Friday, February 17, 2017

Writing: Free Books

Note in apology: This was inadvertently posted last week before it was completed, and it was probably my fault--technology isn't my strong suit. Would those of you who commented last time re-post your comments? I promise to react to them. Thanks.

I've recently begun to wonder about the author practice of offering a free copy of their book to a person leaving a comment on an interview or a guest blog post. It probably is a good way to introduce your writing to someone unfamiliar with it, but are there people who leave comments in hopes of winning free books, yet never post a review, tell others about the writer's work, or help the author in any way afterward? 

In writing, we learn to look at ROI--return on investment. Is there ROI for giving away our books? I realize you can dine on free samples from Sam's sometimes, but do dry cleaners give away samples? Grocers? Dentists?

I queried several of my colleagues about this. All of them are established writers, some traditionally published while others had gone the "indie" or "hybrid" route. Here's the question I asked: “Do you really think giving away a copy of your latest novel helps sales?”

The response of one author echoes one of the concerns writers have: "Only if a review is actually posted online." Unfortunately, as you'll see below, there are those around who enter every "contest" but never follow through with the review we ask them to post--it doesn't have to be good, just an honest opinion.

Another author is probably a bit less cynical, and answered yes, saying that many people had become loyal readers "after reading a gift, contest, or giveaway copy." Okay, that definitely represents ROI.

Another writer voiced a concern a bit different from the one already detailed. "I fear that most free books go to (people who are already) fans. (They) tell me how delighted they are when they get a free copy from the publisher or a site like NetGalley. If our fans are no longer buying our books because they have learned to get them for free for the promise of an honest review, who will buy them? I think the 'culture of free' is harming Christian fiction a great deal.” Well, at least it's harming the pitiful monetary return most of us have. I've heard that becoming a writer is essentially "taking a vow of poverty." 

A well-known author has a different take on the subject. "If you mean doing a blog post interview, which includes giving away one copy—I don’t know. The interview gives some publicity. I don’t know that giving away a copy gives any more. But it might be a requisite for doing the interview." And this is correct--some bloggers and reviewers expect the author to offer one (sometimes more than one) copy of their book at the time they are given blog space.

A number of blogs encourag interviews or guest posts be accompanied by a free book to a randomly selected commenter. To this, yet another author says, "Why should we pay people to read our work?" I don't have an answer to that, at least not when it's phrased that way. Do you?

Well, it's your turn. Do you leave comments in hopes of winning a "freebie?" Have you ever won a free copy of a book? Did the book inspire you to post a review, tell a friend, or in some way help "influence" on behalf of the author? Have you ever been tempted to sell (or give away) a book you've won? I'd like to know. And if you'd prefer to remain anonymous, feel free--I'm not offering anything to commenters except my thanks.

Click to tweet: "What's your opinion of authors giving away copies of their books?" Click here to tweet.


Susan Johnson said...

I enter contests often to try to win free books.I have found several new authors this way. Also, if I win a book that is part of as series I buy the rest of the series to go with it. I also try to leave a review of the books I read, especially if I won them and I definitely leave one if I received it in exchange for a review.

Richard Mabry said...

Susan, thanks--not only for your comment, but for what you do with the books you've won. That's exactly why authors still give away books. I appreciate your comment.

Jan Hall said...

I always post a review for all of the books I read. I do enter a lot of giveaways because I can't afford to buy books right now. Writing a review is my way of thanking the author for the book and for their writing ability.

Richard Mabry said...

Jan, you bring up the two-edged sword faced by all authors--certainly for those of us who write Christian fiction. We want to get our novels into the hands of as many people as possible, but we want to be paid for our efforts. I certainly understand that the high prices (these are set by the publisher, if the author writes under a traditional contract) put books into the category of "luxury" that some people can't afford. Your reviews offer a definite "return on investment" as a marketing tool. In essence, you're acting as an influencer.
Thanks for your comment, and for what you're doing.

Patricia Bradley said...

I'm not sure if I left this comment earlier or not...My first book is free as a digital download. It's a promotion that my publisher believes will sell the other books in the series, and so far, I've seen the sales of the other books go up.

I also have a drawing for my books once a month on my blog to draw readers to it. One week I had over 400 hits, but don't know if it will continue or how that translates into sales.

I don't like marketing, but it's a necessary evil. lol Interesting post.

Richard Mabry said...

Patricia, essentially your publisher (and, I presume, you) are looking for the giveaway to bear fruit, either due to a reader otherwise unfamiliar with your work learning about it and/or the posting of a review. I'm all for that, but I have to say that I see many of the same names or email addresses showing up in many giveaways. And the giveaway doesn't always translate into reviews. I wish I had the answer, but unfortunately, I don't. Thanks for commenting.

Paula said...

Hi, Richard. I am retired so I don't really have a budget for buying books. I mostly get them from the library. I have won several books through contests. I have given them away as presents for grandkids or friends. I try to post a comment on goodreads or get back to the author with a comment. I also talk up the books with my friends. I realize that most authors don't write for the money and you are just regular people who need the income. Bookmarks are a good way to go for authors. I have taken several author's bookmarks to the libraries at Church and in town and I pass them out to friends.
Thankyou for your contribution to the world of Christian fiction. I really enjoy your books. I feel as though I have made a friend; you are always very gracious. Your blog and Patricia's and Ann Gabhart's are the ones I try to comment on regularly.

