Indie Life & Free Books

Wednesday, August 14, 2013




Lately, I’ve taken to watching my Amazon numbers again. So when I got the Indie Life reminder, I knew what I wanted to write about. 

Free books. They benefit readers, but do authors gain anything?

I’d say yes, to an extent, bearing market saturation in mind. 


Yesterday, I read Diantha Jones’ take on the same subject and I gotta say, I agree with much of what she said here. I do admit that when I download free books, I don’t read them immediately. But then, I’ve trained myself not to download books simply because they’re free. I’ll download if the story appeals to me or if it’s written by writer-friend and I intend to review. 

But to get back to those numbers I mentioned, I’ve noticed an interesting trend. I made one of my books perma-free on Amazon. It’s been in the number one spot both as a paid and free book.  It has some good reviews and some that make me cringe to read them. However, I understand that reading is subjective. I also know the quality of the stories. I used them in that collection, knowing they had medalled in local competitions. 

Many authors see the value of giving away the first novel in a series and I understand the how and why of it. However, what stops me from giving away anything else for free is the trend I’ve noticed from reviews of my own books, as well as other writers. The most biting comments come from folks who download for free. I’ve been given one star reviews by people who don’t like short story collections, even though the cover of the book subtitle has ‘stories’ in it. I’ve gotten some from people who are not into revenge stories, having downloaded a book entitled Don’t Get Mad...Get Even. Go figure.

Anyway, one positive thing I’ve noticed over the last few months is that the second volume of short stories has started selling. When I look at the ‘Customers Who Bought Items in Your Recent History Also Bought...’ section, I realize that people are reading my other books too. I’ve concluded that they took the plunge based on having read the free story collection, which works for me.

I’ve always known that putting my work on Amazon would mean taking what comes with the territory. After being in the top ten for ages, that book is now paying dividends, so yeah, giving away a free ride has been worth it for me.

What about you?

Make sure you visit the other Indie Lifers here.

52 comments:

  1. I know what you mean about free books and whether or not they are worth it. I don't get why readers seem so harsh on free books, but at the same time, I know these free works can help sell sequels and the like. I'd continue to have a free or discounted title for series books. At least for now. :)

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    1. Hi, Cherie,
      I think it has to do with seeing little value in the work because it's free. I had a hard time making anything free because I thought about all the time and effort that went into the creative process. Giving away novels has worked well for some writers and I lift my hat to them for having the courage to take the risk.

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  2. That is the risk with a free book - anyone and everyone will snag it, but those people aren't necessarily are target audience. And thus, they don't like it.

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  3. I think that there is a benefit to making your books free from time to time... particularly, if you have several books on Amazon. Like you said, if a reader likes one they are more inclined to purchase others. That linky set-up they have is user-friendly for the reader (I am talking about the You Might Like This feature you mentioned).

    As someone who does have a kindle, and does download free books, I will say this: in the beginning, I downloaded tons. Now, my kindle is loaded and who can read all of that? Now, I am more selective about what I download. Just because it is free, doesn't mean it is worth your time. That is the other lesson I learned about free books... I used to feel like I absolutely MUST finish a book. If I am halfway through a book, and still not engaged, I don't feel the need to keep going. I have MANY books waiting on me...

    Lastly, for a series writer, I can totally see the benefit of making that first book free or $.99. The idea is to get the reader Hooked.

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    1. Hi, Robin,

      Yup, that feature on Amazon does its job well.

      I'm like you, I used to slog through novels no matter how bad they are. I don't do that anymore. Too many things to read and too little time.

      Even 99 cents on a book I laboured long over feels like a sacrifice, but I have done it from time to time. Building a name by giving readers a chance to sample my writing is more important than holding on to a price.

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  4. I try to be selective about downloading free books, but I still have close to 500 items in my To Read collection. (At least most of those are samples!) Sometimes reading one free book in a series makes me buy other books from the author, so it does work. I may make one or more of my books perma-free at some point.

