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Sunday, 11 September 2016

Is being free a good thing? Or is it Lidl beans forever?

It might come as a bit of a surprise to some of you, but there's an increasing wave of demand for us authors to provide our work free.  Many do, for things like 'first book in a series' or older books - just the one going free on Amazon to encourage readers to buy further books - like a sort of 'taster'; those little bits of cheese that you get on top of the cheese counter that you stand thoughtlessly eating whilst you're waiting for the man to cut you four ounces of cheddar (I know I should be asking for it in metric units, but I know what four ounces looks like and I'd probably ask for something daft like 'two micrometers of Wensleydale' and everyone would look at me strangely).




But there are other authors for whom being read is more important than earning money, and they make all their content (it's always called 'content', I don't know why) permanently free.  They just want their words to be out there, and available to as many people as possible - and that's fine.

But.  Because some authors are permanently free, there is a bit of a movement out there for all authors to make their work free.  I can understand the reasoning, if some people can do it, why not all?  Why not have all words available to everyone, with no filthy lucre involved - a kind of pure intellectual exchange?

And here's where it gets messy...

I live alone. In order to make more time for my writing, I have a job that isn't 9-5, pays just above minimum wage, but is flexible enough that I can go off and teach workshops or, as this week, spend three days solid sitting in my bed writing (I know, I know, but I'm on a deadline!  I do emerge, every now and again to feed the animals or gnaw on a loaf of bread).  Like just about every other person, I have bills to pay - rent, Council Tax, water, electricity etc.  I live in the middle of nowhere, so I have to keep my car on the road with regular injections of road tax, insurance and diesel. I also quite like food.

So, should I give my words away free?  I'd like to think that, if I were a billionaire I'd make my work available to all because I wouldn't need the income from it - the earnings from my writing are ESSENTIAL (and yes, I do mean ESSENTIAL, see all the bits about living alone and having to float an entire household worth of bills alone from a NMW job that isn't even full time), but I probably wouldn't.  Do you know why?

Writing is hard work.  It's sitting alone in a room (except for the spiders and crane flies, do not get me started on the spiders and crane flies saga), bashing away on a keyboard for so long that your fingers go all numb and your wrist does this thing where it clicks.  It's turning down extra shifts at work because you're on a deadline and have to get something to your publisher so you don't lose your publication slot.  It's wracking your brains for another way to say 'it's snowing', so your readers don't get bored; it's living off nothing but Lidl beans for a fortnight because the money ran out, and putting on more jumpers than humanly possible because you can't afford heating, but you'd rather be writing than anything else.
Also, sometimes we fall off the roof of the kennel, and that makes us cross
It's actually a bit like being a drug addict, when you come to think of it, except I can't think of many drugs where you have to turn your brain inside out to feed other people's addition.

And if I gave away those resulting words, I would be devaluing all that effort.  Not just my effort, but the efforts of all my fellow writers.  Just as I wouldn't expect a decorator to come round and paint my entire living room for nothing just so I could see whether I liked the effect, I wouldn't expect a writer to produce an entire book so I could see whether or not I like their writing.  Because, nearly in the immortal words of FAME - 'writing costs.  And right here is where you start paying'.
A writer's life is almost never anything like this.

Believe me, it isn't just readers who pay for books.  Writing the things isn't easy either (see above re no heating and there's also bum fat and lack of socialisation to take into account.  You can always tell a writer at any gathering, they are the ones with wobbly buttocks and a tendency to burst in while other people are talking and try to lick their faces).

So.  Free books, or sane and happy writers?

Tch, listen to me.  Sane and happy people don't write books...

13 comments:

Jan Jones said...

I agree so much with this (apart from the licking people's faces line). Writing is really hard work and it takes time, time, TIME.

Just because we choose to do something we enjoy, doesn't mean we shouldn't get paid for it. Footballers get paid for kicking a ball around. TV presenters get paid for walking and talking at the same time.

I actually don't think any books or stories should be free, because it devalues the rest and sets precedents in the public mind.

Jane Lovering said...

Absolutely, Jan. Yes, we love writing, but then, I love my job at the Co Op, but would be distinctly cheesed off if they told me they weren't going to pay me any more just because I enjoyed it! Writing is producing a product, and it costs us (in time, as well as electricity for the computer, paper for printing, travel for research, etc) so why the hell should we be giving away our product for free?

April Munday said...

A colleague recently explained to me that she wouldn't be reading any of my books because they're not free. She only reads free books, occasionally buying further books by authors she likes. She didn't seem to understand that that way of thinking would lead to fewer books by the authors she does like, who would have to retain 9-5 jobs in order to keep a roof over their heads and eat while people like her read their books for free.

