Is it a good idea to give away your books for free

I have no idea, to be honest. Just like about any other aspect of book promotion. What I know for sure is that it is worth trying. There is no other way to check if some particular method to target your potential readers works or not. Books are not hot baguettes. The strategy for finding customers for them is not as straightforward and clear.

As usual, I won’t give you any advice to follow, but I feel like it might be useful for others if I shared my experience. When I was looking for information about book promotion, I only seemed to stumble upon copyrighted articles that rewrote the same ideas and offered no added value at all.

So, here are my observations and conclusions after four free book promotion campaigns.

1.       Compare your results with zero.

“I’ve always measured my results beside the number from where I started – absolute zero.” This sentence was an instant hook for me in the book “Consistent Creative Content” by Lee Hall. This is what I always told myself before starting something new and repeated in the process when things got tough.

When you look for your first job, you don’t ask for a high salary, executive position, and bonuses. When you look for your first readers, you don’t ask for the return of your investments.

Among indie authors, there exists an opinion that if you give your work for free, you don’t have enough respect for your work. They say that they invested money, time, and effort into writing their books, and it would be humiliating and wasteful to give them away for free.

I see the logic in it. It is not easy to wrap your head around the fact that something you have invested time and effort in – not talking about your whole heart and soul – in the eyes of others is worthless.

The thing is that while an employer owes you at least the minimum salary in accordance with the local law, readers owe you nothing. No one has an obligation to read your books, and if you don’t give them a good incentive, they won’t. Nowadays, when hundreds of thousands or even millions of books are published every year, an attractive cover and an intriguing description are not enough to make readers buy a book unless it is a celebrity’s memoir or the next hit from a famous author. We can feel indignation at the injustice of it all, but it won’t change the reality. When nobody knows about them, it is the author who wants people to read their books, not readers seeking their books.

The conclusion I’ve made for myself is that I’d better offer my book – at least one of them – for free to find my readers than proudly mourn over the money I paid to release it into the world.

2.       Free isn’t really free

Almost everything in life is about money. No, I’m not a die-hard skeptic, and yes, I’m aware that you can’t buy love or friendship. Still, there are numerous other extremely significant things that, alas, only money can buy. Those who had to deal with having to take care of elderly relatives, diagnose a strange health condition, or look for a different solution in a difficult life situation, know that in such cases money does help tremendously. It won’t buy you health and immortality, of course, but it will assist in going through tough things with your dignity intact and your mental well-being less shattered.

So, offering your book for free is not enough. You have to place the information about it being offered for free where people who might be interested to read it will see it. Otherwise, even your generous gift will be overlooked and end up in the abyss of thousands of unseen titles.

Here is a practical example.

As a result of my first-ever free book promotion campaign, I got 30 downloads. As a result of the next one when I got overly excited and made it really huge, over three thousand people downloaded “Neglected Merge”.

It’s true that a lot of those who sign up for free book newsletters download so many books that they’ll never read all of them. And it’s also true that after such campaigns you won’t get bombarded by hundreds of reviews/rates on Amazon and Goodreads. I’d read in one of those copyrighted articles about book promotion that for every fifty downloaded books you get one review. Well, in my case it wasn’t true. From that particular campaign “Neglected Merge” got maybe 5-6 reviews/rates, some only on Amazon, while others solely on Goodreads. But I guess it heavily depends on book genre and other factors.

The main conclusion I’ve made from my experience with free book promotion campaigns is that every little helps. And again, as I said earlier – a few reviews may seem insignificant only until you compare them to zero.

I don’t make huge campaigns anymore with many book promo providers. I’ve decided to make one every other month, combining free book promotion for book one in the trilogy with Kindle Countdown Deal for two others, offering them for 0.99p/c.

3.       Readers might not appreciate your generosity

And while they don’t have to, it still stings to receive 3, 2, and 1-star reviews/rates from those who got your book for free.

It might not sound comforting enough, and I myself rant and complain for at least a day after I receive one of such “gifts” from unhappy readers, but it helps a little if you know why it happens. To change your reality, you have to make peace with the general one first.

When you offer something for free, wider groups of people are likely to take it irrespective of whether they really like or need it. So, a lot of people will download your book. Those who aren’t really interested in your genre. Those who usually read different types of books. Those who simply liked the cover. The list goes on and on. The main thing we have to understand is that these people who spoil your pretty rating by giving your book not enough stars didn’t want to hurt you. They didn’t think about you having spent months (years, or even decades) writing your book, and then going through a few (a dozen) circles of hell querying agents to get your book published, and then… Indie authors know the story, I’m sure. They simply didn’t like the book. Full stop. End of story. They pressed those symbols on their Kindles and forgot about it. And that’s what you – we – should do every time it happens.

My general conclusion after four free book promotion campaigns is that you shouldn’t stick to just one method of promoting your work. Even if you, unlike me, live close to your potential audience and can organise meetings with your readers in libraries, bookstores, during book fairs, etc. Diversity is still what works best.

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