Why give your book away for free? You’ve spent a lot of time and effort creating it; someone should pay you for your hard work, right? I mean, you’re not writing purely for the love of the craft, though that’s part of the fun of it. If you write for a living, you want to get paid. It’s not an unreasonable request. So who on earth would I suggest you give your book away?
The idea runs counter to the common wisdom, but yields interesting results. As blogger Julien Smith (who recently released a free book as part of Seth Godin’s Domino Project) put it, would you rather have a million dollars or a million people reading your work?
For some, the money is always going to be the bigger deal. Who doesn’t have bills to pay? It’d be nice to have a million dollars, wouldn’t it? Absolutely. But it’s also important to consider that in a world where unknown authors rarely make huge sales (500 books is quoted as the maximum number of books most first time authors sell), you might find it’s much more important to have interested readers taking a chance on your work.
In my opinion, it’s always important to keep a balance. I spent time and effort writing a book, so I want people to pay for the opportunity to read it, but I also recognize that as a new novelist, I don’t yet have the draw of someone like my arch-nemesis, Nora Roberts, much less bigger names like Jackie Collins or Danielle Steel.
To keep the balance I set the price of my first book, Rebels of the 512, purposely low. It’s $2.99, which means people looking for a humorous book about ninjas, pirates and evil politicians in Austin, Texas might take a chance on it even though they’ve never heard of me. But I’m also running regular giveaways with short-term promotional codes that enable even the most broke-ass of readers to check out what I’ve got to say. (If you’re reading this, you can use coupon code FF48L for a free copy until March 1. Enjoy!) If I sell a copy, that’s $2 in my pocket, but if someone uses the coupon code, I have a potential reader who might reward me in a non-monetary way: with a review.
Taking a cue from Amanda Hocking, another good compromise is to release your book in a series of shorter installments, rather than the one-lump-sum we typically think of when reading novels printed on paper. The first bit’s free, but once you’re hooked you’ll have to pony up 99 cents or $2.99 for the next few chapters. If you really like the book, you’ll keep paying to find out what happens next. If not, you’re only out the time you spent on the freebie, no harm no foul. I plan to sell my next novel, Naked Montreal, on the installment plan, since it’s worked so well for Hocking; she signed a multi-million dollar contract with St. Martin’s around this time last year.
Why give your book away for free? It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition, as clever writers have shown. Get creative and think about how the power of free can help you build goodwill, a platform for your next book, and an army of rabid fans to buy copies. You may be giving copies of your book away, but there are plenty of other ways to cash in on freebies.
Laura Roberts is the editor of the rebellious literary magazine Black Heart, and a writing coach & manuscript consultant at WriteByNight. You can follow her on Twitter @originaloflaura, or check out her personal website.