Tag Archives: getting published

Milestones from my book marketing marathon

What do you call a race without a finish line?

That’s not really a riddle. Or if it is, I don’t pretend to know the answer.

I’ve been thinking a lot about book marketing lately…because I’ve been doing a lot of book marketing lately. I keep coming back to that cliché about how (fill in the blank) is a marathon, not a sprint. As much as I want to quickly plow through my list of marketing tactics so that I can wrap up this project and begin planning my next novel, progress is unavoidably slow.

And pushing myself harder will only cause me to burn out faster.

Maybe the whole marathon metaphor is flawed in this case because publishing The Renegade Chronicles felt a lot like crossing a finish line. Leading up to that achievement was a series of tasks that required sustained pacing and a “keep your eye on the prize” mentality.

But even with Rebels and Fools, Heroes and Liars, and Martyrs and Monsters displayed on my bookshelf, trophy-like, a new endurance test lies before me—the next leg of the never-ending race.

In the spirit of celebrating small successes along the way, I submit the following 10 marketing and sales milestones:

1. Last month, I got a bit of press thanks to Action Publications.

2. Over the past couple of weeks, I sent requests to roughly 80 book bloggers. Three of them have expressed interest in reading and reviewing Rebels and Fools.

3. I’m on deck to be included in a “Newly Released” list on one website and the subject of an author spotlight on another site.

4. My professional Facebook page recently reached 100 likes.

5. The Fond du Lac Public Library now carries all three volumes of The Renegade Chronicles.

6. I’ve sold 75 “units” over the past six weeks. This includes paperbacks, individual e-book downloads, as well as the three-in-one digital collection.

The flag of Denmark

Right now, someone in Denmark might be reading my book. How cool is that? | Photo by US CIA via Wikimedia Commons

7. Three of those e-book sales were from readers in Denmark.

8. Last week, I received some very positive feedback from someone who doesn’t typically read fantasy: “I wasn’t sure if I would (like it). This isn’t my normal genre. I struggled just a little in the beginning trying to keep track of who all the characters were, but after that I was hooked. … I love the number of strong female characters, the bit of romance, all the adventure and plot twists. … I’ll be sure to post a great review when I finish.”

9. I will be the featured speaker at a Fond du Lac Area Writers’ meeting in June.

10. On June 17, I will be the featured artist at Cujak’s Wine and Coffee Bar during the Tour the Town Art Walk in Fond du Lac. (I’ll provide more information closer to the event.)

On second thought, writing, publishing, and book marketing are not so different from actual marathon running. The finish line is simply a measure of progress, not a true end—because there’s always the next race and another opportunity to improve.

Thanks for reading my blog and for your ongoing encouragement. I’m convinced “word of mouth” is the most effective form of marketing, so if you know anyone who likes fantasy adventure, please tell them about The Renegade Chronicles!

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‘Where can I buy your books?’

Yesterday, The Renegade Chronicles were officially published…which means I can finally answer the question above.

Book covers of The Renegade ChroniclesI emphasize “finally” because even though any publication process—whether traditional or indie—tends to be a long slog, the story of this particular fantasy series is half a lifetime in the making. Without further delay, here are the three ways to read The Renegade Chronicles:

Paperback editions

Rebels and Fools (Vol. 1), Heroes and Liars (Vol. 2), and Martyrs and Monsters (Vol. 3) are all available as paperbacks. You can order them via Amazon.com, but I’d be extremely appreciative if you ordered them directly from the printer, CreateSpace, since Amazon takes quite a big cut of every sale.

E-book editions

Currently, the digital versions of the The Renegade Chronicles are available for Kindle exclusively (though that may change in the months ahead).

Digital collection

The best deal by far is buying the three-in-one digital collection for Kindle. For $9.99, you get all three novels as well as a comprehensive appendix detailing the people, locations, and magical items of the world in which the series is set.

The story behind the story

So many people over the years have asked when they’ll be able to read my fantasy series on something other than desktop printouts and PDFs (and not received a satisfactory answer). I feel compelled to share the following timeline, if only to illustrate the longevity of the project.

