Contemplating Free. Is It Worth It?

This morning saw the announcement of the 5th book in my The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos. As has become my custom, I run a 48 hour free offer at Smashwords, as a promotional. As I sit to write this, 8 hours after that blog post published, I’ve had 28 hits on that post, 16 free downloads, 2 commenters, one review, and one promise of a review. It was similar when I announced Book 4 of the series, How To Mix Feed Rations With The Pearson Square: lots of folks taking up the offer but few comments and no reviews. I’m trying to decide how to feel about that.

This is not a new dilemma for eBook authors. On the one hand, a free book is a great promotional tool. Most eBooks are self-published, which means the authors are usually unknown. A free eBook gives readers a chance to sample an unknown’s work. If they like it they will likely buy more. Free works well for a series too. Offer the first in the series for free, and, if readers like it, they hopefully will buy the rest. I’ve taken a slightly different approach of offering each new volume free for a limited time.

Another advantage to eBooks is the ability to advertise yourself by linking to your other works within the eBook. Plus, they can be updated, which means I can add each new volume to a series listing in each book. I link to my 5 Acres & A Dream The Book as well.

So why would I ask if it’s worth it? It’s certainly worth it to the reader who downloads free copies of all my books. I can’t help but wonder, however, if it is helping me reach my own reason for doing so, i.e. to promote my books. With each announcement I ask for reviews, but as other authors who have gone before can tell you, actual reviews are few and far between for freely offered books.

Here’s the rub. There is something in human nature that desires to be acknowledged and appreciated for generosity and effort. As old fashioned as it seems, it is still good manners to say thank you for a gift received or a service rendered. As a writer, I can’t help but wonder if my work simply isn’t worth a review. If it’s that useless or that bad, then it doesn’t make sense to do it. It’s a waste of my time and my readers’. This crosses my mind because I can’t help but think that a quick review as a thank-you isn’t too much to ask.

True confession – whether intended or not (likely not) I feel used. I don’t think anyone can call me greedy: at 99¢ each, I only make about 30¢ per sale, so this is hardly a get-rich scheme; especially considering the hours and hours it takes to write and produce each book. I price them low because I love encouraging others. On the other hand, writing is my way of being able to stay at home and work on the homestead. What I earn is invested in our homestead. These two things are not opposites, they are not mutually exclusive. Rather, it is the “killing of two birds with one stone,” the working to benefit both readers and author.

So after all that, what am I going to do? Well, I’ll think about it some more and see if changing tactics is in order.