Books for free!

Should authors be giving away their books for free? It’s a question I’ve been thinking about since a conversation I had with a group of other authors on Facebook recently.

Gold_BarsIt came as part of a wider discussion about the financial rewards (or otherwise) of writing a book. Cards on the table – at my level of authorship there simply aren’t any significant financial rewards! My book is a literary novel by a first time unknown author, published by a small press – it’s not going to sell like Fifty Shades of Potter. So I didn’t expect to make very much money at all from my book – and have not been disappointed in that expectation.

In fact, it still comes as a surprise and a pleasure to me when a tiny royalty cheque lands on the mat – a novelty if you like. I am amazed I get any money at all for doing something I love – and perhaps that’s the problem we authors have.

Unless we sell books by the skipload authors do not make a great deal of money from the books people buy and the other peripheral things authors do don’t add to their riches either. At my level, for example, getting paid for reading at lit fests is hit and miss. I have been paid on occasion – but I’ve also been expected to turn up for nothing, and pay my own travel expenses, just for the privilege of promoting my book. My view on this has been that as a recently published author, in all humility, I ought to take the opportunities which are offered to me. I accept that I am working for the festival organisers for nothing and put it down to experience.

US_Dollar_banknotesThe thing is though, even more established authors often don’t get paid for work either. There was a row recently when a novelist refused to write a forward for an academic non-fiction book for free. His argument was that, as a professional writer, he ought to be paid for his services. Was that so unreasonable? And I have also heard that very well established writers are still expected to turn up at literature festivals and read for nothing, or for some kind of low value ‘gift.’ Why is this?

It’s a surprising state of affairs I think. The literature festivals only exist because of writers – they sell tickets and make money. So why shouldn’t the writers be paid? I like to compare it to when I was a kid playing in rock bands. If the owner of some bar had asked us to play for nothing, on the basis it would be ‘good exposure’ for us, we would have laughed in his face. Somehow the economy surrounding books and writers has become skewed so that the market has set the value of an author’s labour at more or less zero and the expectation is that they do a lot of work for nothing. We work ‘For the love of it’ or to increase our profile. Where do we draw the line?

BookspileSo – to the business of giving away books.

This is something I didn’t know happened until I had mine published – but I’ve seen plenty of it since. It tends to be the download, Kindle, variety of book which gets given away for nothing. Self published authors do a lot of this, though it is a marketing technique I have also seen adopted by some small publishers. Often books will be given away free as downloads for a limited time – during a free week for example.

I think part of the idea is simply for people to get their book out there – to put it in as many hands and in front of as many pairs of eyes as possible. This is a need I understand only too well. There is a glut of books on the market in an age when people can just publish their own work with no quality control whatsoever. And, of course, there are a lot of calls on people’s time – all those TV shows and movies and web sites and games. Who has time for reading? (Me!).

It is very hard to get your work noticed, however good it may be. So asking people to take a copy of your book off your hands for free – spreading your work around as widely as possible, can no doubt seem like a great way of kick starting it on it’s road to best-sellerdom.

There’s also the issue of the ‘best-seller’ lists, which are broken down into numerous genre and sub-genre groups. How many authors are propping up their claims to be ’best-sellers’ on some of these more minor lists on the basis of the number of books they have given away for free?

Here’s my position – I don’t like the idea of giving away my book for nothing. Why? Because that suggests my work is worthless, and it is not. Song of the Sea God took me two years to write, it’s been nominated for a couple of serious book awards, been published by a reputable publisher with a passion for literary fiction and has had good reviews from readers on both sides of the Atlantic. Frankly I am very proud of it. So why would I want to suggest it is worthless?

Writing is such a subjective business – the only thing which separates me from a mad old lady writing cat poetry is that, sometimes, I get paid.

It really isn’t about the money. I know I am not going to make any significant money from Song of the Sea God – but that does not mean it is not a good book. So why would I treat it as though it is of no value?

That’s why I don’t give away my book for nothing. I don’t do it online and I don’t do it in person. Since I became a published author I’ve been surprised now and again by work colleagues, acquaintances and the like who say things like ’lend me a copy of your book and I’ll read it.’ or ‘stick a copy in the canteen so people can borrow it.‘ I politely decline their kind request. I don’t know who they think has paid for the copy I would be giving them.

I’m lucky in that my publisher has never asked me to give away my book for free through Amazon etc – they’ve set a price for the product and stuck to it. I’m sure I would have handed out a lot more books if I had given them away for nothing – but what would I be saying about the quality of my work?

What’s your view? Let me know in the comments section below!

Song of the Sea God visualIf you’d like to see whether my book is worth paying your hard earned money for you can take a look here at Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

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74 thoughts on “Books for free!

