I recently shared a story for free on Wattpad. It was a 6,000 word story. Previously, I’d seen other people sell stories of this length on Amazon for $0.99 and a part of me wondered whether or not I should be doing the same. In the end, I decided that what I wanted most was a place to share and so I decided to create a Wattpad page. But as more of my stories get closer and closer to being ready for the world, I find myself asking questions about where, how and why I want to make them available.
I write books inspired by themes and events in Haudenosaunee history. My Wattpad story was written for a science fiction contest called Imagining Indigenous Futurisms that I never wound up entering and was inspired in part by my people’s Creation Story, in which a pregnant woman falls to Earth from Skyworld.
As I write and read about other authors and Indigenous publishers, I realize that there may not be a lot of market yet for books like mine. I recently started reading Mindy Kaling’s book “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” and in the introduction she makes a joke about the target audience her publisher’s research determined her book would appeal to (Aunts of America). She then thanks readers for choosing her book over the hundreds of teenage vampire stories that are out there. It’s both funny and true. There's a huge market for teenage vampire stories (I know I’ve read my fair share) and every once in awhile, it makes me wonder if maybe I needed to be writing something different, something in a genre people want to read right now and that an agent or publisher might be looking for.
This usually only lasts a few seconds because then I remember I’m not writing because I have dreams of becoming rich. I just want be healthy, happy and safe and I want to spend my time doing things I love and am passionately interested in. And if, on top of all that great, good happiness, I am fortunate enough to make money, I want to put it towards making more language resources (stories, plays, books, puppet shows, etc) because I love Haudenosaunee languages and culture.
Where does that leave me with wanting to give books away for free? I'm not exactly sure yet. I like my Wattpad experience so far. I'm just so amazed and grateful that people actually read the story and I definitely want to put more writing there in the future. But I’m still trying to decide how to share the rest of my work. Looking at how other artists and writers are approaching this has been a great help. There are many artists giving their art away through a pay-what-you-want model. This lets people support them within their means. Here are some of the reasons why the idea of making stories free appeals to me:
- I love reading. Reading has always been a huge escape for me and as a child, I pretty much read for free. I mean, my parents paid for my books but they couldn’t buy me every single book I wanted (which is why I learned to speed read at the age of seven). I think I read most of the Babysitter’s Club series from the carpeted corner of the local bookstore and only bought the thickest books of the series as a rule.
- Another reason I want to give away books for free is because I really hear what Amanda Palmer has to say about art being as free and shareable as possible. And I know that money isn’t the only value you can place on a piece of art. Even though I haven’t shared them publically, my little sister has illustrated almost every single piece of writing I’ve ever written. I may never share those stories and will likely never receive a cent for them, but it doesn’t matter because I still have these amazing pieces of art.
- I also understand what Ksenia Anske says in this post about giving books away for free so that people can sample your work before investing their hard earned money, especially if you are a new writer who no one has really read before.
Bottom line: there are some compelling arguments for giving away and sharing art.
But there are also compelling reasons for selling art. I know that I couldn’t have survived growing up if people didn’t feel it was important to pay for art (my dad is a sculptor). So giving away art for free is a wonderful but not always feasible concept. People have basic needs to meet and in many cases—families to care for. To do so, they need to be able to earn a living somehow in a stable and predictable way. It’s probably why I actually love buying books and art now that I can. I want people to be able to make a living creating beautiful things that help and inspire others while being able to support themselves. Plus, I’ve been poor and in debt before—I know how stressful it can be to try and be creative when a little voice in your head is telling you that your art won’t pay the bills.
I know the decision will be different for every writer and artist, and this isn't meant to sway anyone one way or the other - it's really just me thinking out loud. However I choose to tackle this from here on in, I know the first step is still to write the best story I possibly can. I’m learning a lot through the editing process. I’m almost finished the fourth draft of my book The Fortune Teller’s Daughter and I’ll be looking at ways to make it stronger through the next few drafts. Creating greater emotional impact. Killing darlings. Evaluating character voice. I may even change the title! My goal is simply to have a really exciting, page turning, engaging story by the end.
What about you? Do you have a plan for how you are going to distribute or market your books? Are you going to give away any of your books for free? Do you already?
Happy writing and editing everyone!