by Linda Thorne
Making money writing novels, short fiction, and non-fiction while challenging, can be done. There are examples of it happening every single day. The naysayers will continue to warn us that the competition is enormous, the odds are stacked against us, and the chance to make money is slim. We can’t listen to them, but if we don’t put our work out there, we guarantee their dooming words.
I went to my first full-blown writers’ conference here in Nashville in August of 2009. While there, I kept passing by an unmanned table with piles of an Alan Bradley book with a big tall sign sticking up that said, “Help Yourself to a Free Book.” Each day I’d pass the table of free books and wonder why the author would give his books away. After all the work to write it and edit it, is he so desperate for someone to read it he’s willing to give it away? Doesn’t that cheapen his product?
Before I left though, I couldn't resist taking one of his free copies of Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I could afford to buy it, but I doubt I would have with a thirteen year old for a protagonist. Since it was free, I could try it out at no cost. I didn’t get to reading it until a few years later and took it to a local Sister’s in Crime meeting where we all agreed to bring what we were currently reading for discussion. There were only about five of us there that evening and one of the other members had brought the second book in Alan Bradley’s series and told me this author was all over the internet and Amazon. If you look at his series now, it’s doing quite well and Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie went on to win award after award. Alan Bradley is a success story and he gave away free books for promotion.
So, on a small level, I followed his lead. For Christmas, I added my book to the usual gift we gave our mail lady, garbage collectors, cleaning folks. I even gave it to the police officer who dropped by to take the report when our computer was hacked and the head of our homeowners association. I sent it to organizations and groups where my book is set on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. One of the Mississippi Gulf Coast cities’ chamber of commerce sent me a letter telling me how they were sharing my book with others.
Last September when I went to Bouchercon in New Orleans, I donated fifty books to their book bizarre. Conference members (readers and writers) took it for free and those remaining books were sold for a dollar. I was told that if my fifty books were not totally gone by the end of the conference, they would be donated to libraries in the New Orleans parishes. How neat since submitting to libraries and being accepted has not been an easy task for me.
So, where has this gotten me? I haven’t lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast since 2002 yet the most visitors to my LinkedIn profile are from that area. Some people from reading clubs on the Gulf Coast have asked to be friends on Facebook and LinkedIn. I lost my job recently and we had to let the cleaning service go. One of their employees told me she’d read the book I gave her and had been passing it around. Does any of this mean much? I have no idea.
Recently I gave away free books on Goodreads and found out they do all the work then tell the author who the winners are. I had 776 people ask for my book for free. Goodreads gave me the name and addresses of those to mail it to.
What do you think? In promoting our work, does giving our books away help or hinder? That is my question.