Giving it away

I was extremely interested in a tweet by @MarinaDeNadous that I noticed yesterday.  She said that she was shocked by how many authors give away their books, and stated that after seven years of hard work, struggle and effort, she refused to belittle her work.  And interestingly my friend Martin (@johnson_mjj) wrote a blog on exactly the same lines a while ago.

This is what’s so interesting.  We all work extremely hard.  I’m looking forward to Marina’s book(s), haven’t had chance to check them out yet, but the Celestial Sea certainly looks pretty magical to me, and I’m keen to read it.  Likewise I read Martin Johnson’s Neidermayer and Hart, and this was a fabulous book too.

I know how long and hard Martin worked on his first book, and how indefatigably he’s continuing with his second, Roadrage, which is due out soon.

But I think it’s all about attitude.  My view is this: the work you, as a writer, have done in creating your book is over.  You’ve done it, it’s past.  After sending my previous books to agents and publishers over the years and getting the brushoff, I’m determined that I don’t want my effort to be wasted, as it has been for all my other books, condemned by faint praise by agents to whom I’m some pathetic hopeful amongst thousands.  I think my book is good, so now I want to get as many people as humanly possible to read the thing, and if that means charging next to nothing or giving it away, fine, I don’t care.  Of course the corollary to this way of thinking is, that if I don’t value my book, no one else is going to, they’ll think it’s just a trashy giveaway, so why bother to download it?  From a monetary point of view, I already charge so little for downloads (99c, or 77p) that the difference between that and nothing isn’t worth bothering with, and I’m doing it for the long haul: my aim is to try and build an audience, so that my second and third books can, with luck, make some money.

Will this strategy work?  I haven’t got a clue.  However the evidence is surprising: I publish with Smashwords and Amazon.  So far I don’t mind admitting that I’ve only sold six on Smashwords, and with this site they allow you to offer it free, which I’ve been doing for a while.  Yet on Amazon, where I’m charging a nominal 99c (77p), I’ve had 25 downloads.  People presumably will always appreciate having something they pay for, even if it’s only a nominal amount.

So on the face of it, maybe Marina and Martin are right: if you judge your work as of little or no value, potential readers will feel the same way.  Worst of all, they might even download it because it’s free, and never bother to read it.

I remember years ago when I sold things at a car boot sale, it was getting late in the day, and I just wanted to get rid of things.  I offered items free, saying to people, just take it.  Guess what?  Nobody did!  Everyone who wanted some item, however paltry, insisted on giving me maybe 50p, as a token.    Much later, when I made dolls’ houses and had an appalling day at a craft fair, trying to sell dolls houses and furniture and failing, a little girl kept coming back to look at the miniature chairs.  She wanted one.  I said ‘have it, no need to pay’, thinking she couldn’t afford the price I’d stated and that why shouldn’t someone have a bit of pleasure in the day, even if, for me, it had been a financial disaster?  The young girl said, no, could she pay 20p, which I accepted, and she happily took away the chair.

Perhaps it’s a matter of dignity.  If you’re selling something to a stranger, they don’t want your charity, accepting something for free. So for the sake of their pride they want to pay you something, however little it may be.  They keep their dignity, they’re not obligated to you.

It would be interesting to know what other people think.  Am I right, so keen to get my book to the world and his wife, that they can have it free?  Or are Martin and Marina the wise ones, making it clear that they value their years of struggle and effort, not to mention their innate talent to write, and have decided to charge accordingly?

John Locke, in his book, says charge a minimal amount – that way you sell more copies and make the same as if you charge more, and sell less.  One piece of philosophy of John’s in his book that sticks in my mind is, words to the effect of:  ‘If I charge a tenth of what a bestselling mainstream author charges, he has to demonstrate that his book is ten times better than mine, not the other way around’.  Wise words.

Maybe neither point of view is correct, and the answer is in between, like so many things in life.  When selling a house or flat, I’m always pragmatic, prepared to lower the price if it doesn’t sell.  I thought the same thing applies to my books.  But the big difference is, a house is something tangible, something you can see, touch or feel, whereas our books aren’t tangible objects, they’re delicate edifices that exist in our minds, built up and honed over hours and hours, then carefully grafted onto the kindle screen.  I want my delicate edifice under people’s eyes in any circumstances, just so that they can like my hero and his adventures, and, at a later stage, I can try and make some money, when people actually know about me and want to buy my books.

