Should an author give their books away for free?
Publishers are in business to make money so of course it stands to reason that if the books are being given away, they're not making a return on their investment.
But many authors are willing to do just that.
If someone is interested in your book, they will pay for it.
Consider your own buying habits. If you want something - whether it's food, clothing, a new stereo or television, furniture, decor or books or music, you will buy it. When you are giving away your product - and your book IS your product - you're saying to the recipient that you don't value your work enough to charge them for it.
This isn't to say you shouldn't give your mom a copy... Or give it as a birthday gift to a friend or relative... But lately I'm seeing a lot of books being given away to complete strangers.
Sometimes authors want more reviews. At Drake Valley Press, we allocate a certain number of copies for reviewers - but they are bonafide reviewers. They are not a reader who wants a free book because they don't want to spend their own money, and who agrees to give the author a rousing endorsement of their book. When an author brags continually of how many rave reviews they've received on amazon but they haven't sold a book in six months, it means they are giving away their book instead of selling it. It's the kiss of death if the author wants a real writing career.
Free books do not count in book sales.
For an author to "move up" in this industry, they often need to grab the attention of literary agents and larger publishers. Any publisher can access the sales figures of any book if they are published through traditional methods. Sales figures reflect books that are sold, not given away. So if the author has given away 500 copies of their book and sold 5, their sales show that they've sold 5 - there is no mention anywhere of the 500.
When an author self-publishes and they provide the publisher or agent with their sales figures, it is critical that they provide an accurate number. If they gave away 500 copies and sold 5 but they tell the publisher or agent that they sold 505 copies in a certain period of time, the sales models generated for their next book will take their previous sales into consideration. When they managed to sell only 5, it leaves the publisher scratching their heads and asking "why?"
When an author is participating in a Virtual Book Tour, we also recommend that they NOT give away their book as a prize. Visitors to the blogs will not purchase the book because they're not sure if they're going to win it - and they don't need two copies.
And never add a free copy of the book along with the prize, for the same reason. Add marketing materials such as a bookmark or post card, but never the book itself.
If they want it, they will pay for it.