Friday, January 2, 2015

Why give your books away for free?


How do you feel about freebies?

When I posted  about how I use KDP Freebies, I got some very intense reactions.  Some people were angry that readers have come to expect freebies, others mystified – wondering why writers would bother to offer them.  One response was sort of a cross between the two:  angry AND mystified.

Nothing's free in this world, so why should our product be free?

That’s what this person asked, and in a way, I totally agree with what I think she’s trying to say.  We work hard to write our stuff.  And we want to make money writing.  So how does it help us to give it away for free?

Have you ever been in a supermarket, and they give you a taste of some new yogurt or pretzel or whatever, and maybe they're handing out a coupon. So you try it, and it's pretty good, and hey, isn't that a coupon you're holding for the very same thing?

At that point, the yogurt they’re offering doesn't have to be better than your current yogurt, because your current yogurt is at home and this one is right here in your mouth.

To me, that's the beauty of freebies -- WHEN they work, which is a very big “when.”

In the great big world of Amazon, I am a new yogurt, an unknown pretzel.

So are you.

To help “meet” our buyers, some of us hand ourselves out for free; at least, in limited (but tasty) samples. I think it does work. And as it does, and as sales pick up, perhaps I will need to rely on it less and less.

Maybe someday, when I'm Stephen King, I can stop giving books away altogether. Until then, I have to face the fact that I will always be relatively unknown.  Just like you.

Actually, I have slowed down the pace of the freebies now that I have a few decent reviews in place.  I’ve decided that some of my books will not be free anymore, ever, particularly ones where I paid a lot for illustrations or put in a ton of work writing the book.

If I choose to, I can do a 99-cent special for loyal readers, via my 3 mailing lists (see below for more on mailing lists). I don’t make much at 99 cents, and having to pay anything will discourage some people, but you get a lot fewer casual shoppers that way, just picking up the book “because it’s there” and not because they care about me, or about the book. 

I may actually catch more actual readers that way.  We shall see.  But that doesn’t mean the end of freebies for me.

And even relatively-established authors, by the way, often make the first book in a larger series free, as a way of drawing readers into their "funnel."

This works out for them because at the end of that free Book 1 is an offer like, "buy Book 2, 3, 4 etc for $2.99, or the entire six-book set for $9.99."

Readers already know they liked Book 1 - they still have the taste in their mouth, so to speak - so they're more likely to plunk down $9.99 because they know it's going to be a lot of tasty reading for not very much money.   (I believe this is how some carnivorous plants work as well!)

Another big reason to offer freebies:  finding out who the heck they are!

When readers buy your books on Amazon, they are AMAZON’S loyal customers.  When they join your mailing list, they become YOUR (hopefully) loyal readers.  If you’re hoping to “cash in” this way, bringing readers into your fold so you can stay in touch with them long past that one-book reading experience, you’ll need to start using effective “calls to action” in your books.  More on that in the coming week.

Whatever you decide to do, NEVER give away a piece of writing for free that you’re not totally proud of.


Every free book you hand out (even virtually) is a business card, so it better be your best stuff or you're right -- there really is no point.

Of course, every word you release as a book should be your best.  That goes without saying.  But because I’ve read too many terrible kids’-book freebies during my 2-week blogging break, I am saying it.  There is some real garbage out there, people.  Some of it is free… and some if it, the writers have the chutzpah to charge 99 cents, $1.99, $2.99 or more for.

I’m just happy  you’re not the one writing it and putting that stuff out there.  Right???

Do you use freebies?  Do they work?  Let me know in the comments.


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