This month I've downloaded two free books on my computer--Suze Orman's Women and Money book (yes, it was through Oprah.com!) and Charles Bock's debut novel, BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN, via his website through an agreement with Random House.

Both were offered for a limited time and arrived as laid out pages that you view through Adobe Acrobat. I have perused Orman's whole book, but have just nibbled at Bock's. Prior to downloading the books, I wouldn't have purchased either one, although I might have borrowed Orman's from the library.

Was this a good promotional strategy? A lot of Internet experts, including those who spoke at the Tools of Change publishing conference, think freebies are the wave of the future. I guess in Orman's case, she's a money guru who is on TV all the time, so exposure is probably more important than selling books. But what about for fiction writers? What do you think? Would there be a short story, past novel that you would give away for free?

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I do think it's the future. And I don't think making freebies available, will cannibalise your sales for the simple reason that no-one's going to read a whole book from a monitor. Nor are they going to be bothered to print the whole thing off. What they will do however, is read a a page or two, perhaps a chapter, and if they like it, place an order through Amazon.

So, it's a great tool I believe, for boosting your profile, and allowing potential customers a chance to 'try before they buy'.
Au contraire, I downloaded Lawrence Lessig's FREE CULTURE off his site and read the whole thing on my computer. Granted, that's the only book I've read all the way through on the computer. (Good book, by the way).
I agree. But I also bought it.
David Wellington is an example of a writer who landed a publishing deal by giving his books away free on a blog--but in his case they're fast reads, and he broke them into small bite-sized chunks on his blog. The problem with longer, more literary works is that it's a different experience sitting in a comfortable chair and reading a book than reading something online. When I'm reading online, I tend to be more impatient, and if something doesn't flow quickly I give up on it. I think in Charles Bock's case, his biggest risk isn't in canabilizing sales but in turning off readers who would've had a different reaction to his work if they were reading it in book form.
I've been very interested in this. In the past I have run short stories for free, and I have sample chapters of novels on my web site. One short story is on amazon shorts -- not free, but it might as well be, for my share of 49 cents is minuscule.
I'm thinking of running a part of an unsold historical novel on my web site. That can't hurt.
As for giving away published novels for free, I think what works there is that people get tired of the PDF format and go out and buy the book. (If they're hooked.)
My first work, Justice is Coming, just came out and my publisher, zonepress.com feels strongly that free e-books are the wave of the future and has encouraged all his authors to consider it. Several have voiced strong objection. Personally, I have my title up on my website now for free to stimulate interest. I agree with the sentiment that most people aren't inclined to read an entire work off a montior if they have a choice. Since my work is not "literary" and is a fast read, I'm hoping to engage the casual reader. For me, this was not about money, but the rush I get when someone tells me they liked what I had to say...So anything I can do to feed that need, I'll go for :>)
I downloaded Beautiful Children as well. There was a terrific review of it in the Toronto Star on the weekend. I don't know if I would have bought it, or taken it out of the library. I still don't understand how this will benefit the author. I guess if I really like it I'll recommend it to friends and perhaps I'll remember the author's name when future books are published. I guess it could raise an author's profile.

Currently I give away all my short stories. Most have been very short flash fiction and I have a story in the current issue of Demolition Magazine. I've talked to my publisher about including some short stories in the paperback versions of my novels, kind of like "bonus tracks" on some cds. Don't know yet if they'll go for it.

The first chapter of my new book will be included in the paperback of the previous book when it's published this year. That's a commn enough thing, but does it work at all? How do people feel about that?
For me, if I'm at the end of the book and and I liked it, then I'll look for more of your work. If you have another novel that sounds interesting, I'll buy it. The preview chapter is more annoying for me since you only get a small bite of the story before you're forced to go out and buy it or not. I would rather have a plot summary for the next book to hook me instead of a preview chapter; I mean, if the preview chapter doesn't grab me, then I might not buy the book, even if I liked the one I just read. And if your book happens to be a slow burn, which I like, yet it may not be apparent with only a chapter or two to preview, and I might interpret the book as boring rather than just starting out slow.

But that's just me.
I like that idea, giving away a short story in the paperback of the novel, much better than an excerpt from the next novel, which seems to be in vogue. I never read those, as I usually don't want to know too much about a book before I actually sit down to read it.

I hope that works out for you. Good luck.
Tell me what you think about BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN. I agree with Dave Z.'s comments above--I think it will be harder for me to enjoy literary fiction on screen. Somehow the sensory feeling of touching real pages enhances my reading experience of literary fiction. With Sue Orman's book, I'm just gathering information and it's fine to jump and scan pages.

Regarding the inclusion of first chapters of the next book in paperbacks--I like it, although some people who read that chapter later think that they've read the whole book when trying to make purchasing decisions. For series books, it's not a bad tactic. My first book just came out in mass market and it has the first chapter of the second book, and I'm happy for it.
Giving stuff away for free not just the wave of the future, it's the wave of now. The publishing industry is just slower than some other industries to recognize and react to the changing landscape. But yeah, free book downloads are a great thing. Hell, free+________ is a great thing.
That would have been funny if all industries functioned the same way.

Also, ever heard of:

Free samples at the grocery store
Sitting on a couch in the furniture store, feeling the rug, etc.
Test-driving a car
Free software and video game demos, some of which are temporarily fully-functioning.
Listening to an album free in its entirety, streaming on the band's website, before it is released

You're joking about demanding free things rather than free things being offered, which is what is being discussed here and what actually happens.

EDIT: Oh and let's not forget libraries.

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