Free book giveaways – when do they work? When don’t they?

5275640024_243d3bcfcb_zOnce upon a time, authors could get a great start if they made their book available free. Back in 2008 and 2009, I got huge traction for the original Nail Your Novel when I offered it free as a pdf. There wasn’t much free material out there, so it got attention. Indeed, as far back as the early 2000s, science fiction writer Cory Doctorow had been giving away digital copies of his novels on a Creative Commons basis, famously saying that his chief problem was to battle obscurity.

But times change. ‘Free’ soon became a deluge. If readers grabbed them in the digital equivalent of a supermarket sweep, they probably didn’t even remember they had them. In all likelihood, those books sat unnoticed in the bottomless vaults of their Kindles.

I flirted briefly with free when KDP Select started. Indeed, I organised a free event to coincide with World Book Night for Authors Electric, a group blog of published authors I used to belong to. We each gave away a book for five days, campaigned our socks off, tweeted until we grew beaks, watched the tallies mount in our KDP dashboards… and virtually nothing came of it afterwards.

Now, is a giveaway the way for authors to get noticed? I contend it is not for everyone.

Where free works

I’ll admit that I worry we give away our work too easily. If we create a culture where a book costs less than a sheet of gift-wrap and a greetings card, there’s something badly wrong. An ebook may not have material form, but it does give you more time and experience than something you glance at and throw away. And tellingly, the people who get cross with me for speaking out are the ones who say they refuse to spend more than a couple of dollars on a book, or berate me for not putting my books into Kindle Unlimited.

So that’s my rant done. However, free does work in some cases – where it adds value, rather than dilutes it.

Lest you think I’m waxing hypocritical, with my WordPress blog and Hootsuite account, let me state that I think free works very well with certain kind of services.

And certain kinds of book. In the kind of genre markets where the series rules, making the first book free can work very well. The authors who do this have plenty more titles to offer once readers are hooked. (Joanna Penn has had great results giving the first book of her series away free, and offering free books as incentives to sign up to newsletters – her post about it is here.) These authors are using free books in the way that WordPress and Hootsuite give starter packages free – to build long-term trust and familiarity. (When I want to upgrade my web services, WordPress and Hootsuite will be my first ports of call.)

Where ‘free’ may not work

But outside those genres, how do readers decide to try an unfamiliar author? Especially those who write the more individual kind of book, perhaps not easily pigeonholed? Usually, it’s by deciding if they like to spend time in that author’s company.

How do they do that? By reading something that sparks their interest. That could be anything. It doesn’t have to be a book. If you’re one of those authors, every post you write, every meaningful conversation you have on social media is already giving a sample of your voice, your personality, your tastes, your passions, the workings of your unique mind. The books you write will be made from that same material. If that doesn’t persuade readers you are fascinating and intriguing, giveaways and free books won’t make much difference.

Giveaways as prizes

Indeed, I have evidence that free giveaways with delayed prizes aren’t working any more. Every week I offer a guest spot on The Undercover Soundtrack. In past years, book giveaways got good uptake. Now, they hardly get any. The blog’s readership has grown enormously, but no one’s bothering to contend for prizes.

Perhaps it’s partly impatience. If a reader likes the look of a book from its Undercover Soundtrack, they don’t want to wait a week for the giveaway result. They buy it immediately. So who’s left to take part in the giveaway? The people who don’t much mind whether they read it or not.

Even giveaway campaigns to well-targeted readers don’t seem to produce much return these days. I recently donated copies of Nail Your Novel for a fellow writer’s launch campaign, which should in theory have resulted in more exposure for the series. I saw no increase in sales afterwards.

reversecov compI have, however, had great results when I’ve done a giveaway of something special – like the NYN notebook or the My Memories of a Future Life antimatter edition. But those were specially made prizes, limited editions. Readers will pitch up for a unique prize, but they seem pretty indifferent to an ebook they might or might not get.

Spend your free books wisely

I know this is contentious. But I see a lot of writers who think they’re not trying hard enough if they don’t give books away and don’t examine whether the tactic is working for them. I think we have to look hard at every free ebook we spend. If we get a worthwhile return, that was an ebook well spent, no doubt about it. If not, we should stop.

Thanks for the pic Constanca Cabral

So let’s discuss. Where do you think free works and where doesn’t it work? How has this changed over the years? Do you think authors are being pressured to do giveaways all the time?

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  1. #1 by coldhandboyack on January 25, 2015 - 8:11 pm

    I have used the Amazon giveaway a few times. I gave out a ton of ebooks, but never saw any return. There is no guarantee those copies will ever get read. I’ve had better luck emailing copies to friends with blogs. I give one book out and get a review or blog post. I suppose someone could read a free book, even a year later, and buy another one of my stories.

    • #2 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 25, 2015 - 8:30 pm

      Emailing books to blogs and reviewers – I definitely agree those are copies well spent. Thanks for reminding me, that had slipped my mind while writing the piece.

