Tired of Giving Your Books Away for Free? Then Stop.

freeIndie Authors: Are you struggling with how to get your books in front of readers? Do you feel like you’ve done everything you possibly can and it still is not enough? Do you resort to giving your hard earned work, after paying for edits, covers, trailers, away for FREE? Or, just 99 cents in the hope someone will pick it up? Does that dream of writing for a living just seem to drift away in a sea of 33 cent royalties?

Maybe it’s time we started asking for the same respect as the authors in the Big Six. We are doing the same work, and even more. We are learning the craft of social media, we are the ones blogging, tweeting, posting and trying every single promotion under the sun. But maybe it’s time we sat back and said, “You know what? My book is worth more than free.”

My good friend Denise Vitola has a blog this week that resonated with me and she’s allowed me to post some of her content here and offer her link to folks that would like to read more.

http://thomas-talks-to-me.com/blog/blog.html – Denise’s Blog (you should follow her – she’s also a phenomenal editor and edited six of my books)

Denise has a few rules in the publishing industry. “The most important rule? Act like the professionals you are. Write a great book. Have it professionally edited. Hire an artist to create a cover that will attract attention. Market your books like your pants are on fire.

The second most important rule? Charge what your books are worth—what your time and talent is worth. Do not listen to the bleating of Old World propagandists, for they open their mouths to spit out bull twinkies. They want to see you fail. They want to see our Indie Publishing Industry go belly up.”

She’s got a point. Another one is this:

“Personally, I buy Indie books all the time and most of those e-books are in the $6.99 to $8.99 range. I feel like I’m getting a good book when I pay more for it, and I’ll bet I’m not alone. Mr. Joe Reading Public looks at the value of things the same way I do. Sometimes, cheap is not better. Sometimes, cheap is just cheap.”

While I’m not going to go and bring all my books up to $6.99, I did move my full length novel THE WORLD OF KAROV from $0.99 to $2.99. It’s Book #1 in a series and it has 27 reviews. That’s nothing to sneeze at. I paid hundreds of dollars editing this baby, money to make a professional cover and a book trailer, too. It’s really enjoyable if you like dark fantasy tales and is definitely worth more than $0.99. And the fact is, at 99 cents it wasn’t even selling, so what’s the point? I’ll use that price point as a special promotion, rather than keep it there permanently. The only thing I will ever do for a freebie any longer is a short story. That will give my fans the chance to read something of mine and get a taste of my writing. As a result, I’m going to put up more short stories (professionally edited, of course) on Amazon and only use those as my freebies.

I’d love to know what other indies think? I have read all of your efforts and celebrated with you when your freebies generated thousands of “sales.” I won’t tell you the pain I actually had for you, knowing that had you been able to get the value of your worth, you could have actually made some money on this — money that you earned for all your hard work. Honestly, because of what we’ve all done I’ve had many people tell me “Oh, you wrote a new book? Tell me when it’s free and I’ll “buy” it.” Did you hear what I just said? Tell me when “it’s free” and they’ll consider reading it. That’s pretty horrifying and I know I’m not the only one who has heard that. We need to change reader’s perceptions. It starts with us.

Trust me, the Big Six aren’t giving anything away for free.

So I leave you with this… your work is valuable… but first you have to believe in it yourself before anyone else will.

Food for thought.

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27 thoughts on “Tired of Giving Your Books Away for Free? Then Stop.

  1. I’ve published nothing but I can provide a consumer’s perspective. Some will not read Indie books, which is their loss, and you won’t reach this group at any price point. The rest of us are pleased to try a new author if the synopsis intrigues and a price of $4.99 would not be an impediment. I’m cheap but five bucks won’t kill me. One should be cautious about creeping up much higher in price though as many wordsmiths from various best selling lists are available within the next stratum. What is hot and trending is often available from seven to ten dollars in e-book format.

    As to aesthetics, yes, please do, if nothing else, have your book professionally edited. I can look past a few errors and still love a story but a large number of people can’t and are quite vocal about their experience.

    • What’s interesting is that many indie authors are also hybrids, meaning they have some books with publishing houses as well. I wonder if the general public KNOWS which book is an indie and which isn’t when you’re choosing books to read. The blurb and the quality of the sample chapters usually spur my decision making. I personally feel $4.99 to be my own personal threshold for an e-book, unless there is an author I simply must read. Thanks so much for commenting – I do appreciate it.

      • You’re welcome. It’s always a pleasure to read your thoughts, Mrs. Salpeter. Thank you for taking the time to engage.

  2. Great post! You are so right, all authors benefit from respecting our work and the work of others, promoting the value of our written words. Its been my experience if its free, its not viewed as valuable. Thanks for the reminder Elyse.

