The Power of Free

The following is my opinion. It’s based on my career and the careers of others who’ve shared their numbers with me. If you choose to run your career differently, you go on and do so.

Recently there was a bit of a kerfuffle regarding free digital books as promotion in which an author referred to them as career destroying (as in the authors doing the promo and everyone else too) as well as a number of other negative things I’m not going into because this isn’t about personalities, it’s about the issue, which I think is vastly misunderstood by the person making that argument. I also have seen free book promotions likened to turning yourself into “bargain bin” authors.

All I can say is this – I’m here. Not in a bargain bin. I hit lists, I sell lots of books. I have a pretty awesome career that spans digital and traditional publishing. Far from being in the bargain bin or destroying my career, I’m thriving. I disagree quite strongly with the assertion that giving books away for free in any format is going to destroy your career or undercut your perceived value as an author. I say that from where I am in my career so take the rest of this for what it’s worth to you one way or the other.

Writing books is my job. I am compensated for that job. I’d never presume to assume what anyone else made unless they told me. But I know MANY, MANY authors who make a very good living writing books and part of that living includes both digital books AND free digital book promotion. In fact, I make more money from digital books than I do from traditional publishing (and my digital books are priced at a lower point as well, just FYI)

I started out in digital publishing. My first contract was signed in 2004. Back then people told me digital books weren’t real books. They assured me I’d never make any money and no one would consider what I wrote to be as good as a book with a traditional publisher.

And then several years later, when digital publishing was not only still around, but finally being taken seriously, one of my books, Giving Chase, was given away in a free book promotion. It was one of the first wave of such promotions and it bumped the rest of the series AND all my other books – that, by the way, readers PAID for because they discovered an author they may not have otherwise. Then 18 months or so later (2011), Samhain did another promo of that same book and it was like double the numbers of downloads of the time before.

But here’s the thing – it pushed the following book, a book that was published in 2007, onto the USA Today list (as in people got the first book free and then BOUGHT the next in high enough numbers that a book published in 2007 sold enough to hit a list years later). My numbers for the rest of the series and for my entire backlist jumped in a major way as well.

I’m going to bold and cap this because I think it’s the bottom line here.


Rather than “devaluing” my work and my career, that promotion brought me to the attention of people who may not have picked me up otherwise. It brought me to a new level in my career. More visibility. More sales. BECAUSE of a free giveaway.

As a promotional tool, free works. Not free forever, but a week, two weeks, whatever, to get readers to pick your book up, especially a book that is years old? What harm is it going to do to try? That’s a real question because, IMO, bookmarks don’t sell books. Cover flats don’t sell books. Books sell books. I’m going to repeat that. Books sell books. This is my perspective, but there is nothing more effective to get readers interested in your books than your books.

I give away my books all the time. By that I mean pretty much every month. I’m excited when my publishers come to me with promotion ideas that involve free books or excerpt samplers. I’m not harming my career when my publisher puts my paper books in a conference bag any more than when my publisher does a free promo of a digital book for a week or two. (That’s not to say I don’t want to be involved in such decisions, as it’s my book, I definitely want to be asked).

I can’t agree less with the idea that simply doing a free giveaway of your books means all readers everywhere will think my books aren’t worth paying for. Moreover, I can back that up with numbers that prove me right and that idea wrong. That said, aside from bonus chapters, I don’t think something being free as a permanent thing is necessarily helpful either. Price points ARE important and I do think they telegraph a number of things to readers that authors need to think on carefully when pricing their books (or publishers).

I get that it’s easy to be confused and scared about the current state of publishing. It’s confusing. It’s fluid and sometimes it feels unstable. It’s easy to want to hang all that on something you may not understand very well like digital publishing, or free book promotions. But it’s not useful, not really, to do so. We owe it to ourselves as professionals to do the work to understand things that affect our careers. Because blaming the shadows of stuff we don’t understand isn’t helpful.

39 comments to “The Power of Free”

  1. Hanna Martine
    January 2nd, 2013 at 4:22 pm · Link

    Thank you for this, Lauren. So much to think about!

