My novels are not for free
Give away your stories for free, suggests the book marketing "expert.”
He insists that if I follow his advice, readers will immediately download my novels on their reading tablets and that once they read me, they will be so enamored with my pen that they will buy everything else I publish from here on out. His logic reminds me a little of the slogan for Lay’s Potato Chips, where “you can’t eat just one.”
The problem is that I'm not a potato chip. And if I don’t eat now (even a bag of Lay’s) how will I survive to write more novels? Moreover, this guy forgets that I'm paying for his advice and if I give my work away, how am I going to pay him? Of course I understand the marketing strategy of "giving a taste,” like when we get a slice of watermelon at the market. And that is precisely why I write this blog "for free.” I also allow readers to browse through the novels I publish on Amazon - if the reader likes my work they can buy it; otherwise they can keep searching for titles more to their liking. But giving away the whole watermelon?
There is another reason, perhaps much deeper, which compels me to charge for my work. I am of the opinion that people do not appreciate what they get for free. This is something I learned from my father. When I was young, one of my responsibilities was to help him every Saturday in his clinic. That was the day his assistant rested. My father was an obstetrician in the city of Veracruz, Mexico. With great sacrifice, he had bought a house, which he divided into two, reserving one side for his private clinic. Among the many lessons learned from him, was how to collect fees with humility and respect. He charged the same fee, whether the patient was rich or poor. However, when the situation was appropriate, he would ask for “whatever you can pay, señora.” Even the poorest patient paid “something” – eggs from their ranch, mangos, chico zapotes, or homemade plumb pie, his favorite. Sometimes his patients asked for credit and he always said yes, accepting their “word of honor” as sufficient guarantee for the debt. If any of those women didn’t pay, I wouldn’t know, because he never mentioned it. What happened inside his office never left his office; the sanctity of professional privilege being another of his great teachings. My father's philosophy was simple: people come here for help, not handouts or charity; even the poorest will pay “something” when they want to pay.
Last week I went with my grandson to a bookstore in the beautiful little town of Poulsbo. There we were, admiring books for children, when the young man at the cash register casually remarked to a customer, " I just found out that in the Nordic countries (he did not say which) the government is giving away all the authors’ works that have been registered with their copyright agency. Isn’t that wonderful?” Before the woman could comment, I had to intervene. “Excuse me, sir, but who is going to pay the authors?” The guy, very surprised, replied, "Well, that's the only problem ... I don’t know…"
Because I am not only an author, but also a reader, I think it would be wonderful if suddenly our US Copyright Office released all titles to anyone wanting to read them. Access to literature, for rich and poor alike, is something I support wholeheartedly, which is why I love our libraries. The difference with libraries, however, is that they do, ultimately, pay authors for their work; a very small royalty indeed, but at least “something.”
Perhaps the real reason I am not willing to give my work away is because I seek readers like you. I want readers who appreciate culture and art and are willing to pay for that painting, that song, or that book before buying a hamburger; readers who are very aware that when they buy one of my novels, they are not buying just anything, but a piece of my soul.
The truth is that although our capitalist system does not promote art as a need for society, artists will continue to pursue their true calling. They will continue to paint their canvases, make their music and write their poems, and will also continue to have a second job to survive. My only hope is that my colleagues stand firm and demand, like I do, to be paid “something” at least, out of respect.
Selling online does not allow me to decipher if the situation warrants that I accept “whatever you can pay, señores (and señoras).” But let it be known that in exchange for my novels I accept mangoes and chico zapotes. And that my favorite pie is lemon.