To Be Free or Not to Be Free

B. Thomas Witzel painting

I had the great pleasure to read J.J. Marsh’s recent blog post this morning – I do not want your new free book.  I urge all writers and readers alike to pop over to J.J’s blog and check out her thoughts on giving or getting books for free.

As I commented, on the post, I made my self-publishing debut in 2013 and soon learned – sometimes the hard way – that most of what I had read to prepare me to be a successful, self-published author was just plain false or woefully out dated. Offering one’s books up for free was a marketing strategy toted with a feverish zeal. I didn’t understand the sense of this dictum and because I had gone with an assisted self-publisher for my first book, I didn’t have the ability to give Disappearing in Plain Sight away for free. I’m glad now that was the case.

Striking out on my own with my book of short-stories and the second book in the Crater Lake Series, The Light Never Lies, I’ve had the option to offer them up for no cost. Like most self-published authors, I’ve dipped a toe in the waters. The results didn’t break any records. A free weekend of Strands of Sorrow, Threads of Hope garnered thirty downloads. If I could be assured thirty downloads meant thirty reads, I’d be more than happy with the whole endeavour. But, as J.J points out in her post, most free material ends up archived on someone’s Kindle never to be read or given a second thought. After all it was free.

Some might argue, little invested for little return about my efforts. Perhaps. The common wisdom out there is that you have to land a coveted and, let me add, expensive advertising spot if your free promotion is going to amount to anything. But the idea of spending money to give books away is so beyond-the-beyond to me, I don’t even want to dwell on it.

Writing is my passion and, at the end of the day, I’ll keep doing it even if I never make a penny beyond what I spend to allow my work to see the light of day. But I’m reminded of something my husband was told by a wise person when he first started his own business. If you devalue what you do, no one else is going to value it either.

A copy of an e-book sells for less than a fancy cup of coffee. For that low price a reader should expect a well-written, well-edited, well thought out book. A great cover and good blurb should be part of the package, too. If you don’t get all of the above, I urge you not to purchase the work of that author again. But given all of that, the price is not too much to ask for the time and effort that goes into writing a full-length novel – even if the author is an unknown quantity.

I add my small voice to that of other self-published authors who declare that we won’t offer our books for free. I’ll still do giveaways to friends, family, serious reviewers and charitable events.

There you have it. What are your thoughts on the whole free e-book issue?

Road side sculpture - Guenette photo

20 comments on “To Be Free or Not to Be Free

  1. As a reader, I often do a guilt download of freebies on offer from writers I like, but you’re absolutely right, they usually end up collecting digital dust on my Kindle.

    As a writer and as someone who is currently beating the plowshares on a novel, I can’t imagine using my time and work as a sales gimmick. It has always struck me odd when the gimmick for a product is the product itself. Shouldn’t it be a key chain or something?

    • Good point, Michelle. In some ways, when I first put the book of short stories out, I thought it could be a sort of freebie introduction to my writing – the proverbial key chain so to speak – but I’ve since rethought that as well. The cost of an ebook is already so low in the grand scheme of things that readers can well afford to try out new authors. I do it all the time. Good luck beating your own plowshares 🙂

  2. ‘Tis true.. My Kindle is full of things I will most likely never read… Excellent post and thanks for the link to J.J. Marsh..xx

    Following you..x

  3. Francis I love that quote about the value of your work. Its true we must place some value to it. Even if you have a sale. I am suspicious of freebies but have been surprised when I read a good book that was free. It has happened but not very often. I love that you will keep writing and try to give your best quality work and that you cannot stop. Wishing you much success on this journey.

    • Thanks so much for this encouraging comment. And you’re right – it is smart marketing to wisely make use of discounts. But free is not my idea of discounted. I’ve read great free books and otherwise but to be honest, by the time I get around to reading them – working my way down my list – most of the time, I can’t remember which was which.

