Book Sales – Thoughts from Readers And Authors

Last week, another writer’s Tweet popped up in my timeline.  It wasn’t particularly unusual – just a book promotion on Amazon – but it was for White Wind Rising. I’ve been eyeing it ever since I saw Dan Davis‘ blog about the sequel.  Of course, I zipped over and was about to click the “Buy Now” button… and stopped.  The promotion had dropped the price of the book from $3.99 to $0.00 on the Kindle.  Right then, I decided I was going to wait until the sale was over.

Counter-intuitive, I know, but I decided I just didn’t want to take an author’s hard work for nothing.  It could be a product of being a writer myself, but I don’t think so.  As a reader, I want authors to keep writing.  Paying them for their hard work ensures that there will be books to read.  Taking a copy for free just doesn’t do that.

saledilemmaOf course, that’s just one man’s opinion and wouldn’t make for a good article.  I went and found other people and asked them what they thought about this sort of sale.  Here’s the question, verbatim:

When you see an author you like promoting their book as being on sale “Free” for the next day/week/etc, what course of action do you take?  In other words, what’s your immediate reaction?  What’s your secondary reaction?  What’s the final result of having seeing the promotion? What’s your opinion of these sales, in principle?

The answers were not only unexpected, but remarkably uniform, as well.  This list of people I talked to is by no means extensive, but even this limited ‘slice’ of interviewees paints an interesting picture.

Nathan Philbrick (reader and writer) –

My immediate reaction upon seeing a ‘free’ promo isn’t that different from a regular promotion or add; if the cover, caption, or description catch my eye, I’ll give it a look-over and will probably open the link for a more extensive description. If I see the word ‘free’ attached to something that simply doesn’t interest me, I’ll move on without much of a second thought. Assuming my attention is caught, however (usually by a well-constructed tagline), I’ll still read the first few sample pages on Amazon (or other site) before choosing whether or not to download a copy, even if it is free. I guess what I’m getting at is that even if a free book saves me two or three dollars, I’m still going to have to decide whether or not I want to spend my time and energy reading it.
I think these sales have their purpose and place in the self-published market (done them myself). As with any other promotion, however, I’d prefer to not see it spammed. Personally, I’m much more likely to be persuaded by an excellent product than by the word ‘free’.

Natti Guest (reader) –

“Free” would probably make me read the book. If I like the book, I would recommend it, perhaps buy it in the future, and if asked, I might write a review/comment about the book. My opinion of the these sales? They are a sales strategy that may or may not be beneficial. I suppose it’s a good idea to try to get your book out there and raise interest. Who doesn’t like free stuff? But at the same time, by giving out a book for free, one could argue that the book’s value might be hurt.

Stephanie Gregory (reader and writer) –

When I see an author whose work I really like to read part of a promotion or limited time sale, my first reaction it to click on the ‘buy’ button. My secondary reaction is to see whether it’s only available on Kindle, if there is a paperback version or failing those, if the book is available on Kobo. The final result for me is usually the purchase of said book. I think such sales are a good idea, especially if the book is a good one or if it’s a short story that links together portions of an author’s work, their previous books. You get more of a feel for characters and that world. I also enjoy anthologies because they give an inisght into what other creations an author can come up with. For example, Michael J Sullivan’s, Hollow World, was originally a short, but then he made it into a full length book.

Claire Banschbach (reader and writer) –

Usually when I see an author that I like running a discount on their work or doing a promotional “free” event, my interest piques in that book again. If it’s a book I’m very interested I will usually go purchase it right away or when I have a chance to. Like anyone else, I like spending as little money as possible, and getting a book at a discount usually puts it right up on the top of my to-read list and I make extra sure to write a review for those books. I think the reviews are the real reason that authors will discount their work, especially new authors. I know I’ve considered discounting my work to encourage people to pick it up and give it a shot. I think the promotion works to generate interest in the book and, if readers like the book, then in the author and his/her other works. I think it’s a useful tool to utilize every once in a while to help generate more interest in a book or author.

“Chicory Blossom” (reader) –

When I see a book for free from a beloved author, I jump on it like a duck on a June bug.
Even if I have a hard copy, I will get a free copy for the Kindle. You never know when it might come in handy, and, hey, it’s free.  I have already supported the author by purchasing a hard copy, so I have no guilt taking advantage of a free offer.  Additionally, if there is a book that is particularly useful or favored,  I will not hesitate to purchase it for under 2 or 3 dollars. If the book is useful enough, I consider the small price as good as free.
I am also more inclined to read an unrecommended or unknown author if the book is a free, and will make a concerted effort to purchase something later.   I have found several new favorite authors this way.
I am an avid fan of “free books,” and have a list that I check every day. I find that I must be careful,  though,  because it is all to easy to wind up with a long list of books that I will never be able to read, and they slow me down from finding the books I am looking for.   Also, so many of the free books out there are just plain junk (all due respect to the author for actually achieving a manuscript. )  Stories that wouldn’t be published any other way. There are too many wonderful things to read out there to have to waste time reading junk.