I’d love to know what other people think.  I’m wondering, more and more, that giving it away could be a mistake, and that, as Marina says, I’m belittling my effort.

Rock’n’Roll Suicide


14 thoughts on “Giving it away

  1. I found this very interesting having had to address all these issues myself. My publisher steered me away from reducing the price of the e-book version of Against The Tide using much the same argument about value even though it is currently at £2.67 on Amazon UK and $4.28 on the US site. As a paperback its cover price is £7.99 though Amazon using their 60% automatic discount from publishers cut it to £5.99 with free delivery. This would seem to be the realistic price point for most mass market paperbacks so I’m fine with that even though the actual profit after costs is minute.
    Like you, my main aim is to acquire readers but I’m suspicious that if I give it away it will just sit unread on Kindle much like the freebies I’ve downloaded to mine! So I’m being patient. The book has received excellent reviews but without an expensive advertising budget it’s not going to suddenly take off. I still plan to launch the sequel in the Spring as all the readers I know about say they want to continue with the story.
    So it’s crack on with social media promotion and build on the good fortune I’ve had with BBC Radio interviews and newspaper articles and reviews in both the area in which the book is set and also where I live.
    In conclusion, even though I help other authors to promote their giveaways, I have no intention of gifting mine other than to bloggers and reviewers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you give your book away to “gain readers,” what have you really gained? Is the point of readership simply ego-driven — to bask in the glory of having all those eyeballs on your work — or is this a career? A career where you expect, and need, to make a living? I think an author is better off using other avenues for promotion. Get the word out about your work through other means (social media, radio interviews, etc.) but charge money for the product itself.

      I don’t know of any profitable business where a product that took years to produce is given away for free. If our freebie is well-received and leaves people clamoring for more, that’s actually not a good situation for an author — we can’t go back in the shop and make a few more in an afternoon. By the time we get the next one ready, we are months or years down the pike and the people who loved our freebie have forgotten who we are.


      1. Yes Diane, I certainly see your points, and lots of people agree with you, certainly Marina and Martin (see other comments). Let’s keep the debate going and welcome all the different views. Thanks for commenting, appreciate your trouble


  2. I agree with you John, and will bear your comments in mind. What I like about twitter is that all us authors like to help each other, so we don’t feel so alone with our struggles.


  3. Well—-where to start with this one? Firstly, I’d like to say a big thank you to Geoffrey for noticing my regularly posted tweets re respecting authors and their creativity, and also for his kind words about my series; ‘The Celestial Sea Voyages’. I am a newcomer to both publishing and Social Media, so you could say that my views are those of a naive newbie!

    There are several ways of looking at the quandary; the first is that of mass exposure for highlighting personal profiles in the hope that this might lead to fame and fortune; another is that sharing creativity should come from the heart and not cost anyone anything–a beautiful idyll but sadly open to abuse in our less than idyllic world. And then there’s the version I stick by; that of respecting the creative process by bestowing worthy remuneration on each, individual author. It appears that these days we have the power–‘we’ as in the reading/writing community–to decide our fate. The regular publishing world is floundering to keep abreast of trends and market flow.

    Geoffrey has summed up the dilemma so well; the middle road is possibly the sensible one. My story, a deeply personal tale, is aimed at a niche market, so I am not expecting to distribute widely–two reasons for sticking to my guns over respectful pricing. I also agree strongly with Geoffrey that free items are often unappreciated; I could give several similar examples to those he cleverly used.

    Perhaps NOW is the time for a group of authors to stand up for dignity and quality. Others may follow and cut a strong groove in what is–let’s face it–an open playing field. In the meantime I shall continue to post my thoughts on the subject, using the #AuthorsRespectCampaign hashtag. Please join me! Thank you for listening,



  4. A very cogent and thought provoking angle, thanks Marina. The difference between us is, yours is a personal and important story that you’re passionate about, so you want it to have the respect it deserves. Mine is just a story, made up purely to entertain, so we’re looking at things from different viewpoints. I’m sure your passion you feel for your book comes across in the writing, and it’ll get the recognition it deserves.


  5. Thank you Geoffrey–again you have summed it up perfectly. Perhaps there is room for all ‘versions’. Authors just need to decide under which banner they march and not deviate from their path or be affected by the choice others make. Thank you again for the opportunity to air these interesting dilemmas!



