Haley Kral and Anne Marble share their experiences of signing up for online newsletters and free books and stories.  While in some cases, FREE really IS free, in many others, there’s a hidden cost that might not immediately be apparent.

Romance is a big market and authors have to keep working at keeping their name and new releases, fresh in reader’s minds. There are different approaches to this but the most obvious seems to be sending out a newsletter to fans. In fact, what’s old is new again, and author newsletters seem to be the hot new promotional tool; in fact, some authors are lavishing more attention on their newsletters than on blogging and social media. Nothing gives a writer a guaranteed audience like a popular newsletter! However, some authors are trying new ways of reaching readers, such as online promotion sites – and as is the case with the trusty newsletter, there are authors using them well, and others who aren’t.

We have our opinions on these promotions, and we’d love to hear from other readers as well.

Don’t Make Me Sign Up

A few months ago an author whose books I enjoy and whose newsletter I subscribe to sent out an email offering a free short story for readers. I was psyched. I quickly followed the link, expecting to be taken to Amazon where the book would be free and ready to one click. Instead, the link lead to a website called InstaFreebie. If I wanted the short, I would need to register an account. I was hesitant so I went to Amazon where I found the short listed for $.99. Okay… back to InstaFreebie.

I had to register, verify my email address, and then I was given the chance to read the short. As much as I liked the story, it took me about as long to actually obtain it as it took to read it. I quickly saw this for what it was – an attempt to draw readers in =to a marketing program, but decided I would just unsubscribe once any annoying emails came my way.

Since then, I have seen more and more authors using the same setup. The problem is, there seem to be several different author marketing sites and all of them want you to register for their site. The most annoying one I’ve found so far is Books+Main Bites. I had to register and create a profile where they insisted I choose at least five authors to follow before I could continue. Not having a clue which authors were part of this system, I had to scroll through an alphabetical list until I found five to add. Most of those are not authors I actually care to get additional content from, I just recognized their names.

So here’s the thing. Is it worth it as a reader to go through that long process to get a scene that might be 1,000 words or less? It doesn’t feel like it in the moment when you’re filling out the profile. I understand authors need to find ways to market their books to readers and keep in touch with them. Websites and services will inevitably pop up to try and service that need. But speaking as a reader, if it is too much trouble to get the free content, I’m likely to not bother.

I don’t think a reader should ever expect free content from an author, since they need to get paid for their work. I do think some thought should go into how free content is presented to readers should an author choose to go that route. The most usual method until recently was through newsletters. But if those are now going to direct readers and fans to complicated marketing sites, then I think there is a chance of readers not opening the newsletters; and I’ve seen authors, such as Megan Erickson, try to tackle this by doing serialized newsletter stories, which I think is awesome.

I don’t think a reader should ever expect free content from an author, since they need to get paid. I do think some thought should go into how free content is presented to readers should an author choose to go that route. The previous method was through newsletters. I know that a lot of us receive so much email, especially advertising from stores and things we just don’t care about, that there needs to be some incentive to open a message. I can personally say that author newsletters will often go straight to the trash if it doesn’t seem to have pertinent information to me. I’ve seen authors, such as Megan Erickson, try to tackle this by doing serialized newsletter stories, which I think is awesome. This gives readers a reason to open that email and at least scroll through it long enough to find the new story chapter.

~ Haley Kral

The Thin Line between News and Spam

Imagine my excitement last year when I learned about a free e-mail newsletter (Instafreebie) that linked eager readers up with authors who wanted to give them free copies of their eBooks. Sure, why not? Okay, the interface was clunky. You pick the books you want by seeing genre, author, and title – and I think a tiny cover picture. No excerpt, no summary. Then again, you never know how you’ll find your next favorite author. So I gave it a try.

It turned out the eBooks were sent by e-mail – which struck me as odd. Many authors would rather use Amazon to promote free eBooks because the free copy they e-mail to someone is out of their control and could end up on pirate sites. This interface was also an inconvenience for me as a reader. It forced me to send the eBooks to my Kindle rather than viewing the eBook on Amazon, where I could read the excerpt, compare reviews, etc.

