Before posting in this marketing forum, please try to read 10 Step Plan to Promote Your Book: Online Book Marketing on Any Budget
. This forum is mainly for followup questions and discussion after reading that book. This forum does indeed allow for much broader discussion of marketing and promotion than just that book, but it's good for everyone to be on the same page about the basics.
Please note, this forum is not for self-promotional plugs. It's for discussing how to promote
your book or other writing.
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Free books won't hurt professional authors if they have a loyal fan base who love their books and they are constantly marketing their product. I don't see anything wrong with authors giving their books away for free. That is how they advertise their work and build their own fan bases. An author shouldn't feel threatened with how another author decide to promote themself.
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It seems to me that this is a delicate balancing act. As an aspiring author myself I have not doubt that the value of exposure is much higher than a few free books. If it gets you more readers who want to buy the next book or if it gets people recommending you to others then it's purpose has been served.
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I think free books are necessary, especially so that you can spread the word about your book. No matter how good your book is, if no one starts a "noise" about it, it can remain on the shelf for eternity. It also helps your name get known to people who wouldn't otherwise pick a book you've written if it were for a fee. It's part of marketing.
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Think of it another way: How often do you go to the grocery store and see them give away free samples of stuff? Having worked in grocery, I can tell you the stores are not losing money on that free product. If customers like the product, they will turn around and buy it. Those are sales the store wouldn't have made otherwise, and the profit from the items sold makes up for the cost of the product they gave away.
ebooks can be like that. You give a book away, and if people like your work, they'll buy a paid work. Thing is, most people won't bother to read the partial sample, the "look inside," the whatever you want to call it. Before Smashwords let me know I was violating their TOS, I took the chapters composing that free portion and released it as an independent free book, clearly stating what people were getting so there was no confusion or feeling of being ripped off. While I was getting almost no downloads of the free 15-20% sample from the full book, those free sample books were being scooped up as fast as those full-length books I have set at permafree.