Authors Spew Vitriol at FREE Books-Again!

Written By: Admin - Jul• 03•15

marketing-strategy-plan“Nobody is buying my book because they can read all they want for FREE.”

You have heard that.  It never stops. There is across our indie author universe a huge outcry about authors who promote their books for FREE and/or 99¢ . The consensus of those pickle-sour notes is: Nobody is buying books because they can read all they want for free. “Where did you get that idea?”

“BookBub is a ripoff and detrimental to indies. Readers are so used to getting eBooks for free that no one expects to pay a red cent anymore.” True or False? Read on. You decide.

The campaign against  free titles takes place in Amazon Author Forums, on author blogs, on Bookblogs.ning, in writer’s groups on Linkedin, Google+ and in some Facebook groups–even in eNovel Authors at Work. The campaign by authors against FREE Books drips with vitriol and sarcasm and no sales. Sneering toward authors who promote FREE titles is rife in the underbelly of the indie universe.

Here’s the gist of comments:

“I work damned hard to write a book. I’m not giving it away.”

“There are too many FREE books.”

“Readers won’t buy books if they can get them FREE.”

“Amazon is clotted with free books.”

“I figure they are giving it away cuz they can’t sell it.”

No, Amazon is NOT clotted with FREE books. If it were, it would go out of business. That is simple mathematics. Here’s the skinny. A free book is not a  priced book’s  competition.  If an author chooses to price his or her books into infinity—fine with me. I respect those choices.  But, if your title doesn’t sell—don’t blame an author who chooses to have a permafree title, or who puts a title in a free promotion or price pulses to gain exposure and a readership. And don’t blame the promoter. We hire them or not. Author choice. Each time I run a title on FREE, reviewers often comment:

“This is the first book by Jackie Weger I’ve read. It won’t be the last.”

Pineapple Lies

This title had an excellent FREE campaign and earned above 350 reviews. Happy Readers rushed to buy Amy’s Slightly Stalky & are eagerly awaiting the next book in Pineapple Port Mystery Series.

That is the response we hope for when we run a FREE campaign. ebook readers are savvy. They will take a chance on an author on FREE that they would not otherwise. Here is why: Early in the Kindle’s life,  indie authors rushed to publish less than well-edited, well composed stories. Readers got burned and gloriously annoyed. Smart indie authors revise, edit, recover, reformat and repair every single blemish we or a reader discovers in our ebooks. Note this: I pay for professional editorial, formatting and cover art services. We still find mishaps. We fix them at once so each reader has a better reading experience. Amazon requires a Table of Contents for every digital book. A year into my indie publishing experience I learned the Table of Contents is acceptable as back of book matter. I had all of my titles reformatted to move the TOC from front to back. How nice is that for the reader not to have to page through three pages of TOC before the book even starts?

Nobody is stopping an author from promoting a priced book. Go for it. 

Here are the stats on an ebook published April, 2011 by an author who is happily sneering and taking snarky pot shots at authors who put titles FREE: Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,889,751 Paid in Kindle Store. Honey, that book is not only sucking mud, it is drowning in a bucket of Texas Liquid Fertilizer. No reviews, either. Not a single review in three and a half + years. Golly. Readers do NOT skim the bottom of the barrel for a book. It has to float on top where they can see it. Promote it! Somewhere. Do a Rafflecopter. Take it on an ebook tour. Hire one of the two best author services  to get it done: Book Partners in Crime Promotions  or NjKinny’s World of Books & Stuff. Both are top tier and budget friendly.

FREE June 25 - 27, 2015

FREE June 25 – 27, 2015~12,000 downloads. 12 new Reviews ranked 4.7/5.0. $500+ in KU & Sales to July 03, 2015.

Here is another quote from a new indie author with a single book.

“A free e-book? No thanks! I know I won’t read it. I spend enough time in front of a computer screen and like reading my books in bed. I haven’t invested in a E-reader yet.”

Oh my.  The author’s book is in Amazon Select and is available Read FREE with Kindle Unlimited… All of her readers own a Kindle. Holy smokes! Folks, it is Eating Stupid for Breakfast when you diss readers who luuuv their Kindle Fires. Well, the author doesn’t have much to concern her. Here are her book stats: Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #599,805 Paid in Kindle Store. Print edition: Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,500,381 in Books.

