We all love free stuff, but it seems in the publishing world that “free” has become a problem. Writers have all grown so desperate to be read at any cost that they are tossing out their books for free to anyone and everyone who will take them. They rotate out their entire catalog with free days on Amazon, they offer up free books in exchange for a review, they are trying to get people to sign up for their newsletters by offering even more free books. It has created a reader base that has grown so used to everything being ‘free’, books no longer hold any value to them. They expect all their books to be free or super-cheap (as in $0.99 cents for that 80K word novel that took you a whole year to write and edit).
This epidemic of “I want free and/or cheap books” is a monster of our own making, and it’s not just readers who are demanding freebies. We took the well-meaning advice of the professionals and perverted it, giving books away to anyone who was willing to take them. Now we have people attending release parties strictly for the books being given away, blaming authors and organizers when they don’t win or have any problems getting their prize. We have big and small bloggers who think they are somehow entitled to free books simply because they are a blogger, taking on more ARCs than they could possibly read in a lifetime. We have basement-built PR companies springing up all over, people calling themselves “personal assistants” all in a bid to get their hands on books or to exploit authors who are desperate to get their books out into the world, making huge promises with little to no return. At some point, authors have to take a stand for all the thousands of hours of time, labor, blood, sweat, tears, and money invested into creating our books.
Enough is enough already. I finally stopped saying “no” to free, and here’s what it took to get me to put my foot down.
In November 2014 the highly anticipated second book in the Before the Sun Rises series was finally released, three and a half years after the release of the first book. In celebration, I decided to do a quick 24 hour free day on Amazon on New Year’s Eve. For 24 hours, the first book in that series was free.
I didn’t do any paid advertising. I posted about the event in a total of 12 different FB groups. Because I worked at my regular job that day, I posted to 6 of the groups that morning before I left for work and another 6 when I got home that night. Within that 24 hours, I had successfully given away over 1K copies without doing anything but posting about it in 12 different FB groups. The book quickly climbed to #5 and #6 in paranormal action/adventure and paranormal romance, respectively. It ended up breaking the top 1K overall free ranking while the promo was going on.
At the time, I was happy. I thought for sure with that many people grabbing up my book I would see a few sales trickle in for my other books. Unfortunately, what I received in the wake of this promo was not sales, but an eye-opening reality.
1K+ copies given away told me that people wanted to read the book, but why weren’t they buying my other books? Over the next few months, I had dozens of emails and messages come through of people wanting to know when my other books were going to be put on promotion for free.
Yes, people wanted to read my work, but they expected me to GIVE it to them for free. A few months after this I saw an author bragging about how she had successfully given away over 35K copies of her latest book in a week and she was happy because if just one person read it and liked it, she was fine with that. All I could think was, did you sit down and do the math and realize how much of a pay-day you just screwed yourself out of? Because I did. At the time of my promo free day, that particular book was selling for $3.99. At just 1K copies given away, I managed to screw myself out of a nearly $3K payday. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I really, really could have used that money to offset some of the expenses that are associated with publishing a book.
It is for this very reason I stopped giving my work away. I no longer do blog tours. I’ve written numerous articles on why they do not work, with the most notable reasons being 1. the small bloggers who may have the time aren’t attracting enough traffic to their site to give you much of a return on your investment 2. the larger blogs who are bringing in the traffic have either gotten so picky about what they will accept that they will not even acknowledge the smaller indie authors or they have taken on so many books it could take them months to get to yours making them virtually useless when it comes to your book’s release day or 3. they fail to review the book at all.
In essence, I have stopped doing any type of free giveaways at all. I no longer do any free days through Amazon (thousands of books given away without a single review in return), I no longer do open calls for ARCs (hundreds of copies given out with only a 1% return rate on reviews left), I stopped donating books to release parties or cover reveals. I have even stopped doing any type of giveaways or contests through my own website and author page. In fact, the only time I do any type of giveaway is when I do the rare book release party or through my Nikki’s Book Divas FB group. If anyone is looking for contests or autographed books of mine, my group is where they will be. The only way to get hold of an ARC is to join my beta team. And the only way to get hold of a free book from me without entering a contest is to join my review team.
I am also to the point where I am about to stop offering autographed paperbacks through my website, making them even more difficult to come by. By the end of the year, I have it worked out so the only way to get any type of autographed swag or books from me at all will be to either attend one of the 2 author events I attend each year, or by entering one of the giveaways that are now done strictly through my FB Divas group.
Some authors might think this is extreme. It is, and that’s the whole point. When your items are easy to get hold of, when you are constantly giving away free books on Amazon, giving out ARCs to anyone who asks, are always doing giveaways, you are inadvertently driving down the value of your product. Think about it. People want diamonds because they are rare and are hard to come by, thus making them extremely valuable. When an author’s work and their autograph become something that is so common people can’t even get rid of it on Ebay, it shows just how flooded the market has become with something no one equates any type of value to. Ask yourself, when was the last time you saw any of the great writers of this generation hopping through hundreds of FB groups trying to give away swag packs and autographed books? When was the last time you saw them begging people for reviews or doing contests every few days? If you want to be appreciated like the big name authors of this day, then you need to start acting like them.
It took us years to get into the situation where everyone wants all of our hard work for free, and it will take us years to fix the situation. I do not quite understand why people who would not go to a regular job and work for 40+hours/week for free expect authors to spend hundreds of hours without a paycheck. I don’t work for free, and for those who think giving books away is the only way to entice readers, I’ll tell you the same thing the trade published authors tell indies – go get yourself a WattPad account and stop clogging up the slush piles for those of us who want to actually make a living at this.