This is a thing, it seems, which crops up from time to time. Some form of writer’s not being paid, maybe they shouldn’t, exposure is reward enough, etc. Now, for the most part, the people saying this are probably quite well-intentioned. But it’s untrue and a trap for writers.
I have about 950 followers on Twitter, a couple hundred subscribers to this blog, and like ten on Facebook, because I hate Facebook and forget it exists. So it’s not like I am swimming in fame or my Kickstarter is the literary version of the Veronica Mars campaign. Obviously a little exposure would do me good (also, I’m kind of a miserable self-promoter). But here’s the thing: Giving my work away doesn’t help.
I’ve done it- the 444 project was a free thing- and, as I said, well intentioned, but it didn’t do me any good. Perhaps a few followers, but no books sold and no backers to Kickstarter as a direct result of it. Because what happens, when you give your product away, as a writer, is you remove value from it. SFWA pro rate says that a word of fiction is worth $0.06, and various markets are higher or lower, but that’s the baseline. So why should I tell people each word is worth zero cents?
If you think that’s not the case, and are saying, no, Dean, they read the free bit and then love it and then go buy the book, think of your last trip to the grocery store where they had samples out. You took one, even if you weren’t hungry, right? And how many times did you buy the product that is sitting right there? Pretty rare, right? Most of the time- in most cases, always- you munch on whatever it is, and then go get what you were going to get anyway. It works the same with writing. Maybe one person or two loves the free stuff, and shells out a few bucks for my books, but the odds on that are slim- let’s say one person in 1,000, which is probably optimistic. That means if I make $5 off every book sold, I need 60,000 people to read the free bit to equal what I would make off one 5,000 word sale at pro rate (that number is 120,000 if it’s a Fireside sale).
It also devalues the market as a whole. It’s a buyers market, to be sure, fiction is. Just search the hashtag ‘writer‘, ‘amwriting‘, etc on Twitter and see how many results you get (also, fellow scribes: can some of you be a little less up-your-own-ass about writing? It’s just pretentious sometimes, ya know? If you’re nodding, going yup, ignore this. If you’re incredulous, I’m talking to you). There are other markets that pay a whole bunch more than fiction does, because no one writes press releases for a hobby. It’s a big sea of fiction out there (which, incidentally, decreases your odds considerably in the above paragraph), and sending the message hey I am just giving it away doesn’t help the market overall (it bears pointing out that publishing it- even for free- likely means you can never sell it, either).
There are, however, ways of sampling your work or gaining exposure that are beneficial. A guest post or interview will often do wonders. This gains you exposure while accomplishing the opposite of giving a story away- it emphasizes the value of your work, shows you have pride in it. Readers respond to this. Likewise, I write my column at Nerds Feather for free (You can pay me if you want, G), and guess what? This blog, the Kickstarter and my book have all had hits and sales because of it.
Excerpts are a different story, and the more effective sample. Leaving the reader hanging will make them want to know what happens next- think of the grocery store again. Which is more likely to get someone to buy bacon- giving them a strip of bacon, or them smelling bacon cooking? Let them smell your work, and make them hungry for it. Don’t give them a bite size piece they can munch on and walk away.
PS: gentle reminder that I have a Kickstarter campaign running right now to support a print run of 3024AD that will be distributed through indie brick-and-mortars. Please support it!