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Free information will only take you so far (and that’s a big problem)

Yes, you can find lots of great information online that doesn't cost you a cent, but free information will only take you so far. Here's why.

My favorable Amazon review of a nonfiction book for authors included specifics on why I thought it was a helpful resource, but another reviewer didn’t agree and told me why.

One sentence in their comment on my review stood out: “i (sic) expect a bit more from an author when google (sic) can turn up the info easily.”

free information will only take you so far 2

Were they correct about this book?

Does their theory apply to pretty much anything else we might want to learn how to do as authors or as consumers in general?

Were they correct?

Nope and nope.

If you want to know how to replace the latching mechanism on your sliding deck door, you can find what you need in one YouTube video. (I know. I did it.)

But when it comes to author success, it’s not that simple.

When does free make sense? And when should you pay to learn?

systems thinker’s thinking is flawed

Let’s go back to systems thinker’s comments. Here’s the problem with their conclusion about finding information easily with Google:

  • You can’t find all of the information in this book for free online. The book offers insights, opinions, and wisdom that you aren’t going to find “online for free” unless the author has uploaded her manuscript and made it available. She hasn’t.
  • You’ll have to spend a lot of time looking for it. Even if you could find everything you need online (and I’m not saying you will), you won’t find it all in one place.

And you’ll have to try to piece it together in a way that makes sense.

What is your time worth? Probably more than the $5.99 Kindle price of this book.

  • Some of what’s available online offers conflicting information or opinions. Because of that, it’s often hard to know who or what to believe. Information seekers are often left more confused — and with more questions — than when they started.

I like free, too

Hey, I’m all for free. But I can tell you from experience that you can’t get everything you need for free online.


Yes, it’s a good starting point, as you will see on this site. There’s lots of helpful free information here.

But I can’t cover everything you need to know about getting impressive cover blurbs from influential people in a single blog post on the topic, so I offer an in-depth training program that gives you the specifics steps you need to take make it happen.

Is it affordable? Yes. Is it free? No.

Simple task? Try Google

When I need to learn how to do something like write effective nonfiction book titles, sure, I Google the subject to see what I can find.

If I want to learn how to do something bigger — something that has several steps or that will have a significant impact on my business — I look online to see who’s saying what about it and how they’re saying it.

I look for someone who I think understands my problems and limitations and who seems to know what they’re talking about. I look for how they present information and instruct.

When I’m convinced they can teach me what I need to know in a way that works for me, I buy their course, order their book, or register for their webinar.

Free information will only take you so far

Because I know that free information will only take me so far.

Free information will only take you so far, too.

If you need to learn how to do something that isn’t as simple as setting up an email book funnel, be open to paying for the knowledge that an expert can offer you.

If the product description reassures you that the book or training will answer your questions, and if you’ve done enough research to know that the instructor can deliver, then you should feel confident investing that money in your author business.

Successful authors don’t rely on free

Successful authors know that free information has limitations, so they invest in writing or book marketing courses, books on how to self-publish or other topics, and attend writers’ conferences. Every author I know who is successful by most standards does this.

[novashare_tweet tweet=”Successful authors know that free information has limitations, so they invest in writing or book marketing courses, books on how to self-publish or other topics, and attend writers’ conferences.” hide_hashtags=”true”]

They hire people to design their book covers, edit their writing, and create their author website.

They know that they have to spend money to make money, just as they know that free information will only take them so far.

If you’ve hit a dead end with your writing, publishing, or marketing, it might be time to abandon the “I can learn what I need to know for free” mindset. That thinking might be precisely what’s keeping you from finding and enjoying the success you deserve.

What’s one thing you’re glad you spent money on for your book?

(Editor’s note: This article was first published in February 2016. It has been updated and expanded.)

Subscribe to the free Build Book Buzz newsletter and get the free special report, “Top 5 Free Book Promotion Resources,” immediately!

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  1. Completely agree with everything you’ve said. I don’t hesitate to pay for a coaching session or a guide that I know will save me time, save me money, or help me do something better. Paying $100, for example, to net me, say, $1000, is well worth it, especially when the alternative is to spend 10 hours Googling potential solutions that are not as effective. In fact, Google may lead me astray, costing me time AND money. Free isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

    1. Thanks, Marcia — well said. Time is money, too, and spending hours using Google to unearth misinformation or conflicting content can be expensive.

