Do “Free” Books Stop Me from Buying Higher-Priced Books?

Firstly, as I share my thoughts here as both an author and a reader, be aware that “free” is in quotation marks in the title of this blog post because there isn’t really a such thing as a free book. Even if a reader isn’t taking money out of pocket for the chance to read a book, there were still costs involved with producing that book and making it available to the public. Somebody had to pay those costs.

Secondly, I’m writing this post because I know that fellow authors (particularly independent authors) sometimes suspect or assert that giving away ebooks at a $0.00 price at retailers devalues books. “Readers are starting to think that books aren’t worth anything, but I work too hard on my writing to just give it away for nothing.”

As an author, I so get it. I work incredibly hard at what I do. Still, I personally can’t think of a $0.00 price on a book of mine as a devaluation or an insult. If I did, I’d have to see all prices on all of my books as insults. Even if I were to charge 30 bucks per copy for my ebooks and I never gave any away, a “$30.00” sticker wouldn’t truly reflect what that writing cost me in practical sacrifices as well as the blood, sweat, and tears—the heart and soul—I put into my work.

It’s not up to a reader to pay a monetary price equivalent to the value of my heart, my soul, and my life experience. That would be impossible. But my very heart, soul, and life aren’t for sale anyway. I’m selling books, and once I put a book on the market, it’s a product for consumers. Putting monetary prices on products is a practice of business, not sentiment.

When I hear authors say that giving away free books is an overall bad idea, the discussions sound as if the practice of giving away books started with indie authors and the digital age. Yet, while a digital book is indeed a relatively new medium for reading, free books aren’t a new thing, and they certainly aren’t the original invention of today’s indie authors (many to most who haven’t been in publishing more than a decade or two yet, I figure).

Traditional publishers have been giving away free copies of books for a long time, including in the form of the thousands of advance reader copies (ARCs) they’ll print up for an upcoming release in the hopes of garnering some early reviews and endorsements for the book. I myself get free books from traditional publishers all the time, whether they’re ARCs, or finished copies for review, or books I’ve won in publisher giveaways, or books I’ve earned through publisher reward points, or books I’ve borrowed from the library.

YES, public libraries with free checkouts still exist!

Sometimes traditional publishers even give away piles of free copies of a new book just to get the buzz going about it among readers. I first learned about this type of guerrilla marketing when I was pretty fresh out of high school, years before I became an author. A couple of times since then, publishers I’ve reviewed for have sent me and a lot of other folks some free extra books in the mail. New releases, no strings attached—read them if you want, pass them on to friends, or whatever. Whoo!

And I’m talking about free copies of paperbacks and hardbacks from publishers. Yes, I also receive some free ebooks from traditional publishers now, including through free ebook promotions they have at retailers just like indie authors do. But publishers didn’t start by giving away ebooks. They’ve been giving away print books since well before many of today’s indies even had a serious thought about getting into publishing.

Digital publishing hasn’t created free books, but it’s added some new methods and changed the level on which free books can now be distributed.

Sure, running promotions for free ebooks doesn’t yield the same results for a lot of authors as it did earlier in the indie game, but markets change as they begin to mature. A lot of readers who used to grab up every free ebook in sight (because Free Ebook Grabbing was the new thing they could suddenly do) have since become more selective about the free ebooks they’ll download. And some readers are shopping less while they work through the ebooks they already have, discovering which authors they like and weeding out freebies they once snatched up in a hurry but now realize they have no real interest in reading.

In general, it takes a little time for an authors’ new, true fans to emerge after they’ve gotten some reading done.

So. Does downloading or otherwise borrowing books stop this reader (me) from buying higher-priced books? Nope! Real book shoppers like me find that, just like back in the olden days, plenty of books we really want, we have to buy. Or request our local libraries to purchase them. Or we let our loved ones give us bookstore gift cards for Christmas. That kind of olden-day stuff.

But instead of only having the option to buy ONE new $10, $15, or $25 book, reading it once or twice, and then cycling back to read some of our older books again while we’re waiting to save up or receive more book money to spend (like we did back in the good ol’ olden days), we now can get 3, 5, or 8 new ebooks for the same money if we want, plus pick up some freebies and inexpensive books to try new authors and genres we never would have tried in the past when our 10, 15, or 25 precious dollars would only afford us one new book.

Ebooks and the rise of independent publishing have given us more options. Exploring our options takes time, and while exploring, when we read something we find worthwhile, we put that author on our list and come back shopping for that author later.

Granted, I’m no market expert, and I’m not speaking for absolutely all readers and authors. Readers have different wants and habits, and different strategies work for different authors. If an author decides as a strategy or on principle never to give away any of their books for $0.00 to consumers, I respect their decision.

Still, giving away samples and free products isn’t a new concept or practice in business, and I do my share of research. The information I find, including these results from a survey I recently took part in, tends to show that most authors who make a living or otherwise substantial income from their books (evidently reaching good numbers of readers with their work) are authors who not only sell books but who also give away free copies.

Hence, in the bigger picture beyond that strategic $0.00 price on a book, those hardworking authors aren’t giving their writing away for nothing.

