Writing and The Conundrum of “Free”

I love “free”.

Food samples? I’m on it. Giveaways on the corner? I’m widdit. Free items via shopper’s card at a grocery store? Yes, indeed.

I’m all about that something-for-nothing life….except when it comes to books.

I suppose this makes me a hypocrite because I check Bookbub and Choosy Bookworm every day to get ebook deals and if it’s good and free, I usually partake. The upside: I sometimes discover good authors and I didn’t come out of pocket. The downside: I have a glut of ebooks across Kindle, Google Play Books, and Nook that I still haven’t read from two-plus years ago, and I keep piling on more.

The “write/don’t write for free” debate has raged across the literary landscape for years. It’s especially more pertinent now, with so many authors choosing to self-publish. Some self-proclaimed experts insist that giving away books is one of the best ways to build your audience. Others ignore that advice in an attempt to preserve the value of their work.

Which is the best path?

I can’t say for sure. I was always taught that people don’t value that which they didn’t have to work to obtain, be it via money, time, or work. This value statement applies to physical objects, relationships, goals…you name it. If you don’t put some skin in the game, some kind of way, it won’t matter to you once you get it. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “In it to win it.”

I have written articles and book reviews for free, especially when I was venturing into a new area outside of my comfort zone. Each time, I parlayed those free writings into paid gigs–which was my end game (I’m an unapologetic capitalist). Writing for free doesn’t mean you have to keep doing so; if your writing is good, it will get noticed by people who are willing to pay for what you have to say–unfortunately, this sometimes means giving a larger sample of free writing so that the lucrative gigs can get a better measure of your writing style and determine if you are worth the cash and will enhance their media brand. I get it: it’s good business sense, particularly for internet-based companies without the resources and reserves of more established brick-and-mortars. And while I implore all writers to value their work, make sure you are actually writing something of value–boring, trite, repetitive, error-filled, cookie-cutter writing may work for those fly-by-night, clickbait-laden sites, or for those whose reviews/follows were purchased, but won’t cut it for the major players. and/or serious readers.

I’ve given away my books for free. Usually, there is “payment” in the form of an email address so that I can increase my mailing list, or an agreement to provide an honest review, or some other sort of mutually profitable arrangement. All to increase my book sales some more (sales are lifeblood to the professional author, whether traditionally or self-published. The love of the art is the catalyst, but in the end it’s about cold, hard cash, continually increasing sales, and ending up in the black.). Likewise, when I’ve won books via a giveaway, I had to pay in the form of providing my email address; answering questions (anyone who has entered a contest via Rafflecopter feels me on this LOL); (re)tweeting my entry into the contest; following the author on Twitter or liking a Facebook page. There was a payment involved, an exchange of energy that made me look forward to getting that book–which I read almost as soon as I received it. In the end, I paid for those books somehow, and I valued them more because of that, even if it was just an Advance Reader’s Copy (ARC) and not the finished, shelf-ready product.

There is no such thing as a free lunch.

I think of those hundreds (and counting) of ebooks clogging up my platform apps. I also look at the books (e- or otherwise) ¬†I tend to read and re-read: the ones I actually purchased, even if it was only for 99 cents. To not read them, after I bought them, would be a waste of money and that is counterintuitive to my personal beliefs. The free ones? I’m not so pressed about, which is why they continue to stockpile. I have no incentive for reading them NOW. I recently went through a bunch of books I had in storage. Most of these I’d gotten free from the Book Expo of America (BEA) over ten years ago. Most of them I still haven’t read and don’t know when I will. I didn’t pay for them: I lived in New York at the time and my entrance fee was paid for by a publication for which I used to write reviews. So they will continue to gather dust and be relegated to the “I’ll get around to it” zone. And before you ask: I’m keeping them because most of them are out of print, or have original cover artwork (and have since been re-released, perhaps as a movie tie-in or as part of a move to a different publisher), so that makes them more valuable to me. And they were…well…FREE. ūüôā

This is my personal conundrum: give away books with no type of “payment” from potential readers in an attempt to bolster my audience and sales, or charge money? I’m all about building my audience (and sales), but I also don’t want to end up in anyone’s (e)book glut, either, to be discovered one, five, or ten years down the road…or never.

