Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


A very famous writer once said that if you are a serious writer, you should be paid for your writing. You do not give your work away for free any more than a doctor would offer free surgery to "advertise" or promote his work. Actors don't work for free unless it's a charity benefit or something similar. If you give away your work for free, you are devaluing it.

I can understand all of that, and it makes sense. If you are a writer, that is your career and your profession and you expect to make a living wage at it. At least you'd like to make a living wage. If you give away your work for free, how can you make a living as a writer?

There's the dilemma.

With my first book coming out in May (yay!) I'm looking at things to offer and tempt my readers. One of the things a lot of authors offer is a newsletter, and one of the things they offer in their newsletter and/or through their web site is "free" reading material. A serialized novel, perhaps, or short story. An excerpt, etc. With the expansion of the Internet, there has been a growing feeling of entitlement to free material, particularly the written word, and the offer of free reading material to hook more readers feeds into this.

Which brings me back to my original source that said: if you give away your writing for free, you are devaluing it and making it harder for you and other writers to actually expect to be paid for their efforts. Obviously, extrapolating this into some science fiction future where no one gets paid for writing and all fiction is either subsidized (a la public radio--you could have public fiction, I guess) or simply given away free by people who just like to write, is taking it too far. I don't see us ever really reaching that point--at least I don't think so. But there is some truth to the assertion that giving away your fiction for free devalues your writing. Either you think the material you are giving away is sub-standard and not publishable anyway (so why not give it away) or you have so much time on your hands that you don't mind working for no pay. If the quality of the work you are offering is sub-standard, will it really get you more readers, or will it ultimately drive readers away because they'll think you're the worst writer who ever lived?

I don't have any answers at this point, except I'm not sure that offering any of my fiction for free is a terrific idea. I work two jobs: my day job and my writing job. I put in a lot of hours. I want to be paid for my work and I don't want to offer people sub-standard stuff just to feed their need for Internet freebies.

On the other hand, I want to give readers something. Some incentive to go to my web site, read my newsletter (that doesn't exist yet) and hopefully, buy my books. Excerpts are okay as newsletter teasers, although I have to say, most of the excerpts I've read have had an effect on me that was not intended by the authors. Most excerpts have made me decide not to purchase the book. They are either boring or overwritten in some way that turns me right off. Very few (I actually can't think of any) made me purchase a book. The thing that always makes me purchase a book is the teaser/blurb on the back of it. So I really don't know that offering an excerpt is such a terrific idea.

This really is quite a dilemma. I'm leaning toward including Regency period non-fiction items in a newsletter, like recipes, bits of historical news, and that sort of thing. I want to offer something to my readers. They deserve something particularly if they spent their hard-earned cash to buy my book and slogged through the entire thing and didn't blow chunks or throw it against the wall. It would be nice if the books itself was sufficient, but these days, well, everybody wants more. Or at least I guess they do.

As a reader, I actually don't want more. I'm perfectly content with buying the books I want to buy and leaving it at that. I frankly don't want to know more about the author, although I will search out additional books if I like a particular author. I don't subscribe to newsletters or anything like that, but then, I have time management problems and I'm afraid to base too much on what I as a reader do or don't do.

Anyway, this bears a lot more thought and I'd be interested to know if other readers and writers like newsletters and have any expectations about free fiction. It's a big question mark.

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