free ebooks

Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale starts July 1st!

Every July, Smashwords authors have the opportunity to offer their ebooks at reduced prices (or free) at the Smashwords store. As Smashwords founder and CEO Mark Coker says, “Think of it as a massive co-marketing collaboration where thousands of authors work in parallel to introduce readers to thousands of awesome indie ebooks.”

For readers, it’s an opportunity to discover new authors or catch up with favourites. Whether you’re reading on the deck (northern hemisphere) or in front of the fire (southern), don’t miss this chance! Start browsing here.

While you’re there, you may wish to have a look at the Herbert West Series.

The Herbert West Series_final

 

Are Free Ebooks Evil?

Free ebooks! It’s a hot topic among indie authors these days, as we try to bring our books to readers’ attention.

Many authors say they would never give away their books for free (except for brief promotional periods). They believe this devalues the hard work of writing and publishing.

Others claim that making the first book in a series “perma-free” is a good way to generate reader interest in the other books in the series.

Who is right?

Arguments against free:

1. The time and treasure you put into writing and publishing the book is worth something.

2. People don’t value the ebooks they download just because they are free, and most never read them.

3. Free books cheapen the written word for everyone, harming authors who depend on selling their books for a living.

Arguments for free:

1. Free “outsells” any non-free book. People love free.

2. Free is frictionless. To buy a $0.99 book you have to go through the payment process. Free is an instant download.

3. People do read free ebooks and some return to buy either the print version or other ebooks in the series.

Now to my own experience: I have written and published a four-book series. In one 18-month period (September 2012 to February 2014) that the first book was free, it was downloaded several thousand times. And that was when it had its original homemade cover image. Sadly, only a small fraction of those who downloaded it returned to purchase the other 3 books in the series. But I was thrilled at the numbers that did.

Every year, Smashwords offers its authors two opportunities to make their books available in a special catalogue at reduced rates (Read an Ebook Week in March and the Summer/Winter Sale for the month of July). Prices may be reduced by 25% to 100% off the regular price. In my experience, there is little uptake for books at 50% off, but those at 100% (i.e., free) are snapped up. I suspect there are many readers who visit Smashwords only during these events, trolling for free ebooks.

Some say that making an ebook free should be part of a marketing plan, in which readers who get free books should be required to offer up something other than money in exchange — a review or an email address. A good idea, except it depends on the goodwill of the recipient reader. If a reader doesn’t produce a review, the author can’t get the book back. As for email addresses, when someone downloads my book from the Smashwords site, or from B&N, the Apple iBooks store or the other outlets to which Smashwords distributes, I have no idea who those readers are. All I see are the numbers of downloads; the readers are invisible to me. The only way I can think of to get their email addresses is to put a note at the end of the free book offering the reader the second one for free by sending me a message. (Have I done this? Not yet.)

Many authors buy advertising, which may or may not pay for itself in book sales. It may end up being a financial loss, so really, how is that different from giving away books for free?

Conclusion: do what works for you. The beauty of self-publishing is that you call the shots. If you have a number of books available, try making one of them free. Or write short prequel or spinoff story and make that free.

Of course the downside of calling all the shots is  ever-present doubts, second thoughts and what-ifs. I frequently have arguments with myself that go something like this:

If I were charging $0.99 for that book, I’d be earning $0.60 per sale. Sure, there are lots of downloads, but I’m losing $0.60 on each one!

Yes, but if the book cost even $0.99, the uptake would be way less. And so would the number of readers buying the next book.

OK, but what if it’s true that hardly anyone actually reads free ebooks? If only a fraction do, and only a fraction of those return to buy the other books in the series, is losing the $0.60 worth it?

Well, but don’t you like seeing all those downloads pile up? It’s depressing to see no sales week after week. Better to keep the first book free for a few more months.

OK, but what about…

And so it goes. For now, The Friendship of Mortals ebook is free. For the next month, anyway. Or maybe the next 6 months. Or maybe just a few more days, depending on how that argument turns out.

A Fall/Winter Reading Challenge!

To celebrate fall and anticipate winter — great seasons for reading — I am issuing a friendly challenge to readers who are up for a “big read.”

You can acquire all four books of the Herbert West Series for free in exchange for thoughtful comments about the series.

