For All Of Your Work

My cousin’s young twenties-something daughter writes sci-fi and “dystopic” fiction. That stuff is, to be honest, not my personal reading taste. Nonetheless she is certainly creative and talented.

And she insists as well on posting what she writes for free… and hearing that sort of thing makes me groan. If you do that too with your writing, please stop and consider this: even “free” sites you post to sell ads and make money from the content you write, while you – the creator of that content that draws visitors enabling the site to sell ads and make money – often are paid a pittance or even nothing. Think about that.

I wrote also on Monday:

I take this approach because my site revolves around my writing. … You may have noticed that I have NO outside ads at all. I’ve opted (to pay) for an ad-free site not only because I want my books to be the focus of visitors’ attention, but because I really disliked the type of “free site” ads I had been seeing starting to pop up; they were (in my opinion) often seriously cheap and tacky. I didn’t want my site, and especially my books, to be associated with them. I felt they were insulting to readers and to potential readers.

That decision I made a few years ago on “no outside ads” on my blog here is rooted in this belief, and it still applies. Tolerating stupid ads on my site means I am โ€œasking” potential readers to pay for my writing… while also asking them to endure junky ads over which I have about zero control and which pay me not a cent to appear? Am I insane?

The first American to support himself from writing fiction was the author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” and “Rip Van Winkle,” Washington Irving (1783-1859). Yes, books are far more common now than they were in Irving’s time. Mostly because of the internet and social media, the written word has now never been so “inexpensive.”

Still the original is precisely that: it does have an intrinsic value. I recall my cousin also once telling me her daughter justified her posting her writing for “free” by saying something like, “It’s writing for the people.” I could only smile, thinking: “Uh, huh, I was one of those students too back when I was twenty-one also. You too will learn that even communists need to pay bills and will sell their novels. Understand ‘free’ has a cost in your time and your labor that latter being a word familiar, one would think, to any communist; yet your writing labor is freely enriching capitalists who own those web sites… how generous of you.” True maturity will (probably) hit her eventually, as it does (nearly) all of us.

[Excerpt from Passports: Atlantic Lives, 1994-1995. On Kindle. Photo by me, 2019.]

I think about all I’ve published, as well as what I am writing. I’m chatty and often casual on a free blog post like this. To me, my blog here is talking over a coffee, or something harder…

[Photo by me, 2019.]

…about writing and books and related subjects, such as travel. This blog is NOT to me equivalent to writing my novels. I agonize over writing my novels in a way I do no other writing because it will be for sale, will exist long after this web site is gone someday, and I want it to be “perfect.” Yes, it is extremely difficult to support oneself by writing fiction; but that has ALWAYS been the case. Yet because it has been, and is still, that doesn’t mean you should just give away your work.

You say: “But there’s so much out there for free, how can I ask anyone to pay for what I write?”

I reply that’s not the point, this is: Seeking compensation for your work is nothing to be ashamed of.

[Tourists at the Eiffel Tower. Photo by me, July 1996.]

Should artists paint for free because phone cameras are everywhere now and everyone has taken a gazillion pictures of sunsets, sunrises, and, say, the Eiffel Tower, and posted them to Instagram? For regardless of what is out there available for free, people do still purchase paintings of sunsets, sunrises, and of the Eiffel Tower. In that, as always, they are buying THE ART.

[Screen capture of Twitter.]

Writing fiction is also art. Put online for free a 500 page full book that took me a year or two to write? I would be out of my mind. Well, the same applies to sci-fi and “dystopian” – or any genre – short stories and/or poetry. Even if you are doing it ONLY for fun, I do NOT believe in producing original fiction and making it available for free.

If you write original fiction – whatever it is – publish it properly, don’t just give away your creativity and your work. The Kindle is out there, as are paperback publishers. True, you almost certainly won’t sell millions, yet you also never know what success you might have; but if you just post it on some free web site, I guarantee you will never sell a single copy.

And offering what you write for sale is an exhilarating feeling. Seeing your work published for sale provides a far greater sense of personal accomplishment than just uploading it to some web site. Writing while also being aware people will eventually buy your work will not only cause you to work that much harder to write the very best you can, but will in the end make all of those times you were awake at “4 am” and alone at a PC working – there’s that “dirty” word again – far more worth it.

Until the next time I feel like chatting, have a good… wherever you are. ๐Ÿ™‚

4 replies »

    • It was just how I felt. I donโ€™t think the less of anyone who has ads. We all make decisions for our own reasons. I just felt they had to go – that it was worth paying to have a site that is entirely mine.๐Ÿ˜Š

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  1. Thanks for the opportunity to exercise my voice here, Robert. This Instagram/Facebook meltdown is making my vocal chords feel quite rusty, lol!

    I had just lost my job when I first published my website, so I didnโ€™t have a lot of spare cash. Fortunately, some family members reached out to me to let me know that some of the ads posted on my site, ahem, were not PG rated! Needless to say, I coughed up the thirty dollars posthaste!

    I also have to agree regarding the free writing. Iโ€™ve been trying for quite some time to have something published in a literary journal. I suppose I felt this would lend some credibility. Not only was it time consuming, it was also heartbreaking, so Iโ€™ve made the decision to be done. Iโ€™ve decided to self-publish, and I feel pretty darn good about the decision. I agree with you. If someone is going to benefit from the sweat of your brow, monetarily or otherwise, it might as well be you! Take care, Robert!

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    • I decided early on (in 2012-13) that I was going to do this my way, like my own business. I thought I might seek an agent, but changed my mind. After I told my novelist uncle what I was doing (and having seen for three decades of his experiences with publishers and agents), he thought I should just do whatever I wanted; that there is no one way to be a writer. I have university degrees coming out of my you know what. Iโ€™ve written enough papers; I know how to write. I read a lot; I know what books look like and how they are broadly structured. I decided to simply put 2 and 2 together and do what I wanted.

      I enjoy writing for a collegial, small audience, and blogging about my experiences and reading of othersโ€™ (like yours) experiences. (Indeed, I think I would be terrified if MILLIONS ever read my books! I don’t think I want that, believe it or not.) I donโ€™t need, nor will I seek, โ€œvalidationโ€ from anyone other than by people who buy my books. They are all who matter to me. Publishers are in business of course to make money and will publish what they think will sell. What will sell and what is good are often poles apart. Thatโ€™s why โ€“ like TV โ€“ we are beset by, frankly, literary rubbish all over the place. I never forgot Salman Rushdie calling โ€œFifty Shadesโ€ the worst thing he had ever read that was published, that it made โ€œTwilightโ€ look like โ€œWar and Peace.โ€ And the publisher couldnโ€™t print enough. I know I write better than that. (Most college freshers can write better than that.) Are my books perfect? Of course not. Nothing is perfect. Itโ€™s my art. (I read stuff put out by big publishers with typos and faults too.) I want what I do to be warm and accessible and feel real – an โ€œoasisโ€ of sorts. My core writing rule is this: Am I proud enough of what I have written for the public that I could die with them as my โ€œlife legacyโ€ as a writer? Absolutely. And thatโ€™s good enough for me.

      That includes the no ads on here. I wanted to be proud of my web site too. God awful some of those ads are. Embarrassing garbage. I decided they had to go. My call. ๐Ÿ™‚

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