Writing Words With the Tips of My Toes
This is a very sensitive topic that I am going to try to handle with care, as I know some or many authors may disagree with me. However, this is a conversation I had with my personal assistant and the publisher of Writers AMuse Me Publishing. All of us came to the same conclusion: giving away e-books for free (outside of review copies, which are only given to select individuals) devalues both the author and his/her work. Now I’m not writing this article based on a conclusion among three people. However, I will use author Melissa Foster’s article to support my points, along with adding a few of my experiences as a YA author trying to compete with books being given away for free. Let me present this graph to your from Smashwords before I begin. Okay, so free books aren’t on here, but notice even books at $0.99 cents are selling way below books even priced at $9.00. This graph isn’t just talking about earnings monetarily, but also sales. Unfortunately I cannot find the article this graph was connected to, but the article did say that people are more likely to buy a book when there is a value attached to that book. In spite of what is shown on Amazon Bestseller lists, very few authors can get away with giving away a book for free and do well numbers-wise, then switch over to charging for their books and continue doing well. I have seen author friends do this, and their rankings didn’t improve greatly, for whatever reason. After all, in order for anyone to purchase a book, free or otherwise, those people have to know that book exists. Not to mention readers have to read your free book in order to trust you as an author. And a lot of readers have downloaded hundreds of free books.
Fortunately for self-published authors doing this, there are a myriad of services to help them out, compared to self-published authors who refuse to give their books away for free. There are very, very few free services to help out self-published authors who attach a price to their books. (I could be wrong. There might be enough for $2.99 and below). But I have done the research for my own book, and the only service I could find was The Fussy Librarian. But even TFL is charging now; the price luckily is very, very low. However, I don’t know how effective those free services are for self-published authors giving away their books for free. In fact, I had one author friend doing relatively okay with giving her book away for free, but then as soon as she attached a price to that book–just $2.99–sales plummeted–severely. It’s as though her readers began to expect that she would keep giving away her hard work for free. Or her readers hadn’t read her book at all, because it was for free, so there was no word of mouth going around. If readers pay for something, they want to make use of what they spent their money on. In fact, readers are more likely to read review copies, as a stipulation to reading a copy is leaving a rating or review. This is almost a guilt factor. This is not so for free books.
Now on to my points using Melissa Foster’s article to back me up. I encourage you to read it before reading further.
Now I am going to take some points from Melissa Foster and develop them on what we can do to bring value back to books. Overall, I think the problem with giving away books for free is that readers will download a bunch of these and never get to that book. Granted, you will see fantatastic reviews for a lot of the free books on these bestsellers list, but it’s likely rare, as any bestselling author is. But I do not download free books. I refuse to. I want that author to attach a value to his or her work.
I agree with Foster’s entire article. If indie authors want to establish a solid reputation amongst themselves, they must ban together, so to speak, and imbue quality in their work by not giving it away for free. Yes, there are books given away for free that have great ratings, but then it drowns out the rest of those who want to attach a value to their work. Authors, do not undervalue your efforts. If every single author never gives away a book for free again, readers will have no choice but to pay, will not expect free books (save review copies), and you will be making money that is well-deserved.
I am going to end this article with a crushingly honest statement: I am not impressed when an author boasts a high ranking for a free book in a genre category (especially since genre categories are so erratic on Amazon, like sword and sorcery???), even if that book has great ratings. I’ll be more impressed if your book has a value attached to it AND you can get readers to see the value in your book by purchasing it with their picky dollars. Then I’ll be impressed with a great ranking–even if it is just a 99 cent book.