Is it worth it to offer your book for free?

This post is the fifty-third post in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

You have published your book and want readers and reviews. Many authors choose to offer their book for free. (It is one way to get reviews.) But should you offer your novel that you worked so hard to produce for nothing?

Well, that depends…

I have heard many authors claim that it is a bad idea to offer our books for free. We are diminishing what we do, they say. We worked hard on our novel so shouldn’t we expect to get paid? Are we setting a precedent for readers who will now expect free books all the time? Are free books deterring them from actually buying books?

These are all valid concerns but from a marketing stand point offering a novel at no charge has its benefits. It allows readers to get a taste for your writing without them having to risk any of their money. Your hope is that if they like your free book and purchase your other novels.

The keywords here are “other novels.” To make this an effective marketing strategy you need other novels for them to purchase. So offering the first novel in a trilogy for free would hopefully entice readers to fall in love with your series and buy the next two books.

Basically, this is a sound economic principle. You offer one book as a “loss leader” because you will be making your money by selling your other novels. Many authors have successfully increased their readership with this “loss leader” strategy though some authors have noted that they don’t make enough money to make up for the books they’ve given away. And others have said that offering a book for free only boosts sales for a short period.

Be warned that if you are offering a book for free, you may not see immediate results in your sales of other books or reviews of your current free offer. If the person has downloaded a lot of free books, it may take them months to get around to reading yours – if they ever do.

Quite simply you will never know if the thousands of downloads of your free books are actually being read. People simply cannot turn down something that is free and sometimes download more books than they can read. I have seen numerous comments by readers supporting this.

Of course, you still may reap some benefit, even if they don’t read your book. Every time they open their e-reader and scroll through their books, they will see your name and title. Maybe later while searching on the Internet they come across one of your books and recognize your name. They may not remember where they saw it before but perhaps that recognition will get them to buy your book.

But the readers you hope are downloading your free book are the kind that finds a new author and buys all of their books. These readers are hungry for new books and will keep coming back. By offering them that first book for free, you are building your readership with them. Many readers will pay for books when they find an author they love.

Still, it is hard to put your 80,000+ word novel out there and not get paid for your work. In this case, you might consider putting a short story or novella out there for free instead.

I did this with my short story The Search. I used one of the characters from my The Elemental trilogy and wrote a short tale of what happens before the trilogy – a prequel of sorts. I included the first chapter of Summoned (Book 1) and hope that readers who like my writing will buy the trilogy and then my other books.

So remember that offering a book for free can be good advertising and a way to gain readers. But, and this is very important, you MUST have other books available for readers to buy. Otherwise, you won’t see any benefit from offering your work for nothing.

Now I have offered several of my books for free on different times – some through KDP Select and some just as a promotion through Smashwords. Next week, I will go over my results from these free book promos.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

#26 – Avoiding Plot and Character Clichés

#27 – Novel Writing – Endings and Epilogues

#28 – Fantasy Novel Writing – World Building, Dragons, Magic and More

#29 – Finishing your First Draft

#30 – Your Second Draft and Beyond

#31 – Picking Stronger Words and Watching out for Homonyms

#32 – Omitting unnecessary words in your novel

#33 – Beta Reader, Proofreaders and Copy Editors

#34 – Knowing your grammar or at least using a grammar checking program

#35 – Using a Revision Outline during your Novel Editing

#36 – Editing Techniques: Taking a Break and Reading Aloud

#37 – Publishing Options for your book

#38 – Self-publishing an ebook decisions

#39 – Picking Your Book Title and Your Pen Name

#40 – Investing in an eye-catching book cover

#41 – Writing an awesome book blurb

#42 – Deciding on Front Matter for your novel

#43 – Deciding on Back Matter for your novel

#44 – Formatting your eBook for publication

#45 – Pricing your e-book

#46 – Selecting Categories and Keywords to improve your Novel’s visibility

#47 – Book Promotions: Cover Reveal and Pre-Orders

#48 – Publishing your novel with Amazon and KDP Select

#49 – Publishing your e-book with Smashwords or Draft2Digital

#50 – Marketing your E-book

#51 – Finding your Book’s Target Market

#52 – The importance of Book Reviews and how to get them

3 thoughts on “Is it worth it to offer your book for free?

  1. […] week, I wrote about offering your book for free as part of a promotion. I have done this numerous times and wanted to share my results with you. […]

  2. […] the past two weeks, I have discussed offering your novel for free. My most successful promotions have come when doing this as part of Amazon’s Kindle Direct […]

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