To Free or Not to Free?

That is the question that plagues authors when trying to come up with a book promotion strategy. Should you offer your book absolutely free of charge to readers for a short time, or not? I've heard arguments both for and against this practice, and I've digested what appear to be the most often mentioned key points below. Let's take a look at them one side at a time:


  • For every book you give away free, you lose a sale. Readers in your target audience may have purchased your book anyway.
  • Giving your book away for free damages your integrity as an author. It makes your book look worthless and makes you look desperate.
  • There are a fair number of people who download free books simply because they are free. While this may be good for exposure, it may also generate unfavorable reviews as your book falls into the hands of readers outside the intended audience (for example, if your book is mistaken for an adult novel when it was intended as YA).


  • Giving away your book can generate additional sales, as worth of mouth about your title spreads. Your book stands a good chance of being put into the hands of readers who will write reviews, which adds interest in your title and credibility for you as an author.
  • Giving away your book through promotions like Amazon KDP increases your rank on Amazon, providing your book with more visibility. Your book could also appear during reader searches for other books, as a "customers also purchased" item.
  • If you have several books in a series, giving one of them away for free can generate interest in the others.

So now that we've gone over a few key points, the question presents itself -- which side to take?

As you've probably noticed, some of the bullet points above contradict one another. The "against" points suggest giving your book away for free will cost you sales and damage your reputation as an author. The "for" points say just the opposite; you will gain sales in the long run and the exposure of your title will generate interest that will add to your credibility as opposed to detracting from it. In the end, the choice of whether or not to go free lies solely upon your own shoulders (or jointly between you and your publisher, if you have one). Since I can't make up your mind for you, I will share with you my own take and experience on it. I believe there's a proper balance to be had between free and not to free. Both arguments have merit, and I feel that incorporating aspects of each into your marketing plan can play a serious role in success

First, let's talk about money. You want to make money, right? Well...maybe on some level, you do. Self-help books and various types of non-fiction I believe can have revenue as an initial reason for creating them (spend money on me and I'll show you how to make more!) For fiction, I believe that if you start at square one with only dollar-signs in your eyes, the book that results is going to basically be a re-hash of whatever has been trendy lately. Maybe you're okay with that, but it would bother me morally to put my name on something that I don't care about. Again, there's a balance. Write something that nobody can relate to, and you're sure to not do well. Write something for the yen and not the passion, and where does the writer stop and the robot begin? Your work has to be something that the public will enjoy, but it also has to be your work -- not the work of George, Abe, and Andy Jackson.

Will you lose sales if you give your book away for free? I don't know, will you? If you're an already established author with a proven fan might, since there are people out there already who will buy your book. But me? I'm an unknown author, with a brand new book. Zero dollars times zero dollars is still zero dollars, in my world of numbers. There are no "lost sales" when nobody has the incentive to purchase your book anyway. The way I see it, I give my book away for free to 100 people, and I have the same amount of money I started with (since they weren't going to buy the book anyway). What I do have now is exposure. One hundred people now have my book. Will they read it? I can't force them to, but I hope so. If even one of them reads and reviews the book I have more than I started with. The other new author who can't bear the thought of the figmented "lost sale" in this case now has neither the money, nor the interest.

Next, let's talk about credibility. I think this is a question of moderation. If Jane Author posts on a forum I frequent telling me that her book, "Sex, Lies, and The Evolution of Modern Society" is free for the next two days, and she writes up an interesting blurb about it, I might just go and check her title out. If Jane Author makes another post a week later telling me that "Sex, Lies, etc" is now free again...and another post the week after that...okay, I admit, I may start wondering why. A free promotion can be a good tool for exposing your title to the masses, but let's give readers a chance to actually read and talk about the book you've offered them, shall we? No matter how good your 350-page masterpiece is, you can't expect people to drop the kids at daycare, tie out the dog all afternoon, and call out of work to spend the entire afternoon digesting it, and then write about it the next day. It's just not going to happen. Plus, what about the people who the freebie readers might talk to about your book, who might then be willing to plunk down a few dollars because your book was personally recommended by a friend? Recommendations from a trustworthy source are a powerful motivator (they certainly are for me). Why should they spend money on you if you just told them they can wait four days and get a free copy themselves? My thought? If you're going to go free and you plan to do it more than once, give people time to breathe in-between the excitement. At least a month, if not more. A giveaway can actually endear you to your potential readership and help you with credibility, but too many giveaways can leave people wondering.

Those of you who know me I'm sure are aware that I'm long-winded when I type. So let me wrap this up. I went free for a few days. Did it make me J.K. Rowling? Of course not. But a few hundred people in four countries now have a copy of my very own novel, that I wrote from my heart (not from my wallet). Of them, five people (five living, breathing human beings) actually took the time out of their day to contact me to tell me they started reading the book, are enjoying it, and intend to review it on Amazon when they are done. They didn't have to do that. I can't expect them to read it overnight so I have to be patient, but as far as I'm concerned, the freebie offering was well worth it. Maybe I'll go free again in the future. If I do, I plan to do my homework and see if I can roll those few hundred copies into many more.

What do YOU think? To free or not to free? Share you opinion!