This is the 1st sad part. The author is new. One book.  She made the comment in a widely-read public forum. AND before signing off, touted her ebook with the buy link.  How dumb is that?  I’d walk to China before I’d buy her book or borrow with my KU subscription. Here is the 2nd sad part: That new indie has a toxic attitude. Successful savvy indies won’t network with her. She is the author of the above quote: “I figure they are giving it away cuz they can’t sell it.”  

When I write these blogs, I like to give you actual facts and figures to make your own comparison so you can make the best decision for your book. So here are some Amazon stats of books that have come off of  recent FREE promotions and returned to paid:

No Perfect FateAmazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,437 Paid. 50 new reviews.

Pineapple LiesAmazon Best Sellers Rank: #37,027 Paid. 314 new reviews.

Mazie BabyAmazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,676 Paid. 364 new reviews.

Mazie Baby

Mazie Baby had an incredible FREE Bookbub campaign. Once exposed & back to priced, readers could not download it fast enough–earning the author above 5K in the first week returned to paid.

I recently discovered one book on Amazon without a Best Seller Rating. An author always buys the first book to generate the Best Seller stats. I found the author on a Kindle Forum  ranting to the heavens about free books. So I went to have a look at his title. No rating.  No sales. No reviews. I don’t like myself when I get snarky. But, golly! That author did not even eat breakfast, muchless dig into a bowl of stupid. He has not promoted his titleanywhere for at least a year. I know because I checked the book’s stats in KND’s free Book Tracker.  FREE books are not in the way of that title–lack of promotion is the culprit. However, the author is wonderfully vocal against FREE books. Which the author claims is the reason  his book is not selling.

A free book won’t get a single download either, unless the author puts the book in front of an audience.

Promoting an indie book is work. Guess what. It cost $$$ to promote a book. However, one eNovel member has compiled an exhaustive list of promo sites that do NOT charge so much as 5¢. Get it from: Effrosyni Moschoudi .

Indie authorship is a learning curve. Smart authors educate themselves about the industry to separate the wheat from the chaff,  myth from fact and misery from joy. When an author says, “I worked hard to produce my book,” I believe it. I respect that. I work hard, too. I know what it takes to produce an indie published book. I also know what it takes to produce a traditionally published book. But because I put books on a FREE promotion does not mean I work less than an author who chooses not to promote FREE. I advocate reading David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Visibleand more than once, because it is a lot to absorb and understand in a single reading. Gaughran is the master of indie authorship and his book dispels every single myth running rabid in our indie universe.

All books whether price or free must be promoted in order to get a title in front of readers. How active an author is in promoting, networking and developing a readership determines the success of a well-written book regardless of price or none. I am not addressing badly written,  construction mishaps, sad covers, or ill-formatted books here. Those books get what they deserve from readers and reviewers. Lastly, here is food for thought: As we build our careers, we network with a community of other authors, bloggers , reviewers and by extension, their friends and followers and fans.  If we sneer at one of those authors or engage in  sarcasm  toward the manner in which any author promotes his/her books—we lose the support of that author’s community of fans  and readers. eNovel Authors at Work  will promote an author who believes priced books are the only way to go. We respect the author’s  choice. eNovel Authors at Work  will not promote an author who denigrates how  any member of this group or another manages his/her book promotions. Ain’t gonna happen. Just sayin…


Would love it, if you Follow me on Amazon or subscribe to eNovel's newsletter.

Would love it, if you Follow me on Amazon or subscribe to eNovel’s newsletter.

I’m Jackie Weger, Founder of eNovel Authors at Work. I am not a glory hound and I am not a best-selling author. I have sold every single thing I’ve written since 1980. I’m paying my way. Writing is my day job.

This article is open for comments. Your opinion is welcome and respected, but denigrating another author’s choice or vitriol in a difference of opinion won’t be tolerated.  Mostly because I own this site and I’m too old to put up with that kind of crap. And listen: If you have never put a book free and your priced books are successful–tell us how you did it. We are here to learn about success! So share.

