Thursday's Thoughts: The Perils & Power of the Free Read

Thursday, August 2

Today I thought I would share with you my thoughts about the "free" read.  I actually guest blogged about this at another blog a month or so ago, but thought I would share it here as well in case you missed it.


Many publishers and authors like to offer free digital books, novellas and short stories to readers as a way to entice readers to buy more from that author.  Frankly, I think this is brilliant!  Because really, who doesn't like something for free, especially a great book?  And therein lies the catch.  In order for this marketing tool to really be effective (ie sales of more books) the freebie has to be an excellent representation of what that author or publisher is trying to get us to buy more of.   "Excellent representation" being the key words.

Caution:  Here lies many pitfalls, perils, and dangers!  A free read is a great way to test drive a new to you author, and unfortunately I don't think that very important fact that this may be a readers first introduction to an author is taken into consideration often enough. 

Let me share with you a few of my free read experiences...some of which were great, others were complete disasters, and maybe the worst scenario, a not so good free read for a fantastic author.

One of the first free reads I came across was Anne Stuart's The Wicked House of Rohan.  I had just read Ruthless and found out that Rohan was a free prequel to the book I had just read.  I really enjoyed Ruthless and wanted more, so I was eager to read Rohan.  However, Rohan, IMO was a complete mess.  I actually really disliked it.  The story was kind of all over the place, and way too short, created more questions, than answers (and not in a good way that would make you want to read the upcoming books in the series, but to avoid them at all costs kind of way).  This was a free read disaster for both me and the author.  It's time I could have better spent on other things, and was not a good representation of the type of story I knew the author could tell.  If I had read The Wicked House of Rohan first, I never would have read anything else by this author.  To this day I've not read another of her books.  So there you go.

A free read that I also thought was a failure, was Lorelei James' Slow Ride.  And unlike the previous book, it's not because the story was bad, in fact I actually loved it because it was a snippet into the lives of characters that I had already come to love.  That, right there was the problem with this short story as a free read.  It was written as a freebie for readers of the already well established Rough Riders series, not any reader who may happen upon the free read.   If you didn't already know the characters, then more than likely you wouldn't connect with the characters since you learned very little about them, just a moment from their lives.  Which makes this book as a free read, a complete and utter failure.  The writing was good (as always), but it didn't present this series in a favorable light, which is why I thing the book suffered in the Amazon reviews, and it made me sad because Ms. James is one of my all time favorite authors!  Hands down, I will buy whatever she writes because I know it will be good.  But if I was a reader who had never read one of her books....then Slow Ride wouldn't necessarily make me want to buy more of her work because there was little to no character development.  Slow Ride would have been much better as a free read on the author's site, or newsletter as a "thank you" to fans of the series, instead of a possible introduction to the series, which is what many of the free reads are to readers.

Now I'd like to share two free reads that I thought were very effective because it made me want to read more by the author.  The first is  All's Fair In Love & Seduction by Beverley Kendall.  I don't know if she wrote this as a free read to promote the rest of the books in her Elusive Lords series, but if she did then I give her big kudo's because All's Fair didn't read like a "freebie", but just a great story that happened to have been free.  And it also made me want to pay to read the rest of the books in this series.  Brilliant!  And exactly what a free read should do if you are using it as a marketing tool.

The second book that was fabulous freebie (unfortunately it's not free any longer) was Sweet Release by Pamela Clare.  This book was originally published in print several years ago, then went out of print, and was re-released by the author last year.  And occasionally Ms. Clare will have this book, or one of her others, as free reads, which is how I first read it.  I think this is the best type of free read.  It's a book that was never written to be a free read, it's just a great story that happened to be offered for free.  I know there have to be many readers, like myself, who send many many thanks to Ms. Clare...not necessarily for the free read,  but for the opportunity to discover her books.  I think she is an AMAZING author that I might have missed out on if it had not been for a free read.  I have purchased all of her backlist, and even purchased and given a few of her books away on my blog as gifts, resulting in countless other sales I'm sure (because they are that addictively good).  Right there, is why free reads are so powerful. 

