Why Don’t You Just Make Your Book Free?


Has anyone ever asked you why you don’t just make your book free?

In a conversation, you might mention that you don’t write for money or that your main goal is to reach as many readers as possible. The intuitive response is, “Why don’t you just make it free?”

If you don’t write for money, you should be prepared for it (so you don’t sound silly or dumbfounded when this inevitable question comes up).

Here are a variety of ideas to consider:

  • Many customers believe that you get what you pay for. If a book is free, some shoppers will take this as a sign that the book lacks quality. An author who honestly doesn’t care about royalties might still prefer to have a fair list price that reinforces the perception that the book is of high quality.
  • Simply making your book free doesn’t get you instant readers. There are many books free every day that struggle to find readers. Even if the book is free, you still have the problem of your target audience discovering your book among millions. Also, it’s not really free for the reader: Time is money, and much time must be invested to read a book. So cover design, an effective blurb, and marketing are still important for free books. Therefore, making the book free may not be the answer to getting more readers.
  • There is a distinction between the author who is motivated by money, researching what kind of ideas and writing sell, and gearing the book around sales, and the author who writes as an artist without sales in mind. Most authors lie somewhere between these two extremes. But let’s look at the extreme author who writes as a pure artist: Just because this author didn’t write for money, this doesn’t mean that the author can’t accept royalties for any sales. For this author, the writing itself is sufficient reward, while the royalties are a pleasant bonus. (If you do good deeds all your life, and one grateful soul includes you in his will, should you decline the offer simply because you hadn’t done the good deeds with any intention of receiving money? Surely, this is a person most deserving of the proceeds.)
  • You put much time into writing the book. You put more time into cover design, editing, and formatting, and may even pour money into these services. You may put yet more time into marketing. Even if you don’t care about money, from all this work (and especially, any expense), you certainly deserve to earn something for your efforts.
  • Many people who download free books are just hoarding them, download more books than they will get around to reading, or don’t realize until later that the books weren’t really what they wanted. While making a book free may greatly increase the number of downloads, the number of actual readers may be much less than the number of downloads.
  • Readers are more likely to appreciate your book if they are in your target audience. Free books attract many readers from outside the target audience. Some of those readers may have unreasonable expectations because they aren’t familiar with similar books. Other readers don’t check a book out carefully when it’s free, and wind up getting something that isn’t a good fit for them. Authors may prefer to sell books, rather than give them away, in order to improve the chances that the readers will have reasonable expectations.

Some authors do use free book promotions effectively. For example, series authors often make the first book free, temporarily or even permanently, hoping that many readers who start the series will finish it.

My goal with this post isn’t to knock the free promotion. Rather, I’m thinking of the author who doesn’t want to give away free books, for whom this question comes up in a conversation.

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Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

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