My Opinion on Free Books

As an indie author, should you give your work away?

I see this topic a lot and everyone has an opinion. Anyone who has been following along with my blog knows I’ve had Darkness Falling up for free twice; once on Black Friday and once to celebrate the new year.

That means I’m in the “yes” side of the category. I have a few reasons I’d like to share.

1)      No one knows who I am

Okay, this is pretty obvious. I’m not Stephen King or J. K. Rowling. Not many people are in that bracket of “if you say this name to someone who doesn’t read, they’ll know who you’re talking about.”

I’m also not a high ranking indie author. My book has never been number one. When I type R. R. Willica into the Amazon search it says “Did you mean….?” and gives me another author’s name.

That’s fine. I prepared myself for this reality before I published.

Several years ago, I went through a dream impeding crisis when I learned that only one out of ever one-hundred and fifty thousand fantasy authors gets published.

1 in 150,000.

If you put all the genres together, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there are well over one million new authors every year. That’s not counting the authors who have already published at least once.

Consider how many times you say to someone “I’m a writer” and they come back with “I’m going to write a book, too!” It can be an annoying response, but it isn’t necessarily false.

When being picked up by a publishing house, the author has the benefit of the marketing campaign, launch parties, book signings, interviews with magazines, professional reviews, the prominent display in bookstores, and eventually sitting on a shelf to wait.

Only 200 books may fit in the fantasy section of your local bookshop.

Right now in the dystopian niche of Amazon’s Science Fiction section, Darkness Falling is number 3,249. That’s only counting how far I have to climb to number one and not those with a higher number.

Even if a publisher’s marketing campaigns don’t work out, your book on a bookshelf in a bookstore has a greater chance of being seen than your book on a website.

Don’t forget that sitting in a bookshop has another advantage. The shoppers already know that someone must have liked your book or it wouldn’t be there. This is a badge of approval we independent authors do not have. Until we get reviews, we’re just another questionable book cover in a sea of questionable book covers. Even when we get reviews, they are held as suspect until there are enough of them to prove it isn’t just your mom or best friend helping you out.

The more opportunities you have to give your book to a stranger is key. Even if they don’t leave a review they might tell a friend. If someone likes your book they will talk about it, even if you don’t know they are talking.

2)      Free books are not a new thing

I don’t have a lot of money for books. It’s the reality I live in. One upon a time I did and I had many, many books that I purchased. Today, I don’t have that luxury. There is a place I can always go to get books for free

You guessed it, you’re local library.                                     

Now, wait, the library had to buy those books. That’s true. The library may purchase one or two copies (or more depending on the popularity of the author,) but that’s still just one sale. That one sale could result in a single book being read ten times, one hundred times, or even one thousand times.

An author can count those as “lost sales” just as easily as I could count my free books as lost sales. You can count them as hard work given away for nothing. The point of writing a book is for people to read it. Yes, I want to make money and live as a writer, but once again that’s not going to happen unless I have fans. There will be no fans if there are no readers.

If you go to a library you won’t find my book. Hopefully someday you can. Until then, I can chose to give my book away for free, and hopefully it falls into the hands of someone who wanted to read it but didn’t have the money.

3)      I download free books (and review them)

As I said above, I don’t have a lot of money for books. I love being able to download books for free to read. Even though my download may only result in a review, my review could later influence a sale.

My favorite books to download are books that have less than five reviews. This is because I know how it feels. I know someone is just waiting to be given a chance. I try to give people that chance. This is what supporting an indie author is all about, indie authors just like me.

Ironically, I’m a slow reader. It can take me 2 or 3 months to finish a book, even if I love it. Despite that, I know someone out there had a moment of happiness when my download was a tally mark on their screen, and they’ll have another moment to see a new review once I’m done.

In the end, I don’t view free book giveaways as diminishing the hard work of writing my book. I’m on a journey as an author, and I’m only at the very beginning. Knowing my book might brighten the day of someone who couldn’t otherwise afford it is also important to me. I won’t offer my book free every day because supporting myself on my writing would be great, but free day giveaways are only going to help me reach that goal, not make it impossible.

Thanks for reading as always. If you have any thoughts on free books,  let me know in the comments.


5 thoughts on “My Opinion on Free Books”

  1. I’m really glad you brought up the library part of the free book argument. I think a lot of authors (maybe indie authors in particular, but maybe not) forget that there are thousands of readers who almost never buy books because they depend on libraries. I buy a lot of books and still depend on my library. I simply could not afford all of the books I read.

    At the same time I think it’s easy for readers forget that books come at cost to someone. I buy books because I want to support the people who write them.

    (And don’t get my started on “I’m going to write a book!” One day, but that day is not today. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There will always be people who don’t understand the cost, which is why I do give back reviews. Maybe not equal in work but showing my appreciation is important.

      It also depends on the type of reader. One of the first people to purchase my book was a woman I know at work. She’d never read a digital book before, and she complained that $2.99 was too cheap.

      I think the trick is learning to use a balance. I wouldn’t make my books “permafree” and I think a 1 day giveaway away as a special occasion is the key.


      1. For me, $2.99-$4.99 is perfect for ebook only. I will pay more for a physical book and would probably pay more for an ebook only from an author I knew I really liked/would read again. (I read fast and re-read sometimes immediately.)

        I also think that short term free promotions can be great. A successful, traditionally pubbed mystery writer I know does free only as promotion. She’s well known enough that she bounce a novella or indie supplement to her series up the Amazon rankings so that it works as promotion for the rest of her work (or at least that series). I don’t know that peremfree works as a gateway to the rest of series the way it once did though.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think that’s the key to putting it free sometimes. It’s a promotion, but it’s also an invitation to those who maybe weren’t ready or able to pay yet. But, I found more than one day in a row at free isn’t really worth it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. All good points. I’m sure at some point I’ll do a free giveaway for my books, though I never intend to go the permafree route. On the other hand, my short story is free on my website, and I consider it to be pure marketing, a way to say to readers, “Hey, like this? More is coming.”

    I don’t think a giveaway diminishes your book at all. As a perpetual cheapskate, I am guilty of getting the free books when I can. However, if I like them, I buy the rest. Good article!

    Liked by 2 people

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