  2. #3 by philipparees on January 25, 2015 - 8:11 pm

    THis was a welcome over-view, and one which has a vestige of hope entailed, namely that if free does not persuade, free might cease ( except for review copies to those who are prepared to commit to reviewing and honour bound to do so) I would rather buy and then decide, so at least the author gets a royalty whether I like the book or not..

    More hopeful is the re-adjustment that authors will no longer feel obligated to make books free, unless they choose to, to individuals as a gift not a hook, or a bribe. I have probably sent 100 copies to possible reviewers (after an initial query) and I think I must ( with hindsight) simply have encouraged the recipients to pass over to the other side. As beggars tend to.
    I did a free giveaway on Goodreads of five copies of a book that was very expensive to post and of the five four went to the US. I could tell from the army base address of one that the poor ?soldier would feel simply encumbered by a book he would never read. ( Which illustrated that people sign up for books simply to win them, without intentions of reading).

    In the free-for-all that is now the ‘market’ I think it is time for authors to collectively decide their work is worth the price of a cup of coffee, and stick to that. The first book of a series could hook by making a substantial part free. I am sure those for whom it works will disagree, but it does set up a collective devaluation.

    • #4 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 25, 2015 - 8:37 pm

      Hi Philippa! Some wise points here – and especially about Goodreads. I’ve never done a GR giveaway of a print book, but I did try one for the audiobook of My Memories of a Future Life. I had one review as a result, despite giving away ten copies – not a very good outcome. Or perhaps the book wasn’t their cup of tea and they were being kind – in which case I should thank them. But I can’t shake the suspicion that most of the recipients were surfing for giveaways, of any sort.

      You’re right about the pricing. I think we have to make a stand. It’s strange that indies sometimes make a virtue of the fact that their books are cheaper than traditionally published books. I don’t see the logic of that and it creates a two-tier market. If we believe our books are good enough to publish at all, surely we should ask a price that’s in line with the rest of the market.

  3. #5 by mgm75 on January 25, 2015 - 8:24 pm

    You’ve said nothing I can disagree with as a self-published writer. I have occasionally set up a free book giveaway in a hope that it will lead to more reviews, but it rarely bears fruition in the way I want. I probably won’t bother now unless I am promoting new work alongside it.

    Thanks for the tips!

    • #6 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 25, 2015 - 8:38 pm

      Thanks, Mgm! Your experience echoes my own.

    • #7 by acflory on January 26, 2015 - 12:18 am

      I agree about the two-tier market, but I wouldn’t want to price my books at traditionally published ebook prices. To me they reek of price gouging. Not sure what the happy medium might be.

      • #8 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 26, 2015 - 8:06 pm

        Andrea, I’m not too sure what ‘price gouging’ is… but not all traditionally published ebooks are expensive. I reckon that about half the price of a print book is reasonable – so £4.50ish. That’s how I priced my novels. (Although now the new VAT rules have come in, I’ve had to add VAT.)

        • #9 by acflory on January 27, 2015 - 12:43 am

          Oh! No, I wasn’t talking about your price range! I was talking about the ebooks priced at virtually the same amount as the paperback.😦

  4. #11 by Dan Holloway on January 25, 2015 - 8:25 pm

    I’d never dream of getting cross with you, but I do disagree with you – and I’m *definitely* not someone who won’t spend more than a dollar or two on a book, and most certainly won’t berate you for not being in KDP Select (I have a lot of sympathy with people who aren’t anywhere but their own website).
    I think the whole debate about free has become confused, and I’m not sure you have fully disambiguated it here with you “rant” with which I disagree but sympathise. On the one hand there is the question of whether it “works” which seems to mean “does it aid discoverability?” On the other is the question of whether it’s a “good thing”. They are very different questions, and I think we should debate them separately without letting one question muddy the other

    • #12 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 26, 2015 - 8:20 pm

      Hi Dan! Surely the whole reason for a giveaway is a strategy to aid discoverability?

      As for my mini-rant, I’d say we can’t talk about giveaways without considering the effect this has on the perception of a book’s value.

      Indeed, I’ll rant further. I’m a professional writer. This is my livelihood and I take it very seriously. No other professionals in the book business are expected to work for nothing, or for so little. Yet the books we make are the foundation of everything. Without us, the industry has nothing to sell. If we give the impression that what we do requires so little effort and expertise, this will only damage our future and the future of the craft because nobody will be able to afford to learn to write well, to practise and develop.

      We need to seriously examine this. Good books, properly produced, are not effluent. If we give them away, we should get value in return.

      • #13 by Dan Holloway on January 26, 2015 - 8:59 pm

        Absolutely the whole reason for a giveaway may be to aid discoverability, but that’s not the whole story when it comes to the question of whether free is a good thing. The former has to do with a very specific aim of authors, and the latter is a very wide question about art, and I completely agree that includes the question of how we value the artist’s work, but that is very much only a part of it. My worry is that the “it devalues art” meme gets used for the wrong reasons when we use it to defend charging for books. On the one hand there’s too much of a vested interest, and on the other I really don’t know that it’s true.

