You’ve written a new ebook. Congrats! That’s weeks or months of work, and then days of preparation as you format the manuscript and submit it for publication. It may be your first book, or your hundredth, but it’s still your baby, your life, your pride and joy.
So why would you decide to give it away for free? After all, lots of authors do – just take a look at the listings at the Kindle store or Apple Books and others. There are thousands of free ebooks out there, but why do authors think that it’s a good idea to give their work away for free?
For several good reasons actually, so let’s take a look at them.
1. You’re not in it for the money
That’s a perfectly respectable position to take, for any writer. Whether your book has been a labour of love, a one-off novel, a life’s memoir, or perhaps even a useful and expert ‘how to’ guide, maybe you just want to share it with the world. You’re not particularly interested in sales, you’d just like your book to be out there – proof that that you did it and a gift to readers. Or even just to make it available for friends and family. Giving away your ebook for free under these circumstances is a perfectly reasonable decision. You can just hit ‘publish’ and not worry about sales, marketing and promotion. The words – and the work – are enough for you.
2. You are looking for reviews for your book
If it’s hard to sell books (and it can be!), then it’s just as hard to persuade people to review your books once they’ve bought them. You can ask and cajole and persuade, and blog and email and tweet, but of those readers that do actually buy your book, only a tiny proportion ever go on to leave a review. And positive reviews of your book are really useful, because that’s a great promotion tool.
By offering your ebook for free, you remove at least one barrier to readers acquiring your book in the first place – the price, the punt a reader must take on an author whose work they don’t likely know. In theory, making your ebook available for free widens the readership – and that tiny proportion of reviewers you might have expected just got a little bit bigger. What’s more, anyone downloading your book for free from Amazon, Apple Books and elsewhere will count as a genuine purchaser – a ‘verified buyer’ in the parlance – and reviews from actual ‘buyers’ (whether your work is free or not) are always considered more valuable.
3. Marketing and promotion
The main reason authors give their ebooks away for free is as part of a wider marketing and promotion strategy.
‘Free’ is arguably the best entry point for a new writer – readers are more inclined to take a chance on a book and an author if it doesn’t cost them anything (and some people only download free books – there’s lots of great stuff out there). And if – by giving away your work – you can get your ebook in the Top 20 or Top 100 of one of the ‘free ebook’ genre lists at book retailers, then you suddenly have a lot more exposure for your work.
Free doesn’t have to mean permanently free – special offers, limited-time deals and free promotions are all valid ways to get a new ebook noticed, though you need to be clear in your marketing so that you don’t hack off readers who maybe paid money for a copy.
However, if your title is the first in a series (or projected series), then it can make sense to offer it for permanently free. This way, you can hook readers with the undoubted brilliance of your work, who will then be prepared to pay for other books in the series. In the same way, offering a free ‘taster’ or introductory ebook is a useful way to establish rapport with readers, who will then be more inclined to buy your other books if they like your work.
4. Growing a mailing list
As a sort of adjunct to promoting and marketing your ebook, one final reason you might give an ebook away for free is to establish or grow a mailing list – so, for example, offering a version of your book to anyone who signs up via your blog or website. This is for the very good reason that readers who subscribe directly to your work – via a blog say – are far more likely to be your ‘superfans’ when it comes to new books and projects. They sign up because they already like your work – and once they’re on your mailing list you’re halfway there to selling them your next book!
But free shouldn’t mean ‘cheap’
So there are lots of excellent reasons to give your ebook away for free, but be warned – don’t put any less effort into a book that you plan on making available for free. Readers can see through poorly written, badly prepared, quick-and-dirty cut-and-paste jobs. You won’t do yourself any favours if a reader’s first experience of your work is a bad one. If they don’t think that it was worth it – even for the princely sum of zero – they won’t be back.