Vandalism of WordsAfter reading an interesting blog post recently by Glynis Sym about ‘Freebie Reading’, it started me thinking about the value of publishing free ebooks. While many believe they are useful from a marketing perspective in attracting attention to an author, there are pitfalls with the idea.

When I began publishing, ebooks were yet to hit the market so it meant sending free ARC (Advance Reader Copies) copies to book reviewers and book bloggers. Then when ebooks arrived, this process was superseded by sending ebook files and saved a lot of time and money. But now, this convenience and practicality has extended to authors offering free ebooks to all readers.

At first I was wary, and I suppose I still am, as the idea of giving away my hard work to all and sundry is something I am just not happy about doing. However, I found a compromise that I thought would work. Instead of giving away one of my novels, I gathered together the best of what I had written as ‘The Vandal’ and published ‘Vandalism of Words‘. A collection of short stories, poetry, some better than average blog posts and excerpts from a book of essays I had published previously. All in all a solid volume of around 90,000 words. So, not a bad offering – for free.

While it has proven to be quite popular, now having been downloaded by more than 10,000 people, I have learned to accept that there are those who just cannot resist proving their literary superiority and posting quite nasty reviews. In Glynis’ post she refers to free ebooks as a gift that should be accepted graciously. While most will, and understand that a free ebook offered by an author simply serves the purpose of gaining a taste for a writer’s style, and therefore being able to decide if they may want to read more of their work, there are many who don’t understand this.

They fail to understand that a free ebook is hardly likely to be the author’s best work. I mean, duh, as if an author would give away their best work for free. These ‘reading snobs’ as Glynis so appropriately calls them are unfortunately in abundance on the Internet now, so here is the word of caution if you are contemplating offering a free ebook as a promotional tool.

Be very prepared to receive a lot of bad reviews along with the good and understand that this is the price you will pay for offering your work to the world for free. Of course while most readers will understand it is a gift, there will be many who will not, and take pleasure in writing a venomous review.

The real question is whether it is worth exposing your work in this way. In my situation, I’m really not sure, as my free book has probably worked well in promoting my blog, but as it is so different in substance and style from my other works, I can’t say it has led to an avalanche of book sales.

I would be interested to hear your views on this if you have offered a free ebook of your work, or if you have read some of the free ebooks that are available.

Free Ebooks For Promotion – Beware!
Tagged on:                                     

33 thoughts on “Free Ebooks For Promotion – Beware!

  • 30/11/2011 at 3:44 pm

    I’ve offered free ebooks that are specifically written short stories involving the characters from my novels. Sure, they do pick up the odd bad review (normally with complaints that it’s too short!) but the sales for the novels/novellas sky rocket as soon as the book goes free.

    • 01/12/2011 at 9:31 am

      Free short stories involving the characters from your novel – that’s an excellent idea, Marissa

  • 30/11/2011 at 3:48 pm

    Hi Derek, my experience so far is positive. The e-book market is at its beginning her in the French writing world and I published a ebook in June 2011. It certainly made me known and did open a market for me in different countries such as Canada. I can not say it is a success yet, and I’m not sure it makes me sell my other books. I hope it is giving a chance to reader to try my writing. I agree with you a writer is not going to give away his best work for free…

    • 30/11/2011 at 4:32 pm

      Interesting that you’re writing in French Chris. I’ve been watching some debates on French TV about the introduction of the Kindle in France. Of course the literati there are as usual, against any change at all and say, Ce n’est pas un livre, ce n’est pas la littérature! Kindle ne marchera jamais en France! But I think it will really take off with younger French readers. Good luck and I look forward to hearing how you get on.

      • 30/11/2011 at 9:38 pm

        Thanks Derek for your envouragments ! The French are so difficult, they like exclusive things so the e-book business seems to them a very suspicious revolution, you are right : ce n’est pas la Litterature ! But thanks god the world is changing and yes, young readers see reading and literature very differently than its eldest generation. It is so much fun to be part of that change ! I let you know, it seems that Christmas is going to be the turning point for tablets and e-readers sells… I may start to see an avalanche of downloads ! I let you know.

  • 30/11/2011 at 4:59 pm

    Thanks for this post, Derek, because the subject has been on my mind for a while, now. I read Glynis’s post and yours with great interest and, like yourself, I haven’t yet reached a definitive conclusion.

