Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Writer Wednesday: The Value of Free

Recently I've come across quite a few debates about authors offering books for free. Some authors claim it's killing the book industry because readers won't pay for books when they can get so many for free. So basically, if you're book isn't available for free, readers will pass you by. Others argue that free books are a great way to get your work in the hands of readers who will hopefully love your writing and then buy your other books.

Until last week, I was firmly in the latter group. I have some titles that are perma free. My hope is that people will download those and then look to see what other books I have available for purchase. Does that actually happen? Sometimes. And other times I get emails from readers asking where they can get my other books for free. Now, I say my opinion changed last week and here's why. I got an email through Goodreads from someone I didn't know. They'd read one of my reviews and asked if I knew where to get the book for free. My initial reaction was to scream. This author is a friend of mine. Writing is her job. So, yeah, I got upset. Every day people spend countless dollars at Starbucks (Nothing wrong if that's you. I'm a huge coffee drinker.) for a coffee that will be gone in a matter of minutes. But they won't purchase a book that will entertain them for hours, even days—or in the event that they love it, over and over again for many years to come. That bothers me.

Now I get that money can be tight. I've been there. But here's what I did when I was in that situation. I went to the library. If I wanted to read a book that wasn't on the shelves, I put in a request for it. And guess what? The library will most likely purchase the book for you and others to read. It's a win for everyone.

So where do I stand on free books? I'm glad I have some titles available for free. I have no plans to change that. But if a book you want to read isn't free, please either purchase it or request it from your library. Authors work really hard, and everyone deserves to be paid for their hard work.

40 comments:

  1. I love this! I agree about requesting it at the library. I've actually done that with your books!

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    1. Thank you much! That makes me so happy.

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  3. Almost every review I have was from a huge download mania when a book was on select free days. My family and friends have been AWFUL. They think they deserve a freebie. Greeting cards often cost more than one of my books. I am disillusioned. Total Amazon take down over copyright issues. I am wavering about putting them back.

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    1. See, I don't mind at all when reviews come from promotions like that. In fact I wish more people would say thank you for the free book by leaving an honest review.
      Don't get me started on greeting cards. How can they be as expensive as a book? I just don't get it. Maybe there's a future post topic there.

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  4. You're so right, Kelly, we need to remember to respect the hard work authors put in to bring their books to us, especially those of us who indie publish because we're footing the bill for EVERYTHING just to bring it to the market in the first place.

    Hacks and plagiarists aside, many authors like you who're able to indie some of their work knows what it takes to produce something integral that you have every right to charge for.

    I agree free content can be abused and spoil readers a little, but it can still grab readers on the fence to become buyers, and even lifelong fans of our work.

    I have limited finances, too, so I get where people like your author colleague are coming from, ESPECIALLY since I buy a lot of what I read out of necessity.

    Plus, since I'm a slow reader (not developmentally speaking, it just takes me awhile) I want to read at my own pace, without worrying about returning the book by a due date. That's mostly in regard to novels and various nonfiction books, picture books take less time to read so I still borrow those from libraries a lot.

    In addition to wanting to support the author (and illustrator if it's a picture book and they're two separate people) I also buy books I love and

    My library network's really struggling right now. So, while I do request my local library system obtain certain books, my expectations are low, and since I review books, I really try to read/review them fairly early in their release, and it takes time for books that are requested to potentially show up.

    Since my taste in books is more obscure, or they're older titles that are easier to obtain via inter-library loan, sometimes I review books that are O.P. (Out of Print) and thank heavens they can still often be found in libraries.

    On that note, I highly recommend being part of Net Galley, especially if you're a book blogger/reviewer like me, you can get first looks at books before they release for free, and they expire soon after they're available to buy, from picture books to YA, and graphic novels, you'll find tons of variety.

    Plus, they're global, so even if you live outside the U.S., there are books from your territory in English (not sure about other languages), and as far as I know, the international titles aren't region locked, so I can read books coming out in Australia or the U.K. while I'm stateside, and vice versa, etc.


    At times, I have to read the book in the store, make notes, or commit it to memory when I get home so I can review it, and then when money's not as tight I buy my own copy.

