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Opinion: Why I Will Never Give My Books Away For Free

Opinion: Why I Will Never Give My Books Away for Free

headshot of Lesley Tither

Lesley Tither lives and writes in France in various genres – but offers on freebies!

The issue of whether or not to offer your books for free as part of your marketing strategy is a hotly debated issue in the indie author community. Novelist Lesley Tither explains why she will never take that route. Do you agree? Follow her argument, then join the conversation via the comments box!


Freebie or not freebie? That is the question!

Congratulations! You’ve just finished writing your book. All those weeks, months, perhaps years, have finally come to fruition. Feels good, doesn’t it?

Perhaps it’s your first? In which case you’re bursting with pride and can’t wait to launch your baby out there for the public to start snapping it up in their hundreds.

But now you face that huge dilemma:

What price to put on your baby’s head?

Let me say at this point, book pricing is a hugely controversial subject. I am in no way knocking those who make some of their books free. That isn’t my choice, and I hope to set out here why not.

Influenced by my Copywriting Career

For a large part of my working life I was paid for what I wrote, first as a journalist, later as a freelance copywriter. My USP in copywriting was always:

Give me a brief and I’ll write to it. If you don’t like the first pass, as long as you haven’t changed the brief, I’ll do a free full rewrite. After that, if you still don’t like it, I won’t invoice you and we’ll go our separate ways.

In other words, to me, free is synonymous with me not getting it right. And that’s deeply ingrained.

Why the Creative Arts Should be Paid For

It’s a known fact that for any of the creative arts, people expect something for nothing. Or next to nothing. Ask any musician, for instance, who can tell you tales of having been asked to play at someone’s wedding for no fee, ‘but it will be good publicity for you because there will be a lot of guests there’.

One argument I see regularly in various book groups is, ‘I won’t pay full price for a book by an author I don’t know’.

I often wonder if those people try that same argument at the cinema. ‘I’ve never seen anything by this director so can I have a cheap seat? If I like it, I may come again to see other films.’ Or perhaps at a restaurant. ‘Zebra steak? That sounds good, but I’ve never eaten if before so can I have it free/cheap because if I like it I may come again.’

The First-in-Series Freebie Strategy

Sometimes we’re told that making the first book in a series free can boost sales of those that follow. That may be so. But, of course, when you’ve just finished your first, you may not know if there’s a series to come. So do you hang on to it until you have more? A lot of people do turn their books out quickly enough for that to be an option. But not everyone can work at that speed.

Quantity vs Quality

And let’s be realistic here, because it’s a fact. Quantity is not always a guarantee of quality. I’m not pointing any fingers but I’m sure we’ve all been disappointed by ‘bestsellers’ at some time in our lives. Those of the right generation will remember when Joe Dolce’s ‘Shaddap you face’ kept Ultravox’s ‘Vienna' off the top slot in the music charts because for some unfathomable reason, it sold more copies and got more airtime.

The Final Decision is Yours…

But back to your baby and how much you’re going to sell it for, if anything. You’ve invested time, sweated blood, hopefully had it properly edited, beta-read, proofread, formatted and presented in a professional-looking cover, with the snappiest blurb possible. Does none of that count for anything?

You are the only one who can answer that and make the call.

…But Here's Mine

I know where I stand, very firmly. I don’t give my work away for free unless it’s not up to the mark.

#Indieauthors - would you ever offer your #selfpub books as freebies? @tottielimejuice explains why she can't bring herself to do so - ever. Click To Tweet

From the ALLi Author Advice Center Archive

Author: Lesley Tither

Lesley Tither, originally from Cheshire is a retired journalist/freelance copywriter/copy-editor who now lives in central France. She writes crime fiction, the Ted Darling Crime Series, as L M Krier, travel memoirs, the Sell the Pig series as Tottie Limjuice, and children’s fiction as L M Kay. Find out more at her website: www.tottielimejuice.com.


This Post Has 10 Comments
  1. I agree totally. I have one free e-book because it is a collection on blog posts that can be found online for free anyway, but I won’t give away any of my other books because I learned early on that giveaways don’t convert to sales. I gave away my book A FRIEND OF THE FAMILY for a few days when it was first published. Enough copies were downloaded to put it on two Amazon best seller lists, but when the giveaway ended, so did the downloads. I am a firm believer that writers need to be paid for their work. When many indie books are published at $2.99 or less, it is obscene for readers to complain about the price.

  2. It’s a business strategy. No one demands free books. Authors and publishers offer them to entice readers into their series/authors. If you don’t have a series out, it won’t work for you and that series has to be in a popular genre usually. Some of us make a nice living using that plan. There is no one-size-fits-all path. Every author/publisher has to do what’s right for them.
    Remember when you’d go to the store and they would offer you free samples? It’s the same thing.

  3. We teach people ( readers) how to treat us. If they get it for free they expect the rest for free. I don’t give free books.

  4. It all depends on how many books you expect to sell. Giving a book away free does not mean it is worthless. It just means you are putting your work into the public domain to see if anyone would like it. I sell most of my books to people I know but I also put some into charity raffles and give copies to charity shops because I am an unknown self publisher and what I need is to be recognised as an author whose books folk would like to read. I don’t expect to make a profit but when I see that lots of people have taken my novels out of the library I am satisfied. However, I do sympathise with writers who value their work and do not want to give it away, I felt the same way about my profession. I didn’t want to teach for nothing but in my seventies I would be ready to go into schools as a helper.
    Maybe it depends on how you see yourself.

  5. No way I’m pricing my books at $0.00! I’ll gladly give complimentary copies to beta readers for their help with the finished manuscript, and I give a copy to Mom and Dad, and send a print copy to an occasional contest, but NO, I won’t participate in the Walmartization of the bookselling industry.

    I agree with all the previous comments about not giving books away and I’ll add one more. I donate $1 per sale (print or ebook) to my local Big Brother Big Sister organization, which means I don’t earn very much on eBooks at all (less than $1) even when they’re priced at $3.99 and $4.99. Print copies are a little better, but hey, I’m trying to simply BREAK EVEN on my production costs, let alone the thousands of hours of my “unpaid time” that I put into creating each book. We don’t live in a third-world country. We should NEVER accept third-world compensation for our work.

    I get the “give away book one in order to generate buyers for the rest of the series” thing, but pricing your work at zero still sends the message that the author doesn’t value his/her blood sweat and tears at all. I do.

  6. I totally agree. My argument against offering my books for free is similar to yours: Do you show up at a bar and expect free drinks? Do you go to the dentist and ask for free x-rays? Why in the world would we respect the prices in every other industry, willingly paying for goods and services, and not do the same for the creative arts?

    No, I will not offer my books for free. For the sake of the creative arts industry, I will do my best work and charge what each piece is worth (which is quite the decision process, by the way!).

  7. Free books are destroying the book industry. A whole generation of readers are growing up expecting free books and won’t be prepared to pay for books in the future. This will slowly erode the income for all authors unless we change it. These patterns have happened elsewhere and destroyed other parts of retail industries.

    Too many people take a short termist view to boost their own profile. In the short term it may boost them but in the longer term they are even damaging themselves.

    N.B. Subscription services are not free as they are paid for and so wouldn’t include these here.

    Lets campaign to change it before it is too late.

  8. I would love to see an even longer version of this article! Great read. I don’t want to give my books away for free either (except to book bloggers). I know they will be pirated anyway.

    Going to look at Lesley’s books now. Thanks for the post!

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