Friday, February 19, 2016

Writing for Free: The New Pyramid Scheme

There's a storm brewin'--it's been brewing for a while, but maybe it's getting close to a boil, thanks to the tone-deaf benevolents at HuffPo. Since I sort of have a stake in the game, (I've never written for HuffPo...or anyone but myself, as far as blogging, but I'm a writer who'd like to make a living with it) I felt a need to add my spice to the pot.

Courtesy of

For anyone who hasn't heard, HuffPo doesn't pay their content creators. They expect anyone who writes for them or allows them to essentially appropriate the writer's content to do it for the millionaire-making wage of "FREE", while HuffPo makes hundreds of millions off of it. It's a great deal...for everyone but the writers. Recently, a big wig at the esteemed organization declared he was "PROUD" that they exploit their writers, 'cause, ya know, you can't trust anyone who actually gets paid for their services.

From Chuck Wendig's appropriately vulgar post

That makes some of us writers...a bit peeved. So, there have been several pieces about it. I think most writers, and even those who aren't writers, can understand why a multi-billion dollar company that supposedly supports wage improvements and entrepreneurship but doesn't pay workers is a problem. But many still fall into the trap of making excuses for it and think that finding a way to eke a couple dollars out of it is a great thing--instead of actually condemning it. They are like abused spouses who don't realize they're in an abusive relationship.

On Kristen Lamb's great post, someone described how they'd worked with (or "partnered") a site who hosted blogs, which then let HuffPo and others reblog. The pay for that privilege was a $100 donation to the non-profit of the writer's choice, and of course the ever-popular exposure. This person sort of bragged about how they'd found a neat way to trick the behemoth into paying them.

So...I had to voice my opinion on that:

"I have to point out, first, YOU did not get paid to write. You were given money to give away. Which, I assume, still didn’t pay your mortgage or phone bill or even get you a meal deal at Taco Bell, in and of itself. And I assume it wasn’t a benevolent choice you were given–'You can choose to get a paycheck or give the money to charity.'

While I’m all for charity and mentoring–I do as much of it as I can–*that* kind of set up still plays into the idea that the WRITER doesn’t need to get paid. It still perpetuates the screw-the-creator paradigm. It says, 'Hey, we’re not going to actually compensate YOU for your work, but we’ll throw some chump change out in your name to salve the gash we opened in your backside when we bent you over. ‘Cause, well, it makes us look good when we charity.' I’m not saying your acceptance of the deal was wrong; I’m saying them presenting that deal was the same ol’ bullshit. It was a way for them to get (their rocks) off cheap."

Writers deserve to be paid for producing stuff that earns money for someone else. Real money. In their own bank account. Not with exposure. Not with free stuff. Not with charitable donations.

We shouldn’t have to devise creative schemes to be paid for our services, to get an actual paycheck. We aren't tricking them. Really, it's the opposite. This–the HuffPo ridiculousness, the “we’ll donate in your name” scams, the literary booty calls (as Kristen calls it, which I love)–is the pyramid scheme of the literary world. It looks shiny and new, and they promise it'll transform your life, because it’s (trumpets blaring)…
DIGITAL CONTENT…FREE for EVERYONE, AND it will make EVERYONE RICH! (cue infomercial oohs and ahhs.)
But it ain’t (read: shouldn’t be) free, and it’s still the same carnival bait-and-switch. It's only making those who ride the peons into the ground rich.

Seen another way, they’re the ultimate vanity publisher.

We writers are paying THEM to get used. We pay with our time, skill, and dignity, and all we get in return is supposed exposure and validation.

We’re the prostitute groveling on the curb, and–this is fucking rich–we actually THANK THE JOHN for beating us up and stiffing us and handing him a twenty, after he tells us he’ll etch our name on the bathroom wall at Denny’s. And when he shows up next Friday night, we’ll hop in the car again, grateful to have a good way to kill a few hours.

What we do is important. We present ideas and stories in a coherent way to inform, educate, and entertain. That isn't as easy as some people think it is, and not everyone can do it well. Quality writing is hard work. Our work comes from years of education (whether formal or self) and requires time, skill, and knowledge. It is a craft–one of the most important and valuable ones in the world. When we allow others to use our assets and services for profit without compensating us appropriately, we cheapen that craft and ourselves. We have to stop thinking squeezing a few pennies–or NONE–from the machine is a good deal. We have to stop accepting our own devaluation and exploitation as the status quo. We have to demand payment. They'll never buy the cow when they can get the milk for free.

#BoycottHuffPo and others who make bank from the toil of the lowly writers.


Friday, February 5, 2016

When Readers Return

I'm up to my eyeballs this week and had to delay the planned marketing post. But I came across an angry post about Amazon's return policy and the issue of "serial returners" (those who buy, read, and return so they get a free read.) A tiny comment sprouted from my fingers and grew.

