Is it hard work being creative?

The most successful way I’ve experienced to make contact with readers is to give away books.  “Here’s a free book, if you like it, buy my other books.”  Sure that makes sense.  But it bugs the hell out of me.  Okay, this next little part is whining.  I spend months and months, lots of money (for me) writing and producing a book.  Yes, I enjoy writing—but what creates a book is effort.  That is real, dig a hole in the backyard effort.  When I’m really writing at a good pace and I reach the end of the day; I’m exhausted.  Sure, after fifteen minutes of digging that hole I would be exhausted, but the analogy has merit.  It is hard work being creative.

So after all of this “hard” work, I’m now giving away the product of that effort.  The explosion of free books is the result of Amazon, book promotion web sites and Indie writers.  Free book promotions would exist without those factors but to a much lesser degree.  I’m sure there are readers who never read anything other than free books—if the authors choose to give them away, how are the readers at fault?  They’re not.  This is 100% an author’s decision based on a “you have no real choice” option to promote yourself and your book.  And it works!

Yep, there’s the rub.  It actually works.  You do expand your reader base; and these free book readers do buy other books.  Now, for sure, there are only free book readers—but even those might give you a good review which will help your sales.  But why does it still feel wrong to me?

I’ve spent most of my working life providing advice, usually something to do with finances, to business people.  Something I spent a lot of time working on was pricing—how should a business establish a price for their product.  Yes, I was hired by people to establish the most profitable strategy for pricing their product—I was a pricing pro.  Now for my own product, my advice is free!  That would not have made my clients happy if I said the most profitable, strategic price for your product is nothing.

Why does that work with e-books?  It’s simple, there is no cost.  Free e-books exist because there is, in most cases, no actual out-of-pocket cost to giving away that electronic file—the e-book.  However, there is an investment in the e-book.  The effort writing, the cost producing; which can be thousands and thousands of dollars before anything is assigned for the author’s time.  But, and this is the famous big “But”—how do you allocate that cost.  If you spent $5K producing a book and expected to sell 5K of e-books and paperbacks that would be a dollar cost per book.  But of course it’s not that simple.  You don’t know how many you will sell or the mix of paperback and e-book—plus paperbacks have actual cost per book for each one printed; the e-books don’t have additional costs.

Way too much in the weeds, right?  The bottom line is you can give away e-books and more or less assume you have no cost with what you gave away as free.  But, yes another big “But”; does it lessen the value of your brand.  Would readers decide that you will eventually give away each of your books at one time or another and just wait for the bargain.  Or on the macro level, does giving away books lessen the value of all books.  Are authors training readers to only value books at zero?

As an ex-pricing pro I can tell you giving away books is stupid. Unless your goal is to make no money at something you invest money in and spend many hours producing—that would be financial suicide.  I should know better—but I’m still giving away e-books.  I’m doing it less and less, but still doing it.  Because as an Indie author it is hard to break-through the fog of so many book options for readers.  There are more books available than most readers can possibly have time to read. 

Another point I want to make—and would love your input on this; readers now have libraries of free books on their devices.  They have not invested a penny in those books—do they read them the same way they would a hardback they just spent $20 on?  Probably not—if the book doesn’t hit them right within the first few pages it’s total garbage.  They move on to the next no cost book.  I remember many a book (usually purchased at a hardback price) that did not hit me at the beginning—maybe it was my mood, or the weather or something; but I was not engaged in the story.  And then sometime later, I returned and loved the book from beginning to end.  Some books take a commitment to get to the flow of the story, maybe by accident or by design by the author; but without a commitment it’s garbage.

Maybe I will re-think my marketing strategy and stop free books, or maybe not?  It’s a question that is not easy to answer.  One thing I know for sure “it bugs the hell out of me.”


Okay, just to prove I have no scruples, or maybe I have no sense; you can get a free copy of the e-book for The Bootlegger’s Legacy, Tuesday September 10th on Amazon.  If you get a free book (and like it), the least you can do is give me a good review.

The Bootlegger’s Legacy was my first book (it actually wasn’t–but that is another story) and as I have said many times, it might be my favorite.  The backstory about Pat Allen, the 1950s Oklahoma bootlegger, and his most desirable mistress, Sally, is some of my best writing (my opinion). 

Anyway at free it’s got to be a bargain.

Thanks for being a reader!