    This was how I did my review of "Big Mean Mike" which had been out a couple of years, but that was a fair gap between reading it at the library and writing my review, to when I could buy my own copy.

    Either for me, or to do a giveaway, both to spread the word, and get a great book in the hands of at least one other person. I try to buy new whenever I can, but I also use sites like abebooks.com where I can get used copies of books on the cheap, and those especially are important for me to review at T.A.A. and various other sites, to make up for not being to buy a new copy which helps authors get paid.

    But I'll still buy new books I already own to do giveaways. When "The Wainscott Weasel" came back into print last year, I bought a copy soon after it came out, to help support it's rebirth and to help ensure it won't go back to the "Isle of misfit out of print books" again!

    If you're in the U.S., I'd also suggest sites like Oyster and Scribd that give you "Netflix-like" access to many e-books and audiobooks for a small monthly fee.





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    1. I responded to you over on Google + too, but I agree that becoming a reviewer and also joining NetGalley are great options. Essentially your payment for the book is in the form of an honest review.

      I won't repeat my entire reply here, but I want to add that you do a great job supporting authors and their books. :)

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    2. Thanks for your reply on G+, Kelly, I do my best.

      Also, thanks for stopping by T.A.A. today, I LOVE celebrating holidays that tie in with my site's theme.

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  5. That's a good point--books have always been free. I used the library for YEARS when I was trying to get published. Now that I'm published, I always try to support authors by buying their books...except for the books by authors who write for my publisher. I get those on Edelweiss and post a review ahead of time to help them. I think there will always be people who buy books and people who get them for free...

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    1. Same here. When I first started writing, I practically lived in the library reading everything I could. Now I like to support my fellow authors and the industry further by purchasing the books and reviewing them, too. Libraries are great though. I wish people turned to them instead of pirating sites.

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  6. Right as usual, Kelly - a freebie is nice as an intro, but really, writers deserve to be paid for their work! And I will always be grateful for libraries because they give us a choice. Besides, ours has downloadable books now, so that helps keep the costs down. Thanks for bringing this up.

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    1. Exactly. Now that libraries carry ebooks too, there is no reason not to get books there. Even ebook-only titles can be found at the library. :)

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  7. I want to shout "Amen," Kelly! I agree with you completely. And I am one of those loyal readers who buy anything certain authors publish, so I know that once you hook a reader, it is often a long-term thing. Thanks for giving us all something to think about!

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  8. Totally preaching to the choir here! This reminds me of a Twitter exchange I saw the other day. An author was tweeting about his book being free AND HE TAGGED THE LOCAL INDIE BOOKSTORE. The book store was quick to reply, "Please don't tag us when offering free books. We make our living when people pay for books." I applauded them! What was he thinking?! Did he expect them to start stocking his book? Retweet his free offer?

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    1. Wow! I agree with you, Dianne. We need bookstores. They are amazing places and played a huge role in my childhood.

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  9. I've had the same thing happen to me, Kelly. The business climate is such that free is the new norm, which makes it impossible to be a fiction writer and still make a living. You need to have many books and many series before perma free can work to your benefit, and in my case, with contemporary fiction, it's not usually the case.

    You are right that if readers wanted free they used to go to the library, which is great, especially because there were only a limited amount of copies and the library had already bought the book. Now, it's out of control, and I think the industry is hurting because of it.

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    1. I agree. People need to get back to using libraries if they can't afford to purchase books. Otherwise they are going to destroy an industry that means so much to so many of us.

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    2. First, I agree with what you're saying, Kelly.

      BUT we need to remember than not everyone's library system is the same, and some update and respond to their patrons easier, or quicker, than others for various reasons.

      Yes, all libraries strive toward this ideal, but how it manifests will vary depending on where you live.

      Also, there are some people who

      Since my taste in books are more obscure, or "Old School" than most I know, I often have to buy what I read out of necessity.

      Also, how you read can play into how much you can feasibly use your library.

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    3. I have a few libraries by me, and you're correct; they aren't all equal. Maybe our libraries need to be improved.

