There is a lot of back and forth in the creative world about giving one’s work away for free. The consensus seems to be that no self-respecting artists should do it, and even non-self-respecting artists should respect other artists trying to scrape a living.
I say, hogwash.
Let me back up. My book Heirs & Spares, the first in a series, is about the need for a royal baby – an heir, as it were. So in honor of England’s newest heir, I put the e-version of Heirs & Spares on Amazon for free on Prince George’s birthday and the four days following. I was hoping for maybe five-hundred downloads total for the week. That would’ve been fantastic.
I had five-hundred downloads in the first three hours.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think that many people would respond to my book so quickly. And since my last name is neither Rowling nor King, no publicity campaign in the world could have given me exposure to ten thousand readers globally. And the kicker? It was free for me too. I didn’t have to pay a publicist, I just had to click a button. Ok, two buttons.
Sure, not all those people will read it. And sure, not all the people who read it will like it. But even if a mere ten-percent of those people read Heirs & Spares, that’s still one thousand people who likely never would have heard of me or my book. One thousand people who may buy the next book in the series or who may tell a friend to buy one of the books. One thousand people who will plunge in to the world I’ve spent four years creating for them.
Do I want my books to make money? Of course. I have people to pay and mouths to feed. But ultimately, the reason I write, and the reason, I’d argue, most artists create, is for others to participate. I write, not only for my own joy, but to share that joy with others.
Art is meant to be seen, music to be heard, and books to be read. I could chose to feel very smug about not “cheapening my art” and have it only be read by a few paying customers. Or I can embrace the whole reason I write in the first place - to tell people stories - and strive to get that story in to as many hands as possible.
There is another side of the monetary coin as well. Once I commoditize my work, my work becomes entirely about gains and losses. Some of that is a good thing – we need to pay people for work well done. But in another way, when a specific price is put on art, that price becomes what it is “worth.” A $14.99 paperback, a $24.99 hardback, a $3.99 e-book. Three price tags for my heart and soul poured out for you on the page.
In fact, in honor of it being Lent, a time to reflect on what's really important in life, Heirs & Spares' e-version is on sale for 99 cents. For forty days. Yes, that is the same price as the malodorous leopard mink Macklemore wears in “Thrift Shop.” But to take Macklemore’s advice, “Give it to the people; spread it across the country."
I think I just will.