    • Tara, it’s this terrible double edged sword – you want to be noticed, so you do a promotional price drop, or leave it free, yet you are only hurting yourself in the end. Authors must come together at some point and say “enough is enough.” I don’t think it will happen now, or even in a few years, but something has to give.

  3. In defense of free, in my experience it has generated reviews and they are necessary to promote a book. Once a book has garnered at least eight reviews, I am not a fan of free but It costs money to give out paperback review copies and a lot of authors just don’t have the funds.

    I agree about not pricing books at .99. We reserve that for sales. I think our next book out may price at $4.99.

    Good post with lots to think about.

  4. It is taking some mindset changes but I have finally wrapped myself in the concept that I am not an amateur author but somebody who can write prose very well and should receive royalty payments commensurate with the work. For so many years I would hustle my stories to low paying and non-paying places in hopes that somebody would accept them. I noticed that more and more places were accepting my work and it was at that moment I realized my skills had improved and I was giving my efforts away for free. Rejections from the Mighty Publishers did set me back and that’s when I realized that I could self-publish. Again, the mindset that I was a nobody kicked in and I was selling my work for a little bit of nothing. That changed. Today, I will sell a short story for $.99 on Amazon and a couple of other books for a small sum – such as my soon to be released writing tip book – as a way of sharing my knowledge with other writers. BUT, my novels, I have decided they are worth the money and the pricing will definitely be the $3.99-$6.99 range. Thank you for a great article and sharing this information, giving validity to my choice.

  5. EXACTLY Elyse! This is why when *I* come out in my debut book “Ms. Cheevious in Hollywood” it will be totally up to the publisher as to the price. CANNOT wait. I will literally be able to say “I have no control over the price, so sorry…” HAHAHA. Great post!

  6. I’m not sure how “doable” this is for the average self-published author, but I came across a traditionally published author that had the first few chapters of his book free as an e-book, then the full e-book at the full price. As a reader, this made sense and showed me that he’s confident he can hook me in the giveaway pages (and that I’ll buy it to finish it). As a consumer, a 99 cent book tells me the opposite: the author does not value what he/she is selling (so why should I?)

    • That sounded really interesting and then I realized, Amazon allows readers to read MULTIPLE chapters of our novels for free and then they have the option to buy. For me, there are times I can see me taking my novel DOWN to 99 cents – at least people are paying for something versus a freebie they just fill their kindle. But I do appreciate you taking the time to respond – none of this is easy and perceptions are so hard to sway.

    • Well, on Amazon the first few chapters of our books can be read for free as an option. But I hear what you’re saying. I see a 99 cent promotion as a 75% off sale type of deal – you still pay but it’s a blowout offer for a limited time!

  7. Good advice, Elyse. I agree with you, although I think an occasional 99 cent sale can be worthwhile, particularly for the first book in a series. My loss leader is the first book in my series; it’s normally priced at 2.99. The rest of my books are 3.99 to 4.99. I also have a short story that’s 99 cents at Amazon and free everywhere else. It has links to my other books. If you have books in a series, I believe there’s a real payoff in putting the first three or four chapters of the next book at the end of each one with a “If you’d like to keep reading, click. (link)” ending at a critical point. I’ve been doing it for a while; it works.

    • I agree with putting the first few chapters in the back of the next books – such a great idea and I did that finally with my last book. Fingers crossed it pulls in some sales. Thanks so much for commenting Charles!

  8. I had a promo at $2.99 for a $3.99 book via an advertiser. It moved nearly 300 copies. I had a promo at 99 cents via that same advertiser, and guess how many copies it moved…that’s right, about 300 copies. It is all about exposure, people will pay for what interests them…if they can find it. I move as many at $3.99 as I moved at $4.99. I have long been a believer that we indies set or own ceiling too low. We created this substandard image.

    • Wow, that is heartening to hear! I’m happy for you! I guess the big question is, were there other places to advertise at the 99 cent range verus the higher range? Do you have suggestions as the best places to advertise for a cost structure that high?

      • Ereader News Today works for me. I have had friends ad there and sell nothing, and I have had friends ad there and sell more than I did by far.You really never know what will work for you. When I did the first ad with ENT, I did not know that I could change my royalty and go lower than $2.99. ENT let the ad run anyway, even though I explained this to them. (They charge a percent of your sells for one day, but your ad runs on Facebook for days, and that’s where you’ll get your sells.) If I ad with them again, I won’t go less than $1.99, maybe $2.99. I don’t see any difference.

        GoodKindles will market your book, but it is catered to authors not readers. They did not do so well for me, but I didn’t like my own blurb there. They want an original one. My book is still there. I had a side banner ad that moved a few books. Later, I tried a banner ad. Not worth the money spent.

