For Free or Not For Free?

free flowerAnd that is the question; whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (give it away for free) or to take arms (charge for your work). I intend this to be a discussion piece rather than guidance and my overall answer (if you are in a rush) is that you should not necessarily give things away. Of course I believe it is more complex than that and I go into the various scenarios and reasons both might be valid.

In the end it is a personal choice but one thing I will say is that an indie author needs to think like a business and should be looking at a portfolio not a single event.

Why charge?

My core assumption is that we all have an ambition to make some money and while the full hierarchy of Maslow’s Needs applies, and I like to see my name in print / on Amazon as much as the next person, at some point some money would be nice. I also value my work and charging adds a certain level of expectation to a product and should also encourage feedback. Attentive readers will note that I also rate feedback as being essential.

I accept that it is tricky setting a price point, and in the early stages it is tempting to over-price or want to give things away out of timidity. You see someone else give away a much longer and more interesting piece than yours. So what? Their’s may be better written and more appealing but it is a big world. If you have any skill and practice your craft there should be a market for your work.

My recent 6,000 word story gave me pause to think (see 4 things I learned from publishing for Kindle) but let’s not forget I had to plot, draft, read, edit, publish and design a cover for that. It might have taken me a total of ten hours (I didn’t do a time and motion study – maybe I should). Is 99c (77p) a lot to ask for all that work? How much is the coffee you drank while reading it? The piece of technology you read it on? Your lunch? Is 99c a lot to ask? I don’t think so.

At some point I may give some things away promotionally but my basic premise is my work is worth buying. If you don’t agree read something of mine, tell me why it’s not worth it and I’ll make the next one better.

Why give it away?

Well loads of other people give stuff away. If you give something away it is more likely (is it?) to get read and you build up a following. The next thing you publish can be charged for.

People give things away on blogs (like this one), or when you sign up for newsletters. Then there’s shareware and freeware. Yes I happily use freeware and prefer not to buy software when there is a lot of excellent freeware. People often give away enough of a utility to be useful and then charge for the full version.

There is a always promotions as well and I am the firs to admit that it is complicated.

Portfolios are the answer

I said at the beginning that portfolio thinking is the answer. You might be the person that writes one thing, it sells, you get rich. Well done! That isn’t my experience and nor is it the experience of most of us. If you want to move up from dabbler / vanity publisher / hobbyist to more professional status then you need to think about the totality of your work and that totality over time. For me the range of my work includes:

  • Various printed magazine articles
  • Printed reviews
  • Many 100s of Amazon reviews
  • Reviews and other items on Starburst
  • This blog and my Doctor Who blog
  • Published work on Amazon
  • Work in progress I will publish this year
  • Ideas for stories / books
  • Ideas for next year
  • Things I haven’t even thought of yet…

There are many rewards that these can bring:

  • Money
  • Recognition
  • Feedback
  • Brand
  • Experience
  • Audience.

I will explain each of those at some stage (if I need to) suffice it to say that things I do for free give me value in other ways and I am consciously choosing that. Yes some of it brings no money but there is value in being known – it just needs some nurturing in some cases.



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