        The freeness of art doesn’t, I think, imply anything about the effort or expertise required to produce it. And I don’t think readers think it does. I know she’s hugely controversial but Amanda Palmer writes incredibly eloquently about this in The Art of Asking, which I would point people to as the best starting point for my position which would essentially be “art should be free, and people should pay for it.”. Philippe Aigrain’s “Sharing” is a very interesting statement of the case for open source arts culture.

        I think the ultimate answer addressing the question of “making a living” lies in the adoption of a basic minimum income.

        Thank you for opening up the debate!

        • #14 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 26, 2015 - 11:37 pm

          ‘To defend charging for books’? If we can’t charge for our books – or any of our art – then the only people who can afford to make serious art are the people who don’t have to earn a living.

          Amanda Palmer can afford to make statements like that because she is married to Neil Gaiman.

          • #15 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 27, 2015 - 12:22 am

            BTW, here’s a review of Ms Palmer’s book that perhaps explains the real reasons for her strategy’s success. Short version: ‘not everyone has a crowd that can help’. http://www.npr.org/2014/11/20/363835448/theres-more-to-asking-than-just-art

          • #16 by Dan Holloway on January 27, 2015 - 8:58 am

            I am absolutely aware Amanda is problematic, and that she and Radiohead et al start with a huge advantage built at least partially on the back of the traditional model.
            I think my point is that there is a serious conversation that writers need to have about whether free works as part of a business strategy, but that there is also a wider question about whether art should be free, and that we really need to acknowledge that the two should be separate conversations, which means transposition of supporting arguments from one conversation to the other always feels like a step we shouldn’t take. On the former debate, I agree with everything you say 100%. On the latter, I think we agree on the importance of creating a world where art is valued, but disagree over how that happens.

      • #17 by DRMarvello on January 27, 2015 - 12:04 am

        Roz, It’s impossible to equate price to value, particularly when it comes to books. Why is $10 a fair price for a book, but not $3? If you sell 10 million books at $3 per book, you’d have enough money to retire. If you sell 0 books at $10, you can feel good about not devaluing your work, but you’ll starve.

        If readers are “entitled” because they expect lower prices than what’s authors think is “fair,” are authors also entitled because they expect higher prices than readers think is fair?

        My point is that all the angst about price is railing against reality. A book is worth whatever readers are willing to pay for it. Many readers *are* still willing to pay $10 or more for ebooks. The #10 Kindle book on Amazon as I write this has a price tag of $11.99. A LOT of people are paying that price–2,000 to 3,500 per day, according to kdpcalculator.com. However, the average price of the top 20 is about $4.50. It looks to me like $4.99 is the most common.

        Is $4.99 a fair price for a book you spent a year of your life writing? It is if you sell a lot of them. I don’t think trying to wrest more money out of readers because our books aren’t selling as well as we’d like is a viable strategy.

        • #18 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 27, 2015 - 8:49 am

          Daniel, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to ask a fair price. Plenty of books are selling for $4-$7, but a lot of indies think they shouldn’t ask as much as that – simply because they’re indies.
          No, of course $5 or even $10 is not a good return for a year of writing, but that wasn’t what I was arguing.

  5. #19 by Viv on January 25, 2015 - 10:43 pm

    I don’t think that people as a rule value what they get for free, as much as something they’d paid for, when it is given away to all and sundry. My own Kindle has a section I have labelled Freebies and if something goes in there, it’s very rare I ever get it out and read it.
    There’s a difference between something being given away free and something given as a gift; the one giveaway I have done, I sent the books as gifts (with a little extra something too). Books I have been given, or have won, I have personally treasured (my copy of NYN for example) but then, perhaps, I am a bit of an oddity.

    • #20 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 26, 2015 - 8:25 pm

      Hi Viv – I think you make a good point about whether people value books they got free. Years ago, maybe they did. Now, I think if people seek out a book because their interest is piqued, they bond with it. If they trip over it in a free giveaway, they usually don’t bother to even check whether it’s something they’d read. They grab it and maybe think about it later.

  6. #21 by Julie Harris on January 25, 2015 - 11:12 pm

    Roz, I have used Select for free and countdown deals a few times over the past three years. I won’t be doing it again. Come February I shall be going wide with all 12 books.

    I think while All Stars continues (rewarding the popular who don’t need rewarding), the rest of us will continue to bob about in the ocean of ebooks. Occasionally we’ll notice the book to our right will be thrown a life jacket whilst the one to our left sinks.

    Mid December I gave away over six thousand copies of The Longest Winter. Mid January I have sales in single digits for six of my twelve stories. Few reviews, yet a bump in likes and traffic to my Facebook page.

    No more Select for me.

    I will also increase prices from 3.99 usd to a fiver.

    I figure I have nothing really left to lose.