  2. Timitra
    January 2nd, 2013 at 4:25 pm · Link

    I’ve found a lot of authors by winning their books and then hunting down and buying the rest of their books!

  3. Jessica Garcia
    January 2nd, 2013 at 4:53 pm · Link

    I discovered a lot of my favourite authors because I downloaded a free e book. I ended up. Buying their other published e books. One of them happens to be Lauren Dane who is one of my top five favourite authors

  4. Lillie
    January 2nd, 2013 at 4:59 pm · Link

    A few years ago, Vivian Arend’s first wolfie book was free for a limited time. I’d read one of her contemporaries around that time and enjoyed it but hadn’t tried her PNRs. I grabbed the freebie and read it. Then I proceeded to buy every book on her backlist. And I reviewed them and told all my reader friends about them. Today, I get ARCs of Vivian’s books but I still buy copies for friends because they are that good.

    Free works and I’m glad you posted this to counter some of the misinformation out there.

  5. JenM
    January 2nd, 2013 at 6:10 pm · Link

    I was an early Kindle user and was introduced to your work via that first free promotion. I went on to buy the rest of the Chase brothers series and as well as other books of yours. If it hadn’t been for the free book, it would have taken me a lot longer to discover your work. I’ve done the same with many other authors. Free is a very powerful marketing tool.

  6. Sabrina R
    January 2nd, 2013 at 7:31 pm · Link

    Well said, Lauren. I was one of those who “found” you thru one of the free promotions of Giving Chase and then went on to buy the rest of the series.

  7. Dakota Cassidy
    January 2nd, 2013 at 7:33 pm · Link

    What you said 🙂

  8. Pamiam
    January 2nd, 2013 at 7:57 pm · Link

    I also found you because of the free “Giving Chase” book. It sat in my Kindle for a month or two before I got around to reading it. I can guarantee that as soon as I had finished, I was on Amazon and downloading the others. Thank You for the free promotion as it introduced me to you as an author and I love your books!

  9. Joy B
    January 2nd, 2013 at 8:04 pm · Link

    I’ve found a number of authors via free books and when I liked the book, I bought the entire backlist and added the author to my must buy list.

    Lauren – I’m not sure exactly how I found you, but I found Samhain because of a freebie so regardless that freebie led me to you 🙂

  10. Robbye
    January 2nd, 2013 at 8:27 pm · Link

    I’ve found several authors that are now favorites of mine via free digital promotions. I think sneak peeks through snippets or excerpts are similar to the samples you get at stores. I doubt anyone would tell a baker that his bakery was going to be considered second rate because he gave someone a cookie! I’m glad you set the record straight for whoever thinks free copies/downloads as a promotional tool lessen a writer’s credibility.

  11. Shelann
    January 2nd, 2013 at 8:29 pm · Link

    Lauren as we say in the business world that I work in, “Things change from day to day”. With that said just as people did not originally take to DVD/CDs over vhs, we now know that was change. This is happening in the book world. Not only do I think they have a problem with change but they are either mis-informed or scared. Either way I love e-books. One because I have been introduced to new authors and the prices. If individuals don’t want to change, then they will be left out in the cold as we move on. I love your books and say to you “Keep Doing What You Are Doing, You Rock!!!” 😀

  12. Amanda W
    January 2nd, 2013 at 9:22 pm · Link

    I am another who found you through the second Giving Chase promo & you are now one of my must buy authors. I love what you do & I download lots of freebies in the hope I find another author like you.

  13. Shannon
    January 2nd, 2013 at 9:26 pm · Link

    Very well said. I have found some amazing, and some not-so-amazing, authors by stumbling upon free promotions. It’s a hook, a gimmick if you will, that interests a reader. I still continue to buy books, far too many to admit, and winning a raffle or promotion definitely does not curb that. In fact, when I do get that special treat it endears authors to me even more. Keep up the good work, there are obvious reasons why you are a great author.

