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Art of the Free Sample
you've created something that's easily distributable
over the Internet, be it as humble as a single image,
or as weighty as a book, you could give all or part
of it away as a free sample. Why you might consider
this, and how you would go about it is the focus
of this article. Although Steve O'Keefe uses the
example of an author to illustrate 'the art of the
free sample', Steve's advice applies equally to
many creative areas.
a free sample as a sales tool dates back to the
serpent in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve couldn't
resist the apple, and neither can we. That's why
the giveaway has become almost cliché in
Internet marketing. It's one of the most effective
ways to promote books online.
The trick to free samples is reaching a large audience
without angering online authorities. A botched campaign
on the Internet can lead to a steady stream of flaming
e-mail. On commercial services such as America Online
and CompuServe, you must satisfy forum moderators
who can remove your postings or revoke your access.
The following tips will help you structure a giveaway
campaign that will reflect well on your company
and keep you in the good graces of the net cops.
Almost any book can benefit from a giveaway campaign.
For fiction, the best approach is to offer a sample
chapter. You want to pick a passage that contains
the strongest writing, pulling people into the story
so that they need to know what happens next. For
poetry, pick powerful poems or ones that represent
a cross-section of the poet's style.
Non-fiction books lend themselves to free resource
lists of tips or instructions. Try to sculpt the
sample so that readers will want the in-depth information
found only in the book. For example, I crafted a
campaign for a book on building-related illness
that offered a sample chapter on how buildings make
you sick. The text is compelling, and almost any
reader would want to know how to prevent the trauma
The length of the giveaway is not critical. About
ten pages of text is typical. Non-fiction resource
lists are often much shorter. Fiction excerpts can
be quite a bit longer; readers will hang in there
if they like the writing.
Content is a bigger issue than length. You should
try to pick something geared toward the Internet
audience. Look for passages that deal with computers
or business. Cyber-fiction and science fiction work
well. Anything that helps people in their careers
is good. Other popular subjects include sex, health
and pop culture -- anything that a youthful, business-minded
audience would find interesting.
Care must be taken to prepare the giveaway for electronic
delivery. First, be sure that your sample contains
instructions on how to buy the book. You can include
phone and fax numbers, your mailing address and
Internet address, the names of distributors, wholesalers,
and retailers, how to order the book online, even
contact names for media or rights inquiries.
The next step is to save the file as text. This
will allow you to distribute the file to the greatest
number of people with the fewest technical headaches.
When you save as text, you lose all your formatting
commands: bold, italics, tabs, large point sizes,
etc. You should view the file before launching it
to make sure it looks decent.
You are now ready to place the file online where
people can view it or download it. Your Internet
Service Provider may provide an FTP directory where
you can store files. Otherwise, ask sympathetic
people on the net if you can put files on their
sites. You might find ones that cater to science
fiction fans or cooks or gardeners, etc.
America Online and CompuServe allow members to upload
files into libraries located in each of the special
interest forums. You need to find an appropriate
forum, then look in the library for uploading instructions.
It's a good idea to print these instructions for
Both America Online and CompuServe welcome member
contributions and even credit your account for the
time it takes to upload files. Before you upload,
you need to think of a catchy name for your file
(eight letters or less is best) and write some teaser
copy telling people what the file contains and why
they would want to read it. The teaser copy will
be stored as an abstract that people view before
downloading the file.
On America Online and CompuServe, the file will
be checked for viruses and content before being
placed in the library. It might take as long as
two weeks for the library administrator to release
the file. If they reject it, you can rework the
file to fit their criteria or look for a more hospitable
When the file appears in the library, view it yourself
to make sure there are no technical problems. Sometimes
the line endings are messed up. Technical difficulties
are usually caused by not saving the file as text
before uploading. If something is wrong with the
file, ask the library administrator to remove it
and try again.
Now that your file is ready for prime time, you
can tell the world about it. On the Internet, you
can post messages to discussion groups telling people
how to get the free sample. Your announcements should
be short and sweet and only posted to groups that
have a strong interest in the material.
One newcomer to the net posted his financial services
announcement to a cancer support group reasoning
that these people would need estate planning. I
don't have to tell you his posting came off as callous
and insensitive. He should have stuck to the financial
On America Online and CompuServe, look for special
interest forums where your announcement should be
welcome. Forum moderators will remove announcements
if they sound too commercial, so keep the ad copy
in the giveaway file and stress the free sample
in your postings.
useful life of a free sample is about 10 days. Most
people either download it right away or forget about
it. The commercial online services will remove your
excerpt after one month, possibly burying it in
an archive before purging it from the system.
You can extend the life of your free samples by
offering them via e-mail. You might include a line
in your "signature" that says something
like: "Top Ten Tips for Business Success: Send
E-mail for Free Sample." The signature file
is appended to all outgoing e-mail and Internet
postings. When you get a request, simply attach
the giveaway file to your reply.
It may be that you feel somewhat uncomfortable about
giving something away for nothing. Don't. How much
you give away will often correspond to what you
O'Keefe is a prolific writer. He has edited
six newsletters and has written more than
100 articles and several books. His writing
has appeared in Harper's, The Wall Street
Journal, Outside, Salon, HotWired, NetWorth,
Entrepreneur, Curio, and dozens of other magazines.
He was one of the original writers for Internet
World magazine, a columnist for the COSMEP
Newsletter, and a frequent contributor to
Small Press, PMA Newsletter, SPAN Connection,
and other publishing periodicals.
Steve's writing has been anthologized in several
books, including Publicity Basics, by the
Council of Literary Magazines and Presses.
His latest book is Complete Guide to Internet
Publicity (John Wiley & Sons, 2002-2007), the
successor to the critically acclaimed 'bestseller',
Publicity on the Internet (Wiley, 1996).
Adjunct Faculty, Tulane University College
Executive Director, Patron Saint Productions,
741 Saint Philip St. #241, New Orleans, LA
Voice: (504) 586-9517 Fax: (504) 586-9518
Web Site: http://www.patronsaintpr.com
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