No More Free For Me

There are many decisions to make about your book when you are following the indie route, and what to price it at is one of the big ones. When my first novel The Mess Of Me was about to be released in 2013, I made my decision regarding the price, by looking at similar books in the genre and also looking at the other authors who were with the same indie publisher. This helped me get an idea of how to price my debut novel. I didn’t want to make it too expensive and put anyone off purchasing it, but I also fully intended to make some profit after spending so much blood sweat and tears on it! I was also extremely serious about finally following my dream and making a living out of writing, and this was the first step on that journey. So never, in a million years did it occur to me to give my book away for free.

In fact, back then, as an indie newbie, I hadn’t even really heard of books being given away for free. I didn’t have an ereader at that time, and the way I bought books always involved parting with cash. It was quite a surprise to me that so many authors were giving their books away for nothing. Didn’t they want to make any money? Okay, not loads, no one should be in this game just to get rich. But didn’t they want some financial reward for all their hard work? Didn’t they at least want to break even after paying out for editing, formatting, book covers and promotion? Were they all nuts? It seemed like it to me.

I was a bit snobby about it for a while. I decided I would never do it. My books were worth more than that! I’d slaved over them, devoted my life to them, and they were good, damn it! Why the hell would I just give them away? People don’t choose a coffee and then walk out without paying for it, do they? You don’t do your food shopping and then waltz out the door without parting with your money. I mean, when did this whole free thing even begin? Where else does this happen??

So, I ignored it. I priced my books sensibly for a newcomer. Sometimes I reduced them a bit, especially if they had just been released. And all the time I was seeing this utter madness unfold around me on social media. It was everywhere I looked. Authors screaming FREE! FREE! MY BOOK IS FREE! GRAB IT NOW WHILE IT IS FREE! It was like they were all saying their own book was not worth paying for.

At the same time, I noticed another strange phenomena. The authors screenshotting their high rankings and declaring themselves bestsellers because they had entered the best sellers ranking with their free book. I found this really, really odd! But was this the reason they were doing it? To be able to call their book a bestseller, even though it had been given away? Or was there more to it than that?

Of course, I soon began to understand what was going on. The whole thing was a minefield. A quagmire of indies screaming and drowning and waving at the same time, and the ones shouting the loudest were all shouting FREE! ITS FREE! I’M A REALLY GOOD AUTHOR COS ITS FREE! But the truth is, what they were really saying behind the lines was something like this;

Look, in all honesty this indie author lark is not as easy as I first thought. I’m not selling anything and even my close friends and family don’t seem to give a shit! I need to be seen, I need reviews to get me noticed. I need someone to give me a chance! Once you read it, I know you’ll love it and then you’ll quite happily pay for the next one, plus you will review me and recommend me to all your loved ones! So just this once, just for you, just to lure you in and let you experience my genius, I will put my book for free.

And yep, you’ve guessed it, before long I was doing the exact same thing myself. I did wait at least a year and a half though, and then I went for it. I had nothing to lose. I was selling a few here and there, and I was getting great reviews, and people were going on to read the next books, but it didn’t feel like enough. Maybe making a book free would help?

Well, yeah, initially. It was exciting to watch The Mess Of Me sky rocket up the rankings in the week I made it free. Oh my god, all those people downloading my book! At last! This was it! Surely this would be it! Al those people would read it and review it and then buy others, and I wouldn’t ever have to do this again, would I?

Ah, what a dismal flutter back down to earth when the promo was over. How depressing to watch the book plummet back down to its usual position. And then came the waiting game. How many reviews would I get? It would be worth it, wouldn’t it?

Well no, because generally not that many readers bother to review! (And that’s a post for another day believe me) I had some lovely messages. I had some new followers. I had someone message me on my Facebook author page to ask questions about the book and tell me how much they had loved it. I asked politely for a review and they agreed but never left one. I am sure now that the majority of people who downloaded it never even got around to reading it.

I tried the same thing with two other books, and the same thing happened. Dizzying heights followed by depressing plummets and all for one or two reviews if I was lucky. My then indie publisher even tried to warn me. Free books don’t work like they used to, he advised. The time has passed.It’s not a great promo tool anymore, and he was very right.

Since then, I’ve released more books, grown my following, tried many other promotional routes and had my indie publisher go bust on me. I am now properly self-published and loving it. I am actually doing better than I was before. I’m not talking thousands of copies of course. I’m just saying things are heading in the right direction.

Will I ever give my book away for free again? Yes, but only to the right people. You see, here is the thing. Who is more likely to reward the freebie with a review, a recommendation and another purchase? Someone who is already interested in you. In other words someone who has subscribed to your email list, or someone who is interacting with your social media pages, keen to see what you come up with next.

So from now on, those are the people who will be treated every now and then to a freebie. A competition on my Facebook page, or a free ebook attached to my email newsletter. I know there is a higher chance they will leave a review and help me on my journey. Personally, I think it is time for the free ebook on Amazon to die. Readers should be happy to pay something in recognition of the authors hard work and dedication, and the only way they are going to place value on a book is if it costs them something to purchase it. Too many free books force other writers to lower their prices to compete, or to place their own as free, adding to the problem. I think 99p/99c is cheap enough, and from now on, this is as low as my books will go, and this will only be for countdowns and odd promotional days. After all, if I don’t value my own work, who else is going to?

What do you think about free ebooks? Please feel free to add your comments below. Is it time authors stood up and said no to free? After all, like a popular meme on social media points out, people are more than happy to pay a few pounds for a coffee, so why not a few pounds for a novel that had taken someone years to write? Has giving your books away for free helped you progress? If so, comment away!