Free Books and The Devaluation of Art

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I’ve written on the topic of art devaluation before.

I’m a subscriber and regular listener of the Print Run Podcast because I enjoy their agent’s take on current publishing industry trends. In a recent episode, they touched on the devaluation of art, specifically books, and I tossed around some ideas that are now this post.

I’d like to talk about giving away your work for “free”.

First, I assume you want an audience. That’s probably our shared goal as writers and authors, right? A readership who connects with, and enjoys our work. (To be clear, I am not counting sending out ARC’s or other review copies to outlets. That’s a necessary part of any book marketing plan.)

That said, money is nice too. Even if you take those profits and reinvest 100% of them into pencils, cover illustrations, or an ink cartridge to print query letters for your next book, it can be a wonderful motivator to encourage the creation of new work.

Here are a few trends I’ve noticed over the past year–positive and negative–that seem to be emerging around authors giving away their work for free.

Less Authors Are Giving Their Books Away

It seems like “freebies” are less frequent, outside of contests, in major channels like Amazon and Bookbub. There are still a number of ebooks priced around a dollar, but I find that far more acceptable than simply giving work away.

I still look back on my Kindle giveaways as a mistake. Sales are one thing, but I gave away hundreds of ebooks and have no measurable way of knowing that they ever got read. While this may be a good strategy for authors who have an established backlog to get new readers drawn in, I have always felt it’s the equivalent of a sleazy club promoter trying to get bands to play free “for the exposure”.

The marketplaces are far too crowded to “get noticed” by giving away free stuff. It’s just an outmoded tactic. You’re better off giving away book-related chachkies at a live event hoping they convert paid sales.

I take less authors giving away free books as a good sign, which leads me to my next point.

Buying Books Is a Good Thing

Why? Because cost underlies perceived value.

In a world of supply and demand, scarcity breeds value. Since the “digital revolution” has essentially made scarcity a thing of the past, worth is reduced. Maybe you’re old enough to remember buying CD’s. One album that cost between $15 and $22. Now $20 will buy you a 4 month subscription to any number of music services that have nearly EVERY SONG EVER RECORDED on demand.

Ergo, music is effectively worth about $5 a month. Sure, your favorite song is still a priceless work of art, but don’t tell that to the record execs. Another example is the recent resurgence of vinyl records, which are relatively expensive, but buyers attach value to the highly analog experience of listening to their favorite artists on a record player.

What I’m getting at is when you price your book at $0, there isn’t much reason for readers to care about it. They’re much more likely to read something they plunked their hard-earned cash on than not. Even more compelling is the psychological phenomenon that they are more likely to ENJOY your book, rather than let their brain suffer “buyer’s remorse” after spending said cash.

Giving Away Books Hurts Authors

It hurts all of us. Seriously.

I hate the term “a race to the bottom”, but in this case it kind of is. I used to naively believe that self-publishing was a bold new frontier, and in many ways it is great. That said, the ingenious (and kind of sinister) way Amazon and other online retailers have allowed self-published authors to wage a proxy war against “gatekeepers” on their behalf is hurting everyone. The marketplaces are flooded, with prices going down the drain as everyone tries to undercut for “visibility”. Writers are generating an almost endless supply of books for Amazon’s horn of plenty, and sets readers expectations that books “should” either be cheap, free, or part of an unlimited monthly subscription.

It is insidious because you cannot really blame anyone without sounding like a curmudgeon. Everyone wants books. And why not for cheap, or even free?

Well, because ultimately in this cycle, authors don’t get paid. Even the self-published ones who see better return percentages need to enter the market at low prices and constantly fight the monthly tsunami of new releases.

It’s a slow erosion.

Books Are Worth It

To end this on a more positive note, if you put all this time and effort into making a phenomenal book, or busting your hump to find an agent and publisher, then you should be paid for your efforts.

Don’t feel like you owe readers freebies simply because that is how popular culture and tech have devalued art & media.

