To give away, or not to give away…

That is the question, on my mind today. I’ve been seeing a lot of posts and articles around the internet about what to charge for our work, working for exposure, and holding giveaways.

The best one this week was from super-blogger Kristen Lamb. It addresses the idea that aggregators want our content, they make money on it, but we are expected to provide it for the exposure it brings. Everyone reads Kristen Lamb, but in case you missed it, this is the link.

I’ve written before about my experiences using Kindle Countdown Deals, and the free days I’m allowed under the KDP program. I was not, and am still not impressed. Once upon a time I held a free day for Panama. It went high enough up the charts to get into the high teens. (the free chart.)

I watched like a hawk. I never received a single review out of the hundreds of copies I moved.(Close to a thousand, actually.) I have a hunch that free was appealing, but actually reading the book wasn’t high on the list. The day after it went back available for purchase, sales were a flat line. Panama still sells to this day, but in drips and drabs.

Yet this is what we’re told to do to gain exposure. So what’s a writer to do?

I won’t do the free days any more. My books are pretty cheap as it is. You can’t buy a coffee in most shops for less than what I charge for a book.

I still give out free copies, but it’s on my terms. I’ve never refused someone who asked. I’m just not likely to give away electronic crates full of them any time soon.

I believe in providing free content, and do it in other ways. All of my writing cabin tales could be looked at as little free stories, even though they contain word metrics and other issues I’m dealing with as a writer. The most recent example was Lisa Burton blasting into space with her rocket-pack. (In celebration of finishing a short story involving that rocket-pack.) I also post some micro-fiction during October every year.

I haven’t gone down the path of creating a newsletter. If I did, I would certainly include some original micro-fiction. I just don’t want to force feed it to anyone. It’s here on the blog sometimes. You can check the categories in my sidebar if you need a fix. There’s even a vignette that led to my current effort, The Yak Guy Project. The Muse category holds all of my writing cabin posts. The Short Stories and Vignettes category has a few items too.

I also have the Lisa Burton paper dolls as a permanent feature. Print as many as you want. They aren’t fiction, but they are free.

As an ebook guy, I can’t do the Goodreads giveaways. I’ve never failed to participate in any RaffleCopter type project I’ve been invited to.

I’ve also written things upon request for other bloggers. This is more one-on-one, like asking for a copy of a book. The other blogger didn’t sell what I provided and offer me exposure. I like to think we both benefited from the shared effort.

Personally, I don’t think skipping the freebies is hurting me. Maybe one of you will convince me otherwise.

Right now, I’m of the mindset that marketing myself is just as important as marketing any single title I have. I have a few crazy ideas that I’m mulling over right now. If nothing else, they will be unique. Watch this space.

Let me hear from you. Have you benefited in any tangible way from making your books free? Did this bread cast upon the waters come back to you? Would you write something, then donate it to a “for profit” operation to gain exposure? (Not the same as donating to a charity.) Did you benefit from doing it in any measurable way?

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60 Comments

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60 responses to “To give away, or not to give away…

  1. Excellent post. I’ve been mulling over the topic for a few days.
    I haven’t published anything yet, but I’ve been researching and see so many people advising giveaways as in free books.
    I can understand people trying it, but psychologically, when people see free they equate that to lesser worth, thereby making freebies a bad thing.
    I can’t see myself ever giving my books away free in the future. People don’t treat ‘free’ as something of worth, it is discardable. And you’ve proven (unfortunately) that it doesn’t even get you a review out of the process.
    Add in the fact that a lot of downloaded/ bought books aren’t even read and the whole freebies idea seems like a terrible idea from a layman like myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been struggling with the same thing. The first time I went free and one of my Goodreads Giveaways netted reviews. The frustrating thing is you might get 1 review out of 2,000 downloads. Seems like a lot of people grab it solely because it says FREE and don’t read it. They have no money invested in it, so there’s no rush to read and it can easily be forgotten. I think another risk is that people will read a free book and love it then move on without a review. Yet a person who reads and hates the book may leave one to deliver the chestnut ‘I paid nothing and want my money back’. This isn’t too surprising since I’ve been reading that people are more inclined to declare or even define themselves by what they hate instead of what they love. Most, including myself, don’t even realize that we do it and I think I’m getting off-topic here.

