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?


  1. I think I'll definitely be adding some books to my Christmas list this year. Seeing as one book can keep me entertained for weeks on end, they're a great investment for me!

  2. Of course I still buy books but I do take advantage of loss leaders and promotional efforts of a first book to boost awareness of the author and hopefully affect sales of the second book.

    But most of the free books are from self publishers. And from what I can tell, offering one free, can make a significant difference in that the book shoots up the Kindle charts and gains some virtual shelf space.

    Whether that leads to sales of the second book lies squarely on the reader's enjoyment of the first. With some free books or 2.99 books from traditional publishers, I've gone on to purchase the second book and others I haven't. But I see companies giving away freebies all the time in order to promote their company, or in our case, the author. It's just one marketing strategy among many.

    Do you really think people have stopped buying books? I highly doubt it.

  3. Amen to that. We need to support each others craft AND don't forget the small business.

    Great post.

  4. I definitely take advantange of ebook promotions, esp. if its a book or author I wasn't sure I really wanted to read, so I had put off buying. For example, after your post last week, I downloaded Amanda Hocking's zombie book for free b/c I was curious about her success and her writing. But because I don't really like zombies, I had been hesitant to buy her book even at $2.99 or whatever it was listed for originally.

    I will admit, I had a sudden moment of panic when I realized readers can now download kindle books from their library. I thought, "no one is ever going to buy another book." But you know what, "free" books checked out from the library has always been there. I believe people still purchase books.

  5. I'm very curious to see, over time, how publishers evaluate the practice of free e-books. As a reader, I take advantage of these to an extend. I have dozens of free titles on my Kindle and reached a point that I stopped downloading any more because I can't keep up with reading them. And if I'm not reading the actual books, then what exposure are the writers getting? How is the practice leading to more purchased books? It's all quite curious.

  6. Laura, No I don't think people have stopped buying books--yet. But like Olivia, I'm curious to see if this marketing technique of giving away free books is really going to help authors build a readership long term.

    The Preacher's Bride has 98 five star reviews. So, obviously it's a book that people are enjoying. Even those who received the e-book free have written 5 star reviews and emailed me. But has it helped sales on my current release? Not significantly.

  7. Interesting. Maybe it works better for independently published authors, because a lot of them report a big increase in sales of their other books. Maybe after a free book, buyers are willing to go for the 2.99 book and not the 10 dollar book? I don't know. But I agree that it will be very interesting to see what truly works in the future. What works for one way of publishing might not work for the other.

    Have authors every truly been able to pin down a formula that works with sales? People still aren't sure if blogging even helps. (Though I think it does.) And what seems to work with one book, doesn't work for another. Def. not easy.

    But, regardless of marketing gimmicks, or pricing tricks, I do think it comes down to story. Great stories get passed along, regardless of price.

    And that's awesome that The Preacher's Bride has that many 5 star reviews. Congrats!

    And I don't think people will stop buying book either. :) Or at least we hope not!

  8. Free books are great, but it doesn't necessarily mean I'll read them even if I download them.

    If I pay for a book, then it's guaranteed I'll read it. The more I pay for the book, the sooner I'll read it. There's no incentive to read the free book. It didn't cost me anything, other than a few moments of my time. And if I don't read the book, it means I won't have a chance to fall in love with it, which mean I probably won't be buying the author's next book.

  9. Jody, Great advice. Of course, our mutual agent just posted a similar sentiment on her blog, and I have a blog post for the end of the week encouraging books as a Christmas gift--all done independently, no doubt. Does that say something about what a great idea this is?
    Thanks for the reminder.

  10. Richard, I was wondering if anyone else had gotten the memo that this was the week to write about "buying books." Glad to see I'm not the only one who got that memo. ;-)

  11. When my husband and I got married, we didn't have a lot of money, so we started using the library a lot. Since then, I've really only purchased books from my absolutely favorite authors. However, since I've started becoming involved in the blogging world, I have become more aware of the need to support authors--especially debut authors--by buying their books. It was just something I never really thought about before I became involved in this industry myself. I think most people are probably unaware of how little authors make off of their books.

    I recently bought The Preacher's Bride on Amazon, by the way. Can't wait to get it and read it!

  12. I've purchased more books and supported more authors than I can count. My TBR mountain is proof of that. =)

    I download free books on my Kindle to support authors who want to see their books climb the Top 100 Free Books list, but I still prefer reading a print book. In fact, I've yet to read a single one of the free books at this point. I tend to download books I've already read so I have a copy for future reference and can pass on the paper version and free up some space on my bookshelves.

