I’ve been writing for a long, long time. One could say that I’ve been writing since I learned how to spell. The Internet gave me many wonderful opportunities to practice what natural ability I had, to find out where and how I could improve on my skills, and to let my inner Muse stretch out on uninhibited wings, where it could get as naughty or as serious as I wanted to go.
It wasn’t long before I found a market for my work. By “market” I mean more than an occasional high five or the promise of cyber margaritas after a long day of witty comebacks. Sure, I wasn’t making enough cash to retire to a beach on a deserted atoll, but it was nice to see the occasional deposit into my PayPal account. After a year’s worth of occasional deposits, I had nearly enough to buy myself lunch at a decent establishment.
Mostly, though, I was writing for free. Free stories, free opinion, free reviews, free editorials, free photo-essays. I didn’t mind; after all, I’m a writer and writers as artists are known to be [somewhat] narcissistic. Internet writers, especially those who use their real names like I do, are way out there, as vulnerable as if they were to step outside on Main Street sans clothing. It’s the nature of the beast. Writers write to communicate, to tell a story, and we do so because deep inside, no matter what Internet troll tells you different, we’re pretty damned good. Not Stephen King good or Carly Phillips good or Dan Brown good, but good enough to be a few rungs above the masses.
Now that I’m an e-pubbed author, I have a book for sale. Not for free, like my pithy essays, but for a mere pittance. (I have given out free copies, and my BETAs have read it, but it’s not the same.) I don’t know how many I’ve sold to date, but I do hear back from people who have read it, so I have to estimate, oh…maybe four or five? Maybe more? One author at the GDRWA, of which I’m a member, recently commented that she sold 18 e-books and is feeling pretty good about it. (I have since upped my goal to 19.) 🙂
I have to say that it was agonizing to come up with the price. In fact, I lowered the price in between proofs, just because in my years and years of writing for free, it felt weird to charge anything at all. I know that the retailer is going to take a cut, and Book Baby is going to take a cut, which will likely leave me with just enough for lunch after a year. But a price? I’ve purchased e-books by major authors for $14.95. I’ve also purchased books for $.99. I know Virtually Yours is not $14.95 material. It’s also worth more than $.99. On the other hand, I can’t just give it away. I put in major effort, major time, and major money (in hiring a professional editor) to put this baby together.
I’m acquainted with authors who have tried “free-bie” days on Amazon just to up their downloads. While offering freebies will cause a momentary bump in activity (in one case, my friend had 16K downloads. 16K!), as soon as the giveaway day is over, the activity usually (and I could be proven wrong by some author somewhere) falls back down to nothing. And I wonder if giving it away for free helps. Do those who download free books actually read them? Or are they just participating in the freebie mentality? If it’s for free, maybe I should get it, just in case, the “just in case” never happening.
Personally, I love the books that I have purchased, and I have purchased tons of books, both physical and e-format. I’m also given tons of books for free, mostly in the hope that I’ll read and review. With very few exceptions – and there are a few – I am far more likely to read and cherish a book I’ve purchased.
My take is this: There is a value of words, of art, and of hard work. To give your art or product away consistently means you do not value your work. Why should anyone else value it if you don’t? McDonald’s serves crappy hamburgers (sorry, McDonald lovers, but I’m a food snob), yet they still charge for a cheeseburger. Cash money.
I have plenty of free material out there on the web. If you want to read me for free, you can. Virtually Yours (and the novels that will follow) can’t be free. There is too much blood and sweat involved. If you want to taste that blood and sweat, you’ll have to invest a little to experience it.