A Brief Treatise On Free Books

I confess. I’m a book addict and proud of it. My personal library shelves overflow with books – classics and moderns, all genres and sub-types, favorites I’ve re-read mulyiple times and new books I’ve only been through once. However, the budget doesn’t always support the habit, and free books can be beguiling, especially when touted as award winners. However, lately the creative side of me whispers a warning. This month, as I prepare to launch a new book of my own in the fall, the alarm has been sounding louder than ever. What price are writers really paying for all these free books?

Since I read widely and often, I have acquainted myself with award-winning authors and those who are first-timers. Many self-published authors offer their books for free. Publishing houses allow readers to claim ARCs. The first thing I’ve noticed about the more prevalent giveaways on Internet sites is the lack of quality control. Many times the stories themselves just aren’t that good. Period. They haven’t been well-plotted. Characters are not well-developed. But the greater disappointment is in the editing. Now, nothing is perfect, especially without repeated passes through a manuscript. But the blatant ignoring of grammar, punctuation, the lack of continuity, all have me abandoning more books before page fifty than I ever did before.

The second big problem is this: when all these writers offer work for free, they devalue their own and, by comparison, mine and yours and the books of all who are serious about the art and the craft of writing. I fear that readers will do onwe of two things. Either they will discount all work as being of this poor quality OR they will accept mediocrity in place of superior writing. This saddens me. What will this dilution of  reader expectations mean for future readers and writers? In many ways, free books are contributing to the de-literization of readers. (Is that even a word?) When thousands willingly except third-rate work as competent, they may lose the ability to recognize truly good work. Then the organizations that legitimately evaluate and critically appraise find a diminished audience for the best of what is written.

Or not. ARCs are valuable and can be used to publicize good work and gain critical positive reviews. Offering contests or giveaways can boost a writer’s name recognition and, perhaps, readership. Self-published writers benefit greatly from building a readership through giveaways.. One gentleman whose podcast I recently heard boasts of giving away 200,000 copies of his books in order to pave the way for future releases. But if these free copies don’t result in greater sales, have the freebies done more harm than good?

As an author, I spend one to two years developing a concept, drafting, revising, editing, querying. I have listened to others who crank out books in six to eight weeks and publish them afterward. I simply can’t understand how to infuse my writing with quality by moving so rapidly. Should all those hours I have given be sacrificed without recompense in an attempt to win over those reluctant to pay for my work?

I find myself conflicted by the increasing availability of free books even as the miser in me welcomes the opportunity to add to my literary stash. I welcome serious and thoughtful responses to this dilemma. Let me know what you think.