Friday, January 6, 2012

Signing Ebooks Experiment

"Hello, I'm author Elizabeth Ann West. Would you like a signed copy of my ebook?"

I was scared. I began my first EVER blog tour with something different and I worried if I was going to come across as that annoying Avon lady with free samples of Skin-So-Soft. Ding-dong! Knock, knock, knock. Would you like my free ebook?

For many authors who are just starting out, we hear all the time how wonderful a "free" sale is. Many great indie authors have been very successful in giving away a title for free to sell the other titles in their portfolio.... for a brand new author with one title giving away free books that readers will read is a Herculean task.

Oh, you'll get the readers that will download anything that's free. But how can you entice them to read it?

One solution is the "Make it harder to get for free." Give them hoops. We see giveaways and contests all the time that say "Like me on Facebook, join my newsletter, Tweet 3 of the 5 tweets below 3 times a day for two days, leave a comment below, add this link here, and stand in the moonlight and shout my name with gusto..." and one of you will win a free book! (Okay, I'm exaggerating a little, but I've seriously seen giveaways with 5 steps to enter. FIVE!). The idea is that if it's really hard to win the free book, it will be valuable and the reader will want to read it.

Unfortunately, that solution kills the original intent of giving away free books. Or at least my intent. My intent was "How can I get my book into the hands of readers who are interested in it for free so that they read it, and if they like it, want to tell others about it?"

My answer came back to customer service. I needed to figure out a way to "touch" the reader. And my solution has in turn touched me in so many ways. But I'm getting ahead of myself...


How do I sign them?

This takes a few computer savvy skills. First, you need a scanner. Second, you need the ability to make your own ebooks. I use Sigil and Jutoh to make epub and mobi, respectively. The Kindle files take longer on my netbook, about 7-10 minutes to compile.

The Procedure:

  1. Write out a handwritten note to the reader.
  2. Scan note into computer.
  3. Crop the notes to remove background, scale down to 400 x 600 in graphic editing software (I use the free GIMP)
  4. Open your ebook making software, insert document called Signing or Dedication directly after your cover.
  5. Copy and paste the jpg image of note into the ebook file int he Signing or Dedication section. Save for epub, compile for mobi.

Results in an ebook where after the reader turns the first page, there is a handwritten inscription to them, just like a printed book signed at a book store.


On my first blog tour stop, we just had readers leave a comment on the blog with the format they needed and an email address. This was a hot mess. Very few readers remembered to include all of the information I needed to sign them an ebook in the correct format and deliver it. And once a reader enters and walks away, how many come back to check? (The posting is here, one of my #ROW80 buddies, Tia Bach hosted me on Depression Cookies and gave me a 5-star review on her other blog, Mom in Love with Fiction)

Together, Tia and I sorted it out but it involved a flurry of emails back and forth to get all 10 ebooks out. My goal for my blog tour is not to inconvenience the blogger, but to give them a day off. I needed a new plan, and quickly. My original destination fell through for January 4 and I asked my friends at to host me at the last minute so I didn't lose a stop. This generosity on their part to host me, and at the last minute even, was a HUGE, HUGE gift.


Anyone hear get a newsletter? Yep. But who signs up for newsletters? Well, I can tell you not one person ever signed up for my newsletter as part of my old reader site, before it crashed. I even gave the link the top right spot in the side bar. No clicks.

Out of desperation, because I anticipated that on I'd get about 30 requests for ebooks, and 30 email addresses in the comments would have been an absolute nightmare, I signed up for Mail Chimp. In a few hours, I had the gist of their interface (it's free up to 500 subscribers) and made a sign up form. I added two unique fields: Preferred Ebook Format and Have you read any of the Elizabeth's Books?. I copied and pasted the HTML of the form to This way, I would know which format the reader needs, and which kind of links to send them in a newsletter, AND if they are a new reader or not. This is the blog post I wrote about how powerful reader reviews are. The reader comments are VERY valuable for any author!

I anticipated 30, right? 114. That's how many readers have asked for a signed copy of CANCELLED by signing up for my newsletter. I've sent 10 so far (had a detour to the Emergency Room one night this week and a toddler with stitches in her lip convalescing), and written and scanned 40. I have a busy weekend ahead of me! 74 more to go!

But the readers are leaving comments, saying thank you for getting a signed copy. I'm getting emails from them. It's just like sitting at a table in Barnes and Noble (and maybe one day I'll drag a little portable scanner there and sign ebooks for the Nook in person!) and no way would I as a nobody author get over 100 people asking me for my signature on their book.

And it's a great opportunity for me. I'm really learning who my readers are. I'm wondering about every Kristi, Sue, and Sandy that I'm writing a note to. It's difficult writing a note to someone you don't know, but I'm taking the time to make each one a little different. I don't know if the all of the readers will realize that, but for me, it's important. I know when I send the signed ebook to them, it's special and unique, just for that reader.

The fact that my newsletter list is growing by leaps and bounds was an unintentional, but welcome side-effect. I'm so impressed, I will probably make one day each month a "Sign up for my newsletter and get a signed ebook." Yes, it takes time. But for me, it's time well spent.

A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby. CANCELLED is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords WIP: SERVED Two never married parents fight over their toddler's upbringing and moving on with their lives, without each other;(status: outlining)


  1. Thanks for sharing this! What a cool way to offer readers something special. I've signes documents like this for years, but it never occurred to me to sign an ebook like this - great idea!

  2. Thanks Jennette!

    I think it's a fun idea. And getting a dialogue with your readers going is so hard in this digital world. Sure we all tweet, but it's so short.

  3. Wow! That sounds like a lot of work-- but well worth it! That's a great way to build a fan base!