I have mixed feelings about self-published books being given away free of charge. This practice seems to devalue all the hard work of their authors, and can perpetuate the belief that they are inferior to books from traditional publishers. Although a free ebook will usually get far more downloads than one which carries a price tag, many of these will be from undiscerning readers who are not really interested in the content and may never even look at it at all. But in some circumstances, offering free books is worthwhile.
Some of the authors who write about self-help, educational or spiritual topics have altruistic motives, and would rather reach the widest possible audience than make any money. My little Bach flower book, which has always been free, continues to get thousands of downloads per year.
Turning to the profit motive, free books can be a “loss leader” to promote sales of other titles. This easy-to-use method of marketing is particularly recommended in the case of a series; readers who download the first one for free, and enjoy it, may go on to purchase the later ones too. For the reasons given above I am reluctant to use this strategy, though I may change my mind one day. But when sales of my own fiction books were flagging after Christmas, I decided to experiment with reducing their prices: currently the three novellas are just 0.99 USD each, and the box set is 2.99 USD. Details can be found on my Smashwords and Amazon author pages.
A variant of free promotion which I do like using is the Goodreads Giveaway programme, in which the print version of my Three Novellas will be included until 11th March. ( Click here to enter the draw for a free copy.) Winners in this programme are encouraged to post reviews on the Goodreads site, and they often do – hopefully these will be positive reviews, though even negative ones are better for publicity purposes than none at all.
Lastly, there is the option of sending free copies to journals and book blogs for review. One of the things I miss from my traditional publishing days is having this done for me, and I have only just started to explore it in my indie publishing career. I know that many professional reviewers are overwhelmed with submissions and cannot deal with them all, so I prefer to approach those who will accept ebooks. Sending out print copies without any promise of a response can prove a costly and futile exercise.
I’ve just completed my first ‘Goodreads Giveaway’. My experience may be of interest to new indie authors who are looking for ways of marketing their books.
Goodreads.com is an Amazon-related site for both readers and writers. Giveaways, which are only for printed books and not for ebooks, work like a lottery. The author undertakes to send out a certain number of copies, interested readers apply to receive one, and the winners are selected by Goodreads. It is up to the author to choose how many copies to offer, how long to run the promotion, and which countries of the world to include.
I did a week-long promotion, offering five copies of my novella Carmen’s Roses to readers in the US or UK. I was pleased to find that about 500 people entered the draw, and about 250 added my book to their ‘want to read’ shelf. My book is a print on demand title, published through CreateSpace. I sent out the books to the winners as ‘gifts’ from the Amazon website, because this was a faster and cheaper option than having them shipped to my home in New Zealand and then shipping them back to America. One of the winners has already posted a 5-star review, and seven paid copies of the book were ordered during the promotion period – hopefully there are more reviews and sales to come.
This venture has not made any financial profit so far, and I have realised in retrospect that I would probably have got just as many entries if I had offered just one copy instead of five. However, although I tend to be phobic about marketing, I found it quite interesting and enjoyable. It has provided some free advertising and, because I am able to view the profiles of the people who requested my book, given me access to demographic information which may be useful for targeting any future marketing campaigns.
I know that other authors have reported different outcomes from their free promotions – some much better than mine and others much worse. My own results have confirmed what is probably obvious, that the easiest way to reach a large readership is to offer free books, but that free promotions do not necessarily lead on to more paid sales. This is also what I have found when running free promotions of ebooks on Smashwords and on Amazon kdp. Although for reasons discussed in a previous post I am still reluctant to make all my work free, I have just started another Goodreads Giveaway of my novella, which is set in New Zealand, for local readers. This will obviously attract less interest, because New Zealand has only a small population and Goodreads is not so well known here, so anyone who enters should have a high chance of winning! For details, click here.