My Plea to Self-Published Authors

Don’t give your ebooks away.


Even one day of pricing your ebook at $0.00, multiplied by countless authors, means readers never have to buy a book again. 

Hey, I’ve given away books in the past. But then I discovered that, as a reader, I could find enough free ebooks on one Facebook page, in one genre, in one week, to meet my reading needs for the next year. Sure, some of them are dreck, but there are enough enjoyable books to keep my entire family happily reading for free. And this is not a good thing. 

There has never been a better time to be an author, if we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot. 

The ebook is a revolution right up there with the printing press. For the first time, authors can market and sell directly to consumers. Now, I understand that we don’t have any control over whether Amazon gives our books away. But Amazon provides only a fraction of the freebies out there, and they do a lot of promoting of those authors, so that compensates. Let’s take Amazon off the table and discuss what we can control.  

How can new self-published authors promote their work, if not with free stuff?

  • Write short stories set in your books’ universe, and give those away.

A good author friend of mine, Lynda Hilburn, has had tremendous success with this strategy. Every time she put out a free short story and notified the Kindle boards, all of her books got a bump in sales. She was making serious money on her self-published books – enough that a big-name agent took notice and got her a print offer she couldn’t refuse.

Free short stories instead of books benefit readers, too.

  • You can judge an author’s voice in the first couple of pages of a book, but you can’t judge their ability to tell a story until you read the whole thing — and readers often wish they had that time back. A short story lets readers know if they like an author in a fraction of the time. 
  • Short stories can be placed outside the time frame of the author’s fictional universe. Let’s say I’m offered a free book, but it’s third in the series. That’s not an ideal situation. I’d prefer to sample the author without any spoilers for books one and two. 

The lure of free is too strong. 

When Amazon made their free Kindle reading app available, my purchases of books skyrocketed. But when everyone started giving books away in promtions, my purchases plummeted to the few authors I was determined to support. The lure of free books is too strong for most of us. We wind up reading books out of order, moving on to the next free thing instead of buying an author’s other books, and spending a lot of time half-heartedly reading full-length books, trying to decide if we like the story enough to keep going. 

So that’s my plea. Give away a sample of your talent, then price the ebook such that readers don’t hesitate to buy — the cost of a nice cup of coffee seems to work well. And of course, giving one book away in a contest, or for charity, is a different thing. 

Please spread the word.

The internet is huge. If even a fraction of authors continues to give their books away, we’re screwed. I hope you’ll share this post or write your own. Get the word out. 

Don’t give your ebooks away.

Feel free to read my follow-up post, Engagement. Why free short stories are better promo than free books, which explains how to use short stories to increase reader engagement and bring more people to your website.

14 thoughts on “My Plea to Self-Published Authors

  1. Excellent analysis of the Freebie craze…I truly think that this is indeed a golden age for authors and that we can easily kill off our good fortune, but we need to be united in this thing…

  2. Awesome post – was just saying exact thing to an author friend! If we don’t value our own work, no one else will. Good job!

  3. Now this makes a lot of sense! I have bought books I wound up never finishing. The “blurb” sounded great, but the book didn’t live up. I think you’ve got something here, Esry!

  4. I’m with you on this one! I can’t tell you how many books I have been given, through one means or another. All for free. It’ll take me years to read them, and those are books just given to me, not books I have picked up because they are free. Beyond that, I’m not a big fan of free being the new currency of books. I’ve got bills to pay.

    Oh, and Lynda’s awesome.

  5. I mostly agree…and find a very high percentage of “free” books are over priced. Unless it’s an author I really want to try, bringing out back list. I’ll download the free, and if I like it I will find space in my budget for the rest of the series

  6. I think this is good advice. My first experiment with giving a book for free was two years ago during a special week-long promotion with a lot of other authors, and overall the result was good. We all had books free for a short time and then they went back to full price. I got a big boost from the number of downloads of the free book, as did most of the other authors, and the book has sold steadily since. Now free books are all the rage, and I think the marketing benefit is being diluted. I am no longer going to offer my books free, but will consider the free short stories. Thanks for the tip.

  7. I respectfully disagree. Many thousands of copies of my novels have been downloaded for free, giving me something to brag about on places like Twitter. When people see the numbers, some of them are impressed enough to spring for $2.99 to buy one of my titles.

    1. Did you make three grand a month? Because that’s what my friend made on her ebooks by giving away stories instead of books. She also got to the top of the Amazon rankings. I don’t want to take away a your promotional tool, I want to offer you a better one.

  8. It kind of breaks my heart to see authors giving their books away and rejoicing in the huge numbers of downloads. I know how hard it is to write a book. And how many hours have gone into crafting the story. While it is no doubt hard to put a price on the wonder of being swept out of the real into the magic of imagination, it is worth something, IMHO.

  9. I gave the first of my series away on the Kindle Select program and have no regrets. It made me visible and the book and second in series are selling steadily–much more than I ever made by small presses.

    I gave my second book away for the five days also–it boosted sales for the first in the series a lot. And since then, steady sales and a decent spot on the pop lists for both.

    Some authors do the first in their series permafree or low price, to boost sales for the rest of their series. Free works to increase sales for some authors.

    1. I glad you had such great results! I still have these two questions:

      1) Could you get as good or better results by giving away free short stories?


      2) How do we reclaim those readers who read all the freebies that are out there and rarely if ever buy? I’ve talked to authors who used to get good sales results in the early days of ebook giveaways who are no longer getting those results.

      Thanks for commenting!

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