  14. Karen Erickson
    January 2nd, 2013 at 10:03 pm · Link

    So well said, Lauren and so timely for me. A Samhain book of mine went free yesterday and I can already see a difference (at least ranking wise) on the rest of the series. I think free is a great way to garner new readers. Your success with it is the perfect example.

  15. Kathy Dennis
    January 2nd, 2013 at 10:56 pm · Link

    I agree with you. I found you through a free ebook give away. If not for that give away I most likely would not have bought your books. I now own a couple dozen of your books, that I gladly paid for. In no way do I feel giving away free books is bad for an author. For a new Author just starting out, free ebook give away, as well as free paper books, is an excellent way for them to promote themselves. Free ebook give away promos have caused me to be introduced to a few of my favorite authors, you included. 😀

  16. Brandy Ribeira
    January 2nd, 2013 at 11:52 pm · Link

    I might never have found you if I hadn’t downloaded Giving Chase for free. It made me a fan and I bought quite a few other books by you, not only in that series. In fact, when I first downloaded it, I thought it was going to be paranormal romance or urban fantasy because it was listed with others that were. Either way, I’m glad I gave it a chance because I enjoy your books.

  17. Pam Patterson
    January 3rd, 2013 at 3:14 am · Link

    I found you this way also. Free books start something we have to finish is we love the author. Thanks to your free book i have bought just about all your books. Keep supporting this and the sales will continue. But you are a great author anyway. Thanks Pam

  18. Michelle Mazuros
    January 3rd, 2013 at 6:06 am · Link

    I appreciate your words on this. In all businesses, the “cream always rises to the top.” Promotions serve to generate interest and I take advantage of them to find new authors (or try new products). If I like the book/product, I buy as many books/products from the same person/company, as I can. I believe in supporting quality and strongly believe in supporting small businesses, especially authors.

    I found your books through a “free” book promotion and have become a fan and now pre-order your ebooks. Quality counts!!

  19. Ladyacct
    January 3rd, 2013 at 8:35 am · Link

    Free books and anthologies are how I find new authors, but that’s just me and I know MANY people who do not buy or like anthologies no matter who has wrote a story in it.

  20. Jane
    January 3rd, 2013 at 10:27 am · Link

    I found Lauren Dane through Ellora’s cave. I proceeded to pick up 80% of her books through them. Then as Kindle really started heating up, Giving Chase was doing a promo. I ended up picking up almost everything else too! =D Totally a must buy author now.

    Several of my most recent purchases were “new” authors who were doing free book promos. I’ve picked up entire lists of books from them too because of these promotions.

    So to the author that is afraid of free: too bad, I might or might not end up picking up your books.

  21. Maryam Salim
    January 3rd, 2013 at 11:05 am · Link

    Wholeheartedly agree with everything you’ve said. I’ve found countless authors just that way and gone on to buy their entire backlists… as my bank account will attest to 🙂

  22. Belynda
    January 3rd, 2013 at 12:09 pm · Link

    I completely agree with you — I was introduced to your books through an ebook promo of Giving Chase. I fell in love with your characters and went on to purcase the remaining books in the series. I am working my way through your other series too.

  23. Angela
    January 3rd, 2013 at 3:43 pm · Link

    Well said! In all walks of life business has to be increased/won/gained there is definately nothing wrong with short “free” promotions or giveaways. Getting back to the publishing industry searching for authors on e readers has introduced me to other similar authors via free reads – 99% of the time I have then purchased another book or the next book in the series. 🙂

  24. Nicole
    January 3rd, 2013 at 3:47 pm · Link

    That’s exactly how I found your books 🙂

  25. Larri S
    January 3rd, 2013 at 4:19 pm · Link

    Add me to list of readers who found you through the free Giving Chase promotion. I read that series then moved on to the Brown siblings, Witches Knot and so on. I can think of at least one other author who I discovered through a free download and have gone on to purchase every book she’s written. I hope I would have discovered both of you eventually, but who knows? What you’re doing seems to be working for you, so keep doing it!