  1. Very good piece and I have to agree with you. I myself am a single mother, actually on sickness benefits and I have managed to organise myself enough after many years of sitting on my work, which I always looked at as a hobby, and now I want to get it out there to the public. I want to be able to support my children and myself, but I can’t because I just don’t have the money to promote myself like many well established authors do and my health means I can’t get out there and promote how I want to. I love the internet, it has given me wings and the fact that I can write and self-publish my work is so rewarding. But do you know what? Half the time I can’t even afford to buy my own books – and I still end up giving them away to people just so someone will read them LOL – it’s crazy! I’m not a bad writer – if I don’t say so myself 😉 – please people give me credit for my hard work and buy the book – don’t expect it for nothing! Great job and thanks for letting me have a rant LOL 😀

    • Thanks Laura – nice rant! I expect this is a topic a lot of authors feel ranty about. Of course I know artistic endeavours of all kinds are poorly rewarded financially but I also think we need to value our own work better – if we don’t who will?

      • I have just come to the conclusion now after trying desperately to promote myself as a writer (over the internet – being house bound at the moment) for the last few years, that I am just happy to have an outlet to express myself and if people stumble across me and buy my books I’m happy now. But it shouldn’t be so hard! I’d be so ecstatic and stunned to be invited to go into a school – I’d probably pay them! LOL

  2. Soo agree with this one, Chris and Laura..apart from the fact it skews the Amazon ratings, it is a complete devaluation of our craft. There are enough rock bottom priced books out there. I recently had a ”exchange of views” with a writer, over a different topic, but this one insinuated itself —- they were laying down the law about charging (a lot) for doing events ..incl school events, where I tend not to charge, given I am there to ”inspire” (tho I see my books). I was informed that I was undermining all other writers who were trying to make a living from their writing, and for whom income from events was part of it. Pointed out that giving your books away on the internet was PRECISELY that same thing. Hasb’t got back to me yet.

    • I also think Carol that there’s a difference with something like reading at a school where nobody is buying tickets so no income is being generated. I know in an ideal world it would be great to be fairly paid for all work we do but I guess we have to look at it on a case by case basis. It’s just a shame so many people expect a free ride.

      • I pointed out that yes, if people pay, writers should be paid too, I agree with this, and applaud Edinburgh |& Cheltenham, who pay a flat rate regardless of fame. This writer insisted that ALL events should be charged for, and I do not agree with that.

  3. I agree too Chris. At the risk of saying something I shouldn’t, my publisher did give my books away for free on Kindle for a spell and I wasn’t happy about it. It was a marketing policy they were trying at the time and it didn’t work. Neither was I impressed by the fact that more than three thousand copies of one of my books had been downloaded. To do what? I asked. Sit on someone’s Kindle until they remembered it was there? Quite apart from the feelings I had about giving my work away for free, I think that as far as the general public is concerned, getting something for free means it’s not worth much either, so in many cases, the book is never even read. These days, the publishers have thankfully changed their policy to having special offer 99p weekends for the Kindle versions. So far, I don’t know if that works, but I feel it’s better than giving them away, and I am aware that people have bought and read them, so it’s not so bad. As for events, I’ve been paid for some but not others. I’ve never been invited to a lit festival, but my talks at book clubs are usually paid. A nominal amount to be sure, but better than nothing. Maybe the attitude is that we should be grateful for the exposure and just put up with it. Sad, isn’t it?

    • That’s very interesting that when yours were given away it didn’t work Val. I suppose if it led to some massive upsurge in paid for sale we would have to accept that it was a valid marketing tool as part of the mix – but if it has no discernable affect on sales then their really is no point!

      • The public (and for books and authors I don’t know, I am one of them) is fairly unsympathetic when it comes to unknown authors. I think they will take a chance on a freebie, but maybe won’t read it until they’ve read everything else they have actually chosen to buy. With so many people downloading ebooks now, that means yours (in this case, mine) might stay at the bottom of the list for a very long time, so no, I personally don’t think it works because, as you’ve rightly said, by giving it away, the work is devalued – simply by being something the reader has not chosen to buy.

  4. The whole concept of free books does worry me and as an unpublished fiction author can see all of you points, I have been reading and watching whats going on out there as my first draft got nearer to completion, I to feel that all the work that’s gone into is worth something and have talked to quite a few people ‘In the know’ about it and although I’m a way off publishing the main first novel it will cost me to get it there (book cover, final proof reading/editing, formatting etc) for things I can’t do, I have already created a buzz on places like Twitter about the story line and concepts in the book and feel now I can’t let it go out without being perfect.
    So after talking to a friend who does actually work for a publisher, have devised a plan, it could be six months before my first full novel is ready so I am finishing off and writing up a few short stories which will be published for free, the first one before Christmas, this will hopefully address the unknown author factor and give readers an idea of my writing, long before my main novel is available, I’ve talked to other authors about this and they also seem in agreement of the idea, and even though they will be free there will of cost me to get them there.
    My main first novel, although not taken an over long time to write goes back as an idea over 30 years and I would rather not publish it than give it away.