    • #22 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 26, 2015 - 8:27 pm

      Hi Julie! Your story is a familiar one. I think we now need much longer-term strategies to build our audiences, and free books are too instant, too short term. Good for you for quitting Select – and all over again for raising your prices. Fingers crossed.

  7. #23 by Dave Morris on January 26, 2015 - 12:04 am

    The irony about people niggling over paying an extra few dollars for a book is that reading a typical novel is likely to take – what, 20 to 40 hours of your life? That’s time you can’t get back and the opportunity cost of which is considerable. So why grub around for 99c books, or even demand them for nothing, rather than pay $10 so that you get a rewarding experience and the author can afford to write more?

    • #24 by DRMarvello on January 26, 2015 - 12:55 am

      I agree with you in principle, Dave, but I would turn the argument around a bit. Why pay $10 for a book from an author you know nothing about and might discover you dislike? Sure, you can check the preview and see if the story captures your interest. But I’ve read books that I didn’t throw across the room (pre-Kindle of course) until I’d gotten well into it.

      Of course, entertainment offers no guarantees. We pay for the privilege of an experience, whether the experience turns out to be enjoyable or not. What has changed is that we now have such a tall stack of choices.

      I’d argue that the need for a low monetary barrier to entry is partly a result of Amazon’s “tsunami” of content. We grub for 99c books because we no longer trust the quality of what’s published.

      • #25 by mrdisvan on January 26, 2015 - 9:30 am

        In the days of Kindle, there’s no excuse for a publisher not offering the first quarter of every book for nothing. If you read that far and want to continue, it’s worth $10 or $20 of anyone’s money, surely.

      • #26 by DRMarvello on January 26, 2015 - 1:18 pm

        I agree, although publishers don’t control how much of the book is available for preview. Amazon controls that, and its about 10%. On a full-length novel, that’s usually plenty. (As a side note, the limited preview is the primary reason so many publishers are moving much of the front matter to the back.)

        Informal evidence I’ve collected from the various forums I visit indicates that most readers don’t check the preview. Ironically, it could be for the very reason Dave stated above–readers don’t want to spend time reading a preview to figure out if a book is worth buying. With so many books to choose from, it is faster/easier to take a chance on less expensive books and hope for the best. If all books are of questionable quality anyway, then $10 can buy two to ten inexpensive books, increasing the odds you’ll find something you enjoy. That same $10 can buy you a monthly subscription to Kindle Unlimited where you’ll get access to hundreds of thousands of titles.

        I’m not trying to say that a great story isn’t worth $10. The problem is that you never know in advance if what you are about to read is a great story, preview or no preview, recommendations or no recommendations. That uncertainty is what drives the need for introductory pricing. Once you’ve introduced readers to your work, you can expect the ones who like your writing to pay a fair price for it.

        • #27 by mrdisvan on January 26, 2015 - 8:08 pm

          I figure that if you’re going to spend 20+ hours reading a book, it’s worth doing a little research first. It could be that you’re right, DR, that people don’t bother to look at the free samples on Amazon before they buy, but if so it’s a false economy. They’re going to end up reading those opening pages anyway to decide whether they want to read on, the difference being that they may have spent 99c for the opportunity to do so instead of sampling for nothing.

          Btw as well as Look Inside, I think it’s true that people without a Kindle can get a free Kindle sample, download onto PC, and read that using the (free) Kindle emulator? Btw Amazon should increase the free sample to 25%, which you can set on ebooks published via Smashwords.

          On a separate issue, I frequently get free books from Project Gutenberg. You can get Kindle versions of almost any classic, but actually I prefer to read in print so I will usually upload the book to Lulu and get a hard copy that way. So, although the book content is free, I end up spending around $6 to buy that one-off copy. I’m rarely disappointed!

          • #28 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 26, 2015 - 8:30 pm

            I think you two have got this thoroughly discussed! I have to add, though: who would ever buy a book without checking the sample first? Indeed, I rarely read an entire book on my Kindle. But I download a lot of samples and audition them that way, then usually track down a hard copy because if I like a book enough to buy it, I want it on my shelves too.

  8. #29 by acflory on January 26, 2015 - 12:12 am

    I was particularly struck by this ‘…every post you write, every meaningful conversation you have on social media is already giving a sample of your voice…’ Free giveaways hark back to the tactics of the advertising generation. I think Indies are part of the direct-connection generation. We gain traction by word of mouth, personal recommendations, and yes, the ‘other’ free samples of our work.

    I have no idea what the magic formula is, or even if there is one, but I too believe the concept of ‘free’ ebooks has been done to death. I wonder if there’d be much point making iVokh tea cosies as giveaways…

    • #30 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 26, 2015 - 8:32 pm

      Thanks, Andrea! I think we’re already making those connections and perhaps haven’t realised it. And a free sample is usually enough to cement the deal. Well, it is for me.

      • #31 by acflory on January 27, 2015 - 12:41 am

        Me too, but I suspect we’re both ‘treasure hunters’, always on the look out for a new voice.