  • 1990 — In sixth grade, I wrote a short story that introduced two characters who would eventually star in The Renegade Chronicles.
  • 1993 — I wrote another fantasy story that would serve as a rough foundation for the plot of Rebels and Fools.
  • 1994 – 1997 — I began building the world of Altaerra while in high school and wrote many episodic stories about characters around the world, including many of the people that populate The Renegade Chronicles.
  • 1997 – 1999 — As a project for an independent writing course in college, I wrote two-thirds of the first novel.
  • 1999 – 2001 — I finished what would become Rebels and Fools and rewrote the entire novel my senior year since my writing style and skills had improved significantly along the way.
  • 2002 – 2003 — I wrote and edited the sequel while living in Zhangjiagang, China.
  • 2004 — While querying literary agents for the first two books, I wrote and edited the third book.
  • 2005 – 2014 — Due to a lack of interest from traditional publishing companies, I moved on to other projects, including a standalone fantasy novel, a sci-fi series, and a children’s book.
  • 2015 — I began exploring the idea of starting my own indie publishing company to produce my works of fiction. I reviewed all three volumes of The Renegade Chronicles to see if I still believed the stories had merit—and to evaluate how much work would be required to get them print-ready.
  • October 2015 — I edited Volume 1.
  • November 2015 — I edited Volume 2.
  • December 2015 — I edited Volume 3.
  • February 2016 — I laid out the print editions of all three novels and composed the front- and back-matter (e.g., acknowledgments, about-the-author page, etc.).
  • March 2016 — I formatted the e-book editions of all three novels as well as the three-in-one collection. I also created the exclusive “People, Places and Peculiarities of Altaerra” appendix. On March 29, 2016, I published all iterations of the series—two days ahead of schedule but not a moment too soon.

Now, at last, let the binge reading begin!

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It’s a…business!

On Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016, author David Michael Williams brought a new publishing company into the world.

By Claude Covo-Farchi from Paris, France via Wikimedia Commons

  • Name: One Million Words LLC
  • Lengths: great
  • Weight: pretty darn heavy

I’m delighted to report the delivery was quick and painless—less than an hour in an attorney’s office. And yet a lot of labor went into the small business since its conception. From entertaining the idea of entrepreneurship to determining which projects to tackle first to drafting an official business plan, there’s been no shortage of Ts to cross or Is to dot.

Truth be told, the One Million Words “brand” predates any of the aforementioned planning. I’ve been using that name in conjunction with my marketing communications since 2010 and bestowed it upon this very blog in 2012.

Going forward, One Million Words LLC will publish the novels of mine that aren’t picked up by the traditional market, including The Renegade Chronicles, my forthcoming fantasy trilogy.

Sorry to say, I don’t have any “baby pics” to share. However, a logo or wordmark might be appropriate farther down the road.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue working toward my late-March milestone of making Rebels and Fools, Heroes and Liars, and Martyrs and Monsters available in paperback and digital formats.

Stay tuned for the next big announcement!

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A different class of writing

Spending time with young people can make you feel old, but it can also make you feel young, too.

I had the pleasure of talking with students at Waupun High School yesterday. My mission: to share my educational background, professional writing experiences, writing advice, and tips for getting published with the fledgling writers—in 45 minutes or less.

waupun-warriors

Despite my best efforts, I might have uttered “when I was your age” at least once.

In all seriousness, it was a very casual environment, and even though I did most of the talking, I couldn’t help but be a little inspired as we went around the circle, and the students told of their current projects and future ambitions.

Because I’ve been up to my (pointed) ears in editing a certain fantasy trilogy, I hope you’ll forgive me for taking a shortcut here by repurposing my notes from yesterday’s spiel—quasi-transcripts, if you will.

Hopefully, you’ll find a nugget or two of wisdom regardless of where you are on the path to authorhood.