      Thanks for stopping by!


  2. Even though I am a service provider and I must agree, I can emphasize Marcia’s comment, with more about time. How much time will it take a person to learn, for free, how to be a GREAT cover designer? How much time gets wasted with mistakes?
    I’ve been a cover designer for 10 years. I will freely admit, when I started, I didn’t know half as much a I do today on how to make covers, and at that time, I had already taken a hundred hours of design classes. I still PAY for lessons in design, and attend PAID marketing trainings to improve my skills, so I can provide those services for my clients.
    How much is your time worth?

    1. I totally agree, Jenn. And it’s why I always pay a pro for design services. Thanks for weighing in.


  3. It is true that there is a lot of free advice out there online. My worry is that people don’t understand how to sort out the good from the bad. And I agree that if you want success at a process-oriented strategy that will significantly boost your sales platform, you will benefit more from finding good help. I have found that people who invest wisely in their own success are more much more successful quicker than people who rely on rooting around online. There’s not much cohesion of process there. You hit the nail–good place to do research.

    1. So true, Chris! The uninformed often equate “good” with “best salesperson” and that’s often not the case.



  4. I’ve never had a problem with paying money when I need something done. Free has its limitations like anything else. One thing I’m glad I spent money is the virtual tour package I have with a company. I’ve worked with her for a few of my books and intend to do so in the future.

    Yes, I could do my own and I do reach out to others but her professionalism is like no other. She makes it painless and so easy. Plus I’m host for her blog tours for other books so it works hand in had.

    And a cover artist. I can’t draw a straight line so why in the world would I sit there and try to piece together a cover and I can’t draw. I don’t have an eye for color, places, and blah, blah, blah. Puhlease!

    So on point with what you’re saying

    1. Thanks, Parker! Who did you use for your virtual book tour? I love sharing info on tried & trusted services.


        1. Thanks, Parker. That was so thoughtful of you, but we’re good. I don’t provide the services — I teach authors how to do it themselves. Some would rather pay to have it done than go the DIY route, and I like to be able to send them to businesses with a good track record. Thank you for sharing!


  5. There is too much free info online. It’s become a jungle of redundancy. Paying a reputable person or organization or school for education and skill-building is a smart way to go once you understand your weaknesses and needs.

    1. Great advice, Nancy. Thank you. There is SO much info online that it’s hard to know where to start — and that’s where a good instructor or coach can help.


  6. I totally agree! Find what you can for free certainly, but in many cases of services you need (like editing, ghostwriting), you get what you pay for. The same is true for targeted information

    1. Thanks, Judy. You definitely wouldn’t want to see any cover I could design “for free!” I know what I like when I see it — but I can’t find my way there.


  7. Agreed. Hey, I love a bargain as much as anyone else, but as you said, time is also money – and wasting time hunting down the right information is not in my budget, either!

    Plus, why wouldn’t you pay a bit of money to learn from a good teacher? For instance, I have been using Scrivener for a while, and it’s a great program with a ton of features, but I wasn’t able to use even half of them, either because I didn’t even know they existed or because I couldn’t figure out the system. I paid for a set of online training videos, to which I have lifetime access, and everything walks you through step by step – both with the videos (all kept to about 2 minutes) and the screenshots to further illustrate. Perfect! I refer back to them every time I go to export a document, to make sure I don’t mess it up, so it’s been well worth the price. Could I Google that every time? Probably. But I know I have access to this video, which tells me the proper way to do it, in a clear and concise manner.

    You certainly have to be able to vet your teachers, to make sure you get what you paid for, but I’d certainly prefer to pay for good information than to waste both time and money on bad info.

    1. Thanks, Laura. Like you, I’m willing to pay for convenience, especially convenience that will save me time and provide clarity. Thanks for mentioning vetting the teachers — really good point. I often add myself to email lists and watch what comes in to make a decision about who I will pay to learn from. Are all of their emails “buy, buy, buy,” or do most of them share helpful information?

