Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

I Get Startled At Times

Basic Publishing And Marketing…

In Digital Book World today was an article by a writer by the name of Laurie Starkey. Now I do not know this Laurie Starkey that I remember, which means nothing considering my old brain.

And Ms. Starkey was simply (very simply) pointing out to clearly flat beginning writers (her article was that basic) that a good way to get started was join together to do anthologies of novels.

Yup, fine with that. I do that all the time. I started that way by selling to magazines.

And she said that the main reason to do it is to get the power of authors together to market and get fans one might not have from other authors. Sounds solid. I do that all the time as well. No issue so far.

What caught my attention is the clear lack of not pointing out the clear history of what she was talking about. She made it sound like these “anthologies” were a brand new thing for marketing writers. And a cheap way.

Now I understand, she was writing to dead beginners. Got that. And more than likely her space was limited. And at the base, the advice was fine.

Except for the free part.

She just told a mass of beginning writers to spend their own money and then give their work away to help in their marketing. (Not sure what they are marketing for if they give their work away, but that’s another topic.)

The free part sent shudders through me.

First off, which I am sure she knew and just didn’t include, anthologies are things that have been around for hundreds of years in one form or another. Authors have been banding together to help promote their stories for hundreds of years and guess what, they got paid for it.

They didn’t pay for it, they got paid.

Pick up a copy of say Asimov’s SF Magazine. What is it? Oh, yeah, a group of authors all in the same pages, all helping each other find new readers. Oh, and getting paid to have their stories in there.

We do a bi-monthly anthology series called Fiction River and we pay the authors to be in each volume.

Today a major bundle of novels (anthology by this Laurie Starkey definition) just finished. I had put it together (called curating) and guess what, we sold lots of bundles, helped a great charity, helped each other promote, and made money.

That’s right, it wasn’t free and all the authors made money. Sorry Ms. Starkey. exists for any writer to go there, put up their stories, curate bundles, and launch them AND GET PAID for the work.

The big bundle that just finished from cost none of us authors to be in it. And our books were still for sale at full price in all the bookstores around the world.

And as a point of interest, the novel I had in that bundle also sold more copies outside the bundle than it normally would over the last three weeks.

But Dean?…

Now I do understand that free has its place in sales. Never on shelves and never for very long, but when used correctly, it can be a valuable tool. I say that all the time.

For example: Kris gives a short story away on her blog every week for free. One week and the story is still for sale in normal channels at normal prices.

Often writers will have a story for sale in normal channels and give it away to their newsletter subscribers. Another good way.

Free can be great sales tool when used correctly.

This article in DBW was well-intended, clearly, and would have been correct if the author just hadn’t said to give the anthologies away. Or if the author would have just made a nod to the publishing and real anthologies and real magazines and bundles as paths for writers to get together, and then presented her argument and reasons for free from a marketing standpoint.

She did none of that.

She said it was good marketing to give these away without reason. And left that idea with a bunch of beginning writers who might actually believe her. Yikes.

So since I am in another great bundle (she called it an anthology) right now with one of my novels, I couldn’t let this stand without at least a warning about the free part. Her suggestion is a horrid use of free.

Just horrid and bad marketing.

While the idea of writers grouping together to help each other in marketing is a fantastic method that has been around for centuries. And is still going strong in this new indie world.

So if you get a chance, do band with other authors to promote one group product that will help each of your books or stories. But for heaven’s sake, grow some belief in your own work and get paid for it.


  • Chong Go

    It’s just painful when I find a good book that’s free, and it turns out the author doesn’t have any other published books.

  • Michael J Lawrence

    I’ve read works by three other indie authors – people who are self-published, non-famous and new on the scene. (Works first published in the past few years.) I finished and enjoyed two, didn’t finish the third. But I paid for each book. And I am very difficult to sell to as a reader. I am a new author’s worst nightmare.

    I have also downloaded a few free books and a bundle. Haven’t touched them. Some of them are from indie authors who have a real following and lots of stars on their books. One is even from a well-known Amazon imprint author. Still, not interested in reading them. I honestly don’t know why, considering I am a cheapskate reader who scours the bargain bin. Not only am I not interested in reading the books, I have no idea who wrote them and don’t really care. (What a horrid thing to say about my fellow indie authors!)

    Once I understood my own disinterest in free books, I realized it is not a good discovery tool for new authors. The only thing I can think of where it might be cool is as a gift to readers who are already part of a writer’s audience – people who have already spent money to read their work. But as a discovery tool – no. And I’ve done free runs. They didn’t help.

    If you can’t sell a book, you probably can’t give it away either. Finding an audience for our work is difficult and many of us may never find one. I imagine many of us who read Dean’s site are in the same boat, with books published and a miserably inactive dashboard while we scratch our heads and wonder how those “other writers” get reviews and get their books into the five digit rankings. I haven’t found an audience because of my writing or my covers or my blurbs or some other facet I don’t yet understand. I haven’t won the trust of readers. Free doesn’t fix any of that. There are no shortcuts.

    • dwsmith

      Well said, Michael. The key is to write what you love and work like crazy to keep learning every bit of craft you can. Then it slowly fires up over time.

  • jo

    2 things.

    First, I’m not sold, at all, on the idea that free-seekers turn into customers or that being high on a freebie chart builds a career.

    Secondly, giving my stuff away for free triggers my gag reflex. You know who gets free stuff from me? My family, at Christmas.

  • Jo

    Dean I wanted to point out that there’s a scam out there using book bundles to hit best seller charts. Authors pay to be part of the bundle, sometimes thousands. Then they market the hell out of it and give away gift cards to people who buy it (a round about way of buying their own book). So the members of the bundle can call themselves a USA Today or NYT Bestseller.

    Getting the bestseller status but without the readers, the money or the career the title implies. It’s a very empty thing but you know how people can be, validation is a strong motivator. The ability to tell people you had a bestseller can really help if your family and friends crap on your writing endeavors.

    I wasn’t sure if you knew about this scam or not. Many think it’s not a scam, but a smart way to boost a career. I have yet to see anyone boost their career though, just a lot of people having their dreams leveraged to the tune of thousands.

    • dwsmith

      Jo, yup, been watching those folks come and go for years now. It’s the old get-rich-quick desire that young writers have, looking for shortcuts. You are right, it never does anything for them and few survive it because they are always looking for the next thing instead of learning how to be better storytellers and writing more.