Richard Mabry said...

Paula, I appreciate your kind words. I understand that lots of people don't really have a budget for buying books, but you certainly put the ones you win to good use--that's exactly what authors hope for when they do a book giveaway.
Your idea about bookmarks is a good one, and I'll have to confess that--although I've given some of mine to our church library and left others at local Christian book stores--we certainly should do more of that. And, by the way, I always make certain that one or more of my author's copies for each of my books goes to my church library as well as to the public library in our city.
Thanks for your comment, and for what you do.

Gail H. said...

I have won books and I am on several author influencer teams. I made a vow to myself over three years ago that I would review and promote every book I read, whether I got it free or bought it. I get coupons from Lifeway often and get good bargains on books I buy there. Also Sams Club has good prices. All my Christian books are donated to my church library when I finish reading and reviewing them. My reviews are posted on at least seven sites and my Facebook page. Pictures of the covers are put on my Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook. I try to highly promote.

Kris M said...

I love winning books - my husband has even said that my love language is Free. But when I do win or get a book free, I almost always try to leave a review - which I do not do when I read a book from the library and rarely do when I buy it myself (it does take time to write and then post a review on multiple sites). I also am the bookclub leader at my church so when I really like a book, it often becomes a bookclub selection and so many copies are purchased by the ladies. And since I do read lots of books, people frequently ask me for recommendations.

Richard Mabry said...

Gail and Kris, you all are the type of person authors love. Free books to you all trigger an obligation to review and tell others, which is the reason we give them.
Thus far, everyone who commented has been someone who does what authors want from books they win or receive free of charge. However, there are others who don't, and it's unfortunate that they leave a bad taste in an author's mouth when the word "giveaway" is mentioned.
Thanks for your comments, and for what you do.

Jackie Smith said...

I am retired and have limited funds to buy an avid reader of Christian fiction (esp. medical). I win books a lot and also get them from the library. I always write a review on a book I win and then place it in our small county library where they display it and promote it. They also appreciate bookmarks if the author sent me some.

Richard Mabry said...

Jackie, thanks for the comment, and for what you do. It's people like you who may eventually restore the faith of this old jaded writer. I appreciate you and those like you.

Carol Garvin said...

I've been an influencer for a writer-friend and also have won a couple books. I did reviews for them, but honestly, I hate reviewing! For the same reason I decline dog judging assignments, I'd rather pass up a free book if it comes with the condition of reviewing it. Giving an opinion on a book is such a personal thing and makes me uncomfortable. I prefer to share the book in other ways -- mentioning it to friends, putting it in our church library if it's an inspirational book, etc. Of course I realize getting reviews is an important aspect of marketing so I hope I'm in the minority for the sake of an author's success. LOL!

Richard Mabry said...

Carol, you are indeed in the minority, but I agree that writing a review (a proper spoilers, just a short discussion of what's going on and how the author's work affected you) is an art not everyone wants to practice. And I know that you do your 'influencing" on a personal level. Thanks for your comment.

Martha said...

I used to do it more, but not so much anymore. I enjoy reviewing books and do it just as much for my sake as for others.
I tend to only agree to review books now, that I know that I will have time to read and am pickier about what I agree to review.

But I will say, I think sometimes authors miss out on a huge benefit besides reviews that they get from giving away some free copies.
As another commenter stated, there are many people that honestly cannot afford to purchase as many books as they can read. Libraries are amazing homes for these people, but for new books, they are harder to find. These books, especially from newer writers may never be discovered if they do not give away a couple of copies. There are many, many books that I would have never purchased, had I not won a copy on a giveaway. I would not have recommended that many of my friends purchase a copy. I would never have asked my library to purchase a copy. My friends, people on the readers FB groups, my local book clubs, my homeschool group, and others would never have bought a copy if I had not won a free copy.

Yes, I write reviews, but I think some times we can get focused on that one free copy may only result in one-ten sales of a copy of a book. Since I am also a small time book seller, people tend to take my recommendations and buy books that they would never have before. If I have not read the book, I don't recommend it. I read about 200-300 books a year.

I cannot purchase that many in a year, but I do likely purchase a 1/3 of those. I use the library, review copies, and if I like a book, I generally buy anywhere from one-five copies myself for gifts or for resale on average. They are low numbers. But when you add up how many people there are like us out there, which there are a lot of us, it makes a difference.

This is not counting the ministry value that the books give as well, which I know does not put any money in your pocket.

Richard Mabry said...

Martha, thanks for your comment. The point of my post, from an author's standpoint, is whether most people who enter the contest for a free book and win will then post a review (it doesn't take that long to do one on Amazon, then cut and paste to post it on Goodreads). It sounds as though you read a lot of books, and I applaud you for purchasing and giving away copies of the ones you like. I think I've gleaned from your answer that you only enter giveaways where the book seems worth your while. But anyway, thanks for dropping by.
By the way, my author's copies go to various church libraries in the area, our public library, and the blogs where I either do a guest post or interview, as well as the people who've signed up to be influencers.