My first three months with KDP Select is winding down, and I was considering whether to take advantage of their free book promotion (up to five days) before the end of January. I started to do a little research, and the first thing I learned is how difficult it is to offer your book for free on Kindle outside their exclusivity agreement. My understanding is that it’s fairly easy to set your price at free on other platforms. If you published through Smashwords, all you have to do is notify them and they’ll do the rest. But for Amazon, you first have to change your price on Nook and other distributors, and then convince them to match it. Perhaps running through an Amazon warehouse naked will get you noticed, but otherwise, it can take a lot of time and effort.
But first things first: is giving away your book a good marketing strategy? Being a list-making kind of person, I read a lot of author blogs where they shared their experiences and came up with reasons why we authors should and shouldn’t give away our work.
Four Reasons You Should Definitely Give Away Your Book
- You can gain a lot of new readers. Authors report that, with a little advertising, they often get thousands of book downloads. That can translate into readers who will love your writing and eagerly buy your other books.
- You can score some new book reviews. Some of those new readers are (hopefully) going to post reviews of your book. Reviews mean future potential sales as you gain visibility and credibility for your work.
- It can be a great way to launch the next part of a series. Offering part 1 for free just before the next installment is published can mean more readers will be clamoring to buy it. This is especially true if you wrote a cliff hanger.
- It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. Competition is stiff. There are hundreds of thousands of book published every year. Your only hope of getting noticed is to try to get your book into as many hands as possible, by any means possible.
Four Reasons You Definitely Shouldn’t Give Away Your Book
- Downloads don’t necessarily translate into reads. Yes, thousands of readers have downloaded your book, but how many of them will actually read it? There are no exact figures, but based on what others have reported, very few. Readers who like free books tend to download a lot of them. Without having to put any money down, those files may sit in their Kindles for years until they can’t even remember why they downloaded them in the first place. Then, all they have to do is hit delete. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
- Downloads don’t necessarily translate into reviews either. Many authors report being disappointed by how few (if any) reviews they get from those thousands of downloads. It could be that people haven’t read the book, or that they’re as lazy about reviewing books as they are about buying them.
- Worse yet, those downloads can mean bad reviews. Say a sci-fi fan downloads your free contemporary romance novel without much thought because he likes the babe on the cover. He reads 10 pages and gets so annoyed by the dearth of sex that he leaves a one-star review on Amazon. That certainly won’t help recruit paying customers.
- Offering free books perpetuates the belief that everything on the Internet should be free. I pay for web access to the New York Times because I demand good writing. I don’t want to get my news from Yahoo or some other crappy free site. Offering books for free means we don’t value our writing, and readers won’t value it either. If you want to make even a tiny living at writing, somebody is going to have to pay you at some point.
Charging even $.99 can force readers put a little skin in the game. In the long run, I think everyone will benefit. But I do see number 3 in the first list as a good reason to offer a book for free. I especially like the idea of offering a free book through an author’s own website, where your followers have already expressed an interest in you and your writing.
Whatever path you choose, good luck! I’d love to hear the experience of other authors who gave away their books.