  26. Stephanie Perez
    January 3rd, 2013 at 5:22 pm · Link

    I also found you by Giving Chase, it was about 2 in the morning and I was up with the flu. By the next morning I was onto the next in the series. Granted there are quite an few free novellas out there that shouldn’t be, as a matter of fact some shouldn’t be anywhere, but that is how we find what we like and what we look for in the future. Numbers speak volumes and fromwhat I can see, your numbers are screaming from the mountaintops!!
    BTW–excellent post, point very well stated.

  27. Connie
    January 3rd, 2013 at 7:28 pm · Link

    I agree with everything that you have said. I have found some wonderful authors via free books. I do not read a lot of Paranormal books but have found several really great series via ARE and their free books.

  28. Molly
    January 3rd, 2013 at 7:43 pm · Link

    I totally agree!!! i found you through a free book and many other authors. If something is for free; why not try it/download it? No loss on my part, other than some hard drive space! Those are the book I read when I don’t want to re-read what i have and/or am waiting for funds for a new book.

  29. DJ
    January 3rd, 2013 at 7:45 pm · Link

    I think I found you on goodreads and I like free book promotions but if you don’t mind my asking why don’t you do loanable books on Amazon

  30. Lauren
    January 3rd, 2013 at 8:09 pm · Link

    Many of my books are loanable at Amazon – All my Samhain books are lendable, for instance. But it’s not up to me, it’s up to my publishers to make that choice.

  31. Marie Force
    January 3rd, 2013 at 8:47 pm · Link

    Totally agree. Free books have changed my career and my life. Best thing I ever did. And as I said during the FB kerfuffle, I’ve learned mostly to never say never about anything.

  32. Bob Gooding
    January 3rd, 2013 at 9:02 pm · Link

    A writer who has written enough that they can do a free promo has identified themself as a better writer by this act. Readers are learning to identify better writers in this manner. This is very discrete chest beating. Yes one should be proud of their work, beat their chest, and sell even more of their work.

  33. Corinne
    January 4th, 2013 at 5:38 am · Link

    I thought I would have a hard time to adjust from “real” books to ebooks. I LOVE to hold a book, to smell it & get pages dirty…THEN I downloaded the free app for kindle to computer & WHAM…I have a hard time picking up a “real” book now. Yes I download “free” books if they are appealing BUT 9 times out of 10 I buy other books by the same author….That is how I discovered the Chase series also… Agree with you Lauren (even though I do not write)!!

  34. Amy Denim (@AmyDenim)
    January 4th, 2013 at 4:02 pm · Link

    Wow. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with FREE promotions. This is just the kind of information authors ought to be sharing with each other. I’m totally passing this on to all my author friends.

  35. Gennita Low
    January 4th, 2013 at 4:04 pm · Link

    KDP Select has given me new life with a returned career to publishing. I find new readers by giving away the first of my SEAL series, whose rights I’ve gotten back, and they’ve bought not only the rest of the series, but Tempting Trouble, my newest self-pubbed book, which has been doing well on the RS list.

    For me, giving away some free books give me the exposure I need. By the way, Protector is free all weekend :mrgreen: :twisted:.

  36. Gennita Low
    January 4th, 2013 at 4:06 pm · Link

    Darn, no edit feature! Pardon the mistakes. Didn’t see them till I hit the magic button and by then…too late!

  37. Sarah
    January 4th, 2013 at 8:54 pm · Link

    I’ve discovered lots of new authors via free promotions of their ebooks. A well written book entices readers to buy more from that author and giving away a book free for a limited time is an excellent way for any author to find new readers. And if it’s well written and the first in a series, it entices the reader to purchase the rest of the series.

  38. Marie
    January 4th, 2013 at 10:12 pm · Link

    The Chase Brothers books were how I discovered you, and I’m glad I did. So, at least about me, you are correct!

  39. monica t.
    January 5th, 2013 at 3:55 pm · Link

    Hello Lauren Happy New Year to You!!! I totally agree with this post. This is how I discover new authors and it really does work as far as getting me to invest in the author’s whole catalog of their works. Please if you can keep this practice going because O love it!!! 🙂