  9. #32 by DRMarvello on January 26, 2015 - 1:12 am

    I resist free, yet the lure of free is irresistible. Having self-published a fantasy trilogy and experienced the giddy highs and crushing lows of the sales cycle, I fully understand now that price is nothing but a marketing tool.

    When I published the first book of my trilogy with starry eyes and soaring hopes, I found the joy of a few dozen sales to readers I didn’t know. After that, my enthusiasm drained away as sales quickly dropped to zero. I was in Select at the time and nearing the end of my 90-day stint. On a desperate whim, I joined a group promotion event with other fantasy authors (the “Summer Solstice Free Fantasy Sale” of 2012) and made my book free for three days. 5,700 downloads later, the book went back to paid…and promptly took off for about two months of solid paid sales.

    I left Select at the end of that first 90-day period and haven’t gone back. At least, I haven’t yet. Since then, I’ve had excellent launches for Book Two and Book Three. The best part is that each new launch has revived the sales of the entire series, just as the indie pundits promised. However, with each release, sales dropped back down to disappointing levels after a couple of months.

    I’m a believer in the theory that new releases are important to maintaining visibility, but I’m not a speedy writer. I need other ways of keeping the fires burning on prior releases while I’m pounding away at a new manuscript. Now that I have a complete trilogy, setting the first free may be one way to do that.

    First, I’m trying 99 cents on Book One. If that doesn’t help, then I’ll give “permafree” a try. If the choice is between selling nothing and giving away the first book free so I can sell *something*, then I’ll choose the latter.

    • #33 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 26, 2015 - 8:34 pm

      Hi Daniel (again!) – in fantasy you’re addressing a very distinct market where free books work well. Indeed, you’ve already demonstrated success with it. Hope it continues to work for you!

  10. #34 by Ileandra Young on January 26, 2015 - 8:39 am

    I have this debate with myself all the time. I have one free book out, which heads a six part series. There are always tonnes of downloads on it but nothing else. No reader interaction, no reviews, no new subscribers. It’s not working.
    But Amazon has price matched the title and I’ve no idea how to get them to put it back to what it should be.
    So maybe every now and then someone follows the product funnel and buys the next title… But my stats say ‘not really.’

    • #35 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 26, 2015 - 8:38 pm

      HI Ileandra! You might be able to change the price on other channels and on KDP. Then keep checking to see when the new price has trickled through. Once it has, contact Amazon and tell them. You should be able to change your price this way – good luck!

      • #36 by Ileandra Young on January 26, 2015 - 10:27 pm

        Aaah, thank you. I’ve been picking my own brains over it for ages and I had nothing!
        Cheers! x

        • #37 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 26, 2015 - 11:59 pm

          If you find there’s a sticking point, check Flipkart (a retailer in India). Then go to your KDP dashboard and lower just the price for India so it matches Flipkart. That sometimes does the trick.
          I had a pricing nightmare when I launched the plot book a few weeks ago. The Amazon price wouldn’t rise, despite me entering it in the KDP dashboard. So I monitored all the retailers every day. It took about a week for them all to change. I was about to email Amazon with confirmation – when I found the Amazon price had automatically corrected upwards. So you may find it’s much easier than you think.

          • #38 by Ileandra Young on January 28, 2015 - 12:17 pm

            Never even heard of Flipkart, but I’ll certainly give it a go. Thanks again! x

  11. #39 by Henry Hyde on January 26, 2015 - 2:17 pm

    My experience of ‘free’ in other areas of marketing and sales, as well as publishing, is that (a) it depends what you’re marketing; and (b) it depends what kind of audience you want.

    Personally, I don’t want the kind of audience that expects free, or even heavily discounted. I agree with you, Roz, when you point out that the audience gets a bit of you in everything else you do, and there are so many ways to give an indication of what the reader can expect short of giving entire works away for free. A sample chapter or two, sure; an entire book, no.

    If I go to the cinema or rent a download movie or go to the theatre, I pay upfront and have no guarantee that I will enjoy the experience, regardless of what rating the critics have given. If I buy a physical book, I’ll read the cover blurb and perhaps a few pages, again with no guarantee. The problem with the internet and the rise of Kindle is that it has given the audience a sense of entitlement where none should exist. You can’t possibly please all the people, all the time, and as you rightly point out, I’m pretty certain we’ve all got digital dungeons full or unread freebies.

    Stick to your guns, Roz. I’m on the barricades with you.

    • #40 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 26, 2015 - 8:48 pm

      Hi Henry! You’re right about audiences. And the sense of entitlement. There’s a lot of comparison being made these days with the music industry, and how difficult it is for bands to charge for their music. That’s pretty outrageous, but bands can make money from live performances – or they can in theory. I bet most of them can’t in practice. But writers don’t even have this. Our books are what we have, full stop.
      Thanks for watching my back!

