Readers are unlikely to give you their email addresses unless you give something to them – something that has a value. The opportunity to receive your newsletter every now and again does not qualify. Indeed, given that you are probably entirely unknown to your potential subscriber, it’s pretty unreasonable to expect them to sign up to hear more from someone they don’t know.

Reading one of your stories, on the other hand (or a white paper, if you’re a non-fiction writer), is both a way for them to get to know you and a good inducement to sign up. Sure, free books are ten-a-penny, but they’re still worth something to a reader. And bear in mind that, in reality, they’re doing you the honour of allowing you to rent their attention for several hours. So, if you’re reluctant to give up one of your precious stories “for free”, consider that it’s a hire purchase agreement that might result in you having a true fan for years to come.

So, what qualifies? Well, for fiction, these are my suggestions – in order of effectiveness

  • First in series novel – this is the gold standard (topped only by the first two books in a series, but this is more realistic for established authors). By giving away your first novel, you’re effectively introducing your subscriber to a gateway drug for your fiction. They can try it for free, and if they like it, they may well go on to buy your entire back catalogue. What if you’ve only go the one book? In my view, building your list trumps any other considerations. You won’t get any income, but you’ll have a ready made audience for book 2.
  • Novella/Novelette, prequel or related story. Where at all possible, I think the reader deserves to be given a complete story. Not only is this satisfying as a reading experience, it also showcases your ability as a writer and introduces them into your universe. Use one of these options if you don’t want to give away a full novel.
  • Preview – I suggest only using a book sample if you are locked into Kindle Unlimited or really can’t bring yourself to give away a full novel. Your list building will be much slower, but it’s better than nothing.

For non-fiction authors, you can often get away with what is, effectively, a preview. For example, if you’ve written a book on starting a business, you can almost certainly isolate a couple of chapters that have value of their own to give away. White papers and reports are also popular – just make sure the reader gets enough value from them to make giving you their email a no-brainer.

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