My story

I started writing in earnest in high school. My fantasy tales bore a resemblance to the books I was reading at the time: DragonLance, Forgotten Realms…you know, books with dragons on the covers. Mostly, I engaged in world-building exercises and episodic storylines, though there was at least one false start to a novel

By senior year, I knew I wanted to be a novelist. At UW-Fond du Lac, I signed up for an independent study writing course. It turned out to be a one-on-one with a professor, where I delivered a chapter for her to critique each week. This was one of the most valuable college courses I ever took, and I learned an awful lot about the basics of storytelling, the importance of word choice—and how to meet deadlines.

In those two years, I wrote two-thirds of what would come to be Volume 1 of The Renegade Chronicles. When I transferred to UW-Milwaukee, I completed the first draft and then rewrote the entire manuscript from scratch senior year since my writing style—not to mention skill level—had dramatically changed since freshman year.

I submitted chapters of my book for various writing workshops, and peer review also proved incredibly valuable. (Though in one class, I had to convince the professor that genre fiction had merit before we were allowed to present fantasy, sci-fi, romance, etc.)

Meanwhile, I took as many literature and linguistics classes as I could. Beyond English courses, I signed up for philosophy, psychology and a ton of history courses. An all-too-common adage dictates one should write what one knows. Ergo, the more you know, the more you can write about.

I somewhat regret I didn’t take any journalism, marketing, or radio/TV/film classes. At the time, I wanted only to write fiction, so none of those related disciplines appealed to me. Then again, I picked up many of those skills later in life.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English with an emphasis on creative writing, I taught for a year in China, where I had my favorite job title to date: foreign expert. While overseas, I wrote a sequel. I also tried to publish a short story I had written in college (to no avail) and researched agents to represent my fantasy novels.

When I returned to the U.S., I got cracking on Volume 3—while racking up rejections for Volumes 1 and 2.

I was fortunate to find an entry-level position at a newspaper. As a news clerk, I mostly was responsible for formatting lists, such as marriage licenses and school lunch menus. (Have you ever questioned the proper spelling of “tri-tater”?) I typed up letters to the editor, too.

But I also got to do some proofreading and wrote an article here and there. In less than I year, I was promoted to entertainment writer and editor. I picked up a slew of skills in the newsroom—writing and proofing using AP style, headline writing, lead writing, pagination/layout, the basics of photo editing.

Most importantly, I learned the virtues of brevity.

After a few years, I went to the “dark side”—public relations and marketing. At UW-Oshkosh, I wrote press releases, coordinated interviews with faculty and staff, wrote articles for the online news publication and the alumni magazine, became a wiz at Word Press and other content management systems, taught myself project management, and supervised student interns.

I learned even more when I became an account executive at BrownBoots Interactive, including more website skills, search engine optimization (which injects a lot of science into the art of writing), writing for TV and radio commercials, managing multi-channel marketing campaigns, estimating on projects, blogging, and much more.

That’s right, the guy who couldn’t care less about journalism, public relations, and marketing in college grew to appreciate them and, if I do say so myself, excel at them.

But my dream has always been to be a novelist…

About 10 years ago, I joined Allied Authors of Wisconsin. Because I couldn’t get an agent to bite on The Renegade Chronicles, I decided to go outside of my comfort zone and wrote a sci-fi novel that got very good feedback from my beta readers. An agent, who is also a member of AAW, elected to represent If Souls Can Sleep.

And because I didn’t learn my lessons with The Renegade Chronicles, I wrote a sequel before selling the first one.

My wife and I wrote a children’s chapter book to test the waters with self-publishing. (More on that here and here.) But between a full-time career and family obligations, I always felt as though my fiction got short shrift.

Earlier this year, I decided I to take a chance and put my fiction on the front burner. I transitioned to a new role at the agency to allow for larger pockets of time for writing and editing fiction. I created a business plan and am committed self-publishing The Renegade Chronicles in 2016.

My long-term goal—my dream—hasn’t changed remains the same: I want to make a living writing fiction.

Writing advice

There’s no shortage of writing advice out there (and sometimes tips contradict). But here is some advice my mentors gave me “back in the day”:

  • Margaret Weis: “Treat your writing like a job. Write on a schedule.”
  • R.A. Salvatore: “If you can quit, then quit. If you can’t, you’re a writer.”

