The Free Experiment is Ending
And Here's Everything You Need To Know
My goal as a writer is to be read.
Every day, I work on these stories, worry about them, laugh and cry. I narrate every word as I write to ensure it comes across well. By the end of the day, my mind is goo, and my voice is raw.
Free was a core strategy to accomplish my goal: to be read. It thrills me to no end when others get to experience my work. I love hearing how they needed a laugh or how they related to my quirky characters.
It helps me feel like my work makes a difference.
Despite giving away 10,000 books—a big number for a small author; a small number for others, I’m sure—I don’t feel like I’m accomplishing my goal. The metrics I track aren’t progressing, which tells me these books aren’t being read nearly as much as they are being collected.
I realized that I’d gain far more actual readers by charging for my books and using the revenue to pay for advertising. This would solve a lot of challenges I’ve faced by using free.
If you’re interested in what those challenges are, read on!
The Challenges of Free Books
People have expectations concerning everything. It’s how our minds work. It allows us to simplify an otherwise complex world.
Making the first book in a series free is common, especially outside of Amazon. But making all of your books free is not common. This goes against expectations. It signals our brain with a red flag, and we start to think something isn’t right.
Unfortunately, I like doing things outside of the box. I like to imagine how things can be rather than how they are.
I like to go against the grain.
Two months ago, I released I’m a Fudging Vampire! for free. This is one of my best books. It took a year to write. And I decided to give it away for free to build my newsletter and achieve my goal: to be read.
Unfortunately, the most popular FB groups—groups I’ve been supporting for years—wouldn’t allow me to promote the book. The expectation is for the book to be available for sale. This book’s cost was an email address, not money.
It has been downloaded less than 2% of Arachnomancer’s first book’s sales.
Promo Newsletters & Swaps
Authors are able to pay a promo newsletter—BookBub, Book Barbarian, Fussy Librarian, etc.—to market their books. However, most of these promo sites do not allow permafree books. They want to give their readers a time-limited deal.
Authors can participate in newsletter swaps, where they promote each other’s books. But it can be difficult to find authors in the same genre with a similarly sized newsletter. Plus, recommending books you haven’t read isn’t good.
Price vs Value
When something has a near-zero cost to reproduce—digital assets: eBooks, music, videos, art, games, etc.—we associate things that are free as having a lesser value. Or, if not a lesser value, we anticipate a trick (see Expectations).
A free book can easily trigger our impulse to download. It appeases a basic fear that tells us we might run out of things to read. But that’s practically impossible. As such, these downloaded books go to the bottom of massive TBR lists.
We fear wasting our time, a finite resource. The true cost of a book is the time spent reading it. If we believe the story holds little value, we’re less likely to want to risk the time investment of reading it.
Entertainment is subjective. It is loved and hated because we’re all unique individuals with unique experiences. And we have different expectations.
Your sweet grandmother will probably not like your tentacle hentai. . . .
People who put money toward something rarely do so unless they’ve taken a moment to calculate whether or not it’s worth it. This doesn’t happen with free.
Free books have the lowest barrier of entry, allowing the wrong people access to the content. They read it, hate it, and hurt its rating. When Dungeon Runner 1 launched, its first few ratings were 2 stars. Luckily, this improved with time, but it’s still my lowest-rated book.
A Store’s Best Interest
Bookstores are not altruistic. They are looking after their bottom line. When someone searches for a book, the store is more likely to recommend a product that will help the company make money.
Free books do not make stores money. In fact, these books cost money. Hosting and bandwidth are technical costs. But there’s also the opportunity cost of not being able to sell another book while the customer reads the free book.
Ultimately, I learned a lot from this experience.
Since free was a big part of my strategy, it’s quite ingrained with everything I published: articles, sample chapters, books, store pages, and social media, to name a few. It’s going to be a painful transition. . . .
But I’m excited!
I believe, with these changes, I can make the Dungeon Runner format for future stories work. This allows me to release new books far more often explore these crazy cool new worlds.
I hope you’ll join me on this adventure. :)
If you have any questions, please reach out!