Why Buy the Cow When You Get the Milk for Free? Or Something Like That.

Writers are notorious for giving their work away. “Sign up for my newsletter and receive a free book!” “My book is on Instafreebie!” “Every first book to all my series is permafree.” We hand out novellas and short stories like candy. We tweet poems. There is so much free content you could drown in words. Our Kindles are becoming black holes of free books downloaded in just a second, forever to rot in your device.

But this isn’t a post about too many books, or the quality of books, or another blog post on trad-pubbing vs. indie.

This post is about paying for services.

I was researching something a while back–I can’t remember what it was now. How to price a series, or how much to charge for something. I have no idea. But I came across an article that forever changed my way of thinking about giving my books away. I can’t refer to the author or the website because I can’t remember, but if I ever come across it again, I’ll link it up. See, the article was about . . . why writers are expected to give their work away, but no one else in a creative area is asked to do so.


Indie writers who research publishing are told from the get-go to hire out. Hire out your editing, hire out your cover design. Hire someone to format and convert your files. You can even hire someone to write your blurb for you. You want a professional looking and sounding book, don’t you? But what no one tells you that if you do, indeed, hire all that out, you’re spending thousands of dollars. Editors alone make a mint–and sometimes you need more than one. Developmental editing, line editing, proofreading. Sometimes you can find someone who does a mix of those, but that doesn’t make it cheaper. Anyway, so you hire out, do all the things you’re supposed to do. Then what do you do? You give your book away.

Why is it writers are expected to do this, but no one else? Cover designers don’t give their work away unless maybe they are part of a giveaway or something. Editors don’t edit for free unless they are donating their services for some odd reason. Even formatters want five bucks for setting up your margins and gutters in your Word document.


I understand the backlash of indies doing things themselves. I even told a friend not long ago that if I were a reader now I would be pissed off. In one of my Facebook groups, a woman posted a lovely looking book. The cover was amazing, she had a great blurb, and the premise of the story hooked me. So I went into the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon, and the first page was riddled with head hopping. We were in the heads of at least three different people on the first page. The author obviously didn’t have her book edited. Maybe beta read by friends who didn’t want to tell her the truth, but that didn’t help. It made me wonder how many unsuspecting readers have been burned by indie books. Does buying a book now really have to feel like looking for a new car? Is the salesman going to talk you into a stinker then pop the champagne when you drive off the lot?

I don’t pay to have anything done to my books. I edit myself; I do my own covers. And I don’t give my books away, either. I’ve never used the promotions available to me on KDP Select. I enter my books a couple giveaways here and there for my paperbacks, but nothing in my library is “permafree.” Not even .99. (Except my short novelette I would feel guilty charging more for.)

So indies are expected to “invest in their futures” as the industry likes to call it, but then we’re supposed to turn around and give our books away for free. How are we supposed to have any return on that investment?

What I’m proposing is that maybe “investing in our futures” would be a lot easier to choke down if we demanded top dollar for our work the way other creatives do. Maybe it would be easier to pay out the $300 for a cover, the $500 dollars for the editing and for the other odds and ends you need to make your book look good. Maybe we would be more apt to do that if we knew it wouldn’t take 10 years to recoup those losses.

I know it’s a Catch-22. You can’t sell books if they don’t look and sound good, but you can’t afford to hire out unless you’re making money. I’m in the same boat. I can’t afford to pay $1,000+ per book to publish it. Almost no one I know can. But I’m not saying I won’t when I can afford it.

Pricing your book sucks. You want it to be cheap enough to draw people in, but you want to make money, too. You deserve to make money on something you spent so much time on. Writing is hard work, and you won’t find anyone who will tell you it’s not. You deserve to get paid.


Stop giving your books way to people who join your newsletters. Stop posting your book on the Instafreebie site. Stop pricing your book at $0.00 on Smashwords and everywhere else. It’s not working anymore, anyway. There is too much free content. Would you rather have someone download your free book and never read it, or choose to spend the $4.99 on your e-book and actually read it and possibly review it? It’s a known fact that if someone spends money on something they put more value on it.

But it’s up to you to make your book valuable to your readers.

Trash is free; antiques are priceless.

Do you give your books away? Tell me what you think!

Vania Blog Signature


9 thoughts on “Why Buy the Cow When You Get the Milk for Free? Or Something Like That.

  1. You know I agree with you, in principle, on everything here. I DIY my editing, cover, blurb. I have steadfastly refused to go free at the novel length. BUT I have gone free on my short story (because it’s only 12 pages and took me only a few hours all-in), and my novella (because nobody bought it at any price). My hope was that I’d get sell-through from those to my novels. I think that’s happened a couple times, but it certainly hasn’t been an engine of growth. I’ve never paid to promote my free works, since that would just add insult to injury.

    That said, I’m seriously considering making the first novel in my trilogy free. I have a sell-through rate of 39%. (That is, 39% of the people who read Entropy buy Duality.) I hear that’s high, so maybe if someone reads Entropy for free, they *might* go on and buy Duality. And then they’ll be so pissed at me about what I did there, that they’ll buy Gravity out of spite. 🙂 There is no opportunity cost here: The trilogy is no longer selling on its own. And I’ve moved on to my next novel. So I don’t really feel like investing the continuing effort of marketing the back-catalog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My issue is why writers give their books away for free anyway when other professionals don’t. Everyone is expected to pay for editing, cover design. Hell, pretty soon you won’t even get betas who will read for free. It seems like everyone makes money off the writer, but the writer makes nothing. that’s not right. And it’s probably a far stretch, especially for a beginning writer, to tie-in paying for cover and editing and formatting with giving your book away, but the mindset doesn’t help. I’m all for using it as a marketing strategy, but if you’re in Select, it’s moot anyway. What do you think?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There’s a long game involved when authors choose to give their books for free and it doesn’t work for everyone. For an author with one book, giving it away offers no sell through. But for someone with a series, as long as they have a good CTA that leads the reader to the next book, it’s a good strategy. I’ve given thousands of books away and I’ve also sold thousands and had my biggest months sales-wise because of a free book that led to the second book in the series.