I can’t dictate what’s best for each writer. You have to do what you feel is best for you and your career, and blessings be to you on whatever you decide. ¬†But as for me and my house, I prefer to get paid.

Thanks for stopping by.

Your Geek Ain’t Like Mine

From Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Nerd (noun):

: a person who behaves awkwardly around other people and usually has unstylish clothes, hair, etc.

: a person who is very interested in technical subjects, computers, etc.

Geek (noun).

: a person who is socially awkward and unpopular : a usually intelligent person who does not fit in with other people

: a person who is very interested in and knows a lot about a particular field or activity

[sidebar: the above terms are often used interchangeably]

Late last year on Twitter, I stumbled across a group of people calling themselves Blerds (Black nerds). Blerds were the lost tribe I’d been seeking but didn’t know it: a group of melanin-enriched folks with high IQs and love and appreciation for a diverse array of things considered not the norm for traditional Black folks, including comics, video games, science fiction, and punk rock. I was in heaven. I’d found my peoples.

I reveled in it. I wrote about it for Black Girl Nerds. I read comics for the first time (and reviewed a few). I was down like four flat tires.

Then I got my geek card pulled.

I frequently partake in #SaturdayNightSciFi, hosted by Geek Soul Brother, a fellow Blerd. Every Saturday night, we gather across the interwebs to live tweet a curated¬†sci-fi/fantasy movie or the first two episodes of a (usually cancelled) SFF (science fiction/fantasy) TV show. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some of the offerings and have garnered new favorites as a result:¬†the now-defunct British TV show Misfits¬†and¬†the now-defunct American show Fringe¬†(the latter proved so popular for #SaturdayNightSciFi that we are now indulging in #FringeFriday. Join us at 9 pm ET on Fridays!).

Misfits TV with caption

Game of Thrones fans: yes, that is “Ramsay [Snow] Bolton” on the far right!

Fringe glyph code v4b

The infamous FRINGE glyph/code

Fringe S1 cast

Once again, I was happy to be amongst my tribe, my peoples, those who are often considered to be marginalized within Black society due to our interests and intellect.

Until Farscape.

farscape-characters

Farscape was the latest #SaturdayNightSciFi offering and, as usual for a TV show, we were slated to watch the first two episodes. I barely made it through episode 1.

I was out of my depth from jump with regard to sci fi references that seem to be canon. On the contrary, my Blerd compadres were, well, geeked to be watching, and lost no time dropping SFF comparisons.

“Nice move to cast Kent McCord as Crichton’s father.”

“That trans-dimensional scene reminded me of Contact just a little.”

“…And it’s from Yuri Gagarin”¬†

“The last few Red Dwarf series jumped a whole school of sharks”

“Love Farscape! But Lexx was the better ship!”

“So, this is the sexy blue alien species that inspired the Asari in Mass Effect, eh?”

“LANI JOHN TUPU and he’s a captain!!!!!!”

HUH?!

Basta cartoon

“Basta” is Spanish for “enough”

Um…okay. I had no idea what they were talking about. The Geek was strong in these ones, but I was on the outside of the Death Star, futilely seeking entry through the formidable force field. My geek game was clearly the opposite of fleek.¬†I¬†wasn’t even on Padawan level; I was just a midichlorian.

What can I say? Geeks gonna geek. I quietly raised my church finger and exited out of the live tweet. (anyone who has encountered the Baptist Church will get that reference LOL).

This was¬†a humbling experience. I realized I am more of a nerd than a geek, it seems: I hardly read comics, I prefer non-alien SFF (Terminator movies and The Fifth Element notwithstanding), and I have only a superficial knowledge of Star Trek (but I at least can differentiate between Star Trek, Star Trek: TNG, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: DS9,¬†and Star Trek: Enterprise). However, I’m all about that Star Wars action, boss, and I have all 132 episodes of the Thundercats cartoon on DVD. I’m also a fan of the Watson and Holmes¬†and Nutmeg comics series.

Maybe there’s hope for me after all.

Thanks for stopping by.