Writing is a craft, and craftsmen get paid for their time and skills.

So how do you feel about giving your work away? Have you ever given away free copies of books or submitted stories to non-paying outlets? Is it a strategy that has actually worked for you and your readership?

Tell me down in the comments.

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Self Publish, Traditional, or Hybrid?

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A question for all my fellow writers out there.

When the time comes to unleash your completed works into the world, how do you do it?

Are you taking the DIY route of self-publishing, with its steep learning curve and up-front costs? Or are you walking that traditional publishing road, fraught with long wait times and piles of rejection letters?

I ask because I’ve been reading articles like this one at Writer’s Digest about “hybrid publishing”. Most writers I speak with choose one path or the other, but it would seem the hybrid model has some advantages from both.

I’ve begun the process of submitting work to journals and other outlets (short stories, flash fiction) while continuing to write larger pieces that will either be self-published or queried. It seems like the stigma of being “one or the other” is slowly fading away, and I’m interested to see if one strategy pans out better than the other.

Does anyone else use a “hybrid model” for publishing their work? Do you take different publication routes for your individual projects, or try to stick solely to one strategy that works for you?

 

Does Amazon Hurt Author Creativity?

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I’ve wanted to post about this subject for a while, but haven’t gotten around to. It was only after listening to an episode of the Rocking Self Publishing podcast that the question resurfaced in my mind and I wanted to pen my thoughts.

First, this is NOT a gripe or attack post on Amazon. I use their Kindle Direct Publishing platform to self-publish my work, and I think they have done writers a great service by removing “gatekeepers” and releasing some great books that might otherwise have languished forever in some publishing house slush pile.

My concern surrounds the idea of book quality and how author creativity might actually be stifled by the cottage industries that have sprung up around the behemoth.

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#NanoWriMo2016 But Not Really

nanowrimoIt’s November 1st, and that can only mean one thing. YARD WORK!

Wait, sorry, NanoWriMo, and yard work. If you’re active on social media, chances are you equate the second-to-last calendar month with dudes growing mustaches (WordPress auto-corrected ‘moustache’) to “raise awareness”, and tons of would-be authors telling you about their frantic race to create a 50,000 word novel.

I have participated in past NanoWriMo events, but decided they really weren’t for me. It’s an admirable exercise, and although on some level it sets people up for failure (see: 20% success rate) I think it’s important to recognize “the journey” and the act of putting effort into the craft. Does that sound philosophical and lame? Probably.

This year I’ve decided to follow along with the Nano craze in parallel, and utilize all the positive energy created by the community to spur me in revising my fantasy novel. Like some sort of literary psychic vampire, I’ll feed off their goodwill to gain power as I search for misplaced commas and erase adverbs.

The reason for this is two-fold.

One, I’ve learned as much about myself as I can from NanoWriMo. It’s just not my style, and I really want to accomplish some goals before the holidays arrive and eat away at my already diminished free time.

Two, I already have enough unfinished projects active, and I don’t want to add another (of dubious quality) to the pile. I’m a finisher by nature. I absolutely hate incomplete projects lingering around, so I’m going to turn this social experiment into lemonade and put a bow on this draft that’s been hanging around for months collecting dust.

Rather than unleash 1600 words a day, I plan to edit/revise around that much per day, which will put me to the end of my edit process with room to spare in case I get distracted by Xbox or something a few times.

Are you participating in #NanoWriMo2016? If so, let me know what your plans are, and if you’re reading this on November 28th, I hope you’re almost done with that novel!

How to get out of your own way when self publishing — Horror Made

Today’s post comes from Ben Daniels, the author of the new novel, “Detroit 2020.” And he, far better than I could even imagine, lays out the essential steps to self publishing. He’s also a fantastic blogger and shares some very insightful thoughts on horror, writing, and the long-hard-journey of self publishing over on bldaniels.wordpress.com. So, enough […]

via How to get out of your own way when self publishing — Horror Made