why, yes. yes, there is a difference between “deserve” and “earn”.
I’m not gonna bury the lede, folks. Because there’s no tiptoeing my way into this controversy. The answer is “No.”
“Hell no”, even.
Authors do not deserve to be paid.
Boy, I can already smell the smoke. The comments on this are going to be FIRE! I’m going to need a minute to put on this flame-retardant suit.
[insert sounds of me grunting my way into scratchy, asbestos pants over here]
Okay. I’m ready now.
Like I was saying, authors don’t deserve any money. But, should they earn it? Of course! Therein lies the rub, right? The difference between “deserve” and “earn”.
I mean, what if I think your writing is … uh … we’ll just say “not my thing.” Even if I acquired it though non-compensatory means (i.e. *hand over my eye and a sneer* Pirated!), it’s still going to be a DNF, and is eventually getting deleted to make room for more cat photos.
An even worse case? I paid you money and then hated your book.
“But, you paid for the book instead of stealing it from me! How is that worst case?”
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Slow down there, turbo.
First, yes, I paid for your book, but I promise you’d rather I didn’t. In fact, let’s look at our possible outcomes.
Outcome One: I buy your book, read the first couple chapters, and hate it. I feel slighted since I paid good money for something that was wholly dissatisfying. I feel robbed. I immediately go to every ratings site everywhere and 1-Star the thing into oblivion. I tell all my friends how I felt ripped off by your awful prose and unfulfilled promises. My facebook. My twitter. My entire social graph — most of whom have similar tastes and preferences as I do — now spread that opinion among their friends.
Everyone(!) needs to know how you took my money and gave me misery in return.
Sure, you gained a sale, but it potentially cost you dozens more. Sales score: -300 Reputation!
Outcome Two: I find your book laying around in cyberspace (“Oh! Lookie here! What’s that doing just laying around?”), read the first couple chapters, and hate it. I click delete, immediately forget your name, and go back to surfing LOL Cats.
You didn’t gain a sale, but since you didn’t offend me, you didn’t lose anything either. Sales score: Plus Nothing.
Obviously, Outcome One is pretty extreme, but option two is pretty average. People who wouldn’t normally give you money aren’t giving you money because they’re not interested in what you, as an author, have to offer.
You didn’t earn their money, so you don’t deserve their money.
“But they read it!”
Probably not. Maybe parts of it. Even the most die-hard, [insert soup-nazi-like-writer-stereotype here] author can’t look at a DNF and honestly say, “That was a success!”
That’s crazy talk.
It’s not like we authors are selling steak and potatoes here. It’s not like the reader ate everything but the carrots in the side salad, and demanded a refund because it tasted funny. In that case, they still got to eat. Their belly is still full.
In the situation where a reader buys your book, and only reads two-thirds of it, you’re like a sticky, grubby taxi that runs out of gas. While stuck in traffic. Miles away from the destination. And still makes you pay full-fare as if they’d dropped you off at your doorstep.
You cost them time they’re never getting back. You cost them money. And they’re not anywhere near where they wanted to be taken when they first initiated the experience with you.
Not only did you not earn the money they already gave you, but you might have irritated them instead! The only thing you’re earning from them (not to mention anyone they talk to) are eyerolls and mutterings of, “that book sucks.”
Anyway, my point is that terrible experiences happen. People buy books all the time they don’t finish because it wasn’t worth finishing. In those cases, the authors didn’t earn that money, yet they still took it.
If you think about it, it’s kind of a terrible system we’ve set up. And it’s rigged against the reader.
That’s because, unlike a perfectly cooked, medium-rare steak, or the shoes on your feet, or that new bottle of body wash in your bathtub, storytelling is a service — not a product. (btw, you should really frost the glass in your bathroom window. *wink*)
I mean, you don’t want to be that guy who delivers a swift kick to someone’s dark parts only to turn around and demand payment because they already consumed your “product”, right?
“But how will I make money as an author?!?”
I hate to be the one to break this to you, but maybe you don’t.
Maybe you’re not good enough and people don’t want to pay you for your stories yet. Maybe you need more practice at the craft. In this world of instant-expert gratification and self-talent overestimation, maybe you haven’t put in enough work.
Newsflash: Crafting compelling stories is pretty flipping hard.
So, let’s agree to not conflate creating low quality stories no one wants to read with people “stealing” your work by not paying you.
Oh, and can we talk about that for just a second?
It’s not actually stealing, you know. If I have a copy of your text, digitally, on my computer, that doesn’t remove it from yours. I didn’t steal it. You still have your original.
