Selling your ebook for free: yes or no?


It’s a quandary many of us emerging writers face: should we take a gamble and expect readers to pay for our self-published ebooks (and therefore potentially have few or no readers at all), or package up hundreds of hours of hard work and give it away in the hopes that many more readers will discover us and like what we do.

Let’s look at both sides of the argument.

Free books undermine our industry.

If we sell our first ebooks for free, what we’re doing is telling readers that even authors place little value in the skills, struggles and hard graft that goes into the creation of literary works.

We’d never expect a plumber to fix a blocked drain for free because they’re just starting out or because we’ve never heard of them before. Same goes for the local doctor, mechanic, dog groomer, musician, cake decorator and barista (or anyone, really).

So if we’re willing to pay such people, even if they’re new to the job or haven’t got many likes on review sites, why would we be okay with underselling ourselves?

By giving away something that required skill, dedication and likely more than 500+ hours of grit, tears and self-doubt, we jeopardise the industry we wish to thrive in. We tell the consumer world that writers and our contributions are of no value.

But we matter. Our work matters. And we deserve to be paid.

Free books are simply another form of customer service.

If we want a reader to invest their time on our writing, we have to build trust. It’s basic customer service 101. It allows readers to experience minimal risk while discovering new authors and new series that they otherwise would not have bothered with.

It’s about presenting a product in such a way that it stands out from the crowd. It’s smart marketing, and (for some) it works.

New authors who have experienced success with this method find that their first book—quite often written in such a way that a reader has to read the second book to get the full story—leads on to actual monetary sales with subsequent publications.

By giving away the first book, we get to build our author platform with readers who, having invested only their time so far, become our fans and are (hopefully) willing to invest in future works.

Free ebooks can give us the push-start we need to have a future in the industry we love.

What’s the best choice?

That’s a personal decision for every writer, and it’s not an easy one.

In my freelance work, I resent having to negotiate up because clients undervalue writers and editors. I’m often asked to work on the first article or webpage either for free or for a pittance to ‘prove’ myself. I can’t think of another industry where this kind of exploitation is the norm, and I can’t help but wonder if the prevalence of free ebooks plays a part.

But for my future as a novelist, sometimes I think the first book should be free so that readers can decide risk-free if they like my work. Like any emerging author, I want to have a sustainable career as a novelist, and obviously a fan base is crucial.

I might shoot myself in the foot if I don’t go ‘free’. But I could be shooting at the industry if I do.

3 thoughts on “Selling your ebook for free: yes or no?

  1. Oh, so many thoughts about this…
    The film industry is another one where you are essentially expected to work for free or for very little just to get your foot in the door or to establish a name for yourself, and then even when you have, you are still competing with so many others that may be just as talented, skilled and experienced or just simply know people you don’t.
    I think the main difference between all those other careers you mentioned (plumber, mechanic, doctor etc), is that they provide a service that people view as not being able to live without, or that they simply cannot do themselves.
    Writing, books, films, tv etc, are still viewed by many as an indulgent career, or a self-serving path, and therefore put less monetary value on what it is we do.
    Additionally, the reality is that most services related businesses also have there own version of the free ebook. Thing Groupons, Scoupons, 1st treatment half off, free samples – all designed to do the same kind of thing… draw us in and build a client (fan) base.

    I think however we feel about it, it’s not even the way of the future anymore, it’s here now.

    As a side thought, or an afterthought… I think that some of the hesitation of releasing something for free (definitely for me this is true) is connected to the fear – what if I have nothing more to say after this? What if I gave way the only good thing I had, and it wasn’t valued or acknowledged (either financially or otherwise)? But by letting go of it and releasing into the world (which ever way we do it – free or not) we actually free up that space for an abundance of creative goodness!

    I think framed in the right way, we need to view it as a calculated risk – offering a free sample of something that they just need to get more of! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • So many valid points! Thanks for your insights 🙂 It’s a shame that the film and writing industries are not viewed as essential services. But like you said, it’s the world we live in, and even service industries give out many freebies. The fear of giving away what might be your only or greatest product does play a part in the decision about how to market your book. It’s a fear each writer has to face, and then have the courage to act on anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Kelly. I have never feltt myself my work is good enough so write for my sanity. But if you feel your works has that something maybe try the first for free and get feedback. But if you can see if you can make some money. It must add to the hunger and thrill of writing if your audience is willing to pay for your artistic work. Thank you so much for liking my poem Sphere! Peace and Good Wishes. The Foureyed Poet.

    Liked by 1 person

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