Speaking of Free Books

I’ve been considering the possibility of making Sunborn available for free download, perhaps in installments leading up to the actual pub date (end of October). A number of writers, including Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi, have offered their books for free download and discovered that it seemed to increase their audience and interest in the novels, and thus sales of their books. While there are no doubt some readers who will read only the free version and skip the hardcopy, it seems that many more decide they’d like to own the actual book once they’ve read the electronic version. At least, that’s what these writers have reported. Past experience is no guarantee of future performance, though, as the mutual funds tell us.

I’d be interested in knowing what you folks think. This is new territory for all of us in the fiction world, and I’m feeling my way in the dark just like everyone else.

(I’ve already used this quote, but it just seems to fit, so here’s an encore…)

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow

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0 Responses

  1. Harry
    | Reply

    Free intro chapters seems like a good way to get people hooked on it though people like us who have been waiting years for it really don’t need to be hooked on it. I’ll certainly read them if you make them available as I’m dying to see what happens next. I should really re-read the first few books to refresh my memory as it has been a while…

    I’m not an economist or an accountant or anything like that so I can’t really comment on whether free copies will sell more or not but I know that in the world of software where I make my living there is money to be made both in free software and also in commercial only software but in very different ways. I’m not sure how this would apply to books though. Good luck with your sales!

  2. Charlza
    | Reply

    I think I agree with Harry. I like the idea of free chapters. It would give people a good sample of the book. If they really like it, that would encourage them to buy the physical book.

    Our Press, and well, all University Presses, are struggling with the same thing. How much of a book, how many books, which formats, and how to distribute them. If you distribute the whole book free, does it just get circulated everywhere, discouraging people from buying the physical book. I’m on a digital publishing committee and it’s enough to make our heads spin!

  3. Andrew Timson
    | Reply

    Rather than distributing the most recent book, I wonder if you’d get more out of distributing the first book in the series. I know that, having not read any of the books to date, I’d like to start at the beginning.

    Of course, if there aren’t plans to bring the first three back into print, that wouldn’t help much.

  4. David B. Ellis
    | Reply

    I’d be interested in knowing what you folks think.

    I heard about this post from SF Signal—never read one of your books before.

    Speaking for myself, there are a number of writers I had never read before who I discovered via their free ebooks—Charles Stross, Cory Doctorow, David Wellington and quite a few others.

    I’ve since been buying up their books as fast as my budget allows.

    It almost certainly won’t hurt your book sales and could quite possibly help them.

    I’ve never read one of your books but if a free ebook was available I’d read it and, if I liked it, make you yet another author whose work is eating up my disposable income.

    As to Harry and Charlza’s comments:

    Free intro chapters seems like a good way to get people hooked on it


    I think I agree with Harry. I like the idea of free chapters. It would give people a good sample of the book. If they really like it, that would encourage them to buy the physical book.

    This is a very bad idea. I, and I suspect many other readers, NEVER read free sample chapters. Only entire books or short stories.

    Don’t go that route. Having the novels ACCELERANDO, DOWN AND OUT IN THE MAGIC KINGDOM and THIRTEEN BULLETS (among so many others) on my computer hasn’t stopped me from going out and buying the hardcover.

  5. David B. Ellis
    | Reply

    Oh, and I agree about the first book in the series comment Andrew made.

    I certainly wouldn’t want to jump in on the middle of a series.

    And it would avoid any danger you might fear of the ebook interfering with the sales of a new book (though I think those fears are entirely unfounded).

  6. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    Thanks for the feedback, everyone. I forgot to mention it, but yes, I was thinking also of posting all three of the books leading up to Sunborn. They’re all out of print now, so it’s a matter of getting new readers interested. (Though of course I tried to make the new book as easy to get into for new readers as possible. But I am aware that sometimes readers simply won’t want to start in the middle of a series.)

    Assuming Tor doesn’t object, I will almost certainly post Neptune Crossing, Strange Attractors, and The Infinite Sea. This not a trivial undertaking, mind you. I don’t think the versions I have on my computer incorporate all of the changes made during final copy editing and galleys correction. I’d prefer to get all of those changes in before I post anything. And that will be time consuming.

    I’ll keep you up to date on the progress.

    And welcome to my blog, those of you who are reading it for the first time.

    (David–I was unaware of this being mentioned on SF Signal. What was the context?)


  7. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    Oh–and I forgot to mention, for those of you who don’t already know–the first few chapters of Sunborn are up on my web site right now, if you’d like to look at them.