In my case, I’d rather have my writing reach as many insatiable book lovers as possible than for fewer people to ever read my writing while I’m holding on to a “heart and soul” principle that no monetary price could satisfy anyway.

That’s me. 🙂

 

Dear Author: Letters from a Bookish Fangirl by Laura A. Grace

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

Dear Author: Letters from a Bookish Fangirl by Laura A. Grace

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Dear Author: Letters from a Bookish Fangirl by author Laura A. Grace—a simple little book with a simple task, to encourage. I read it in about a half-hour, and it accomplished its task well.

Yes, the book is plenty fangirly and gushy. Yet, it isn’t silly. Grin-worthy and humorous at times (including the humor in some of the cute illustrations by Hannah S.J. Williams), but not silly.

It can be frustrating, and even scary, when authors have to put writing or publishing on hold for a while to take care of life, and they may wonder if they’ll still have an audience after the delay. Dear Author… One day, you’ll publish this new story you’ve been working hard on, and I’ll be right there celebrating with you when you do. And in a world where there’s “nothing new under the sun” and so many books out there already, authors may wonder if their stories are worth telling at this point. Dear Author… There might be stories that have similar themes or messages, but the heart of the story will be your beautiful heart.

And not to mention the clean and clear but vibrant book cover!

I’d recommend this quick, inspirational read to any fellow authors (especially authors of fiction) in need of a pick-me-up.

 

Taking a Chance on New and Independent Authors

When I hear some fellow readers say they tend to stick to reading good authors they’ve already read before, or that they steer clear of independently published books, I get it. It may not be easy to risk your money and/or time on an author who isn’t proven to you, and the rise of independent publishing has put a lot of books out there that are poorly written, full of typos and technical errors, plastered with unprofessional book covers, or all of the above.

Many times, I like to stick to what’s familiar and comfortable to me. However, becoming a book blogger, the rise of independent publishing, and the availability of ebooks have all made this lifelong book lover more of a risk-taker when it comes to reading.

Since becoming a book blogger, I’ve started trying more genres.

When readers say they don’t really try out authors they haven’t read before, I think, “But what about the authors you do read? Weren’t they all new-to-you authors you had to try for the first time at some point? And will those authors supply you with enough books to last you the rest of your life?”

Then when it comes to the influx of books riding the wave of indie authorship, I figure that having to distinguish good from bad isn’t some new concept or practice. Shoddy work is oftentimes easy to spot from a blurb or a sample, and the presence of mediocre writing on the market didn’t begin with independent publishing.

Typos and technical errors in books aren’t anything new, either. I now know there’s a myth that says, “Traditionally published books are always error-free,” but I’ve been finding errors in traditionally published books ever since I was a little kid sounding out words in picture books. Even professional editors and proofreaders reading copy for established publishers are human. Books edited and proofread by humans are subject to human error.

I suspect that more readers don’t notice errors in traditionally published books because their minds assume no errors are there. And on enough occasions, I’ve found traditionally published books with bigger issues, like batches of entire chapters missing from their middles.

Publishing errors happen, even for the big guys.

On a different note in my case, years ago, as a reader who liked to buy new books for keeps but could only afford so many (I did a lot of rereading), I ran into a little crisis. The new books coming out from publishers I trusted started to seem too alike to me. Not enough diversity in styles, plots, characters, or authors. I didn’t want to feel like I was essentially buying more of the same whenever I went book shopping.

The desire to read stories that weren’t too much like what I’d already read is a big part of what motivated me to start writing my own books. And that, along with the fact that I became an independent author after my first traditional publishing contract ended, has made me more open to trying other indie authors.

Yes, I still read books from traditional publishers too, and I don’t discount the importance of what they do. But I also find that indie authors often have more freedom to work and to write outside of conventional boxes, and despite indies who do put out substandard work, many other independent authors are serious about their writing craft, about having their work professionally edited, and about getting quality book cover designs.

Plus, to state a practical bonus, indie authors can often price their ebooks lower than traditional publishers can, so I can afford to buy a greater number of books instead of rereading the same ones as much as I used to.

Why do I choose not to ignore or bypass too many new and new-to-me authors, independent or otherwise? Because I don’t subscribe to the misconceptions that only old authors can be good ones and that only bad writers independently publish. There are good and excellent writers also who become their own literary bosses and publish their work for themselves because now they can. Independent publishing is a much more efficient and viable option now than it was decades ago.

At the same time, even while I’m branching out, I’m careful about my choices. We don’t have to jump into book purchases blindly, folks. We can check out the book blurbs, read or skim a few book reviews, look inside the sample portions at retailers to get a feel for the writing style and quality before we buy (or don’t buy).

Sure, I run into indie book blurbs and samples that are poor or unprofessional. Yet, there have been plenty of traditionally published books I’ve gotten a hold of with storytelling that I wound up finding lackluster or too unoriginal, or with rushed endings or disappointing halves (“Did the author have to hurry through tying this together to meet the publisher’s deadline?”), or with chunks of content that drag out the plot or take it nowhere (“Are these unnecessary chapters here to stretch the story’s length because the publisher wanted a prescribed page count for sales?”), or stories that simply turned out not to be for me.

