To make available free or not to make available free …

That is the question that’s been bothering me ever since I fist listed for sale the eBook of my novel, Island in the Clouds, in Feb. 2012. I heard about this possible promotion – to offer your publication as a free download – and that it could lead to much higher sales figures that outweighed whatever was lost in offering it for free. The problem for me was that I’ve never been as interested in increasing my sales as I have been in just finding new readers for my writing. And what if the free offer promotion only attracted people who weren’t interested at all in my writing or in this particular book, but just wanted to get something – anything! – for free? Did I want them writing negative reviews, if they didn’t like the book?

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Besides, I had all the initial readers to consider – those people who had supported me by buying my eBook and pre-ordering the print book. How would they feel if I suddenly made Island available for free? So I pushed the promotion idea to the back burner where it’s still simmering.

And I’ve been reading articles covering the Pros:
Why Free Book Promotions Still Work – Sort of. by Nick Stephenson

And the Cons:
Are We Done with Free Yet? by Janet Kobobel Grant

In the meantime, I bought a Kindle (I already had a Kobo), because I wanted to download many of the other books that were being listed for free on Amazon. One in particular was Lowcountry Bribe by C. Hope Clark. I could have read this book on my laptop using the Kindle reader app, but realized, since owning a Kobo, that I really appreciate the portability of eReaders. I enjoyed that book so much that several friends read it on my recommendation, downloadeding, and paying for, their own copies. I now plan to order print copies of both this first novel and Clark’s second in the series, Tidewater Murder, so the author has gained, in my case, from having listed her first book for free.

I haven’t been as lucky with all the free downloads – actually, with most of those free downloads. Many of the books have been poorly written or badly edited or amateurishly designed – or a combination of all three. My attitude toward these particular eBooks has been that at least I’m not out anything monetarily, just the time I wasted getting to that point where I finally had to close the file. But the problem with most of these free downloadables having been less-than-good is that you begin to wonder whether ANY of the books you’re about to download for free will be good – or as good as C. Hope Clark’s book, anyway. It really has been hit-or-miss, but I’m happy to say I’ve been discovering more hits than misses. Or perhaps I’m becoming much more discerning as to which free offers I download.

Two new-to-me authors I discovered recently through their Amazon promotions and whose books were hits, in my opinion, have agreed to share their experience and insight of their own free books promotions:

From W.K. Blais:
It’s a great deal of work advertising the free days on various blogs, Free Books and publicity sites and I’m not sure about the return. I gave away about 3,000 books during the last 2-day free promo. My sales still average about 2-3 books each day. There is such a glut of free books at all times, it’s difficult to stand out.

That said, I’m going to do another free promo the end of September, however :). The word-of-mouth strategy of getting out as many copies as possible seems logical.

From Elle Maxwell:
It felt so good to offer my book for free. I found I wanted to gift it, to bestow it upon people, as though I was blessing the world.

I don’t know of any other way I could have reached so many people. Readers from Germany, France, Italy, India, Japan, and Spain downloaded my book. I also had a surprisingly large number of UK downloads, which especially delighted me, because all my favorite novelists are from England (with the exception of Herman Hesse).

It thrills me to picture all these Europeans and Asians reading 24-Carat Murder, being transported into the world contained in the book. I had enough downloads to almost place me in bestseller status (by Canadian criteria). Many readers said they would love to read other books I write in the future. That indicates they will go ahead and purchase any reasonably-priced novel I publish later on. From what I have read, Kindle customers are most comfortable with books priced $4.99 and below. So if my next novel is priced somewhere between $3.00 and $4.00, they will probably take a chance on it.

In fact, my own experience of downloading free books shows me the value of it. I downloaded one Wendy Lindstrom novel free, and paid for three other books in her series. I downloaded one Tom Corson-Knowles book free, and bought three others from him. I also paid very little for Cheryl Kaye Tardif’s book on Kindle publishing, and then purchased her novel, Whale Song. So, if I am a typical reader (besides being one who does not have a big book-buying budget), then I’d have to say there is more likelihood the free book promo will work out in a new writer’s favor.

If I had been ready with a social media presence, I could have reached many, many more potential readers. This is an area I will be addressing in the coming year, although my first priority will be to write more books. In summary, although I don’t have a final, firm and encompassing opinion on the benefits of offering one’s book for free, I am more inclined to think it is a benefit than otherwise.

It is exhilarating to know that thousands of people have now heard of me and have taken the trouble to bring my book onto their e-reading device. When I have more titles on offer, they will probably purchase one that isn’t free, after enjoying the free download. What could be better than that?

Both authors will be offering their books for free again in the future and I will help them to publicize these promotions.

I’m still not convinced, though, that the Kindle Free Promotion is for me. Over this past year I have made many copies of both the eBook and the print edition available for free: as giveaways at library conferences, as prizes on my blog, and as donations to various fundraisers. I think I’d like to just continue in this vein for now and offer free copies as prizes – and, of course, to anyone who is interested in reading and reviewing my novel on their blog or in an article …

The next big giveaway I’ve organized is beginning this weekend on Goodreads! 10 print copies of Island in the Clouds will be available to readers from Canada, US, UK, and Australia who enter to win between Sept. 1st and 30th. I’m really hoping that this kind of promotion is what I’m looking for in order to attract the attention of readers who may not have otherwise heard about me or my book. If you are a member of Goodreads and you live in one of the four countries listed above, I urge you to enter here beginning on Sept. 1st. Good luck! (And please tell your friends!)

And I will report back after this giveaway is over to let you know how successful I was in reaching my goal of finding new readers.

There are also these giveaways to look forward to on my blog. Because I’m all about rewarding the followers and readers I already have!

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