I choose to share my ebooks rather than sell them for a variety of reasons. Let’s see how many I can list.
First off, right from the beginning, writing has always been a pastime for me. I’ve written stories off and on my whole life. However, when I started writing the stories in Some Day Days, I did so as a personal challenge. It was easy to be a critic. It was easy to think that I could write better than what I was reading when I didn’t like it. But could I? I challenged myself to actually write a story myself, and do it better. So I started writing, this time around, first as a personal challenge.
It wasn’t a hard challenge, since I’ve always enjoyed writing. Writing is fun. It’s like painting with words. I enjoy the creative process. I don’t need to be paid to do it – I did it simply for fun.
As I got deeper into writing with A Summer in Amber and The Bright Black Sea, I felt that if I could convince myself that I’d not make a complete fool of myself by letting other people read my work, I would dare to self-publish them as ebooks. I never had any intention of trying to get them published via the traditional publishing route. At age 60, it was far too late in the game to go that route, even if I wanted to. And, well, I had tried that route in my youth and I knew that I didn’t have the gumption to do that. And besides, just like with my painting, I wanted to tell stories that appealed to me. One of the reasons why I was imagining and writing the stories, was because I couldn’t find the stories I liked. This suggested that the stories I liked were either no longer being written, or no longer selling, so that trying to sell them to traditional publishers wasn’t likely to end well.
Which brings us to another reason for just sharing them. I don’t think there is a vast market for the stories I like and write. But since I don't want to write books I don't enjoy, I just write those stories that I want to read and don't worry about the size of their market. However, I did believe, and now know, that there is some sort of a readership beyond just me, so the question was, back then, how to best reach my potential readers. Given the flood of self-published books in 2015, I decided to make it easy for my potential readers to decide to give my stories a try by just offering them for free. They were, and still are, just a simple click away. And seeing that all my books continue to "sell" I don't think I've reached all of my potential readership yet. And that being the case, I have no reason to change my approach, since it seems to be working.
Another reason that I share my books is that I don’t need the money. Not, at least, the money I’d likely make selling by them. Since my books fall outside Amazon’s lucrative mainstream of avid readers who know what the like, like what the know, and want their books to be minor variations of familiar stories, and read lots of them, they were never going to sell in vast numbers. And unless you’re in the mainstream, self-publishing pays pizza money. At best.
And that brings us to another point. I don’t have anything to prove. I’m proud to be an amateur; someone who does something – in this case, writing – for the love of it. I will sometimes come across comments by people who say that authors must not think much of their book if they don’t put a price on it. Ironically, some of them are indie publishers who price their ebooks at a small faction of traditionally published books. Do they think their books are crap? The reality is that price is not a self-awarded badge of excellence. It is a marketing tool, and I use a free price instead of advertising to promote my books. It’s a whole lot easier and cheaper. And, at least for me, likely more efficient as well.
And then too, some writers, perhaps most writers, buy the idea that if one does everything the self-publishing gurus say one should – buy a professional cover that looks like every other cover in one’s genre, and buy all the other editorial services one can afford, and then put a price on it, that makes one a professional writer. It doesn’t matter if one sells just several dozen copies of the book, or how much money one loses, one’s a professional writer. Chin up, they tell themselves. Gurus say that it takes 10 years or more to establish a writing career, so one in on one’s way. Well, it may have taken 10 years back in the day in traditional publishing, but it clearly it doesn’t in indie publishing. So besides calling oneself a professional writer, what is one accomplishing with a price and little sales? Selling several dozen books a year ain’t establishing anything. What’s in a name?
By giving away my ebooks and leaving pizza money on the table, my books reach at least a hundred times more readers than I would if I put a price on them. Even at a $.99 price. I will be posting my full four years in publishing report in a month or so, but to date I have given away something like 26,000 ebooks in the last four years without me doing much more than just releasing them for free on all the major ebook stores. If one dreams of writing a best seller, one needs to get it into the hands of readers. The more readers, the better one's chances of being discovered. So unless one is spending big money on advertising, going free is a way to reach more people and build a name for one’s self. I’m not dreaming of being a best seller. I just want to have fun. And the response from my readers has made it even more fun. Thank you. Money is not necessary to make writing worthwhile for me.
And I should add that because I can write and produce both my ebooks and paperbacks for no more than what it costs me to buy and mail paper copies to my kindly volunteer beta readers, I don’t lose money by selling them for free. The odd foreign ebook, and paperback sale here and there where Amazon does not price match, pretty much covers those minor expenses. Basically, I’m a low cost competitor, who can undersell my competitors with a free price and not lose money doing it.
These days, on Amazon, at least, it appears that one must spend money to advertise in order have a chance of your books being discovered, which is necessary for selling them. I hate spending money, and I hate self-promoting, so all that would be unpleasant work, even if it actually produced results, which I doubt that it would. And, as I’ve mentioned, I’m too old to work. So they’re free.
Another reason for staying the amateur, besides my old age, is that I don’t believe the prospects of a long lasting professional career in indie publishing is very great. There is a great deal of fashion in reading – what is hot one year is passe a few years later. Traditional publishers paced the release of their books to make each book special. But these days, in the fast money lane of indie publishing, authors need to crank out a book every month or two or risk being forgotten in the great swarm of look-alike competitors. That being the case, it seems almost inevitable that that sort of a pace will end in a few years with a flame-out, with either the author getting burned out, or their audience getting burned out on their writing and moving on to fresh writers with a fresh, but familiar twist to their favorite stories. Even if I was decades younger, I’d not be doing anything different than I am now – just having fun.
So, all in all, I think that just sharing my books with you is a win for all of us. I’m doing something I enjoy, and avoiding a whole lot of stuff that I don’t. And you are, hopefully, enjoying one of those “best things in life are free” experience – a good, free book, without having to go to the library.
NOTE: Other than my newest book, I set my ebook “list prices” on Amazon to reflect the price of traditionally published books rather than indie published books, since as long as Amazon price matches the free price on its competitors sites in the US, list price doesn’t matter. I price them in that range because I think they are as good as traditionally published books. Amazon, however, generally does not price match the free price in its other stores, so that Kindle readers outside of the US should download the free mobi format version of my stories from Smashwords, and sideload them into your Kindle.