      Thanks for stopping by!


  8. There’s no such thing as ‘Free’. Even something that might not cost you any money, such as on-line research, costs time – and time is money. Hours put into research are hours that could be spent somewhere else. So how much do you get paid per hour? How many hours do you spend researching scattered information that could be found in one place, such as a good self help book that costs what, probably less than what you are paid for an hours work? So spending a small amount of cash can actually save you money.

  9. I am totally sold on the need to purchase the services and expertise of professionals. When my most recent book came out, I thought I could easily get 50 people to read it and review it on Amazon, so I used social media and built a list. Well, four months later, only 17 of these people have reviewed the book. If I had used one of the many services out there that provide a team of committed and impartial reviewers, I would have the reviews I need to boost the book’s likelihood of appearing in searches. That’s four months lost because I wanted to save a few bucks. It pays to pay, no doubt about it.

  10. I like to gather as much free information as I conveniently can, but I’m so glad I took your affordable-but-not-free online book publicity course, Sandy.

    Based on the high quality of the free stuff you offer so generously, I knew any fee-based course from you would carry huge value… but I still wasn’t prepared for how much I got out of the class.

    I remember feeling overwhelmed with gratitude for your thoughtful, customized input into my personal situation. The experience and knowledge you brought to my project was incredibly helpful, and I still use what I learned today. It was worth every penny and more.

    Now I’m a believer. Sometimes free is good enough, but when I need an expert opinion, to me it’s worth paying for. Thanks for being my go-to book publicity person.

    1. Thank you so much for such a lovely comment, Tina. I loved working with you — it was totally my pleasure. I’ve also enjoyed watching you and your book succeed — in fact, I recommended it to a friend last week and she bought it on Amazon while we were still on the phone. (Yay!)

      I’m a believer, too, and like you, I make sure that my money will be well spent before I spend it — and I do spend it when I know that I need help getting to the next level.

      Thank you!


  11. Nothing is truly for free. I don’t care what Publisher’s Clearing House says. I don’t know what “genius” came up with the idea that writers should work for free and then give away their stories before anyone takes them seriously. Like teaching, writing is an underappreciated and underpaid profession. I suppose it’s the myth that conjuring up stories and slaving away over a hot keyboard is an effortless endeavor. People will always want to read something of a creative nature and they want to be entertained by TV programs and movies. Thus, there will always be a need for writers. Most performers and TV and film producers are neither creative enough nor intelligent enough to pull a story from the depths of their cerebral cortex. Writers should be respected more by the people who depend on them for material. But then again, we writers need to demand that respect.

      1. Absolutely! A few years ago a discussion in one of my Linked In writing groups revolved around pay for writers; whether creative or freelance. One person actually had the audacity to ask why writers should even demand to be paid for fictional work. Apparently she took that “starving artist” mantra too far. Another woman mentioned that she been shaken up by a poor review about her freelance writing from a former client; so much that she reduced her rates to remain competitive. I told her she shouldn’t have let herself get so upset by that one former client. Having been in the corporate workforce for many years, I know full well that – no matter how hard you may try – someone just isn’t going to be satisfied with your work. Our writing skills are worth something; more than just “exposure” or a few dollars in exchange for a monumental number of words. And our dignity is priceless.

        1. Alejandro, in my experience, the only people who think that writers should work for free are people whose work has never been published (and probably never will be). The editors who think we should write “for the exposure” will always find someone who will do that, but in all honesty, they get what they paid for. How ridiculous!

  12. I totally see the point but am not totally convinced. That’s true, you wouldn’t be able to find all the information in one place, but personally I immerse myself in publishing information anyway. To use the example of Judith Briles, soon I will have listened to every one of her “Your Guide to Book Publishing” podcasts. That’s a heck of a lot of information that’s available for free. Granted you wouldn’t want to listen to 175 hours of shows to get the answer to a question, but listening (and reading, that and other things) regularly you’ll readily know where to get such an answer. Plus, there is plenty of disagreement over numerous publishing topics even among that material you have to pay for.

    1. Thanks, Erik. The challenge for you now will be to piece all of that information into a cohesive blueprint you can follow.


