Thursday, July 6, 2017

Authors' Books: To Give or Not to Give

by Linda Thorne


Making money writing novels, short fiction, and non-fiction while challenging, can be done. There are examples of it happening every single day. The naysayers will continue to warn us that the competition is enormous, the odds are stacked against us, and the chance to make money is slim. We can’t listen to them, but if we don’t put our work out there, we guarantee their dooming words.

I went to my first full-blown writers’ conference here in Nashville in August of 2009. While there, I kept passing by an unmanned table with piles of an Alan Bradley book with a big tall sign sticking up that said, “Help Yourself to a Free Book.” Each day I’d pass the table of free books and wonder why the author would give his books away. After all the work to write it and edit it, is he so desperate for someone to read it he’s willing to give it away? Doesn’t that cheapen his product?

Before I left though, I couldn't resist taking one of his free copies of Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I could afford to buy it, but I doubt I would have with a thirteen year old for a protagonist. Since it was free, I could try it out at no cost. I didn’t get to reading it until a few years later and took it to a local Sister’s in Crime meeting where we all agreed to bring what we were currently reading for discussion. There were only about five of us there that evening and one of the other members had brought the second book in Alan Bradley’s series and told me this author was all over the internet and Amazon. If you look at his series now, it’s doing quite well and Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie went on to win award after award. Alan Bradley is a success story and he gave away free books for promotion.

So, on a small level, I followed his lead. For Christmas, I added my book to the usual gift we gave our mail lady, garbage collectors, cleaning folks. I even gave it to the police officer who dropped by to take the report when our computer was hacked and the head of our homeowners association. I sent it to organizations and groups where my book is set on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. One of the Mississippi Gulf Coast cities’ chamber of commerce sent me a letter telling me how they were sharing my book with others. 

Last September when I went to Bouchercon in New Orleans, I donated fifty books to their book bizarre. Conference members (readers and writers) took it for free and those remaining books were sold for a dollar. I was told that if my fifty books were not totally gone by the end of the conference, they would be donated to libraries in the New Orleans parishes. How neat since submitting to libraries and being accepted has not been an easy task for me.

So, where has this gotten me? I haven’t lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast since 2002 yet the most visitors to my LinkedIn profile are from that area. Some people from reading clubs on the Gulf Coast have asked to be friends on Facebook and LinkedIn. I lost my job recently and we had to let the cleaning service go. One of their employees told me she’d read the book I gave her and had been passing it around. Does any of this mean much? I have no idea.

Recently I gave away free books on Goodreads and found out they do all the work then tell the author who the winners are. I had 776 people ask for my book for free. Goodreads gave me the name and addresses of those to mail it to.

What do you think? In promoting our work, does giving our books away help or hinder? That is my question.


17 comments:

Radine said...

I give books away, but, as it happens, since my mystery novels are all set at popular Arkansa tourist destinations, I can donate to benefit locations in trouble. Example? "A River to Die For" as a gift to those working and donating to fight the misguided location of a 6000 hog confinement farm near our Buffalo National River--featured in
this novel. I also occasionally donate copies to A Little Free Library near our home.

If there is an opportunity for a few of my books to help solve a problem this is one unique way I can help. I really don't know if it's much benefit to sales but it makes me happy and that's worth a lot.

Linda Thorne said...

Something that does good for a cause and makes an author happy, sounds profitable in its own way. Good for you, Radine.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I have no idea if giving away books helps or not, but I always give books to a fundraiser, or for a writers/readers group like Sisters in Crime. I once gave a large box for the SWAG bag at Malice, and I occasionally pick out a few libraries and mail them free copies. Does it help? I have no idea, but I like helping libraries and organizations that I believe in.

Morgan Mandel said...

I still have print books left over from before I switched to ebooks. I give them away to people who do my lawn, or neighbors, etc. I don't know if it helps any to sell books, but I've heard it takes consta t promotion to get noticed.

Linda Thorne said...

