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REVIEW: FREE, FREE, FREE Ebooks: Why Midlist Authors Should...

Cory Doctorow wrote that giving away his books has made him alot of money. He acknowledged that there is no empirical evidence to suggest that giving away books has increased his print sell through numbers but that his books have sold better than other authors at similar points in their careers and have outperformed his publisher’s expectations. It’s important to note that Doctorow’s publisher is Tor, the largest science fiction publisher in the world, a division of Holzbritnz.

Doctorow said

Most people who download the book don’t end up buying it, but they wouldn’t have bought it in any event, so I haven’t lost any sales, I’ve just won an audience.

Wiley is interested in this and tried it with Robert Scoble and Shel Israel’s Naked Conversations. The book continues to sell well and the publisher believes that no more copies would have sold if the entire book was not available on the blog.

Ross Anderson, another Wiley writer, wrote Security Engineering. This book was proclaimed by Information Security Magazine as the
“the most important security text published in the last several years”. It is online and freely downloadable.

Daniel Pinkwater’s book, The Neddiad, is currently available online and will be for sale in print version in April 2007. The publisher is Houghton Mifflin Children’s Books.

Seth Godin, a bestseller business author, gave away The Bookstrapper’s Bible.

Baen, however, is the mother of all giveaway for free books. Baen Free Library is a place any Baen author can offer an ebook version of their book free for however long the author wishes. It is totally controlled by the author. Authors who participate: Lois McMaster Bujold, author of The Sharing Knife which will be read and reviewed by me this week (a promise I have made myself); Holly Lisle, whose DIPLOMACY OF WOLVES spent two months on the Waldenbooks Bestseller List (oh, the irony); Rosemary Edghill, author of romance book Met by Moonlight (I think I really liked this book, must pull out for re-read); Mercedes Lackey whose Five Kingdom’s book launched the Luna line. Dave Weber’s On Basilisk Station which is given away for free is Baen’s most popular backlist title in print.

Monica Jackson engaged in a modified form of this recently when, in the comments section, she offered up a PDF copy of her steamy, paranormal romance, Mr. Right Now, to anyone who has a blog. Obviously the goal of this is to gain readers. Authors often giveaway books for promotional purposes. Alison Kent seems to be giving away one of her books everyday in some sort of contest or another. I bought her latest book, Beyond a Shadow, another to be read and reviewed this week. Meljean Brook has ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) of her January release, Demon Angel, (a book Tara Marie got to read early and loved), that she is giving away to readers who promise to write a review of it.

Word of mouth has consistently been the best promotional tool a book can have, but if you don’t have an audience, from where does the word of mouth generate? Demon AngelI can’t help but wonder if one of those midlist authors who are struggling for an audience shouldn’t try the Cory Doctorow, Baen Publishing way and give away her book online. Could it gain a readership as Cory Doctorow suggest or generate that golden word of mouth as Baen Publishing believes. I think Meljean Brook should giveaway her book but I doubt she can as I am sure her ebook distribution rights are owned by Penguin. It’s a book that has cross over appeal given the depth and breadth of the worldbuilding and I think that there are hardcore sci fi/fantasy readers or maybe even anime readers who would find this a compelling story but I doubt that those type of readers would ever pick up a man titty covered book.

Yes, mass reproduction of an ebook can happen in a nanosecond as can mass distribution. But, honestly, how many sales are really being lost versus how many readers could be gained. Piracy exists, but most people would rather buy a legitimate copy than a pirated one. For every free book (like an ARC) that I get and fall in love with, I buy. I might end up giving that copy away or taking it to the UBS eventually,but I want that author to succeed and if I don’t buy the book, then she won’t. My guess is online readers know that, particularly the ones who are going to download your book and fall in love with you.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

20 Comments

  1. Isabella Snow
    Dec 10, 2006 @ 06:14:45

    I agree with this, 100%. For exactly the same reason Doctorow mentions. Great post.

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  2. Tara Marie
    Dec 10, 2006 @ 06:24:36

    If handled right this can be a real win win situation for authors, I think Mr. Doctorow has a very good point…

    …I haven’t lost any sales, I’ve just won an audience.

    Finding an audience can be difficult, by doing this a reader can try an author and if you “love” what you’ve read, you’re going to buy it and future works.

    ARCs are an important part of the reviewing process, PDFs can work the same way, but on a larger scale. Reaching readers is what it’s all about, because we talk, blog and pass on books we love.

    Meljean’s book is a great example of this. She sent me a PDF–Meljean, thank you once again–I’ve ordered this book for myself and I’ve decided to order another for on of my BILs, an avid horror and Sci/Fi reader. Please note books ordered through my local indie bookseller–Ms. Lisle should be proud *grin*.