Accept the challenge with a comment to this post, and then follow this link and enter the secret codes at checkout. They will cease to work at midnight on October 1st, so act now!

Book 1, The Friendship of Mortals  QP85L

Book 2, Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey  CA25C

Book 3, Islands of the Gulf Volume 2, The Treasure  ZY56H

Book 4, Hunting the Phoenix  BQ87N

You will be undertaking to read upward of half a million words, which will take time, but I hope to see comments on Goodreads, Smashwords or your blogs by the vernal equinox — Friday, March 20th, 2015.

 

The Herbert West Series_final.

 

The Power and Peril of “Free”

From September 2012 until last week, the first book of my Herbert West Series, The Friendship of Mortals, was available as a free download. When I re-launched the series with new cover images, I changed its price from $0 to $0.99.

During the 18 months that it was free, The Friendship of Mortals was downloaded 2 to 3 times a day. I suspect that many readers make “free” their primary search criterion when trolling for ebooks on the internet. Giveaways on Goodreads and Amazon’s KDP Select program are touted as good ways to create interest in a series and encourage purchases of its other books. On the other hand, some say that most free ebooks languish unread because having no value they are not valued by those who acquire them.

I braced myself for uptake of The Friendship of Mortals to slow to a trickle, but was pleasantly surprised to find that 8 copies have been purchased since the price change, more than I expected. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next six months, especially after I make the series available for purchase on Amazon in March.

In the meantime, readers of this blog who missed acquiring The Friendship of Mortals while it was free may do so for another two weeks, until February 28. I participated in a program on self-publishing at my local public library last week, at which I distributed handouts with a coupon code for a 100% discount on that book:  SWS50. Just go to the book’s page at Smashwords and enter that code when you check out.

Loading Up the E-Reader

A couple of months ago I finally bought an ebook reader, having grown weary of disengaging from interesting books at bedtime. I always read in bed for a while last thing at night, but not on a computer. After years of working with my own and others’ manuscripts, I have no problem with text on a computer screen, but I think “laptop” is a misnomer for computers that are still rather heavy and fragile, safer on tabletops than on laps. And it was ironic to have published four ebooks without owning the primary instrument for reading them.

In selecting books for the e-reader, I decided to start with self-published books. Recently there have been recurring and endless debates on the Fiction Writers’ Guild at LinkedIn that always seem to boil down to “Are self-published books more likely to be badly written than traditionally published ones?” I don’t pretend to have any credible statistics, but I recommend the following well-written self-published books, discovered without a lot of effort on my part. Several of them are free, none of them is more than $2.99. $2.99, folks! Less than the price of a good cup of coffee. You have to admit that’s a real bargain for a good read.

Clear Heart by Joe Cottonwood. “A love story for men about nail guns, wet concrete and strong women.” OK, it’s a “guy book,” but it worked for me. In addition to a complicated bunch of love stories, there’s a lot of stuff about the art of building houses that reads like it comes from lived experience.

Northern Liberties by Glenn Vanstrum. A historical novel about the artist Thomas Eakins set in 1870s Philadelphia, it delves into the creation of Eakins’s painting The Gross Clinic. The story combines elements of art, medicine and history, with a murder mystery woven in as well. I liked this book so well I also bought another one by Vanstrum — Let Fall Thy Blade. I’m only about a quarter through reading it, but so far it’s impressive.

Effie Perine by Buzzy Jackson. This is an odd tangent from The Maltese Falcon, featuring Sam Spade’s secretary. By artful timebending it combines the 1920s, 1970s and 1990s, honouring Hammett’s detective and the classic movie while adding unique elements that kept me guessing — and reading.

Three short works by A.M. Kirkby — Rise Above, Sword of Justice and A Ghost Story of the Norfolk Broads. These are beautifully written, understated stories of supernatural and natural horror. I especially recommend Rise Above.

He Needed Killing and He Needed Killing Too — a pair of murder mysteries by Bill Fitts set on a Southern university campus, featuring a retired tech guy turned private investigator. These are leisurely-paced books, related by a first-person narrator with a congenial, relaxed style. Anyone who has ever spent time in academia will find something to relate to here.

Finally, of course, there is my own Herbert West Trilogy (in four volumes), a hefty opus of which I speak often. The first book, The Friendship of Mortals, is free.

All of these books are available on Smashwords, and my reviews of them are also to be found there.