Thursday, April 5, 2012

Giving it Away

I confess--I do go to Amazon to check my book stats, leaving me either elated or depressed each day. I know. Pathetic, isn't it, but I can't help it.
But if you click on my name the first book that appears is The Amersham Rubies. It's a short story that my publisher had me write to entice new readers to Molly Murphy. It says clearly A Molly Murphy Story on the cover, and it also contains a teaser for the next book. Oh, and it's free.

And it was also the first time in my life that I got one star reviews. Why, you may wonder. It's actually a good, fun story but the one star reviewers were bitching that it wasn't a full length book. "I feel cheated" some of them wrote. Did I mention that it was free? That they were getting a free Rhys Bowen short story to entertain them?

The problem is that there are now plenty of authors out there so desperate to have their work read that they are ready to give it away. Amazon readers have become used to finding whole books given away free. I find this a dangerous and scary trend. I am a writer by profession. It takes me half a year to complete a book. This means essentially that these Amazon readers expect me to live on air for six months. The government doesn't fund me. There is no generous charitable foundation slipping me money. I write for a living. It's like calling in the plumber to fix a leaky sink and then expecting him to complete the job out of the goodness of his heart.

But because so many writers are now willing to put up their work for free, readers are feeling entitled. So what is the answer?

  Another worrying element is that many of these books are what we in UK would call UTTER RUBBISH. They are poorly written, poorly constructed and are crying out for good editing. I'm not saying that all free books are like this, but a good number are. They haven't sold elsewhere with good reason. 

This should be good news for me and fellow writers who write good books, you would think. But I'm worried that someone who decides he might like to read a mystery and tries one of these give-away books will decide that mysteries are not worth reading because they are poorly written. He will then trash all mysteries.

I'm not sure if there is a solution to this. One can hope that good literature will always find a market. But I'm waiting for the entitlement to spread to other industries. The day they start handing out free designer fashions, I expect I'll be first in line.

So let's hear what you think--are free books a good way to discover new authors? Do you think writers should give their work away for nothing?


  1. As a debut author this year, all that you've said are exactly my worries.

    As a reader, I like it when I can sample the first chapter, or 10 pages or so. If I like it, I'll buy it.

  2. I've had a few not-so-good freebies on Kindle, but some really good ones. I got Griffin's Daughter, part one of a trilogy, and bought the next two volumes. I got 30 Pieces of Silver, part one of a trilogy, and am looking forward to the next two.

    If I like it, I will look for more by the same author. And, they aren't always free forever. Some that I got for free are now for sale.

    Of course, Amersham Rubies was good. Too short, but it was free. I love Molly, I love Evan, and I love Lady Georgie. Was I cheated by Amersham Rubies? Not really, I would have loved for it to be longer, but I understand it was a teaser.

  3. I agree that a sample chapter or short extract is ideal for me to get the feel of a book and decide if I want to buy it or not. And I have read a LOT of poorly constructed, barely edited free books that aren't worth the disc space they take up! So a free, quality story should be welcomed, in my opinion, definitely not criticised!

  4. The only time I expect to read your books for free is when I go to the I don't have an e-reader, so have not experienced the free or 99 cent books, but I have heard from friends who have that many of them are free for a good reason.

    I read Amersham Rubies and thought it was a good read--I don't expect a free full length book. I was grateful for a free "teaser." Anyone who feels otherwise has unrealistic expectations. Writing is not an easy gig, and to expect writers to put in all the blood, sweat and tears that go into a full-length novel for no renumeration is just nuts.

  5. I'm delighted when someone offers a free book -- or short story -- or anything at all. I don't have a Kindle and read them on the free Kindle-for-PC application.

    You work for a living. Don't give it away unless you feel like it.

    And don't get too down about your Amazon reviews. I just gave you a three-star on "Hush" but that doesn't mean that I don't like your work or your characters (and I said so, too). Even people who like your work very much will sometimes find fault. Think of it as a natural consequence of having spoiled us by delivering such high quality almost all the time!

  6. I enjoy your books, and always preorder for my nook. Don't let the "I'm entitled" crowd on amazon get you down. Besides most of the free books I've seen are in need of alot of editing. But I guess that is why they are free, you get what you pay for.