    I love giving books as gifts. There are several under our tree this year. I'm taking The Doctor's Lady to a Book Exchange Christmas party I'm attending next week. =)

  13. Wanting to become an author myself someday, I understand the value of buying books. However, I don't have a wide expendable income. And it bothers me greatly when I can't go buy a book by a favorite author to giveaway. So, I do what I can and watch for opportunities to gift a book and pass on the love for the literary world to others

  14. Who doesn't like free, Jody?
    But I also believe in buying books, not just grabbing them off the bookshelves (virtual or real ones.)
    I like to give books as gifts and I like to give books to myself. I purchase books for my Kindle and I still buy "real" books too. And, as a soon-to-be debut author, I hope others do the same for me. But, even if I wasn't an author, I'd still be a consumer.
    I think the "free" concept can be overdone. It makes it seem like books have no real value for readers.

  15. I have noticed that it seems like a lot of people have been giving away books for free, but I notice it more from bloggers who give away books as part of a contest. Presumably they either bought the book to give away or the author provided an ARC for the contest. I've also noticed that some of the Big 6 publishers have been discounting e-books to $2.99—perhaps not the same thing as free, but I wonder how much the author receives when the books are placed at such a discount. I bought a discounted e-book of one of my favorite authors (after I had already purchased a hardback some time ago) during one of these sales, and I noticed that although the sale has "ended," it is still listed at a steep discount on Amazon. Food for thought.

  16. A little feedback as a reviewer of "the Doctor's Lady" ... after reviewing it, I have passed it on to a few friends who HAVEN'T been exposed to you. AND! I will be BUYING :) copies for Christmas presents. I totally agree - FREE is great, but I want to support the market and my friends and buy their books too. Great reciprocation for a free book to buy a copy and have TWO books being passed around! :)

  17. Hi everyone! There's SO much yet that we need to learn about the ebook market. Do we devalue books when we price them between $3-5? Or is that simply the market price when we consider that we subtract the cost of printing and distributing that have accompanied print books? Do traditional publishers need to consider lowering the cost of their ebooks? Will that increase the follow up purchase after readers get a free book? I'll be curious to see how all of this eventually plays out!

  18. I got a Kindle for Christmas last year, and I now have roughly 450 books on it, less than a dozen of which I actually paid money for. How many of those books have I read? Not many yet. They have introduced me to new authors, and I've found some I LOVE, but I've also found that FREE does not equal quality. So, while I used to snatch up every free book that was offered, I try to be a little more discerning now. It's definitely an interesting marketing strategy and can be great, I think, for the self-published author who wants to get his or her name out.

    So many questions! Great discussion! Thanks for the good ideas, Jody!

  19. Very interesting to hear the results from offering your first book free! I wonder if it will take time for those "free" readers to get through it and make the purchase of your second.

    And I love your ideas too! So timely with Christmas around the corner. At the ACFW Conference, I always plan to head to the bookstore and do my Christmas shopping. It's always special for others to get a book, especially when it's signed by the author.

    Oh, and you just gave an idea of what to give at my mom's group Christmas party. Thanks, Jody! :)

  20. I've been wondering if all the "free" e-books actually pay off for the authors. I can't wait to hear about your results over the next few months.

    And my Christmas list is nothing but books this year. I'm making it easy on my fam. :)

  21. I always make sure there are books for my children under our Christmas tree.

    With the books so widely available in a digital form, it's so easy to purchase them with just one click of a button. I buy books for my Kindle quite often although I still love the books in print as well.

    I'm so happy you are talking about this issue, Jody. You have several important suggestions in here, like donating books to a local charity or school. Fabulous idea!

  22. I don't agree with free books. I don't even agree with very cheap books. I'm glad that libraries are available for those of limited financial means and also used book stores. But for others, I think a fair price should be placed on books, say, not less than $4.99 for an e-book and $6.99 for a softcover book.

    I remember reading something, I don't recall where, about the pricing history of black pearls. At first, they were denigrated to the point, they could hardly be given away. The marketing approach was changed; a black pearl necklace was shown in ads and in jewellers stores between a diamond and an emerald necklace. A movie star/model was recruited (and paid) to wear them around town.

    It wasn't long before people were happy to pay a high price for black pearl jewellery.

    If writers get involved in a race to the bottom, I don't think it will end well.

  23. I found almost all of my favorite authors for free through the library. I then purchase most of their new books and as many of their backlist as I can! I don't own an e-reader yet, so I haven't downloaded any free books. I have received several review copies and I do believe I help their sales, not only by blogging about it, but by telling my family and friends about their books.

    Free, as a short-lived promotional tool, can be a good thing!

  24. I love to read. I look around my apartment and in sight of my computer desk, I have 6 books (2 of them are cookbooks) within easy grabbing distance. There are probably over a hundred just in my living room. Not counting the ones in my car, under my bed, in the closet, at my mom's, etc. And 90% of these are ones I've bought. Since I no longer work in a bookstore, I don't buy books as often. I buy ones that I've been waiting on, ones that catch my eye, ones that the library doesn't have. Sure I love to get free books. I don't own a Kindle, yet, but have downloaded the app for the PC and am slowly building a library of Kindle freebies.

    Every year, my birthday and Christmas list includes books. It has for as long as I remember. I will give books out as gifts too. But that's only if I know the person is a reader.

  25. Totally agree. Besides supporting our industry, who doesn't love to leave the bookshop with a souvenir, or arrive home to the brown box of a new book in the mailbox. In fact, I wrote a post like this myself a while back, here:

    Get buying books authors! The more we buy, the more publishers buy. And you know what that means ....

  26. So sweet of you to mention that Jody. I was thinking about buying a copy for that church anyway, because quite frankly all those ladies are going to be so envious of the one who ends up with your book. If I leave a copy in the church at least they can read a bit and see if they like it. I can't wait for that Christmas party, everyone should go one at least once in their life. Pinching a gift someone really wants to keep then those people having it pinched off them is so naughty but so fun!

    I bought The Doctor's lady for my best friend in England yesterday. It will be a sure bet for presents for at least until the next book comes out. You're a present-buying solution right there Jody ;)

    I am still building a wish list for Christmas but I had the idea of deciding which books I would read more than once in the online shopping cart and which I could order from my library. That way I get all the books I want without all the expense. And if a book you get from the library blows you away you can do something crazy in January sales and...go buy it!

  27. Great discussion, Jody. I think the jury is still out on the free or very deeply discounted books. I recently did a post about why books should cost more than a cheeseburger. (

    I do think that we risk devaluing books as you mentioned in your comments. I have downloaded free books. There are probably at least 30 on my Kindle. And you know how many I've read? A few chapters of one, which was a writing craft book. That's it.

    I think it's a mental thing (like Stina referred to above). When it's free, there is less urgency to read it because you're not losing anything by not reading it. Plus, I think the free thing makes it *feel* like it's less than or not going to be as good as something you paid for. I know that's not the case, but it's like an automatic subconscious assumption. We assume free is "too good to be true" so there must be some catch (like the book is not going to be good.)

    It will be interesting to see how all these things pan out.

  28. I think free books would help because books I've loved from the library have prompted me to go find others from the same author in the bookstore.

  29. Great post! Have enjoyed exploring your high quality blog, Jody.

    I'll never stop buying books, though admittedly I'll compare bookshop prices with online -- usually better -- prices. I still have my Barnes & Noble card for when I'm in the U.S., though!

    I'm guessing the increase in free books will have a positive effect, ideally bringing more people to reading than before, and inspiring them to *buy* more reading material, too.


  30. I absolutely love this post (it's going in my next mash up!). First, I agree with you that buying books is really important. I learned at a conference how most authors only get $1-$3 per book. I happily get books as gifts, and like you suggested made 80% of my Christmas list book titles, including books by new authors and bloggers I follow. I told my family I'd love to support their work and read it too, so I'm thrilled to have them on my wish list.

    In regards to book giveaways, it was a giveaway that introduced me to your books and you know from my (obnoxious) obsessive tweeting that I loved Doctor's Lady!!! It did make me buy another copy as a gift and your first book for myself. In fact, my "gift idea for my mom this year is a book getaway". I'm giving her a best of the book club's reading kit. I included copies of all my fave books I've read this year.

  31. Lots of great advice, I always wondered if free works or if it just make you look desperate or something. I also buy and get gift certificates and such for christmass gifts, helping the book world go round.

  32. "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."

    I REALLY wish people got this.

  33. Thanks for posting about this, Jody. I'm very interested in promotional ideas post-publishing, so this is good stuff. I think giving away books is a great idea to a point, but as with everything else, there comes a point when it's no longer effective.

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse


© All the articles in this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without prior written consent from the author. You may quote without permission if you give proper credit and links. Thank you!