I know some of you may not agree with this, but if the free read ain't great, then there is no way I am going to spend any of my hard earned, and very limited book buying money on anything else by that author!  It is why picking the right story for a free read is extremely important.   Because if I don't already read your books, you have one chance with me with that free read.  I think the saying, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression" is very appropriate in this instance.  Otherwise it's sayonara, unless of course a book comes to me highly recommended by someone I trust to have similar romance reading tastes as mine.  I know I can't be the only one who does this, and I often wonder if I've missed out on some great reads because of this standard.  If I would have read Lorelei James' free read first, before any of her other books, I really doubt I would have sought out her books.  As a result I would have missed out on one of my favorite authors.  Scary.

While there are many pitfalls, perils, and dangers associated with a free read, it can also hold a tremendous amount of power, and this is why the idea of the free read is brilliant....I just wish that a free read meant a good read :)  Here's my motto for free reads..."if your gonna make it free, make it good!"   Ah, my own little Romance reading utopia, LOL.  Since that world doesn't exist it's back to reality. I thought I would share with you some current free reads on Amazon that have the possibility of being good reads..

Have you had some crash and burn free reads, or did you discover a now favorite author with a free read?  If so, what were they? And have you read a free read by an author that you love, but didn't so much care for the free read?  I'd be really interested to find that out as well. That way I can either avoid them, and commiserate with you, or we can dish about favorite free reads and if I get lucky maybe even find a few to add to my TBR :)

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Musing Sallie August 2, 2012 at 1:08 AM  

Best free reads ever: Nicky Charles The Mating series. (Paranormal). She doesn't want money. She says if we want to pay for her novels we should donate to an animal shelter.

Andrea August 2, 2012 at 10:25 AM  

I have read only one book by Lorelei James and that was Slow Ride. I didn't enjoy it at all for exactly the reason you mentioned. She might be a great writer but that book turned me off. I have hundreds of books on my "to read" list that I actually want to read. I doubt I will ever pick up another book by Lorelei James now.

JenM August 2, 2012 at 12:53 PM  

The biggest problem with Slow Ride is that it's #8.5 or so in the series, but that isn't made clear to potential new readers. If a free story is offered, it's got to either be the first book or short story in a series, or it's got to be something that can be read out of order. This should also be spelled out in the description so that people know what they are getting.

As for free stories, Samhain does a great job offering the first book in a series free. Twice a month they have a new offering. Right now, it's Crux by Moira Rogers. What I hate though, is when a publisher tries to fool readers by offering the first chapter or two of a new book as a "free" story. With Kindle sampling, I can get that for free anytime, so I really dislike it when they do that and try to make it look like it's some kind of deal.

Booklover1335 August 2, 2012 at 1:26 PM  

Musing Sallie,

That is a new to me author. I'll have to check her out. I love that she prefers to have the money donated to shelters, and if her books are as good as you say they are then I am sure the shelters are receiving some much needed least I hope they are to show appreciation for the great reads!

Booklover1335 August 2, 2012 at 1:28 PM  


I am SO very sad to hear that. Because really, Lorelei James is a great author. If I had to pick a book for you to try it would be the first book in her Blacktop Cowboys series, even though her Rough Riders series is what she is known for.

Please give her another try! I don't think you'll be sorry. It was very unfortunate that Slow Ride was the introduction to the series :(

Booklover1335 August 2, 2012 at 1:32 PM  


Exactly! I cringe when I see the star ratings on this short story because a lot of them are from readers who have never read the series, and were thrown into the Rough Riders world without really any character development...because that' not really what this story was written for. It was more of a bonus read and should have been offered as a freebie to newsletter subscribers, or on her website instead of on sites like Amazon.

And I completely agree about Samhain. I've tried more than a few new to me authors with their books and have rarely been sorry. I heart Samhain in a BIG way! Not only for the free offerings but also for the amazing authors they have introduced me to.

JenM August 2, 2012 at 1:56 PM  

I agree, I heart Samhain also. Their book prices are fair, the editing quality is good, they have some great authors, and they aren't afraid to take a chance on some pretty crazy ideas and genre mashups. Have you tried Meg Benjamin's Konigsburg, TX series? That's one where I picked up the first book for free and have been hooked ever since. The suspense subplots are usually kind of silly, but the stories have so much heart that I tend to forgive them for that minor niggle.

Booklover1335 August 2, 2012 at 6:06 PM  

Hey JenM,

I've not tried Meg Benjamin before. I'll have to give her books a lookup, thanks for the recommend!

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