    All that being said, I’m considering attempting something with the FREE label. Not sure when or what book and it isn’t set in stone, so I don’t know if I should mention it in public yet.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. When I started writing I would have gone for a free promotion. Now there is enough data to show free does little to increase awareness for a book. I’m with you. I’ll do price -off promotions but not free.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Through experience, I am of the same mindset as you. I had great results like you when I tried my kindie free promo days, got to no4 in the free list, never got 1 review out of it, and no sales after. I do have print books and did a giveaway on Goodreads. It was fun, and loads of people added my book to their shelves. I sent the books off, never even got a tweet to say thanks I received your book, never mind a review. One of the winners turned out to be a Goodreads librarian. Coincidence? Well they choose the winners, not me. I’ve never had a job in the past where I was expected to work for nothing, so why give my boys away for nothing? They are my work. I’ll do it on my own terms. I left KDP Select a long time ago, and I’m glad. Most authors I know say they get paid far less per page read than if a customer bought the book. When most books cost only 2.99, that’s shameful. I am grateful that Amazon gave me the chance to publish, but they are setting themselves up to suit the customers and line their own pockets, and don’t give a hoot for their authors. Shame.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I don’t have control over my pricing, but if I did, I’m not sure if I’d give my books away for free or not. 99 cents maybe, and in fact, if my latest can get a Bookbub or ENT promotion, that’s the price it would be set at. But there are some authors who give away the first book in a series of many for free, and that’s probably a smart sales tactic. When people like the first one, they’ll buy the others. Well, that’s the hope anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I violently agree with everything said. Everyone is making money off of books, whether ebook or print, except the authors. We pay cover designers, editors, promoters and teachers whom we hope will provide the magic bullet to success, all for naught. There is so much competition out there that getting noticed has about the same probability as being struck by lightning or a wayward asteroid. Yet a true writer HAS to write so all we can do is accept it’s not likely to ever pay the bills and do it for the sheer joy of creation. If anyone finds a marketing panacea I’m all ears.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I look at it this way. Some people golf. They get a lot of joy from it, and they pay exorbitant greens fees. My cover and peripheral costs are like greens fees. It would be nice to win a local tournament from time to time though. By the way, lightning leaves a really cool scar. See my Idea Mill post from earlier this week.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m with you. After all the blood, sweat, and tears, I can’t see giving my work away for free. But I’ve heard the first in a series is a great lure. Still, it’s not for me. There are too many readers who download free books and never read them. One on one is different. Hey, how did you make out with Twitter ads?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t tried them. FB is all new and I’ve been playing there a bit. If I get this new one launched, maybe that will be a good time. I find that having multiple titles available now seems to be about as good as any advertising.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great article! This post gave me a lot to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I agree with you in so many ways, greens fees, crack dealer tactics. I know a few authors who have done well with the first introductory book being set as a perma free, but beyond that, it’s just not a viable solution. I’m also with you on the numbers. My first book was written in 6 weeks and published a year later. Then it underwent a revision. My current book was written in eight weeks, but has taken me nearly two year to ready for publication. I was just introduced to a local author who is a NYTs and USA best-selling author who has published over EIGHTY full-sized novels since 2010, and most of them in the past year. Either she has been working on her back list for ages, or she has a magic word processor. And her reviews are stellar. Without a doubt, volume is the ticket. I don’;t think I could produce eighty by the time I’m eighty. But I’m having fun. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I’ve written and deleted two extensive comments, so I’ll just write AGAIN that I think running promos is groovy, but I still think you’re underpriced on the regular.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think we’re all underpriced. It’s the market we live in. With a million authors out there, someone is always going to under price. Those of us who aren’t widely known have to compete with that guy. When we do paid promotions it’s almost like paying someone to read our work. There is a third party who gets the money, but same difference.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Yes, I get the impression that giving stuff away for free doesn’t achieve anything really. If it’s a free copy of a book in exchange for a review, then yes, but just to give them away in bulk I don’t think has value. I don’t speak from personal experience here, just from observations! And how I perceive it from a reader’s point of view. I’ll definitely make more of an effort to read a book that I’ve selected and paid for, whereas I might download a free one without much thought and may never get round to reading it (unless it’s specifically been given to me as a review copy, and then I will).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Absolutely correct. I’m excited when I choose a book to read. Gathering bags full of free books is a pretty common thing. They stay in the bag unread. I won’t fall for it again. I’ll just have to invent some new method.

