Monday, April 21, 2008

Dissing the Advantages

I'm getting a lot more of that irate e-mail about the stories I write for my readers and make available online for free. The general misconception is that I've just started doing this, when in fact I've been doing it regularly for the last seven years.

It's true that I have certain advantages over other writers: 1) I write quickly, 2) I write every day, 3) I produce a huge amount of work and 4) I enjoy playing in the worlds I create and hanging out with my characters on the page.

So I'm fast, prolific, and I basically write my own fanfic. Those are pretty much my only advantages in this biz. Since I turned pro, I've used them to help me achieve a modest amount of success. Until last year, no one ever complained to me about the free stories I posted online. Frankly, no one cared what I did, which allowed me a lot of freedom to experiment, give back to my readership for their support, and become the writer I wanted to be.

I didn't follow the herd. I did what I wanted to do. Some of it worked, and some of it didn't, but I learned a lot. I'm still learning.

Over the years I have been pressured to make the con rounds, enter contests, maintain a web site, hold booksignings, pay for book videos, trade advertising, blog tours, and other expensive forms of promotion that come and go as trends. I was told -- repeatedly -- that I would never be a bestselling author unless I did all those things.

I did a few things early on in my career, but I couldn't afford to do most of them, so I said no. A few years ago I quit doing everything but what I wanted to do, which was write an online journal, give away books, and write stories for my readers (and became a bestselling author anyway. Go figure.) Even though I'm still regularly pressured to do the latest trend thing, I still say no and do what I want. Oddly enough, they haven't thrown me out of publishing because I say no to them. In this business, believe it or not, you are allowed to say no.

Despite that pressure, not once have I ever said "That's unfair" to writers who produce clever book videos, or whose work wins important industry awards, or who attend conferences and dazzle readers with their wit and workshops, or who have a gorgeous pricey web site and thousands of readers posting on their discussion boards. They're simply making choices, using their advantages, promoting their work and competing with me for readers. If they get more readers and sell more books, I'm not going to suggest that by doing so that they're selling out and/or being unfair to me because I don't do those things.

I understand how promo trends drive the herd. We've seen hundreds of authors start blogs, create MySpace and FaceBook pages, produce book videos, do podcasts, not because they wanted to, but only because it seemed to be working for another author. If you're going to try something, don't do it because everyone else is. Do what you're comfortable with, what inspires you, and what makes you happy. Use the advantages you have, and be the writer you want to be, not the writer you think you have to be. Maybe you'll come up with an idea that will get you a lot of irate e-mail seven years down the road.


  1. Scratching head, still trying to figure out why giving away stories is a bad thing. Or why giving away stories is different from, say, giving away bookmarks, or giving away time at a book signing or con panel. A bookmark is a gift for a reader. A new short story about beloved characters is a gift for the reader. Different swag, that's all. Aren't promo ideas supposed to be fun and different?

    Maybe someone can explain the problem to me because I'm clueless.

  2. Anonymous11:30 AM

    I really wish I could understand why people get upset because you give away free ebooks.

    If their writing appeals to readers, you giving away a free read isn't going to cost them readers-readers like who they like and a free ebook isn't going to change that.

    If it doesn't appeal...well, you giving away free ebooks isn't going to change things either.

  3. Isn't there something about a 'gift horse' here that should apply?

    I don't understand why peope aren't grateful. You could just as easily do nothing, but then I suppose you'd be cheating yourself more than anyone. :/

  4. Kudos to you, Lynn.

    I went as far as paying the price for a website, I've started a blog--which takes too much time away from writing stories--and read a few of them. Ditto the time on that, too. I'm not into following the herd on all else, though I've not been pressured.

    Unlike you, I'm not the speediest writer, but I do get a kick out of creating my characters and their stories.

  5. Anonymous12:16 PM

    Wait... signings and cons are supposed to be promotional requirements?

    I thought they were perks!

    Get to go someplace I wanted to go anyway, only with three magic words added: "deductible business expense". Good stuff. But I may be more extroverted than the average (wannabe) writer. :)

  6. I have little doubt the majority here is going to want to mob-mock the e-mailers who begrudge your doing as you will. (Hey, pal: MOCK YOU!)

    The thing I am completely baffled by is when you are doing all of these things. Are you plotting the demise of other writers and the publishing industry while receiving an hourly wage from either (or both)?

