Even Though Free is IN, Don't Forget to Buy Books Too

I’ve noticed lately that “free” seems to be the new “in.”

Of course, as a reader, I like getting free books because I can try new authors I wouldn't normally consider. And besides, who doesn't like getting something free?

As an author, I think offering free books can be a good marketing technique to a degree. Most publishers and authors try to budget in giveaways for a variety of different purposes.

For example, some publishers give free books to reviewers who agree to post an honest review on their blog and with an online bookstore. This helps spread the word about books and can also generate more reviews (and the more reviews a book has, the more 'popular' it looks, even if that's not necessarily true.)

Publishers (and self-published authors) are also testing the waters for giving away e-books to increase the author's exposure. At the release of The Doctor’s Lady in September, my publisher gave away the e-book of my first book for a limited time. When all was said and done, they gave away thousands upon thousands of e-books of The Preacher’s Bride in the span of that month.

Ultimately, their hope (and that of others who give away free books) is that readers will enjoy the free book enough to go out and purchase additional books by that author. Or at the very least, tell others about the book to increase the word-of-mouth promotion.

The question is—does giving away all those free books really work? Does it help an author’s sales on their current release?

The jury is still out for how it’s helped sales on The Doctor’s Lady. My publisher didn’t see a significant boost—yet. But many factors influence the sales of a book during the critical months surrounding its release, which makes it difficult to isolate what really helps and what doesn’t.

Yes, free books are all over the place. At this point, we just don’t know the long term effects this will have on reader buying habits or whether it truly helps an author to build a readership.

However, in all of the book giveaways, let’s not forget ONE important thing: We can’t stop buying books. Writers and readers alike can’t become so enamored with getting free books—either for reviewing, endorsing, on our e-readers, or just because we can—that we forget to actually purchase books.

Most people don’t understand exactly how underpaid the majority of authors really are. Sure, there are the couple dozen authors who are making millions. But the rest of the masses of talented authors are not even making minimum wages on their books.

If we calculate out the months we spend writing, the weeks editing and rewriting, and then all of the time promoting, most authors end up making very little compared to all of the time and effort they put into the entire process.

So . . . at this time of year, at the beginning of the holiday season, I want to encourage us all to remember to buy books. Not only will we be supporting our favorite authors (who truly appreciate it!), but we’ll also be promoting the love of reading (which is something our modern culture desperately needs!).

Here are a few things we can all consider doing this holiday season:

When giving someone a new Kindle (or other e-reader), purchase a couple of e-books for the person. Erika Robuck bought her mom a new Kindle and then bought The Preacher’s Bride as one of the first books her mom could read on the Kindle.

For Christmas parties (either at work, with friends, or at church), consider giving a book for a gift exchange. Catherine Johnson emailed me to ask if I’d be willing to send bookmarks to a Christmas party she’s attending. She’s planning do a short reading from The Doctor’s Lady and then give away a signed copy.

Put books on your own Christmas wish list, particularly of authors that you might not normally purchase.

Buy books as gifts for family and friends and then ask the author if they’d be willing to send you a personally addressed and signed bookplate (sticker) that you can put into the book. (I know most authors would be as happy to do this as I am.)

Buy and donate books to a charity of your choice. I recently donated a copy of each of my books to Judith’s Reading Room (as a result of Brigette Booth’s blog tour stop). Check out Bridgette's blog post for a list of other places you can donate books along with a description of each place.

If you love a book and an author, then one of the best ways to support them—so they can continue to write the stories you love—is to BUY their books!

What do you think? Are there too many free books? Is that inhibiting authors or helping? And have you made a point of buying books to support authors?

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