@Copyright 2015 Jackie Weger


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  1. Sensible advice from a pro, something many, including me, have been missing. Indie publishing seems to have a touch of the Catch-22 syndrome. No success without promotion, no funds for promotion without success.

    • Jackie Weger says:

      I hear you, Kristen. I took me months to save the funds to buy promotion. You have five titles all reasonably priced at $2.99 and are perfectly positioned to consider a Kindle Countdown Deal. Even if not, do consider tweeting and posting your books on some of the Facebook pages listed in Useful Links. Those sites are free. Book Goodies is FREE, but $10 will buy you a featured spot. You also might consider submitting your titles for reviews. That gets your titles on blogs and in front of readers–all for free. Again you will find where to get started in Useful Links. Keep me posted on what you prefer to do. We’re here to help anyway we can. JackieWeger

  2. I tried a freebie last year and was very surprised at its success. I didn’t spend a penny, I used the list of sites that promote free books that’s now on our Useful Links page (just the ones that didn’t charge) and saw a definite sales spike for both books in the months following. I garnered enough reviews through it to be eligible for bigger promo sites next time.
    The only down side I can see is that some of those reviews aren’t stellar. People seem to download a freebie without bothering to read the blurb and then blame the author if it’s not something they’d normally like. But hey, I understand a mixed bag of reviews is a good thing, it means people other than your family are reading your stuff.
    When I have the next 2 books out I will definitely do it again…the other key to success seems to be several more books for anyone who likes the free one to go and buy.

    • Jackie Weger says:

      Carolyn: It takes courage to put a title FREE because we don’t know the reader whose hands it will land in. One and two star reviews are part of it. It’s like serving fried chicken to six dinner guests. One among those six guests will turn up her nose and say: “Ewww, fried chicken. I prefer fish.”
      So. Don’t eat it. Don’t read it. Move on. Here’s why: We do not control the reader’s likes and dislikes. Of 1,223 Review’s on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, 162 are one and two star. Those low reviews do NOT stop her sales. So. Everything in perspective. Amen.
      Jackie Weger

  3. If you find a marketing technique that works for you…stick with it and forget the naysayers!

  4. Here is the point of view from a reader. I love looking through the free and bargain books on Book Bub and Book Sends. My opinion is that readers are more likely to try out an author they aren’t familiar with when the book priced reasonably. I have discovered many authors when I tried a free offering on Amazon. I now PURCHASE their books. It’s a great way to gain a solid following and loyal fans. As always, I’m going to stick my foot in it, but I think protesting free books is like shooting yourself in the foot.

    • Jackie Weger says:

      Julie!I love you for telling it like it is! Here’s a dichotomy. The indie author who complains about FREE titles often shops and trades pback and hardback books at his/her local used book shop. No author earns a penny of royalties on those used books. Used books are sold on Amazon by 3rd party vendors, too. No royalties for an author there either. I encourage all indie authors to educate themselves–and know who you are listening to. Martin Crosbie emphasizes that tidbit in his book and says why. The book is worth a read.
      Jackie Weger

  5. Always “listening” and learning – and eager for more. Thanks, Jackie, for telling it like it is.

  6. Jenny Harper says:

    Well said, Jackie! I think the indie world is fascinating and I’m learning all the time. I recently dined with a trad published author who sneered at cheap books along the lines you mentioned (‘I spent a year writing this, why should my work be undervalued?’). Now he gets bookstore distribution and I don’t, but he does NO promotion. And one of my novels is sitting quite a few hundred above his in the Amazon rankings. I feel I’ve barely started! Give me a year at this game and we’ll see who’s doing better as an author…

    • Jackie Weger says:

      #Jenny Harper! We indie authors do not have to take it on the cuff from the traditionally published. An author told me today she was told she’d have more credibility if she had a publisher–digital or trad. I’ve said this a dozen times: It’s all about the BOOK! Readers buy books–not credibility–which doesn’t mean squat if the title is collecting cyberdust. Indie authors who promote their titles wisely, sell books. And! You have written some darling stories. I love your books! Once your titles are visible to the reader and that is key–your books are going to fly off the cyber shelf. Yes, they will! And You’ll leave that trad author in the dust. Using proven, effective promotional techniques such as FREE, 99 cents and price pulsing to get the attention of readers and buyers does NOT devalue our books or our talent.