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  10. My wife is one of those who will read free books and then seek out the authors other books and purchase them. Me...heck...I end up purchasing a book even though I get a copy for free. I strongly believe in supporting artists (which is why I don't steal music or movies), and one of the best ways to do that is to buy the book! :)

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    1. I'm with you! I'll purchase a copy for my shelf even if I got a free review copy. It's all about supporting each other and the industry.

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  11. I agree...I admit free gets me to download books sometimes but I always take the time to check out what else they've had and purchase them!

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    1. We all love free books. Why wouldn't we? But like you, we should then purchase other books by that author if we enjoyed the free one. AND we should take the time to review the free book. It's a nice way to thank the author for offering the book for free.

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  12. This was very well said! I love my local library! I also buy books. Of course, getting a book for free is always a bonus- but I don't mind paying for them either. I just want to read so many that I can't buy them all. That is where the library comes in. :)
    ~Jess

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    1. Libraries are great. Most people can't afford to but every book they want to read, so the library is a good solution.

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  14. I believe artists in general are disrespected. We hear things like "great exposure" rather than "I'll pay you what you deserve." We're in an electronic atmosphere where you can download music illegally and watch movies illegally, too. It's a shame. I always buy the book--which shows my reviews as "verified purchase"--or borrow it under my Amazon Prime account, as well as get them through Smashwords or other sites. The only free books I get are review copies or giveaway wins, and freebies on Amazon and Smashwords.

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    1. Same here, Medeia. Recently someone offered me a pirated movie and I said no. Actually I quoted what it says at the start of every movie: "Pirating is not a victimless crime." The person's response was, "I don't think these actors are hurting for money." That's not the point. Acting is their job, like writing is mine. People should be paid for the work they do.

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  15. The audacity of some ppl is really amazing some times. And not in a good way... Here recently, I don't even enter for book giveaways, unless I know it's something I absolutely want to read, and can read in a timely manner and leave a review. I feel guilty over the books I've won that still sit unread, b/c of time issues, or the uncertainty that it's not really my thing.

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    1. I'm very picky about entering giveaways for the same reason, Leandra. I want the winner to be someone who will read and review the book. If a book isn't one I have to have, I don't enter the giveaway. And even then, I'll most likely buy the book or request it from the library.

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  16. I think freebies are a smart marketing tool. When people like, they come back for more AND they recommend to their friends and family. You can't go wrong there!

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    1. And that's how it should be, but when readers expect all your work to be free... :(

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  17. I go back and forth on this topic. On the one hand, I see people's point about free devaluing books and I've given away thousands of books without so much as a single review in return, much less sales on my other books. On the other hand, I find it a useful gauge of my books' marketability. I discovered there are some books I literally can't give away - even priced as free, few people download them, so I stopped trying to market them and concentrated on others. I also had the best sales on one book I've ever had after a free giveaway - the day after the giveaway ended, I sold more books than I had sold in the three months' prior. So I do think free has its place, but I think the marketing boost that free used to have is diminishing, and getting smaller every day. At the end of the day, free is really only guaranteed valuable in one instance; giving away book one of a series to get more readers to buy book two. Everything else is a crap shoot. Great article!

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    1. Agreed. In theory it should work well for both the author and the reader. I've seen great sales following freebies and I've seen virtually no benefit on others. You just never know.

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  18. I've been thinking about this, too, ever since reading discussions of it on Gina's blog. From a newbie author's viewpoint, I understand the need to make one book free to attract more readers and gain exposure <-- not a nice phrase for some, I know, but it's a realistic one. If I (a reader) comes across a book by an author I've never heard of or read, a free book (either borrowed from the library or from a giveaway) would encourage me to give her writing a try. If I like her work, I'll go on and purchase her next book or borrow more from the library. YET I will never expect all her works to be made free because I honestly like buying books.

    Something else that came to mind from a reader's perspective: I have downloaded books for free from Amazon because they sound interesting. So far, I have read about 30% of them. For the rest, I know I will get to them but they aren't my priority reads. As for ebooks I've bought with my hard-earned money that I don't even spend on Starbucks anymore (lol SB coffee is really expensive), I have read 100% of them. So the pro of going free for a book is so that more readers will come to know about you and your books. The pro of NOT offering your book for free is that for those who do buy, you know they will most definitely read it. :)

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