When I first starting writing, I heard the old adage over and over, "Don't give your work away." But ever so often I'd hear someone say, "Do whatever it takes!"
The naysayers warn us that the competition is enormous, the odds are stacked against us, and the chance of making money slim. Listening to them is fine so long as we take the words as a challenge and not as a reason to give up.
I attended my first full-blown writers’conference in 2009 and every time I went to a different session, I'd pass by an unmanned table with piles of Alan Bradley's debut novel along with a tall sign sticking up from the midst of that pile that read, “Help Yourself to a Free Book.” Each day as I walked by the table, I'd wonder why the author was giving his books away. After putting in all the work it takes to write and edit a book, why would he just hand it off? Would that cheapen his product?
Before I left though, I couldn't resist taking one of the free copies of Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I could afford to buy it, but I doubt I would have since his lead character was an eleven-year-old and my preference was adult protagonists. Since it was free, I could try it out at no cost. I didn’t get to reading it until more than a year or so later and looked online to see Alan Bradley already had another book out in his series. If you look at the series now, it's exploded into more than eleven books and he's published others outside of the series. Alan Bradley gave away a huge number of books and on many different occasions; yet, he's a success story.
Goodreads has always offered a service for authors to give their books away. It's promotion because hundreds of people ask to win your book. They're looking at the book cover, the inside, the synopsis. You can offer the book to one winner or allow more than one. When Goodreads selects the winner or winners, you send your book to a reader. If your book is part of a series, you have the opportunity of hooking that reader into your series. Recently, I went online and found that what Goodreads used to give away for free, now cost authors $119.00. I think Goodreads saw this as a promotional opportunity worthy of a charge, gave the program some pizazz and marketing perks, and now authors are paying to give their books away.
One of the most well-known writers and readers
conference, Bouchercon, offers a book bizarre at each annual conference. Authors can give away their books at the bizarre, so long as they provide at least fifty copies. This is a lot of free books and at the authors' expense. New authors, mid-list authors, and famous authors all participate. If conference attendees don't choose your book as one of the six they're allotted free their first day, they have a second chance a day or two later to buy it for a dollar. If you still have an inventory of books left at the end of the conference, they are donated to libraries around the city where Bouchercon is held that year.
My read on the old adage of don't give your books away, is don't give them to friends and relatives as they are the most likely to buy them. When it comes to others, find a balance, but getting your books out to certain markets, even as freebies, might bring returns of double-fold or more over the long-run. I revisit that interesting experience I had almost ten years ago when I picked up a free book written by Alan Bradley well before he became famous.
Should authors give their books away? What do you think?