        The Fussy Librarian has also moved a few books for me.

        One of the best things to do if you are thinking about placing an ad is check the Alexa rating. A low traffic place is not likely to move mnay books. I would love to get on BookBub, but I have been declined about five times despite a willingness to pay for the ad. You have to respect that they know their own market, and don’t just freely grab up your money.

  9. I’m a reader as much as I am an author, and though I’m no marketing expert or millionaire, I believe there must still be a market for readers who are happy to pay a few bucks or more for a book because I don’t believe I’m the only such reader. I also don’t believe reading or publishing in the world of literature, even independent literature, begins and ends with how one lone company is operating at present, since times change and can change quickly, but that’s a whole other story! 😀 I do put my books on $.99 sales sometimes (have one going on now for reaching 1,000 subscribers on my blog–whoo hoo!), and I enjoy giving away books when I can, as giving of oneself and one’s treasure is good for humanity, but I also do my best to value my work, what I’ve been pouring my life into as an author.

    Beyond all the stats, all the shifting numbers and trends (and fads), there’s a vital, constant need for literature in this world, and there’s no statistic to accurately measure all that books have done, still do, and will do for humankind. Might be sort-of an idealistic view of things on my part, but at the heart of it all are authors and readers–in a word, people. And people are of great worth. Readers are people worth getting good books, and authors are people worth being paid for the good books they produce.

    Great post, Elyse!

  10. This was really nice to hear after publishing my third book on CreateSpace and Amazon about a week ago with still no hits. I may need to hike up the price to show that I’m serious. When I self-published my first book, I read that it was important to keep your prices low to get more hits, but I found out from experience that this tactic doesn’t work. Thanks for the motivation!

  11. Thanks for a great article, Elyse! I wholeheartedly agree that indies giving their work away for free doesn’t work as well today as it did a few years ago. I’ve read so many articles recently by book reviewers who are cautious about filling up their eReader space with “detritus” and are taking a much harder look at freebies before “buying” them. Fair enough. As a reader, I do the same. As an author, I’ve stopped giving away my work and stick with 99 cent limited time price promos. Maybe I’ll do free once a year… we’ll see.

    However, price point is one of the advantages independent authors have over publishers. At a 70% royalty rate, with a fixed overhead (editing, cover artist, proof reader, marketing), a price point of $3.99 nets an indie author well above his/her traditionally pubbed counterpart. Provided the author has gone through the expense and trouble of producing an excellent product, then a lower price point is win-win for both writer and reader. This is one of the key points of why the current indie revolution is changing the face of publishing. And don’t overlook the fact that a lot of indie authors were with publishers for years before they left for greener bank accounts and more creative freedom. So for anyone who stereotypes indies as slush pile rejects, take a closer look.

    As for giving your work away for free, big publishers have been doing it for years. Where do you think indies got the idea? Look at Netgalley, a site where publishers can put a book up for free to “professional readers” to review, and those reviewers leave their thoughts on Goodreads, Amazon, and any other site requested (note: there are no required skill sets to be a “professional reader” other than you like reading). Publishers also give away hundreds, if not thousands, of paper copies to reviewers, particularly book bloggers. The only thing different between indies and publishers when it comes to giving away free books is HOW. Most indies can’t afford the $500 price tag of Netgalley and other such sites; or $500 for Kirkus reviews (by the way, Kirkus segregates indies from “published”), etc… Giving away books on Amazon is a fast, efficient and economical way to do what traditional publishers pay good money to achieve. And don’t overlook the goal of giving a book away for free: it’s to promote YOU, the author. If you only ever produce one book as an author, then maybe free promotion isn’t the marketing strategy for you. But if you plan on writing more than one book, then gaining an audience is essential. A well advertised free promotion on an edited, proofread book with a catchy cover can go a long way to meeting new readers.

    • I agree with all of the above – though I will take it one step further. As an indie, I’ve also researched bloggers and reviewers on my own and offered free copies in exchange for an honest review. But you are so right in the fact that I don’t have the disposable cash to do a Kirkus or NetGalley or the others that send to everyone at once. Being an indie is a tedious, slogging process. There’s no time in the day to do it all, and have a full time job and family. I totally understand the desperation we all face to get reviews and do freebies, but I wonder if it hurts us in the long run. My feeling is to do a $.99 cent sale if I want to do something. I won’t lie, I’ve done freebies in the past, like everyone to try and see if it helped. It did NOT jump sales for the next book or the other books and garnered maybe one review. Not worth it. I’ve decided some short stories or anthologies only will be on KDP Select and maybe I can use THEM promotionally to garner interest in my novels. Thank you so much for your excellent comment and I really appreciate the time you took.

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