  7. Mary says:

    I’m coming late to this discussion. It’s a great post, Jackie and I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments. I haven’t tried putting my book up free yet, not because I disapprove (and Jackie has neatly squashed all arguments in her post) because I don’t have enougfh other books published yet. I have to get writing!

  8. Great post. Putting a book ‘Free’ is a wonderful way to introduce people to your writing. It’s a promotional tool that works. I agree with Mary that it’s not worth doing until you have several books out there.

    • Rosie Dean says:

      I totally agree with you, Shalini. I put my first book up Free for a 24hr period, recently. It resulted in a massive spike in sales for the following days. I guess because it became more visible to some readers browsing the lists.

  9. Jackie Weger says:

    #Shalini Boland! Holy Moly! Shalini: We are so thrilled you stopped in and commented. For those of you who don’t know, Shalini is the wizard who owns eBook Soda. I always promote with ebooksoda. You see I have her icon on the right. She writes paranormal/vampire/romance in addition to promoting our books. Everybody, follow Shalini on Twitter here:
    Shalini Boland
    Okay, I got the kudos out of the way. I have something to say about only having only one or two books published. You wrote it. You published it. PROMOTE IT! It is true you won’t have crossover sales to other books if you have only a single title. But! If the title is enrolled in KDP Select you can run a seven day campaign–99¢ for 6 days/final day back to priced. I recently heard from an author who did that very thing with a single title. He spent less than $100 in paid promotion, submitted to every free promo site + FB posts + Tweets. 13,000 readers bought the title. He earned 70¢ on every book–$9100. You can do that every 90 days until you have a second or third book. It’s called building your platform, plus you have a little $$$ for a spa day. The author’s goal was to earn some money–he did.
    It is true that we need to keep producing, but that does not mean our first books have to sit on a cyber shelf collecting dust while we write a second on third. Just saying… JackieWeger

  10. Great article, Jackie, insightful and humorous. I’ve never tried a FREE promotion, but I have certainly watched your books soar in Paid in Kindle Store after one, and I’m beginning to look at free promotions differently. And certainly authors should be able to freely choose how they want to promote their books with grumbling from fellow authors. We are all in this together and should try to encourage one another. In my neck of the woods we call those folks “haters.” I’ve had success without using FREE promotions, but as I said, I’m not averse to it. Keep writing, Jackie, I learn so much from you.

  11. Rich Meyer says:

    I’m definitely not a fan of free promotions. I know they work for some folks, and more power to them, but I’m in the “don’t give your stuff away for nothing” camp.

    Freebies were good and useful a few years ago, but since the algorithm change at the beginning of 2012, they really aren’t a viable promotional option for most folks who don’t have promotional budgets (I know I don’t). Previously, you could have a free promotion without using overpriced stuff like Bookbub and come out ahead (with a modicum of FB, Twitter, etc. word-of-mouth). That’s not the case anymore. If you don’t shell out cash for Bookbub or some of the other paid promotion sites, you’re just giving your work away for nothing; probably not even a review in return.

    I had a free promotion once, back in the day, that netted me 4,600 “sales”. That kept me up in the rankings of my categories for nearly six months! Today, that wouldn’t keep you in the Top 100 for a couple of days, if that.

    A point to consider: Free books are, indeed, competition for books for sales. Perhaps not on the price field, but on the TIME field. Every reader only has so much time to read books. If they get a bunch of free books at hand, are they really going to feel the need to run back to Amazon and grab a paid book? From an indie author?

    And unless your work is superior to everything out there in the genre, a lot of readers are simply going to wait until the first time you run it for free, or just forget about it in that interminable time, turning to something else in the genre. Unfortunately, Amazon has long fostered a culture in which most readers now assume a indie/self-published book will be free at some point, so why not just wait til then? There are still more than enough free books on the promo sites, inching in through Amazon’s last missives about lowering the percentage of free books (virtually eliminating the usefulness of many free sites, like ereaderiq and Pixel of Ink), so that mindset isn’t really going anywhere soon.

