We’ve all learned it. There’s no free lunch. But there are also very few maxims and I have actually received a free lunch or two in my time that required nothing on my part but to sit down and eat them.

Point is, I’ve been giving away free copies of my first book, Black Beast, over the past few weeks. I’ve had people ask me (now and before) if I think giveaways help. There is the new option of setting the price of your book at $0.00 (free) on Amazon through the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select program. It amounts to the same thing. Giving away your product, or in the writer’s case, his art.

My answer to this valid question is always the same:

It depends.

I recently answered a fellow writer this way:

Stephen King doesn’t gain anything by giving away his books. Joe NoName, however, needs to reach the readers, so it can be a delicate balance.”

For me right now, exposure (i.e. finding a readership) is more crucial than the few bucks I earn off each sale. (BTW, I don’t believe I’m violating the KDP Select rules because I am actually giving the free copies by gifting them through Amazon—yes, that costs me roughly a buck a book, but from the numbers I’ve witnessed through other promotions, I’m not spending any more on this promotion than any other AND Amazon still gets the “sale”, as do I, and everyone’s happy).

The reason I’m blogging about this (other than to share the promotional idea with others) is the question of whether or not giving away one’s art is an inherently good or bad thing? I think it depends on what your goals are with your art. If the act of creation, showing, and being (intrinsically) rewarded for your hard work is all you’re after (i.e. profit, number of sales, market reach, etc.) are not amongst your lofty goals, then I’d say giving away your art (excepting birthdays, silent auctions, or other special occasions) is a bad idea.

If, however, you are trying to create a business with your creativity (i.e. you want to increase sales, revenues, profits, etc. like any good business) you may very well want to consider it a viable option.

I read a response recently from an Indie author who said he didn’t care how many books were out there in the slush pile because readers found him due to the quality of his writing.

OH, were that the case. Here’s the reality:

If you are an Indie, it’s not a slush pile you’re contending with, it’s the deepest, darkest jungle, man, and you are in the f*cking middle of it. The readers have never heard of you and they never will, not without a massive communication system (you can read what I had to say here, in my open letter to Indie authors on Social Media Sun, about getting out of the jungle, BTW—and is it just me or does the fact that the real Amazon runs through the most inhospitable jungle on earth go beyond coincidence?).

Jungle analogies notwithstanding, most Indies are still NOT being found on Amazon (whether they are truly great or stink like yesterday’s pudding). Don’t believe me? Try this experiment: stop tweeting out your book links. Remove the Amazon sales link from your webpages, email signatures, and anywhere else you proliferate your information. Then see how many sales you get. The remaining sales will represent how many people simply “find” you on Amazon. Unless you are ranked somewhere in the Top 100 on Amazon, I doubt more than an occasional sale is generated by someone “finding” you (and what they are actually doing could better be described as “stumbling across you”).

People aren’t finding unknowns on Amazon. Not in any appreciable numbers, anyway. You must drive readers to your book(s). Which is okay. That’s part of the equation for the unknown artist. Part of paying our dues. But I submit sharing your work, particularly if you have multiple books (I am offering a free read for the first book in my two-book series) is a practical way that doesn’t cost you much and could have impact that is further reaching than you think.

I’ve actually gotten good responses; so far all the readers have liked my book and several have reviewed it positively (even though I made no condition of such in my offer—I think that’s important: offer a free book sans strings; invite them to enjoy your writing).

And therein lies the core of my philosophy on this: if you write great books, you simply need readers. The rest will take care of itself. The problem is in the “simply” part. Finding a readership. Getting your art into enough hands that the quality can stand on its own (as the commenter I referred to earlier stated).

My advice to starving artists is this: you may not be starving because your art (writing) is poor; more than likely it’s because you can’t reach the masses. Offering to put your book in the hands of a few hundred readers isn’t going to hurt. The bad thing about KDP Select is that statistics have shown most people are just downloading it because it’s free. In other words, they are Kindle book hoarders. Many are never going to read your book, not because they have anything against you but rather because, like all hoarders, they can’t find their stuff because of their junk. (And for those of you who just had a sexual connotation moment, I commend you.)

When you offer your book for free at a more personal level, and someone responds, it’s usually because they want to read your book. And so far my experience has been that they DO read it. Some have even told me they are telling their friends. And that’s the most I had hoped for anyway! (Also, yes, I am still offering you a free Kindle copy of Black Beast. Just email me at freeblackbeast(at)gmail(dot)com.)