  8. David B. Ellis
    | Reply

    I was unaware of this being mentioned on SF Signal. What was the context?

    On the 29th, in their daily list of links of interest to the SF fan they said:

    “Jeffrey Carver is considering the possibility of making his upcoming novel Sunborn available for free download. Let him know what you think!”

    And included a link to this post.

  9. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    Thanks. That’s the weird and cool thing about this blogging business. You never know who’s reading, or mentioning it elsewhere (except when someone tells you).

    I’ve just located the copy-edited mss. for Neptune Crossing and Strange Attractors, so I’m going to start entering the final changes for eventual posting on my web site. (Now if I can just find the galleys, which will have the final final changes…)

  10. Dan Tabor
    | Reply

    I agree with one of the above posters. As an avid Sci Fi and Fantasy for more than 30 years it’s always the first book in a series that tells me whether I am buying more of the series. If book #1 is good, and hooks me, I’m buying the rest.

  11. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    I recently reread Neptune Crossing, and it hooked me. 🙂 That actually means more than it might seem, because I can be pretty critical of my own work.

    Probably by the end of the summer, I’ll have Neptune Crossing, Strange Attractors, and The Infinite Sea up online. (I hope.) In the meantime, you can probably get any one of them for a penny plus postage on Amazon marketplace. (Which is a definite tradeoff for authors–terrible for getting your books reprinted, but very good for picking up new readers.)

  12. Blue Tyson
    | Reply

    This is a space opera type series then?

    The first one would certainly make sense – if they are yours now you can also have lulu print versions etc. like some people have done (Charles Saunders etc.).

    Looking forward to checking out your Tor Battlestar book, too.

  13. Pascal
    | Reply

    Personally, I’ve never bought a book after reading teaser-chapters. Once I start reading, I want to be able to finish reading the story without having to wait for the hard copy, so I don’t even start reading the teasers.

    The way I have discovered new authors lately is by downloading full texts of a book and reading that. And then I just ordered the entire series or a bunch of other books by said author. Dutch libraries do not carry that many English books in English and I hate translations. So I, er, borrow a book from the internet and then feel good about myself by just buying a bunch of other books. So, yes, do make some of your book(s) available for download.

    I also really like to listen to books on my iPod. You’ve probably heard of podiobooks.com. I’ve happily donated money for those as well. And I didn’t even have to. Could be a good way to get your out of print works to make some money again.

  14. Anonymous
    | Reply

    Hey I say give it a try! Why not what could it hurt really? Who knows it might even work! After all i’m a reader that might’ve never discovered your work if a co-worker of mine about 10 years ago or so hadn’t let me borrow the first three books of the Chaos Chronicles. Since then i’ve bought just about everything you have out there including the first three Chaos books for my own collection (so I could re-read them before the new one comes out). I even bought one of your books as a gift for my step-father at your book signing in Sandusky Ohio. Basically the point is that because I got to read three of your books for free i’ve since become a loyal reader and customer. And chances are that probably wouldn’t have happened just by browsing the sci-fi section of a bookstore or even Amazon or someplace online.

    -tsmacro =;-)

  15. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    Now the question is whether I can get pdf files from my publisher to simplify the process. Tor has only fairly recently started archiving their books as pdf files, and I don’t know yet whether my earlier novels even exist in electronic form (as opposed to film) with the printers. If I have to use my own computer files, I’ll probably have to settle for good approximations to the actual books. Even if I can find all of the copy-edited manuscripts, and get the changes entered from those, I don’t think I have marked-up galleys, which would have the final tweaks.

    I guess that’s okay, but it offends the perfectionist in me.

  16. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    And Pascal–no, I wasn’t familiar with the site podiobooks.com, but I am now. Thanks.

  17. substandardTim
    | Reply

    If you made the newest one available I would probably never buy it then. Once I read a book once I almost never go back to read it again no matter how much I enjoyed it.

    Making the first three available would probably be a good idea. But probably would only be effective if you did a bit of grassroots marketing and told all the various sci-fi websites about it so they would link to you.

  18. Charlza
    | Reply

    Cory posted an article on Boingboing.net this morning. They link to another blog, bloggasm, about the good effects of Tor’s free ebooks appear to be having. Robert J. Sawyer also responds to it from his blog in the comments, along with John Scalzi linked from Sawyer’s blog. How’s that for a tangled list of links, hah!


  19. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    I’m going to respond to the above comments in a new post, as I keep coming across interesting food for thought.

    Going up shortly.

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