It’s OK – Give It Away: Free excerpts and elements of your book build your audience

It's OK - Give away your content first to build your audience.

Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

Some of the text that follows was part of an earlier blog post. I think it is valuable to pull it out into a new post to emphasize its importance in building an audience.

What could be better than giving something of value to someone as a way to start a relationship? Let’s face it, everything from food samples at Costco to t-shirt cannons at sporting events are a daily reminder that all of us love free stuff.

Author and entrepreneur Seth Godin is one famous example of giving away content to promote ideas and build business. His website bio explains that Godin, among other things, writes as an expert on the way ideas spread.

Godin’s promotion of his “Permission Marketing” idea is a classic example of how you can attract an audience for your ideas, products, or services by first offering at least a sampling of your ideas for free. Go to and you’ll see examples in his “Free Stuff” section.

One of Godin’s favorite tactics, met with some skepticism at first but now widely used, is giving away free chapters of his books. He introduced the tactic to successfully launch his first book, titled Permission Marketing, in 1999.  A core tenant of Permission Marketing is that you build relationships with your potential customers (or others you want to influence) before you ever start to convince them to buy.

Build your library of content to attract eyeballs to your ideas

How do you make all that free stuff?  There are a couple of ways to proceed that will attract followers and keep them tuned to the marketing channels you choose.

One way is to begin to write and post articles that communicate your core idea prior to writing your book. The articles will communicate the central hook or differentiating theme that will grab the attention of your audience and build a list of people who’ll buy your book. Then, it might be as simple as combining all these posts into the core of your finished book, with the added step of adding new material and rewriting to form a cohesive work.

Another way is to start right out with the book-writing process, to refine and articulate your ideas. Then once your book is done, but prior to publishing, it can be excerpted and reshaped into valuable free content to build interest within your audience for the coming release. (Feedback on your content may even provide ideas to improve your book.)

Either way, you will build a collection of blog posts, social posts, short ebooks, web content, infographics, and more that you can give away on your blog, in guest blog posts, or through channels like Medium or LinkedIn.

Content Marketing vs Interruption Marketing

If you’ve read a few of my posts, you probably already know I’m a big fan of Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose and the Content Marketing Institute. The quick-cut version of their big idea is that old-school advertising is dead. Think of “interruption marketing” like the last 30 minutes of a movie on AMC or TNT when they pack in a half-dozen commercial breaks. It’s annoying, right?

Instead, you need to be ready with your “free stuff” (stories) when people are actively looking for what you have to offer. In this way you provide something of value to them as a first step in building your reputation as a trusted adviser or source for what they need.

Far from a new idea, brands like Betty Crocker (recipes) and Sherwin Williams (home decorating tips) have provided free, valuable content to their target markets for decades. But now more than ever, this is the way people want to get their information in the web-connected world.

Experts like Jeff Goins insist that building an audience of tens of thousands of “subscribers” or followers is a necessary step toward successfully marketing your book. Your flow of free articles and stories is how you do that.

But shouldn’t I at least make them register to get access?

Not the first time around.

Nielsen Norman Group, online user-experience experts who continually research this issue, tell us this: “When we discuss login walls in our mobile-usability classes, we frequently get the comment, ‘But it’s only for the first time; the next time we keep them logged in!’ Guess what: there may be no next time.”1

Better to give visitors a little time on your site to poke around and read your ideas first. Then build your subscriber list with a banner or pop-up that gives them an option to sign up to receive additional posts or information by email. The list you build in this way will be golden when it’s time to release your book.

Remember: It’s okay – give it away.

Here are a couple of links to articles providing more info on giving away content and turning your blog into a book:


1 – Login Walls Stop Users in Their Tracks, by Raluca Budiu, Nielsen Norman Group

Long-Form vs “Snackable” Content: No, shorter is not always better

People read and value long-form articles, despite their busy lives.

Photo: Anna Dziubinska

“I don’t know what happened where every marketer thinks their content has to be shorter and shorter.” – Joe Pulizzi, founder, Content Marketing Institute.

Have you heard the shorter-is-better “wisdom” in your marketing meetings? Odds are you have, because it has become one of those things that people repeat as an obvious truth. Yet despite our busy lives, data shows it to be false.

Before I left the corporate world, I know I heard it from supposedly-informed colleagues. Along with these equally false statements:

  • Young people don’t use Facebook anymore
  • Email marketing is dead
  • No blog post should be more than 500 words

That’s not the end of the list, but the point is made without compiling more.

The true value of long-form articles

What’s the truth? The Quartz Global Executive Study discovered something quite different. Quartz calls it a survey of the media habits of the world’s smartest, busiest people. The 1,357 executives participating reported these results when asked which type of content they are most likely to share:

  • 84 percent say they share long-form articles more than any other content
  • Charts and data came in second at 47 percent
  • Videos were cited by 37 percent and breaking news stories by 36 percent

As you can see, there is no ambiguity in these results. People read long-form content and place a very high value on it. (Perhaps equally important, note that written articles are ranked well ahead of video.)

Mr. Pulizzi’s comment at the beginning of this post was made during Episode 180 of the This Old Marketing podcast (at about the 36 minute mark) that he produces with co-host Robert Rose.

Talking to Rose during the episode, he continued with these remarks. “You and I have been ranting about the whole ‘snackable content’ thing. You know, ‘We’ve got to get shorter and our videos are about 3 seconds long now because executives are busy and they don’t have any time…’ What we learn from this study is that executives love long-form articles – long, meaty, informational articles.”

Think before doing the same old marketing things

An often repeated point by Pulizzi is that we should always be asking why we are doing what we‘re doing in terms of marketing. Ask if sales collateral, trade shows, video, and other common tools are really the right tools for your market and product or service. Don’t just plow ahead with marketing activities that you know (or think you know) and are used to using.

And don’t believe marketing “truisms” just because you’ve often heard them.

Effort spent trying to do more of the same old things, may actually be more profitably spent doing new  and different things. The right things, based on what your customers truly consume and value.

So don’t blindly accept that short content is always better. From this study you can see that if you provide real information, with new data and insight, it’s going to be valuable to your customers. If you don’t have time to produce longer articles, find someone who has the experience to research and write on your behalf.

It will be another way to differentiate you and your business, with everyone else on another specious marketing bandwagon. One of so many that marketers climb aboard without thinking.


Nailed It: Pantone 2017 Color of the Year

Maybe I have some design chops to go along with my writing skills. Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2017 looks mighty close to shades in the StorySetFree logo.

The color is  Pantone 15-0343, known as greenery and described as “yellow-green shade that evokes the first days of spring.” I like it. The green grass of baseball diamonds in the spring is one of my favorite things.

Read more about the color of the year in this New York Times article.