    • Yes – it’s clearly a marketing device which some people believe will work for them, otherwise they wouldn’t do it, nobody likes giving away their work for nothing after all. My problem is more with the principle of the thing – the idea that giving work away devalues that work, and in the end, if enough people do it, the whole business of writing fiction becomes devalued in a downward spiral.

  5. Good for you, Chris – more power to you. Why give away your hard work for free? Would that ever be expected of an engineer or a builder? The same trend obtains in journalism, as I’m sure you have seen. Hopefully, each of your books will build upon the success of the last, and the royalty cheques will fatten!

    • You are quite right about journalism – I worked in newspapers for many years and the trend now is for ‘citizen journalism’ and ‘user generated content’ which, as you suggest basically means getting people to do for free what journalists used to be paid to do.

  6. We have the same problem in the music industry, where we are supposed to ‘give away’ music for promotional purposes. This has caused a headlong rush into streaming services which do not statistically benefit musicians (although it is reported that they supposedly ‘get them noticed’). I think David Byrne was right to question this ‘statement’ as I don’t think this is true either. I recently had one aggregator write me that I was not ‘promoting my artist correctly’ because I wasn’t giving away his music on Spotify. No, perhaps there is another reason; perhaps the aggregator gets a cut of the final sale of Spotify based on percentage of their artists signed up. That doesn’t translate to anything for us or our artists, only for the big labels and aggregators.
    My feeling is that we are at the beginning of a huge shift. The amount of money being made off of our free products by companies using artists to promote advertising is unbalanced in their favour. I personally think we all need to make a stand, give away some art, if we choose, but also require payment for new releases and products. I download free kindle books now and again, when offered or recommended, but for the most part I pay for books as well as buy them at bookstores. I still buy CDs as I am not one to be constantly hooked up to a cell phone or MP3 player.
    I feel we all need to start withdrawing our energy from the constant push to ‘give away’ everything and begin to coalesce into a larger group of artists who are saying no to being used by large companies for profit. I think this is just beginning for some of us and that maybe a rather nice underground group of artists, who have quality art to sell, will be able to link in some manner. My label is all about promoting quality music, and that is not something I can even remotely do for ‘free’. I am glad to hear that writers are doing the same and valuing their works and their words.

    • Thanks, that’s a fascinating view from a different perspective. Personally I think books might head in the direction music has already taken where the default setting for a lot of people is that the content is free – even though it has cost time and money and creative energy to produce. Perhaps the difference so far has been that music was plagued with piracy to such an extent that the market collapsed. That hasn’t happened with books yet, but the number of pirated downloads is growing and it wouldn’t surprise me if it went the same way.

      • It occurred to me the other day that the major difference between authors and musicians is that often musicians earn much of their money from live gigs (or at least, that’s what the media tells me) but authors don’t. The book is pretty much the only product.

  7. I agree with most of the excellent comments here. Like everyone else, I don’t know why writers do it. I have just had a first book published so I am still on a steep learning curve but I do feel that writers, and others who produce things primarily out of a love become so easy to manipulate in the marketplace. It can be hard to hold out against that. But I can’t see the logic in giving work away for nothing even if you get a small spike in sales after it. It all feels a bit desperate, like labourers offering to work a week for nothing in the hope that the employer will see how great they are and give them a full-time job. They won’t, they will just go on exploiting workers, skewing the labour market in the process. Some writers seem to play the system better than others I’ve noticed and manage to undercut other writers with very similar books by offering giveaways. Is it not the case that many writers, particularly some self-published ones (no criticism implied of self-publishing generally) will offer free Kindle downloads in return for top reviews in a skewed extension of the normal review-books scenario? I’ve noticed that there are a lot of books (on you know what site) that are poorly produced/written with a disproportionate number of five-star reviews. Or have readers expectations dropped along with product prices and freebies?

    • I think you make a very good point when you say that the fact authors love what they do makes them easy to manipulate Marjory. I remember reading that economists say one of the factors which determines the pay a job offers is how desirable the job is – the less desirable it is, the higher the pay – and in fact that’s one of the reasons given in Freakonomics to explain why prostitutes in the USA earn more than architects! It might also explain why authors are so badly paid 🙂

  8. Ha, ha. I like you’re reply. It might be easier then if we gave up writing and became happy hookers! 🙂 I think demand has a lot to do with it, too. Perhaps the demand for good (well-written) books is falling, hence writers’ bargaining power. I know this will sound very cynical (I’m a journo what can you expect?) but I feel a lot of readers treat books now as bubblegum for their eyes!!

