Friday, May 22, 2009

The Free Story vs. the Whole Enchilada - Does Giving it Away Hurt Chance of Publication?

I write free stories. They aren't very long, maybe a few thousand words apiece. It's something I like to do in between longer works to prime the pump (interesting choice of words for a romance writer, but make of it what you will), and I enjoy doing it. Go to my home page now, and you'll see quite a few available. I plan to do more with my "quickies," namely work them into another blog to distribute via Kindle. More on that later.

The reason I write these freebies is two-fold: first, I want to introduce new readers to my style. I find if they enjoy a free Dareville short, for example, they may wish to buy the longer works. The second reason: to discourage eBook piracy. It happens, and I don't like it. I am not a wealthy person, and I make a living writing. It's what I do - some people remove tonsils, I write about nookie. It's a job, and I should be paid for it. I know times are tough right now, but if you catch one of my eBook novels on sale you can get it for half the cost of a movie ticket...and you get to keep it! You want free, I will give you free, but please buy the stuff that is for sale.

Okay, soapbox time is done. I'm here to talk about how "free" is a good thing, and how much is too much. That too much to ask?

I promise I'll stop. Really.

Other authors may do the same thing as me, and offer free shorts. Some will put them on their blogs or websites, or publish them through a site like All Romance eBooks for greater distribution. I think that's great - use your best strength to promote your work. On occasion I'll see instances where a writer (often unpublished otherwise) has presented an entire novel on the Internet for public consumption. Also fine - if that is how you choose to showcase your work, wonderful. Maybe it was uploaded for grins, maybe the author had shopped it around and, frustrated over the system, just decided to give it away. I've done it myself once before with a work called Murder Most Trivial, and I plan to do it again with another book through a revamped blog. Nothing wrong with it.

Now, let's say that author submits the free novel to a publisher...and leaves it up in plain view for everybody to see. Let's say an editor or agent is researching the writer's credentials and finds the very work that was submitted, what do you think will happen?

Yeah, don't TiVo Oprah anytime soon.

In discussing this topic with others in publishing, a theory was posed that the act of making a large work (for the sake of this post, we'll say anything 60K words and higher) can attract the eye of a Big-Time Agent who will light a fuse under their asses and rocket them to fame and fortune. I know there are online marketplaces out there where people are offering works, and occasionally you'll find a press release about some unknown landed a contract with Big-Time Publisher this way.

One. One author. How many of us are out there jockeying to be that one. Yeah, don't even TiVo Kelly Ripa yet.

Some might argue that offering a work for free helps that work garner sales upon publication. I'm not so sure. If I've read your book for free, why would I then buy it? That's what I didn't like about the original iUniverse model, which posted an entire POD book on their site. I actually read a few books that way, and I didn't buy them afterward. Lost sale right there. One might present Corey Doctorow as a valid argument for posting free works. He offers Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom for free, and it's in paperback, and he does well...but does his success really apply to the rest of us? Correct me if I'm wrong, too, but I believe the print novel came before the free eBook, right? If you try it the other way around, wouldn't it be safe to say you are setting yourself up for disappoint if you try to shop that work?

To present the case in bullet points:

1) Putting my novel up for free can increase my chances of being "discovered".

I can't speak for other editors and agents, but I personally have no time for leisure surfing for fresh talent. I run a small eBook press, too, so if I'm too busy what are the odds that Super Agent of MegaBucks, LLC is going to find you? And if you send out an RTF version of the web novel to prospective publishers and you don't tell them the book is out for the world to see, I guarantee you that you will be remembered...and not in the good way.

2) Putting my novel up for free can foster a readership for my work.

Yes, it can. Why put the energy into shopping that work to publishers, though? Wouldn't it make more sense to write something original and send out that book? Best case scenario, if you do get a contract, you could have many auto-buys before it hits the shelves.

3) What do you know about anything?

Quite a bit. I'm not saying don't post an entire novel online, but only not to be too terribly surprised when agents don't beat down your door to option it. And if you do manage to sell this way, that's wonderful. Live up to your talents, and I'll keep an eye out for your next book.

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