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The Cost of Free

Posted on May 3, 2016 by in The Scrawl |

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A while ago, when I was still trying my hand at building an audience and establishing myself across all the lines of social media and, in general, being an unsufferable twit with regards to trying my hand at success, I gave away one of my books. I told people on Twitter, on Facebook, on Imgur, on Reddit, on… well, pretty much everywhere I could think of. And about 200 folks downloaded said book in various formats. 200 people. Now, that’s a nice number. I like the idea that 200 strangers read a work I’m still pretty proud of. The story of teenagers fighting the four horsemen of the apocalypse was and is a really nice story, in my opinion.

And now I can say that that book, freely given, did absolutely nothing towards my overall goals. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

My reasoning for giving it away was layered.

I knew I could never sell it traditionally.

At 140K words, it was just too flipping long to ever conceivably get an agent to even look at it. I know this because I know this industry inside and out. I understand it on a level like I have never understood it before. An agent looking at 140K words from an unpublished author is like that guy from Pawn Stars looking at a genuine ivory elephant tusk carved by George Washington himself. It’s neat, it has artistic and historical value, but how and to whom are they ever going to sell it? So that made my book, 4, a non-starter for traditional publication. It was just too big.

I knew I didn’t want to throw it into the grinder of self-publication.

If you self-publish and you love it? Good on you. It’s not for me. I once put one of my books into that space and hated the experience. Hate is a strong word and I mean it. Self-publication was not and is not for me. The constant need to promote, to connect, to remarket, to engage, to spin, and rinse and repeat was not and is not for me. I am not above those things nor do I say they are unhealthy. It’s just not for me. I don’t have the time nor the energy to constantly market my work.

So I found myself giving away my book. I figured I liked it enough to send it out, to have others read it, to maybe connect with some folks through this medium and maybe provide them with something cool for interacting with me here, on this site.

And then the most peculiar thing happened: nothing. It was peculiar because I have never had anyone read that particular book without giving me deep, sometimes guttural reaction to it. My betas loved it. Everyone before now gave me their thoughts, even when they disliked or rejected it. If it wasn’t for them, they let me know. But of those 200 folks who read it? Nary a peep. And that’s okay, but I found it odd. And it made me wonder about value vs. cost.

People give when they get, generally. When they understand a value proposition, they tend to interact with it. When they perceive value as being exchanged, they will often offer their responses. They will encourage others to get involved in a positive or negative way. But when they see no value as having been exchanged? Meh.

So it cost them literally nothing to click “download,” and because of that? I doubt many of them read or finished the book.

Our world is cluttered with free. It’s glutted with it. It is saturated with free to the point that now the assumption is that everything is free except for the things that are really good. We have free social media, free music, free movies, free TV, free food at times… and that’s a neat time to be alive, except for one thing: if what you’re receiving really doesn’t cost you anything, YOU are the product. Get that? Facebook isn’t free. It’s gathering and disseminating data about you all the time. Everywhere. And in exchange it gives you a central place to exchange information with people you barely know.

So when I threw my book into the mix, it was just more white noise in a world where people create “to be read” lists they will never, ever finish. And I did that for one last reason that I am only now ready to admit.

Part of my motivation for releasing my book for free was to build my audience.

My hope was really that I might generate enough momentum and discussion and interaction and recommendation that I could create a bit of a fanbase.

And I failed.

And that’s okay too. I can let that book go. I can acknowledge its failure and relax. I can let go of that part of this dream too and not look back. My road has been what it has been and I don’t regret walking it. I have learned so much about people, about writers in particular, and about our society that I might never have gained had I not gone in this direction.

Onward, upward, semper reformanda.