By Michael Melville
Free. We love free don’t we. As Americans, no, as humans we all love things when they are free. Even if we ignore that grandmotherly advice of, “nothing worthwhile ever came free”. Free fish always die quick. Free money always has strings attached. What if the British just threw up their hands at the battle of Lexington in 1775 and said, “ok we’re out. This land is yours.” How much would we Americans value our freedom and our nation when it was given so easily.
With modern writing comes modern advertising. Which means utilizing the interwebs. Unless you are completely inept in publishing you have your book on Amazon.com. You may or may not have signed your book/s up to be in KDP select for 90 days and may or may not renew it every 90 days. If you do you get the chance to use 5 free days every 90 days. What this means is that you can give each signed up book away for FREE 5 times over 3 months. That’s 20 days over the course of a year where you could offer your latest or oldest book for free. Sounds great doesn’t it?
When I first published in 2012 I thought, ok, this is good marketing, good free advertising so why not. Now, I am not so sure and I will explain why.
In order to make the free days’ work relatively well means you need to do a reasonable amount of marketing before the free days even start. There are a lot of sites that list free Amazon books and then tweet and email them out. You can’t just schedule one and walk away and expect a deluge so you have to tweet about your free days, at least, a week before hand if not sooner. Then Facebook about it. Then blog about it. Then write it on the bathroom walls with sharpie markers.
One of the hopes with FREE days is that some percentage of readers who did get your book for free will review it since reviews entice future buyers. Honestly, that hasn’t been the case very often for me good or bad. I’ve probably given at least 2,000 copies of my first book, Running Northwest away for free. I cannot say that I got one review on Amazon or Goodreads from someone who got the book for free with a certainty. I may have but I don’t think so. I think I read somewhere that for every 60 books given away for free an author will get 1 review on average. That number could be off but it’s something like that.
Book Release Weekend
Anyways, FREE books are supposed to be good advertising. It’s supposed to be a good way to get people to start reading your book, books or series and that it will lead to sales for subsequent books. When my newest book, All the Roads Home came out last month I released it on a Friday. I coincided that books release with 3 free days for my first novel Running Northwest which was nearing the end of KDP select’s 90 days. I’m broke so I used 10 dollars of Facebook advertising for the release “blitzkrieg” and put a fair amount of tweets out. I feel like I did what I could with what I had to work with. Now, I’ve been at this long enough where I wasn’t walking around with stars in my eyes and thinking a miracle was going to happen.
During those 3 free days, I gave away 200 copies of Running Northwest. It jumped in rank all the way into the top 1000 for free books on Kindle and even higher in its genre. The last thing isn’t a huge deal but it’s the highest that book as ever ranked so emotionally it felt good. The increased visibility was also nice. I won’t say how many copies of All the Roads Home I sold in that release weekend but it wasn’t 200 or even close despite my month long presale and advertising. All the Roads Home, however, jumped to as high as 45,379 on the Kindle best sellers ranking which, I won’t lie, felt amazing considering where my first book had been ranking in sales. The hope was that people would get RNW for free and buy All the Roads Home either during the release or after. Not much movement there yet and I haven’t sold one copy of All the Roads since release weekend. Do you want to know why or, at least, part of the reason why? Because people are waiting for it to be free now. At least, that is my theory.
Readers are not dumb. Especially avid readers and Kindle users. They know about the free days. They get the emails from book bloggers who they follow. If you are a newer author and on your 2nd or 3rd book you are going to even have some friends and family who are just going to sit and wait until that brand new book is given away for free because they know it’s going to happen at some point. Because ya know, $1.99 or $2.99 is a lot of money I guess. Users of Amazon and Smash Words know all about free books and free days. So they sit and wait.
The book industry
The interesting thing is that I never ever have seen a traditionally published author, even a new one, use FREE days on Amazon. Do you think Nicholas Sparks or Stephen King are going to give away The Notebook or Carrie for free in a buildup to their new release? Do you really think Penguin or Hachette is going to give their authors books away for free on Amazon for a whole day let alone 5 in the course of 90 days? Hell no, that’s thousands and thousands of dollars in potential revenue that would just go out the window. So why are indies so big on doing it? Why are other indies so big on saying we should?
I can’t say I won’t ever give a book away for free. However, I can say I won’t be giving away All the Roads Home away for free this year. No matter how often the itch comes and regardless of book two in the Oregon Series coming out this fall.
The other problem as I see it and it seems to be verified by other authors and bloggers is that people are less inclined to read a book they get for free right away. I’ve heard the theory behind this idea is that there is less value to it since its free. Therefore, people are not as quick to really dig into it as opposed to something they paid money for or even got from the library. I can say for me this is true but only because I take forever to read a damn book. It’s a good month if I read two books. Half the books on my cloud were free when I got them. And let’s not forget my bookshelf in our apartment which is full and half the books I haven’t read yet and some I’ve had for years. So the books keep stacking up, print and digital and I am sure many people are like this.
“In this age of eBooks people have become habitual book hoarders I think.”
I have a habit of seeing a book that looks interesting with every intention of reading it sooner rather than later and then forget about it. I will admit I am part of the problem sometimes. Somewhere some other author is waiting for me to read their book that I got for free and leave a review on it just like I am waiting for mine from other readers. The scary thing is that Running Northwest has 4 editions with the newest and final edition having been released in 2014. Somewhere out there is probably someone who has the shitty first edition of that book from 2012 on their Kindle or the nearly as horrible 2nd edition or the not as bad 3rd edition because they never bothered downloading the new update when Amazon notified them. So if they decide to finally read it they are going to be pissed and leave a bad review. I took care of things on my end though albeit later than I should have. That being said, I’ve done my best this past year to limit how many books I get for free.
I wonder, what if Amazon automatically deleted books from people’s Kindle accounts that they got for free and remained unread for let’s say…90 days. Would this stem the issue and create an urge to read the books you downloaded for free? It would for me I think. If anything, I would be more choosy about what I get for free (if that’s even possible).
In the end, when it comes to bookselling I just don’t know if free days are a good thing. Do we as authors really want to get in the habit of giving our books away for free up to 20 days over the course of a year for the sake of a mythological marketing ploy that doesn’t seem to pay off very often or gives marginal results? If the reviews don’t eventually come or follow up purchases don’t happen than what is really the point of doing it.
Think back on that sage advice about free things I mentioned at the beginning of this article. Now, put that in the context of our books, our products, and hell even ourselves. What are we saying about our books, our creations, our heart and souls, our time and ourselves if we are giving them away for free? What does that say about the quality of those books? What does that say about how we view and value our own creations and the effort we put into them? As far as I know Indie authors are the only business owners out there who are nearly expected and encouraged to give their products away for free.
We spent real money making our books. We paid cover designers to make them look their best. We paid editors and paid for formatting (sometimes) so they read like the professional books we want them to be. We pay for marketing and advertising. We spend hundreds of hours apart from our families in an effort to write and get published.
So why give that away for free?