*Note 9/3/10: Since Scribd.com instituted an access fee scam to charge people for downloading e-books, including those I have provided for free for the last ten years, I have removed my free library from their site, and no longer use or recommend using their service. My free reads may be read online or downloaded for free from Google Docs; go to my freebies and free reads page for the links. See my post about this scam here.
Today marks my first anniversary of posting my free e-books on Scribd, a public document hosting site which provides free reads to everyone on the planet.
From the beginning I was impressed with how easy the site is to use, and how quickly I could publish an e-book by using their upload service. I started with about a dozen of the e-books and stories I'd already written, and in a few days created an instant virtual library.
Scribd also provided me with hard numbers in the form of statistics, such as running totals of views, downloads, global geographic locations of my Scribd readers and approval citations. When one of my documents proved very popular in a short period of time, Scribd gave me a nice reward by listing it on their Hot List, or featuring it on their home page, which brought in even more readers.
The comments and e-mail I received through the site were immensely helpful. I had over four hundred exchanges with readers interested in my print work and other writers who had questions about electronic publishing, copyright, promotional e-books and related subjects. That helped me expand my horizons, pick up some new readers, and also pass along what I'd learned.
PBW benefitted from Scribd as well. I was able to use the site to host my diagrams, workshop e-books and other materials I used to teach, which came in very handy during my virtual workshops last summer. The most popular document I have on Scribd to date is, in fact, my Novel Notebook, with over ten thousand views in nine months. NaNoWriMo'ers also stopped in by the hundreds in November to check out and download my Ten Point Plotting Template, and I hope that proved helpful to all the first time novelists out there.
The only downside to using Scribd were a few obvious troll and SPAM messages (can't escape them no matter where we go.) Some writers have contacted me and expressed their displeasure with the project, as they still believe that garbage RT published about me. What I'm doing is no different than an author who hands out free books at writer conferences -- my way is just more efficient, doesn't cost anything, and reaches a much wider, more interested audience. I also don't have to travel, pay con fees, stay in strange hotels, eat mystery chicken or have my immune system compromised while I'm at it. Furthermore, I'm not posting or handing out copies of my print work; my e-books on Scribd are all self-published, not-for-profit original content, and they're not available anywhere else. That = exclusive content readers can't buy in stores.
At the moment advertising may or may not become an issue. A couple of days ago I did ask Scribd to take down the Random House picture ad for Tess Gerritsen's novel The Surgeon that was placed on my doc page for Incarnatio, as more than a few people thought I'd put it there myself. As it happens, I've never read the book, nor was I consulted about the ad placement. I receive no compensation for the ads Scribd lists on my doc pages, nor do I want any. While I admire Ms. Gerritsen's success and wish her only more of the same, I feel it's inappropriate for her publisher to use my free e-book pages in this manner. Readers can and already have mistaken the ad as my personal endorsement of the book. I explained this all to the guys at Scribd, and as far as I know the ad has since disappeared, so hopefully this won't happen again.
Overall the problems were few, and Scribd in essence allowed me to distribute in a one-year period over seventy-five thousand copies of my free stories, novellas, novels and nonfic materials. I never had to solicit the readers or SPAM them. If the reader wanted an electronic or printed copy, they took care of it from their end. I didn't have to ship anything or purchase expensive advertising. My Scribd virtual library is self-sustaining and, once an e-book is uploaded and made available, requires no maintenance on my part whatsoever. There was no fuss with international rights or making my stories available in countries that will not import or publish my print work. People looking for the sort of stuff I write found it through site searches. They are readers all over the globe looking for something to read, which surely is the most valuable market out there, and Scribd is a direct conduit to them.
I can't say how many folks who read my work on Scribd later went out to buy my print work -- there's just no way to know that. However, last year the print books I published showed a significant boost in sales numbers. Since I continue to receive little or no promotional support from my publisher for my books (which is fine, because I've been around a long time and I have an established readership, and they need their advertising budgets to help out new writers) and I haven't done anything differently except put my e-books on Scribd, I'm going to give Scribd credit for helping to expand my readership in 2008.