How Can I Change From Free to Paid?

By Johnny B. Truant

author handing book to fan

Today’s question is actually kind of an interesting marketing or position issue, and it’s the idea of how can I change from free to paid.

(If you prefer audio, you can listen to this episode on the Smarter Artist Podcast)

You may be an author who really started with just trying to get books out there into the world.

You made your books free. You built your mailing list on free books.

You were a non-fiction author who blogged and gave away stuff for free. Or you were a podcaster.

You were doing something where you were giving, giving, giving and now it’s time to be like well, you know what, I’m going to need to actually make some income at this point.

If you want to pay your bills as an author, one day fans will have to start paying for books. Click To Tweet

I know that a lot of bloggers fifteen years ago, they ran into this. Free, free, free, free, free and the minute they try and sell something, then everybody turns on them because oh, so many you were giving away for free and now you’ve changed, man.

Now suddenly you want pay.

And this is true of authors too. If you build your career on  free books, in one way, shape or form, and you’re just trying to get your name out there and then suddenly you charge for your books, you will tend to get push back.

However, there are definitely ways to do this right. I think it starts with an awareness that in a lot of cases the free seeker is not the same person as the buyer.

So it’s not a case of needing to convert those people who like you for free into people who will like you for pay.

It’s a little more about getting new people who will pay from the start.

Now that’s good news and bad news.

It means that you don’t have to change people’s minds, but it also means that you’re kind of starting over.

And so for that reason I would urge people, as soon as they can start, to begin positioning what it is that they do for free.

laptop with email icons floatingIf you’re just starting now and you’re like you know what, I’m going to put my first book out for free, I’m going to try and build my list and you'll get the  first book and second book free if you join my list.

So a lot of people who are on your list will have read your first two books for free.

If you’re going to do that, then when you give away the free book, like when you have contact with people like through your mailing list, this is probably the best example of this.

If you have a first free book in the series and the way you’re getting people to join your list is you have a call to action that says come and join my list and you’ll get the second book free.

Then say something like “Normally $4.99” in your call to action on the landing page.

When they join the list, “hey I’m so happy to have you here, I love my readers and for this reason I wanted to give you this book. I normally charge $4.99 for it, but I’m giving it to you for free because.” And you give them whatever reason it is. Just give them a because.

What that does is it establishes that yes, you’re getting it for free, but it’s not normally free. Like I am a person who actually wants to make money with what I do.

Similarly, this is true if you built your reputation on $0.99, you do at least have people on your list who have opened their wallet, which makes it a little bit easier.

And then you just need to ratchet up.

If you want to minimize the backlash you get for making something free and then suddenly having the audacity to charge, then what you need to do is to give a lot of value.

We at Sterling & Stone have some high-ticket non-fiction items. We have our treats and stuff that are quite high-end, and for this reason we just step up what we do for free.

We deliver more for free.

We do a free Bootcamp. We did it last year, we’ll do it next year. Bootcamp is five days, two hours a day for a full week, and that was just free. Everybody got it for free.

Our podcasts are free.

And if you can really over-deliver in free then it allows you to get away with more when you ask for pay.

Johnny B. Truant is the author of the Fat Vampire series and The Bialy Pimps, in addition to everything he has written with Sean at Realm & Sands.

Johnny and his family live in Austin, Texas (after several years of planning to move and complaining about life in northern Ohio).

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