Once upon a time, I gave all my ebooks away for free. It didn’t cost me anything financially to do this, and it was great for exposure. I had to charge something through Amazon, so I priced the Kindle books at $0.99. Again, great for exposure. However, I learned there was a downside to both of these as long-term plans. And here they are….
1. It sends a message to other people that you de-value your work because you fail to put a decent price tag on it. When you have ‘free’ or $0.99 (esp. for a full-length novel), people assume the author doesn’t think much of their work. After all, if the author thinks their work is worth something, they’ll charge for it, right? Things like generosity tend to get discarded because people (overall) don’t give away something they value. They charge for it.
2. It attracts a lot of the wrong people; therefore, you risk a lot of 1 and 2 star reviews from unsatisfied customers. People love a good deal, but the problem is, there’s that saying, “You get what you pay for,” and deep down, a lot of people take this to heart. They assume if it’s free or cheap, there’s something wrong with it, so when they are reading your book, they’re combing through it, looking for errors. This is why they can write a review like this: on page such and such, the author put ‘rapid dog’ instead of ‘rabid dog’. This book was poorly edited! I don’t know why this author sells as many books as she does. She’s awful. 2 stars. Think I’m kidding. I got that review on one of my own books. I since corrected the error. It would have been nicer of her to email me and tell me about the typo, but I don’t think she had the spirit to help me out. I think her purpose was to criticize. By the way, on the same book, another person reviewed it on a different site and said this: in spite of the one typo I found about a ‘rapid dog’, this book was well edited. It’s not a literary masterpiece, but it’s clean and neat. Well polished. 4 stars. Who do you, as the author, believe? The person who said you can edit well or the person who said you can’t? By the way, romance books aren’t supposed to be ‘literary masterpieces’ so that is never my aim when I write them.
The bottom line is that people who only go for freebies tend to be some of the most fickle cheapoes I’ve ever met. They aren’t grateful for anything and spend the bulk of their time complaining because they expect everything to be perfect. I’m sure we can all think of one person who fits this category, and it doesn’t have to be in relation to your books. It can be that crazy aunt you have who has money but lives off of crackers in a rundown apartment, claiming she’s broke and can’t spare a dime to help anyone out–but she’ll take any money offered to her. The quickest way to be miserable is to decide you’ll never be a giver. And in my experience, miserable people love to spread their misery to others.
3. If you ever decide it’s time to start treating your writing as a career and put a decent price tag on your books, you will get a lot of complaints. These complaints range from a ‘My husband doesn’t have a job’ (but this person can still afford the internet–I wonder how that one works and instead of getting up to find a job to help out, this person is sitting around reading books) to ‘If it’s not a bestseller, I’m not buying it. No offense.’
Honestly, this is what I believe. If people really value your work, they’ll give up a mocha or a happy meal to buy your book. I really don’t buy any of these excuses. I get the message. I’m good enough to read for free but not good enough to buy. Or, ‘I’ll spend my precious little $0.99 on you, but forget anything more than that.’ I’d love for these people to call up their electric companies or go to the grocery store and insist that they get the product they want for free because of ‘fill in excuse’. Do you think those places are going to say, ‘Okay. Here you go!’ I’m guessing not.
4. People might download your books, but will they read them? The percentage of books that are more likely to be read are those people had to buy. I’ve received quite a few emails in the past along the lines of, ‘I downloaded all your books when they were free and never read them. My hard drive crashed. Help! Can I get them for free again?’ Had they taken the time to read the books when those books were on their hard drive, they wouldn’t be stuck in their current predicament, would they? It’s easy to click and download a free book, but it’s harder to remember to go back and read it. (And if anyone wonders, I ignore those emails. If they are interested enough, they’ll buy the books. It’s not my fault they didn’t read them sooner, nor am I going to get into a verbal exchange about my right to charge for my books while they try to convince me to give them my books for free. I see that as a useless argument, which means it’s a waste of my time.)
On the other side, if you paid for something, you feel the pain of losing that money, so you’re more likely to read it. I think a dollar amount = appreciation for the product. When something is given to people, do they appreciate it? Or is it only after they work for it and earn it, do they truly understand and appreciate what they have? I’m thinking of the spoiled little kid who had everything handed to them vs. the kid who had to do chores to earn the money to buy their toys. I think the same applies to people and books.
Okay. That all being said, I do think free and $0.99 are good strategies. However, there needs to be a strategy. Here’s what I recommend:
1. Limited time. Do these for a short length of time. How short? Well, that’s going to be up to you, but I’d say more than three months is probably too long. I’m going to use $0.99 for all of my new releases this year for one month. After the one month is up, the book goes to normal price.
2. Free for shorter works. There’s no sense in giving out a full-length novel for free if you have something shorter to offer. Plus, you have a better chance of being read if your work is short. I’m thinking under 10,000 words. If all you have are full-length novel, choose your best one or the first in the series to put up for free. If you have a whole bunch of books, then have two or three free. On Smashwords, I currently offer two free novellas for romance, the first two novellas in my sci-fi series, and two short stories for free. At last check, I have about 23 titles up. Now, on my first draft blog, I do offer the books I wrote on there for free on my blog, but people have to go to that blog to get them. I am thinking of offering them off my website as well. But that is only because I wrote the first draft for the world to see. Those books, by the way, do not sell better than the ones I don’t have up there which is another reason why I question whether having a free book = more sales of that particular book. This year, I plan to publish six to eight books, and only two will be up on that blog as free reads by this time next year. Those books are purely for exposure purposes.
So use free as an ‘exposure’ purpose but select which book(s) to do this with great care.
3. Price competitively. I do base my pricing decisions on JA Konrath’s model. He prices his full-length novels at $2.99, and from what I’ve seen, those are about 70,000 words or so. If I’m wrong, correct me. However, from my knowledge, he doesn’t have a book 100,000 words long, and I think that is worth at least another $1. So I price my full-length books from 50,000 to 80,000 words at $2.99. Anything higher is $3.99. That’s still a good deal. You could sacrifice one mocha from Starbucks and buy one of my books. You can skip McDonald’s and buy one of my books. (Currently, I don’t have anything for $1.99, but I do have a couple $0.99 reads that range in the 14,000 to 20,000 word range. I would price a book at $1.99 that hit the 20,000 something words to 49,000. I just don’t have anything that qualifies.) Oh, and erotic romances are automatically bumped a $1 or $2 more because that genre typically sells better at higher prices.
The bottom line is you want to be competitive with other authors as far as pricing your books. (Don’t be competitive in other ways. ;))