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  3. kardis
    Dec 10, 2006 @ 08:48:09

    Great post, Jane. I agree that many authors could benefit from giving away ebooks. If I loved the book- I would buy it. If I didn’t like it I would still have a lot of goodwill towards that author. I might even be able to recommend it to someone who would love it.

    I can see where authors and/or publishers might be wary, but I would think that *in general* if someone gets a book for free and loves it, they will go buy it. Heck, if they really like it they might just go out and get it for all their friends! Maybe if someone collected evidence of these trends more publishers and authors would be willing?

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  4. Melissa
    Dec 10, 2006 @ 10:33:38

    I completely and absolutely agree with this. I never understand authors who are unwilling to give up one ebook or even print book for promo. If you are past your allowed amount to giveaway(most publishers put a limit) buying them at cost or even at the regular price helps. It isn’t that much money and you could win a reader for life that way.
    I was and still am to an extent, an avid reader. I know that I found a few authors by the print giveaways at conferences, and then bought more of their books. It is a cheap and easy promotional tool and you can allow the reader a “test drive” of your work.

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  5. ag
    Dec 10, 2006 @ 11:27:01

    I couldn’t have put it better, Jane. It’s important to find an audience, make your voice/ story heard and accepted. The rest can come later and be build up on that interest.

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  6. Keishon
    Dec 10, 2006 @ 12:02:03

    Couldn’t agree more with you Jane. Audience is key. Word of mouth is key. People who love to read will buy your book. Excellent post. Promotion is so important. Smart move on the author’s part because he sees the longterm rewards and that is building an audience.

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  7. Michelle
    Dec 10, 2006 @ 12:54:06

    I agree if you love the book chances are you will want a hardcopy. Heck, for my favorite authors I usually try to get the HC and PB. By the way I love Mercedes Lackey’s and Roberta Gellis This Scepter’d Isle and Ill Met by Moonlight. I think they have a third coming out-just don’t remember the title.

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  8. Robin
    Dec 10, 2006 @ 13:31:21

    I never understand authors who are unwilling to give up one ebook or even print book for promo.

    They’re probably afraid of it backfiring with a negative review.

    I think the key here would be to either 1)limit distribution of pre-release books to those very few readers the author trusts, or 2) distribute very widely to account for both positive and less than positive feedback from those readers. I’m definitely one of those people who believes that ANY conversation about a book is a good thing, but if an author fears negative feedback and isn’t going to be able to refrain from rebutting those negative opinions, then maybe giving away books won’t work for that author. For some more established authors, writing for the reliable fans might be enough. For an author trying to build an initial or increased readership, though, I agree with Jane that spreading one’s book around at the very least creates good will toward the author. Even if I don’t really like a free book I get, I’m way more likely to pay attention to that author’s books in the event that one comes along I might like better.

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  9. raine
    Dec 10, 2006 @ 14:45:42

    Good post, good points.

    I’ve given away a few, will give away lots more, and have no problem with it. Readers appreciate it, and it gets my work out there to people who may look for the next release.

    I think this was part of the motivation behind PBW’s recent e-book challenge, where dozens of talented writers offered free downloads of books and stories to readers.
    I’m still making my way through them, and enjoying them immensely.

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  10. Meljean
    Dec 10, 2006 @ 15:01:12

    1)limit distribution of pre-release books to those very few readers the author trusts, or 2) distribute very widely to account for both positive and less than positive feedback from those readers.

    I think for option 1, only if the trusted reviewers will talk about it honestly. I’m also of the opinion that ANY discussion about a book is good (how many people bought Passion because of those negative comments, or the discussion surrounding it?) but I also think that readers in blogland are savvy — and that if only glowing reviews from a few friends are posted, it looks suspicious. I expect that some people will hate it or think it’s only “meh” and I’d love to see those reviews as well — because I’m well aware that one reader’s “meh” is another’s “woot!” (See: The Smoke Thief.)

    And if I could, I’d be giving out free copies like mad — and the PDFs I have given out, it was because of Monica Jackson’s attempt to do the same: getting the word out there. And some people will buy it anyway, so it’s the people who might not try it because 1) I’m a new author and 2) price and/or 3) on the fence that I’d want to suck in with free copies.

    I also still have a bit of the fanfic mentality, in that need to get a story out and share it, and damn the money. (But then practicality takes over, which is why I signed a contract in the first place.)

    It is, however, a great argument for placing a free story/novella on the site for readers to download and get a sense of writing style. I might have to do that soon.

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  11. Charlene
    Dec 10, 2006 @ 15:04:30

    Looking forward to your review of The Sharing Knife! I loved it.

    And I agree, giving away books is probably the best promotion an author can do. I give away all the allotted copies for each of my titles and I put free reads up on my site, too. To distribute a free ebook copy of a print book you’d have to have the publisher’s support and permission and I think Baen is unique in their approach.

