So none of you good folks that are reading this are likely to be new to the idea that there’s a
lot metric butt load of free content out there on the internet. Here I’m talking strictly about the legal, self published stuff. There are comic strips, novels, music, movies and more and all of this costs you absolutely nothing. It seems crazy and a lot of people really don’t understand it. I have been and will continue to be not only a cheerleader but an active participant in this community for years now and even I’m only beginning to “figure it out”.
For some people this seems to be mostly about finding a way to make inroads into the traditional publishing model. The thought being, if I can get a large enough fan base, then I can get the attention of the “gate keepers” at the big publishing houses and they’ll print my stuff and sell it. This has worked with varying degrees of success for authors like Scott Sigler, Pip Ballantine, and JC Hutchins, who all have struck deals with big labels. For others like PG Holyfield, Nathan Lowell, and Tee Morris their efforts have lead to deals with smaller publishers (and in Tee’s case publication of his non-fiction with big houses).
The traditional road is not one that others seem to be striving for. There’s a more “do it yourself” flair in authors like Cory Doctorow and Matt Selznick. While neither would eschew traditional publishing (and Cory has been published by Tor), it seems that they want to use all possible channels to get their stuff out there and cut out the middle man. That’s not to say that the aforementioned authors aren’t open to all ideas, I’m just talking about where their focus seems to be to me at the present time. Matt talks quite a bit about the neo-patronage idea. If I understand it correctly (and he may not have used these precise words), it’s about finding a smaller number of fans and dealing directly with them. I think that’s laudable.
So, why am I writing about this? Well two blog posts have come to my attention recently.
In the first, JC Hutchins let us know that the 7th Son sequels are not going to be picked up by his publishers thanks to the first novel not meeting their sales goals. He also says that he fears that the free model working as it has for some may be a fleeting moment and that he will no longer be contributing to it, at least not for a while. I felt saddened by his news, but I have to ask, is that me being selfish? If I truly want to be supportive of a fellow artist whose work I enjoy, shouldn’t I be more okay with his decision? I should, but I’m soooo used to that teat. Rather than being patient and waiting to purchase the works when/if they come out, the little voice in me wants to lament that I won’t get the fix I’ve come to expect. I mean I purchased Personal Effects: Dark Arts, but I didn’t purchase 7th Son. Intentions to buy it aside, that money still sits in my pocket and not his and I gave him only half of the financial support I could have.
The other blog post was from a source I’d never heard of. Astonishing Adventures Magazine is shutting it’s doors. John Carlucci says, “We deserve to get paid for what we create.” And you know what? That’s a valid way of thinking. The magazine wasn’t generating the revenue it needed to and so it closed. He also said, “I’m tired of killing myself and not making the smallest of footsteps ahead.” That’s worthy of consideration too.
So, is “free” dead, simply dying, or what? Well I think that it’s too early to tell. I, for one, certainly hope not and I intend to continue putting out free content, while hoping to figure out how to get paid in the meantime. But this whole thing raises a question for me. Do we “deserve to get paid”? Should we kill ourselves, spending all of our spare time and energy in shaking our butts and trying to “get ahead”?
I think the answer to that, at least for me, is no and no.
I don’t get to decide that I “deserve” to get paid. Now that’s not to say that I don’t think what I write is worth something. And yet here I be, writing words I have no expectation of earning a nickel for. I think that for me, it’s about writing something that’s worth your time. If you decide that that time is worth your money, well that’s your call. Would I like to get paid? Oh absolutely. Money is great. I’d love to quit the day job and spend hours and hours creating. Even then though, isn’t it the audience that decides whether or not we deserve to get paid? If I don’t buy JC’s book (provided I am capable financially) then isn’t that me deciding that he didn’t deserve it? If I don’t buy it then he didn’t earn my money, did he? (And for the record I do intend to buy it. He did earn every red cent that I will eventually give him.) keep in mind, I’m not certain of everything in this paragraph, this is me thinking.
One thing I think I am sure of though is that I’m not killing myself for anything. Maybe that means I don’t have what it takes. If I’m not willing to shed blood, sweat, and tears and shake my tail feathers as hard as some out there do, then maybe I won’t make it. I think I’m okay with that. I do want to write. I do want to write professionally. I will sweat for that. I will lose sleep over it. I will likely even cry over it at some point. But proverbially kill myself? Sacrifice my every waking moment or very nearly? No, I don’t think I’m in a place to do that, especially for zero/nominal return. Kudos to those of you who make the sacrifice and I hope it pays off.
So all of this said, why do I put out free content? I don’t expect that it will get me published. I don’t think it will get me a lot of kudos/feedback, though it has garnered me more than not podcasting has. This whole podcasting thing started out as and continues to be about me creating more and learning more. I’ve also made a lot of friends and met a metric butt load (can you tell I’ve got a new pet phrase?) of awesome people. I’ve written more as a result and am trying to hone my craft (that doesn’t sound too writerly at all, does it?). So that’s why I podcast and that’s what I expect. That’s why I give it away. If it has any side benefits, like Random House or Dragoon Moon Press offering me a contract or me getting an agent, then I’m not gonna cry. Ultimately though, even if it does, it’s up to the audience to decide what my writing is worth in terms of dollars and cents.
Am I right or am I waaaay off base here?
Matt Selznick clarified his neo-patronage concept. Here ’tis:
Hi Scott — great post; thanks for including me in it. I wanted to clarify a few things.
It’s nice to be included in the same sentence with Cory — yeah, we share some DIY sensibilities, it’s true — and we’re both (he on a larger scale than me, of course) published by third parties. You mentioned Tor with Cory — my first book, “Brave Men Run — A Novel of the Sovereign Era” is published by Swarm Press and hasn’t been available in it’s self-published paperback form since July of 2008.
You mentioned neo-patronage. Neo-patronage doesn’t have anything to do with dealing directly with a small number of fans. Neo-patronage is a compensation model that asks everyone who takes value from their experience of a piece of art to compensate the artist accordingly. The idea is that the audience is the arbiter of value… if you think the experience of reading “Brave Men Run” for free online is worth $5.00, or $20.00, or $50.00… great! If you think it’s not worth anything, fine.
Under neo-patronage, if you enjoy a book, that author did, in fact, earn the right to be compensated by you, since the author provided you with a service — an experience you would not have otherwise had and, presumably, you enjoyed. So I disagree with you there — even if you haven’t paid the author, they still earned the right to be paid.
When someone does work or performs a service, they deserve to be compensated — just like when you go to your day job and do your work, you deserve to be paid whether or not the boss actually pays you. You’d be put out if you didn’t get paid for work you did, right?
That’s the thinking behind neo-patronage. Pay what you think the work is worth, and never assume that something available “for free” has no value.