’d all blog about it and use Twitter, Facebook and other social networks, and YouTube, of course!
  • We treated the promotional book like a real book. We got blurbs and reviews. Reviewer JayCe Crawford said, “For a foodie-cum-fiction-freak like me, this cookbook is a dream come true.” That review has popped in places we didn’t even know existed.
  • We used them as e-gifts when to thank editors, producers, or others online.

Our most startling successes came from sources we had no connection to at all. The idea for using a promtoinal e-book like this was featured in Joan Stewart’s, The Publicity Hound, in Writer’s Weekly, in the iUniverse newsletter and more. They probably found it especially newsworthy because it worked so well for writers of fiction.

When I queried radio stations for interviews with angles related to this cookbook, I had the highest rate of response I’d ever had and that was in competition with a pitch for This Is the Place just before the 2002 games in Salt Lake City and an intolerance angle on the same novel right after 9/11.

Mother’s Day beckoned each of us to repeat our publicity blitzes every year, because, if you haven’t noticed, mothers tend to do lots of cooking.

Hint: I love for publishing all kinds of books free or independently. You can probably do everything yourself and absolutely free except for the copies you buy and the low-cost premium membership, if you choose to go that route . There are even templates for covers there. If not, I can coach you through the first one and you’ll be set forever more.

This is an excerpt from Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s The Frugal Book Promoter

The author is Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won’t, winner of USA Book News’ Best Professional Book, and Book Publicists of Southern California’s Irwin Award. Its sister book, The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success is also a multi-award winner. Her new booklet of word trippers is Great Little Last-Minute Editing Tips for Writers: The Ultimate Frugal Booklet for Avoiding Word Trippers and Crafting Gatekeeper-Perfect Copy. Learn more at:
Her complimentary newsletter Sharing with Writers is always full of promotion tips, craft, and publishing news. Send an e-mail with “subscribe” in the subject line to

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