Monday, April 16, 2012

Freakin' Free Frenzy

Photo by Tomboy
Why in the world would a writer want to give away multiple copies of his or her book? There are probably as many reasons as there are authors, but here are a few based on my experiences and discussions. All of them make sense:
  • A new release is coming up, so an older title is offered for free to create buzz;
  • A new author (a la moi) who wants to give readers a reason to take a chance;
  • Lagging sales. Sometimes a little goose will redirect attention to a good author;
  • A strong desire to see their book(s) in as many hands as possible;
  • A landmark celebration (ie: 1 million books or ten years or The Sinking of The Titanic);
  • A poorly written and unedited book that wouldn't make it out in the world any other way.

Red Tide was officially published on March 28th. Between then and now, with a total four Free Days, I've been excited to see about 10,000 copies land in the hands of people who don't know me. My after-the-fact sales have encouraged me and I'm grateful for all of the people who took a chance then found they could support a fledgling author.

There is a lot of conflict among authors surrounding free ebooks. While everyone wants to find readers and give them a good read, there's the question of devaluing a creative work. One figure that's bandied around is that we actually work for about thirty-five cents an hour. I'm in the fortunate position of not really needing to care. I'm not independently wealthy, I simply have other resources. I have the luxury of focusing on doing what I love rather than fearing starvation.

A friend of mine who is a best-selling author recently had to seriously consider finding another job in order to pay the bills. Fortunately sales picked up and we're all better off because she can write another great book.

A huge concern that's bandied about in "Author Land" is that with all of the gazillions of free books, where do ours end up in the queue? When might we find some affirmation? It's tricky, if not downright impossible, to stand out in the crowd. And at about thirty-five cents an hour, it's not the money that drives us—at least not most of us. It's the verbal currency that counts.

In addition to the gazillions of books and the queue, the last reason I listed above, the one about poorly written books, becomes a concern. At least it was until I struck on an idea that sort of solves both worries with one concept.

Here's my working theory: free downloads are like sample downloads. Readers will be able to tell in a few minutes (if not seconds) whether or not they want to invest more time. Because they don't have a greater commitment, it's much easier to acknowledge a DNF (Did Not Finish) and move on. Almost all of those people who have my book would not have it had it not been for free. They would probably have not even bothered with the free sample. I'm trusting that many of the people who downloaded Red Tide and multiple other books will work their way through the poorly written and unedited ones and find their way to a pleasant surprise.

Will there be more free days for Red Tide? I don't have any planned at the moment. I'm hoping that with almost 10,000 copies working their way through the e-readers right now that I'll find a few people who will help spread the word.

Note: I'm hard at work in the initial stages of the editing process for my next book, and that first reason is looking pretty good to me right now.

What do you think about free ebooks? Good or bad or indifferent?

It's all better with friends.


  1. I like the idea of free books as a promotional tool for a limited time, so the way you're doing it sounds like a great plan! I have a number of friends who have the epublishing marketing and sales venue down to a science and they're making a damn good living off their books. They're hyper self-disciplined and have a strategy in place, and it does involve occasional free ebooks. It works for them. They've been watching their sales soar so I think you're on the right track. Good luck!

  2. Thanks, Karen. Right now it all feels like some grand (and rather murky) experiment.

  3. I have always said the easiest and cheapest form of promotion is a free book. I still believe it. I have found some good reading through free books from authors I was not familiar with. Free books from authors I already know is just icing on the cake.

    Pat Browning

  4. I'm with you, Pat. I forgot to mention that I "discovered" Tim Hallinan and Joe Finder because of a free download. And Finder was even more high-tech because I first heard of him through Twitter!

  5. I just finished my 3-day free promo arranged by my publisher...I'll let you know if after-promo sales are brisk as predicted. I also ran a 3-day 10-stop Around the World Book Tour in conjunction with the promo. I don't know how many downloads of free book took place yet, I haven't received that number from my publisher, but I know THE TRAZ hit #120 in TOP SELLERS FREE KINDLE EBOOKS, #2 in Children's ebook Action/Adventure and #5 in ebook Thriller/Suspense

  6. Good luck to you, Eileen. Looking forward to hearing your results. It's crazy, huh?

  7. In many cases free books for a promotional period dramatically increases sales afterwards. My recent experiment with Muffin Man made it in the top five in the Mystery and Fiction and resulted in downloads in five digits across five days and follow on sales in four digits in two days. So far. I recommend it.

  8. I've been really pleased too, Brad. Amazon is now calling RED TIDE a bestseller! It's in the top 100 on three of their lists.

    Continued success with MUFFIN MAN!

  9. I'm on a loop of indie ebook authors and many of them use the free book method of boosting their sales. I'm going to try it this weekend, I think and see what happens. The book (one of six ebooks I've released) has been selling abysmally so far, so I'm hoping the free promotion will get me some momentum and interest in my other books (it's the fourth in a series). I'll report back my results.

  10. Mary, please do!

    Good luck this weekend. Be sure and get the word out as often and in as many places as possible.

  11. I guess I'll be the voice of dissent here. As a reader, I tend to devalue the free books I've downloaded in the past. I found that so many were just horribly edited. Now I don't even bother to look at Amazon's Top 100 Free Books. I'm sure I'm missing some gems but I've also saved a lot of time. That said, I do enjoy a price cut and will try some 99 cent books.

  12. Tammy, I sure appreciate what you're saying. Those poorly written books tend to pollute the experience for a lot of readers.

    The description of the book is often a giveaway as to how well written and edited it is before you decide to take a chance. A description rife with errors doesn't bode well.

    RED TIDE did make it to #2 on one of Amazon's genre lists while it was free. When my next book is released though, I'll keep your 99 cent idea in mind.

  13. Thanks for a great post, Peg. Free ebooks have also worked well for me. And I LOVE your cover!

  14. Thank you, Susan. I'm a little on the fence with free ebooks, but as long as they continue to work I'm game.