Is being read reward enough?

Chris Anderson at The Long Tail is talking about the move towards self-publishing and free distribution of books..

Why give away your book?:
Charles Sheehan-Miles, who wrote “Republic: A Novel of America’s Future”, explains why he’s giving away his ebook in any way, shape or form you want it:

No more sample chapters, partial books that end in the middle, none of that. You can download and read the complete book. Share it with your friends, email it, do anything you want with it except sell it.

Here’s why: the biggest challenge most authors face isn’t online piracy. It’s not people out there diabolically copying their works and distributing them for free. In fact most authors (including yours truly) suffer from a different problem entirely — no one has ever heard of them. After all, literally hundreds of thousands of new titles come out every year, and only a few hundred writers in the entire United States (if that many) actually live off their books full time. So, by giving away the book, I hope more people actually read it.

Tim O’Reilly was the first to say that the enemy of authors isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity. For the vast majority of authors, being read is actually reward enough. How to turn that recognition into a living is a whole other process, and not necessarily one that depends on the traditional book industry to deliver. Good thing, too, since it so rarely does.

Is obscurity really the bane? Does anyone really read free books? Or is consumption driven by perceived value measured in dollars and cents?

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Is being read reward enough?

  1. It’s a good point, one I’ll be addressing in the coming months as I plan to load four novels on my blog, hoping to draw attention to my work. I’ve been a professional writer for over 20 years, two of my novellas are currently being adapted into movies…and I STILL can’t make it past the teetering slush piles on editors’ desks. So…I’ll create my own buzz and rather than constantly approaching publishers, hat in hand, I’ll make them come to ME. That’s the plan, anyway. I’ll let you know in the next 12-15 months if it was successful. Good post, important theme…

  2. Cliff –

    It’s nice to hear an outside voice. In a few weeks, this blog will be occupied by 20 students interested in online writing, publishing, and scholarship. I’m betting they’ll your comment helpful – encouraging. Hope to hear more.

  3. Well…practical advice I’ve got, a wealth of experiences (most of them pretty bad–I wrote an essay about my so-called career titled “Solace of Fortitude”)…but encouraging words? Dunno if I’m your guy for that. Writing is a hard life, perseverance counts FAR more than raw talent and a facility with words. Nevertheless, I do wish your students the best…

  4. “perseverance counts FAR more than raw talent and a facility with words”

    a truer phrase is hard to find, and I think this is the case in most of the disciplines out there.

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