What is awesome about Kindle and the self-publishing age is that there are tons of books out there that are being sold for 99 cents or even free of charge. Free books are fairly common. Authors who have put up the second book of a series often offer the first book free for a little while. Writers who are looking for more readers will do the same thing. Authors who now have several titles will offer older ones for free. It’s good marketing strategy. If one self publishes, and has to do the marketing oneself, then these are good ways to get readers interested. There’s even websites and blogs that will alert you to what free titles are available.
I thought that this would be wonderful. I have a ginormous reading habit and a limited budget for books. I am more than willing to pay for future books if I have enjoyed the free one. In fact, that gives me and my limited funds a sense of security. It’s safer to spend money on a book when you know that you enjoy the author’s writing already. Me, I’ll read almost anything.
There’s the rub. The key to that phrase is “almost.” My life is on a timer, and someday those seconds will run out. In a world full of amazing tales, I don’t have time for bad books.
I have looked at many free books and I’m sure that I’ll download one eventually. So far, I haven’t. I’ll tell you two reasons why.
1. Your description sucks.
It’s the same as query letters. It doesn’t matter if your book is the most awesome and well written tale in the cosmos. If your description is bad, I’m not reading it. Not even for free.
Here’s some examples of what I mean. No titles or author names—I’m not trying to shame anyone or put them off writing. For heaven’s sake, if you see your description here, don’t freak out. Work on making it better.
New York. 2120. American has been decimated, wiped out from the second Civil War.
(Edit due to error pointed out by alert reader. Thanks alert reader!) I had originally had some snarky umbrage here about the use of the word “decimate.” This is a word I automatically think of the meaning as “reduced by ten percent.” It also has a common usage that basically means the same as “wiped out,” so now I’m just annoyed by the redundancy. The whole first bit of this description turns me off. A city, a place, a badly-worded event that is backstory. It leaves me wondering what this book is about and why I would read it in the first place. It could be brilliant, but I’ll never know because I’m not wasting my time on reading one more word of this description.
Evil erupts. Four are called. The universe awaits.
Oooooh, short mysterious sentences! How original! Stop trying to be coy and tell me what the book is about. Nope, too late, you’ve already lost me.
Once soulmates, the witch and warlock covens of the California coast have been estranged for a century.
I’m reading this one over my dead body. One, “soul mates” is two words. Merriam-Webster says it’s been that way since the phrase came to be in 1822. Two: There are exactly 1,235,692,876.5 books about witches and covens out there at the moment. If you aren’t going to tell me in the first line why yours is different, then my eyes are going to glaze over and I’ll move on to the next offering. Bonus Three: Don’t start with backstory.
It’s the summer of 1976 and Vince Moody is a quiet and unassuming projectionist at the run-down Empire cinema in the small town of Langbridge in the middle of the Somerset Levels.
Oh my fucking wombats. How many details can you stuff into an opening sentence? Well, all of them if you are Dickens. Free book writer–you are not Dickens. Stop using your synopsis for a description. I don’t need to know the MC’s entire life story in your opening sentence. I don’t need to know that he lives in Langbridge or where that city is. You should be showing me why I want to read about your MC, but I already hate him. I hate Vince because he made me read that stupid sentence.
Free book writers- for wombat’s sake, please take the time to learn to write a good and effective description. This is what sells the book. Don’t make me want to jab out my own eyes with a pointed stick rather than read your book!
2. Your writing sucks.
That’s harsh. I know it is. The self-publishing world has some wonderful and well written stories in it. That is, if you can find them through the oceans of crap.
The e-book world has this wonderful feature that lets you read the first few pages of a book. If I like the description, the first few pages are what I look at next. The first few pages of all the free books I have looked at so far have been bad. Very bad.
I think that the problem is this. Anyone can self-publish these days. So they do. In most cases, the first book you write, and the second, and the third, aren’t going to be trade published. Why should they? Do you want to pay for a haircut from someone who is cutting hair for the first time? It takes time to develop a good writing style and well-crafted tales. It takes practice to write a novel worth reading, even for free. However, with the ease of self-publishing, aspiring writers are putting their first work out there in the public eye right away.
This practice isn’t helping anyone. It’s not helping the readers, because they are tired of slogging through poorly written work to try to find the diamond in the rough. It hurts green writers because they can’t help but get discouraged when the sales don’t come rolling in. I imagine that many give up writing altogether, though they should not. No matter how clever one is, it takes practice to craft a good novel. Take that time now, before you publish. If you don’t, and put your work out for the world to see and judge, you might be shooting yourself in the foot. If I hate your first book, published before it’s time, why should I give you another chance when you write your fifth book? Even if it is the best novel in the whole history of the whole history, it’s too late. I’ve already been disappointed in your writing before, and I won’t be willing to spend my limited book buying funds on you again. Learn to write with some sense of style and grace. Then, and only then, publish your work.