I'm traveling for the holidays, so I loaded up my phone with e-books--mostly authors I know (Lindsay Buroker!) but also some free books from writers I don't know.
I finished the first one last night, boy did it make me wish I'd never started. The plot was basically Weepy Girl and the People Who Scream at Her, and at the conclusion, Weepy Girl, after losing everything that ever mattered to her (and weeping about it), dies. Weepily.
Wow, that really . . . does not motivate me to shell out actual money for the next book.
Now, the book was science fiction, so maybe Weepy Girl's not really dead and there's some kind of exciting sci-fi twist in the next book, but since I'm unhappy about having spent my time and energy on the first book, it's not like I'm going to bother finding out. If the author's other books are like the free book, I don't want to read them. Ever. If (as I kind of suspect) the author half-assed their free book because they saw it as just a teaser for their "real" books--well, that's obviously not much of a marketing strategy, is it?
I've also seen free books that are basically jacket copy for the actual book--the free book is very short and very basic, and it doesn't really give you anything more than a description would. ("Zombie Deer Hunter, Book 1. Fred is a deer hunter--but the deers he hunts are zombies!!! Also, he may have the hots for the mysterious doe-eyed priestess who provides him with special zombie-killing buckshot. The End. Follow these links to buy Zombie Deer Hunter, Books 2-347!")
I mean, I can see how writers convince themselves that it's OK to not bring your A game to a freebie--you can't possibly give away all your hard work, you want to be paid for your time, you're worth more than this, etc.
But you know the freebie that made me instantly shell out for the entire series? The first book of Hugh Howey's Wool.
You absolutely cannot argue that Howey did not bring his A game to that book--it's excellent all on its own.
(I'm gonna get spoilery about Wool here--be warned!)
Ironically, Howey did the same thing in that book that the author of that Weepy Girl book--the main character dies at the end. But it happens in such an unexpected way (unlike Weepy Girl, who dies exactly the way she'd been weepily expecting), and the book is so well written that I just had to read the rest.
And hey, that Lindsay Buroker! The first book of her Emporer's Edge series is a freebie, and while you could argue that it's not her finest novel, it's definitely complete--she wrote it as a novel, not as some marketing teaser to the "real" story. The same thing is true of the short stories she gives away or sells for very little money: They're actual stories that work on their own and add to the EE universe, not just "Click on these links if you'd like to receive some actual satisfaction from your reading!"
Like they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. If you waste my time with some crappy hack copy in your free book, why on Earth would I assume that you've got anything else in you?