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Reasons Not to Give Your Book Away for Free

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

I'm currently on the tail-end of a 5-day book giveaway. It's by far my most successful, yet I still have mixed feelings about it. In fact, I probably won't do one again.

I had mixed feelings about doing one to begin with. Free books are generally only a good idea if you have a backlist to push readers to. But, If I Let You Go had slipped off the first page of Amazon's search for its title. It remains to be seen if giving the book away helped with this issue, so I'll update this post soon with results.

Post-giveaway edit: The giveaway skyrocketed me back to the first page of results. But since I'm not currently running ads on the book, it's not in the Top 100 in any category, and it gets minimal social media traction (seriously, using your social media like ad space makes readers ignore you), it's going to sink back in search results. It's a matter of time. If I had to guess, I think it'll take 2-3 months. Just in time to qualify for another giveaway. 🙄

My book giveaway began on a Friday and will end at the end of Tuesday night. I posted about the freebie on Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit. Predictably, Saturday and Sunday were the busiest days of downloads. I didn't expect quite this many downloads, though:

Amazon free Kindle e-book giveaway chart
Nearly 400 people have downloaded a free copy of If I Let You Go during this promotion period alone.

My boyfriend said, "That's 400 people who aren't going to buy your book now because they just got it for free."

And hey. He's not wrong.

What I Hoped to Get Out of It

As mentioned, the book needed a little burst of life. Something to drive it back up the search page. Who knows how long it'll take to dip back down?

But besides people who've just discovered my work and friends/family, who's searching for it by name, anyway?

Ouch, reality. It hurts. I'm an unknown. That's fine. Prospects, former co-workers, and job recruiters might look for it, as well. I've shied from telling anyone I work with that I write fiction because some people are like, "Woah. Sci-fi? That's a liability. Weirdo." And to them, I point to this article I wrote as a plucky 23-year-old about inventions inspired by science fiction. (Sorry they're mostly Star Trek related.)

If I Let You Go deals with some pretty grim sociological and economic ideas, and not everyone is #AboutThatLife in our political climate. It can be a real torture to read dystopian fiction that parallels reality. It was hard for me to write, and I've steered away from reading dystopian fiction recently. I have two sequels planned and they're intentionally more hopeful. My hope is that people will read the series and take something away from it. But the challenge right now really is getting people on board with a grim series opener. It's stuck in TBR Hell (a lot of people want to read it, but like... You know, sometime, when the world isn't depressing).

With luck, people will read it, like it, and chat about it to their friends.

I was also hoping to get additional reviews from the giveaway. However:

1.) A lot of people download free books that they think sound good and then never read them.


2.) A lot of people don't give free books an adequate chance because they're free.

Case in point, the one-star review I received from someone who demonized all self-published books after reading twenty pages of my novel.

Up until that point, my book was rated 4.5 stars. People liked it. The feedback that I've gotten is that people want more backstory. Totally the opposite of what this individual suggested.

Even Under the Dome by Stephen King has 465 one-star reviews on Amazon. I'm no Stephen King, but even the masters deal with this kind of thing. It's just not as noticeable for them because they're stars, and I'm an unknown indie.

I've never bothered to rate a book I didn't give a fair chance, so I laughed this one off. But if it becomes a pattern, if I keep getting these kind of reviews from people who download books that really aren't their cup of tea, but hey, it's free... I'm going to have a big problem.

Someone who pays for a book would never abandon it after twenty pages unless they have cash to burn. Someone who got the book essentially as a gift? Yeah, they would, because they don't feel they have anything to lose.

What I've learned from the giveaway

I finally have the right book description and categories in place. How do I know?

This was at #585 earlier in the giveaway, but I forgot to take a screenshot. Woops! These numbers get better and better at night, when people are relaxing and looking for something to read.

If I had books on a backlist for readers to actually purchase, this would be a very big deal. Only books in the Top #100 Free in each category get traction. Anyone who reads the free book or happens to browse my backlist would be exposed to books they'd have to pay for to read.

For me, this is not the case. I've only published one book. And readers can predict when you're going to run a giveaway, so why buy a book when you can just wait for it to be free?

Until I do have a solid backlist, I probably won't do another free giveaway. Once I've published the sequels, I may run If I Let You Go as a freebie again. Maybe.

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