    I think PBW’s free ebook challenge was a great thing for readers and authors alike. I’m still reading my way through the list and I’ve already bought a few books as a result of being introduced to these authors’ work for free.

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  12. Chez Moi
    Dec 10, 2006 @ 15:28:12

    This is a great post, I join the ranks of lauding bloggers *g*.

    I have the fortune that I review a lot and can choose ebooks that appeal to me – this way I found a number of new authors I never would have tried otherwise. Regular novels from ebook publishers are sometimes so high priced (~7$) that I really regret it when they turn out to be a total flop (Bobby Michaels: Dar and Gregg anyone? a nice gay romance novel until it turned disgusting in the “hygienic” area). So free giveaways are a fantastic way to get to know a new author, and when I like her books I don’t mind spending good money on new releases.

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  13. Melissa
    Dec 10, 2006 @ 15:47:26

    They’re probably afraid of it backfiring with a negative review.

    Well, I got a less than favorable one from this very site, although I don’t think they got the book for free. And, you have that chance no matter if the person pays for it or not. It is part of being an author that I think a few people have a hard time getting used to. The majority of my upcoming ebook releases are with a publisher who handles all reviews, but I tend to give them away for blog days, loop days and sometimes I just get on my own chat group and give away a choice. Heck, I had a cover dissed on Smart Bitches and got soooo many hits from it. Seriously, publicity, good or bad, will bring recognition. But you do need to be careful because there are people who will use it as a tool to get back at authors. That hasn’t happened to me but I have seen it happen to other people. So, as an author, I would read over the site, make sure most of the reviews were fair and balanced, and then decide from there. And it costs you very little. No shipping, and the amount of money you have to put out to offer up the book is minimal.
    JMHO

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  14. Robin
    Dec 10, 2006 @ 15:53:35

    I think for option 1, only if the trusted reviewers will talk about it honestly.

    Absolutely — if you are an author who can handle reader honesty. The Passion reference you made is a great case in point, because discussion did create a lot of buzz and sales for that book. But Valdez also turned some readers off because she was so persistent in responding to comments about her book on AAR and elsewhere. I think an author who gives away books has to be tolerant of critical reviews and reader feedback, or the strategy can backfire — even, IMO, if the book is a great read.

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  15. Miki
    Dec 10, 2006 @ 23:34:35

    This is so true. I’ve got so many books in my TBR pile, that it really takes something – either a truly unique idea or a free chance for “just” an interesting one – for me to true a new-to-me author.

    I belong to a Yahoo group that has weekly giveaways of ebooks from authors who offer them in exchange for a chance to “promo” the book there. In the last couple of years, I’ve added a number of new-to-me authors because of the freebies I won there!

    Of course, as a few others have already mentioned, the flipside is also true. There are a few that went on my never-buy list after a freebie, too. However, it’s unlikely I would have bought the book in the first place. So it didn’t cost them a sale, just the possibility of future ones, if I’d liked it.

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  16. Monica Jackson
    Dec 11, 2006 @ 13:53:10

    As far as giveaways, I feel there really isn’t a downside, because this is a ‘romance’ community site and the readers who frequent this site generally aren’t readers of my genre (black commercial fiction), even if I’m writing romance or paranormal romance.

    So any reader I get is an add-on and a bad review from the white “romance’ site isn’t really going to penetrate my core readership.

    There’s an upside to not being a part of the ‘romance’ genre! I feel as if I’m cheating ;-).

    The challenge is getting these ‘romance’ readers to read my work, period. Mr. Right Now isn’t my best effort, but some will see something they like and might become a regular reader, where they never, ever would have before. If they dislike my work, it isn’t like I’m losing a core reader of my genre.

    More traditional romance readers would like my free holiday novella, The Choice, better. I think it’s a better effort than Mr. Right Now and still has a slight paranormal (and historical too) touch.

    http://monicajackson.com/TheChoice.pdf

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  18. avishek roy
    Mar 22, 2007 @ 05:48:04

    i wud love to receive ur free popular books.

    ReplyReply

  19. joseph kwashie
    Apr 02, 2007 @ 22:17:44

    i read with delight from your site and kindly wish to request if you could
    please do me a favour to send me few copies of your books for my personal
    reading.i love to read alot and would wish to share with freinds in africa.
    below is my address

    joseph kwashie
    po box jt 25 jamestown
    accra/ghana
    tel> +233 21 6561418
    thanks

    ReplyReply

  20. Dora Spalding
    Mar 08, 2008 @ 13:07:07

    I know this works. I myself have found authors to buy by reading a free ebook or short story. I like a sample before I put my hard earned money into an author when I have alot of other authors to read I know I like.

    ReplyReply

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