If you have followed me for long, you know my general feelings about free books. I enjoy reading them when they are quality and have a hard time buying e-books because there /are/ good e-books for free just laying about so regularly. At the same time, I hate wading through the piles of worthless e-books and poorly slapped together piles of pages that are the majority of free books. The very recent posting I did that mentioned the pricing of e-books was noticeably devoid of the free price tag at all. I know a lot of people just don’t value a free book.
So then why would any serious writer ever choose to release a book for free after countless hours of work? Weeding out the people who just lack confidence in the value of their work, there is one distinct advantage. When you price a book for free, you stand to get almost a hundred times more downloads than if it is set with a price. That means the worst cover on the most tripe writing is going to still get a ton of downloads. No risk, no loss aside from time.
And it is a double edged sword. Put just one book out that is free and of low quality and you can expect to lose a lot of potential readers. Possibly more than if you had charged for the book! If you read an author who is terrible, you just never look at their books again no matter how good the cover looks or the description sounds. If you are going to put something free out there, it has to be the absolute best work you have! The sort of thing that would make very good money for you if you were charging.
When to be Free?
So here is when I feel you are in the best position to offer a free book. First, you need a long backlist of writing for sale at varied price points. Why? Well, if you have a large list of other works at different prices, you are going to see sales. Some of those who read your free work are going to decide you are very good and tuned in to exactly the sort of writing they like. The risk averse will start with some of your cheaper works, while the gung-ho will dive in with some of the larger ones. If those satisfy them, they will keep buying more because you have earned the reader loyalty.
On the other side of this coin, you might release a free book if that book is not where you are going to get the money. If instead you have a blog or website that earns money through visitors, a free book can easily drive traffic to your site. If that site is also offering regular free content, then everyone gains. The reader gets to indulge in free articles or stories and you get to increase your income through the sheer number of people visiting.
What to Offer?
So what sorts of books should you offer for free? That depends on what you write. Non-fiction guides should always offer helpful information. Pose a problem and offer an immediate solution. The more helpful and useful, the better. For fiction, a very good choice is the start of a longer series. Reading the first book of a series for free, if the book is well written, is going to drive people to want to continue reading the series. Having already seen your style and storyline, they will know if your other books in the series are for them. This means there is a good chance they will feel the same way and thus lower the risk aversion of buying your other books. Again, I have to stress the need for quality. Anything free has to be your absolute best work. Great cover art, amazing writing and quality content. Nothing less of your highest effort is acceptable.
I may not like free as a personal choice, but I do know when it is a worthwhile tool. Consider carefully before offering anything for free. You stand to gain a lot, but also to loose if you do not plan wisely. Don’t just throw something out there or pick free because it happens to be what you think will get your name out there. Plan and work strategically. Everyone, reader and writer alike, stands to gain if it is applied with skill and forethought.