    If you are, I want IN. I want IN IN IN because I am forced to plot the many and various ways to undermine the success of my students on my weekends, and I find it shameful I am not paid for this service.

    Now, what’s free today?

  7. As Bob Dylan once said, "You're nothing until you've been booed."

    I love that line, and use it way too much, but there's an essential truth there. You're getting under people's skin, and that's a Good Thing.

  8. Do you get irate e-mails when you give up and coming writers the tools and advice they need to get (and stay) published? Honestly, I have never heard of another pro writer doing that. The advice and free stories you give not onlymakes you a good writer, but a great human being.

    When I told someone that I was a dual major in history and creative writing he stated that he was thinking about creative writing, but there wasn't any money in it. I thought, why should I waste my degree on something I hate just to make money? When you are willing to do something for free, people will pay you greatly for it.

    Keep up with the free stories if they make you happy. Good job, Lynn!
    Sorry it was so long.

  9. "Be the writer you want to be, not the writer you think you have to be."

    Very wise words and just what I needed to hear today. (Thanks.)

    Hey, Bill, love the Dylan quote.

  10. "Right On!" pretty much sums it up.

    The notion of "competition" for readers is flawed, IMO. Writers might compete for publishing slots, but they don't compete for readers. The reader-related battle is between reader interest and reader disinterest, and it involves only one book at a time. Not once have I witnessed a Literary Steel Cage Deathmatch between Book A and Book B to determine which goes home with a reader.

    Though that would be funny as hell, if somebody wanted to make THAT into a video...

  11. As one of your readers, I adore your free books. That another writer would complain...I just don't get it.

    As a writer, I adore giving away free stories and have continued to do so ever since your free e-book challenge. Not only did you give your readers a gift, but you gave many of us aspiring writers a chance to be read. I've lost track of how many people have downloaded my contribution, and people still talk about it. I know I have sold a few books today only because of the free story I gave away nearly 2 years ago. So a huge thank you from me.

    Also, I hope I was not the cause of the negative e-mails, because I did mention your free e-book challenge on Dear Author this past weekend...

  12. I'm getting a lot more of that irate e-mail about the stories I write for my readers and make available online for free.

    Your stories. Your websites. Your business. Wtf?

    Maybe you'll come up with an idea that will get you a lot of irate e-mail seven years down the road.

    Lookin' forward to it. ;)

  13. Wow. I love your free stories. I squee and devour them as soon as they're posted. I love and devour your books, too. Should every author do this? No. For starters, some just aren't short story writers.

    I like writing short stories and I accept that the cost of submitting vs. the payment short fiction brings means I'm pretty much better off making my shorties freebies, too. I don't see how this costs anybody.

    I like blogging. I like having a website. I have two kids and going to cons isn't happening until they're a lot older, and even then unless I am making big bucks, I'm not sure it's how I want to spend my only vacation time. I'd like to think my career can continue regardless.

    I started designing a book trailer for an upcoming book because it was fun, a different way to flex my creative muscles. Will it draw any reader? I don't know. I just know I like the project and it makes me happy. And that's reason enough to invest in it, good career move or not.

  14. I think that for longevity, one has to do their art the way they want to do it. :)

  15. Some people need a life. Away from their email accounts. :)

    The business needs more people like you who don't play to trends and encourage others not to do so, either, if they feel uncomfortable with it.

    So, should I ever get published, I'll refuse to get a MySpace page, spend money on videos or attend cons (you really don't want to meet me after I've been forced to spend an hour in a crowd of people; it makes me very, very grumpy). I have a blog and a website, that should be enough.

    Though I admit I wish I could write as fast as you and share some freebie stories.

  16. I have the blog because I like people and I enjoy networking with other writers and that seems the best way to do it for me, not because I think I need it. Sure, I hope that come agent-shopping time it will give me a slight advantage, but that's not why I do it.

    And working in a bookstore, I know that all the promo in the world can't win readers any better than solid word of mouth (and the occasional face-out *g*).

    That said, I saw the book your thought for the month is from and died laughing. I think my favorite is, "You know you're a writer when... you have an opinion on the serial comma." You mean it's not a hotly debated topic among regular people?