  4. Thank you, Fran, for posting this excellent advice and also leading me to JJ March’s quality blog. You are both right on when you say that the “free” gimmick rarely works. Those of us who put so much time and value into writing our books or reading them, should expect some return for them or not relegate them to the downloaded and forgotten pile. I’d like to reblog this on our website. Best wishes, Gayle Moore-Morrans

    • Glad to send anyone J.J’s way 🙂 And thanks so much for the reblog, Gayle. I just keep going back to the idea that an ebook is by nature a low cost item. Why should authors contribute to further devaluing it?

  5. Reblogged this on MOOMOR PUBLISHING and commented:
    I’m reposting this excellent advice from author Francis Guenette’s blog which also led me to JJ March’s quality blog. They are both right on when they point out that the “free” gimmick rarely works (i.e. offering free copies of one’s book in return for following a site or downloading “free” copies of someone’s e-book and then never opening it to read because one doesn’t always have time to read everything. Those of us who put so much time and effort into writing our books or reading them, should expect some return for them or not relegate them to the downloaded and forgotten pile.

  6. jackiemallon says:

    I am wholly behind you on this, Francis. I too heard this at the beginning and felt confused by the very idea of it. My novel is currently on Kindle promotion in Australia which excites my agent greatly. I guess in her defense it helps to rack up sales figures but it’s still at a reduced rate so I have mixed feelings. Generally my feeling is that devaluing one’s work cannot lead to anything long lasting.

    • I can see the sense in discounting the first book in a series as a way to grab the readers for the rest of the series. But, as I’ve said on another comment, discount doesn’t equal free. Good luck grabbing those Aussie readers – Silk for the Feed Dogs is a book that works here, there and everywhere 🙂

  7. MariHoward says:

    I downloaded Ian Sutherland’s free giveaway and I READ IT and was gripped by that page-turner. Maybe I am weird, a one-off, but unless a book turns out to be unreadably awful, the fact it was a free giveaway makes no difference to whether I read it! However, books queue on the kindle for one reason: am so busy with so much promotion and writing to do that don’t have enough time to get through them at any speed … but do get through, over time!

    • I’m definitely with you on the point of having read a number of great free books and I, too, read most of what I download. But I’ve been picky. I check the book out on Amazon and read the opening chapter. I won’t download free books anymore, though. It’s only fair considering my position. Good on you, Mari, for getting through the books. Thanks for commenting on this post.

  8. Roy McCarthy says:

    Yeah, I’m starting to get that way too Fran. My first book was a giveaway just because I was so happy at being in print and I had no expectation of making money. I’ve since done a 5-day freebie on the same title ebook version which caused a download spike but no other follow-on sales or reviews.

    Now my work will sit there at a fair price whether anyone wants it or not. I think the majority of authors get a raw deal. The value of the good ones are depressed by the mediocre, of which there are many.

    • I think a lot of authors are going to come around to this thinking, Roy. In the past, putting a book up for free seemed to have far more of a bounce effect on future sales. (I confess – I know this only from reading and research.) As those kind of promos become less and less effective, it seems inevitable that they will stop and a fair price for an ebook should level out. That’s me being hopeful.

  9. P. C. Zick says:

    I entered the world of Indie publishing a year before you did when I published my Route 66 fiction. Giving it away at that time garnered 20,000 downloads and many reviews. The whole thing changed within months. I agree that I refuse to pay to advertise a freebie. I go back and forth on this issue, but mostly it feels bad to give my book away for free or next to nothing. Thanks for the thoughtful post and the reminder about the passion for writing. That’s the key, and the rest will have to take care of itself.

    • I am often dumbfounded by the sheer magnitude of change and the speed with which it occurs in this self-publishing business. Ours is not to question why, I suppose. Ours is just to write or die. LOL. The passion is the key. Thanks for adding your voice to this issue, Patricia.

  10. Gwen Stephens says:

    Hey Fran, I’ve read a lot of blogs on this topic, and I think if you ask 100 people, you’ll get 100 variations of “yes” or “no.” Personally, I never understood the point of giving away years worth of work for free, but some authors swear by it. In the end, it probably comes down to the individual author’s belief and what she feels is best for her writing career. I love what Bruce says about valuing what you do. How true that is.

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