To Sell or Not to Sell – Adventures in Free fiction.

by dantewilde

As I (albeit slowly) complete the numerous projects I’ve set myself, a question has begun to arise with increasing frequency; ‘do I sell my upcoming ebooks or allow them to be downloaded for free?’ This a question all web fiction writers must ask themselves at one stage. Even with the negatives (audience alienation, for example) taken into consideration all writers need to eat. An unfortunate reality in my fictitious wonderland (if I may digress for a moment; I don’t think humanity will ever truly appreciate Lewis Carroll for popularising that term).

When one has decided exactly whether to sell or not to sell, perhaps even finding the perfect medium, there is then the question of price. There is a slew of articles on the subject – from the famous authors you’ve never heard of – and the general consensus seems to be sell at the 99c range (Read this for more on pricing).

There are a few reasons I don’t believe the 99c model works
1) If you’re working with novel sized work then you effectively working for free.
2) All though everybody likes free stuff there is the perception that if something is free or cheap it may not even be worth downloading.
And finally there are often costs involved with ebooks that readers don’t see. Depending on the author these costs will be greater or smaller but can consist of; paying book cover makers; expanded distribution fees on indie publishing sites; and the cost of an editor.

Web fiction has an undeniable brilliance to it. When you look beyond the notion of ‘writers can become established and get professionally published) there is a different side entirely. Thousands of writers writing for the sake for writing, creating cultural artifacts that are free to every one to access. Stories of erotica of horror of romance and of fantasy are the chronology of writing as an art form in the 21st century. This means there is certainly a lot more competition for writers, however, it is safe to say that as far as access to audience and evolution of art and dissemination of ideas and advice are concerned, this, is the best century to release your stories to the world. No matter how good you are, given time you will be read.

And while there will be those authors who flourish and those that don’t. For the majority of people that are pre-novel and pre-being ripped off by Amazon (charging writers delivery fees on ebooks) there is the ever looming monotonous question – do I sell my writing and how much do I charge for it?

While I don’t believe in writing for the sake of money, there is a certain amount of respectability to the question. An author can choose their price, however as a consumer approaching a new author, I am often swayed more to by a book if it isn’t full price, than a book that is. Perhaps, that’s a product of my environment – Whitcoulls sell paper backs for $30 and Penguin books aren’t cheap either so paying for a book from an unknown author is risky under this circumstance.

Once an author has taken the step toward selling ebooks, price becomes much more than the purchasing power of prospective buyers. If you’ve already built an audience, then you may have a reasonable gauge as to what they’d be happy with. If you haven’t built an audience, then the perfect price for an ebook can be much hard to gauge.

Beneath it all, the pricing of an ebook, is the reflection of an authors sense worth. Given that they know there must be a reasonable price (which I won’t be the judge of) time and energy must be accounted for. The most painful thing about pricing an ebook is the comparison between this and working in retail. Minimum wage (on my little piece of earth) is $13.50 an hour. It isn’t a lot, but is guaranteed to be the same pay each hour of each day. Selling an ebook on the other hand, is going to afford you much less money. If it takes 50 hours to write a novel (excluding editing and compiling for publishing) and the novel is sold at $3.00 the per hour pay amounts to modern day slavery.

All in all, if a writer does decide to sell their ebook, they are already working not on the prospect of buyers but on the fact that believe their work is worth something (which in every case I believe it to be). An important step in shifting from web fiction hobbyist to web fiction publisher and money maker. Because as painful and cruel as it is, money simply cannot be removed from the equation. And in a sad reality, unless web fiction writers (or non fiction writers) are able to supplement their writing with donations or a ‘real job’ the importance of making money cannot be denied.

So, to sell or not to sell? With pricing  and piracy (the apparently less than forgiving realities) web fiction writers are left in a bind. If one ever wants to be more than the humble web writer, both are inevitable – with success comes piracy and with hours come the need to survive.