  17. Hang tough, and keep giving!

  18. Speaking as a reader, thank you very much for the freebies. It's a fun way to let me hang out in your Darkyn world while I wait for the next book.

  19. Good grief. You wretched pixel-stained technopeasant! or whatever it was :D. It's yours to give away, no?

  20. Oy, this? Again?

    IF YOU want to, YOU should be able to. It's YOUR writing. Fer cryin' out loud.

  21. Reading your thoughts brought to mind the immortal words of Robert Frost ...

    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

    It also made me think back to the days BEFORE blogs & websites & conventions and the like ... somehow we still managed to fill our keeper shelves! I base my book purchasing on the end product, not the glitzy marketing. And if an author wants to share extra chapters or whatever for free, bless 'em! It just whets the readers appetite for more!

    Keep taking your own road and don't let 'em get you down!

    — Bonz

  22. You should be able to do whatever you want do for your fans. The people that complain have nothing better to do. You ROCK!

  23. Perhaps you should require everyone who heckles you to mention how many books they've published and how much money they've made doing it the "right" way. However, since what you're doing seems to be working just fine, I say f@$k em!

  24. I'm with Joely- as a reader, I love your short stories and your novels and read all of them, and as a writer you are my role model of how I want to be when I get published.

  25. When do writers stop being readers? When do they stop appreciating authors who appreciate their fans and start viewing those same authors as rivals?

    It's not "unfair" to give out free stories, it's a gift from a writer who knows how much readers appreciate a good yarn. I adore your free stories. They are great reading, and an inspiration for other writers to follow suit.

  26. Whatever you are doing must be working for you! Keep it up and ignore those naysayers.

  27. I agree with Vicky London,'...also hanging out in your Darkyn world while I wait for the next book.' I love what you do and why you do it :)

  28. I recall you once posted some of the 'irate e-mails' and snarked them to our enjoyment. As a thumb in the eye, I thought it witty and clever.

    Any chance of doing it again? Any? At all?

  29. Thanks for all the supportive comments, folks.

    Jaye wrote: I recall you once posted some of the 'irate e-mails' and snarked them to our enjoyment. As a thumb in the eye, I thought it witty and clever.

    Any chance of doing it again? Any? At all?

    Given the lack of humor these folks suffer from, and the way a few stake out the blog looking for anything they can distort to make themselves look victimized, probably not a good idea.

  30. "Given the lack of humor these folks suffer from, and the way a few stake out the blog looking for anything they can distort to make themselves look victimized, probably not a good idea."


  31. Huh? I must be missing something here. Why would anyone be mad because you gave something away? Don't listen to idiots...the world is full of them, and they multiply in the dark. ;)

  32. Anonymous2:16 PM

    (if this posted twice, I apologieze in advance *wince*)

    You know, Ms. Viehl
    I was actually dissapointed that I'd missed that free e-book challenge you had back in 2006 (?), I really hope it doesn't discourage you from doing one again. (But then, from your blog you don't seem like a woman easily discouraged, I admire that). Because I know for sure, If you hadn't have hosted it the first time, I would never have found such talented, fantastic authors to 'squee' over.

    I admit, I haven't actually read yours yet, but that's only because there are so many I don't where to begin! *grin*

  33. Geeeez, who spit in their bean curd? Every author does what they can to promote themselves and as you pointed out, you happen to write fast and prolifically--so why not give back to your readers with free e-books? It's not like every author has the time/money/inclination to do this. If this person was competing against every author in the business who publishes tonnes of free e-stories online, then their dissent might be a little more understandable.

    Your style of promotion works perfectly for me. I love your sharp wit and all those great stories you give us each year. Thank you for being such a reader-friendly author and so hard-working, too. :D

    P.S. Thanks for your hard work in trying to get the Friday 20 back up again. I'm excited that you'll be answering one of my questions. Thank you!

  34. I'm more than a little amazed that other authors waste time berating you for writing/giving free stories. If they want to do the same, they can.

    If your publisher complained, that might be different.

    Nobody ever said that there was only one way to be successful in this business. We don't all have to do it the same way, nor should we.

    I like going to conferences and learned a lot of valuable info recently at one. I heard over and over that the "new things" in author promotion might be great the first few times somebody does them -- after that, not so much. The general consensus is that a lot of what we were told we should do is a waste of time, energy and money.


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