Raymond Bolton asked: "Nicholas Rossis says you set up a virtual tip jar to receive donations. Would you care to share how to do it? Since you had sales while you were giving away copies of your books, I assume you kept copies on Amazon selling for a price and gave the free copies away through your website? Am I correct? If not, would you care to share how you did it?"
Sure. There is no big secret.
To set up a donate button was my readers' idea. When I self-published my first trilogy and gave it away for free (ebooks, not paperbacks), many people on social media and in person told me that they would love to somehow contribute to my writing, and someone suggested I put up a Donate button on my site, which I did: through PayPal, through Squarespace (the platform my website is sitting on), and through Patreon (a subscription-type a la Kickstarter site where patrons can support you on an ongoing basis as opposed to a single project).
How does both giving away books for free and selling them at the same time work?
It works like this.
On every one of my book pages you will see links to every draft and every final ebook in a variety of formats so you can download them for free. It's a pay-what-you-want idea. If you like my writing, donate as much or as little as you think it's worth. It's up to you. You, my reader, are my publisher. If you want to buy autographed paperbacks, you can do that on my site. If it's more convenient for you to purchase my books elsewhere, I have made them available through most major online distributors like Amazon, iBooks, B&N, Kobo, etc.
I don't have some kind of a smart formula. I just put my books where you guys want them (it was you who asked me to get on Wattpad). Nor am I pioneering anything new. Cory Doctorow has been giving away his ebooks for free for years. In fact, everything I do I do for you, my readers. You rule. I even asked you what price you'd be willing to pay for my books, remember? This is how I have arrived at my pricing. I'll be soon publishing 2 more books, The Badlings and Blue Sparrow 2, and I will ask you again about prices because I intend to raise it a bit for new ebooks as the quality of my writing has improved and I feel I can now charge more. It's worth it. (Plus I see other ebooks priced way higher than mine, and people keep telling me that $2.99 for an ebook is nothing.)
Does this approach work? I think it does. I'm still testing it out myself. So far my income has been comprised of 60% donations and 40% sales, but this year I'm seeing a change toward 50/50. Who knows what future will bring? I don't know.
I know only this.
No matter what happens, and regardless of whether or not you can support me, either by donating money or by buying my books, I will find a way to always give me ebooks away for free. I believe art needs to be shared. It's how I give you my love—through my books. Do you love reading them? Do I help you escape into a fantasy world that moves you? Excited you? Inspires you? Makes you believe in wonder and all kinds of weird delirious shit like carnivorous gardens and killer trains and undead sirens and children getting sucked into books and wild beasts roaming Moscow? Excellent. Then my job is done. If you want more of it, and if you can, support me. Send me money, socks, vodka, diamonds. I'm not picky.
And if you're a writer wanting to set up a donation option on your site but are afraid to give out your ebooks for free for any number of reasons, I invite you to try it. The gatekeepers between the writers and the readers are gone. It's now you and me. I write stories for you, you read them. If you like them, you stay and support me. If not, you move on to someone else and hopefully support someone else.
I have met amazing people throughout this journey, people who told me they were broke and how much they appreciated my free books. People who donated $100+ after having read only one book. You see, it all evens out in the end. Besides, what have you got to lose? The chance of your books being pirated is much lower than the chance of them never getting discovered. People love sharing free stuff—make it easy for them. They are your customers. Money will come. Money will always come after you consistently beat your head on the wall in the same place and manage to bleed word on paper every fucking day. Just don't give up and keep at it.
I want to end by saying this.
My approach works for me because this is who I am: a crazed Russian on steroids of having discovered her passion of writing books in English (and dancing in tutus and farting glitter whilst naked on the roof). What is your personality? Who are you? Does it a donate option fit into who you are? If all that's stopping you is fear, cast it away and do it. If not, if the whole idea goes against what you believe, don't. It will probably give you more headaches than joy.
Did this answer your question, Raymond? I hope it did. Anyone else had experience setting up a donate option for your books? Chime in.