When does it make sense to give away books?

FrostyLast week I participated in a book giveaway that made me more nervous than Frosty the Snowman during a heat wave. The only thing worse than asking people to buy your book is begging them to take it for free.  Argh.

Here is one theory behind a giveaway: If hundreds of people download your book it will rise in the Amazon rankings.  You could be a Best Seller! (Even if only for a day or sometimes, a hour)

You see the irony, don’t you?  A best seller on Amazon could be aBestSeller book that sold no copies.  But that’s okay because marketeers believe people impulsively buy anything that’s on a best seller list.  Or anything having ninety 5 star reviews.

And, I hate to admit it, they’re right. I’ve done it myself.

Several months ago we hired Thor the Handyman for home repairs that Joel the CouchSitter put off because he has to do his Sudoko (and besides he’s “old now”).  We hired Thor solely because he had 15 five star reviews.  Folks, that easily puts him on the Handyman Best Seller List.  Heck, it’s amazing he didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize for Handy Dandyship!  (Don’t tell me there’s no such prize because I happen to know that a good handyman has prevented many a war between spouses!)Thor

Thor showed up on time and did our test project well enough that we gave him a tip and asked him back.  On the appointed day, at the appointed hour, he was a no show.  After waiting a couple of hours we tried calling him.  His mailbox was full.  A few days later he called us. He’d been in an accident; he was so sorry, etc. We made another appointment.  Guess what happened?  Another no show. What’s with all his 5 star reviews, I thought. He can’t be handing out free labor. Needless to say, we found another handyman – this time a 4.5 guy.  So far, so good.

FiveStarThe best seller theory could backfire in other ways.  Say, someone buys your book because it’s a best seller and one reviewer (your Dad) wrote that it was the best book since Gone with the Wind.  The problem is your book is more like Fifty Shades of Grey.  The buyer not only feels misled but they also feel betrayed.  And guess who they’ll take their anger out on once it’s time to write a review?  Your poor book.

This theory on giveaways probably makes more sense.  A reader downloads one of your books for free and loves it so much, he will actually pay for another. This is more likely to happen, I think, if you’re writing a series and the reader has fallen in love with your characters and wants to follow their adventures. However, if your second and third book introduce different worlds and different characters, they may be disappointed. And what do they do when they’re disappointed?  Write a bad review. Either way, it’s a gamble.

Do you follow writers because you love the characters they create? Or, is the writing more important to you?

BTW:  Thanks from the bottom of my heart to all of you who accepted my gift. Last week I gave away about 700 ebooks.  The book most downloaded was The Graduation Present, which is set in Europe in the 1970s.   Flipka, a wacky mystery set in Nevada, was second, and Willful Avoidance third.  I was right.  No one wants to read about taxes!  

23 thoughts on “When does it make sense to give away books?

  1. I like both characters and writing…I read best sellers sometimes…usually it’s all hype. It’s hard getting sales when you first start out…at least in my opinion

  2. Like “My Holistic Life” (above), I think both good writing and good characters need to be present for a book to hold my attention. So you’ve got both covered, Jan! And congrats on giving away so many books! That’s excellent. As for reviews, my opinion is that ANY review, no matter how good or bad is a good thing for an author. The only exception might be a book with a lot of reviews that are all terrible–and no good ones to balance them. I think a lot of readers–and also promo sites like Bookbub–are more concerned with the number of reviews a book has than the number of stars, because for a person to write a review–good or bad–they usually need to read the entire story, and that means the book has merit. Looking forward to Willful Avoidance, the only one of your books I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading.

  3. Gone with the Wind – If the book’s anything like the movie it will be hours and hours of excruciating boredom. I no longer read reviews (unless they’re by Dorothy Parker). Good luck with your book. I trust it will stand on its own merits!

  4. Great observations, Jan. I’m learning slowly about book giveaways.

    I like to follow characters’ development from book to book, and sometimes am resistant to change . . . but if I respect the author and enjoy the author’s books, I at least give the new direction a chance. And you don’t have to wonder – your different worlds and characters leave readers wanting more.

    Congratulations on your success at 700 books!

  5. I’m afraid I remain unconvinced by ‘giveaways’ the real winner is the sales site. I wonder how many readers out there live on freebies. I may live to eat these words. :)))

  6. I downloaded all three of your books as well as Mary’s, so it was great incentive to check out your work. I did browse other titles that were also free as part of the same offer, but not knowing of the other authors made me hesitate to download more. It makes so much sense to offer the first book in a series for free, but I usually don’t read series and mostly see myself writing stand-alone titles as I get my writing endeavors on the right path. But even then, with the way the market it, I too have a potential series idea looming in the back of my head.

  7. Hi Jan,

    Let’s see: giving free books away for free. I think the logic here is that two positives make another, larger positive. Your publisher is obviously full of cross-eyed math geniuses. You need to make FLIPKA into a movie. How about Kristen Wiig? That could work. Hey, your blog website is getting very dynamic. All those “likes”. Que padre! Thanks. Duke

  8. I often read repeat authors, because if one book is good, odds are high the second one will be. And the odds only go up, until I’m put off by one. We readers are a fickle group!

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