I’ll add a few of my own observations to the mix:

  • Embrace a variety of life experiences—everything is fodder for your writing.
  • Learn as much as you can about the industry and gain related skills. Even traditionally published authors have to be business-minded marketing experts.
  • Write as many different kind of things as you can because you might be surprised at what you’re good at…and what you might enjoy.
  • Don’t turn your nose up at any writing gig—even if it’s the company newsletter—because everyone has to start somewhere.
  • Get feedback from others (e.g., writers groups, online forums) but realize that not all critiques are created equal. Not everyone is your target audience, and ultimately, it’s your story.
  • Always write what you love and do whatever you can to hold onto that passion.
  • Most importantly, don’t give up.

Tips for getting published

A lot has changed since I was in high school. Back then, you were supposed to write and publish short stories (which I sucked at), and you couldn’t hope to publish a novel without an agent. Also, self-publishing was for losers, and vanity presses that preyed on amateur writers made it expensive, too.

Today, self-publishing is both respectable and profitable. Print-on-demand means publishing a book is relatively inexpensive, though there are outside costs like proofreading and cover design. The biggest challenge is getting noticed above the noise.

As someone who is still on the path to publication, I don’t have any surefire secrets for becoming a bestseller. I do, however, have a couple of tips:

1. Don’t publish before you’re ready. After more than a decade between drafts, I’m now hacking apart The Renegade Chronicles, and they’ll be much better for it. And do your homework to avoid wasting your time…or getting sued.

2. Don’t be afraid to take chances. By the time you’re ready to publish a novel or a comic book or your memoirs, a lot is going to have changed. It’s never been a better time to be a writer, but it’s also the Wild West of publishing right now. If you want to get noticed, you have to experiment.

If you follow the crowd, you’ll always be behind.

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One Million Words…and more

I’ve written some pretty strange things over the years.

Just last week, I wrote the text for a sell sheet that compares website services to automobile maintenance—despite knowing next to nothing about cars. Years ago, I scripted a mock press conference starring the chancellor of a public university and the ice-cream-cone mascot of a local burger franchise. Once I even dedicated a newspaper column to the topic of dust.

Subject matter aside, I’ve had the privilege of producing a wide array of written works throughout my professional life, including journalistic articles, press releases, text for various marketing brochures and websites, ad copy, scripts for television and radio commercials, and a job posting modeled after the inscription on Tolkien’s One Ring of Power.

But few things pushed me farther outside my comfort zone than the business plan I recently put together.

That’s right, soon One Million Words will be more than just an informal brand for my fiction. In the next few months, I plan to start my own business to better coordinate my writing and publishing efforts.

Last month, I struggled with the question “What now?” I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to jump into the next book of my current series, revisit some of my older works, or explore something completely new. Before I could determine my next steps, I needed to map out my goals. And if I were really going to treat my writing like a business, the numbers had to have a say in the solution.

In other words, if I wanted to survive, I needed a source of income.

While I remained (and still remain!) hopeful my agent will be able to sell the first two books of The Soul Sleep Cycle, I couldn’t bank on that—given how slowly the traditional publishing industry moves.

Which meant I needed to find another revenue stream in the meantime.

The Renegade Chronicles—a sword-and-sorcery series I wrote years ago—was the obvious low-hanging fruit. My goal is to self-publish those books in paperback and as e-books in the first quarter next year to maximize my sales window in 2016.

As much as I’d love to plow forward into Book 3 of The Soul Sleep Cycle, I now find myself contending against an admittedly aggressive deadline. There’s a chance that in between editing and proofing The Renegade Chronicles, commissioning cover art, refining my marketing plan, and publishing that trilogy, I’ll be able to crank out a character profile or two as well as a chapter outline for If Dreams Can Die, but if not, it will have to wait until April.

These past few days, I’ve been spending as much time staring at spreadsheets as Word documents. As much as I crave the chance to sink my teeth into something more creative than business planning and editing, the left side of my brain thrives on organizing tasks and timelines.

