Does Being Free Make It Worth Your Time?

Lately, my family has been doing quite a bit of traveling by car.We have pretty much covered the southeast from Florida to Kentucky. Since I hate to drive and my husband loves it, all this travel has given me lots of time to read. My kids got me an iPad for Christmas (yes, they are fabulous, wonderful children) and I’ve been doing almost all of my reading on it.


I devour books, at a rate of about 2 a week. If I were downloading the NY Times Bestseller List, I would be spending a ridiculous amount of money. As my budget does not have an unlimited amount set aside for books, I try to stick with the less expensive, or most often, free books that are available through iBooks or Amazon’s Kindle Store. Reading all these freebies has some pros, and of course, some cons.


The Pros

Did I mention that there are FREE books available? Lots of them. The writers give them away for all kinds of different reasons. Elizabeth Mock, one of my earliest “finds” is writing a trilogy, so at some point made the first book free. I downloaded it, loved it and will certainly be purchasing the second volume when it is finished. So, marketing is one big reason.


I also recently read a couple of books by A. Sparrow, who says that his/her (the writer does not indicate gender) books are free so that they can be shared. From A. Sparrow’s Goodreads profile: “I write because I must. I have no commercial ambitions.” So, simply sharing stories is another reason writers choose to give away their work. Pedagogy, bringing attention to older works and all sorts of other reasons give writers motivation to share their work freely.


Writing reviews helps aspiring and struggling writers. If, as in the cases of DW St. John, Carlos AlemanJustin Kemppainen, I really enjoy a story and can write a raving review, then I am helping these writers let the world know about their work. I may not have a huge reach, but I’m active on Goodreads and I have lots of friends who like to read so maybe a couple of people will read their work because of my good reviews. That’s a nice feeling.


One thing that writers struggle with is marketing. Many of them have other jobs besides writing and limited time to spend promoting their work. Also, marketing can be expensive, so a good review is both a nice ego booster and an inexpensive, powerful marketing tool. It’s the least I can do – if the story is any good.


When books are free I read all sorts of things I might not otherwise read. I like stories. All kinds of stories. Gory horror is not appealing, and moralistic tales annoy me, but otherwise it would be tough to name a genre I don’t like. From mysteries to science fiction to kid lit, I like just about any kind of fiction if it’s well written.


Even with an openness to reading all kinds of stuff, I’m finding things that I wouldn’t otherwise find. It’s fun to choose something because it’s vaguely interesting then realize you love it. It’s even more fun to have so much variety in your library that you can read a mafia story one day, a romance the next and an urban fantasy after that.


Reading a free ebook feels almost like a writers’ workshop. Or, at least it does in my head. When I’m reading a free book, my expectations are almost automatically lowered. I know that the writer probably didn’t hire a professional editor or proofreader if they are giving their work away, so I expect mistakes, typos and even ragged plot lines. I notice those things and make all sorts of suggestions and notes in my mind as I am reading. Because I have always like writers’ workshops and peer reviews reading work that feels a little unfinished is appealing to me.


The Cons


Reading a free ebook feels almost like a writers’ workshop. Yeah, I know it was just a pro, but it’s a con, too. Sometimes I just want to read for fun and if my brain is busy noticing problems or mistakes I can’t relax and really enjoy the story. If the story is really bad, I find myself tense and angry after reading for a little while – quite the opposite of what I’m going for when I open a book.


It is especially aggravating to read a book that is almostreally good. It drives me crazy if I think someone just sent their first draft to Smashwords and I’m left to try and figure out what they are attempting to do with a story. Please, just give it to a few friends (and maybe even a respected enemy or two) before you send it out into the world as a finished product. Being just the teensiest bit compulsive, it’s almost impossible for me to NOT finish a book once I’ve started it. My family gets very annoyed when I complain incessantly about how bad a story is but continue reading it anyway.


“Good” becomes relative. If you read a whole lot of bad writing, then come across something that is slightly better than average, it might seem like it is GREAT. Just like if you haven’t eaten all day and suddenly realize you are ravenously hungry at 8 pm, a Saltine cracker might taste like the finest gourmet food available.


If I say a book is worthy of reading, I’d like to think that it’s not because the book I read just before should not have ever existed. Hopefully, if I say a book is worth reading, it’s because the story is intriguing, original or informative. It bugs me to think that my opinions are being formed by reading the stuff that, during another time, might have been on the bottom of the sludge pile.


My expectations are automatically lower. If a book is free, I figure there’s something wrong with it. This figuring happens at a subconscious level, but it’s there. I don’t expect the book to be edited or proofread. Is that what authors really want? For readers to think that the work is sub par before ever even reading a word?


Maybe the idea that nothing is ever really free comes into play. The price one pays for a free book is the aggravation of reading something that is not quite ready. For writers who give away carefully polished, edited and proofread books, the idea that there is a hidden “cost” might be unfair. So far, though, those have been few and far between.


Do you read free books? Does it bother you when they contain typos and errors? Would you rather pay a few dollars and expect an edited story or read what amounts to a rough draft for free? 

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