Loree Lough

With more than 4,000,000 books in circulation, bestselling author Loree Lough's 90+ novels have earned hundreds of awards, 4- and 5-star reviews, and 4 movie options. A writer who believes in giving back, she dedicates a generous portion of her annual income to charity. (Visit www.loreelough.com for the complete list.)

Loree's Lough Down

It’s a Numbers Game

In numerous discussions with my published author pals on the issue of free book downloads, we’re all in agreement that “freebies” give publishers opportunities to showcase all of their books. And, yes, freebies have the potential to broaden an author’s reader base, too. But the whole freebies discussion raises more questions than answers: Will readers feel inclined, after getting something for nothing, to buy other books from that publisher’s list? Will freebies inspire newfound loyalty to the author and encourage the purchase of other books written by that author? If the answer to either question is yes, how will those numbers translate into profits for publishers andauthors?

I know of at least half a dozen authors who claim free downloads of their most recent books numbered in the tens of thousands. Yes. You read correctly. Tens of thousands of books, given away, for free, while online or in-store purchases of the same title plateaued at somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000. Is there a cause-and-effect connection, here? If so, how does that translate into profits? Mind you, these authors aren’t complaining about the totals, per se. The problem arrives with the royalty statement, where that incredible tens of thousands of download copies did not appear in the sales column. Rather, the paltry 2,000 to 3,000 books sold determined the number in the “Pay in the Amount of” box on the royalty check.

To compound things, publishers, more and more often, are punishing authors for low sales stats. How? By rejecting all future proposals. “We are very disappointed in the way Your Last Book sold,” they say, “so while we’re very sorry, it just doesn’t make fiscal sense to invest in you again.” Admit it. You know at least one author who cried on your shoulder after hearing words like those. To add insult to injury, they heard those words despite having personally financed rigorous PR/marketing campaigns (rack cards, bookmarks, magazine ad space, video book trailers, to name but a few expenditures) in the hope of improving sales.

Readers, as the recipients of most promotional materials, are acutely aware those things don’t come cheap. Countless times, my author friends and I have lamented, we’ve needed to correct readers’ perceptions: Publishers rarely pick up the tab for rack cards and such. And by so doing, we add yet another spoke on the vicious ‘book give-away’ circle: “Authors must be rollin’ in the dough to afford all that stuff,” some readers believe. “If they can afford all that, why should I pay $12.99 for a book that’ll be free any day now?”

In the olden days, when I earned my living writing articles (slightly more than 2,500 at last count), I learned that magazine and newspaper editors pay their “pet” freelancers from a prearranged monthly budget. Writers new to the industry believed that if they charged less per article, they’d net the juiciest assignments and net more assignments. Poor naïve things. By the time they figured out the opposite was true, we “old-timers” had already locked up the editors’ trust (and earned more choice assignments than we could handle). Why? Because we knew better than to undervalue our experience or underprice our work.

Long-established ad agencies and consumer reporting organizations agree that whether you’re selling roofing materials, toothpicks, or the proverbial better mousetrap, buyers don’t trust “cheap.” And let’s face it, you can’t get any cheaper than free. By giving our books away for days (sometimes weeks), we’re sending subliminal messages to readers: “We have so little confidence in our talent, so little self-assurance that our stories might actually sell, that we’re willing to give the books away just to see them out there in the hands of readers.” So we don’t question (at least, not out loud) the clause in our book contracts that grants the publisher carte blanche to give away as many copies of our titles as they see fit, and we don’t quibble with the line that says giveaways, whether to reviewers or distributors or librarians, are not counted as sales.

For Love of Eli

Gone are the good old days when publishers sent authors on lavish booksigning tours. Just as gone are fat advances and contracts that promised cushy marketing budgets. Times are tough for authors and publishers. To stay afloat, companies are forced to cut corners. Authors get that. It’s one of many reasons we work so hard and spend so much of our own money to lighten their load. We want them to succeed, as much (maybe even more than) they do!

We want our readers to succeed in these tough times, too. After all, without our readers, no one in the publishing industry would have a job. So okay. Let’s give ’em a break when we can: introductory offers, clearance sales, seasonal discounts . . . books at reduced rates.

But when all is said and done, numbers don’t lie. And we shouldn’t either. Let’s stop pretending that authors—most of whom barely earn minimum wage—can sustain an entire industry by giving our work away for free.