Thursday 20 December 2012

To Go Free Or Not To Go Free? That Is The....

I've read quite a lot lately about whether or not one should offer one's books for free. Many people feel that to do this cheapens not only one's own work but also the market as a whole.  There are many arguments for and against, and I daresay you might have seen one or two of them yourself.  I was reading one on the blog of Geoff West yesterday....

...which you might like to look at, too, as both the blog and its comments feature both schools of thought.

What do I think?

About three years ago, when I had written much but had not yet heard of Amazon KDP or even Kindles, I was browsing my local library.  I came across a book entitled 'Mutiny On The Bounty' by John Boyne, which I imagined, rightly, to be a fictional account based on the true story.  I love this genre anyway, and have always been fascinated by the tale of this famous mutiny, so I got the book out.

It was marvellous, unputdownable.  I then went on to read the rest of John Boyne's books, and extol his genius far and wide. I will add that he was good enough to accept my friend request on Facebook, and seems to be a thoroughly nice chap.  

Now, John Boyne is an internationally acclaimed author, anyway, and you could argue that he didn't need my approval. Indeed, he could probably live without mine alone.  However, the approval of thousands like me, as a group of people who love his work as much as I do, has got him where he is today.  I probably wouldn't have bought 'Mutiny' if I'd seen it in a shop. But I had the chance to try for free the books of this author about whom I knew nowt.  I wonder how many of his other devotees discovered him in the the same way?

Here's another story.  A couple of years ago, my sister read a book that had been a free giveaway in some magazine; it was called 'The Big Picture' by Douglas Kennedy.  She had never heard of Douglas Kennedy, and nor had I.  She read it, then phoned me and said "You MUST read this book!"  Since then, she and I have both bought and read all ten of his books, and extolled his virtues ... ditto the above, re John Boyne (minus the Facebook bit!)

I discovered Emily Barr in a second hand shop.  Well, not her in person, but her book 'Plan B', for about a quid.  Need I say more?

Speaking of Emily Barr, I was delighted to see that my book 'The Other Side' now features in the 'Customers also bought' lists of several of her books on Amazon!  How cool is that?  Now, this wouldn't have happened if I had never put my first book, 'You Wish', out there for a three day free promotion.  I'd still be selling about six books a month, like I was when I first started!  The free download opportunity gave people the opportunity to try out my novels without spending a penny.  

Yes, I do value my work.  I value it so much that I want as many people to read it as possible, which is why giving out free copies is something I am happy to do.  It's only the same as having them in a library.  Of course I want to make money from writing.  I have international bestseller fantasies, the same as anyone!  But the main reason I write is because I love it, and I want other people to love what I do.  The more people who read my books, the more are likely to do so.

Oh, here's 'The Other Side', by the way!

What do you think about all this?

Writing six weeks later....  I just wanted to say one thing, though....  since Christmas the amount of books that are on free promotion at any one time seems to have quadrupled - which makes me wonder if anyone actually need pay for a book ever again.  There's an air of desperation about it ~ writers seem to be putting a book out on sale for a month, then, when it doesn't become an instant bestseller, shoving it on for free, in the hope that it will boost post-promotion sales.  Thus, the free promotion no longer has the effect it used to, because everyone's doing it.  Ah, well.  All markets flood, eventually, I suppose.  My thoughts on the rest of it, as a principle, still stand, though, and I will still put my books on for free from time to time.


  1. Hi Terry, As always I really enjoyed your blog - even when I don't entirely agree with what you say! Your argument makes complete sense, however, things change fast in the online world and I believe that what may have worked a year ago may not be so effective now. I have myself never suggested that giving books away for nothing 'belittles' us in any way - I have always believed that it has to be a personal choice, as I know you do. But I honestly think there are too many free books and the poor reader must be overwhelmed! I do offer free stuff - If people want to test-drive my work then they can download the first fifty pages from my website. I also run competitions from time to time. I think people buy your books because (judging from the reviews) you are a good writer and you have built up an online presence over time. I agree that building-up a momentum so that people want to recommend our books is very difficult.

    You have always been one of the most helpful people I've discovered on Twitter, and I value your opinion even when I disagree with it. Thanks for not posting a picture of Max ('I wanna tell you a story')Bygraves!

    All best wishes - Have a great Christmas and a Prosperous New Year!


  2. Thanks, Martin!

    I agree with much of what you say. What works well changes constantly, and many of the promotional options that worked so well a year ago do not work today - for instance, I don't think the free promotion has gives the book the same post free promo buzz that it used to because, as you say, there are so many free books out there - with enough push, it used to be easy to get a book into the top 20 in the free download chart. Now it's much harder. Also, Kindles everywhere are jam-packed with free ones they will never read!

    I'm not disputing that people read my books because I'm a good writer!!!!!! Ha ha! But my point is that they wouldn't have discovered them in the first place if I hadn't done a wildly successful free promotion about 9 months ago. Discoverability is what it's all about!

    I apologise for getting the Max Bygraves quote slightly wrong, and I wish you a happy Christmas and a prosperous new year, too! xxx

  3. Terry, good way to look at it. I agree with you and have found some authors I love through giveaways, authors I'd probably never have discovered otherwise. And I do go back and buy their other books. I know I've increased my readership since giving away my books.

  4. Ellis, absolutely! Thanks for reading and commenting, and I hope your current free promotion goes well!

  5. Yes, I agree with you Terry. And, astonishingly enough, I discovered Douglas Kennedy's 'Leaving the World' at the osteopath's waiting room, then went on to read all of his as you did, and similarly John Boyne in the library. Lots of books are friend recommendations, others arrive by pure chance. The more we put books in front of people, in libraries or whatever, the better chance we have to attract them.

    1. ps from below - I thought Leaving The World was the worst of D Kennedy's books, actually. I thought it went on and on a bit. I like The Job, The Moment, & The Pursuit of Happiness best. John Boyne, I frequently bore for the North East about!

  6. Too right, GDW! Someone tweeted to me today, no, I'm a professional, I don't work for free, and nor does anyone who is professional, too - or something like that! I suggested she actually read the post instead of just replying to the tweet, and consider how many 'professional' writers have books in libraries...!

  7. Thanks for this viewpoint, Terry! I've been following you for some time on twitter, so I know you've got the hang of a certain amount of book marketing. I've heard several pros & cons by now about offering books for free, but what I haven't heard anyone say is that it's really no different than borrowing a book from a library! And like you, once I decide I like an author, I will go on reading jags and get everything that person has ever written! So offering one book for free (or deeply discounted) at least give new audiences a "taste" of what you can do. Interesting perspective : )

  8. Thanks for the comment, Diane, and I love that you think I said something no-one has said before - hey, I'm original!!!! I'm so pleased you saw in this brief article what I wanted people to see. Thank you!! x