  13. I am learning a lot for free by reading discussions on Linkedin and other sites. I know I have to weigh up conflicting opinions, but they make me think and at least ask me the questions I need to think about. I have only limited resources and cannot afford to pay out too much. Besides, I have often found in many areas of life that paid experts disagree and can give the wrong advice to a particular client. Especially the experts who think their way is the only way. I will have to make my own mind up between self-publishing and trditional publishing. Different paid courses will no doubt offer different advice on that one.

    1. Thanks, John. I used to find the opposing opinions in LinkedIn discussions overwhelming until I realized that the most insistent voice often belonged to the person with the least experience and knowledge.

      As for making your own decision about self-publishing vs. traditional publishing, remember that it is harder than ever to get a traditional publishing contract. So, while you might decide that’s what you want to do, it’s possible that publishers will not give you that opportunity.


  14. I paid a “book doctor” $2,000 to read and edit my memoir Looking for Kiss; A Chronicle of Downtown Heartbreak and Healing. And this was after every chapter had been thoroughly workshopped and rewritten. It was worth every dollar. He made
    invaluable suggestions,including moving certain chapters that were out of order. I worked on the
    book some more and implemented his suggestions
    and sold my memoir to a small independent press.

  15. I’ve been thinking the same thing the past few months. I’ve been working on my own book to help others self-publishing, and I’ve been reading reviews for similar books, so I can avoid reoccurring issues readers complain about.

    I am finding one common thread: I can find all this online for free.

    While that may be true to a large extent, as you say it takes time to find it, and there is conflicting information out there. This information may come with opinions, but it doesn’t come with my opinion.

    I have even started picking out these comments from reviews to use on my website when I promote my book. Here are two (unedited):

    1) The same information is readily available on numerous free blogs.

    2) Will Never read his work again! Regurgitated information you can get any where. Nothing new here at all.

    Nothing new here…yet I find writers who have published books who don’t know ISBNs are free in Canada or who don’t know they can use their SIN instead of getting an EIN or ITIN. So maybe my book will have something new. 🙂

    Thank you for writing this post. I will write something similar when my book is published. Yes, I get things for free–I love free. But when I really need to learn something and I have to pay, I pay.

    1. Thanks, Diane. Sometimes that “you can find it online for free” comment from readers is accurate. For example, some people who host podcasts transcribe the interviews and upload the transcripts to Kindle as e-books available for a low fee. Yes, you can listen to the interview for free, but some people would rather read than listen — and there’s a charge for that.

      I love your view that some of what’s in your books can be found online, but it doesn’t come with YOUR opinion. Let’s throw your wisdom and experience into that, too. Sometimes, access to knowledge comes with a price.


  16. One thing I am definitely glad I paid for is cover design. I know I could never make very good book covers – not to professional standard anyway.

    I do regret paying such a lot of money on editing on my first book though as I ended up with two lousy editors who conned me out of a lot of money and time.

    1. Sounds frustrating, Tiffany. Did you learn anything from the experience about how to find a good editor?


  17. I’m an old school published writer heading into self-publish. I agree so much with your position. I knew I could set up Word with a book-type appearance, but it would be a major distraction from the writing. So I bought a template, and it helps me “see” the finished book as I do final edits, and my Beta writers love the appearance. Next I have to find a cover designer.

    1. That’s really smart, Clarice — imagine the time you saved trying to figure out what to do. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.


  18. I agree completely with this. There are plenty of people who say “why should I pay when I can get it for free” but I think in many cases it’s a false economy. When you buy a training course or a manual, you’re also paying for the author’s experience – the failures and mistakes along the way as well as the results.


    1. Absolutely, Clare. It’s too bad more people don’t recognize that. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.


  19. Spot on, Sandra!

    Assuming that Mr. Systems Thinker lives in the same space-time continuum the rest of us do, he also must weigh the return on his time invested in getting all that free stuff on the internet. He could just as well go the library. Or just talk to hundreds of people. You have curated loads of high-value content in one place. Let him do the same, and he’ll get his knickers in a bunch when someone complains about him charging for something anyone can find for free.

