There are numerous opinions and hundreds of threads that discuss giving out free ebooks on the web, or distributing free books in general. At the time of this post, I personally have all of my books available as free PDFs for people to review or download; that's just my position, though I can understand the arguments against freebies. It kills their return on investment.
I'm going to school for two separate degrees and work a day job in a restaurant. I published two books this year. I've spent about $11,000 year-to-date on editing, marketing, proof copies, cover design, formatting, and more for both books. They're all publishing expenses, and yep, a lot of that money went into some pitfalls, like experimenting with a vanity publisher rather than doing all the work myself.
That monetary figure doesn't even count the untraceable, countless hours of my personal time I spent brainstorming, writing, rewriting, and self-editing the stories before all those expenses. I didn't get minimum wage or paid by the word for all that. I enjoyed spending that time writing, but I also worked a lot for the money I spent on publishing. I didn't take any vacations. I stopped gaming. Hell, I don't even pay for Netflix anymore because I don't have time to watch anything. The only way I'll recover those finances is through sales.
But I don't write just to sell.
I write because I want people to read my stories. Yes, I love the small royalty checks I do get, and yes, this is a business to me and I would like to make writing my full-time job, but I'm not at that phase yet. What gets me the biggest boost is when I go on social media and see a 1,000-word review written by an avid reader telling the world how much they liked the book. Somebody got my ebook for free on the web and then took that much of their time to tell the world what they thought of it. That is worlds better than just a sale. I sent that reader a free signed copy as a thank you.
So yes, that's a lost sale, but only assuming they would have paid for a book by an unknown author in the first place despite the social media sites that host and promote thousands of free books. If I were stingy with the book, then I might not have gotten that review or many of the other reviews I've received.
Plus, I guarantee that reader isn't gonna forget that, and their review has already been seen by so many that they perhaps gained me more sales just for writing that post. A free book is the least I can do for something like that. So, I also see it as a give-and-take. Ultimately, I write because I want people to read my books, so making the books available to people to acquire and then discuss on social media works well to accomplish that goal.
I even discovered someone drawing fan art for one of my books and posting it to Deviant Art, a social media site for art and photography. I sent them a copy as well. I mean, come on, someone read my book and drew out some of the scenes?! That's incredibly flattering.
But that's just my position on freebies…
Many authors will only give out free books if they're to a friend or to someone who is guaranteed to leave a review, and that's also a valid position, but where do you find readers who will leave reviews if you just give them your book? Well, besides Goodreads, authors can pay to have their book hosted on sites like NetGalley (which I've done to some success), but that's just another business expense. If you're not looking to spend money (you know, besides wholesale copies and shipping), there are many, many, book reviewers out there, and while most of them are flooded with unsolicited book review requests and will delete those emails on sight, a good portion of them provide review policies on their blogs.
Like spamming on forums, there's a stigma against authors who go through and send generic emails to a bunch of book reviewers on the web. I've personally spent hours looking online for reviewers and yes, I've emailed a bunch, but this goes back to permission marketing. It's a mistake I made at first, but I recognize that part of social media is carrying a conversation, and actually engaging with people; not dumping your book off and hoping people pick it up. A lot of these book reviewers get traffic to their blog by picking up books they're interested in and reviewing them on social media: Goodreads, their blogs, Instagram even. In doing so, readers trust their judgment, but authors covet them. So when you're browsing social media and in the mood to solicit reviewers, look for their review policy. Most of them will say:
- If they're accepting unsolicited requests
- What genres they're accepting
- Their current expected wait time
- What info to give them in your solicitation
- If they do Advance Review Copies – which we're just about to get into
If you go to their territory and follow their guidelines, then your solicitation is welcomed–though it may still get deleted if they're just not interested, but that's one way to notify readers your book exists, and it has gotten me some decent reviews.
One thing to truly consider is finding those readers interested in providing Advance Review Copies (ARCs). These people read your book before it's published and either give you critical feedback that you should consider (like a beta-reader), or wait until it's publication date to post their review on social media platforms. A well-timed volley of credible book reviews can make a book's launch a success on search and “what's popular” algorithms and can help a book hit the ground running.
So if you're concerned with sales, then using social media to develop a list of advance reviewers and gifting them copies is a strong way to build that momentum.