It’s a lot of work—and a far cry from my carefree approach to fiction back when I first penned The Renegade Chronicles—but no one ever said living the dream would be easy.

Truth be told, I’m quite pleased with how the business plan turned out (and sincere thanks to Denise Grover Swank, whose business plan at The Writer’s Guide to E-Publishing served as my model). While it’s intimidated to see a list of 50-plus to-dos staring back at me when I open my spreadsheet, it feels damn good to have a destination.

And now I must return to a task that’s at least as daunting as writing a business plan: coming up with better titles for the three Renegade Chronicles books.

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Pondering my next writing project

My favorite questions tend to start with “what if.” Lately, however, this writer has been asking himself, “What now?”

intersection with many signs and directions

Source: Ernie & Katy Newton Lawley, http://www.flickr.com/photos/lawley/59402926/ via Wikimedia Commons

Ever since I started plotting out If Souls Can Sleep nearly nine years ago, I’ve had a clear path in front of me when it came to my fiction. The road wasn’t always a straight line by any stretch—for instance, my wife and I wrote a children’s book in between the first and second draft of If Sin Dwells Deep—but I always had more tasks than time to complete them.

Until last week.

With the first two installments of The Soul Sleep Cycle in my agent’s hands, I find myself at an unexpected crossroads, where past, present, and future compete for my attention. And for the life of me, I can’t decide which path is the most prudent.

Option 1: The Past

Once upon a time, I wrote a sword-and-sorcery fantasy series called The Renegade Chronicles. I couldn’t get agents or publishers interested. Rather than invest more time in fixing it, I decided to try something completely different. The result was If Souls Can Sleep.

For many years, I’ve had the notion to go back and self-publish the TRC. After all, just about every article I’ve ever read about becoming a profitable author espouses the virtues of having a large number of titles for sale. Some of those same sources heavily imply that quantity trumps quality…

Then again, just as many advice columns say that an author’s No. 1 marketing tool is a well-crafted manuscript—in other words, the best story you can write.

(And what to do when writing tips contradict?)

Last week, I reread the first third of Book 1 of the TRC to see just how much dust had collected over the past 14 years. While it wasn’t as cringe-inducing as a feared it would be, one thing was clear: that book, along with the other two, would need copious edits.

The best-case scenario would be a performing a series of substantive edits on all three books, cutting out superfluous text, fixing awkward words and phrases, and eradicating all types of typos. In addition to removing excess, I detected a dearth in setting and sensory details throughout. The prologue was rubbish, too.

Pros for revisiting the past

  • Repairing something that’s already written is bound to be easier than starting anew.
  • This is the fastest way for me to publish several books in one fell swoop—and, hopefully, start generating revenue.
  • I invested seven-plus years in TRC, so dedicating another six to twelve months seems like a small price to pay in order to potentially profit from all that work.
  • If TRC finds an audience, I have a slew of storylines saved up for that particular universe.

Cons for revisiting the past

  • After so much time away, I’m not particularly passionate about this project.
  • Even with substantive edits, the final product will not reflect my current skill level.
  • Therefore, it will take an awful lot of willpower to refrain from completely rewriting the series, which would be quite time consuming.
  • More editing? It’s been more than three years since I wrote a new book—or, more precisely, co-wrote The Pajamazon Amazon vs The Goofers Twofers—and I’m itching for the chance to jump back into the more creative aspects of creative writing.

Option 2: The Present

With at least one book left to write in The Soul Sleep Cycle (and hopefully a few more), I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t eager to wrap up the major story arc that I started back in 2006. However, I’m reluctant to invest the time in Book 3 before I see whether the first two garner any interest—and sales—either via traditional publishing or indie publishing.

To forge ahead or take a break from the series—that is the question.