    This fall I’ve been publishing a series of free short stories featuring the central characters in my crime fiction novel published this summer. It’s the first in a series, and I felt that providing free exposures to the characters and the tone of the stories would generate some interest in the series itself. Downloads of the freebies seems to be going well enough, but feedback is basically nonexistent. On Smashwords I have one review (posted twice!) flaming me for having wasted their time on something that was obviously promotional. Sigh……

    I don’t see an impact at this point in sales. In fact, I’m not even sure that the freebies are being read. Who can say? Is it possible people grab these things because they’re free, then never bother to read them, let alone provide feedback if they happen to like it?

    Authors are people too, folks. Every now and again an attaboy can actually help.

    The Overnight Bestseller

    • 30/11/2011 at 8:30 pm

      You make one really pertinent point Micheal. Are free books read? This is something I would love to be able to answer. However I have a niggling feeling that there is a ‘collector’ mentality with free offerings. ‘It’s free, so why not download it?’

      In my experience, I am leaning towards an opinion that less than 20% actually read my free book. An estimate simply based of feedback I receive compared to other books and sales, but yes a very rough guess.

      I think it’s very important to understand that being downloaded doesn’t necessarily mean you are being read.

  • 30/11/2011 at 6:11 pm

    I’ve written about this in my blog and elsewhere. My advice, and the advice of a lot of authors who’ve been through the publishing mill is — Don’t do it unless you have another book ready to publish immediately, or have others already published. It literally sickens me to read enthusiastic posts by first-time authors about how many “sales” of their free book they’ve had. A free download is not a sale and does nothing, on its own, to boost your reputation as a writer. By the time you get around to publishing another book, the vast majority of those who downloaded the first one will have forgotten all about you.

    I have a free short story on Smashwords. It’s a kind of introduction to a novel I hope to get out next year, but its most important function, right now, is to give readers an idea of my writing style and encourage them to take a look at my two novels. I’ll continue to offer free shorts now and then, but freebies or temporary discounts will be coupon-based and limited to a short introductory period. If I ever write a series, maybe I’ll offer the first novel free for a while, but giving your hard work away and thinking it’s going to result in sales when you’re a completely unkown quantity is delusional.

    • 30/11/2011 at 8:36 pm

      I agree completely Catana. Giving away your hard work is crazy under any circumstances and it doesn’t necessarily lead to sales. I must admit I get a few sour reviews because my free book is a collection of what I have written in short essays and on my blog, but hell, it’s clearly labeled and it’s free. 90,000 words ain’t bad for nothing to read on a Kindle on the train.

      Ebooks are cheap enough I believe, without resorting to giving them away.

  • 30/11/2011 at 6:57 pm

    Really! No poo, it’s like bragging up the number of times you’ve eaten at McDonalds.

  • 30/11/2011 at 7:21 pm

    Thanks for this post Derek. I have a free ebook out there at the moment. It is my best work, meticulously edited and error free, not just a free offering. I have decided that this is my best chance at promotion, as I don’t have a huge Twitter platform. My followers consist of other authors only, but I have learned a lot from their methods and from one in particular. I will not name him, because this is not the forum to promote him. What he did was to write a series of books, of which the first one is free. But there’s a catch. The story is so engaging that you can’t stop reading. While it is a complete novel, it ends on a cliffhanger, and you can’t hit one click fast enough to buy the next one.
    After this positive experience, I decided to copy his formula. My free eBook, while complete, is part of a trilogy, and does end with some questions unanswered. I hope to hook readers in a similar way. I think it is working, because I have already had some enquiries from readers about the next in the series, which I’ll have out in two weeks, and the third one two months later. No point in allowing them to cool off, is there?
    Unfortunately it’s not free on Amazon, but downloads on Smashwords are progressing nicely. It went live on Nook a few days ago, also free, and I am very excited about that. From my experience, Nook readers are more likely to leave a comment or a review, and this is what I’m after. So in conclusion, it’s still early days, but I believe that a free offering is the best way to showcase your writing, and hopefully get a couple of reviews, provided you have something to follow it up, as Catana says. At this point, it is more important to me to be read, than to make money. That’s for the second book, and the third one.

    • 30/11/2011 at 9:03 pm

      Just one note of caution Niki. Simply having your books downloaded doesn’t mean they will be read. In the short term it’s not a bad idea if you are after a few reviews. But this can be just as easily achieved by hooking up with some good book reviewer/bloggers. Making an effort on this side can really help sales as these reviews by bloggers stay ‘up’ on the net better than reviews on say Amazon.

      If you take a look at my Twitter profile you’ll find a good list of about 150 book bloggers to get you started. Hope this helps.

