Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Yeah, I'm a Sell-Out. So What?

[Please visit www.jasonkorolenko.com for updated content]

A week or so ago, author Brian Keene wrote something that I've been thinking about a lot lately. At the Horror Drive-In forums, regarding the rise of digital piracy and the glut of Kindle e-books that are either FREE or priced at 99 CENTS, Brian wrote:

"We are training an entire generation of readers and consumers to expect the book for free, or next to nothing. I can't feed my sons on free or next to nothing."


For some reason, writers have been conditioned to believe that you must give your work away for free until you "make a name for yourself." This practice is becoming more and more common with the ease of Kindle Direct Publishing, where anyone can upload and sell (or give away) their books or stories or self-help manuals or instructionals on how to crossbreed frogs and monkeys. And it's a practice that makes me shudder almost every time.

Here's why.

Question: When was the last time either of these scenarios have happened?

1.) As a working professional, you attended a job interview for your dream position. You were dressed smartly and didn't smell like you had washed up that morning in a McDonalds bathroom. The bosses, impressed with your education, said, "Okay, we're going to offer you the job, but you'll have to work for free until we decide you're worth paying."


2.) A fancy new restaurant opened up just down the street from your house. You were there on opening day, with your family and friends, and you all cozied up into a booth with a scenic lake view. When handed a menu, you said, "The prime rib and garlic potatoes sounds good, and so do the crab legs. I'll take both, but I'm going to come back tomorrow and try a few other things, and I want it all for free until I decide your food is good enough to pay for." And they agreed.


I left that blank because it should be obvious.

Now, let's take those metaphors and translate them into terms that concern us as writers. Let's say Editor A has one open slot in an anthology about real life encounters with zombie chickens. Along with his submission, Writer #1 puts in his cover letter, "I have fifty stories available for free on my blog, and each one has been viewed fifty times." Writer #2 submits a story, and writes in her cover letter, "I have sold one story to Editor B for inclusion in [nationally distributed magazine of your choice]."

Question: Both stories being equal, who do you think is going to get the nod? The writer who gives his work away for free or the writer who convinces the editor that her work is worth paying for?


I left that blank because the answer should be obvious.

Writing is hard work. Like any other skill, it takes time and study and patience and, yes, even natural talent. And before you can convince an editor that your work is worth paying for, before you can convince readers that your work is worth paying for, you have to believe that your work is worth paying for.

In very simple terms, the biggest difference between a professional and an amateur is that a professional gets paid.


Kelly Stone Gamble said...

It's hard to compare a contracting job to a salaried position. As a Nurse, I do a lot of things 'for free' that aren't included in my hourly wage. Teachers do a lot on their own time that is not included in the wage, also. So I think sometimes, you have to make that choice of what is right for you. I once had a free short story result in two paid articles that I would have had a hard time getting otherwise, and I know a lot of self pubbed authors that insist that giving their books away for free or 99cents for a few days results in an increase in sales for a week thereafter--so I think in the long run, it's not so much about being a professional or an amateur as it is about being a business owner, the business being yourself, and how you as a business can generate sales. Sometimes you have to give out pens and t-shirts to your customers. :0

Jason Korolenko said...

I'm all for giving out pens and t-shirts, but if your job is manufacturing pens and t-shirts, and all you do is give away pens and t-shirts, well...doesn't sound like good business sense to me.

Rob Greene said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rob Greene said...

Or, if a lot of people are making pens and t-shirts, and most of them are giving them away for free or for cheap ... how do you fit in? If readers get used to a certain price point, how are you going to get them to pay you something you can live on?

Jason Korolenko said...

Rob, I only removed your first comment because the second version is the same thing, only better. You bring up a good question. Quantity is one answer; write and publish more. I know that ol' rule of economics, that a product is only worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it, but I think people are, in general, willing to pay for a quality product. Where's the sweet spot so we can both be happy? I don't know, but I think we'll see in the next few years once the digital phenom is no longer shiny and new.