There’s actually …
You know what?
On second thought, you don’t want to get me ranting on that right now. This post is running long as it is. So, let’s put a pin in it, shall we? We’ll crack that piracy-is-not-theft nut sometime later.
Where was I?
“People shouldn’t give me money for my hard work …”
Oh, yeah! That’s right.
That’s a great point — Authors should give their work away for free!
*goes in for a high-five*
Are you still there? What are you doing on the floor? That looks really uncomfortable.
Anyway, it should be baked into your sales strategy as an author to give your work away. It’s a great, low-friction way for readers to discover your words.
“But, how am I supposed to make money if I’m giving away the results of my sweat and effort for free?”
Good question. A bit gross, but good.
Couple things here:
1) You’re not going to have a career in writing if you’re a “one and done” author, right? I mean, you’re a writer, so you write. It’s what you do. That means, you don’t have to give away everything, just your very best stuff in order to build a fanbase.
2) It’s not a binary thing — You don’t EITHER give away your work OR charge for it. You can do BOTH. For example, you can host your work for free on your website while still having a kindle version on Amazon and a paper version in stores.
“That’s insane. Why would anyone pay for my book if I’m giving it away for free?”
Again, great question. You’re good at this!
One way is to think of ebooks as marketing for your glossy, lavishly delicious hardbacks. Or, think of ebooks as a super-low-friction-one-click way for people to get their hands on your books. (unlike pirated ebooks. there’s nothing low friction about them)
And that’s just the beginning. Let’s look at a fistful of examples!
A few years ago Neil Gaiman gave away American Gods for free on his website. Harper Collins was terrified it was going to destroy sales of the book. It didn’t. And, I guess we all know what happens next.
“But, he’s super-famous. That won’t work for me.”
“Yeah, well, sure he’s not as famous, but he’s got a schtick. He’s an activist.”
Maybe Hugh Howey is closer to your situtation? He’s not super-famous or a heavy activist, but is still crushing it with that “giving his work away” thing.
“But … “
“Well … “
I have an idea! A side-quest!
Wander over to Amazon’s Top 100 Free Ebooks list and grab a few of the authors you see there. Any of them, really. Then, go to their Author Page, scroll down, and check out their “Amazon Author Rank” for paid sales.
These folks are filled with win and real-life revenue because they give away their books. It’s like they say, if you can’t compete with free, you can’t compete. (AKA, the “selling a bottle of basically-free-water for two bucks” thing)
This works because your primary focus should be fighting obscurity, not demanding money you don’t deserve because you haven’t earned it yet.
Obscurity is your enemy, folks. Not pirates.
“So I should just ignore people stealing my work?”
Dude. Not stealing.
“Whatever. You’re saying I should ignore pirates?”
They’re not gonna give you money anyway. And, a bit of free advice: You can’t stop them. A nerd with a library card and a github account is all it takes. Every book ever printed can be obtained for free if you hang out in the right IRC channels.
It’s out of your control.
Instead, focus on what you can control. Find your 1000 true fans. Once you shed that lingering terror from giving your work away, you can proactively use lots of strategies in your ebooks to leverage these sharing networks so they can help you find your true fans.
Because, if your books are basically marketing materials with or without your permission, you may as well take advantage of it.
So, ask them for favors in your ebook’s front matter. Ask the people sharing your work around for a few things:
- Rate your book favorably (since you’re nice enough to share your work with them — reciprocity works, friends) on Goodreads and Amazon
- Tell everyone they know about it
- Send you money!
That last bullet is the complicated one. It can be remarkably hard to compensate authors. It probably warrants a post all itself talking about how author donations intersect with a publisher’s sales expectations.
Regardless, all authors should be taking advantage of as many revenue streams as possible.
Revenue streams like:
- A Square Cash or Paypal link on your site
- A Patreon account for subscriptions
- And, of course, standard book sales
To give you hope (or maybe just depress you more), think about this: There are three billion people on the internet. Without getting into weird math probabilities using non-negative matrix factorization, I’m going to point out if you could reach 0.0005% of those people? And talk them into giving you just one dollar a month? Well, you’d have yourself a tidy $180,000-per-year writing career.
Like everyone says, though: Money shouldn’t be your first goal.
Before anything else, you need to love to write. You need to prove you can write. That you can tell a compelling story. Then, eventually, you won’t have gotten any money you deserve, you’ll instead have received all the money you’ve EARNED.
But, step one of transitioning to a paid writing career is finding your fans, man. Everything else follows.