  12. #41 by katmagendie on January 26, 2015 - 3:16 pm

    You know: I worked hard to write my novels. I sacrificed time and family and friends and food and fun. I huddled in a room for hours and hours, weeks, months, years. Then, when finished, there is never a guarantee that the hours and weeks and months spent will net a published book – even if you already have other published books. Then there is the “stuff” that comes afterward – the hours of “stuff” — Do I love it? It’s the best job in the world, and one that I, sadly, can no longer afford to do full time. I’m not complaining or whining,only stating facts.

    To put things in perspective: yesterday I sat almost two hours in a movie widely and wildly touted – and movies are not cheap – and was bored for 80% of the movie. But, I paid for that almost 2 hours with the expectation that I may like it and I may not – but I wanted the experience anyway. That’s the gamble you take with movies. That’s the gamble we take with many things.

    Who decided our worth?

    What other professions do we ask, or demand, the proprietors to give away their work for free or so cheaply they cannot make a living on it?

    I was a reader before I was a novelist, and over the years I have spent many dollars purchasing books (before ereaders for many years) that I did not like all that much or that I was disappointed in. But, that’s just how it works. I never questioned it.

    All that said, I like that ebooks are less expensive – I like that we can try out authors or that readers can try out my work with less “risk” — but there has to be a reasonable expectation of “monetary worth” here, right? For all the sacrifice and stress and worry and work?

    and on the debate rages🙂

    • #42 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 26, 2015 - 8:53 pm

      All great points, Kat. Yes, we do have to look at what we are doing to perceptions of writers’ worth. It’s expected that because writing is cheap to do, doesn’t require equipment, there is little cost. Actually there is. It’s in – as you say – time, sacrifices, crafting, care, years of practice, discipline.
      I’ve already let off steam about this further up the comment chain, so won’t repeat it again, but I’m with you. Thanks for joining in.

      • #43 by M.H. Vesseur on February 1, 2015 - 11:14 am

        I couldn’t agree more (see my comment below, #57) about the actual labor of writing, and the reasonable expectation of “monetary worth”. Well put!

  13. #44 by Jamie Godsafe on January 26, 2015 - 10:45 pm

    There doesn’t seem to be much evidence that free giveaways are worth devaluing your efforts and your art. I now find that I am elated that I find a half-decent book as a freebie and I’m sure that I’m not alone in having cluttered my kindle with poor giveaways. If I’m not alone then that surely means that if you give your book away for free – and no matter how good a writer you are – your audience are going to be starting with low expectations.
    Of course it’s a personal decision that we all have to make but I can’t see that I would give away a novel for free. Short stories or poetry I would give away for free but on my blog so I could have real interaction with my readers and hopefully build some sort of fanbase.

    • #45 by katmagendie on January 27, 2015 - 3:05 pm

      There are costs. Don’t forget the taxes I pay *laughing* being “self employed” the taxes can eat you alive – the travel I’ve traveled even when gas prices were terribly high – the books I’ve bought because people often ask me for free books (I have had to stop doing that because it became so expensive) — the fees I paid for joining writing-related groups/conferences (I’ve had to cut out a lot of this, as well). Etc.

      My monetary output has been at times excessive. So there you go!

      Still, I’d not trade it – this is what I love; my addictive drug.

  14. #46 by KASTHURI PETHAPERUMAL on January 27, 2015 - 8:22 am

    Dear writer…there are two thoughts…to give away your book FREE or GET Paid for your book…

    I personally believe that gold doesn’t come cheap and so does the writing of an author of class…

    free may mean a desperation to get noticed…thank you -kasthuri pethaperumal

  15. #47 by Stephanie Prichard on January 27, 2015 - 11:06 pm

    I’m a debut author (actually, co-author with my husband) with no platform, so discoverability was key for us. We published Stranded: A Novel as an e-book in October and it muddled along in sales at about 25/wk. and a few reviews. I did a KDP Select giveaway for T’giving/Black Friday with “advertising” only in CIB. Our sales doubled to 50/wk. and reviews started coming in steadily. I did another KDP Select freebie for Christmas using ENT, and our sales went to 25/day and reviews as of today are at almost 70. Peanuts, I know, for you successful authors, but unbelievably encouraging to us! I wish our giveaways were purchases, but, well, I think we would have been stranded, LOL, without them!

    • #48 by DRMarvello on January 28, 2015 - 12:05 am

      Congratulations on your success! 25/day is NOT peanuts, and having a 4.6 average on 70 reviews is phenomenal, particularly in such a short time.

      You are, of course, busy writing the sequel right now, aren’t you?🙂

      • #49 by Stephanie Prichard on January 28, 2015 - 1:38 am

        LOL, nice IF that pace keeps up, DRMarvello! Yes, I’m working on the sequel but not busily enough!

      • #50 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 28, 2015 - 11:30 pm

        You beat me to it, Daniel. I’m impressed with Stephanie’s figures too. Keep it up!

