Losing Money—Gaining Readers? And a Giveaway!

Lately there’s been a big discussion on writers’ boards and blogs about the practice of giving away books for free. Since the advent of independent publishing, many writers have posted free books, some for a certain period as a promotion and some permanently. Some writers put up a free short story that they hope will introduce readers to their series. Often when a writer has a new book coming out, they’ll offer their first book free either for a little while or permanently, especially if it’s the first in a series.

This has been a standard of the publishing industry for a long time—giving books away. “Get the books in readers’ hands,” they’ll say. “Then word of mouth will take over.” There are bags of free books at conferences, books sent out to reviewers, contests. They say it works. They also say advertising doesn’t work so much. The selling of books is apparently a mysterious business.

Then there have been the price wars between the New York houses and Amazon, lately just Hachette and Amazon. eBooks have changed pricing structure. I took a promotion workshop from a long-time publishing professional and he stressed the importance of promotions—not so much free books, but pricing your books up there with the big 5 (4?) New York houses so you don’t look like a bargain cheapy. Selling a novel at $1.99 invites bad reviews, he claimed. At least it invites readers to think of your novel as something they picked up at a discount store.

Established writers say the practice of giving away free books and selling at a steep discount is undermining the whole industry. Readers expect to read for free now. They won’t buy a book at say $6.99. Some won’t go above $3.99. How are writers expected to make a living this way, goes the argument.

Others say that giving away books helps them get readers. They cite a give-away that led to an uptick in readers who then read their way through all their titles. The market is flooded with indie books and authors are fighting to even get noticed.

What is your opinion? Freebies or not? $1.99 or $5.99?

In the spirit of this topic, I’ve decided to give away a free copy of my newly released audiobook, The Star Family, to the best comment today. A secret spiritual group. A recurring dream. A 400-year-old ritual that must be completed before it is too late.


Author: Theresa Crater

Award-winning author Theresa Crater brings ancient temples, lost civilizations and secret societies back to life in her visionary fiction. In The Star Family, a Gothic mansion holds a secret spiritual group and a 400-year-old ritual that must be completed to save the day. The shadow government search for ancient Atlantean weapons in the fabled Hall of Records in Under the Stone Paw and fight to control ancient crystals sunk beneath the sea in Beneath the Hallowed Hill. Other novels include School of Hard Knocks and God in a Box, both exploring women in historical context. Her short stories explore ancient myth brought into the present day. The most recent include “The Judgment of Osiris” and “Bringing the Waters.” Theresa has also published poetry and a baker’s dozen of literary criticism. Currently, she teaches meditation, as well as creative writing and British lit.

13 thoughts on “Losing Money—Gaining Readers? And a Giveaway!”

  1. I certainly have discovered many new authors through sites that have giveaways. I may seldom win but I’ve been following several writers via this intro. I especially enjoy sites that feature interviews with the authors.
    Personal appearances (like panel discussions and book signings) have almost always made a good impression on me and led to my buying the next book.


  2. My own opinion is that the ebook is the new mass market paperback. As such, I’m not likely to spend upwards of $10 on an ebook (I have on very rare occasions, but those were already loved authors). And with my shelves groaning under the weight of physical books, well, I buy more digital.

    One of my favorite indie authors kicked her prices up. I bought anyway. But I’m an established reader (of course, the price is still not high enough to discourage me if I was a new reader). I would be a little leery of trying a brand new author at $1.99 (for a novel); then again, if I hate it, I’m only out $1.99.

    As with the commenter above, I find a lot of new authors through blogs (and giveaways I don’t usually win).

    I think free can work if used strategically. But you have to have a plan.


  3. Thanks, Jagjhd and Mary. It’s true that contests, giveaways and panels can introduce us to new writers. I like free, too. I feel the same about $1.99, Mary, both a little leery, but if the title and blurb strike me, why not?


  4. As an author, I know how hard it is for authors to make any money off their years of work. But I also know that 99 cent books can sell fast and get your book into the hands of so many more readers. Readers who will also leave reviews. Mine is currently $5.99 and languishing in sales. It’s such a tough business.


    1. Kimberly & Diane — This is a tough business. A low price might be a great book. You’re right, Diane, that we need to know what we’re trying to accomplish with a promotion. You have a good business head as well as being an excellent writer.


  5. I find that I read the books that I specifically seek out, not the ones that pop up at a low price and I buy. That by no means is meant to suggest that low price = poor quality! But as a reader, I depend on my mood to determine my next read.

    I have run giveaways that have netted me reviews and readers. I do think giveaways are a valid way to gain attention in a crowded market, but you do need to have a strategy and understand what it is you want to accomplish with the promotion.


  6. This is all very interesting! I don’t know what to say about price but, as a reader, I buy paperbacks almost exclusively. Is that weird? No e-books, no hardcovers (unless the book won’t come out in paperback eventually). I tend to seek out what’s been put on my to-read list over time due to recommendations from friends or reviews, BUT I often take a chance on an author I haven’t read before if the book pops up as “people who bought THIS also bought THAT” and it looks intriguing or if I see friends on goodreads reading it.


  7. Pricing is a complicated topic. My first publisher wanted to price my second book at $28–15 years ago! I thought that was so high for those times that it would frighten readers away.


  8. Amazon’s algorithms are helpful. Once in a while, they’re strange, but I do browse then occasionally.

    $28 fifteen years ago is high, Sue!


  9. Great post, tough topic. I do occasionally try out new authors via $1.99 or $2.99 promotions, but I also usually get what I pay for out of these. However, I’m insulted when Barnes & Noble wants me to pay $12.99+ for an ebook. I wish it was all going to the author, because then I wouldn’t mind so much (writing a book is hard work!). I’ve won a few giveaways that got me started on new series (Heather Blake’s is one). I think, as so many mentioned already, that a strategy is the key, targeted use of various promotions.


  10. Torn, so torn. It’s a thorny topic. I see the point of freebies being counter-productive, and am coming around to the idea that while a lot of folks may download free books, many don’t ever read them. It does accomplish one thing though – it gets some name recognition for the new author. And then, some do actually read the books and a great fan relationship can be born. On the other hand, charging something, even $0.99, makes sense from the standpoint that people value what they pay for and may (note the may) be more apt to read what they bought. So, is that the win/win? I don’t know. I think every author has to decide for him/herself. With my indies, I like to offer the previous book free, and then do the new book for $0.99 about six months after launch.


    1. I agree that $12.99 for an ebook is too much, Pamela. Interesting point that people might download a freebie, but not read it. Yet your name gets out there. Thanks for sharing your strategy, Kait.


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