    1. Just wanted to say, Marina, that I really understand and respect your view point even though it’s not right for me, and I agree about it being a different kettle of fish if your book is aimed at a niche market!


  6. Thanks to Geoffrey for posting this blog and to all its contributors so far. I read a book for a variety of reasons – it’s written by a favourite author, has received good reviews, was a word of mouth recommendation, or I enjoyed the blurb etc. I have personally never read a book solely because it was free and can’t ever imagine doing so. A month on Twitter would probably furnish me with enough free books to last a decade! My personal view is that “free” is never “free” – somebody has to pay (or work for nothing!). Perhaps it’s worth recalling how hard Charles Dickens worked for authors to receive royalty payments and how he probably died of exhaustion from all the public performances he was forced to give to earn a decent living. It is not wrong to expect decent and fair remuneration for work done. Try telling your local builder that he should simply be happy that you enjoy living in the extension he built for you and therefore shouldn’t expect any payment!

    I do give books away. I gave a small number of the paperback away through a competition I ran in a free paper in my home town. I also let reviewers/bloggers have free copies. I have also released a few books through ‘Book Crossing’. But I never plan to offer the digital versions of any of my books completely ‘free’ for a period of time via sites like Amazon or Smashwords – although I do from time to time offer ‘Niedermayer & Hart’ at a reduced price. In fact, I plan to do something like this again very shortly.

    It’s a difficult issue and I understand why my fellow Indie authors want to be read and feel it’s worth offering their work for nothing. I’ve recently received several orders for the paperback version of N & H from people who already bought and enjoyed the book and wish to give it away to relatives/friends for Christmas – the paperback is £12.99 (trade size) , but interestingly, not one of these repeat orders has ever requested a discount! The digital version of the same book is £3.24 ($4.99). One of its most recent reviewers read the book in one sitting over about nine hours – they said they literally could not put it down. Nine hours is pretty fast reading (164,000 words) but whether in its printed or digital form I can’t think of many other kinds of packaged entertainment that would work out cheaper, can you?

    Always keen to support Indie/Self-Published Authors,



  7. Haven’t had time to read all the responses, though I am interested in doing so and will do later.

    My view is this. You want people to read your book, don’t you? Would you object to it being in a library? I don’t think so. I have discovered many of my now favourite authors through getting one of their books out of the library – for free, of course! I have then gone on and bought their others. The same has happened with many people who’ve read all my books – they’ve downloaded one when it was free, read it, and then read at least one more!

    Generally speaking, Indie books are NOT as well presented as those that are traditionally published. They DO contain occasional typos, and sometimes formatting erros, too. People won’t pay the same for them as they would a well known author. I belong to a Kindle User group on Facebook where 200 people read nothing but free ones – it’s how they discover new authors, too.

    The other thing about the free downloads during a free promotion is that they give you more visibility on Amazon, which means that people are more likely to chance across your book. Also, as it will mean that more people are reading it, you will get more reviews, on both Amazon and, more often, on Goodreads. I’ve got lots of reviews on Goodreads from people who’ve read my book for free; I know it was a free one because they’ve got it in their ”free on Kindle’ shelf! More reviews means more Amazon visibility, too.

    My books are all about £1.98 on Amazon. Recently I put them on at 77p for one week, and sold more than twice as many as I would have in one week. I didn’t make as much on them, as the percentage of royalty goes down when you charge the minimum price, but those extra did get them into various genre charts – again, better visibility, which is what it’s all about.

    On the aforementioned Kindle FB group, I’ve actually offered all my books for free to members of that group, with the proviso that if they read and enjoy, they review. Many have taken me up on this, loved what they’ve read, and reviewed the books. I reckon about 30 of my reviews come from members of that group. So I didn’t get that £1.20 royalty from those sales – but what I did get was great reviews, word of mouth recommendations, more recognition, the knowledge that people have loved something that I spent time producing, etc. That, to me, is the most important thing.

    Of course I want to make money as a writer. But, much more than that, I want to be recognised as someone who writes great books. It takes time to build a reputation up; books don’t become best sellers overnight. Sometimes, a free promotion is the best way of getting your book known. Geoff, you know my first novel, the one with the 48 five star reviews? A result of 10,000 people downloading it for free – and lots more buying it afterwards, because of the boost that free promotion gave it!


      1. Thank you! And I apologise for the typos and clunky sentences within, as I wrote it in a hurry and didn’t proofread!


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