Thursday, January 19, 2012

The pros and cons of releasing a free book

The Lady and the Locksmith went free in September and has been downloaded by over 50,000 readers. It peaked at number two on the free list on Amazon.com in October, when over 26,000 copies were downloaded by American readers. As a new author, I was completely unprepared for this kind of 'success' (or should I say exposure) It all came as a bit of a shock, in fact.

Why did I do it? Why give away my work for free? Well, I wanted a way to 'find' my readers. I'd been trying to decide whether to do a freebie or a bookmark, and I read an article about romance author Maya Banks which suggested that book marks don't help all that much with book promotion so I did a free novella instead. The results were staggering. If I had had any idea my modest little love story would reach so many people I would probably have been too terrified to release it.

The reviews have been fascinating. First of all, I had to get used to the fact that when fifty thousand people read your work, not all of them are going to love it. Some of them absolutely hated it, and they said so. Many people said it was too short, and I agreed with them - all my subsequent books have been full-length novels - 80k or longer. Some very intelligent readers pointed out that the hero's character isn't always consistent, and I agreed with them too. In my anxiety to write a story that was suitable for romance market, I allowed my hero, Carl, to seduce the girl against his better judgment and against my original plan for the story. This offended some readers. One reader even claimed that it was 'filthy, filthy, filthy' which made me laugh, as I have really had to work at being confident enough to describe moments of physical intimacy at all! Other readers just adored it - one of the nicest comments I got recently was 'I could feel their love' in a review on Amazon.com.

My response to all this is that I am now writing longer, more complex, more emotionally satisfying books than the Lady and the Locksmith - and the reviews of my latest book, Johnny Doesn't Drink Champagne, reflect this. Releasing a free book is an exciting, scary, exhilarating thing to do. It's wonderful getting five-star reviews. It can be agony getting one-star reviews. It can be a real eye-opener getting three-star reviews because they are often the most critical, and sometimes touch a nerve. If you are a writer, thinking of releasing a freebie - go for it, but go into it with your eyes open. If you are a reader - taking a chance on a new author because their book is free - go for it - there are some amazing free books out there.