Stephanie B. (book reviewer) –

If you ask me, $3.99 is practically for free to me. Yes, I’m still paying money but I trust a four dollar book more than I do a free one. When I see these sales, I immediately check them out and confirm my interest or disinterest in reading the title. From there, if I want to read it I’ll buy it while the sale lasts provided it’s in the desired format. If I learn that the sale is for novel in paperback or hardcover format, I’m definitely more eager to jump on it. Of course, many sales these days are for ebooks. The end result depends on the book and author, but I will say most of my ebooks were probably purchased while they were on sale, which has left me with nearly 80 or so books and maybe half of them read (the vast majority of the unread novels were purchased during a sale).
I don’t see anything wrong with having the $3.99 sales (give or take a few). Unless the sale seems to be an ongoing event (never seeming to end), it doesn’t negatively impact my opinion on the novel or author. However, I find it disturbing that people believe they should cost less just because they aren’t paying for a physical copy. I’ll be the first to admit you probably won’t catch me paying $20 or $30 dollars on an ebook, but then again I don’t typically pay that much for an electronic purchase of a hardcover or paperback novel either. From my perspective, the idea that all ebooks shouldn’t be much higher than $10 or that they should be less is ludicrous. Whenever readers are purchasing a novel, specifically an ebook, they should remember they aren’t really paying for the physical aspects – they’re paying for the creative efforts of all those involved, the labor.
 Dan Davis (writer) –
A main reason for making your book free for a period is that it can help to get your book – and you as an author – noticed. A lot more people will click on a random free book than would take a chance by spending money on it. However! Just because you get downloads of your book it does not mean that anyone will even read it, let alone leave a review of it (and reviews are very important for any author) or buy any of your other books. It’s obvious that something that you pay for is likely to have more value to you than something you got for free.
This was the first time I ran a free promotion and after the three days was up I did not see any additional buys of Book 2 in the same series. Of course, it has only been a couple of days since the promotion ended so it may be that in a few days or weeks I shall see a return on that promotion. I have been contacted by a small number readers who downloaded it free and if even one of those readers turns into a true fan then it will have been worthwhile.

These opinions are quite interesting, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from them.  Suffice it to say that the way these people look at promotional sales changed the way I looked at the subject.


~note~
If you’d like to answer the question and have your response added, as well, email it to me via my Contact page.

Also, on a related note, Nate Philbrick wrote an article about book promoting on Twitter.  While not specifically about discounts, it’s certainly relevant.


12 thoughts on “Book Sales – Thoughts from Readers And Authors

  1. Excellent post! I guess I never really thought about it before. I have put my own work on sale and gotten interest, so it’s something I find useful. However, as per some of the comments, I wouldn’t just gather free stuff because it’s free, it still has to be worth reading or having! 🙂

    • Thanks you.

      The ‘free doesn’t mean good’ sentiment seems to be fairly common. Another point I’m seeing a lot of is that free or discount books make it more likely that readers will buy a full-price book later on.

  2. Personally, I’d have to go with you on this one. The word ‘free’ on a book sale doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.

  3. This is an interesting topic. I agree with the general opinion here. Free may make me look at a book, read the blurb even. But it won’t necessarily make me read the book. I just don’t trust free books.

    • That appears to be the common sentiment, even if the book is usually sold at a much higher price.

      I’m beginning to wonder if we (book consumers) subconsciously expect writers to value their own work. If we see a writer undervaluing it, it’s automatically suspect.

  4. Chessi Gunter

    I agree. When I see a book for free on Amazon it makes me think that the authors are just pleading with you to read their book and that in turn makes me think that the book is not going to be good.

  5. If the book is free and if I like the cover and something about it is a genre I enjoy, then I’ll check it out further. But for me it’s the reviews (number of stars, and how many people have reviewed it so far) that convince me.

    • That seems to be the predominant mentality. What interested me most was the fact that the response was virtually the same for writers AND readers… I was NOT expecting that. 😀

      • Yeah, I guess writers are more similar to readers than we think. Definitely something to keep in mind. 😀 I’ve been asking myself tough questions and thinking more like my reader self would. We all began as readers, after all, when you think about it. 🙂

        • LOL. Yes, I don’t know any authors that aren’t readers. XD I mostly meant that I was surprised that getting into the business side of writing hadn’t changed the attitude. Pleasantly surprised, but still surprised. 😉

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