Last week I came across an interesting post by social media maven Kristen Lamb about the dangers of authors making ebooks available for free. You should read the full post for yourself, but the general theme of the post was that because the ebook market is flooded with free stuff and most of it is worth less than a barrel of turds (because, hey, at least turds make good fertilizer) so making your book available for free could do more harm than good merely through the power of negative association.
As some of you may know, I’ve had some experience with the free side of the ebook market in the past, both as a seller and a buyer. And while I’ll concede that there are dangers in offering your ebook for free, in my experience there are also some advantages.
Last year Amazon made my ebook Derelict available for free without my prior knowledge or consent. It hit me as a shock, but it was perfectly within Amazon’s rights to make the change, and rather than gripe and moan about what was happening to my book, I decided to take a positive outlook on the situation. After all, it wasn’t like I was burning up the internet with that story before it was offered for free, and at least now people were READING it. And more than just reading it, some people responded with generally positive reviews.
Fast forward to a couple of months ago when Amazon took the book back to its original price. Of course it didn’t move in the same numbers as it did when it was free, but it still outsold the rest of my fiction by a factor of a thousand percent (that’s a multiple of ten for those of you who ain’t so swuft with the math stuff.) Today it continues to sell just as well.
Which is why, when I recently released another short story, The Fisherman’s Nightmare, I chose to make it available for free on Smashwords. Of course the free book selection on Smashwords is even worse than what it is on Amazon, and the traffic there isn’t nearly as heavy which means I didn’t have terribly high hopes for the story, but not only did it move at a reasonable rate, it also drove a few sales for my other paid books as well.
Now this is only anecdotal evidence, and I’m not trying to say that everything Kristen said in her post was wrong, but I do feel like there’s a little more to the story.
We all want to get people talking about our writing, and as an unknown author it can be easy to feel overwhelmed, lost in a sea of other authors of varying ability, all them trying to break through to become the next Amanda Hocking. There are lots of ways to get the message about your books out to the world, but the core of the equation remains: are they any good?
And whether you choose to spread the word via social media, or making your books free, or hiring out a plane to do skywriting, people aren’t going to respond if they don’t like your work.
Remember, there is plenty of bad self published fiction out there, and at whatever price it makes the rest of us look bad.
Do your part. Don’t make it worse.