Think Twice Before Giving Away Your Entire Book Online For Free

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I’ve read lots of different stories online about authors giving away free copies of their ebooks to try to boost print book sales. Some, mostly from traditional publishers, say doing this increased sales (but nobody seems to want to give out the real numbers) while others say doing this hurts sales.

I thought I’d share my thoughts on this with you to help you determine if you should give away your book, or a significant portion of it, for free.

FREE EXCERPT OR HUGE PIECE OF THE BOOK?

In the past, we have offered free ebooks (as a test) and 75% of books for free. Neither one increased sales of the print versions of the books, and certainly not the ebook versions.

Most people buy a book after hearing about it through the marketing activities performed by the author (most often for self-published books) and/or by the publisher. If someone hears about a book, and is interested enough to click to read more, they are probably in a buying mood.

Giving people too much to read when they’re in that buying mood, especially in today’s fast-paced Internet world, can actually kill the deal. You see, if you give someone several chapters (or an entire book) to read, they’re still going to be reading the file tomorrow, or next week…if they even remember they’ve downloaded it, which will be long after their initial buying mood sparked them to click. Computer files are hidden among thousands of other files on our computers. I probably have hundreds of excerpts and “free” books on my computer that I’ve completely forgotten about. If you download free ebooks, you’re probably the same way.

If I have purchased a book, I am actually more likely to read it because I have invested my own money in it. More on “perceived value” below. Also, if you’ve purchased a physical book, it’s probably sitting on your dresser, or your coffee table, where you can see it and, of course, remember you actually have it.

If you offer just a short excerpt of a book to potential readers, that should be enough to entice a book lover to click to buy immediately. Encouraging the customer to wait to buy your book means you have very likely lost that sale. It would be like a person coming to a bookstore to buy a book, and instead being handed a disk with a sample chapter of a book on it. They can only read it when they’re on their computer, and, since it’s not right there on their nightstand, staring them in the face, they will likely forget about it by tomorrow, especially since it was free. Another analogy would be a person going to a store to buy a green blouse. The clerk instead gives the potential customer a swath of soft green cloth, and says, “Here, try this and, if you like it, come back tomorrow or next week and buy the entire top.” The customer is probably going to forget all about that top by the next day, and certainly by the next week.

I agree that authors should give potential book buyers a sample, but it should not be so much to read that the customer will get distracted in the meantime, and, thus, never return to click that buy button. Once somebody who isn’t on your email list leaves your website, they’re probably not coming back.

DON’T GIVE AWAY YOUR GOLDEN NUGGETS!

Our best-selling book in the history of WritersWeekly.com is QUERY LETTERS THAT WORKED! Real Queries That Landed $2K+ Writing Assignments. I spent months researching and writing that book and I paid all the contributors for the query letters that are featured. I do publish the introduction to the book for free online, as an excerpt. I do *not* offer any of the query letters for free. Let’s be honest here. Some people might think seeing just one really successful query letter would be all they need to create one of their own. That may be true but the query letters in the book cover a variety of genres and types of publications. The book is good and it’s helped numerous writers learn how to sell their ideas to magazines. Why should I encourage potential buyers to NOT buy my book by giving away the best parts of the book for free? If I did, I know my sales would be MUCH lower. The query letters are the golden nuggets of the book and I worked too hard on that book, and invested too much money, to give away the nuggets for free.

THE ENTIRE BOOK FOR FREE?

Giving someone an entire ebook for free, especially for unknown authors, gives the potential buyer zero incentive to buy your book. Why pay for something (by an unknown author) that’s completely free, especially in this economy? Some authors think doing this will generate lots of press (it won’t – too many authors have done it before so only well-known authors get big press for this now). Others think giving away their book will increase their readership and help sales of future books. Yeah, this might happen…but people who download free files but don’t buy the actual book, or send the author any money at all, aren’t usually the type of readers that appreciate artists enough to promote them, or even to follow them and buy their future books. Kind readers, the type that tell their friends about their favorites, want to help authors so they can continue their craft.

Bestselling authors with faithful fans can make money this way but new authors with no following aren’t likely to generate future sales by giving away their work for free online.

Since more people are happy to buy and read only ebooks now, there’s even more of an incentive not to give away an entire ebook for free. Again, if someone wants to read your book badly enough, and if they are happy with ebooks, in my opinion, they should pay for your work.

YOU MUST VALUE YOUR OWN WORK

Some authors don’t care about making money. They just want to be read. This, in my opinion, is true vanity publishing. I don’t have a problem with it but I guarantee, publishing books that way won’t pay the bills! I am not one of these authors. My opinion is this – If you want to read my book, you should pay for it. I spent months working on each of my books, and invested significant amounts of money in them. I am not a charity. I still have four children living at home, with one in college. The oldest is about to go back to college. I can’t afford to give away my work for free. Even if I could, I would not devalue my work by giving it away for free.

PERCEIVED VALUE

And, finally, there is perceived value, which is what a consumer thinks a product is worth based on the price of that product. In South Carolina last month, I bought a sweater for $20. When we were walking one day, my sweater, which was draped over Mason’s stroller, fell to the ground and got run over. It’s a white sweater and it’s been ruined with tire marks. Big deal, I thought. It was only $20. The next day, I found the EXACT same sweater for sale at another store, this time in New York City, for $59. I tell ya, I’d have been MUCH more upset about that sweater if I’d purchased the $59 one rather than the $20 one, even though they were the exact same sweater – same company, same color, identical in every way.

If your book is free, some people will assume it’s not worth anything. I mean, if you don’t even value your own work enough to charge for it, why should anybody else value it? Likewise, if your book is priced at, say, $3, many people will automatically assume your book is of a lesser quality than a book priced at $14.95. Pricing a book too low (or giving it away for free) can give potential readers a “cheap” perceived value and, thus, hurt sales.

I hope some of these points have helped you make a decision about whether to give away a portion, or your entire book, for free.

As a postscript, I bet some people will email me saying that Amazon is giving away Kindle ebooks for free. If they’re doing it, it must be working, right? Not so fast. Amazon promotes their “free” ebooks as a way to get people to buy a Kindle, which currently costs $259! If someone buys a Kindle to get “free” ebooks…those ebooks were FAR from FREE!

Angela Hoy is the co-owner of WritersWeekly.com and BookLocker. WritersWeekly.com is the free marketing emag for writers that features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday. According to attorney Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print, BookLocker is one of the top-rated POD publishers in the industry.