This blog post is not going to win me any friends.
I don’t care.
I’m fed up with people who think they have the right to tell me what I should do with my own work.
I’ve read a lot of articles and campaigns lately in which indie authors whose sales are not doing very well blame those who choose to give their books away for free. It’s damaging to the industry, they say. It’s your fault that I can’t sell any books, they say. I’ve worked hard to write these books, they say, why shouldn’t I get paid for that work?
Congratulations on working so hard. Congratulations on publishing your books. It is hard work, I know. It’s tough, it’s a labour of love, and achieving what you’ve achieved is nothing to be sniffed at. I really, genuinely hope that your business as an author, as a book-seller, works for you and that you manage to sustain a comfortable lifestyle on the proceeds. I really do. But that in no way gives you the right to tell people they can’t give their own work away for free, if they so wish. Let’s deal with a couple of the issues, shall we?
Hard work and paid work are not synonymous
That’s right. I said it. Working hard does not automatically entitle you to be paid.
I sweep the road outside my house regularly. That doesn’t mean I should be paid for it. It doesn’t entitle me to become a professional road sweeper. In fact, I could spend hours upon hours sweeping the streets all over town and still, I am not automatically entitled to be paid. No-one has asked me to sweep the streets and no-one is just going to walk up to me and offer me money because I’ve done so. I can ask for money, I can show what a great job I’ve done and I can offer more from where that came from but I can’t assume that I will get paid. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t get paid or that I wouldn’t like to get paid for it, it means that I’m not entitled. It also bears no reflection on those who are paid for it. Speaking of which, do you put litter in the bin? But you don’t get paid for it! And if everyone did that, perhaps street sweepers would be out of a job. Does that mean you should throw your litter on the floor instead? Of course it doesn’t. It’s a bit of a far-fetched analogy but the basic principle is the same.
Hard work doesn’t mean good work
There’s another, perhaps more controversial matter that needs to be dealt with here too. Just because someone has worked hard at something doesn’t mean that it’s any good. I could spend months working on a portrait of my husband in oil paint. Toil away. Fall in love with my own work for the sheer effort that I’ve put in. However, the fact that I’ve worked hard at it doesn’t make it worth anything necessarily. Quite the opposite: I’m a shit painter. It would be worthless to everyone but me and perhaps my husband.
Expecting a handsome sum of money to fall into your lap simply because you’ve worked hard at something is an utterly ridiculous notion. It’s a nice idea, but it’s not realistic. Just to clarify something: I’m not, in any way, shape, or form, suggesting that all indie authors are bad at what they do because that is so far from the truth. There are many, many fantastic indie writers out there. I’m also not suggesting that there are never brilliant authors who languish at the bottom of the ratings, simply because they haven’t managed to catch the attention required to shoot them to the stars. Those authors do exist (just as there are some terrible authors who become overnight best-sellers).
What I am saying, however, is that perhaps you need to look at your work – both in terms of writing, marketing, and business management, before you go blaming free books for your poor sales. What I am saying is that sometimes, I see articles and campaigns on this issue written in an awful way – a way that makes me wonder whether some (not all) are jumping on the bandwagon simply because they don’t have the talent to make a success of things.
Ultimately, if you want to make a living from writing, you’ve got to stop thinking of it from the sensitive, creative mindset which for the actual writing part of your job was necessary, and start thinking of it as a business. As a freelance writer and editor, I’m often tasked with writing blog posts for people – for which I get paid. This is my business and I treat it as such. I tout for clients, propose terms, work hard, and meet deadlines – just like I would in any other business in the world. There are lots and lots of people who write their own blog posts or guest blog posts for free (myself included) and that’s absolutely fine – that’s not damaging to my business because I know that the work I produce for my clients is worth paying for. That’s not, of course, to say that those who write for free are producing sub-standard work because they’re not, but it’s different. The jobs I take on are work and the blog posts that are written by many writers for free are for pleasure. There is a difference.
Another example. In our bar, we often give free drinks to our regular customers or big groups of customers who have spent a lot of money. We have given away food at special event nights and I’m sure we’ll do so again at some point. It’s a goodwill gesture, a thank you to those who support us. Does that mean that simply because a customer has had free food and drinks in the past that they’ll never pay for another? No, of course it doesn’t! That’s an absolutely ridiculous notion. In actual fact, in this particular example, they are more likely to spend money with us. The same applies to books – just because I’ve read some free books in the past doesn’t mean I’m never going to pay for a book again. That would be silly.
If you want to make a living from writing, stop thinking of it with your writer head and start thinking with a business head instead.
It’s up to me!
But do you want to know the ultimate truth?
I don’t care.
I don’t care about any of the above. I don’t care if you want to charge £100 for a short story or if you want to give your magnum opus away for free. I don’t care if you write for the sheer joy of it or if you are desperately trying to make a decent living from it. I don’t care if you are looking for fame and fortune or if you simply like to tell a tale. I don’t care if you choose to charge for your books, or if you give them away free in some sort of marketing ploy, or if you give them away because you don’t give a damn.
What I do care about is how you interact with me.
I do care about being lectured about what I choose to do with my work.
I do care about preachers who try to force their ideals on me and on others around me.
Like Voltaire, I may not agree with you, but I defend your right to do as you wish – as long as you grant me the same privilege.
Do what you want with your work and I’ll do what I want with mine*.
*As a side note, my books actually aren’t free but (as I’m sure you’ve noticed), I strongly believe in my right to give them away, should I choose to, without reproach. And as a result, if you’d like a free copy of John Sharpe: No. 1,348, let me know and I’ll send it to you. I won’t even badger you for a review, but I’d be extremely grateful if you choose to leave one for me 😉