On Freebies and Cheapies

As an admitted bibliophile, it took me a surprising amount of time to jump on the e-reader bandwagon. I finally gave in when I realized that 1) in many cases, the digital book is much cheaper than the print edition; 2) there are a lot of small press and self-published authors who release only digital editions of their books; and 3) there is simply no more room in the house for more bookcases. None.

So, I plopped down my hard-earned cash and bought myself a Nook. I take the darn thing with me everywhere. It’s a complete library in my pocket, offering immediate access to not only my favorite authors – but also authors new-to-me.

I love discovering new authors, especially small press and independent authors, and especially especially Pagan and Pagan-friendly authors. Some of these favorite new authors have hooked me by offering samples of their work for free or for very, very cheap. For example: Ilona Andrews, Annie Bellet, Lexi Blake, Lindsey Buroker, KJ Charles, Meghan Ciana Doidge, M Terry Green, Anna Hackett, and SM Reine.

The first story I ever read by husband-and-wife writing team Ilona Andrews was the freebie, The Questing Beast. The best way to describe the story is … um … polytheistic Arthurian science fiction. When the scientific survey team on an alien world loses all of their data (thanks to eco-terrorist/anarchist hackers) the only way to recover it is … well … go read the story. I ended up a fan of Andrews; I’ve downloaded and read a handful of their books, with more in my reading queue, and another pre-ordered even though it’s not out until October (whine!).

I discovered Annie Bellet in the Nine by Night box set, which cost me a whole 99 cents. Justice Calling, the first volume in her Twenty-Sided Sorceress series, centers around Jade Crow. A Native American sorceress, Jade first learned to practice magic by playing Dungeons and Dragons. I loved the story so much that I immediately went looking for more of Bellet’s work; I have since read and enjoyed Delivering YaehalaFlashoverGryphonpike Chronicles: Witch HuntThe Scent of Sunlight, and Winter’s Bite, and I have the rest of the Twenty-Sided Sorceress books in my queue.

Lexi Blake is another author who pulled me in with a freebie, but I went about it kind of backwards. Her BDSM espionage romance Dungeon Royale had been sitting in my wish list for a while; one day, I was in the mood for some good smut, so I paid full price and downloaded it. I loved it, but none of the rest of the books in the series really sounded appealing. Then I found the freebie Stealing the Light, the first in her Thieves series: occult thief, vampires, werewolves, fae, intense romance, steamy sex, and a hard-won happily ever after. Sold! When she released Ripper, the first book in her tie-in Hunter series, I happily paid full price, and devoured it in two days.

Lindsey Buroker is another author I found in the ridiculously cheap Nine by Night box set. Her submission to that set, Torrent, is sort of a science fiction/Norse mythology/Lara Croft mash-up. It rocked. I immediately downloaded the next book, Destiny Unchosen, and scoured her bibliography for other good stuff to read. The Dragon Blood collection. The Emperor’s EdgeEncryptedThe Flash Gold Chronicles. Yep, I’m a happy little bookworm.

Another example is the A Charm of Magpies series, penned by KJ Charles. Set in 19th Great Britain (mostly), the series could be loosely classified as a paranormal gay murder mystery romance. Stephen Day is a justiciar, a practitioner charged with solving magical crimes and bringing the culprits to justice, all while keeping the existence of magic secret from the larger population. He meets the future love of his life, Lucien Vaudrey, when the latter is hit with a death curse meant to destroy his entire family. I picked up the short story A Case of Spirits when Charles offered it for free; I was hooked, and immediately downloaded the first full volume, The Magpie Lord.

Meghan Ciana Doidge is another Pagan-friendly author who sucked me in by offering the first book in her Dowser series – Cupcakes, Trinkets, and Other Deadly Magic – for free. I admit to not being initially all that excited: the synopsis sounded “eh” and the cover was sort of … not what I was expecting. But, hey, it was free, so all I had to lose was a few minutes’ time. I started reading it on a break at work. Let’s just say that, within a chapter, I did not want to go back to work; I wanted to stay right where I was and keep reading. As soon as I finished (in, like, a day), I downloaded the second and third books. I practically squeed when the fourth volume was finally released.

M Terry Green recently released the fifth volume in her on-going Olivia Lawson, Techno-Shaman series. The title character is a lightning shaman living in contemporary Los Angeles. Young and gifted, but broke and isolated, Olivia works hard to improve her skills, and she will do anything to help her patients – even defy centuries of shamanic tradition. When I first stumbled across the series months ago, I was intrigued by the synopsis and downloaded the first volume, Shaman, Healer, Heretic. It was only 99 cents, so I figured that I had nothing to lose. I loved it (Tiamat! Marduk! Tawa!), and the second volume is now in my reading queue.

Anna Hackett’s name repeatedly pops up in science fiction romance circles, thanks to her Phoenix Adventures series. I kept meaning to read the books, but never quite got around to it. Then I discovered that she had released a free short novella, Beneath a Trojan Moon; perfect for my lunch break. Let’s see: courageous sheriff, psychic/oracular heroine, a long lost treasure, danger, narrow escapes – yep, I’m there. If the rest of the books in the series are as Pagan-friendly as Beneath a Trojan Moon, I might have to dedicate a whole column just to the Phoenix Adventures.

SM Reine is another Pagan-friendly author I discovered in the Nine By Night set. In her case, it was Witch Hunt, the first book in her Preternatural Affairs series. Geeky self-effacing Hispanic magician; his tiny, but powerful Japanese-American partner; his super-efficient, super-debonair Caucasian boss; a beautiful African-American necromancer; and lots and lots of very nasty things which love nothing more than chomping on innocent human beings. Since devouring Witch Hunt, I have downloaded (at full price) two more books from Preternatural Affairs, and the three-volume Descent series (free or cheap), and I am eagerly looking forward to Omega, the first volume in her new War of the Alphas.

If my library is any indication, offering stories for free or at reduced price (even for a limited time) can be an effective strategy for pulling in new readers. Will it work for every author? No. It depends on a variety of factors, from genre to marketing strategy to cross-platform availability. But it is a strategy that I encourage small press and self-published authors to at least consider – and I strongly encourage readers to give these freebies and cheapies a shot. All you have to lose is a bit of time, and maybe a few cents. And you have a lot to gain.

[Originally published here.]