Saturday, June 27, 2015

Please Don't Ask Writers for Free Books

Recently, a coworker of mine (at my day job) learned that I’m a published writer. Several times since then, he’s asked me if I could give him some of my books for free. I refused. I made a simple suggestion that should have solved the issue right then and there if he was truly interested in reading my work. For every one of my books that’s available online, whether in print or e-book format or both, Amazon offers some sample pages. It would be the easiest thing in the world for a curious person to go to my Amazon page, choose a book, click on the “Look inside” feature, and read those sample pages to see if it grabs his attention tightly enough to make him want to buy it.   
            There; problem solved. But apparently it isn’t. He seems almost insulted and unable to understand why I won’t give him books for free.            
            Truthfully, I do occasionally give books away. But those occasions are rare and have good reasons behind them. I sometimes give copies to my very few, very closest friends. The reason for that should be self-explanatory. I’ve also been known to give copies to those who are somehow connected to the story coming into existence in the first place. For example, my grandfather introduced me to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories when I was a kid, so I sometimes give him free (free to him, but I have to pay for them!) copies of the anthologies in which my Holmes stories appear. Other than those exceptions, I really don’t give my books away for nothing, and most of my friends and acquaintances, and even my relatives, are fine with that fact.
            So yes, I’m beginning to get seriously annoyed at this coworker’s begging for freebies. But, to be fair, it occurs to me that there are certain factors involved here that he may not be aware of. After all, unless you’re part of a particular profession, you can never really understand what a certain kind of work involves.
            So here are a handful of good reasons writers should be paid for their work and should never feel obligated to give it away for free.

Writing is Work!
            Yes, we sit down while we’re doing it, so maybe it looks easy. Sometimes it feels easy too, but it’s never as easy as it might appear to be. Writing a novel or short story can take days, weeks, or months, and that’s even if we only count the actual time spent typing. Ideas take time to form, manuscripts have to be revised, edited, and proofread many times before going to an editor who isn’t the writer, and then, once that outside editor has had his or her way with it, the writer has to go back and make the suggested changes (or produce some damn good reasons why he won’t change things). Writing a story takes a lot longer than reading it. The handful of hours of enjoyment you get from reading a novel is just a fraction of the time it took the writer, editor, publisher, proofreaders, and various others to prepare it for your consumption.
            Also—and this is something non-writers might not realize—we’re not just writing when we’re physically sitting down to work on our stories. Writers’ minds are going every waking moment, churning ideas around, trying to memorize sections of prose at times when we can’t stop whatever else we’re doing to jot notes down, and even groping for a pen and paper in the middle of the night when an idea pops up in a dream or in that strange, wonderful zone of consciousness between fully awake and fully asleep. We’re never truly “off the clock.” Divide the money we make from our books by 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and figure out what we’re really paid!  
            And, on top of all that, there really is a substantial amount of work we don’t make any money from. Not every story we write gets published. Things get rejected no matter how good a writer is, and some projects that do get published just don’t, for whatever reason, successfully make a profit. So it’s even more vital that we do make some money from those stories people really want to read.    

Even the Writer Doesn’t Always Get His Own Books for Free
            Sure, I often get comp or contributor’s copies of the books I write or have work included in, but I certainly don’t receive box after box of unlimited supplies of them. I get a few, keep one or two for my personal bookshelf, maybe give one or two away as gifts, and then, if I need more for any reason, I usually have to buy them.! In this day and age of technology allowing books to be produced by many publishers, some of them quite small, which gives readers a much greater variety of stories to choose from than back in the days of just a few major publishers, smaller presses just can’t afford to give authors dozens or hundreds of comp copies, and that’s just fine. But readers, especially those who personally know the authors, have to understand this fact.

Sales Numbers Count
If you want to support an author whose work you enjoy, or an author who you consider a friend (even if you haven’t yet tried his work), the best ways to do that are to buy the books and leave a review on Amazon or another venue. By purchasing his books on Amazon or Barnes & Noble or wherever, you not only make sure the writer is paid for the work, you also, without any further effort on your part, give the book a boost in sales rank. Potential buyers, some of them at least, do look at such statistics. The more successful a book is, the more successful it might continue to be.

The Writer is Not the Only Person Who Needs Sales from that Book
So let’s say you want to read, for example, one of my Sherlock Holmes anthologies. And instead of buying it off Amazon or from the publisher, you want me to give you one of my copies. Even if I’m willing to forego my royalties from that copy so you can read it, let’s think about what else is happening here. Guess who’s not being paid for their work on that copy of the book. How about the editor’s royalties? Or the illustrator? What about the other three or four authors whose work appears in that volume?
            And even if it’s one of my novels we’re talking about, I still didn’t do it alone. The publisher wants his share, as does the editor, and whoever drew the cover illustration. Don’t these fine creative folks deserve to be paid for their hard work in making my story available to you, the reader?

It’s Just Wrong to Expect Something for Nothing
Would you walk into your dentist’s office and expect a free filling? Would you demand a free oil change from your mechanic? Do you go into the local Dunkin’ Donuts and think it’s likely they’ll just hand you a coffee and say there’s no charge? Of course not, because that mechanic and dentist and barista (yes, I know, that’s more of a Starbucks-style term) are people doing jobs to earn a living. Well so are writers! Try to keep that in mind.  

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