Pros for living in the present

  • I already have a pretty good idea of what this book will be about and what needs to happen before the end.
  • Having just finished major edits to If Sin Dwells Deep and minor edits to If Souls Can Sleep, the complexities of the story are still fresh in my mind.
  • I’m still very excited about this series, and, honestly, I can’t imagine not writing this book at some point—if only for closure.
  • If traditional publishers don’t buy the trilogy, I’ll have three books ready to self-publish simultaneously. (Hey, it works for Netflix.)
  • I’m confident that the project would push me creatively and that I’d be proud of the final product.
  • While not as easy as editing TRC, writing Book 3 of The Soul Sleep Cycle would still be simpler than coming up with a completely new idea for a novel.

Cons for living in the present

  • If ISCS and ISDD don’t prove profitable—regardless of whether I or a traditional publisher sell them—then spending time writing the next book in the series would be rather pointless. (See also: The Renegade Chronicles.)
  • Even with my new writing schedule, it could take me a couple of years to plot out this story, write it, and then edit it.

Option 3: The Future

I don’t know about other writers, but I always have a slew of story ideas rattling around my gray matter. I jot down some of these story starters in a Word file. In most cases, a few paragraphs are enough to placate that which is threatening to distract me from my current project. Such was the case with a young adult time-traveling tale, a twist-filled take on a traditional fairy tale, and a book about zealots bent on triggering Armageddon.

But then there are stories that can’t be so easily exorcized. For more than a year, I’ve found my mind wandering to a new novel—or series—codenamed “Changelings.” Last week, I finally relented and wrote a few pages about a potential plot and the people to populate it.

Could this be my next novel?

Pros for embracing the future

  • Jumping into a brand-new book would be undeniably energizing, not to mention fun. (I haven’t written a first draft a story since “Ghost Mode” in 2013!)
  • I already have a viable avenue to explore: Changelings.

Cons for embracing the future

  • I have no idea whether any of my ideas, including Changelings, will bear fruit.
  • Even if I were to write a complete manuscript for Changelings, there’s no guarantee it would be publishable.
  • Planning aside, starting afresh will surely be the most time-consuming approach. If my goal is to publish something pronto, this option is out of the question.

Of course, there are other possibilities. I could focus on non-fiction, repurposing some of my old Generation Why? columns or mining this blog for writing-related topics in order to make my self-publishing debut. Or I could give into one of my friend’s urgings and try my hand at a biography of some fascinating historical figure.

But the fact is my passion for writing has always focused on fiction.

“What next?” has almost never been a problem for this writer. Perhaps I should spend a little time exploring past, present, and future—each in turn—and see which project captures my soul. Then again, I suspect I already know where my heart lies.

Perhaps that’s another advantage of “living the dream.”

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The pros get paid, plain and simple

Grocery shopping as a kid was a decidedly dull affair.

Wandering up and down the food-laden aisles took a big bite out of play time. And since most desserts and sugary cereals were considered contraband in my house, there wasn’t much to look forward to. The grocery store was Boredom Central.

Except on Saturday.

That was the day most of the local grocery stores enhanced the shopping experience with free samples. What a big difference those surprise snack stations made. Yes, I’ll try some smoked sausage. A new kind of potato chip? Don’t mind if I do!

And if you happened on by the frozen foods at just the right moment, there’d be a small square of pizza waiting for your eager little fingers.

While I can’t promise those free samples impacted my family’s purchases, offering free samples must still a viable marketing tactic. Why else would HBO and the rest of the premium channels promote free weekends if not to get you hooked with bite-sized portions of their TV shows and a limited-time smorgasbord of blockbuster movies?

Now imagine if a new network popped up and decided to give away its programming indefinitely but with a vague notion that at some point in the future, once it had enough regular viewers, it would put a price tag on what it provides. By that point, people would be so in love with its series and films, they would happily fork over money to get more.

Right?

I doubt it.

There’s a big difference between handing out a few free nibbles and serving up meal after meal at no charge. Just ask the many newspapers that tried to incorporate payment gates on their websites after making every article free-to-read for years. Most of them now limit the number of free clicks per month, but the damage had already been done. Very few folks believe they should be charged a fee to read about what’s going on in the world.