  9. Seems like the old piracy problem became a good excuse to justify corporate piracy, we are raising a culture of youth/adults who believe they are entitled to some extent, mostly due to carefully controlled marketing. The question is WHO benefits in the end, monetarily, that is, because the dilution of talent definitely makes it harder to be seen or heard amongst the growing crowd. We don’t benefit culturally, intellectually or spiritually in my opinion by devaluing art, although it shouldn’t be overvalued either and I find this to be something happening with the idea that great music will be found through the TV Talent shows, or even by a 5 star Kindle review. I do book reviews, but in general not for kindle books and only by exception. It takes time to write a review and I feel that I want something in return in the form of an actual physical copy; whether I buy it or it is supplied. A book is a sensory experience to me, and I want to open it, feel it, smell it and put a bookmark in it! But not everyone feels this way and this disengagement from the ‘physical’ aspect of art is causing some of the problem. How do we put a value on, for the most part, free digital communication and subsequently the now expected ‘free’ digital art/writing/music that it supports?

    PS If this posts twice, please delete one, WP said I was posting too fast when I attempted to put it up the first time!

    • I certainly agree with you about physical books – and about the way the digital world is changing the way people perceive art and the need to pay for it. There are some positives though – I don’t sell many books, but I do sell them all around the world because of the Internet and social media, that would have been an impossible dream for an author at my level only a few years ago!

  10. Interesting discussion, I’ve resisted doing the free promos on Amazon for exactly those reasons mentioned. I think doing it was beneficial three or four years ago because the market was not so saturated and it gave new indie authors exposure and led to further sales. Now it’s just become an overly-used tool that, like Val suggested, throws your book into a Kindle to languish there. I know because I’ve got a bunch of freebies in mine that I’ve never looked at. String’s comparison to the music industry is spot on, although at least musicians might make it up in live shows or more likely merchandising if they attain a certain level of success. All in all, it’s a tool past its usefulness that devalues all written works and makes the entire industry cheapened in the process.

    • Yes – I only hope giving them away doesn’t become the norm so that the standard price for a book download is free – that’s already happened for news and for music. I think the way forward has to be to produce good quality work, above all, and to charge a fair price for it – and stick to that.

      • I originally set my novels at $4.99 when I released them, and held to that price for the better part of a year and a half. I thought it would work as a price and announce the quality of the product with confidence. We went in and lowered them to $2.99 this past summer. Not sure it’s made a bit of difference in sales, overall, but I absolutely refuse to go any lower and frankly don’t mind if that keeps them from being huge best-sellers. I think asking the price of a cup of fancy coffee for something that will bring a few hours of pleasure is not unreasonable, and while I get the whole notion of selling more at 99c, I don’t want to be perceived as a cheap commodity and so I’ve dug in my heels. 🙂

  11. Allow me to express a slightly different point of view. I currently have 3 books on Amazon and I use the KDP free program as an engine to drive sales. It does seriously work. When one of the three is offered free, the (paid) sales for the other two spike radically and continue to do so for several weeks. Then, I offer another book for a free weekend and the same thing happens with the other paid pair. If you are a decent writer and people enjoy your style/characters/world-building, then I find they will happily part with a few dollars (or pounds!) to continue in the bubble. Now, I do have a fourth book with a New York agent, and we’re looking at traditional publishing for that one, so I will likely have a very different perspective once THAT one hits the shelves, but regardless, I have found the free promotion a very successful tool for multi-book authors…

    • Thanks Heather, it’s nice to hear from someone who has made it work as a marketing tool. My main problem with it is more about the principle rather than the mechanics of the thing but I can see why someone would want to do it if it did indeed make a significant impact on their sales.

      • Like Heather, we too use free promotions to our advantage, for me the issue has to do with control. We control our promotions, not an amorphous company who purports to be ‘helping us’. But we also have a back catalogue. So I understand where you are coming from, Laura.

  12. This post is making me question my intention to put a short horror story up on my blog for hallowe’en! Food for thought, certainly.

    Photographers are also having a problem with this – look at Pinterest. It largely consists of photos used without permission. I know because I try to have an ethical pinterest account but I find many images, most even in some categories, are ripped off. Sometimes blatantly so from image selling sites and similar. It seems that we’ve developed the idea that creative things should be free and if someone wants it they should just be able to take it.

    Is this an inevitable dark side to the fact that the internet makes creation and sharing of creative arts easier?

    • I think that’s exactly right Libby – it’s a consequence of making the means of publishing so much easier – ‘content’ has become a commodity. I think it was social media guru Clay Shirky who talked about this. If you have the only cow in the village you can charge what you like for milk – but once everyone has a cow the market decides the price and milk becomes a commodity. Printing presses are expensive – but now anyone can publish a download everyone can publish and if we are not careful the market will set the price of books at pretty near zero.

