Why I Think Giving Your Work Away Is (Mostly) A Bad Idea

by | May 11, 2020 | Articles | 0 comments

Free books—who doesn’t love that idea, right?

Me. I don’t love that idea. In fact, I think it sucks.

Now, you might wonder: why, Mike, are you so against free books? I mean, don’t you want more people to read? You’re not against libraries, are you?

No, I’m not against libraries. Remember, they only loan you books. They don’t (usually) give them away.

But there are a couple reasons I truly loathe the idea of giving away my work, and why I rarely recommend doing such a thing.

 

The Newsletter Hook

Although none of my novels are what you would call perma-free, I do have one book that is. And that is a special situation.

When I put together my short story collection, Rides From Strangers, I decided to make it available for free. The difference? It’s available only to people who subscribe to my monthly email newsletter. You can’t buy it anywhere.

So, even though I recommend against giving books away, I give a book away? You may well ask, What gives, Mike? (Pun intended.)

Well, there are two factors at work here. First, I didn’t feel it was worth spending the money on printing a new short story collection when I don’t have any other short stories. It made more sense to use the free short story collection to “enroll” prospective readers, who might then buy my novels. And second, I wanted something to expand my newsletter list.

Would I do it again? Probably not. It’s a small story collection, so the price point would be low anyway. But the real problem is that, although I built my list up, I think most of those new subscribers just wanted a free book. They don’t engage with me, they drop off the newsletter list one by one, and I doubt many have bought any of my books. Free book seekers tend to seek more free books.

And that’s the reason I don’t love the idea of giving my work away. It took years to write each of my books—why would I advertise their value as zero? They are already very competitively priced.

 

But What If You Write A Series?

There is one exception where I believe it might be a good idea to offer one free book, and yes, that’s if you’ve written a series.

I’ve seen more than one author write about successfully enrolling new readers with a “teaser” freebie—that freebie being Volume One of their wonderful ten-book series.

And I totally get how it works. Sure, you take the hit giving away Volume One, but then readers are so hooked on your storytelling that they’re going to pay for Volume Two, Three, Four…

It’s a perfectly valid model, and if it works, good on you. But it’s of no use to me: my books are all standalone novels, only related to each other by virtue of the fact they all have the same author. (Sidebar: I do wonder how many people have tried this method and failed…giving away a lot of Volume One, but selling few of the rest.)

For me, I’ll continue to ask for a price for what I produce. And if someone wants to join my newsletter list, I’ll still gladly send them a free e-book of Rides From Strangers. I don’t seek those readers via a giveaway-as-promotion any longer, though. It just doesn’t seem to be the kind of reader I want.

What about you? Do you get a lot of free books, or give away many books you’ve written? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

cringe

Top Ten Words or Phrases That Make You Cringe

So I've been looking at some topics for blogs, and I find all kinds of great ideas.  One of the more amusing ones is posting about personal stuff or pet peeves, so your readers get to know you better. This idea can work, but it can also be a disaster. I've seen...
announcing

Announcing The Whizzers Launch Team!

This weekend, I got my edited copy of Whizzers back from editing and sent out my monthly newsletter announcing the formation of the Whizzers Launch Team. Stuff is a-happening! As Mike Ehrmantraut once said to Jessie Pinkman, "Big doings today." Of course, that...
author

Are Authors Typically Obsessive-Compulsive?

Recently I’ve noticed a trend in author blogs toward the confessional. After all, no one wants to read about your characters all the time, and God knows that readers don’t want to read about marketing. They want to know something about you. Happy to oblige. Although...
technophobe

The Technophobe Part 2: Why I Wish I Was Better At Some Of This Stuff

The last few weeks have been all about pros and cons. In June, I wrote several blog posts about my biggest strengths, and now I’m writing about some of my greatest challenges. So the two categories are, roughly, “Stuff I’m Good At” and “Stuff I Wish I Was Better At.”...
punches

Roll With The Punches, Baby!

Today is just one of those Mondays. I got a letter from the IRS that said they "believe there's a miscalculation" in my return. So that big $300 refund I was planning on receiving? Fuhgeddaboutit. But hey, at least I don't owe them anything, and they're not auditing...
election

Meet The New Year—Same As The Old Year?

Looking back at the blog over the past few months, I see a few obsessions emerging. Nothing surprising there—of course we’re all suffering from pandemic fatigue, and I’m not surprised to see my worries about the 2020 election as topics. In my October 26th post, If...

A Journey with A Few Heiresses

Way back in 2016, I got a guest spot on a blog called Writing in the Modern Age by an author named Marie Lavender. Of all the writers I've contacted online, Marie has to be the most prolific – more than 20 books published over the course of 15 years. Marie and I have...
gratitude

Should Every Month Be Gratitude Month?

When I was a kid, I loved Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz. I read it daily and collected nearly every paperback volume of the cartoon, so I could see what I’d missed since the comic strip’s inception in 1950.  Certain things stuck: quotes like “happiness is a warm puppy”...

Five Mistakes New Authors Make

Every author starts as a newbie, even if they held a job as a writer in some other capacity. The publishing business can be incredibly daunting for a newcomer: many authors work alone without much feedback, so their mistakes, while understandable, are also far too...
self-promotion

What’s The Problem With Shameless Self-Promotion?

While I still find it somewhat hard to believe, I've been on Twitter for almost eight years. I know this not only because Twitter shows Joined March 2015 on my profile but also because, even if they eliminate that feature, I use a tracker called Who Unfollowed Me? If...
MLK

MLK Day 2023

Here’s wishing everyone a safe, sane Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For many of us, today is always something of a day of mourning: not only mourning the loss of a great civil rights leader, but also mourning the turn our great nation seemed to take in recent years....

Twitter Tips for Authors in 2023

If you follow my blog, you probably connected with me via Twitter, whether you’re a fellow author or not. In 2020, I wrote a post about Twitter for fellow writers that got a good response. Three years later, the landscape has changed, but some Twitter best practices...
rails

Going Off The Rails (But Not On A Crazy Train)

Last April, I wrote a blog post called Back on Track With a Work-In-Progress. Part of that post was to talk about the difference between a “plotter” and a “pantser” (and to describe myself as a hybrid of the two, a “plantser”). Another, less obvious motive, was to...
French

Those Tricky French Authors and Their Obsessions

Today’s blog post was originally going to be Write Whatever the @#$% You Want, Pt. III. However, after seeing parts I and II lined up, I decided to call an audible and make it something less repetitive. Somehow the SEO gods have gotten into my head. As I’ve mentioned...
scared

Write Whatever the @#$% You Want, Pt. II

In last week’s post, I mentioned a pretty well-known author who has publicly reported his publisher “wouldn’t touch” a new release, in part because a character in his novel referred to herself as “fat.” I heard this story on a podcast, and I remember thinking, “Wait...
censorship

Write Whatever the @#$% You Want

I’ve been stewing on this for a while. It’s been brewing for quite a while. I could probably write a song about it (how about a rap?), but I don’t think I will. This is more of a blog post topic, and it might even deserve a series. And that’s the title and topic of...
gratitude

Should Every Month Be Gratitude Month?

When I was a kid, I loved Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz. I read it daily and collected nearly every paperback volume of the cartoon, so I could see what I’d missed since the comic strip’s inception in 1950.  Certain things stuck: quotes like “happiness is a warm puppy”...
robot

More Thoughts On Robot Writers and The Tech Dystopia

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post here called When Will the Robot Overlords Replace Us? Apparently, I’m fairly obsessed with this stuff, because every time I come here and empty my brain, it seems to come up again. Today is no different. Part of the reason,...