Were the books any good? I can’t tell you yet. I have too many eBooks I’ve paid for that I still have to read. After getting a few free eBooks, I gave up on this service, as I found it too inconvenient. Then I started getting e-mail newsletters from authors whose names I didn’t recognize. It didn’t take me long to realize that was the “cost” of the free eBooks – I had been subscribed to the author newsletters.  Maybe it was naive of me to give my e-mail address to a website I wasn’t familiar with, but conversely, they did not make it clear how much e-mail I might get or how my email address might be used. Worse, not every author e-mail you get lets you know how you got signed up. They should make that clear. That’s just professional courtesy.

Not having learned my lesson yet, I also signed up for promising giveaways on Facebook and other sites. You’re giving away a box of popular young adult novels? Count me in. Oh, I could win a boxed set of Game of Thrones seasons? Cool! Of course, there was a catch – this got me on more mailing lists. Author mailing lists, publisher mailing lists, bargain lists… You name it. So now whenever I see a cool giveaway on Facebook, I look before I click.

What other lessons did I learn from this? Some authors are great at putting together newsletters, and others think that they must e-mail readers every day. Even if they don’t have a new book out. Some talk about their days. Others remind of the latest bargains. Still others link to eBook bargains by fellow authors… and thus get a little bit of money from the affiliate links. The worst were the authors who asked their entire mailing list to vote on the best cover for their next book… or to pick a title… or post reviews for their latest book… I kept muttering, “Dude, I haven’t read your books yet. At this rate, I never will.”

Worst of all, the e-mails came from dozens of authors, rather than one source, so it would take a long time to unsubscribe from each list. I created e-mail filters instead, shunting those e-mails to a Various Authors folder just to keep track of how many of the suckers I was getting.  I created so many e-mail filters that I reached the unwritten filter limit on Yahoo Mail. No wonder I hit that limit. On some days, in the space of an afternoon, I might receive twelve to twenty e-mails in this folder. All I wanted to do was make it stop. Especially when the authors started to beg me for attention.

Compare that to newsletters from authors I like. My only regret about those newsletters is that they don’t come often enough. I get excited when I see something new in my inbox from Molly O’Keefe, J. R. Ward, and others. Now that Yasmine Galenorn has “gone indie,” readers are subscribing to her newsletter so they can keep track of when her latest books are coming out. Authors like this don’t beg for our attention. We beg them to put out more newsletters!

One indie author newsletter taught me things about mythology I didn’t know. At an event for authors and readers in Maryland, I met Washington, DC author Christopher Mannino (http://www.christophermannino.com/), learned about his Scythe Wielder’s Secret series, and signed up for his e-mail newsletter. I still look forward to his Mythic Mondays newsletter, where he tells readers about mythic and legendary creatures. I was also thrilled when I learned Christopher earned a contract with a new and well-known agent.

But then again, these are authors whose names I recognize rather than random authors who bought my e-mail address from a promotional company. These are authors I sought out.

And just when you thought it was safe to dive back into your inbox, it turns out that even eBook bargain newsletters are no longer sacred. I love getting general e-mail bargain lists that might list everything from a book about the Titanic to a classic Western. When I learned that there were genre-specific newsletters, I got excited. Like paranormal? There are newsletters that send just paranormal romances. Erotic romance? Ditto. Horror stories? Ditto again.

Sounds good, right? Only – how come I never heard of the authors these newsletters were promoting? Promoting. That’s the point. On the website of one of these newsletters, I learned they were charging authors (nearly $75-100) to be included in a newsletter. Another one charges authors as little as $10 to get listed. Were those authors featured because they were good, or because their checks cleared? On top of that, there’s also no way to tell who runs these marketing sites. Contact information? What’s that? What’s their experience in publishing? What’s their background? Beats me.

One romance ebook newsletter featured everything from paranormal romances to sweet Amish romances to MPREG (stories where one of the men gets pregnant), with the occasional random nonfiction eBook. If I wanted to find random books, I could just use this thing called the Internet. Or better yet, I could read the reviews (and comments) on AAR!

~ Anne Marble

Please drop by and let us know your thoughts in the comments. Do you enjoy free content from authors even if it means registering all over? Are you pro or anti newsletter? We’d love to know.


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Haley K is a librarian-of-all-trades, book reviewer, writer, perpetual student, as well as a pretty crafty chick. She lives in Texas with too many pets and too little sleep.