  13. Yes, I agree and good point Anne-Marie about market saturation. The actual beauty of the reach of the internet is also the problem and I feel we are only in the beginning stages of how to deal with this – at the same time, the reality of art is that if you cannot find a way to be paid for it, you may, in the case of those people who need to make a living, have to give it up. I think a society where we find a way to support our artists rather than the venture capitalists that control the digitised reality would be a step in the right direction. It is out of balance. People making too much money off the backs of those who provide the content and it isn’t just a problem for artists; the most interesting article I read about the damaging effects of streaming concerned the huge pyramid of people who support artists and who also need to be paid; editors, producers, agents, managers, manufacturers, studios, engineers, shops etc. What will they do when an artist does not get paid for his product? Who will pay them for what is fast becoming a hobby for many? Sales of merchandise and gigs don’t go far enough for the smaller artists, which is now one manner in which they are expected to make their money and the method most touted by the streaming companies. How would it feel, as a writer, to have to sell T-shirts at a book launch where people had to pay an entrance fee and where fans read the ‘free’ book on their kindle and just came out of a need to meet with the author? What I find interesting is that most companies state that we should accept that free digital products and subsequent innovation in creating more free sources are the way of the future. Why? I think we are in the beginning of a huge shake out, and that is not necessarily in itself a bad thing. I am curious as to where it will all lead.

      • String, I totally agree with your points, although for the author, there are no ‘tee shirt sales and live gigs’, really. I have bandied about the idea of making tee shirts of my book covers, but only because I am seriously impressed with my young artist. He’d be the one making the money, though, as the creator. The irony in all of this for me as the writer is that he has so far made more at this than I have, not that I begrudge paying him at all. He did, actually, offer to produce them for free (he is a former student) as a way to build his portfolio, and my husband gave him a stern lecture about giving away your work for free.

  14. Just before an author’s reading, a woman I know told me that she was going to ask for five (5!) free copies of the novelist’s book for her book club. I said, “Do you realize that you’re asking him for $100? The man has five kids, and this is his JOB. Would you work for your employer for free?” She’d actually never thought of it in those terms. I suggested that she get copies from the library, which loans out special “reading group” packages. The packages didn’t offer her the social cachet, but at least the author made some money.

  15. I don’t think it should be the “only way,” but to exclude it as an occassional option, for a new author, is like an ostrich burying its head in the sand of the 20th century. I enjoyed your blog, very well written and articulated. I found myself wanting to agree in principle, but often, especially in this century, even authors with talent have to embrace chronic exceptions to principles. My book is in the hands of 10,000 readers now. Some will become permanent readers, some will not. I had 8,500 free downloads during my Kindle KDP Select 3 free days (required under the Kindle KDP Select Program contract). Got some great reviews, some by hardcore, intelligent readers who found me as a result of the promotion. That is gold for new authors. I think I’m just realizing that even great books just can’t survive in the 21st century without having to make some sacrifices. Now when I release other novels, I’ve gained some visibility, not just for readership, but for stepping up to bigger publishers, NY Agents, bigger lists, etc. I do admire your literatus philosophy and I’m a keen, equipped fan of your work my friend.

    • Thanks for popping by Jesse – and for your views which are clearly well informed. You and your publisher have clearly had significant success employing this method and knowing you as I do through social media I can say it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy! plus – I can’t argue with those numbers, they are in a different world from the number of people who have read my book. All I would say is that my reservations about the great book giveaway are not based on doubting its marketing worth – but rather a worry about the principle and where it may lead. I certainly wish you continued success with your book though – which seems to be doing very well indeed! 🙂

  16. Hi Chris: I’m in a similar position to you except I’ve had 3 books published by a small press. I work hard at my writing and I don’t want to give it away either although I understand the marketing reasons. I created them, I value them and I want to know that they are valued by the readers.

  17. I agree as well! I knew from the outset I wasn’t going to make any money from my book, but that doesn’t make it worthless, as giving it away implies. Plus, what about the people who already paid for their copy? In my case, my book has such a specific audience, even with a huge campaign sales would be limited. I do know that I have been contacted by breast cancer patients and survivors all over the US and Europe thanking me for insights or a good giggle when they needed it most. So based on my criteria, the book is a phenomenal success!

    • Yes, perhaps it’s true that the type of book you have to promote can alter one’s feelings on this type of promotion. Mine really isn’t a ‘mass market’ kind of novel so giving it away appeals even less than it would if I was expecting to reach a wide audience.

  18. As an independent author (one novel published and working on revisions to the second, as well as having just started a monthly short story series), I regularly offer the Kindle edition of my work for free. Having said that, I can totally understand your point of view on the matter. It’s something I have wrestled with and I may change my mind again in the future, but for now I am writing as a hobby and my main aim is to build some kind of readership for future works. That doesn’t mean that I don’t value my stories. I do. There is a paperback edition of my novel and I too have refused to loan it to people. My second novel is a sequel to the first and that will have a set price. I’m just hoping that I can garner enough interest in the first book and entice people to pay for its sequel. Apologies if these thoughts are a bit jumbled. I’m typing quickly on my iPad because I wanted to respond before I go out and forget!

    • Thanks Martin – a number of authors, both those who are self-published and those with publishers are suggesting the giveaways make sound marketing sense and I can’t really argue with that – they may well do. My reservations are more about what giving a book away says about the worth of that book and about the value of books in general. But I certainly think it pays not to be too precious about things if your aim is to improve your profile. I have done lots of things for free, lit fest appearances and readings, this blog – etc

      • It’s certainly an interesting topic, Chris, and has given me food for thought. Thanks for the article.