Musicians increasingly have the same problem as well. They're told that they should perform for nothing because it will get their name out to the public, but few people value what they get for nothing.

Jane Lovering said...

Exactly, April. A devaluing of the work put in (how do readers think we do it? Automatic writing while we sleep?) and a belief that people shouldn't HAVE to pay to read...

Why, exactly, though? Is it the sheer amount of free 'content' (often of questionable quality) that leads people to think it should ALL be free? What,even stuff that authors have had to pay to produce (by hiring an editor, giving commission to an agent,etc)? What leads some people to think that their money is more valuable than others?

And why do people think that it's okay to pay millions for works of art, but that books should be given away?

Renee Conoulty said...

There are plenty of libraries around for people who don't want to pay for books. The library buys the book and everyone is happy. Authors should definitely get paid for all their hard work.

Rosie Dean said...

I did put one of my beoks on free for five days. It raised my profile and subsequently brought a much bigger number of sales my way and, I trust, new readers. (I once bought a mag with a free copy of a Carole Matthew's book and went in to buy more - so it can work as a loss-leader.) But I put it up free somewhat grudgingly and would not put it out perma-free.

And then there are 'friends' who expect a free copy from you. It's apparently not enough I've spent two years writing the darn thing, they want me to pay for a copy (I may have written it, I don't get paperbacks for nothing) and hand one over.

Catriona Robb said...

My thoughts exactly Renee. That's what libraries are for.

Elizabeth Bailey said...

In the main, I agree. Of course what we do is worth the dollars paid for it. And like you, Jane, I'm dependent on my writing income over and above my pension which no way covers expenses. BUT, and it's a big one. I'm now almost wholly self-pubbed, which means I have to find my readers, which means I need to build subscribers to my email list. So I now have ONE permafree book that contains a free book offer to a book otherwise at full price in exchange for joining up. It's working. I'm sure it does contribute to the general expectation for free books, but in four years it didn't work not using a free book. In less than a year I have a building list of readers who buy my books. So there is purpose to free books. The buzz word these days is discoverability and sadly, whether we like it or not, free books are part of that.
It's not fair, but when was this business ever fair?

Jane Lovering said...

Oh yes, I know Elizabeth. That's why I'm always careful to exempt authors who have a book (or two) free as a 'deal sweetener' or to draw readers in to an ongoing series. One free book here and there is no problem at all. It's writers who give the WHOLE of their backlist away free, or say things like 'I'm writing a new book, read along and tell me if you like it' etc etc, it's people like this who are leading readers to expect that ALL books should be free! I've even had books of my own given away free on occasion, so I know it's a good way of attracting a new readership, but these books always make it obvious that there are other books by the author, for which the reader will have to pay.

It's not possible to make a living at writing any more. Not and run a whole household. If we start giving in to readers who want it all free, then I think we should be allowed to go and live in their houses and eat their food...

Elizabeth Bailey said...

Well, that's madness in my view! I would never give away an entire backlist. Mental. I won't even do the game of giving away several free books in one go which some authors do. ARCs for reviews are of course different. If someone gets a free book there should be exchange back to the author in some form or why are we doing this? And no, not just because we love to write. We choose to write, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't get paid for doing it.

Jane Lovering said...

Yes, libraries are clearly what they are thinking of! And I have no problem with 'one offs' given away, that's a marketing technique. It's the perpetual expectation from some quarters that books SHOULD be free - that intellectual products are not any one person's property but should be available to all. It's an interesting argument (and one that justifies the existence of libraries, of course), but still leaves out the vital fact that authors have to live. And it's tough, working a day job AND writing, but it seesm to be what these 'Books For Free' people would condemn us to - a full time day job to keep the bills paid, but all spare time spent writing to feed their book addiction!

And do not get me started on people who expect a copy for free just for being your friend... Unless said friend has supported my writing with copious amounts of biscuits and tea, in which case, how many copies would you like?

Elizabeth Bailey said...

Never seems to occur to the freebie voters that if we all stopped doing it, they wouldn't have any books to read. Duh!

Kim Hornsby said...


Well said, and I'm completely in agreement but it's a Catch 22 for us authors trying to make a mark in an overcrowded market where anyone and everyone can publish anything.
Going free exposes the author to more readers and helps lead them to your series but you hate to sell out. I price my novels under $5 US because as a reader, I don't spend much over that on a new author or an ebook because I read so much!