My take on returns is similar to Neil Gaiman's views on piracy (in fact, he helped my view on these subjects evolve.)

I'm an author. Obviously, I don't support piracy or serial-returners, but perspective is everything.

First, we can't assume all returners have read the entire book. We can't assume every return is a scammer. Amazon doesn't tell us if they read one page or 300 for sales. Literature, like all art, is wonderfully, woefully subjective. They may have read half and decided it was awful. Maybe a scene they hated ruined the whole book for them. Maybe, just maybe, the book sucks on an objective level for one reason or another. Yeah that hurts, but it happens. And if an author has a high percentage of returns, something ain't right. It's not normal. Perhaps they need to offer samples so readers have a sense of what they're getting. Perhaps they've targeted the wrong audience or misrepresented the work. Or perhaps the list price is too high for the quantity or quality of work. $2.99 for a book under 20 pages? I'd be ticked. Lots of errors, either in the writing or formatting? It's like going out for breakfast and getting a plate of burnt eggs and raw bacon. I'd send it back. It's possible some are abusing the return system, but a high percentage of returns is a huge sign the author needs to take a look at their work and their business model because something they're doing isn't working.

Is it ethical to return it at after a full or even half read? Probably not. Amazon does punish those they find abusing the system. However, returns are within Amazon's policies, and their policy of easy, universal returns is part of what's made them so powerful. If they refused to allow returns, they wouldn't be who they are and we (indie authors) wouldn't exist as we do now. That policy is a huge part of their--and our--success.

The ability to return makes the process less risky for readers. Indie authors had better appreciate that, because an unknown indie is a huge risk for a reader. There are a lot of crappy (subjectively and objectively) books out there, and a heck of a lot of them are indies. Indie publishing has opened the world of authorship to people who never would have published a word, and overall, that's a great thing. It's also lowered the bar for what's acceptable to publish. It's the bane of those of us who work extra hard to produce quality because it's often hard for readers to distinguish good from bad before they buy. We have to accept that we must give readers incentives to try us and reduce the risk, and allowing returns is a way to do that.

Also, the fact is that it gains fans. There will be some who like it and go to find more of my books, and they may buy those or recommend them to friends who buy. These are people who may not have heard of me otherwise, or wouldn't have realized they like my work without getting deep into it. I'm willing to accept some marginal "losses" (but as mentioned, it's not a loss if they wouldn't/couldn't buy it outright) if it gains fans.

I fully believe I should be paid for my work, even if it's just a small amount (okay, it's always a small amount.) I want people to value my work enough to pay for it, and most of my readers do. I appreciate that beyond words. I'm not for a second saying I want to give license to those who try to rip authors off.  As authors, we often struggle to get paid. It's frustrating when people don't value our work, but while I dislike piracy or serial returns due to the sneaky nature of it, I think we have to keep it in perspective.

I believe in the power of literature and that people need to read. It's imperative for society. But billions (yes, billions) of people can't afford to buy ALLTHEBOOKS or don't have access to them. Not everyone can afford ten books a week or a even a KU subscription, and not everyone has a library down the street. People have loaned books to their friends for centuries, and that's the purpose of libraries--people understood that few can afford to buy or have access to tons of books, but they wanted people to READ. So if I accept Aunt Gertrude loaning my book to her friend from church and I support libraries--which is essentially free books--how can I get up in arms about a few people essentially borrowing a book? It's really the same thing. They borrowed it. Just because it shows up on my sales report doesn't change the nature of what happened. Would I be that mad if I saw how many times Gertie loaned my book to her friends or how many times it was checked out of the library? Nah. I'd appreciate the fact that people are reading. I'd be pretty happy that Gertie bought it in the first place and liked it enough to recommend it. And I'd accept that one or two of those friends hated it, rolled their eyes when they returned it to her, and thought she has awful taste in books...and might have asked for their money back if they'd paid for it.

The world isn't perfect. I think I should get paid millions for what I do. I think everyone should love my work. And I think all the ice cream and chocolate should be free. But that ain't reality. The reality is there are benefits and downsides to everything. Return policies have them, too. But allowing returns is overall far more beneficial--or companies the world over wouldn't do it. It allows customers to try something without risk. The vast majority keep it if you've done a good job, a tiny fraction return it due to dissatisfaction (whether objective or subjective,) and an even tinier fraction abuse the system. Amazon punishes the "abusers." It's the cost of doing business, and a small price to pay in the big scheme of things. We need to keep it in perspective.

When Doves Fly is just $2.99--pick up the ebook. If you do, I hope you love it. (Please don't return it.)

Image courtesy of  lekkyjustdoit at