Four Reasons to Put Your Creative Work Online

There’s something fun about finding stuff for free online.

It’s everywhere. Free software. Free music. Free movies. Free books and stories.

And that’s just the legal stuff.

A little while ago, Monica Valentinelli put up a pretty good argument why content creators (not just authors) shouldn’t put too much of their work up online for free. It’s worth reading (the link should pop open in a new window; I’ll be here when you come back), and – while related to the “writer’s pay rates” discussion that broke after she wrote her bit, isn’t quite the same.

If you read down, you might have noticed that I disagreed in the comments. I’ve been thinking about it more since then, so I compiled four reasons why authors putting their work online for “free” might be worthwhile – and tomorrow I’ll post five more why it’s a bad idea.

1) Exposure is the biggest problem that new authors have with their books. In general, this is the case. A publisher is not likely to spend the same amount promoting your first novel as, say, the latest by Grisham or King. Putting your creative work out there can get you fans who would never have heard of you otherwise. This is explicitly how I became familiar with Doctorow, Stross, and Watts’ work. Since, I’ve bought books from all of them. The implication here is that without becoming familiar with them, they would lose net sales. I would not have bought the book I read for free anyway, and then would not have bought later books either. The same thing goes for music; I have not bought any music in nearly a decade without hearing the artist first. (and I don’t mean just the track that gets played on the radio.)

Likewise, I hope that when I do link to a source where you can buy my work (such as the Hungry for Your Love anthology, or the upcoming Timeshares that you will do so, knowing that you’ll like my story. Podcast novelists have also used this as a selling point when shopping their manuscript to publishers – there’s an audience already enjoying the work.

2) Putting your work online for free builds a relationship. Strangely enough, I heard this same model proposed by a gentleman who started “Doable Evangelism” (heard on This American Life). I have a sense of a relationship – almost social obligation – with several authors and magazines who barely know I exist. Escape Artists is a good example here; because of the conversational tone and relationship building that occurs, I feel like I know some of the more prominent hosts like Alasdair, Steve, and M K Hobson. As a result, I didn’t hesitate to hit that “monthly subscriber” button, and don’t think twice about it.

3) Putting your work online for free can suck people in. Both teasers (first chapters and “previews”) and standalone short stories can pull people into your franchise. I first ran across Jim Hines’ goblin stories as free podcasts (Goblin Hunter can be found at Clonepod, and Goblin Lullaby can be found at PodCastle). When I later had the opportunity to buy the books, I did. I knew and cared about the characters already. I’ve bought every book of his since, too. You can read the first chapter of all of his books at his website, too. The Princess Books are especially good.

These points also apply to public readings and libraries. I happened into a reading Lawrence Connolly was doing for his book Veins; I bought the book right afterword. I hadn’t been familiar with Fredrick Pohl’s work until I picked up Gateway in a military library back in 1995.

4) Free work online is not a perfect substitute for paid work. This is even more easily demonstrated with music. If I wanted to – for example – hear another Lacuna Coil song, I would have to buy their new album. There are similar artists – in this case, Evanescence – but they are not the same. So in one sense – and switching back to stories – the sales of Analog and Asimov’s are not threatened by my drabbles I post here. This is also the message of this boingboing post where a paywall helped one small newspaper – but also points out how it would doom larger ones.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at five reasons against the idea of putting your creative work online. Now go spend some money on some authors – check out Drive Thru Sci-Fi, Fictionwise, or even buy some works on Amazon!

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