Susan, I may check out this Swag bag at Malice. Sounds like a possible promotion and, if there are libraries who'll take free books, that is something I want to do.
Morgan, I forgot about giving any to the people who do our lawn until you mentioned it. I was lucky with our neighbors. I gave them all bookmarks and several actually bought the book. They also volunteered reviews that I never saw, but then that would be a whole separate post.

Amy Reade said...

I almost always give books away to charities that ask for them. I never thought of giving them as gifts to the people who I come into contact with over the course of the year, like the mail lady, the kids' bus driver, etc., but I think it's a great idea. Like the others who have commented, I'm not sure how much good it does to give books away, but I suppose it can't hurt. It's all about getting your name out there, right? Plus it feels good to be able to help out a non-profit.

Linda Thorne said...

Amy, I've given to charities too. One library in a small town somewhere in the Northwest asked for donations because their town had numerous low income families. I sent some other author's books along with mine and it felt good to help out. I think everyone is where I'm at about giveaways. We're not sure, but think it might help at least a little. It's also not that costly because, as you know, we only make a small amount on each book sale.

Carol Mitchell said...

I give away a fair amount of books. Since most of the books I work with are for kids I tend to give to disadvantaged schools. Most recently we gave to students at a school in a lower income area who had raised their reading level to the level of the book. These donations have not got us any sales, but it does make me feel that I am doing something worthwhile!

I recently did a GoodReads giveaway. That was all about selling books and getting reviews. I can't say yet if it generated any sales. I think that the people who enter don't buy because they are hoping to win and then when they don't win they still don't buy because they now associate the book with disappointment? The giveaway just ended and we are just sending out the books so I will try to remember to report on the efficacy of that effort.

jrlindermuth said...

Anything that helps get a writer's name recognized has to have some value. I've donated to libraries, a few charities and some people who expressed interest but couldn't afford to buy. Will it pay off? Who knows? But it can't hurt. I like Linda's idea of expanding it to service people. Hadn't thought of that.

Linda Thorne said...

Carole, you may have a point on the Goodreads free books. I read a blog by a publisher who said that readers are often frugal and if they get a book for free doesn't mean they'll buy your next one, but possibly look for another author's free book. I am going to keep the address of the Goodreads winners and wills send them swag in the mail when my next book in the series comes out. I won't mail them anything else because that could be considered using their addresses to add to their junk mail.
John seems to be in with all of us as not really knowing if it helps sales or not.

Carole Price said...

I always give books to our library (hardbacks). A woman I never knew always places our (and many others) morning paper on a table on our porch. As a thank you, I wrote a card thanking her and tucked it in a copy of my next book and placed it on the table. She wrote me a thank you. I recently displayed advanced reading copies of my books on a table at our yard sale, not expecting to sell any even for $1.00. What a surprise when I ran out of one of them. When they bought a book,most bought the 2nd one in the series. I do Goodreads too.

Marja said...

I don't know if it helps or not, but I've given away a lot of books -- to the nurse at the doctor's office, to an elderly woman (having hard times) at the beauty shop, to the guy who cleaned my carpet, and anywhere I think they might entertain someone. I've had people tell me it's a waste of my money, but I enjoy giving when I can. I just hope that if they like the books, they'll tell someone.

Thoughtful post. Thanks, Linda!

Linda Thorne said...

Thank you for that information, Carole Price. I do think giving away books when you have a series may be a lot more profitable than when your books are standalones.

Linda Thorne said...

Marja, it sounds like we all do the same thing. Some folks are not going to buy our book no matter what (finances, interests, whatever), so we haven't lost that much by just giving it to them and, if they are interested and excited about it, they will spread the word.

Liane Spicer said...

Interesting post, Linda. The thing is that it's often difficult to tell what works and what doesn't. I've had good experiences with giving away the first in series in the past, but I would not do that with a standalone.

Linda Thorne said...

I'm amazed how similar all our opinions are. I think you're probably right on the standalone.

Maggie King said...

I've given away lots of books and agree that you don't always know if it helps sales. But I like helping others and it doesn't hurt. If you can, create a photo opp of you handing the book to someone.