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    1. I've grown more selective too. If the storyline isn't intriguing and I don't think I'm gonna read the book, I leave it alone.

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  5. I can certainly see the value in having at least one book free, as it drives sales of other books. But then I have to accept the fact that reviewers of free books always tend to be more critical. I do think it's ridiculous, though, that people would download and read a book about revenge short stories when they don't like either!

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    1. True that one free book drives sales in a series. Amazing what you can get used to. One star reviews from people who don't like short stories is now something I take in stride. :)

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  6. My perma free takes a beating, too, Joy, but it sells the sequels. It does its job.

    The other series I didn't do that for, doesn't sell. What good is good reviews without sales? Worthless.

    I'll repeat what I did for the series selling for future work -- free novella out first, second book out within 3 months after.

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    1. Good point, Mary, and I'm seeing that now in my own work. Thanks for that tip about the timing between first release and the follow up.

      A comment from one reader about the prospect of a third collection of short stories has me thinking... :)

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  7. I've definitely seen the 'short story' and 'free' biases, JL. My feeling is this: If you want to price a book as free for a specific marketing reason (to get people hooked into a series, one time 'sale' to reinvigorate a dormant book, etc.) I think that's fine.

    However, if most of your work is free, readers will be reluctant to pay for something else of yours, and probably won't see the value in it.

    So I'm not against free books, I just think there needs to be a sound marketing reason behind it.

    And it definitely opens it up to bad reviews. One, there are readers out there who think anything free means substandard--just a fact. Two, you attract a much broader reading demographic with free books, and they're not all going to be your intended audience.

    Great post! :)

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    1. Interesting perspective, EJ. As a writer, I recognize that no smart author would put their worst out their as a representation of their writing. It's a pity some readers don't think about things that way.

      If I ever do free again, I need to keep my eye on the prize and take the gut punches along with the compliments. :)

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  8. I give away free books on Goodreads, but I've never done so on Amazon. Maybe one day.

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    1. Haven't tried that on Goodreads yet, but I should.

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  9. I think you make a good point about people downloading free books and then not being into whatever the book was clearly about. When I buy a book, I'm very picky about what I choose to spend money on. I make sure it's a book I want to buy and read. If it's free, I'm probably not as particular and therefore more likely to take "chances". Although I seldom leave reviews unless I know I can really pump the book and author.

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    1. Unless I'm buying a book from an author I know, most of the time I download a sample first so if I buy, I know exactly what I'm getting. I guess readers abandon caution at the word FREE.

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  10. Interesting. I've read somewhere else that readers would rather pay for a good story, so giving away isn't always the best choice. However, the more downloads you have, the more your story is seen, so it cant be that bad either.
    Thanks for sharing! I'm trying to learn everything I can!

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    1. True that, PK. There's something to be said for visibility.

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  11. I set a book to free and within a week it had been pirated. It made me leery of ever using that option again, regardless of how helpful it might be.

    I'm considering it for the first book in my Spirit series once I release the second book, but it still makes me nervous.

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    1. Sorry to hear that, Lauren. Ya know, I wouldn't have a clue if my books have been pirated or not. I should be doing some searches now and then.

      I have mixed feelings about the free books, as you can tell, but at this point it's helping me.

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    2. You can set up Google alerts. I found mine by simply searching for my book on Amazon--two copies came up.

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    3. Okay, thanks for that info. I don't hear from Google alerts that often, but I know I'd set it up some time in the past. I should check on that.

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  12. Glad that worked for you J.L. Free books can either help or hinder you and it seemed that you've used that option to your advantage.

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    1. Thanks, Sheena. I figure there are lots of things I can try at least once.

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  13. Thanks for letting us know. I will remember this tip for the future.

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    1. No worries, Julia. I've learned so much from bloggers and writers that it's second nature to share stuff I've discovered.

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  14. Free books are such a heavily debated topic! I download some free books, and yes, I haven't read all of them, but since I only download the ones I plan to read, I will get to them eventually.

