Giving Your Work Away For Fun and Profit (A Balticon 2022 Panel)

Here’s another batch of notes from my Balticon 2022 rewatch.

The description of the titular panel was as follows:

Everyone loves free stuff, but authors need to pay the bills. Can you make money by giving your work away, and if so, how do you choose what to distribute for free? What tools and metrics can you use to show a publisher or business partner that the work that you give away for free is driving sales?

The panelists were Brenda Clough, Leonardo (Leo) Espinoza Benavides, Jean Marie Ward, and Donald Ekpeki, with Angela Yuriko Smith as moderator.

While the dream of most authors is to have their writing pay the bills (or more), most of us are willing to settle for getting paid something for our words. That said, there are legitimate reasons to give away the fruits of your work — in certain situations.

Factors to consider:

The primary factor is: can the writer afford to wait for non-tangible returns to turn into cash?

  • Blogging, internships, social media posts — all of these are often unpaid, and fill hours or days of a writer’s life weekly. Will the skills learned here be applicable where the writer wants to pivot? And there is a privilege inherent for those who can afford to work for free/or a pittance.
  • Whether the audience they’re getting ‘exposure’ with is the same audience they’re writing for-profit books for. Are they getting an equal or better return on investment that they could get from spending advertising dollars
  • The percentage of writing they can afford to give away — a chapter or a first book can be enticing, but when most of your catalog is free, you start to set up expectations for your readers
  • Is the writer’s end goal to be a ‘pro’ writer? Because you cannot qualify for pro status, without being paid at pro market rates (for sff, 8 cents a word)
  • The writer’s market — some subgenres are hard sells, some countries have low pay rates, and some countries, it’s hard for people outside the country to send them money or payments.

Copyright Concerns

While you cannot copyright ideas and you automatically hold the copyright for any story you write, be wary about where you post it and who you let play in your world.

We’ve all seen the viral screen-shot stories with the author filed off. And, if you let enough people play in your world, with your characters — especially if you look at and approve the stories — that erodes your ability to both enforce your copyright and clouds the ownership status when TV or movie producers show up. Far too often, with the amount of monies at risk, they’d rather avoid the whole issue, than risk a lawsuit.

That said, if you ever get a call/DM/whatever with an offer from a producer, agree to nothing. Tell them your people will talk to their people, then find an entertainment lawyer and/or agent to represent you, ASAP

Giveaways that help

  • First looks at a new series (often in exchange for signing up for your newsletter)
    • Gets you direct access to the reader that social media’s fickle algorithms don’t control (assuming they read their email)
    • Either get them hooked on your new characters/story, or let them skip it (and avoid bad ratings if it’s not for them)
  • Donating stories/work to charity anthologies
    • Gets your work out there
    • Gets your name out there
    • Hopefully associates you with a cause you support

Most unusual giveaways that worked

  • created freebie ‘books’ in Second Life with the first chapter of their book series
  • leveraging giveaways for visibility during award nomination season
  • giving books to colleges — win for the schools, great exposure

What are your favorite types of freebies? Both on the giving end and the receiving?

What do you think?

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