Who will buy your book?

Someday I hope to write a book where the royalties will pay for the copies I give away. — Clarence Darrow

freeOh how I empathize with Clarence Darrow.  I cannot tell you how many books I’ve given away over the years, and these days of the hideous deluge of ‘free’ eBooks as promotional tools makes the problem even worse.  I often wonder how many of other writers’ relatives and friends actually buy their books.

My family, for example, largely feels that they are entitled to receive free copies of my books.  Well, with the most recent one, I decided that this wasn’t going to happen anymore.  Even my 91-year old mother didn’t get a copy (to be fair, I really didn’t really want her to read it – to much *sex*).  The only family member who actually received a hard copy (and that was after he downloaded and paid for an e-book) was my 25-year old son who was one of my final editors.  His keen eye and firm grasp of the English language made him an ideal beta reader for which I paid him.  The least I could do was to give him a copy of the book when he was home from London last weekend.

Should I give it away?
Should I give it away?

Then there are all those other copies we give away.  And this refers equally to my books (and your books) published by traditional publishers and the self-published ones.  These are the review copies.

There is little doubt that review copies are important, however, it can get out of hand.  In addition it seems to me these days that we need to be vigilant that a so-called reviewer does not feel obligated to be a bit less critical of a book that he or she has received gratis.  (Although some bloggers seem to think that a free book might end up as a more critical review.  Not sure why.)

When I wrote the piece When is a book review not a book review? I was thinking about these kinds of issues.  So, we need to consider carefully how many books we give away for free in the hope of acquiring a positive review.

And then there are those free book giveaways that started this rant.  There is little doubt that giving books away can help you to accrue new readers: sometimes, readers who would otherwise pass over your books might try them and like them, then return to buy future offerings.  So that seems like a good investment in marketing.  We need to be very mindful, however, that if as writers we don’t value our work, we can hardly expect others to value it either.  In fact, many readers are just as likely to troll the online bookstores seeking only free books, never returning to your work when the book is not free.  There is no actual hard data on either of these situations although you’ll find plenty of anecdotal stories extolling the virtues of giving away your work.

It would be my greatest wish that writers value their work.  I often wonder if writers who don’t value their work know in their hearts that it isn’t really that good.  There is a difference, however, between the writing a book specifically for yourself and to give away to others, and one you hope to sell.  This is the kind of book you may write simply hoping that a few others might benefit from it in one way or another.

It is quite a different matter to work hard on a piece of writing that you hope readers, unknown to you at this point, will buy, read and appreciate.  This is the kind of work that we have to stop giving away so freely.

So, fellow writers, keep a very careful count of how many copies of your work you give away and the return on that investment.  I’d love to know how it has worked for you.  Perhaps we can build a database of information.  There are marketing reasons to give your work away, but that needs to be balanced by a sense of value.  Tread carefully.

It might be worth remembering what Jules Renard once wrote:

Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.”

Now I think I’ll surf over to Amazon and set up a free book giveaway and see what happens!!


For a few different perspectives on this issue, here are some ideas from other sources:

Why Successful Authors Are Giving Their Books Away for Free  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/simone-collins/why-successful-authors-ar_b_4115300.html

Why publishers should give away eBooks   http://www.roughtype.com/?p=1573

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4 Comments

  1. Once again, a perceptive and well thought out article, Patricia. In my former profession, the same tenet held true. If goods or services do not cost the recipient anything, they will never be highly valued. Thanks for reminding others of this. With the glut of giveaways I see, I doubt that many will take your advice, but I appreciate the fact you had the guts to give it.

    1. Thanks for the supportive feedback. I find that many would-be writers are gullible — and are not willing to speak up if they disagree. Hope I can at least add to the discussion!

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