What is a free reader? A reader who only reads free books. In a market where millions of books are listed as free across all platforms, free readers have become a common occurrence…and they’ve also caught a lot of flak.
First, I want to clarify that I’m not talking about people who steal books by illegally downloading them or by using the five-finger discount at the store. I’m talking about readers who only read free books they legally received through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, NetGalley, publishers, etc. I think we can all agree that stealing is wrong. But if an author has books listed for free—a common marketing plan, especially in regards to series—I don’t think we should complain that some people are only reading free books. I say this from a platform with two of my five books currently listed as free. I also say this as someone who rarely reads free books nowadays. Since most free books are eBooks, and I have a hard time reading eBooks, I buy paperbacks from Barnes & Noble to read. But I don’t hate “free readers.” Instead, I love them. Why? Because I was one of them.
In college, I couldn’t afford to do anything beyond buy my college textbooks, so I lived off of legally free entertainment, and most days, that art saved me. I raved about their work, I fell in love with their work, I followed them on social media, and complemented them, and told all my friends about them. Now that I have more money in my life, I spend my cash on their work. Today, maybe even as you’re reading this, there’s someone out there just like me, reading my free work, too, and I hope they are having a great day.
A free book is a gift we choose to give. We cannot give a gift and expect something in return. That ruins the entire point of giving. Besides, libraries have allowed readers to rent books forever, but we only seem to debate the eBook 1-click download readers.
As an author with free books, I’m happy when someone takes a chance on my work. I’m happy I might have a new fan. I’m happy my book is out there, and for all I know, that “free reader” could be saving every extra penny just so they can buy the next books ASAP. I can honestly say I’ve been contacted by a “free reader” who—after reading my entire trilogy through a giveaway—saved up enough money to not only buy paperbacks but asked if they could buy signed paperbacks from me. They chose to buy my books with their only birthday money. That “free reader” is now my friend.
Of course, there are bad eggs. The ones who expect everything for free. The ones who leave bad reviews just because it isn’t free. The ones who send emails asking for free paperbacks. The ones who take hundreds of ARCs from book shows when you’re only supposed to take one. Of course there are readers who give a bad name to good readers. Of course there are. But I’m addressing the ones who follow the rules—when free isn’t all that bad.
I get it though. I do. I’m an author. My books help me pay the bills, too. Writing is my second full-time job, and I work my little writer’s butt off to create books, and my publisher busts their butt to edit, format, and print my work. Writing and publishing is time-consuming and expensive, and it would be wonderful if that work then paid for itself and more. But the market is highly competitive, and readers also have bills to pay and a life to fund. If I choose to list my book for free, then that was my choice. I cannot expect the reader to then go buy the rest of my series, even if it is under the price of a cup of coffee. (I can definitely hope though!)
Why Pay For EBooks? was a popular article on Fussy Librarian, and I highly recommend the read. Three wonderful authors discuss how royalties affect their life, and it’s a side of publishing we often forget. I totally agree with all the points made, but we should keep the reader’s side in mind, too. Free readers are not our enemy; free readers are our friend. They are taking a chance on our work. They are sampling new authors and participating in discussions and leaving reviews and entering contests to share the next book, too. They are trying to support you in any way they can.
How can we help authors if we cannot afford to buy books?
1. Don’t steal. Instead, get a library card, start a book blog, enter giveaways, and apply to publishers for ARC (advanced reader copies). If the book you want isn’t at the library, let the library know you want it! Talking to your librarian helps everyone.
2. Leave reviews! Whether it’s a helpful 1-star or a raving 5-star review, let people know what you think. Recommend the book to someone you know will enjoy it.
3. Contact the author. Tell them how much you loved their book. Ask them how you can help spread the word about their books. Maybe they have an upcoming release you can ask your librarians to get. Encouragement and support is priceless. My day is often made by a fan just stopping by to say hello.
Authors are here to write, and authors should be paid, but personally, I’m happy if no one is stealing and readers are enjoying our work enough to share it with the world.
Keep reading, keep writing, and…uh…comment below for free? 😉
Here are two of my FREE books:
Bad Bloods: November Rain
Minutes Before Sunset