giving it away

On WritingI’ve downloaded dozens of free books for my Kindle. Do you know how many of those free books I’ve read? None. Not a single one.

Years ago, I had several friends who were studying marriage and family therapy in the same university program. As a part of their degree path, they had to work at a low-cost clinic, offering counseling services at dramatically reduced rates. I understood why their rates were cheaper than those charged by licensed therapists–they were still in school. But, as I understood it, some of their clients were just barely scraping by economically. Why, I asked, didn’t they allow those clients to visit the clinic for free? Why even bother with a $5 per visit charge?

The answer they gave made a lot of sense: because when people don’t pay anything for counseling services, they rarely take therapy seriously. Said another way, we don’t place a great deal of value on things we get for free.

The same is true for art. For that reason, I’m not a big fan of giving your art away.

Granted, I publish fiction here every week and anyone can browse to my blog and read it. I don’t charge for access to my website, and I don’t use any kind of advertising to monetize it. In fact, the fiction series I’m working on right now is basically the first draft of a novel, and while I fully intend to seek publication with it one day, anyone can read the first draft for free. Does that mean I’m breaking my own rule?

I don’t think so. This blog is a testing ground for me. I’ve published several of the stories that appeared here as first drafts, though the published versions were more refined. If and when I rewrite The Dark Calling, it will be a much fuller, more cohesive story in novel form. I don’t feel like I’m just giving it away by making the first draft available here in small chunks.

But know this: whether I self-publish or hook up with an agent and a traditional publishing house, I don’t plan on ever making my books available at no cost. I value my own art, and I want others to, as well. I understand why so many self-published authors give their books away. They want to generate buzz and attract new readers. But I think they end up shooting themselves in the foot because a lot of people, like me, will download their books but never get around to reading them.

The books I pay for? Oh, I read those. Even if I only paid 99¢.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to lure readers to your work by giving it away. Yes, it’s hard to get people to pay for something by an author they’ve never heard of, but it’s even harder to convince people to value your work when you clearly don’t.

Make ’em pay, even if only a little. Your work is worth it.


About Ash Martin
Ash Martin writes dark fantasy and horror, has a thing for classic monster legends, Nordic mythology, coffee, and sarcasm, and is currently working on multiple books.

4 Responses to giving it away

  1. “But know this: whether I self-publish or hook up with an agent and a traditional publishing house, I don’t plan on ever making my books available at no cost. I value my own art, and I want others to, as well.”
    I agree, Adam. It’s human that we value most what doesn’t come cheaply. I hear so many readers say they have many free books downloaded to their readers that they know they will never ‘get to’.
    Good post!


    • dex says:

      Thanks, Cynthia!

      When I first bought my Kindle Reader, I went nuts downloading free books. There are so many! I kept thinking, “This is great! Look at all these books I didn’t pay a dime for…” A couple of years later, I still haven’t read a single one of those free books. Instead, when I finish a book, the books I paid for (even if I only paid a little) are at the top of my list to tackle next.


  2. Julie says:

    Yes, this. Thank you for saying what I’ve been thinking for a couple of years. I’m the same way and I’ve often thought it would be interesting to have someone do a real study on this. I suspect you and I are not alone.

    And I agree that it does reflect on how you value your work, not to mention the time you’ve put into it.


    • dex says:

      Thanks, Julie. I think it reflects on both–how you value your own work and how others will value it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with offering your work at a reduced price, but not for free. It should mean more to the writer and to the reader.


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