  12. Dale Furse says:

    Readers like to try free books from authors they’re not familiar with. That’s just the way it is. As a reader, I’ve found books by authors I love and now buy their books, but I would never have tried them if it wasn’t for the free book. 🙂

    Mind you, it doesn’t mean that book was free to produce. Editing, covers and formatting cost real money no matter how much is charged for the book when it’s published. It just means the writer wants readers to give it a shot.

  13. Amy says:

    Anyone notice BookBub’s latest blog post seems to be directed at book promoters? That’s because the big publishing houses use them too. Not just Indies. I’ve gotten top author’s books at discounts or even free through them – anyone who thinks discounting is only for losers is kidding themselves.

  14. I haven’t been able to afford paid adverts with Bookbub yet and without it, I really don’t see any pay off for my free promos, other than putting my book in front of readers, of course. I am still to see that sudden surge of new reviews or noticeable difference in my sales, even though I have had my 2 books downloaded by roughly 5,000-8,0000 people each. So, my bitter realization is that like in all business, it takes money to make money as an author, too. Without Bookbub, you’re the small fish in the big Amazon pond. Hopefully, one day I’ll afford it and reap some real benefits. But of course, I already believe in ‘free’ for the power it has to spread the word. I don’t think it results in people actually reading your book though. I take myself as the perfect example. I hoard ebooks on my ereader and I expect everybody else does, too. And I am less likely to read the ones I got for free as opposed to the ones I paid for.

    • Don’t dish 5-8K downloads! That’s more than most people get through paid promos.

      The only thing you need to work on is to make more titles available for sale, so that you can cross-promote. It’s really hard to promote when you’ve only got a couple of books; but you’re a fine example of how to do it 🙂

  15. A great post on why free still has a big part to play as part of a book promotion! Thanks for sharing, Jackie 🙂

  16. Jo Jenner says:

    I have recently split my book into two parts and give the first half away for free. I am amazed by the number of downloads I have received for the first part. 300 downloads have led to 7 sales of part two which I wouldn’t have got without the free promotion.
    As this is my first novel I know I am not going to make my fortune from it and I am just happy that someone wants to read something I have written. It would be amazing if I could build up a readership that is waiting to buy my next book. The sense of joy I get from that is payment enough for me.

  17. I’ve spent a lot of time and money promoting my work in the last seven years since my first book came out. In fact, every year, I plow just about every penny in royalties back into promotion paying a publicist to arrange bool blog tours, running ads with sites like BookBub, eReadersNewsToday, and the Fussy Librarian.

    In addition, that first book had sold more than 20,000 copies, had 117 reviews on Amazon with a 4.2 average before it was offered for FREE last month (June) through an ad with BookBub that cost several hundred dollars. I wonder what the ranters will say about paying to give a book away.

    The results, almost 40,000 copies were downloaded and most of the reviews that have appeared on Amazon since have—so far—been from readers who enjoyed the story.

    In fact, the first full year the book was out in 2008, it was pirated and almost 30k copies were downloaded from that pirated site. And I never batted an eye when I found out.

    Why? The idea behind FREE and/or $0.99 sales is to generate word of mouth because it is the most powerful promotion tool—real readers who read a book and enjoy it enough to talk about it to someone they know, who might buy and read a copy when it isn’t discounted or free.

    And so far since the FREE promotion ended, sales are up a bit—nothing to shout about but still up.

    Oh, and it took about a decade to write, edit, revise, edit, revise, and edit that first novel. A lot of work but work that was enjoyed. I can’t say that I loved the jobs I worked at for 45 years that paid the bills but, hey, that’s life. Now the retirement from that 45 years is paying me so I can stay home and write and have enough money to promote. :o)

    • Jackie Weger says:

      Lloyd Lofthouse! Thank you so much for sharing your successful experiences. 40,000 downloads on a FREE is spectacular. That FREE you ran on Bookbub in June 2015 will continue to pay dividends and passive income IF it is enrolled in Amazon Select. Most of the authors in eNovel who are in Amazon Select see KOLL and KU borrows once a title on FREE returns to priced. Usually not less than $500 in borrows and crossover sales. Yet some eNovel Authors who promoted FREE with books that resonated with readers have seen borrows and sales once back on paid reach 6k and 7k. Usually within the first twenty days of returning to priced. You didn’t mention the title of your books, so I will share: See all of Lloyd Lofthouse’s books here:

      Good luck with your books. I saw some stunning covers.
      No Perfect Secret

  18. Another thought is that when book sales are lagging, making the print version free may boost sales of the AUDIObook! Reading the first chapter or so(more than the free sample that’s shown on Amazon) may entice listeners & Whispersync customers to pay for the audio.
    One of my audiobooks sold about 40 copies total, in all of 2014. The author did a 3-day free promo of the text-version, & the audio spiked over 200 sales in one month(which is a big deal for me)

    • Jackie Weger says:

      Thank you, audiobook narrator for your comment. I do not know how those of us who have print editions in Createspace can price them FREE. I have asked Createspace if that can happen. If by text version you mean the Kindle/digital edition, most of us in eNovel and Amazon Select often run our titles on FREE for a limited time. We are only allowed five free days per 90 day cycle in Select. We do actively promote our books. Many of us are new to audio and are just learning how to promote our audio editions. One of our members is very successful with her audio editions. She says her success is because she and the narrator work as a team on promotions. Visibility is critical. I get it when you say sales are a big deal for you, especially if you are on the ACX royalty-split. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting.
      Jackie Weger
      eNovel Authors at Work

      • Ahh, multiple good points, Jackie. I of course have nothing to say about HOW or WHEN the text version(ebook, kindle, paper, whatever) goes free; I just know it’s a good thing for me. One of my books(the text) is permafree on kindle, & has steady audio sales, AS WELL AS promoting sales of later audiobooks(& presumably text; I’m not privy to that info) in the same series.

        And I’m sure that when kindle readers get a free download & are immediately offered “Now would you like the audio for an additional $2.99?”(or whatever), it’s easier for them to click “Heck, yeah” than if it were Createspace et al, & they had to go find that info on some other site. But I’m convinced(w/ an impressive lack of data 😉 ) that listeners DO sample whatever TEXT is free—the free-sample on amazon, or the whole book if available—to decide what they want to order in audio.

        I try to work w/ my authors on promotions, although only one of them is in the same geographic region as me. Working through acx, I have nothing to say about the pricing, can’t offer free deals etc, except for the 25 promotional codes I get for each title, to give away in exchange for reviews. So I stalk reviewers & bloggers & try to interest them, and I post each book on site that makes audio available to bloggers in exchange for reviews). Then ads on, and ONE of my books is being reviewed in Audiofile magazine(Yay!)

        Thanks so much for your insight in this discussion.

        • Jackie Weger says:

          You are so welcome, audio book narrator. I did ask CreateSpace if we could put a print edition FREE and the answer is NO. 10 of us with audible books just came off of a Listen and Review event sponsored by eNovel and Choosy Bookworm. I had requests for 27 codes. And see reviews are already being posted. All 10 authors were besieged with Listen and Review requests. We are learning ehow to promote our audibles. We have to get promotion sites with huge subscriber lists engaged to help us. Most do not understand that AXC has its own affiliate program. Getting the word out is paramount because promo site administrators love to double dip– collect fees from authors and again from Amazon. Trying…Great comments and informative from you. Much apprciated.

  19. In the past three years, if have given away over 800,000 books. Yes, 800,000 times zero is zero.
    However, during those same three years my readership has grown and if I had a job, I could give notice and live on my earnings as an author.
    Like Jackie, I get email from new readers saying they spotted one of my books on KU, BookBub or other promo sites for free, decided to give it a read, then wanted to read the rest.
    Free works for me!

  20. I’m wondering how the nay-sayer authors promote their books? While they are frothing at the mouth, or keyboard, about how WE do it, do they ever share their plans for getting their books noticed by readers? I can appreciate their negative opinions–after all, we do work hard to write these books–on giving it away, but I’d like to hear a better idea.
    Meanwhile, it’s me, KDP Select, BookBub, and other promotional sites you recommend because (what a concept) it works!

  21. Keep this one alive, Jackie, as each month brings new Indies into the mix. We have learned a lot over the past few years, and continue to do so in this ever changing industry. But new Indies must surely take the baby steps as we did and learn their trade along the way. Bravo!

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