Writers shouldn’t work for free.
There’s been a bit of an internet brouhaha over a request made by one particular reader:*
“[To author] I wanted to tell you that your books are above par and you should be proud. I was able to read them all, but sadly I returned them all because they range from $0.99 to $2.99 and that is just too much for me to spend on a ebook. Can you please make all your books in the future free so I do not have to return it?”
This post is not intended to add to the shaming of this person, which as I understand it has been quite substantial.
As a self-published author, you have to wear both the customer and the business hat. So let’s break this down from both sides.
As a reader I like to read a lot of interesting books and I like to get a return on my media investment. I will often seek out the minimum possible price I can pay for a book, or I might even borrow it from the library. I joined NetGalley in part to get access to some stuff that I might not have checked out otherwise, which has led me to some of my favorite authors. I always shop used bookstores, and the idea that $9.99 is somehow cheap for a book is ludicrous to me.
And even $0.99 can be a barrier to entry. A lot of people focus on the money part of the original post. $0.99 – $2.99 is not that much money, so what’s the matter with this person? But $0.99 might be a lot to some individuals, and I certainly can’t buy every $0.99 book I see.
And you know what I do when $0.99 seems like too much to buy a book? I don’t buy it. I don’t return it after buying it and reading the whole thing. I don’t buy it at all. That’s how this works as a reader. The writer charges whatever they want, and then I as the reader figure out if I think it’s worth it. Since Amazon let’s me sample the first 5% of the book for free, I usually have all the information I need to make that decision. That’s what this reader did wrong. They bought the book, enjoyed the book, and felt they should be able to keep it without spending any money. And they expected the writer to continue to provide free entertainment.
As a writer my #1 priority is getting you to read my book. I work just as hard to get my book into libraries as I do to get them in bookstores. Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach can be borrowed from Kindle Unlimited (for which I do get slightly compensated), and it can be borrowed from my local library in digital form. I recently put Surreality in a digital lending system called SelfE designed to get it front of library patrons who use an app called BiblioBoard. I try to make sure all my books are released DRM free so you truly own them when you buy them, and I try to price them so you can buy them, while still making a decent percentage of each sale. I probably could have sold Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach for $9.99 or $7.99, but I wanted to release a $5 fractal book so people could get one for less.
My point is this. I want you to read my books. You can borrow them for free, or buy them and truly own them. But if you like them and want to keep them, then I should get paid for the investment I made to create the book. Fiction doesn’t just pop out of a writer’s head, there’s research, hours, and money that are spent to edit the book, create the cover, market the book, feed the author, etc. eBooks can be distributed for next to nothing**, but eBooks cost money to make, and therefore they should be sold for some compensation.
I got a request after the Kindle Scout campaign asking if I would still give Surreality away for free to the people who voted even though it did not get picked up. This was a rude question that I chose to ignore, though obviously it still bugs me a little. I still have all the costs of making that book to consider, and I didn’t have the benefit of a $1500 advance to cover them. This isn’t me saying that I’ll never do giveaways, or give the book to people who want to read it if they’ll write a review. But this was right after I hadn’t made the contract, after a month of campaigning which was tough for me. I was tired, and a little disappointed, and apparently I should just give all that hard work away because you clicked a button. It might have been different if this person had said something about really liking the book, or being excited for it to come out. But this was just another person wanting something for free.
I’m not a fan of shaming people. I feel there’s a way to have this conversation without calling out an individual for public disdain and scrutiny. But I also understand the frustrations of authors who deal with this problem. We’re not giant faceless corporate entities. We’re passionate people, who love writing stories as much as you love reading them. And hey, if $2.99 is a lot for you to buy a book, then don’t buy it. It’s not that hard. We all have things we want, but cannot afford. That’s okay. Just don’t steal. We’re not going to thank you for being a pirate even if it increases our “exposure.”
*The text of the original messages was posted on Writers United which I am excerpting here.
**One of the reasons the $119 fee for Goodreads eBook giveaways kinda bugs me but that’s a topic for another time.
3 responses to “What writers want from readers”
Dear Ben Trube:
I wasn’t the person “asking if I would still give Surreality away for free to the people who voted even though it did not get picked up.”—but I might have been. Often KS campaigns promise a free book without explaining that voters only get it if the book is picked. However, even if you didn’t do that (if you DID, it was certainly a reasonable question), it’s still to your advantage to get free copies to the voters who have seen and liked the beginning, and are predisposed to write 4- and 5-star reviews for it. It’s the way you can use the KS system to your advantage, even though they didn’t have the good sense to choose your book. I personally don’t need a free copy—I’m a Kindle Super Scout, who can, if I wish, download a manuscript (devoid of cover, TOC, or Cloud backup) in exchange for answering a series of questions for KS on what I thought of what I read. What struck you as rude, was (IMO) actually a good idea. The reviews you can get that way will pay off monetarily—and I want you to be paid for Surreality, and your other books, so you will thrive, and write more! If you thought of the voters as having paid once with their votes, to help you, and potentially paying again with reviews, perhaps it would sit better with you.
I’m not sure who actually made the comment (I deleted it and chose not to respond). I get what you’re saying about the potential benefits of reviewers in the scout program and generally agree. And maybe it was just the way the question was asked. We lose so much in internet communication that expresses tone and sentiment. It struck me as someone wanting something for nothing, not someone who wants to write a review. Here’s the thing, I’m happy to offer the book in that way at some point, but I’d like to be the one doing the offering. And timing does matter. The question might have been better received a few weeks later, or when I wasn’t in the middle of trying to format the print editions and finalize new Smashwords editions. I do know that all my blogs, tweets, Facebook posts were all clear on the point that the free copies were conditional on Surreality being selected. Not that that necessarily matters. Offering a review, rather than asking for something free without any context, might have been a better way to go for the commenter.
BTW, what is a Kindle Super Scout and how did you become one?
A Kindle Super Scout, as I had already mentioned, is able to download a (primitive) copy of the full manuscript of a book during its campaign, and is asked in exchange to answer these questions:
1) Did you finish the book? How far into the manuscript did you read?
2) What did you think?
(What did you like most/least? Were the characters strong? Plot interesting?)
3) Did you see many misspellings/typos/grammar errors in this manuscript as you read? How distracting was it to your read?
4) Do you think this book was correctly categorized?
[Ex response: No, this was nothing like any romance book I have ever read. It read more like a mystery & thriller to me because of x, y, and z.]
5) If you could say one thing to this author to make it a stronger manuscript, what would you say?
I lucked into the opportunity by chance. Who knows whether anyone reads what I answer? I know that many good, even great (future classics) books get turned down. When I ask about whether someone intends to give voters a free copy, I’m brief, unless I receive a reply that encourages me to go into greater detail. I don’t start out explaining that I already have one, blah, Super Scout, blah, blah, or that the author can choose when to offer the freebie, by waiting until it suits them before informing KS, instead of right away. So it can probably be easily misinterpreted (I agree wholeheartedly with what you say about the Internet and tone.), especially by someone who’s smarting from rejection—but I wouldn’t bother contacting an author whose book wasn’t at a certain level, so it’s meant well! There are plenty of KS excerpts that aren’t worth my time or vote, let alone signing up for a newsletter. I’d hate to see a worthy author throw that prime reviewer audience away, so waiting a few weeks would be dangerous. At least, that’s how it seems to me. Of course, your feelings are understandable, too. A conundrum.