Recently, I tried to promote a short story that I offered as a free download. I found that most promo sites do not accept promos for short stories. In fact, most of the guidelines specify that books must be over 100 pages.
I messaged the admin of a well-known promo site. I asked if it was possible that they could offer a limited service for short stories. I believe there is a market for them, and many authors who hate to give away months of hard work, offer shorts instead.
I received a prompt answer from the site’s owner. He informed me that most readers did not read short stories. He knows that because he has been in the business for six years. He said that his customers expected free books, and that most authors had at least one free offering of a full-length novel.
Now, I had just read an article that stated that short reads are very popular right now. (See article.) The rise of the iPhone and tablet as reading tools has had a great effect on our reading habits because they are so convenient for reading short works. It also stated that the younger people love things they can finish while they ride the train or bus home, sit at Starbucks for a few minutes, or wait at a doctor’s appointment.
It seems to me that this site owner is doing what is best for his business, not mine. Of course he wants full free books. He also wants my money. He has a great business going. He gives away my product and charges me to do it! He buys nothing, stocks nothing, and pays nothing. If I am giving away my work, why does he not also give me a free ride? Why not make money out of advertisements or a minimal charge to the readers? But no, the cost must be all mine.
My opinion is that if a reader will like my writing, he or she does not need a full thirty chapters to do so. Normally, A few chapters into a book, I know whether to finish it or put it away. Everyone can download the 20% sample of my books at Amazon and Smashwords. If the reader is not hooked with that 20%, then he or she will never buy the book or the next.
A few years back, when the self-publishing craze was new, I read a free book by Monique Martin, fell in love with it, and have bought all her other books since. There were then only a few hundred authors giving away a first book as free. It was easy for me to find her.
Today, I do a search for free romance books, and I have to scroll through 100 plus pages of Amazon offerings. A quick search in Amazon using the words “Free books for Kindle” gave me 205,204 books! “Free romance books for Kindle” gave me 13,656 books.
Those are Permafree books. Those results do not include the temporarily free books on Kindle promotion. If your book is not in the first five pages of the search, it gets lost in the multitude.
I could no longer see the benefit in spending $100 dollars promoting my book in several sites to give away another $1,345.50 worth of my work, (450 copies at $2.99 each, downloaded for free) to make back $90 in residual sales. Meanwhile, the site owner makes a killing, and the readers stock piles of free offerings. Most are never opened.
Some people will quickly argue “exposure.” Exposure is the magic word that holds us all prisoners. It is the antidote to the poison. It is the word that holds the self-published author at bay, and keeps him feeding his life’s blood to the promotion sites.
My answer is that you can get a lot of exposure without giving your work away. But wait: we are already giving our work away when a reader downloads that 20% sample at Amazon or Smashwords.
When is enough, enough? When do we stop feeding the sharks, those lurking to snatch anything free with absolutely no intention of ever buying or even reading? (See this article.) When do we stop making money for others who have invested nothing in our work?
I have placed prices on everything I have on sale. Even my short stories are now priced at $1.99. I am giving away.
I now rely on my blog and author sites for that vaunted exposure. One thing I do believe is that I may have markedly fewer downloads, but because the reader paid something, he or she is more likely to open the book, to review, and to fall in love with my writing and buy the next book.