Today, regular columnist, Handsome Hansel, tackles the question of giving away our books.
To Be Free Or Not To Be Free (That Is The Question)
Let’s face it, more than likely what began each one of us to write was NOT the prospect of becoming rich and famous. When I talk to new authors, almost exclusively, it’s that they wanted to share their stories with others. And, after a bit of prodding, they admit they’d love to see their book on the NY Times Bestseller list. Not once has anyone told me that they do it for the money. So that got me to thinking…(uh oh)
I took a leap of faith a short while back. I was fortunate enough to be able to throw myself 110% into a writing career. My reasons for writing are the same as most: wanting to get my stories in the hands of others, see my book on Amazon or the NY Times Bestseller lists, feel that satisfaction of ‘having done it’ and holding my completed book in my hands. But I also want to make a living at writing. A good living. Perhaps not a J.K. Rowling kinda living but a living nonetheless.
Shouldn’t we be paid for the work we put in? The writing part of getting a book to print is perhaps the easiest part. We are writers after-all. It’s all the other parts that really take up most of our time: working with editors, getting book covers designed, establishing a game-plan for promoting you and your books, etc. These are all part of our “Job”. So it’s lost on me why someone would spend a year (or two…or more) and then give their book away for free.
This is something I was first introduced to about fifteen years ago. I was working for a national company and traveled a lot. A large financial conglomerate was in the process of buying the company I worked with, and they decided to have a big meet and greet at their headquarters in Kansas. After a nice dinner, I and a few other District Managers, were invited to drinks at the house of our new company president.
Once there, we were treated to a tour and when we were shown he and his wife’s joint study on the upper floor, there were boxes upon boxes stacked along one of the walls. With his wife out of the room he jokingly asked if we would each be willing to take a box home with us. I inquired as to what was in the boxes to which he proceeded to rip one open and pulled out a book stamped with his wife’s name. It was a non-fiction book on ghosts and haunted places she had researched. For the ensuing 20 minutes, we listened as he complained that after three years of research, writing, and over $20,000 of his money, all he had to show for it were the boxes in his study. Tossing the book back into the box and with frustration tempering his voice, he revealed, “We can’t even give the damn things away.”
I’ll admit, I knew NOTHING of the writing world at the time, but it seemed pretty ridiculous to me to spend all that time and money only to end up with nothing to show for it. Of course, this was before the days of Amazon, Kindles, iBooks, and social media in general. However, the premise is the same. We pour ourselves into our work and we’d like to be rewarded for our time. Don’t we? We have advantages authors didn’t have fifteen years ago.
For instance, it’s a lot easier to get our book out to the public. I can compile a number of different formats for my book in Scrivener inside of a few minutes. I can then send it off to Amazon or iBooks and instantly, I’m a published author. (I’m seriously Cliff-noting the process here but that is the gist of it.) Now that that’s done, there’s the matter of promotion. I have between my two Twitter accounts over 40,000 followers. I think it’s safe to say a minimum of 1% of them would buy a book I put up for $.99. Assuming I’m the only one involved, that’s $400 to me. It’s not Stephen King money but it makes a car payment.
So then why do so many new authors give their books away for free? Stats. That’s what it boils down to. For some reason they believe that by giving their book away for free on Amazon and other sites it will raise their book in the rankings to a point where people would then be willing to pay money for it. There are even strategies for this. While it all boils down to simple supply/demand economics, there are suggestions as to pricing depending on demand. I’m not going to go into the details here because this is about whether or not we should give our hard-earned work away for free at all.
My take? If it isn’t already obvious…Never.
I had the good fortune of attending an incredible author event in North Carolina called, “Book’Em NC”. I drove many miles to attend at the invitation of Internationally Acclaimed Author, p.m.terrell (@pmterrell), who is also in charge of making this event happen each and every year. Aside from great speakers and crash courses in everything a new author needs to know, there were tables begetting tables begetting yet more tables of authors standing proudly next to their paper bound dreams come true. I met a number of authors and came away with more great information than I could have ever given at the time. I bought a number of books to show my support and not a one of these authors were giving their book away for free.
Is it simply the difference between selling a tangible versus an intangible? When we ourselves have our book in hand, is it harder to just hand over? When it’s in digitized form and, let’s face it, really didn’t cost us anything to get it in that form, are we predisposed to let our hard work go more readily? Realistically speaking here, (do you expect anything less of me?) if every single one of my 40,000+ followers downloaded a free book of mine, I MIGHT hit the top 10,000 list. Big whoop. As writers we can’t let ego get in the way of our own well-being.
We’ve all read the articles in Writer’s Digest, The Writer, Poets And Writers, etc. As 21st century authors we are almost solely in charge of peddling our writer wares. How many times have we read a paragraph or sentence which prefaces itself with: “Unless you’re with one of the Big 5…” We are on our own in most cases. We are no longer just authors but sales people as well and when you give yourself away for free you are only devaluing yourself as an author. You put in the hard word; the blood, sweat, and tears of questionable punctuation. For that effort alone, I would gladly spend a few bucks for your heart as a writer.
So, what do you tthink about giving away your books? Have you done it as an author and what were the results?
On Friday, Kevin Symmons tells us the four ‘E’s” of romance.
Bio: Like most of us, I’ve been around the block a time or two (or three) in the relationship world. I like to think of myself as having a pretty thick skin, however, that skin doesn’t surround the heart.
I’ve been in love; I’ve been in lust. I’ve been hurt and got up to do it all again, each time having learned more of myself as well as “wants” and “don’t wants” for my next relationship. Amazingly enough, I never gave up on that one true love wrapped in Romance. You can visit me here, at http://thedanceofromanceonline.com
- How Writers Can Market Their Work Like a Business by Candice Hughes
- Learning to Love Again with Handsome Hansel
- The Pros and Cons of Self Publishing
- Marketing Fiction: Building Super Fans & Making “Free” Work For You by Penny Sansevieri
- Taking Control of Your Writing Career with a Business Plan with Amy Denim