I was extremely interested in a tweet by @MarinaDeNadous that I noticed yesterday. She said that she was shocked by how many authors give away their books, and stated that after seven years of hard work, struggle and effort, she refused to belittle her work. And interestingly my friend Martin (@johnson_mjj) wrote a blog on exactly the same lines a while ago.
This is what’s so interesting. We all work extremely hard. I’m looking forward to Marina’s book(s), haven’t had chance to check them out yet, but the Celestial Sea http://amzn.to/WgtKFR certainly looks pretty magical to me, and I’m keen to read it. Likewise I read Martin Johnson’s Neidermayer and Hart, http://amzn.to/UpHxIp and this was a fabulous book too.
I know how long and hard Martin worked on his first book, and how indefatigably he’s continuing with his second, Roadrage, which is due out soon.
But I think it’s all about attitude. My view is this: the work you, as a writer, have done in creating your book is over. You’ve done it, it’s past. After sending my previous books to agents and publishers over the years and getting the brushoff, I’m determined that I don’t want my effort to be wasted, as it has been for all my other books, condemned by faint praise by agents to whom I’m some pathetic hopeful amongst thousands. I think my book is good, so now I want to get as many people as humanly possible to read the thing, and if that means charging next to nothing or giving it away, fine, I don’t care. Of course the corollary to this way of thinking is, that if I don’t value my book, no one else is going to, they’ll think it’s just a trashy giveaway, so why bother to download it? From a monetary point of view, I already charge so little for downloads (99c, or 77p) that the difference between that and nothing isn’t worth bothering with, and I’m doing it for the long haul: my aim is to try and build an audience, so that my second and third books can, with luck, make some money.
Will this strategy work? I haven’t got a clue. However the evidence is surprising: I publish with Smashwords and Amazon. So far I don’t mind admitting that I’ve only sold six on Smashwords, and with this site they allow you to offer it free, which I’ve been doing for a while. Yet on Amazon, where I’m charging a nominal 99c (77p), I’ve had 25 downloads. People presumably will always appreciate having something they pay for, even if it’s only a nominal amount.
So on the face of it, maybe Marina and Martin are right: if you judge your work as of little or no value, potential readers will feel the same way. Worst of all, they might even download it because it’s free, and never bother to read it.
I remember years ago when I sold things at a car boot sale, it was getting late in the day, and I just wanted to get rid of things. I offered items free, saying to people, just take it. Guess what? Nobody did! Everyone who wanted some item, however paltry, insisted on giving me maybe 50p, as a token. Much later, when I made dolls’ houses and had an appalling day at a craft fair, trying to sell dolls houses and furniture and failing, a little girl kept coming back to look at the miniature chairs. She wanted one. I said ‘have it, no need to pay’, thinking she couldn’t afford the price I’d stated and that why shouldn’t someone have a bit of pleasure in the day, even if, for me, it had been a financial disaster? The young girl said, no, could she pay 20p, which I accepted, and she happily took away the chair.
Perhaps it’s a matter of dignity. If you’re selling something to a stranger, they don’t want your charity, accepting something for free. So for the sake of their pride they want to pay you something, however little it may be. They keep their dignity, they’re not obligated to you.
It would be interesting to know what other people think. Am I right, so keen to get my book to the world and his wife, that they can have it free? Or are Martin and Marina the wise ones, making it clear that they value their years of struggle and effort, not to mention their innate talent to write, and have decided to charge accordingly?
John Locke, in his book, says charge a minimal amount – that way you sell more copies and make the same as if you charge more, and sell less. One piece of philosophy of John’s in his book that sticks in my mind is, words to the effect of: ‘If I charge a tenth of what a bestselling mainstream author charges, he has to demonstrate that his book is ten times better than mine, not the other way around’. Wise words.
Maybe neither point of view is correct, and the answer is in between, like so many things in life. When selling a house or flat, I’m always pragmatic, prepared to lower the price if it doesn’t sell. I thought the same thing applies to my books. But the big difference is, a house is something tangible, something you can see, touch or feel, whereas our books aren’t tangible objects, they’re delicate edifices that exist in our minds, built up and honed over hours and hours, then carefully grafted onto the kindle screen. I want my delicate edifice under people’s eyes in any circumstances, just so that they can like my hero and his adventures, and, at a later stage, I can try and make some money, when people actually know about me and want to buy my books.
I’d love to know what other people think. I’m wondering, more and more, that giving it away could be a mistake, and that, as Marina says, I’m belittling my effort.