  19. As an unpublished writer, whose taken nearly a decade to write my novel, there is no way EVER, I would allow it to be given away free. That’s ten years of my life, countless hours of writing/thinking/researching to write something I believe is worth something. I believe people who want to read it should be prepared to pay for it.

    I’m aiming to go down the traditional route, but am in the process of putting together some of my flash fiction for E-books, and here too, I’m not prepared not to give it away free. The stories are short, and the book won’t be much above 15,000 words, but it took a lot of time and effort to write them and will take me a lot of time and effort to get it into an e-book format. Not quite sure what the price will be, but it will be reasonable for the size of the book. And, if I make any money, it will be used to make a print version too. So not making profit but ensuring the book gets out to as many as possible.

    • I know where you are coming from Virginia – I feel pretty much the same way, don’t really want to do it on principle. I don’t know where I’d stand if I was with a publisher who did want to give away though. My current one has never suggested it so it’s not an issue but of course I’d have to look at it and be reasonable if another publisher, further down the line, had a policy of doing it – I still don’t like the idea of it though.

  20. I can totally see where you’re coming from, and I think that people are overusing “free.” You definitely have to do what feels right for you, but I’m not as opposed to you are in giving away books for free.

    Everyone has to start at the bottom and work their way up. It’s the same principle, in my mind, as doing an unpaid internship at a corporation. Are you going to be expected, in 10 years, to work for free as an accountant or marketer? No, but doing an unpaid internship for a semester or a summer at the beginning of your career as an accountant or marketer is normal. Some people might not feel that an unpaid internship is for them, and that’s fine, too.

    As for handing out a book at the day job–Just because you’re a freelance electrician or a band member or used to work as an accountant doesn’t mean you need to cater to people’s whims. I think that’s disrespectful of people to expect it. But just like they might awkwardly ask you to play at their son’s wedding for free, they may awkwardly ask for a copy of your book for free. That’s not acceptable.

    The “free” thing is about networking, whether it’s a job or a book. You want people to know your name and open the door for other opportunities. It’s an investment you’re making in your future, and you have to decide if that investment makes sense. Everyone has different investment strategies, so if yours is different than mine, that’s ok.

    • Thanks Samantha – I do sometimes think I am being a bit too pure and moral on this stuff and others (like you) are more sensible and businesslike. But then I also think that preserving the value of your work is actually a sensible business practice too, if you let people think your work is worthless then that can’t be good for business. By insisting on the value of what we do we are helping not just ourselves but other authors too. The trouble with the starting from the bottom and working up arguement is that a lot of very experienced authors are also being expected to work for free in one way or another.

  21. I learnt recently that the reason people give ebooks away for free is because the increased downloads gets them up Amazon rankings. It makes their book more visible online. So when they stop the promotion, they sell more books for a while as it stays more visible. In theory anyway.

    However, I agree with you, and would not wish to give away my work for free. A chapter perhaps… a blog as a marketing tool… or a discount to encourage early purchases of a book. But give away a whole book to any random person who wants to download it? No.

    I offended someone on Twitter recently who posted the query as to why her free giveaway resulted in practically no sales. I reiterated an old school marketing theory that if you give your work a value of zero, that’s what people will think it is worth. She got offended – and her offended tweet got retweeted so many times that I felt the need to delete my original ‘helpful’ comment in fear of a backlash.

    However, as you’ve said almost exactly the same in your blog above, I feel I can make the observation here! I don’t work for nothing in my article writing, and I don’t sign book deals that don’t provide a royalty. In fact, the only time I work for nothing is on charity projects.

    If you just want an audience, fine, but I want (and have) a writing career. I guess it depends what you want to achieve from your writing in the long run. I want people to value my work. And they do.

    • Thanks Susie for your thoughtful comments. I love Twitter, I have 15,000 followers on there and use it a lot, but it’s really not the place for detailed debate is it? Subtlety tends to get lost in just 140 characters. I do get a little backlash when I say things on my blog which some find controversial but I am always happy to print, or retweet, the opposing view as you can see from this comment string – I just have an opinion and I’m not saying mine is better than anyone else’s. But I certainly agree with you that if a writer values their work at nothing then it sends out the wrong message. I also feel that, in the end, the risk is that it devalues all writing.