But does that mean all traditionally published books are bad, or that none of them are worth my time and consideration? Absolutely not.

There’s never any 100% guarantee that I’ll enjoy a book, no matter who wrote it or published it. Even authors I love usually have some books I don’t care for or that don’t wow me like their others. There’s always some level of risk involved when I pick up a book I haven’t read before.

So I go on and take some chances. I try to strike a balance between newer and older books, traditionally and independently published books, authors I hear everyone talk about and authors I discover on my own, etc.

I want to miss out on as few good books out there as possible. 😉

While they’re not at all the only good books I find all year, I’ve started sharing my favorites through my Annual Book Awards.

 

Christian Fiction: A Changing Genre

Janette Oke’s first, trailblazing ChristFic novel, which has gone through revisions and cover art makeovers since its first publication in 1979.

I’ve heard my share of praise and criticism about the Christian Fiction genre since I started reading ChristFic novels over twenty years ago. Sometimes I disagree with what I hear, and other times I agree.

When it comes to the criticism especially, I bear a certain point in mind. While authors have been writing Christian literature for centuries, the modern genre that we now call Christian Fiction (a marketing label) is still relatively young. It only started becoming a “thing” around the late 1970s, early ’80s. Anything young takes a while to mature, to get better with time, and as a bonus, it’s not unheard of for authors and publishers to go back and revise, reedit, and repackage—coming out with new and improved editions of previously published works.

Now, ChristFic isn’t the only genre I read, and I’ve spent years delving into classic works and other books that give me strong examples of command of language and storytelling mastery. It’s been my goal to take what I learn as a reader and to apply it to ChristFic as a writer.

The storytelling in some ChristFic novels has amazed me over the years.

No, I’m not claiming that I’ve become a literary master. Writers grow (or at least they should grow) and improve over time. Even now, I’m not the same writer, or the same person, I was back when I wrote my first novel, Yella’s Prayers, and my first historical fantasy book, The Movement of Crowns. (Oh, I still think the books were good back then, and more recent revisions have improved them.)

More ChristFic books that have been made-over since their first publications.

But I’m glad I’m here at this time in Christian Fiction, both as a reader and a writer. I do think that during earlier years in this young genre’s history, lots of Christian readers were simply happy to find wholesome novels with Christian content, with more choices available than, say, Grace Livingston Hill romances from the 1940s and earlier. That’s not at all a knock against GLH though, as I love old-fashioned books, I’ve enjoyed a number of GLH’s, and I respect her as the key pioneer of Christian romance novels.

The vintage cover art of a few of the Grace Livingston Hill classics I’ve read gives me a certain kind of nostalgia.

Even so, it seems to me that in a general sense, during the modern ChristFic genre’s earlier stages of becoming a whole distinct market, excellence and virtuosity in the style and fine art of fiction writing itself wasn’t the goal so much as having stories that conveyed Christian (and oftentimes evangelistic/salvational) messages.

But now that the genre has been around a little longer, ChristFic authors and publishers are raising the bar, and ChristFic readers’ standards and preferences are shifting and expanding. Along with themes reflective of faith, ChristFic readers want more skillful and insightful storytelling. More subgenres to choose from. More varieties and levels of content. More diversity.

ChristFic has come a ways in diversity, and we have quite a ways to go!

Moreover, while there’s a place for different levels of spiritual content in Christian Fiction, many ChristFic readers don’t necessarily want or need on-the-nose or “in your face” Gospel preaching or teaching while they’re reading novels. Everybody has their own preferences, and Christian Fiction has been shifting from meaning only “fiction that is conspicuously Christian” to meaning “fiction that is suitable for Christians,” whatever the level of spiritual content may be, and also “fiction from a Christian worldview, suitable for broader audiences.”

(And yes, readers have different opinions about what should qualify a book to be Christian Fiction. But before you say, “If it doesn’t have explicitly Christian content, it can’t be Christian Fiction!”—remember that Christ Himself told fictional stories, and His stories didn’t have what we would call explicitly Christian content in them.)

As for me, I started writing and publishing ChristFic because I couldn’t find all the kinds of stories I wanted to read in the genre. I saw that Christian Fiction had room for growth, change, and diversity, and I wanted to help bring that to other ChristFic readers. (I also write for readers who don’t normally read ChristFic, as I think telling a good story can and should often transcend genre/market labels and other boxes. You know?)

I’m not at all the only author who writes books because I want to read them.

The Christian Fiction genre is indeed changing. Sometimes change is hard and unsettling. It involves trial and error and learning, taking risks and seizing the day, and many times, change is necessary, healthy, and enriching. Back when I first curled up with novels like Oke’s Love Comes Softly and GLH’s Happiness Hill, I didn’t know I’d one day be reading ChristFic military and legal and political and techno thrillers, and ChristFic historical mysteries, and ChristFic psychological suspense, and ChristFic written by authors of color featuring main characters of color, and on it goes.

This relatively young genre isn’t what it was forty years ago, and I’m looking forward to seeing it continue to mature, expand, and improve with time.

Decades ago, I didn’t imagine some of the different kinds of ChristFic I’d find to read years later.