A $10,000 bill

No sane writer expects to get rich from his or fiction, but it’s equally ridiculous for professionals to expect to make profit by giving away their product for free.

Once you establish the worth of a product—whether it’s a frozen pizza or national news—it’s awfully difficult to convince people they should have been paying along.

The strange dynamics of creative pursuits and their corresponding value have been on my mind for many months, probably ever since I made my first foray into self-publishing. With regard to writing and the democratization of distribution (i.e., self-publishing), the power is placed in the hands of the writer to decide how much he or she wants to charge for a book.

But the subject of how much one’s time and talent is really worth stretches beyond articles and blogs about writing specifically. We live in a DIY world, and while some might rejoice at breaking down the barriers that kept the everyman’s creative endeavors from reaching the public, there are some unfortunate side effects from the Rise of the Amateur.

Take this article in the New York Times, for example, which reports that the need for imagery in newspapers and magazines is quickly being satisfied by stock photography and amateur contributions. The role of professional photojournalist is fading.

In the article, a photojournalist says, “People that don’t have to make a living from photography and do it as a hobby don’t feel the need to charge a reasonable rate.”

What exactly is a “reasonable rate”? Should people who invest in an education and work hard to improve expect a fair wage for what they do—or even a full-time job, for that matter? Why should a do-it-yourselfer be vilified for believing that sharing a photo with the world is reward enough? These questions and many more are worthy of consideration.

In his blog, author Scott Roche explores whether a writer should give away his or her fiction for free. There seems to be a theory out there that if aspiring authors give away their stories and novels for free, they will build a fan base, and with that boost in popularity, they will eventually be able to start charging those same readers later on for new fiction. Or, better yet, a traditional publisher will see how popular the author is and offer to purchase the existing series and/or future works.

I don’t buy it.

For one thing, there’s a lot of free content out there. Folks who prefer free fiction have plenty of other options; rather than change their habits and take out their credit card to buy your fiction, they are far more likely to seek out the next struggling up-and-comer or hobby writer willing to give it away.

Even if your “free readers” really, really like your characters or your style or your personality, you’ve already set a no-fee precedent. People don’t like surprises when it comes to payment. In fact, the only industry I can think of where that free-now-pay-later approach works is illegal drugs. Customers get the first taste for free, and they love the experience so much that they will pay just about anything for more. But even in this scenario, it’s more akin to the grocery-store samples than what some writers are attempting today.

And sorry to be the voice of reason, but no matter how good you are at your craft, the odds are that no reader will ever become chemically addicted to the words you put to page.

While Mr. Roche does put his content out there for free, the big difference between the free-now-pay-later paradigm and the author’s personal approach is this: he just wants readers and isn’t holding his breath while waiting for a major publisher to pounce.

Ultimately, every writer—every artist, for that matter—must decide what he or she wants out of the craft.

  • If you create for the sheer joy of creation, then feel free to crank out as much content as you want, whenever you wish. Keep it to yourself or share it as you see fit.
  • If you are satisfied with simply sharing your creations with the world, and you don’t want anything other than the knowledge that other people are potentially enjoying your work, then go ahead and give it away.
  • If, however, you believe your writing (or photography or whatever) is as good as or better than the stuff produced by people who do get paid—and certainly if you have costs you need to recuperate—you had better start charging for it from Day 1.

It’s not necessarily an easy decision to make.

As for me, I don’t expect I’ll ever be able to make a living off my fiction alone. (So few writers do!) But my time is valuable, and I’ve made an investment in the craft by way of a college degree and thousands of hours devoted to honing my skills. For every hour I spend in front of my computer, I’m losing an hour I could have spent with my wife and kids or volunteering for a worthy cause or catching up on sleep or enjoying a hobby just for the fun of it.

For me, writing is a job. I make a weekly commitment to it with the hope that someday I’ll be compensated for my hard work. If I just give away my books, I’m telling the world that, to me, they have no value beyond my enjoyment in the process, that they are worth less than other books, that it was all just for fun.

I decided long ago that the life of a dabbler wasn’t for me. Yes, I want readers, but not at any—and not at no—cost.

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