    As long as an author has a plan in place, not just to sell books but to build her platform, giving one’s books away isn’t bad marketing. Your book once finished is now a product and that product has to move. Sometimes you might need to give it away or sell it at a discount so it can introduce your work to others and lead to sales of your other books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, Liz; it can be a great marketing tool. Especially with an impressive backlist as yours. I was writing in terms of being a beginning writer and the fact that they may be more willing to pay for a little help with their book if they weren’t in the mindset that they were going to have to give their book away to gain readers. I’ve always been an advocate to do as much as you can by yourself. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t learn the tools of the trade. I’ve always preached and believed that. But a stinkbomb is a stinkbomb even if it’s free. I’m just thinking if there is a mind-shift among indies where we aren’t expected to automatically give books away for exposure, writers would be more apt to pay for a little help along the way. Besides, the core of the post was the fact that other creatives don’t give their work away. I’ve never known an editor to work for free or a cover designer. Yet writers seem like they are weaned at the laptop to think that after spending months, sometimes years, on a novel, the first thing they need to do is price it for free, and that’s not true. Readers *will* pay for quality work. I’ll have a trilogy out in the next few months, and I’ll be making some tough choices with the first one as well. I’m with Select, so I won’t be able to price it for free, but pricing it lower than the other two is a no-brainer. But it will never be free.
      Thanks for taking the time to respond, Liz! I appreciate it.


      • It’s tough for beginning writers right now, especially when they don’t know where to begin. When they see authors give away their books, beginning indie authors assume that maybe they should do the same without realizing that the other other has a huge backlist the new author doesn’t. That’s when it becomes a learning experience.

        But like you said, they have to learn the tools of the trade though sometimes they’ll falter. I make mistakes all the time still but the things I’ve learned is that free works when you’ve got a backlist. Free also works when it’s done with other authors in a newsletter promo blitz. I had my biggest sales day last month because I set one book free and then sold 51 copies the next day at its regular price of $3.99 – all because 30 other authors put the free day in their newsletters. I would never have been able to do that on my own.

        Readers will pay for quality work, it’s true, but readers are also open to trying out new authors when they see a book that’s free. I had a Bookbub in the summer that would have driven the earlier version of author me crazy knowing I’d give 32K copies of book 1 away. But I also sold thousands of Book 2 that month alone with sales continuing months after that.

        For your trilogy, I’d recommend applying book 1 for a Bookbub. Let them know you’ve got the third book coming out and you want to time it around release week, or before. Make sure you have a good CTA to lead the readers through the next book. Also have Amazon set up a series page so that readers who download the free book 1 know there are 2 other books and Amazon will take them to the series page.

        You can also do 99 cent sale but with an untested writer, many readers won’t even take that chance. But they will with a free book and as long as everything is in place – series page, CTA, a good book and ending that they have to get the next one – free can work wonders.

        Free works when done well. It also fails when it’s not planned correctly.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Editing, cover work, and the like are all services. A book, on the other hand, is an asset. You pay for editing or a cover only once, but you get paid for writing every time someone buys your book. A good book continues to generate income for years or even decades after it’s written.

    I hear you about too many authors undervaluing their own work. The biggest mistake I’ve made in my writing career has been trying to compete on price. There is a place for loss leaders, but too many indies lack the confidence to charge what their books are worth.


    • That’s a great way of looking at it, Joe! I never thought of it like that. I’ve used the term “loss leader” myself, and I understand its meaning. I often compare writing and selling your books to opening your own business, and I think you are right. When a new business opens, it can take years to make a profit. It’s a tough pill to swallow to think the first couple books we write and dump money into won’t do anything for us until maybe years down the road.
      Thanks for your comment!


  4. I always love reading your posts because I always take away so much from them. I always wondered about the .99 and free books; like how can a writer ever earn money when they do that? Especially learning that Amazon only gives you a small percentage. By the time you pay Amazon, Create Space (do you pay them?), then you almost end up in debt. As much as I want people to read my books, I don’t want to gain debt in doing so.

    Editing is a touchy subject for me. As you know, I offer editing services for a low rate on my website. Am I perfect? No, no one is. Do I knock it out of the park the first edit around? No, I believe that’s impossible to do and any good editor would at least take 2 swings at the project. I’m learning, and I am honest up front about that. However, I also promise to not stop until we are both happy that it’s completed and ready to publish. Even then, it’s likely still not going to be perfect for every person who reads it. That’s just a fact.

    I nearly choked when I first got a quote for a 50k word project (naturally was going to be longer but that was the low-end word count). This person, who I’m sure was great at her job, wanted over $2k for editing my work. What!?!? If I sold my book at .99, only getting .33 of that in royalties, I’d have to sell well over 2k books JUST to break even. Like, where is the logic in that??! No one, especially not an indie author, should ever have to pay those fees. Now, I understand editing is REALLY tough. It’s time- consuming, a headache if the author has a really rough first or second draft, and can be a pain in reality. But $2k?!?

    Sorry, off that soapbox, ha! I agree, giving things away is a no-no. If you’re doing a giveaway basket (a copy of your book, a bookmark with your book info on it, notebook paper; you know, a writing giveaway basket), then sure! But, even then, do those while getting at least a little small token in return.

    Great post, Vania! Off to share it because all writers should read it.


    Liked by 1 person

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