    I've offered my book free through Select a couple of times, and I even though I only have one book, I've still seen a bump in sales after a free run. But most importantly, I'm building my readership, getting signups for my mailing list, and that's my main aim for a first book. I haven't noticed reviews from a free run being much different to the ones I get otherwise, but I have heard that it happens.

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    1. Rinelle,
      I agree that building your readership is important. As long as we know what our aim is when we give away books we can gauge the usefulness of our efforts.

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  15. Hey Joy. Glad to hear free is paying dividends for you. You'll have to grow a pretty thick skin with those who write such bad reviews after paying nothing for your book. Like most e-book buyers, I now make sure I read the sample as it's very telling of how the rest of the book will pan out. Life's too short to read bad books.

    (All of your books that I've read I've loved.)

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    1. Growing a thick skin is something we have to do whether we like it or not. :) You can't go wrong reading samples. I do it all the time. Thanks for your kind words.

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  16. Forever free, probably not. As a marketing too, I think it has its merits. A Change of Plans is in several libraries now. Lots of people are reading it for free. What's the difference? I think it was Larry Brooks who said we're too worried about getting sales. What we should be concerned about is getting read. I like that.

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  17. Elizabeth Spann Craig wrote about this! She made free the book that she thought was her best, and in turn she saw a sales increase in her other books. It's definitely worth a try! Here's the post: http://mysterywritingismurder.blogspot.com/2013/02/more-thoughts-on-free.html It's really interesting!

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

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  19. In today's writing world, it's so hard to be noticed, so free is a good way to go. Most readers appreciate free books and give honest reviews. Here's to the next books selling like those proverbial hot cakes! :-)

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    1. Thanks, Lee. It definitely is hard to get in front of readers' eyes. We have to do whatever will work for us in terms of getting our books noticed.

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  20. If I were more prolific, I'd think about offering something for free, but my books take a year to write and revise. That's too much trouble to offer one for free. I have a bunch of short stories (many pubbed with rights reverted back to me now), but I just don't want to go that way.

    Thanks for your insight into the situation. I'm so glad it's working for you! :-)

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    1. I think about the time I spent writing and rewriting a book like Distraction. My all went into it and while I understand giving away something to get something, it makes me queasy to think about giving away all of those hours for nothing.

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  21. Good work, I know you have a good understanding of online book marketing from your posts and approaches. I think the big effect of free is wearing off, but don't know what will replace it yet. There is also a good argument for attracting the right customers, ones who are a good match for our books. Good to see you're getting positive results!

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    1. Thanks, Charmaine. Like every other writer who has to think about marketing, there's the big thing of finding the customers. That one is an uphill battle, but until I get there, I'll use the methods available to me. I tried something this week that hasn't yielded results yet, but I think it's a step in the right direction. Of course, I'll share if it pans out.

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  22. Hi there, good to be here. Amazon reviews are such a dicey thing J.L. I only pay attention to them of there has been a significant number of reviews of the book and and there is no great margin between the negative and positive. This is because I notice that reviewers on Amazon somehow tend to be more vicious.
    But I must admit I also dont but much from Amazon simply because buying from SA amazon adds $3 extra to the purchase price. So unfair and I dont know how to get around it to be honest.
    Wendy

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    1. Hey, Wendy,
      I've missed you.

      Like you, I've seen some meanly worded reviews as I browse on Amazon. I've grown used it them. It just stings a little more when it's directed at my work. :)

      I thought I had it bad with Amazon in my neck of the woods. I get to pay $2 extra for 99% of the buys I buy there. I don't think there's any getting around it. I guess it's there standard 'delivery' charge to the boon docks.

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  23. Yep, I'm thinking giving away free books is only good if you have other books out there for readers to follow up on.

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  24. I agree with Lynda here. The first book in a series given out for free makes sense to me.

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    1. I make excuses for giving away my work, so I'll probably want to have four books out in a series before I give away one. :D

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  25. I'm planning to test the "free" market in September.

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  26. Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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