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A week or so ago, author Brian Keene wrote something that I've been thinking about a lot lately. At the Horror Drive-In forums, regarding the rise of digital piracy and the glut of Kindle e-books that are either FREE or priced at 99 CENTS, Brian wrote:
"We are training an entire generation of readers and consumers to expect the book for free, or next to nothing. I can't feed my sons on free or next to nothing."
For some reason, writers have been conditioned to believe that you must give your work away for free until you "make a name for yourself." This practice is becoming more and more common with the ease of Kindle Direct Publishing, where anyone can upload and sell (or give away) their books or stories or self-help manuals or instructionals on how to crossbreed frogs and monkeys. And it's a practice that makes me shudder almost every time.
Question: When was the last time either of these scenarios have happened?
1.) As a working professional, you attended a job interview for your dream position. You were dressed smartly and didn't smell like you had washed up that morning in a McDonalds bathroom. The bosses, impressed with your education, said, "Okay, we're going to offer you the job, but you'll have to work for free until we decide you're worth paying."
2.) A fancy new restaurant opened up just down the street from your house. You were there on opening day, with your family and friends, and you all cozied up into a booth with a scenic lake view. When handed a menu, you said, "The prime rib and garlic potatoes sounds good, and so do the crab legs. I'll take both, but I'm going to come back tomorrow and try a few other things, and I want it all for free until I decide your food is good enough to pay for." And they agreed.
I left that blank because it should be obvious.
Now, let's take those metaphors and translate them into terms that concern us as writers. Let's say Editor A has one open slot in an anthology about real life encounters with zombie chickens. Along with his submission, Writer #1 puts in his cover letter, "I have fifty stories available for free on my blog, and each one has been viewed fifty times." Writer #2 submits a story, and writes in her cover letter, "I have sold one story to Editor B for inclusion in [nationally distributed magazine of your choice]."
Question: Both stories being equal, who do you think is going to get the nod? The writer who gives his work away for free or the writer who convinces the editor that her work is worth paying for?
I left that blank because the answer should be obvious.
Writing is hard work. Like any other skill, it takes time and study and patience and, yes, even natural talent. And before you can convince an editor that your work is worth paying for, before you can convince readers that your work is worth paying for, you have to believe that your work is worth paying for.
In very simple terms, the biggest difference between a professional and an amateur is that a professional gets paid.