      Like

  12. I’ve been watching this issue, too, as I think seriously about self-publishing. For me, this will mean an investment of family resources, and I plan to recover that. So giving the work away is not on the table for me.

    I also have noted for some years, in the context of author visits, that people don’t value things they get for free. If I went to schools for free, the staff took me for granted and didn’t even prepare for it. So my philosophy for some time has been to charge a modest fee.

    With e-books it will be the same. You want my story, you pay me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds like a reasonable approach. I still provide some free things, but they aren’t my published works. I gift those to friends, but the general public can buy them. One of mine is only 99ยข and isn’t going to break anyone.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think free stuff is great if it’s supporting material. Maps, character art, profiles, secret histories — things to deepen the experience for readers who have already enjoyed the work. These tidbits won’t matter to people just looking for freebies.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The trick is to find freebies that entice fresh readers to buy. Fan service is wonderful, and that’s important, but the bigger challenge is to turn the free stuff into bait.

        Like

  13. I believe in pricing commensurate with value, so I don’t do freebies. Even public libraries buy my book. I have donated paperbacks to benefit charitable purposes, and have exchanged paperbacks with other authors. Discounting my novel’s list price never increased sales (when a retailer has done that, it came out of the store’s share, not mine), and although the e-book is about half the price of the paperback, I’ve sold more in paper.

    You write too well to justify publishing your novels for free. But your being strictly an ebook guy is shutting out the market for paperbacks. Do yourself a favor and diversify.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I agree the free copies don’t necessarily do anything for our plight, however they do sometimes help me to sell other books in my series. I also agree that it’s the author that often sells the book and no where is this more evident than at the craft fairs I attend. In answer to your question, free helps me introduce people to my series and at the moment, hopefully build a bit of momentum for the next book in preorders. I don’t pay to promote the free offers though as I find the more organic reach works better in terms of people buying the next book in the series. Hope that all makes sense. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think the free trick still works for series authors. I don’t see it doing as much for me. A 99ยข notebook might drive deeper interest though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Absolutely. I’m thinking of compiling the twelve stories I’m doing together in an anthology at the end of the year. I think the notebooks a great idea but whatbI have found from talking to people is that there is a divide between short story lovers and novel lovers. They don’t seem to cross over a lot on Kindle. It might just be the people I’ve spoken to though ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      • The anthology sounds like a cool idea. Hope it works out. I have to keep trying things. Maybe I’ll develop two different groups of fans. One for short and one for long form.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. I haven’t done free for a while but decided to try it again to see if I can build some momentum fir the next book. If people like the first Hetheringtons it might mean they preorder the latesr. Who knows, I’ll let you know. I haven’t pushed the free books that much though I want the reach to be more organic. Like I say, we’ll see.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Anyone can afford your books, and after reading one they will buy another one without looking at the price. Yet, I see some authors give away their first book after they have written another 5 or so. It makes sense, because if I like your first book, I guess that I will like your other books since you are more experienced author by now ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I’ve had reasonable feedback on both my Goodreads giveaway and the Anazon free days (which I’ve only done once so far) Both giveaways garnered me reviews, and the Amazon one led to about 4500 copies given away over the five days. Since then I’ve seen an increased readership, but sales aren’t through the roof or anything. However I agree with your point – I need to market myself as much as my work. I won’t be discounting my work any time soon, but I’ll probably try the free days again.

    Like

  18. I’ve mostly quit downloading free books, as I never seem to get to them. For me, the $3 price of an ebook is nothing – it’s the reading time I can’t afford, so I’m going to choose the best book, not the cheapest. That’s also why I love audiobooks. Even though they cost $9-$10, I can listen in the car, the fast food place, the grocery store….

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I’ve done two freebie deals, one on a .99 books which gave me mediocre results and only garnered 1-2 reviews. The other was on a 3.99 book which really took off. I picked up several dozen reviews and even after the freebie deal ended it stayed high for several months. It also netted me the biggest monthly payday I’ve had as an author when it went back to full price. I dumped a fair amount of paid promo into it, but netted that back several times over. The book has since fallen back to where it was before I did the freebie. I’m going to give it another try in May, and see what happens. I probably won’t push it as hard as I did before, but given the success it had, I want to see if I duplicate a portion of it.

    As for free books, I only download them when they appeal to me and I intend to read them. I did discover two new authors that way and have since bought several of their other books, so for them I guess it paid off two if other readers did the same.

    Liked by 1 person

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