To give away or not to give away
How much does any of that matter? There are many, many, many articles tirelessly devoted to telling you just how much any of that matters (although I did rather like Nicola Morgan's slightly two-fingered gesture to the whole damn thing: http://helpineedapublisher.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/what-i-wont-do-to-sell-more-books.html). The questions only continue: should I make myself part of the story somehow? Get myself in there anyway, anyhow? One of the things I like most about being on Twitter and Facebook is that I can keep up with what other writers are doing, when their books are out, what they're thinking about, etc - but when I see all the posts about their books being offered free for a day (or 99p for a day, which is almost the same), I start to panic even more and I wish I hadn't seen them.
Last week, exactly this kind of panic drove me to ask my publisher if we should put Between the Sheets up for free for a day. I really had mixed feeling about this - more on that in a mo' - but I know I wouldn't even have suggested it if it hadn't seemed like the entire world was doing it and I was being left behind, along with my horse-led carriage, my beta-max video and my cassette recorder (although, just as an aside, the camera didn't replace painting. But I'm sure I'm only missing some crucial theory about that somewhere). Anyway - they weren't keen on that course of action just yet - like many traditional publishers, they want to give the print copy a proper chance. The e-book edition isn't available yet, as I said, but when it is, there will be a chance to download a chapter for free from the publisher's website. Crucially, it will be priced pretty competitively with the paperback. I asked about this issue on Facebook last year when I saw that the e-book edition of Claire Tomalin's biography of Charles Dickens was pretty much the same price as the hardback. I got the same answer - traditional publishers don't want to hurt potential print sales with an e-book giveaway.
There is another argument, of course (I'm reluctant to get into too much of this kind of debate as there's always at least 1000 other arguments and it's exhausting), that offering the e-version for free for a day would expose it to people who wouldn't normally have bought my book anyway, but might download it just to see, and who might talk about it, too, might create a bit of a buzz around and that in turn would help sales. Which of course only leads to the timing question - if you do want to give the book away for a day, which day should you choose? The day before publication? After? Six months later? When is the best time, if there is a best time? Like most writers, I know people for whom this strategy has worked extremely well, and people for whom this strategy has made little or no difference at all. Maybe it's even done them harm, who knows?
But as I think more about this question, I know what my mixed feelings are really all about, and it isn't about money and the loss of potential sales. It's about something very different - it's about status. That might seem a petty and even ridiculous thing to be worried about but tap any writer just a tiny bit and you'll find an egotistical monster who desperately cares about their status in the literary world. In the past, status was maintained by clear distinctions - published versus unpublished or self-published (and it was a very 'them and us' situation. I help organise a monthly networking evening for writers called 'Weegie Wednesday' and it's striking how many published writers feel it's not for them, because they think it's full of unpublished writers, or 'wannabes'. They're wrong, but the need to maintain those distinctions exists).
'Published' status of course has its own little hierarchies - whether you're published by a major, a midsize indie or a tiny. Whether your publisher is local, regional or London-based. Whether you got a big advance, a respectable advance or you're royalties-only. The arrival of the e-book market has shot a bit of a bolt through all of that, because you have big names self-publishing now and you have established authors turning to it because the traditional publishers have turned them down for low book sales and they figure they can make more money self-publishing than going with a royalties-only tiny. It's hard to look superior to a selfpublished e-author if they've just pocketed 10 grand in one month, and you're traditionally published and can't afford to replace the leaky shoes you're standing in.
So with my leaky shoes I questioned my anxiety about losing face - and wondered why it did seem to me to be losing face at all, to give my book away for free for a day. I worry that it will look bad - that it will look as though my book isn't selling and I've had to give it away. That I will look desperate. That I will have to spend forever persuading people to download it. That if I fail even to get decent figures on a give-away that will mean I'm rubbish, and so on and so on.
My own conception of what my status is will be affected, then - and yes, I know how ridiculous it is for me to think about 'my status', but there you are. I don't want to have to beg. I don't want to have to 'give away' (even though I know that if Sainsbury's were to take up my book and sell it for 99p, that would be seen as a great thing). I'm scared of joining in with everyone else and being swept away on a big tidal mass of free stuff that, in the end, just buries me and that tiny little bit of status that shores me up will be gone for ever. Stupid, I know, to cling to such a thing when innovation and change are happening everywhere. And when neither of those things frighten me in themselves, or necessarily threaten the thing I'm clinging to...but what do you do? And now I'm back to the questions.