It's fairly normal for me to haunt the freebies on Bookbub, particularly Supernatural Suspense. I'm always looking for authors to collaborate with on sales or announcements, and I prefer to preview their work first. Bookbub has a mysterious vetting process I doubt we'll ever unlock, but it's not unheard of to download something that wasn't ready for prime time. One or two such freebies caused me to break my no-negative-review rule and rant a little on Facebook without naming names or titles. One in particular spent chapters on the heroine's absolutely bizarre profession before getting to the story. While the diversion was funny, it was completely unnecessary and I had to grit my teeth to get through the book. What surprised me were the reactions to my rant.
One comment in particular:
"You mean the books you get for free aren't of stellar quality? I'm shocked!"
Authors descended with hackles raised in this particular Facebook example. Many of us are pressured to list books, particularly the first in the series, for free. Even perma-free in the hopes of luring in additional readers. There's solid logic behind the hope that increasing outflow can translate into reviews and recommendations. I get it, but it's also led to some examples of outrageous behavior. Some readers have been so bold as to demand free books. By listing for free or heavy discounts, we set a precedent.
A self-published author is only too well aware of the cost of getting a book out the door. Let's ignore the hours, weeks, and months working on our lovely creation and focus on the bare essentials for a self published book: editing, proof reading, and a professional cover. According to the Editorial Freelancers Association, a fair estimate for editing would be around $0.015/word and proofreading around $0.005/word. This is a very fair rate, and more isn't unreasonable. The standard novel is around 80,000 words, so let's estimate $1,200 for editing and $400 for proof for a total of $1,600. Covers usually run from $500 to $1500, so let's call it $700 for a total of $2,300 spent on professional services. Minimum. You could also pay for layout (recommended if you don't want to learn software like Vellum or InDesign), book tours, email list advertising, additional promotional costs, and someone to assist with PR. If you want to have your book available in paperback, purchase an ISBN and additional software. These things add up quickly, and royalty earnings are pretty meager, particularly for an author who is forced to write part time and can only produce a novel per year.
Hopefully people can see why authors shy away from free books: A desire to see a return in investment.
I prefer not to give away my books for free, but it isn't only because I want to see a return on my investment. I don't have a problem with heavy discounting. Just last week I had my books listed for a knock out $0.99 a piece. What's the difference between that and free? Not a whole lot when you're defaulted to a 35% royalty.
In my experience, when someone pays for a book--even if it's not very much--there's a higher chance that it will be read and reviewed. I know people who download tons of free books only to let them sit on their device while the books that were recommended and purchased are read. Let's not ignore the stigma around free books. There is that odd reflex I mentioned earlier to assume that something heavily discounted or free is worth less. I saw this when selling paintings. Higher price tags moved faster despite aesthetics.
I will continue to read free books and leave reviews when I enjoy them. Yes, I'm still a chicken about that negative stuff. I have listed my first book for free in the past and didn't gain nearly as much traction from that "sale" than when I heavily discounted and was listed in Bookbub. Human nature is an interesting thing, and until someone proves me otherwise, I'll refrain from giving my books away outside of contests and early reviewer copies.
How do you feel about free books as a consumer or an author?