  22. I’m a writer and have not yet finished my first fiction novel. I wish to add my comment as a reader more than a writer. My experience with free book promotions of self-published work was memorable and very short-lived. I have simply quit wasting my time on free self-published books. The quality is often so bad the book isn’t readable. I now only buy and download traditionally published work. I have no problem paying for it and have paid top dollar in some cases. The quality is there and I always enjoy the read. I don’t think self-publishing makes you a writer. Anyone can do that and the market is now full of ego-driven, self-proclaimed writers who just don’t belong there. They definitely devalue the entire market with free books and bury the good writers under mounds of bad books. The market is flooded with self-published crap. There may be some very good writers who self-publish, but they’re impossible to find. I am now at a point where I look for the traditional publisher name before I buy. Most of my friends do exactly the same thing. I have been called lots of nasty names for this attitude by the promoters of self-publishing and indie publishing. – but I love to read and I hate wasting my time. I definitely agree that writers deserve to be paid and paid well for sharing their craft with readers. I believe you get what you pay for and books, fine wine, great music, and talented art, still fall into that category. Hang in there – real readers are always willing to pay the price for the good stuff. I believe the market can and will withstand this current trend and return to appreciating the great writers (new and old) very shortly. All the arts have gone through this kind of transition and through it all, have survived. We still love classical music, vintage wine, renaissance artists and great books.

    • Thanks for your comments Christine. These are interesting times for publishing at the moment aren’t they? It’s difficult to know how things will turn out as it’s a real revolution in how things are done. I’ve not self published myself but I know lots of good people who do – and some who have had books both traditionally published and self published. The huge surge in material which comes out now – some good, some frankly awful, does make it very difficult for the poor reader as you so rightly say. The thing I really agree with you on is that the art of writing will survive and, I hope, flourish. Time will tell how it all turns out but I am with you in that I am sure the result will be that quality books written by good writers will always be in demand.

      • When I hear all the reasons a writer needs to self-publish – I always think of Zig Ziglar, one of the most respected motivational gurus of our time. His first book was rejected over 30 times before a publisher agreed to print it. He followed with numerous books and all were very successful. I am sure there have to be very good writers that self-publish, but I feel their impatience has grouped them in the wrong crowd and they’re lost in the masses. Unfortunately readers, like me (and many others), are filtering their reading options. With the huge number of books available – we have no choice.

      • You make a good point Christine – I was prepared to wait years to get published and I don’t think it did my work any harm. I can understand writers wanting to take control of their own destiny but the readers come first. It would be worth a blog post of its own but would no doubt prove controversial.

      • It’s in my idea file for my own future blogs. But I must admit, it’s very controversial and has it’s own fanatics. I don’ t intend to run with it anytime soon and wouldn’t suggest anyone else go there.

  23. I used to believe that giving away books was a bad idea, too. But it has actually worked extremely well for a lot of authors. I get that you have placed a lot of value on your work (and so you should) but to me, giving away books isn’t always a matter of value. It’s a promotional tactic, or a loss-leader.

    I’m not sure how it works with a small publisher (I’m self-published) but I would be really disappointed if my publisher wasn’t giving away review copies. Many self-published authors give away books via kindle as a way of not only gaining visibility on a sales platform, but also generating a number of reviews and word of mouth promotion.

    One thing that is clear from what I’ve seen, is that there is absolutely no point giving away a lot of books (by this, I mean utilising the free function on Amazon et al, not ARCs) when you only have one book out there. Free works best as a way of getting readers to buy through a series. So, for instance, if you have a 6 book series and give away thousands of copies of the first book, even if only 10% of those people buy through the series, it earns you a lot of money. Some authors actually keep their first book as free on a permanent basis to do this.

    As for writers using their free downloads as bestseller status — I don’t know anyone who does this, and they are really really wrong to do it! Amazon have two lists within their categories, one for paid books, the other for free books. If a book is number one in the free list, the reader has to physically go onto another list to see it. Therefore, there should be no mistake here.

    Obviously, it totally depends on the author, but I thought I would point out that giving away books can be really useful. I’ve actually never found that it worked for me, because my series are generally around 3 books and losing the money from my first book wouldn’t be worth it. But I often use sales at 99p to shift copies, and when I do, I get a boost from book advertising services such as Bookbub.

    Just as a little food for thought, Bookbub have over a million subscribers who receive Emailed promotions. In a daily Email, Bookbub promote three or four books to people (who have chosen which genre they receive — you could know all of this, apologies if you do!) and typically, a free book will have around 30,000 downloads from that promotion. That’s an extremely powerful tool for an author with a long series of books. I can’t think of any advertising technique that wouldn’t cost an author or publisher thousands of pounds/dollars.

    Anyway, sorry for the long ramble. Value is an important aspect of your work, and giving away free copies should always be thought through properly, but I wanted to point out that it can be useful, and it can be a way of gaining fans. Those fans may stick with every book you write in the future, and that is something even more valuable than the book in question (in my opinion).

    Good luck with your book! Wishing you many sales. 🙂

    • Hi Sarah – you are right it was written a little while ago but plenty of people are still reading it and commenting and thanks for adding to the debate! I certainly get that give aways are used as a worthwhile promotional tool by some authors, particularly, but not only, self-published ones. I don’t doubt it can be useful but my issue with giving away books is much more about the philosophy of it and a worry about what it might do to the public perception of books and writers. I wonder why, if it is such a fantastic marketing technique, it hasn’t been used by traditional publishers over the years. I suspect it’s because they know it could erode the value of the product.