    I have willingly–gleefully–paid for someone’s knowledge and experience because it saves me time and empowers me to get farther with less work and fewer mistakes.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks, Joel! I think you’re my new best friend. ; )

      You hit the nail on the head — paying for someone’s knowledge, etc., saves you time and lets you get farther with less work and fewer mistakes. How can that be a bad thing?


  20. Free makes good marketing sense, to get one’s work and voice out there to attract attention. Once I’m hooked on the concept, like the personality or in the case of books, the writer’s voice, and want more information, I will gladly pay the required fee to get more. I spent $10 once on a writing ebook– not even the print copy–because the information was not only excellent, I enjoyed the writer’s voice. I could relate to it and thus learn from this book.

    That said, I’ll always check on how many pages a book is because there are too many “pamphlets” being sold online as books.

    1. Thanks, Karen. I’ve noticed that about the pamphlets disguised as e-books, too. I don’t mind shorter books, especially those focused on a very specific topic, if the price reflects the page count.


  21. If not for free, there’s the belief that you should get something “on the cheap.” I wish I had a nickel for every person who has come to me to fix the mess they’ve received from a “cheap” writer or editor who didn’t have the necessary experience. Just because there are people willing to do something for very little doesn’t mean you should take them up on it. Often, when people try to get a bargain, they end up spending more money in the long run.

  22. I recently received the same type of negative review on Amazon (that the info in my book is available for free online). So, I can relate with this article.

    Back before I became an author, I was a songwriter. I learned about writing songs by purchasing a book on how to write songs that was written by a professional songwriter who has written hit songs. I followed the advice in his book, and my songs ended up being played on radio stations around the world. I probably could’ve found some information about writing songs online, but I wanted information from someone who had been successful at it, and I didn’t want to waste time piece mealing it together on numerous websites. So, I agree with this article.

    1. Thanks for the helpful validation, Trish. I appreciate the feedback. Thanks for stopping by.


  23. I’m 84 and on a fixed budget, but I don’t hesitate to buy the books and information I need. I’ve yet to publish my first book, but when I need help, I turn to you, KW Weiland, Writers Helping Writers and more who can sell me courses and/or books that help me get from my scared, stuck little self to someone who can sit down and write some more chapters. The information I glean from what I’ve bought helps me get a bit of confidence that “I CAN do this”

    1. Judi, I’m so honored to be one of your trusted sources. Thank you so much for letting me know.

      You are an inspiration. What do you write about? (And yes, you CAN do it!)


  24. I just wrote about one reason free information can only get you so far and that’s because free information is typically meant for anyone and so naturally it’s generic.

    I send out a newsletter to an accountability group three times a week. Every time I send it out, Mailchimp tells me to “click here to learn more about writing better subject lines.” That’s because my subject line is always something long and boring like, “Accountability Group – Wednesday, May 31 check-in.”

    But I get a more than 90% open rate. I defy Mailchimp to help me come up with a subject line that will do better AND not confuse anyone regarding the content of the email. I won’t hold my breath.

    It’s generic advice because some automation noticed my subject line is long.

    For writers, it’s like the generic advice “Don’t use abverbs.” Maybe that’s good advice but maybe it’s not. For a middle-grade author trying to help a reader understand how to read a bit of dialogue, an adverb may be exactly what’s needed.

    And just deleting adverbs doesn’t get at the underlying reason for why an author might be using them. This is often something to do with not getting the emotion across in a scene. Fiddling with adverbs is never going to solve that problem.

    Sometimes you have to pay to get the specific advice *you* need in order to get better.

    1. That’s such a great point about generic advice, Jennifer! It’s like book marketing advice in that it’s not one size fits all. I have to get a lot of information before I can answer a question I get all the time: “How should I market my book?” If I don’t ask a lot of questions to get more information about the book and its audience first, the author will get generic advice that might or might not apply to their situation.

      The Mailchimp prompts? They’re for email marketing, and that’s not what you’re doing with your accountability check-ins. You’re emailing info that your list needs, wants, and expects, and you’re not trying to sell them anything. That means that advice is useless for your situation. But I wonder if they’d be helpful for email marketing. What do you think based on what you’ve seen from the prompts? Still too non-specific?


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