But I will say it again: if all you are doing is depositing your book(s) on Amazon’s litany of virtual shelves and planning for the masses to come find you, you’ve lost the war already.

Before you’ve even entered a skirmish.


The blank page is dead…long live the blank page.



Author known to use spontaneous satire, sarcasm, and unannounced injections of pith or witticisms which may not be suitable for humorless or otherwise jest-challenged individuals. (Witticisms not guaranteed to be witty, funny, comical, hilarious, clever, scintillating, whimsical, wise, endearing, keen, savvy, sagacious, penetrating, fanciful, or otherwise enjoyable. The Surgeon General has determined through laboratory testing that sarcasm can be dangerous, even in small amounts, and should not be ingested by those who are serious, somber, pensive, weighty, funereal, unsmiling, poker-faced, sober, or pregnant.)





10 Responses to Should You Give Away Your Art?

  1. That’s a good point about stopping all promotion to see how many people discover you. But this doesn’t even have to be about free giveaways. I read somewhere where someone questioned whether authors gave away their books because they didn’t value them or were simply bad books and therefore weren’t worth much. But if it has a price or perceived value, then we are using money from our business to invest back into the business. And the readers are our business.

  2. Caleb Pirtle says:

    Nobody has a better perspective on the battle facing authors and the decisions authors must make today’s indie world of book writing and marketing.

  3. This is the new business model. This is how new writers enter the marketplace. We are now doing the work publishing houses and marketing departments traditionally did. When a writer breaks out, the Big 6 will (already are?) swoop in with praise and money, ready to ink a sweetheart deal the rest of us will spend six weeks analyzing on our blogs.

    But we’re all sharing in a grand experiment. The few who have succeeded have shared their technique; we are thus emulating it. Everyone knows the first dime bag is always free.

    Five or ten years from now, when things have shifted once more, we’ll all look back at this period and see it as a self-contained moment in time. And everyone will say, “You guys remember when Rob Guthrie used to give away his books for FREE? He’s only, like, the most talented writer in the last, like, hundred years!” “Ohmygod, totally! I read everything he writes. Black Beast terrified me. I had really bad nightmares for, like, three weeks. It’s, like, totally my all-time favorite book. And the movie is, like, totally amazing. And so is the sequel. Colin Farrell was, like, amazing. He has such range. And David Fincher’s spiritual aesthetic was so inspired. If William Peter Blatty and Alfred Hitchcock had a love child, it would totally be Rob Guthrie.” “Totally!”

    • rsguthrie says:

      And at the very least they will say “remember when instead of writing his world-renowned blog Ryan Schneider chose to write those eloquent comments on that Guthrie fellow’s?” You, sir, are the best writer/commenter ever. 🙂

  4. Jack Durish says:

    Thank you. You have added to my vocabulary: “Kindle Hoarders.” Now, I believe we need a different term for those who download free samples and never get around to reading them. All of which makes me happy that few are buying my first novel until I have a few more ready for them to purchase in read. Imagine if I were “discovered” and my second novel didn’t become available until after they forgot that they liked “me.” I’d have to start all over again in the jungle of undiscovered writers.

  5. I very much like the concept of gifting books. I’ve read the rules, and they keep it very open ended as far as just how many you can gift. As long as such is the case, I say the sky is the limit. And, it’s one of the few promotional tactics I know that actually does pay you something back. As always, good luck.

  6. Leslie Moon says:

    As the daughter of a very gifted fine artist who gave most of her work (tho the stuff was worth alot) I believe we are impacting another generation with a gift
    so my vote – give the best

    • rsguthrie says:

      Thanks for sharing this, Leslie. I do think you make a good point about the benefit in the sharing, regardless of the motivation. 🙂

  7. Doug Berg says:

    I have read some really good books on my Kindle that were free and after I would think, yeah, I would have paid 8 dollars for this. If you set it at a ridiculous low price you are still reaching a wider audience than if you just give it away. I have paid .99 – 2.99 for some wonderful books and I have paid 8.00 – 12.00 for some absolute garbage. As a writer you give a little piece of yourself in the story so why not get at least a little something in return? Just my opinion, I could be wrong, and I usually am according to my wife.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Hi, Doug. Yes, me, too. Unfortunately price in the book market is not a very good indicator of quality these days. Not that price ever guarantees quality in any market, but usually that’s where the numbers eventually settle. i suppose once the book market finishes reinventing itself, the laws of supply, demand, quality, etc. will equalize the pries a bit. I hope. 🙂 Thanks much for the comment.

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