Jilly: Free Shouldn’t Mean Gimcrack

How many of you download free books, stories or novellas from BookBub, or the Zon, or as a reward for signing up for an author newsletter?

Do you expect the quality of the writing to be worse because it’s free?

Stand by for a rant.

I’m on the mailing list of an author whose books I really like. She’s not prolific, but her stories are quality and well worth waiting for. I had a newsletter from her recently, announcing that her new novel would be published shortly. Excellent, I thought. I read on to discover that she’d written a novella-length story in the same world as the upcoming book, and that she was offering it to her mailing list as a free download to thank us for our engagement and to whet our appetites for the new release.

I couldn’t have been happier. I downloaded the free book, made a pot of coffee and got comfortable on the sofa with my Kindle. For about five minutes, tops.

I knew the novella-length story had started life as a character sketch, a discovery exercise to help the author find her way into the next big book. That’s cool. I love those little extras, behind-the-scenes glimpses and secret nuggets. That’s what I was hoping for. Perhaps that’s what it became in the end. I’m not sure, because I abandoned it after skimming the first dozen pages.

I’m not sure whether the author did just dump her discovery notes into Vellum without any thought or editing, but that’s how it read to me. What I read reminded me of the famous Mark Twain quote: “I apologize for such a long letter – I didn’t have time to write a short one.”

The author seems like a smart and engaging peson. I’m sure she thought she was doing a good thing in giving her fans something for nothing. The snag is, that freebie wasn’t free. It cost me my precious reading time (not much, because I bailed early, but still). It cost the author a slug of my goodwill. I’m still likely to buy and read her new book, but the strong positive association she’d built in me was somewhat undermined.

I felt somehow disrespected. Instead of feeling the warm glow of insider privilege, I felt a bit taken for granted, categorized as a person who’d read any old rubbish as long as they didn’t have to pay for it.

Message to self (and anyone else who has a reader magnet or does mailing list giveaways): freebies are meant to engage and delight the reader. The idea is to make them want to read more, to discover your books and potentially buy them.

To do this successfully, the giveaway can be short, no more than a taste, but the quality must be representative of the books you’re trying to sell.

Do you read many freebies? Do you expect the quality to be worse than books you’ve paid for?

5 thoughts on “Jilly: Free Shouldn’t Mean Gimcrack

  1. Timely reminder. My newsletter last quarter included a scene I cut from The Demon Always Wins on the advice of my editor that showed Lilith interacting with clients down in Hell. It was one of my favorites, and killed me to cut, but my editor was right that it pulled focus off the romance in the book. One of my subscribers (someone I don’t know personally!) even left a note of my FB author page saying how much she’d enjoyed it, and was looking forward to reading the next book.

    My next newsletter comes out on March 1 and I need to find something comparable to include.

    Thanks for the kick in the pants!

    • You’re welcome 🙂

      The Lilith scene sounds great–and what a smart way to use it. That’s my idea of a good freebie.
      Hope you find something just as good for the March newsletter!

  2. I’ve stopped downloading anything that’s free. I have 650 books on my Kindle, probably 500 of which I haven’t yet read, and I’ve been disappointed far too many times with free books to take a chance any more. I think these days I respond to “free” only when I already wanted the thing. Chapters and whatnot do not really float my boat—if I like it and want more, I’m annoyed that I must take further steps to get it or can’t yet get it at all, and if I don’t like it, I’m annoyed that I wasted my time. So, yeah. No.

  3. Well, on the one hand, you get what you pay for. And also, one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure. So, it’s hard to tell what’s going to be valuable for a specific reader.

    I also tend to think that “free” signals something the author can’t get paid for.

    Naturally, it’s a delight when a free goody is good. It makes me have high expectations for what s/he gets paid for.

    But also, even free goodies have to be a part of your public image. It has to have *some* value. It’s going to represent your face in public. I’m not sure, but I wonder how you would have received the freebie in question if it was presented as “something from my diary”.

    (-: Researchers would be thrilled that this extra info is made public, but most of us aren’t writing at that level where researchers are writing about us.

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