      This link will take you to the list:!/Derek_Haines/book-bloggers

  • 30/11/2011 at 8:04 pm

    I did actually offer my first three books free for maybe a week. Then decided to charge .99 cents instead, based on something I’d read. I do still offer free books for other authors to use in contests they have, and to people like the Amazon top reviewer who read one of them (and left a very nice review!). But to just list them for free? Not anymore. In fact, I’ve set the price for my fourth book at $1.99 and won’t go any lower than this in the future. The next four in the series will be priced at $2.99 each, too.

    It’s one thing to get your name out there for awhile. It’s quite another to keep offering the fruits of your hard work for nothing. Or next to nothing. Writing is hard work. :)

    • 30/11/2011 at 8:49 pm

      You are so right Kristy. Writing is bloody hard work and I am with you. It is not something I do to simply give away. My free book is a collection of material that I originally wrote for my blog and online essays. So fair enough to package it in a readable free ebook. But my novels took blood, sweat and tears. These commodities don’t come for free.

      • 30/11/2011 at 9:25 pm

        I agree 100%. My feeling is that if I only sell two books, I’m going to get something out of it. :)

        • 22/12/2011 at 2:19 am

          I have to own up to doing some free promotional stuff for the holidays. And I may continue to do so from time to time, but not very often. It’s hard to know what to do as an unknown indie. You don’t want to work for free, yet you have to get your name out there somewhere.

          It does seem to be helping the sales of my other books though. :)

  • 30/11/2011 at 8:07 pm

    It is an interesting quandary, Derek. Readers should be able to get a sense of whether or not the writer interests them by viewing samples of the work instead of getting whole works for nothing. (I say this even though I have a free book on offer, but I don’t have any readers so where does that put me?)

    • 30/11/2011 at 8:41 pm

      Thanks for your comment Alphya. I would suggest that directing potential readers to Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ or other retailers’ preview features is just as productive as offering free books. But in the end it’s about catching a reader’s interest, and that as we all know is the great difficulty in what we do.

  • 30/11/2011 at 10:17 pm

    Thank you Derek. I am now following your bookblogger list and will try to contact some of them. I appreciate the advice.

    • 30/11/2011 at 10:30 pm

      No guarantees Niki, but always better to have some options.

  • 01/12/2011 at 10:27 am

    I don’t usually say this in public – saving it for the sanctuary of my self-publishing seminars – but readers are often the bane of an author’s life :-)

    • 01/12/2011 at 10:36 am

      You just reminded me of Basil Fawlty’s outlook on business Steven. “You people come here and expect to be waited on hand and foot, I’m trying to run a hotel here”

  • 01/12/2011 at 1:27 pm


    What are you looking at in your picture?

    • 01/12/2011 at 1:33 pm

      A good question Justin, and one that has been asked many times. While I have given a lot of answers that have avoided the truth, I’ll tell you the truth now if you promise not to tell anyone. ok?


      Queen Victoria!

  • 22/12/2011 at 1:41 am

    I’m *finally* getting around to re-blogging this thought-provoking article! The holidays really did a number on my blogging. :\

  • 01/02/2012 at 5:15 pm

    I have been,admittedly a skeptic of the whole “free” thing. But that said, I tried an experiment yesterday. I did give away my best work, my book “How I are Becomed a Very Much Gooder Author.” BUT, I tried something unique: I didn’t tell a soul about it. The result? I don’t know yet, but I did give away 437 copies to people who are not already in my sphere of influence. No way of knowing yet, whether my 1 day giveaway of my flagship product will result in sales….but it seems to me that if free eBook promotions have any value, it is is finding people you might not find otherwise….so I put my best foot forward.

    • 01/02/2012 at 7:49 pm

      It’s an Internet thing Sevastian. Free is still the best delivery method going when marketing on the net. The challenge is in making money after this stage. There are smarter people than us still working on this part!

      • 01/02/2012 at 8:40 pm

        I didn’t realize that such people existed… smarter people than us, that is. LOL

    • 01/02/2012 at 9:05 pm

      Hi Sebstian, thanks to share your experience with us. Let us know how it goes… Good luck ! Hope to hear from you.

  • 01/02/2012 at 6:11 pm

    Hi Derek,

    Just thought I would share this with you, read it today in the “Guardian”.

    I have always believed in business, free or dirt-cheap is the wrong way to go…
    For one reason, where do you go next?

    We should be very cautious about feeding “the long tale” for Amazon or any of the other platforms.

    Until next time…

    • 01/02/2012 at 7:52 pm

      Actually I read this article this morning Auburnville. In many respects I have to agree. We are really in the early days of ebooks with a long way to go. A ‘bubble’ is a very good analogy.

Comments are closed.