It’s a question that often comes up from fans and other writers. “Why do you offer any of your books for free?” I usually give my answers when the question comes up, but one curious reader asked me several questions lately, and I figured that they might make for a good posting on the subject. So here we are.
Free books have flooded the marketplace lately, from Amazon to Barnes and Noble, from iTunes to Kobo. Independent author-publishers are beginning to see the value of offering a book or two for free to readers, but not many understand why. Some writers are afraid that it will cause the marketplace to deflate, that all of these free books will hide the ones for sale, and the sky will fall.
There are more books for sale now than there have ever been in the history of writing, and these books can be had on demand. Order a book, and in the flash of an eye, the book is on your reading device and ready for consumption. Sometimes, the price tag is free. But should authors be terrified of this concept?
To understand it, you must look at the two prevailing business models in the book industry, specifically on the book creation side of the marketplace. You have very large houses interested in publishing bestselling books, and you have independent author-publishers (or self-publishers, as we’re often called) who want to go it alone. Large houses have big bank accounts and vast advertising budgets? What tools do independent authors have at their disposal? Usually, I can promise you, it isn’t a huge budget.
So, enter the concept of the free book. Free books give readers a chance to sample an author’s writing style, plotting abilities, characters, and world without a commitment of cash. If a reader doesn’t like a book, the only thing that is wasted is a little time. This is conceptually different from the previous prevailing model of: buy the book, read the book, don’t like the book, and discard the book. The free model keeps the cash in the readers’ pockets and gives them a choice of whether they will continue to read an author’s books or not.
And so, let us get into the interview questions.
Reader: So, you offer some of your books for free. What’s the reason?
Brian: I want to give readers a nice, long sample of my writing style, ability, and characters. I don’t like paying for things I ultimately hate, and I don’t like seeing people buy things that they end up regretting. Books are one of those unique things that you can’t tell if you’re going to like it or not until you get into the pages. Samples on retail websites aren’t always enough, so I offer a whole book–start to finish–to try out before you buy anything in my series.
Reader: Free books can get a lot of bad/negative reviews. Does that happen to yours? Does it bother you?
Brian: It happens. Does it bother me? Not at all. Given enough exposure to enough people, any book will get negative reviews, no matter how good the plot or characters, no matter how well-written. It’s going to happen. And when my free books get bad reviews, it doesn’t hurt my feelings. It might have in the past–some reviewers can be especially hateful and mean about it–but since it was a free book, I can be happy for them. They didn’t have to spend money on a book (or go through a refunding process for a book) that they ended up hating. If they choose to review it, that’s their choice. And it’s also other readers’ choice to decide whether they’ll give it a shot or not. Thankfully, the process has worked quite well; hundreds of readers a month and thousands of readers a year are discovering they they love my books. And that’s what it’s all about.
Reader: Some authors say that free books are killing the industry. What’s your take?
Brian: I say that it’s nonsense. All industries must adapt to changes. That’s just a fact of life. What troubles the publishing industry has are often due to its unwillingness to get with the new trends. Instead of complaining about the negative points of free books, why not try offering a short story or a novel for free to get in on the benefits it can bring? I can tell you one thing: free books are here to stay. Many authors are seeing a benefit to offering a selection of titles at no cost, and they’re not going to give up that boost.
Reader: Do free books devalue an author’s work?
Brian: Not if it causes sell-through in the rest of their titles. The whole point is to get people reading your work. An unread book devalues an author’s work more than any read book can.
Reader: What if a book gets a lot of free downloads, but the author’s non-free stuff gets no action?
Brian: When a writer comes to me and says, “I have a book set to free, but it’s not generating any sales,” then my first reaction is that the writer might need to take a step back and look at any issues their books might have. If you’re getting a lot of downloads and no one is going on to buy the others, price could be a factor. Formatting could be an issue. Editing and proofreading may not be up to par. Download your own book to a device through the marketplace and see if you notice any problems. Look at the book from the viewpoint of a reader. Ask other writers to do the same–in private. See what you can come up with as a solution.
A free book isn’t a get-rich-quick method, either. A book without exposure, promotion, or some kind of marketing will remain obscure and unknown, regardless of its price tag.
Reader: Lastly, how big of an impact do you think your free books had on your own success?
Brian: I wouldn’t have had any of the success that I’ve enjoyed without placing some of my stuff out there for free. It’s just that simple. ‘Massive’ isn’t a big enough word to describe the impact.Share