  16. #51 by Daniel R. Vertrees on January 28, 2015 - 5:17 pm

    Reblogged this on Nietzsche's Abyss: The Writing Blog of Daniel R. Vertrees and commented:
    A thoughtful piece I would say

  17. #52 by Jamie Friesen on January 28, 2015 - 9:50 pm

    I have avoided the Free bandwagon simply because I published with Smashwords as well as Amazon, which exempts me from Select and KU.

    I’m just starting out and only have one novel and a novelette (according to SFWA) published right now, so I don’t think it makes sense to give them away. I could see having something short (under 10k) to put in Select and KU once I have a few more novels, but not at this point in the game.

    Has it hurt my sales? On Amazon, probably. But that might be because of my novel (set in Canada) and not Amazon itself – it sells decently on Amazon.ca, but next to nothing on Amazon.com. Fortunately, my sales on Kobo and iBooks are three to five times higher than Amazon, so I’m not too worried at this point.

    • #53 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 28, 2015 - 11:29 pm

      Hi Jamie! The exclusivity clause is another reason why Select and KU are unappealing to me. And you’re doing well if you’re selling more on Kobo and iBooks. Most people sell more through Amazon – I guess because the discovery algorithms are so good. You stick to your guns.

  18. #54 by Deb Atwood on January 29, 2015 - 4:31 pm

    Congratulations, Roz, on generating such a lively (and at times, fiery) debate! You’ve got me thinking of this topic in new ways. One thing on the discover factor, though–I think it’s hard to quantify. I won a free book from Armchair BEA that I passed along to my mother. Neither of us had heard of this particular author. My mother loved the book and last week purchased another of this author’s work…almost a year after receiving the free book. Probably no analyst would see the link between the giveaway and that sale, but there it is.

    In other news, I nominated you for the One Lovely Blog Award: http://peninherhand.com/one-lovely-blog-award/ Congratulations again on your successes!

  19. #56 by becomingcliche on January 30, 2015 - 5:56 pm

    I find that readers are bashful when it comes to sharing email addresses with something like Rafflecopter. The number of times we draw and re-draw because people enter with burn accounts they never actually check solidifies this theory. I don’t know what the right answer is.

    • #57 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on January 30, 2015 - 8:44 pm

      That’s interesting about Rafflecopter. I think we’re so wary of spam, and deluged by our inboxes, that we’re wary of giving an address. But it says a lot for how much the prize is valued if the entrant doesn’t even check if they’ve won!

      • #58 by becomingcliche on January 31, 2015 - 1:52 am

        Agreed. I think the more valuable the prize, the more willing we are to give up that email address. And actually check it.

  20. #59 by M.H. Vesseur on February 1, 2015 - 11:12 am

    “The best way out is always through.” This quote from Robert Frost pretty much sums it up. The ease of publishing today forces us to accept a certain bottomlessness to the price, because there is no way we are going to unite all authors against free giveaways. So each one of us will have to either ignore the free books or experiment with it. I’ve experimented with free giveaways and abandoned the whole thing — I counted a lot of downloads, but I gained almost zero in terms of reviews or real readership. Of course I’m not ‘on int’ full time but by now I use freebies only as a gift: I have Google Forms online that offer reviewers a chance to get another one of my detective novels for free once the review is online and I get the link. I take the position that Amazon (a.o.) is using content (books, movies, music) to lure customers at the lowest possible price, and then make money on other products. This makes sense, because we have now finally arrived in a content saturated culture. There is simply too much of it. The ocean of culture is actually rising faster than the real oceans. It’s good to see this topic being discussed and being able to learn from it. Finally, I like to quote katmagendie (above, #41): “…there has to be a reasonable expectation of ‘monetary worth’ there … for all the sacrifice and stress and worry and work…”

    • #60 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on February 1, 2015 - 7:52 pm

      Hi Martin – good comment! I believe in giveaways if they get a good result. Otherwise, they’re devaluing our work.
      What’s been great here is that so many people have felt able to discuss when giveaways have failed to give them good results. I suspect they’ve been suffering in silence, but here we’ve found there’s actually a sizable number of writers who were grateful to see it brought out into the open.
      Your strategy with the gift in return for a review is interesting.

  21. #63 by Kate Rauner on February 1, 2015 - 5:51 pm

    Thanks for this post and the comments – I feel better knowing I’m not alone. I’ve got two scifi novels out – my first grew from NaNoWriMo. It’s… not terrible. If I average all my reviews together, it’s a bit over 3/5 stars. I put it out free on Samshwords (and Amazon eventually matched the free price) to try to generate more review – loads of downloads, no reviews. My second book’s a bit better (I hope) and I tried a giveaway of the ebook version o some site – from my analytics, not all the winners of my giveaway even bothered to download the book.
    But for now, I’ll concentrate on writing better books. I’m starting three in the same setting – that magic “series” idea. Write ow… market later.

    • #64 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on February 1, 2015 - 7:53 pm

      Hi Kate – I was just saying to Martin (comment above) how I suspected many writers have been thinking they were the only people who couldn’t make giveaways work! Thanks for adding to the discussion. And good luck with the other books.

