Book SalesMy number one piece of advice to authors promoting their books is this: Get your books into as many readers’ hands as you can so that they tell their friends and talk about it online—which leads to more sales. A sure-fire way to do this—as strange as it sounds—is to give your book away or provide it at a deep discount.

Now that ebooks are starting to dominate the market, it is easier than ever to distribute free or low-cost books. Seth Godin recently did this with his book Poke the Box, which he offered for pre-order on Kindle for just $1.00.

Why would he do this when the hardcover edition costs $12.99? Because he built buzz—and based on his current sales rank on Amazon, it’s working. Godin’s campaign made some waves on Twitter. Giving something away for just a buck feels like a bargain, so it got people talking and it went viral. And since not everyone has a Kindle, there is no doubt that the campaign also generated sales of the hardcover edition. It also gave the book a great head start. Before it had even been released, all those pre-sales had readers dialed-in and ready to talk about the book immediately.

For one of my book releases (Booked Up! How to Write, Publish, and Promote a Book to Grow Your Business), I experimented with “Free Book Fridays” on my Facebook page. I offered up copies of the trade paperback edition to the first five people to respond, which generated a lot of activity on my page. In this case, I asked for something in exchange. If they liked the book, I asked that they post a review online. Reviews help sell books on Amazon and similar sites, and asking for them this way was a great way to get the buzz started.

A fantastic tool I recently discovered is Pay With a Tweet, which allows you to give away a digital product in exchange for a tweet. It automates the process of providing a digital file to your “buyer” once they’ve sent out a tweet or Facebook post. One of my favorite ebook formatting and distribution services, Smashwords, allows you to generate coupons for your books. This gives you the opportunity to distribute coupons at 50% off or even 100% off—another intriguing way to generate interest from readers.

The bottom line is that no matter how you go about promoting your books—whether you offer them for free or for a low cost, and whether they’re a hard copy or ebook edition—the key is to get them in as many hands as possible. Send them to influential bloggers, media outlets, and leaders of trade associations that reach your target audience. Announce your campaign to your social networks and mailing lists. Soon you will see what a difference it can make when you generate buzz online!