Guest post: ‘Free eBooks – friend or foe?’ by Paul Hurst

Tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of free eBooks, is brought to you by Paul Hurst.

Free ebooks – friend or foe?
Let’s not get involved in the argument about the rights and wrongs of free ebooks. They are here, and here to stay. Try to stop them, and we’ll just end up looking like a silly Canute. Instead, here are some ways we can use them to our advantage.

Scratching an itch
Many people harbour the dream of writing a book. It’s something they feel they have to do, and the process itself can be both cathartic and rewarding. Rather than incurring the cost of self-publishing in print, a free ebook allows them to give away copies to friends, family and colleagues. Edits and re-writes are easy to undertake if their writing skills improve. And no trees are harmed in the process if the book turns out to be a bit of a minger.

Unlike printed books, length is not so obvious with an ebook. If a free short work is rewarded with more than an obligatory polite but lukewarm response, then an extended version can be tested at, say 99 cents. Following that, if downloads still remain promising, try a full length version at a higher price. I signed two book deals last year, one which had only been available via Smashwords. The sales and content to-date were enough to attract a publisher who wants an extended hard copy version.

As a teaser for a series
Similar to the above, but where the first book is a full length freebie that establishes the characters well enough that readers will be happy to follow them through later paid for books, or buy new stories by the same author. As an e-publisher, I’ve tried this approach with free books by two authors. The results so far have not been that promising, but the technique of loss leaders has been established well enough in the past not to give up trying. And if you can attract a loyal following, then the future looks a lot rosier.

There’s more than one way to earn money from books – especially those for children. If free books are up to 46 times more popular than the charged sequel (based on one author I know), then why not use downloads (which a lot of readers have become used to getting for free) to build up a loyal fan base interested in buying the stuffed toys, stickers and other physical merchandising based on the characters which we do still expect to pay for. I’ve heard of bands making far more from the sales of clothing and other branded items at the back of the hall than from the actual concert. Some online games let you start for free, and then coax you to start paying for the extras once you are hooked. I don’t write for younglings myself, but this is probably the business model I’d go for if I did – get maximum coverage through free downloads first, then aim to follow up with printed books and products such as those above being sold straight off a web site. Then just hope for a film deal after that! Well, we can all dream.

Sharing information
Being an author tends to lend an aura of authority. By giving away free books on charity events, weddings, medieval banquets and barn dances I can hopefully position myself as someone who knows a bit about these functions, and who should therefore be a good person to book as a performer. Not only that, but I don’t have to stay glued to the ’phone or computer answering exactly the same questions over and over again.

It is then a short step to offer to write guides for magazines, venues and other trades / suppliers – all of course mentioning the more detailed free ebooks available. These will hopefully go a bit viral, and of course all contain links to the main web site. One wedding magazine gave me a free ‘advertorial’ space four times larger than the advert I placed (at a reduced rate), simply because I could help them with relevant copy for their publication. As writers, this should not be that hard for us to do!

When we eventually sell our current house, unless technology has moved on sufficiently by then, I’ll probably put all the details, plans and pictures in a free ebook. The time it takes should more than be repaid by the benefit of all the extra info I can get in about all the extras we’ve added and refined over the last 21 years, the local attractions, the best places to buy logs, meat, fruit & veg and so on. Even local history (Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton had a secret assignation at the Grange, over the road, Sophie Rhys-Jones lived in the village and pulled pints down the local before becoming Countess of Wessex). It should be possible to make readers realise all the benefits of the property and location, to make them start thinking of the house as ‘theirs’. With the sort of prices houses go for now, it could well be possible to earn more than the average an author normally earns from a book, just by increasing interest and competition.

Getting brownie points
An extension of the above… following a St George’s Day banquet, I compiled the competition entries (a 50 word saga on George and the Dragon) into a short ebook, complete with the venue’s logo and contact details. They liked the kudos of having their own publication available and the punters were happy to see their names in ‘print’. A bonus for me was the chance to include our contact details at the end. The whole thing took about three hours to set up, and there have been a surprising number of downloads. Only problem now is sorting out a suitable competition for the 2012 repeat booking (any ideas please?). We’ve already done Limericks…

Gifts and presents
Being writers, we should have the ability to wrangle words but may well be short of a bob or two. How about writing and hosting a fully bespoke story for a young relative, writing up a wedding day (or partnership celebration) – including the speeches – for a couple, or putting together a retirement biography? Think about the options, and it should be win-win-win. The recipient gets a personalised and unique gift, the friends and relatives they share it with should enjoy reading it (especially where you can mention them), and of course your contact details are included as the author. If nothing else, you can hone your skills whilst saving the cost of the traditional toaster, toast rack or fish slice.

Thank you Paul. I shall keep this handy in case I get any wedding invitations! 🙂

Paul Hurst has run his own companies since the mid 1980s. Small, stable ‘niche’ affairs with the absolute minimum of overheads. Two of the companies cover his work as a musician and performer since the late 70s, and as band leader since the early 80s. Working through his business The Solutions Agency Ltd, Paul provides bookkeeping, accountancy, training and consultancy services to a wide range of small companies, drawing on his experience in banking, County Court, retail, management accounting, advertising, building, civil engineering, importing, engineering and now psychology as a student with the Open University.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with the two hundred and eighth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords.

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