The short answer is no. The long answer is also no. And why is it so? That answer is a bit more complex.
Giving away your books for free will not result in a surge in sales nor will it get you fans. Of course, there are exceptions to everything but these are just that - exceptions. Based on my own experience, I can tell you that people will download anything that's given for free and value it accordingly. On occasion, you will have paid for downloads of your work when your freebie promotion ends but it's not a sure thing and most of the time hardly worth the trouble. For that reason you should only give away short stories, sample chapters or if you're launching a new title, Book 1 of a series for free, for a limited time. You might be lucky and get a fan base, but I sincerely doubt it will happen to a great number of writers, published or self-published. Having been on both sides of the coin, I can tell you that getting a fan base is a long and arduous journey, a thankless task which needs to be supported by a vigorous marketing campaign and corresponding budget. If you do not have these resources, you will, most probably, not succeed in selling a lot of copies of your books.
The truth is, giving your books away will do nothing to advance your writing career. You'll find yourself wondering why is it that people are downloading your stuff by the bucketful but nobody goes onto to buy any of it. The answer is quite simple: readers won't pay for your books once you've made it clear that you are prepared to give your work away for nothing. Readers have, by now, realized how free promotions work - by repetition, so those people who might have had your book recommended to them by someone who's downloaded it for free will wait until the next time when your book is up for a free download. After all, the recommendation was for a good freebie, not a good book. If a freebie is good it's an added bonus because no-one expects a freebie to be a great read to begin with. The end result is no sale for you.
So what can you do to make your book become successful?
Truthfully, from my perspective, not a lot. But I am not the most invested author you will come across; I find the whole business of book marketing draining and boring; that, coupled with my aversion to talking about myself (not that spesh - see About Ivana Hruba if you must) and about what I've written (I'd rather you read it - here) makes me a very very unknown author, indeed. But I do have some firm ideas on what makes a book get attention. Well, one idea, anyway.
I'm not splitting the atom here when I'll tell you that there is only one reason why a book becomes successful - it has "buzz". Word-of-mouth is what you need to shift copies. Sales aren't going to materialize if nobody knows about your book, and more importantly, if nobody talks about your book. Without word-of-mouth recommendations, there simply won't be demand for your work out there. Nobody cares if you publish or not, how much you charge for it or if you give it for free. All you're doing with your freebies is offering people a taste of something they have no need for. Faced with that kind of attitude, it should be obvious that you're fighting an uphill battle with or without free giveaways. In general, people are resistant to fork out money on a traditionally published book by an unknown author so they certainly will not be easily persuaded to pay for a self-published book no matter how many freebies you give away; after all, if no publisher bought the manuscript, why should the reader be expected to?
A logical conclusion, no doubt. And there's some compelling evidence for this argument as unfortunately there are self-published books out there that are truly dreadful, unreadable stuff. Just go to Amazon and look inside some randomly selected self-published books; it won't take you long to figure out what I'm talking about. However, not all traditionally published books are of great quality either. I'll bet you could think of at least one traditionally published novel that you simply couldn't get through, for exactly the same reasons that might make you avoid picking up a self-published book - poor quality writing, boring and predictable characters and poorly executed plot development, resulting in zero engagement on your part. The
truth is that appalling stuff has been and will continue to be published, on both sides of the
business, by very many people. And this is precisely why readers should not be scared and/or dismissive of self-published books. You have nothing to lose but everything to gain by taking a look inside of a book by an unknown author. On that note, I will engage in a little self-promo; you might as well, since you're already here, check out the self-published books Yours Truly has on offer. (For sale, right here and elsewhere on the net where they have the Look Inside feature.) - Didn't work? Ah, well, at least we gave it a try...
But I digress. Let's get back to why you're not selling your books.The main reason why your books are NOT SELLING is - drum roll please - because they ARE FOR SALE. It's a tricky-sticky situation you're in, you're facing a conundrum here, a neat little paradox which you will find hard to solve. As an unknown and/or self-published author you are largely regarded by the reading public as totally dispensable. In fact, why you should even be asking people to pay to read your books when you, quite obviously, couldn't get published in the first place, is beyond the general public's tolerance threshold 'cause everyone knows that the self-published author should be GRATEFUL when people consent to read their stuff for free.
It is what it is. I hope my little musings on the disadvantages of self-publishing have not discouraged you from it. That was not my intention, but you should know, if indeed you're thinking of getting into the business, what you are getting into. Take from this what you will, but please, folks, don't be too grateful. Giving your hard work away for free is just plain silly. Make it a marketing strategy to drive traffic to your books and that's it. You've worked too hard to give your stuff away. Charge a price and stand by it. I do. And why do I do this? Because it's the only thing that gets me sales. In my case, not too many, but since I've stopped giving my books away, I've got my trickle of paid for downloads back. It's only a trickle, but it's sales. SALES, folks, SALES.