Photo by Cindy
Many people have asked me this question, many in angry tones, many in confused, many simply out of curiosity, some even shouting at me, "You shouldn't do it! A writer should always be paid! How dare you! You're devaluing my work by giving yours away! It's a bad idea! A very bad idea!" And so on. Rarely do I get an understanding downing on someone without explaining first what writing my book means to me and why I'm doing it. Let this blog post be as an honest and as informative an answer as I can give you, and perhaps a place I can refer people to in the future, as I'm sure this question will arise many many times again.
I'm a nobody. Simply stated, I haven't written a single book, not even a single paid for article in a magazine, not a single short story published in an anthology, nothing. Nada. So I'm an unknown. I have no credibility. In my view, how can I ask for money for my work, when people don't even know about me, about my style? Why should they spend their precious time on reading my stuff? What if it's complete shit and utter nonsense? Why should they shell out their hard earned cash, only to be disappointed? And since when does business work like this? It doesn't. It's not how it's been done for centuries. For centuries, merchants called out to shoppers, urging them to try their wares, to feel the silk of their sheets, to taste a bit of their honey, and so on. Then, and only then, you would be confident enough to buy. Of course, there were scams, and of course, as a buyer, you would forever avoid the seller who fooled you into buying something without trying it first, promising you something excellent, when in fact it was rotten. It's how business works now as well. We get free samples, we're lured by free samples, because we like to decide for ourselves whether we want to buy a lot of something or not. I figure, I'm doing the same. For the analogy sake, let's say, I'm selling beer. Now, it's my first time of making beer, so I don't really know the craft yet, I'm learning as I go. My first batch ended up drinkable, but not spectacular. Not yet, I haven't learned the ropes. But I'm trying, trying really hard, and I'm being honest about it, giving away my first batch of beer for free, gathering feedback, to make sure that my next batch will be that much better, and then I will be able to actually charge real money for it, because it will be worth it.
My book helped me live. Again, in the simplest possible words, I was suicidal, I wanted to kill myself, and writing Siren Suicides helped me heal, it's still helping me heal, every single day, and in the process of writing it my message started spreading a little, through mine and my boyfriend's kids at school and through Beta Readers. Here are two stories that made me want to forever have my book downloadable for free. A teenager from our household took the printed version of Draft 4 of Siren Suicides to school and came back claiming that 6 of his friends wanted a copy but didn't have the money, one of them being German and heart-broken that he couldn't[t get a copy now, because he was going back to Germany this summer. I promised him I will give him a free copy. Another story comes from Austria, where one of the Beta Readers helps a group of troubled teenagers. She, unbeknownst to me, read my Draft out loud to those kids, and then prompted them to talk about it. After one of the sessions, one kid, a boy, came up to her and opened up about wanting to commit suicide. She was able to talk to him and he agreed to think about it, think that maybe it's not a good idea. When she told me this, I bawled my eyes out. For the whole day I cried like a baby, thinking that if nothing else, the life of that teenager made my life. I can as well go blind right now and never write again, my mission is accomplished.
I'm paid in a different way. Despite the fact that I'm giving my book away for free, I'm still paid, albeit in a different way, but it's still money. I wanted to meet my readers and asked people if it would be okay for me to crash on their couches, since I have no money, and people talked me into putting up a donate button on my site, and so far I think I have about $200 that trickled in through that button. Now, think about it, my book is not even done yet, as in, it's not finished, not edited, it's not even published yet, but I already made $200 on it! The only difference here is, I won't touch this money until my book tour, it's reserved for travel cost, but still. Let's play with some numbers here. To make any mind of seizable money, from what I hear, you have to sell at least 10,000 copies a year, per about $3 a copy. That's pretty low, right? Right. If you ask any typical indie writer (correct me here if I'm wrong), what I hear is that people barely sell hundreds of their books in first year, sometimes only a few thousands. Again, I'm judging from a small pool of authors I know, and from a few articles I read, so I might be off. Think about it, how much time are those people spending on trying to push their books out? Querying agents? Going to book conventions? Staging readings? Pushing it under everyone's nose, on their Facebook, on their Twitter, etc, etc, with marginal results? A lot. Wouldn't this time be better spent writing? You bet. Wouldn't it be better to let your readers spread the word about you? After all, that's how it always worked in the book business, didn't it? You bet. Well then, that's exactly what I'm trying to do, to let my story spread as fast and as wide as it can, to let my name be known. And then, only then, will I be able to start asking money for my work, after I have proven to my readers that my books are worth paying for.
Until then, I will keep writing, keep learning, keep making Siren Suicides as good as I possibly can, and then will let it fly out into the world. If it's worth something to people, they will donate, if not, they will not. But it will forever remain FREE and downloadable from my site, even if I have to charge for the eBook (someone told me I can't list it for free on Amazon, I have yet to research it), even if I have to charge for the paper copy simply because paper costs money and I have none to sponsor it! This is why. Of course there are more little subtle reasons I can add here, but this is the gist of it. I hope I answered your question. Did I? Feel free to ask more in the comments, I will be happy to answer.