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What it's Like - RE: "FREE is killing indie. (An urgent warning)"
This is something I wrote in 2019 in response to something someone else wrote about how giving away stories is dangerous.
I read this blog post titled “FREE is killing indie. (An urgent warning)” written by Paul White, and it got me thinking about some of my recent decisions about my story sharing. I’m greatly summarizing this article, but basically, giving away free stories is bad for the indie industry overall and it devalues your own work. There’s actually a lot to unpack in the article, and I don’t disagree with all of it, and most of it just makes me think. But it did inspire me to write about what I’ve been doing lately, my free stories, and why I do it.
Over the past few years, I began to focus inward on being better at writing with the purpose of publishing/selling. But I also wanted to always put forth stories out there for free. Not because I don’t value the time I put into these stories. No, a part of me looks at the reading landscape, the digital one, and I realize how wonderful it is that we can have stories so quick at our fingertips–in some cases cheaper than a paperback. It’s a different literary landscape than what existed when I was a kid.
But cheap is still money. And for a lot of people, cheap is still not good on the budget. That’s why while I work on stories for publishing/selling, I also work on other stories that I will give out for free. Or like the I Will Kill You for $5 project, one person pays me $5 to write it, but the result is available for free and for all–so only one person pays for it.
I like to think of it as creating my own personal online library of my work that anyone can access and download the files for free. These are not public domain, you can’t remix or sell them, but you can read them as much as you like. And own as many copies as you like. And email a copy to your friend who you think will like it. They are DRM free.
I’ve also been trying to think of a way to make my next work that will cost money available for free to those who can’t afford it. I don’t know if I’ll want to just drop it in the online library, but I very much want to be accessible to lower-income and poor people as a writer. Because even the less fortunate deserve escapism–an argument could be made that they deserve it most.
I may write more on this, because there is still some stuff bouncing around in my brain after reading the article. But by no means do the words “an urgent warning” come to mind. 🙄
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Update on this post.
In 2020, I released that book and I have sold some and given some away. No regrets. There’s been times when someone asked to buy a copy and I knew they couldn’t afford it, so I just handed them a paperback and said it was on me. I don’t feel like that hurt me. In fact, one of those readers read and re-read it like four or five times. She loved it a lot.
It is worth noting that not wanting to put all my work online for free was a wise choice, now that we know AI is eating that shit for free and then regurgitating it. But that’s where I think platform choices are more important than ever. If you are writing on a platform or hosting your ebooks on a platform that is using your work to train their AI, just don’t be there.
All of that to say, I still don’t think free stories devalue our work. I can see how it might feel that way, but I can say I have never had more joy than when I could just set prices cheap or give away free copies of paperback all willy-nilly. People who come along and buy full price are appreciated, but the freedom to set my own prices (even free) is a great feeling. And setting “contextual pricing” based on the reader’s needs is worth it. I wouldn’t have these feelings if I had not been poor and almost homeless once in my life. It puts perspective on things. Makes me think about those who can’t go out and buy the latest Stephen King novel, because it’s like $30 or something. I guess what I’m saying is… price yourself how you want and what you think you are worth but be wary of putting up financial barriers between you and lower income folks.
About the I Will Kill you for $5 project: A real person pays me $5 to write a short story or flash fiction in which they die. They chose a genre (I give them a handful of options), tell me whether they want to be hero or villain, and provide a selfie. You can download all 13 stories here in Dropbox for free. I write these off and on when I have time to dedicate to them (stories are written in seven days of receiving a request). I’m currently not accepting new stories, when I do, I have a store link that I share.