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.