      • Perhaps, and it could be their reluctance to give away books for free that has allowed self-publishing to flourish.

        I actually think publishers give away more than we realise, only they do it in competitions and review copies, but having never been published by a large publisher, I wouldn’t know.

        For a self-publisher, reviews are vital, and often the only way to gather them is to use free books. We also receive a higher royalty percentage per sale which is why we can price our books at much lower than publishers.

        I know where you’re coming from, and suspect that you’ve made up your mind. I agree in theory, but in practice there’s a huge grey area when it comes to value. I honestly don’t think free books are going to devalue the market. If anything, it’ll bring more readers into the fold, and more people willing to take a chance on different authors. But then maybe I’m just an optimist!

      • I think it’s the digital media revolution which has allowed self publishing to flourish – and good news it is too. I would add that I’m all for review copies – and for marketing techniques which work 🙂

  24. Chris and I have discussed my feelings towards giving our work away for free, and I’ve explored both sides of the coin in a guest blog http://awomanswisdom.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/guest-blog-free-giveaways-two-sides-of-the-same-coin-by-author-karl-wiggins/ I honestly fear that free giveaways could see the end of the Indie self-publishing industry, and I use a good metaphor in the blog to illustrate this. The traditional publishers could well be sitting on the sidelines waiting for the whole industry to implode.

    • The other thing is that free books attract poor reviews. Someone sees it and thinks to themself, “It’s not really my kind of book. I expect its crap, but it’s free so I’ll give it a go.” It then sits on their Kindle for a year, and when they eventually read it they forget it was free but are proved correct in that it certainly isn’t their type of book. They hate it, and the review reflects that.

    • I enjoyed your post Karl – not just because it came to similar conclusions to mine. I think you are right that free books might also attract more bad reviews as there has been no purchasing decision so book and reader may well not fit together.

  25. I agree with what you say, Chris. I’ve also had acquaintances asking for a free book and it pains me that they think a year of my work is not worth paying for, when they will fork out more than that for a latte and a scone!! But I’d also like to point out that if people insist on reading for free, they can go to the LIBRARY, and at least the author gets a tiny PLR payment for each loan!

    • Exactly Helen – for me it’s not the money, which is negligible once the publisher, bookshop etc have taken their share, it’s the notion that my work is of value same as everyone else’s. The fact that so many authors, particularly, but not only, self-published ones are so keen to give away their work for free will only encourage people to believe that books are of no value.

  26. This is a really interesting dilemma, Chris. I too am a ‘literary fiction author’ published by a small press. My book is ( http://www.amazon.co.uk/Last-Time-We-Saw-Marion/dp/1908600268/ref=sr_1_1_twi_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1416228045&sr=1-1&keywords=the+last+time+we+saw+marion ).
    With my second novel coming out in March 2015 I feel an immense urge to just get The Last Time We Saw Marion into the hands of readers in hopes they will want to buy Another Rebecca. I’ve tried giving out ‘loan’ (I’ll never get them back) copies and it is also in libraries in two towns. But I don’t know if any of this has had any effect.

    In principle I absolutely agree with you: but isn’t the business model that you have to speculate to accumulate? How will people ever find out about my book if I don’t send it out into the world? I hasten to add that my giving away has only been on a small scale, but still I love the thought that people are actually reading and appreciating my book.

    • Thanks Tracey – I’m in very much the same position as you new book due out early next year – I’m still not sure giving away copies of my last one would help me much though. I accept it is a marketing device and that some people make it work for them – my concern is more with the big picture and whether it’s good for any of us to have a race to the bottom on prices.

  27. I don’t support permafree books. I think it devalues the work. However I do have a friend who Apple featured on their front page. She offered her first book for free. She had thousands of downloads (most of which were probably to people who would never have paid for it, so there’s actually no lost revenue there) but this translated into steady sales of both sequels for months afterwards – sales she wouldn’t otherwise have made. I also offer a 25,000 word novella to people who sign up to my newsletter – I forefeit a dollar or so in sales but get the right to direct market to them, which is probably worth more than a dollar if they enjoy the book they got for free. So while I am RABIDLY against permafree books, as a limited time marketing opportunity in the right circumstances if you have sequels can be very effective. Anyone is, of course, entitled to say otherwise, but from a purely mathematical point of view refusing to do a free book in the right circumstances is as illogical as big publishers selling books above 9.99 when they would actually make more sales and more money at a lower price. Used judiciously, it creates profit. I also don’t believe limited time specials devalue work – it’s common practice across all industries and professions to offer sales and occasional freebies. We even do it in law. It is so common there is a name for this practice – loss leader.

    Also, I could be wrong, but I don’t think you can rank in any of the paid genre lists on Amazon when giving a book away – only in the free lists.

    • Thanks Ciara – I see it can be used as a marketing tool, I just worry that the big picture is a race to the bottom with books losing their perceived value over time so in the end nobody will pay for them, in the same way people don’t pay for music any more.

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