The other day I was on a writers’ internet forum when a member lamented that he had given his book away for free on Amazon. Instead of generating sales, it only prompted people to keep asking when his next novel would be out, and could they have a copy of that without payment as well.
The practice of giving away a book for free has been around for a long time. It’s supposed to prick up the interest of potential buyers and help to promote a fan base for the author. While I don’t doubt that some authors are lucky enough to pull this off, many do not. Time and time again I have read the same story from disappointed, usually first-time authors, eager to get themselves known.
Although many writers love to write, there is no doubt that the publishing industry, on the whole, is impervious to them as flesh and blood people with feelings. Publishers have to make money to stay in business. We all get that, but life would be so much better for us if they didn’t treat authors like something bad to wipe off their shoes
The reason for this behaviour is because there are so many of us competing for the few openings out there. Or to put it another way, publishers are like children with a bottomless supply of chocolates. They can cream off what they perceive as the best and discard the rest, because they know the supply isn’t going to dry up any time soon.
Because of this attitude, over the past ten years, many writers have turned to self-publishing, helped largely by Amazon. The stigma which once went with self-publication has dissipated. This looks good in theory, but not so good when you have a book to promote and no body of experienced people (publishers) with access to bookshops to help you get it on the shelves. So, authors have been giving their stories away for free in the hope of getting a good review and drawing more people’s attention to them. Except…many people read the books and don’t bother to leave a review at all.
I have been criticized by fellow-writers for being against giving a book away for free. Maybe they think I am mean, or not savvy enough to see the sprat to catch a mackerel scenario. Well, I’m neither mean nor daft.
Writing a book takes time…a lot of time. It’s not just a question of writing the story, checking it a few times and then saying it’s ready to publish. It takes months of perfecting and generally rending your clothing and gnashing you teeth over. After all that, I’m damned if I’m going to give it away for nothing.
That aside, I also worry about the message handing it over gratis gives to the public. I don’t care how much you might talk a book (or any commodity) up, the very action of giving it away for free immediately lowers its value. It says that all those weeks, months of editing weren’t worth a light. In fact, it says the author is desperate. Sadly, these factors both denigrate the book and its unsuspecting writer, not to mention subliminally telling the reader that their freebie is on the same level as a takeaway carton.