Friday, January 18, 2019

Should Authors Give Their Books Away?


 by Linda Thorne



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?

14 comments:

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Give them to reviewers and as prizes. As for Bouchercon free books, in the case of the big names, the publisher furnishes the books. I wouldn't give away my books there, it's too good a place to see your book if you're on a panel.

Zoe Tasia said...

I've seen writers wait until they are several books into a series and then make the first book available for free or as a giveaway for signing up for their newsletter. I am considering going that route.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I always give away books when asked to as part of a raffle or gift bag. In addition, I'll donate one to a library if they're very small with a tiny budget. I've given talks to some very tiny places, and still sell a few books, so I'm glad to help out the library. But overall I haven't gone the free-books route. I work too hard writing them to give them away.

Zari Reede said...

Great subject and great question. I have seen the many books offered each year at RWA and the first year I picked up quite a few. The problem with giving away books to other writers is that we are back logged with so many other books to read! I like to give away books to people who subscribe to our newsletters that want to win a copy, but the point is to find new readers, so where to give away is the question?

jrlindermuth said...

I used the Goodreads giveaways in the past. I think the cost now outweighs the value.But I do give away books, especially to small libraries in my area and readers who express interest and are willing to spread the word (whether via review or word of mouth).

Roman Empire Mystery Lover said...

Free books? Depends on whom you give them to. I have given some to libraries, as gifts to hosts who've had me on their programs, and to those who help me with my website, reading drafts, etc. I give some as prizes or as a reward for a review. But otherwise no.Maybe I should. June Trop

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi Linda,

I've given away books to readers in the past as well as libraries. It does increase the number of reviews which can be helpful.

Amy M. Reade said...

Every so often this topic comes up and it never fails to be interesting and hotly debated. Part of me is firmly in the camp that says: we don't ask dentists to work on our teeth for free before we decide if we like them, we don't ask architects to design our homes for free before we decide if we like their work; why should authors have to give away the books that represent countless hours, weeks, months, and sometimes years of hard work?

On the other hand, there is a part of me that is in the camp which says: you have to spend money to make money, and that includes giving away books.

I guess it comes down to individual circumstances. If I'm presented with a great opportunity to meet readers on a fairly small scale and I have to give away books to do it, I'm in. But if it's a place like Bouchercon where people get piles of books that in many cases they don't read for a year or more, I don't.

Linda Thorne said...

Wow. I love all these interesting comments. I got busy at work and didn't get a chance to peek at this sight since early morning. There are lots of things to consider and I think there is a balance, but there's so many "gray" areas, I don't know what that balance is. I forgot about the reviews you sometimes get from giving away a book. That's worth something. Two of you mentioned the Bouchercon Book Bizarre. I did buy the fifty books to give away the one time I attended Bouchercon (New Orleans 2016). Like the comments here, I probably won't do it again. I'm not in the league where the publisher pays that expense and the cost was close to $300.00. What I did like, is my book was donated to many of the libraries in New Orleans, and I welcomed that because it was set on the Mississippi Gulf Coast with New Orleans a part of a few scenes and mentioned many times. I thought the setting might make it more appealing to New Orleans local folks.

Saralyn said...

Fascinating topic. Multiple right answers to the question, depending on the circumstances of the author and the book. The bottom line is exposure, which is so valuable, you can't put a price on it.

Linda Thorne said...

Thank you, Saralyn. You're so right on the exposure angle.

Mollie Blake said...

Great, thought-provoking article, Linda. I do occasional giveaways on Facebook for likes to my page, and on a blog tour when I have a new book coming out. I also have an eBook permanently free, with links to my other books at the back. It's hard to judge the benefit, but I have gained reviews and subscribers to my mailing list as a result. x

Linda Thorne said...

Some good ideas, Mollie. I think most of us would agree on having at least some giveaways. When we start talking costs in the hundreds in short periods of time, that's when the varying opinions begin.

Morgan Mandel said...

I have my first book from 2006 free on Amazon. I figure it's been a while since then and it's not as up to date as the others. Sometimes I do a freebie on another of my books, but not for long, just enough to hopefully get publicity for the other books.

I really wish I had done more series books, since freebies work much better with garnering attention for the rest of the books. I have 2 2-book series and might add to them, but for some reason I get ideas for other books instead.