Back in the dark ages of self-publishing (November 30, 2010) I wrote a blog titled Career Risk and Self-Publishing. In it I said that whether or not a book was self-published depended on the author’s financial risk. I also highlighted what I thought was a career risk authors needed to consider:
“A new-to-me author has only one chance to impress me. Fail on the first book I read and I’ll never read the second or third. If a self-published author gains my attention and I read their book, they are taking their one chance with me. If it’s only okay, they’ll never get me to read the next novel, which may be great. I know it’s unfair, but my reading life is too short for second chances. I suspect I’m not alone with this triage method of what to read next.”
Since that time one of the big changes I have seen is the free e-book giveaway on Amazon. The goal is to get as many people as possible to download your book so it rises in Amazon’s ratings and garners even more downloads. Those who “advertise” in multiple outlets, tweet and have lots of followers to re-tweet, generate thousands of “sales.”
Some of these deals are from authors with a number of traditionally published novels. This free book to get someone interested in your work might be just the thing to jumpstart a career, especially for midlist authors dumped by traditional publishers.
It’s the previously unpublished who self-publish three or four novels within a year that concern me. These authors have taken two approaches. Most seem to use one of their earlier works for the freebie, often the first in a series. I assume the goal is to get people to then purchase the rest of the series.
Some others give away their current book for a short period of time. Presumably they hope people will like the most recent book and buy the earlier ones. This approach makes sense to me. If I enjoy a book by a new (to me) author, I will often pick up earlier books and, assuming they are as good as the first one I read, I’ll inhale the whole series. I just did that with Louise Penny. If I’ve read a couple of good books from an author, I’ll give them a pass if one book is only fair and try them again.
The major risk in these giveaways occurs when the free book is an early work and not of the same quality as later novels. I recently downloaded five free mysteries (no cozies since they are not my preference) and here are my results: excellent reads = 0; good reads = 0; fair reads = 1; did not finish = 4; authors I will ever read in the future = 0.
I may be cheating myself with these five authors, but I’ll never know. I already have lots of authors I like to read. I’d like to find new authors, but with so many good ones out there, each person gets only one shot.
My first novel (even though I revised it through eleven drafts) will always remain in my virtual bottom drawer—it will never be ready for prime time. That’s a hard thing in this age of self-publishing for an author to say, because some people would surely buy it—but it is not good enough for the current me.
What’s your experience been with free books?