    • #65 by DRMarvello on February 1, 2015 - 11:15 pm

      If it makes you feel any better, I frequent a forum that has a substantial contingent of authors who feel that free doesn’t work, that it devalues books, and that authors who do use free are hurting those who don’t. You are definitely not alone.

  22. #66 by Kate Rauner on February 1, 2015 - 5:52 pm

    oops – typo – “Smashwords.com”

  23. #67 by Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt on February 3, 2015 - 4:03 am

    Soon-to-be-debut-author here. My plan is to leave the 1st book of a mainstream trilogy up on my blog – available to anyone who wants to click through, but provide a slightly more edited version on Amazon for those who would rather pay and get it in a more finished format (WordPress is a bit of a pain to format fiction in). As long as the versions are not identical, and clearly labeled so, I hope to not run afoul of Amazon’s price matching (still have to do some checking).

    Reason: I have been posting a new scene every Tuesday for well over a year now, and have dedicated readers (a small number, but they are very valuable) who I would NOT ask to go pay for something they’ve been reading so long – and supporting with likes, reads, and comments.

    I am a very slow writer, and I will do the next two books the same way, but hope to offer the finished versions for sale long before they are posted. And when I write The End to Book 3, I will put it out as a single volume, the way it was conceived.

    People like me who will never be able to capitalize on many books written quickly MUST have different strategies than those who drive readers to a series by making the first book free.

    BTW, any strategies for marketing mainstream commercial fiction – as opposed to genre fiction and literary fiction – greatly appreciated.

    Alicia

    • #68 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on February 12, 2015 - 8:51 pm

      I’m a slow writer too, Alicia – or perhaps I should say I’m an addicted rewriter! anyway, I understand the dilemma. I’m sure some people here will have strategies. And some of us who write literary market ourselves as contemporary or commercial anyway.

  24. #69 by HonA Dawson (@HonADawson) on February 12, 2015 - 6:37 pm

    I am fascinated by the styles of remarks on this topic. I am “invisible” as far as marketing and promotion of my material is concerned. This is of prime importance for me, especially having written 14 novels to date, as I get closer to publishing a 5th so I need to ramp up the attention. I regard any art form as a business not an academic statement, so money has to made, a profit to feed the art or it becomes impossible to sustain. Free to buy is an unsettling term, But I have set out to write a 100 page novella to promote my products i.e. my full length novels hopefully it will aid me in finding the correct audience for my material. So I have an expectation which may not be fulfilled by these measures, there is no single method in fact there has never been a silver bullet, just an occasional temporary fad that accidentally helped a few to a successful conclusion, for many that outcome was short lived as perpetuating this visibility is very difficult without a large reliable fan/reader base. More frustrating for the writing community It does not seem to reflect the”artists” ability, entertainment value or originality, but some intangible characteristic of social movement and attitude triggered by some enthusiastic followers. We have to draw a deep breath before leap over the edge into the dark abyss and hope we land somewhere safe without drowning! Something I should mention I shall be cross promoting suitable writers within my “digital inside cover” So I am watching!
    Salutations to everyone on this thread. You are welcome to connect.

  25. #71 by lynettedavis on February 19, 2015 - 1:54 am

    Reblogged this on Memoir Notes.

  26. #72 by Eduardo Suastegui on February 27, 2015 - 12:48 am

    I’m very ambivalent about free giveaways. For a while, I’ve been giving away the series starter and seeing some lagging, carry-through sales to the subsequent 4 books in the series. But these sales are minor, and I wonder whether I get enough return on investment (ROI). My other try at free is through my website, in exchange for a mail list subscription. I have one title I offer *only* through my website. So far, I can’t say the number of subscriptions is sky-rocketing. Of course, the alternative is where I was months ago: 4 titles out (for another series) all at nice price points–and ZERO sales. Being fairly new at this, maybe the best I can expect for now is to slowly build readership. The two free strategies I outline above are doing a lot better than said alternative.

    • #73 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on February 27, 2015 - 10:02 am

      Interesting to read about your results, Eduardo. If you have a series of 5 books, then giving one away might be a worthwhile move. As you say, ROI is the thing to watch. Any time we adopt a new strategy, we should measure how it’s working. On the other hand, your pick-up might be simply due to your other efforts maturing!

  1. The Monday Post: Links for Readers and Writers | A Vase of Wildflowers
  2. ‘Who Decided Our Worth?’ Do Free Books Give Away Authors’ Value? | Thought Catalog
  3. ‘Who Decided Our Worth?’ Do Free Books Give Away Authors’ Value? | Thought Catalog
  4. Top Picks Thursday 01-29-2015 | The Author Chronicles
  5. Friday Finds: Week 18 | Avid Reader
  6. How To Set Up a Goodreads Author Page | Julie Stock - My Writing Life
  7. Print options and free books: two of my own rules I’m breaking this year… | Nail Your Novel

Your turn!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: