Posted On July 10, 2013 by Print This Post

Handsome Hansel – To be Free or Not to Be Free…That is the Question

Today, regular columnist, Handsome Hansel, tackles the question of giving away our books.    

To Be Free Or Not To Be Free (That Is The Question)

Let’s face it, more than likely what began each one of us to write was NOT the prospect of becoming rich and famous. When I talk to new authors, almost exclusively, it’s that they wanted to share their stories with others. And, after a bit of prodding, they admit they’d love to see their book on the NY Times Bestseller list. Not once has anyone told me that they do it for the money. So that got me to thinking…(uh oh)

I took a leap of faith a short while back. I was fortunate enough to be able to throw myself 110% into a writing career. My reasons for writing are the same as most: wanting to get my stories in the hands of others, see my book on Amazon or the NY Times Bestseller lists, feel that satisfaction of ‘having done it’ and holding my completed book in my hands. But I also want to make a living at writing. A good living. Perhaps not a J.K. Rowling kinda living but a living nonetheless.

Shouldn’t we be paid for the work we put in? The writing part of getting a book to print is perhaps the easiest part. We are writers after-all. It’s all the other parts that really take up most of our time: working with editors, getting book covers designed, establishing a game-plan for promoting you and your books, etc. These are all part of our “Job”. So it’s lost on me why someone would spend a year (or two…or more) and then give their book away for free.

This is something I was first introduced to about fifteen years ago. I was working for a national company and traveled a lot. A large financial conglomerate was in the process of buying the company I worked with, and they decided to have a big meet and greet at their headquarters in Kansas. After a nice dinner, I and a few other District Managers, were invited to drinks at the house of our new company president.

Once there, we were treated to a tour and when we were shown he and his wife’s joint study on the upper floor, there were boxes upon boxes stacked along one of the walls. With his wife out of the room he jokingly asked if we would each be willing to take a box home with us. I inquired as to what was in the boxes to which he proceeded to rip one open and pulled out a book stamped with his wife’s name. It was a non-fiction book on ghosts and haunted places she had researched. For the ensuing 20 minutes, we listened as he complained that after three years of research, writing, and over $20,000 of his money, all he had to show for it were the boxes in his study. Tossing the book back into the box and with frustration tempering his voice, he revealed, “We can’t even give the damn things away.”

I’ll admit, I knew NOTHING of the writing world at the time, but it seemed pretty ridiculous to me to spend all that time and money only to end up with nothing to show for it. Of course, this was before the days of Amazon, Kindles, iBooks, and social media in general. However, the premise is the same. We pour ourselves into our work and we’d like to be rewarded for our time. Don’t we? We have advantages authors didn’t have fifteen years ago.

For instance, it’s a lot easier to get our book out to the public. I can compile a number of different formats for my book in Scrivener inside of a few minutes. I can then send it off to Amazon or iBooks and instantly, I’m a published author. (I’m seriously Cliff-noting the process here but that is the gist of it.) Now that that’s done, there’s the matter of promotion. I have between my two Twitter accounts over 40,000 followers. I think it’s safe to say a minimum of 1% of them would buy a book I put up for $.99. Assuming I’m the only one involved, that’s $400 to me. It’s not Stephen King money but it makes a car payment.

So then why do so many new authors give their books away for free? Stats. That’s what it boils down to. For some reason they believe that by giving their book away for free on Amazon and other sites it will raise their book in the rankings to a point where people would then be willing to pay money for it. There are even strategies for this. While it all boils down to simple supply/demand economics, there are suggestions as to pricing depending on demand. I’m not going to go into the details here because this is about whether or not we should give our hard-earned work away for free at all.

My take? If it isn’t already obvious…Never.

I had the good fortune of attending an incredible author event in North Carolina called, “Book’Em NC”. I drove many miles to attend at the invitation of Internationally Acclaimed Author, p.m.terrell (@pmterrell), who is also in charge of making this event happen each and every year. Aside from great speakers and crash courses in everything a new author needs to know, there were tables begetting tables begetting yet more tables of authors standing proudly next to their paper bound dreams come true. I met a number of authors and came away with more great information than I could have ever given at the time. I bought a number of books to show my support and not a one of these authors were giving their book away for free.

Is it simply the difference between selling a tangible versus an intangible? When we ourselves have our book in hand, is it harder to just hand over? When it’s in digitized form and, let’s face it, really didn’t cost us anything to get it in that form, are we predisposed to let our hard work go more readily? Realistically speaking here, (do you expect anything less of me?) 🙂 if every single one of my 40,000+ followers downloaded a free book of mine, I MIGHT hit the top 10,000 list. Big whoop. As writers we can’t let ego get in the way of our own well-being.

We’ve all read the articles in Writer’s Digest, The Writer, Poets And Writers, etc. As 21st century authors we are almost solely in charge of peddling our writer wares. How many times have we read a paragraph or sentence which prefaces itself with: “Unless you’re with one of the Big 5…” We are on our own in most cases. We are no longer just authors but sales people as well and when you give yourself away for free you are only devaluing yourself as an author. You put in the hard word; the blood, sweat, and tears of questionable punctuation. For that effort alone, I would gladly spend a few bucks for your heart as a writer.



So, what do you tthink about giving away your books? Have you done it as an author and what were the results?


On Friday, Kevin Symmons tells us the four ‘E’s” of romance. 


Bio: Like most of us, I’ve been around the block a time or two (or three) in the relationship world. I like to think of myself as having a pretty thick skin, however, that skin doesn’t surround the heart.

I’ve been in love; I’ve been in lust. I’ve been hurt and got up to do it all again, each time having learned more of myself as well as “wants” and “don’t wants” for my next relationship. Amazingly enough, I never gave up on that one true love wrapped in Romance. You can visit me here, at

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Handsome Hansel


43 Responses to “Handsome Hansel – To be Free or Not to Be Free…That is the Question”

  1. Morning HH..

    Ooooo what a hot topic! I’ve read a few articles on the subject, the strategy of pricing when bringing out a series, but very little on doing it for a book that isn’t part of a series.

    While I’m not published, I worry about giving my writing away for free as well, but for a newbie author, wonder if it isn’t the way to get people introduced to your writing? Or if they’d then expect all your books to be free…

    Can’t wait to hear what some of our published indie authors have to say!

    Thanks HH!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | July 10, 2013, 8:04 am
    • Good Morning, Carrie!

      I too have heard that it’s a way for others to get introduced to your writing but I still feel that if they are interested they’ll pony up a few bucks to buy it. How many times have we spent $15 on a book in a bookstore from an author we had never read? Simply because the book jacket was intriguing or the synopsis caught our attention?

      Thanks for the chance to bring the topic up here at RU!


      Posted by HH | July 10, 2013, 9:07 am
  2. Good morning, HH. Thank you for a thought provoking post!

    I have never given a book away for free on a retail site, but have given individuals a free book. Even with that, there were specifics involved. For me, I think some of the best marketing an author can do for an ongoing series is getting the first book in the series into the hands of a readers. I have six stories in my series. If I can give a reader the first book for free to get them interested in the rest of the series, I’ll do it.

    If I only had one book out, I think I’d have to be convinced to give it away.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | July 10, 2013, 8:05 am
    • Adrienne,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment! I appreciate it. When it comes to a series I can certainly see the logic in enticing new readers with the first book. Also, I think it goes without saying that giving our books away to friends and family for free is a no-brainer. 🙂

      Thanks again!

      Posted by HH | July 10, 2013, 9:10 am
  3. Hi HH,

    It’s hard to give a book away for free. My publisher put my book on Amazon for free for three days. I couldn’t watch.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | July 10, 2013, 8:25 am
  4. I have a lot of romance writers as clients and a number of them have run KDP Select promotions. In all cases it has dramatically increased sales. Although less so at certain time of the year.

    The impact is so great that it is hard to walk away from, even if they want to offer their books on B&N or iphone.

    Rachel Simeone
    Book Marketing Coach
    Zetablue Marketing

    Posted by Rachel Simeone | July 10, 2013, 9:07 am
  5. Wow… Great post! Really thought provoking. I think that giving a book away for free when you have more stuff to sell makes sense. They can sample your work without a cost and then come back to buy more.

    Posted by Jessica Flory | July 10, 2013, 9:25 am
    • Jessica,

      I agree. Although I remember buying a “sampler” book for about $4 of the first four chapters of Harlan Coben’s first book at a Borders. Even though I paid $4, I liked the first chapters so much I bought the book when it came out a month or so later.


      Posted by HH | July 10, 2013, 10:01 am
  6. Great post.

    I’m going to agree with Adrienne to the extent that I’ve been doing the Kindle give away on my short, cliff-hanger chick lit book, but I will not do that with the upcoming sequel.

    It’s a tough choice, but as a reader, I do not ever find myself looking for free books. If I read about or hear about a book I find interesting, I buy the damn thing 🙂

    Posted by Tamara | July 10, 2013, 9:48 am
    • Tamara,

      Maybe it’s just me but when I see a book listed as Free I can’t help but feel it must not be any good. It’s unfair of me to think that way but it’s instinctual and hard to shake.

      Of course I’ve paid $15-$20 for books that were total crap as well! 🙂


      Posted by HH | July 10, 2013, 10:04 am
  7. I give a lot of my time away for nothing in return, so when I do eventually finish my book I’m sure I’ll just be grateful for someone taking the time to read it!

    Posted by Jo | July 10, 2013, 9:54 am
  8. Stats is not the only reason.

    I have a book permanently free as part of my marketing strategy. It works. It sells my sequels.

    And I’ll do it again. To see only what you get from that one book is short-sighted.

    It’s about exposure, and as a new author we need plenty of that.

    Free books are part of other authors’ big success.

    Posted by Mary Pax | July 10, 2013, 11:55 am
    • Mary,

      It’s certainly easier to give a book away when you have two, three or even four others available for sale. It’s so much harder for a new author to simply give their book away in hopes of having their next one sell.


      Posted by HH | July 11, 2013, 2:46 pm
  9. While I understand why you would give your book away for free, I’m opposed to it. Let me tell you why.

    First, I put in hours of time and effort to research, write and edit my book to ensure I was offering the best information to my readers.

    I also include well-known bloggers in my book, as well as Seth Godin. That alone increased the value I’m providing to my readers.

    Second, I blog every week – FOR FREE – on several sites so you know who I am and how I write. And I give good information,too.

    Third, you can preview my book on my website.

    Fourth, I tweet the content from my book as well as provide ideas through updates.

    Lastly, I have a greater appreciation of my time and the value I offer to others. Thus, I should be compensated for it

    Posted by Marcie | July 10, 2013, 12:30 pm
    • You make some valid points, but the time and effort YOU put in is something that YOU do by your own CHOICE.

      And isn’t that what readers do too? Regardless of the fact whether or not one pays for it or not, they also put time and effort into the process of getting your book or anyone else’s book for that matter.

      So, to say that BECAUSE of that, one should be compensated, I find that a little bit hard to digest. It’s like saying ”because you can’t pay for my 1st book you’re not worthy to be any type of reader of mine”.

      As for knowing who an author is… There are a lot of authors out there, whether they are known both online and offline, who are NOT known by the whole world.

      So, to say that because one blogs for free somewhere where only a handful of people go, so to speak, is a reason to be compensated for literature is kinda hard to digest too.

      I suppose in a way it also matters what kind of book it is and if it’s part of a series or not.

      Posted by Soraya E. | July 10, 2013, 1:59 pm
      • Soraya, (lil’ sis)

        If authors only ever gave their stories away, just how long would they remain authors?

        Of course our readers put their time into our books but don’t they also put time into going to a movie? They don’t seem to have a problem shelling out $12 for two hours of their time to be entertained. So why, as authors, should we not be compensated for entertaining our readers?


        Posted by HH | July 11, 2013, 2:58 pm
        • Well, obviously, if you’re already an established author it would be ones own decision whether or not you give away your products, but as a beginning author, I think it’s only fair to start with giving away in order to gain a fan base.

          And whether or not one gets paid for their writings or not, that does not make one any less of an author… but that’s how I see it.

          I THINK people in general hold authors to an unfair higher standard than they do actors. Because when we go to a movie, we go to see a certain actor or actress. Often we don’t even think about the WHO made it, it’s more a fact of who’s in it.

          Posted by Soraya E. | July 12, 2013, 6:03 pm
    • Marcie,

      Absolutely beautifully said. Thank you.


      Posted by HH | July 11, 2013, 2:52 pm
    • Marcie,

      For some reason, my reply to your comment ended up below!


      Posted by HH | July 11, 2013, 2:53 pm
  10. I don’t see any problem in giving ones first book (of a certain series) away for free. Why not? Because in this day and age, people just don’t have the money.

    Even I have a few books in my collection that I have acquired for free and there are some in my collection that I have bought.

    All it boils down to is supporting an author and personally an author should be happy with any kind of support. If you write a book because you want to make any type of living from it, such an author does not deserve my support. Quite frankly, on a personal level, the whole connection is non existent at that point.

    I don’t care how good said author may be, but someone with a thought process like that needs to change their thinking.

    In life you don’t do or make things for a financial living, no, you do and make things because YOU want to do it. Because it makes YOU happy. Anything else that comes with it is just a bonus, but it should never be a factoring reason.

    Posted by Soraya E. | July 10, 2013, 1:43 pm
    • If you write a book because you want to make any type of living from it, such an author does not deserve my support.

      Soraya, could you clarify this statement? Many, many authors write to make a living – those same authors – like Stephen King and Nora Roberts, probably write as well because of the stories in their heads, because they love to write, because it’s just who they are. Their net worth doesn’t make them less of an author…


      Posted by Carrie Spencer | July 10, 2013, 2:42 pm
      • It shouldn’t be your only reason to write a book. It shouldn’t be a decision factor. If you want to write a book, you write a book. You should want to write a book so people get to know you and your work. You shouldn’t even be thinking about ”how much money will I be making”.

        Posted by Soraya E. | July 10, 2013, 2:53 pm
        • I think there’s just as many reasons as to WHY someone writes a book as there are writers. Some because it comes from their heart, some because it’s a gift, some for money, some for reasons we’ll never know. Someone may write a book describing their breast cancer experiences, and give some/all of the proceeds to research. I’m sure they are hoping to make money on their book. =)

          If it’s a great book and I’ve enjoyed reading it, I don’t need to know their reasons as to why they wrote the book, I just enjoy the book. If the author enjoys the money I spent to buying their book, that’s their prerogative.


          Posted by Carrie Spencer | July 10, 2013, 10:12 pm
    • S,

      Perhaps something got lost in translation. I’m not saying an author should start writing books solely because they want the money from it. (or lack of) I’m saying that if they want to write on a regular basis and forgo their other job prospects, shouldn’t they be paid?

      If you like an author wouldn’t you pay $1.99 for their ebook?


      Posted by HH | July 11, 2013, 3:01 pm
      • I’m all for people following their passions, BUT, we all should stay and be realistic.

        You’d have to be a really good writer/author to be able to make big bucks from your work and I think that most (established or not) authors can agree that nobody ever puts out an immediate hit when they put their book on the market.

        Therefore even IF you’re serious about your writing, I think it’s only wise that you have something to fall back on in case this doesn’t work.

        Also, I’m NOT saying people shouldn’t get paid for what they do, all I’m saying is that one shouldn’t expect to get paid. Does that make sense?

        More so, I think for most and me personally, it’s not a matter of wanting to pay for something, it’s a matter of ”can I pay for something”.

        Posted by Soraya E. | July 12, 2013, 6:10 pm
  11. Why is it you so often see writers vilified for wanting payment for the hard work and talent that go into their product?

    I’ve never seen any similar recommendations for lawyers, doctors, politician or ice cream makers, for example.

    Am I just hanging in the wrong places?

    What is so worthless about what we do, that we should just be happy and grateful that someone reads our books?

    I write and I want to make money from it.

    I see the logic of one book as loss leader if you have another, or others for sale. Beyond that, I suspect the returns from giving it away for a while then selling it to be poor.

    Let’s hear it for writers making money!!

    Posted by Jenn | July 10, 2013, 3:46 pm
  12. Hi HH,

    I know several authors who give away the first book in their series for free as a way to attract new readers who will then buy their books, and yes, these are romance series, based on the members of families, or a prolonged storyline that plays out over several books. It seems to work well for them and bring them new readers they might not otherwise reach, so there are times when it would seem that giving away a book would seem advantageous. Also, it sometimes helps garner more reviews for the book and series, which can be a big marketing plus. In the long run though I am in favor of reducing a book to 99 cents in order to get it out there rather than giving it away. You might get a few less readers, but the ones you do will really want to read your books (because they paid for it) and will advertise it by word of mouth.
    Another issue is why are indies supposed to price their eBooks so much lower than books in the same categories by traditional publishers, which at times prove to not even be as interesting or well developed? Would love to see a future topic on this aspect of romance and indie publishing.

    Posted by Tracy R | July 10, 2013, 5:29 pm
    • Tracy,

      I have admitted that I can get my head wrapped around giving the first book away if you have a series.

      YET, I just bought Sylvia Day’s first book in her series for $15 and I had never read anything by her before.

      I really feel that in this day and age of easy accessibility, people have become “gimmees”. I will admit that it is harder for me to pay $15 for an e-book than it is $15 for the actual book. Perhaps I’m old-school that way. 🙂


      Posted by HH | July 11, 2013, 3:12 pm
      • I don’t see that as old school, because when it comes to my collection, the books I have paid for are actual books. The books I have acquired for free are e-books.

        I’m 25 and when it comes to books, even I have the same thinking when it comes to actual books and e-books.

        Posted by Soraya E. | July 12, 2013, 6:16 pm
  13. Yes, a VERY hot topic! I don’t have a book to give away OR sell, but I have multi-published friends who have faced this dilemma. Apparently giving away an ebook can pay off in other ways, but I would be hesitant to give away, or even slash prices, for paperback or hardcover books. As an obsessive reader, I’m predisposed to pay traditional retail prices for these. Even though I also buy ebooks – and rarely download free ebooks – I am hesitant to pay more than ten bucks for an ebook. I might pay that much if it’s an author I like and the paperback hasn’t been released yet, but I would definitely think twice.

    I commenting as a reader, since I haven’t sold a book yet. Looking to the future, I’ll think twice for giving away my hard work.

    P.S. I feel sorry for the woman who was stuck with all the boxes of her books. It’s too bad her husband wasn’t more supportive of her efforts! That book might not have sold in any quantities, but her next one might have been a hit!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | July 10, 2013, 6:14 pm
    • Becke,

      Thanks for the comment! I’m with you when it comes to spending money for e-books vs the actual book. Like I said in the above reply, perhaps I’m just old-school that way.

      As for the lady with the boxes of books… her husband did believe he was being supportive and I’ll admit that after a read it was pretty awful. Shhhh!


      Posted by HH | July 11, 2013, 3:15 pm
  14. I haven’t published a book – yet. I’ve had articles published. Was I paid. No. The one time I took up a paid assignment the publisher didn’t pay me for my work even though they printed the article.
    I write because I love writing not because I want to make money from it..BUT….giving it away for nothing if I ever finish the book I’m working on. Maybe a couple of sample chapters, but the actual finished product? Not me. Good marketing is the key and how you market that product. I’ll make sure that if I make it with a finished book then I’ll do the right things and (hopefully) sell it. If not well hey try and then try again.. Thanks HH great post and oh so true

    Posted by Liz Clark (@madbushfarm) | July 10, 2013, 6:18 pm
    • Liz,

      I truly believe all writers write because they enjoy it. My dad was a machinist for all of his life and he actually enjoyed it as well. Would he have worked for free? Hell no. My Opa was a painter and loved it more than life itself. Yet he never gave a painting away for free. It was a sign of respect to pay for what he did. Maybe that’s where I got it from. 🙂

      Thanks again for following me over to RU!


      Posted by HH | July 11, 2013, 3:20 pm
  15. This is a hot topic. I don’t think it’s a good idea to give away your work for free, either – but many times I’ve downloaded a free Kindle ebook from an author and discovered someone new. Went on to buy more of their books, so it works. However, and this is the truth, I will no longer download free ebooks to my Kindle because of all the junk I’ve got on there now. Some of it is unreadable.

    Posted by Maria | July 10, 2013, 10:45 pm
    • Maria,

      I suppose I’m curious…would you have downloaded the books if they were $.99?

      I certainly will never chastise an author for experiencing with their pricing strategy but if you give it away you’re confessing to your readers you feel you’re just not good enough.


      Posted by HH | July 11, 2013, 3:22 pm
      • WOW!

        Big brother of mine, that is not the thinking way that I can relate to.

        Because one gives away stuff for free one thinks of themselves as not good enough?


        YOU don’t know the reason WHY an author decides to give their work away for free, but to say that they do that because they think of themselves as not good enough?

        *shakes head in disbelief*

        Posted by Soraya E. | July 12, 2013, 6:22 pm
  16. Just because I give away books for free — and in this case I’m talking permanently free eBooks — I’m devaluing myself as an author? Ouch.

    Okay, here’s another perspective. Warning: Long post ahead!

    I’m small-press pubbed and my royalties across 5 books wouldn’t keep me in coffee. The 3rd party royalty rates on my contracts are criminally low — ’nuff said. But I had an amazing editor who was a huge advocate for my stories, so I hung in there until she left. After that, the pittance I was getting for my books every six months started to get to me and I became so despondent I almost gave up writing.

    In the end I decided to give it one last shot and indie-pub a number of manuscripts that’d done well in the contest circuit. And I started to make a little bit more money — nothing great, but a little bit. I kept going because although no one knew who I was and my sales weren’t great, I loved writing. But hey, let’s be honest, getting some decent royalties and helping DH pay the mortgage was up there on my list of things I’d like to achieve too.

    Fast forward nearly two years. Sales have finally picked up to the stage where I can help DH pay the mortgage — and then some, if the last quarter’s earnings are anything to go by. Dang, my snobby accountant is going to be shocked, LOL. So what changed?

    I can tell you exactly what changed and when. Mid-March I released a bundled version of the three paranormal romances I’d already published. End of March I set the first book of the series — all 90k of it — free. Permanently. Everywhere I could. And then I released a fantasy trilogy, plus a bundle of all three books, all in one hit. Plus I made the first book of the trilogy — all 107k of it — free as well.

    iBookstore picked up the para-rom and much to my surprise, featured it with a breakout author banner throughout April. And suddenly sales were off and running. My fantasy trilogy started to do really well on iBookstore, too. Plus Amazon came to the party and price-matched the freebies (that I’d lowered to 99c because you can’t set a book to free on the ‘Zon) and those sales started increasing. And just this week, a team at my local iBookstore partnered with Smashwords to set up a pre-order on my soon-to-be-released YA. (Pre-orders aren’t usually offered to indie-authors unless they’re big names in the industry, and I’m hardly a big name. But iBookstore suggested it and pushed me when I balked because I didn’t think I was well-known enough. Still don’t! So I hope I don’t let them down.)

    Anyway, the upshot is NONE of this would have happened without the exposure those two free books gave me. (And don’t get me started on what’s happened with one of the books I put up for free on Wattpad, coz this post is already too wordy *g*) Yes, I’m “giving away” months and months of work, and yes, it’s scary. But it’s driving sales to my other books. It’s getting my name out there. It’s letting readers try my books to see if they like my voice without a financial outlay. It’s gotten me in front of readers. It’s helped me cultivate a great working relationship with the iBookstore team.

    So for me, free is a powerful marketing tool. And besides, don’t we all love it when we get freebies when we’re shopping?

    Finally, to address the issue of lots of free books being poor quality. That’s sometimes true and I had a bunch of wince-worthy freebies on my Kindle, too. (Mind you, I had a bunch of wince-worthy books I’d paid for, and that really hurts!) But now I find I’m more discerning. I read an excerpt and check reviews before I download anything — even a freebie. And if it’s a great book, I immediately look for more by the same author.

    I believe free can be a win-win for readers and authors. It’s certainly worked for me.

    Posted by Maree Anderson | July 11, 2013, 2:17 am

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