So ultimately, if us creatives want to figure out what will work and what won’t, we need to start figuring out what the actual state of the culture is out there. Of course, that’s difficult, given that culture is elusive, constantly shifting, and therefore difficult to pin down.
But, we’ve got to start somewhere. So, I’ve decided to try something. This idea is in part inspired by the old storyteller model. The storyteller would tell his tale and those who liked it would pay, based on what they could afford and based on how much they liked the stories told.
Basically, I want to see if we actually do value writers, and their creations. I will do this by offering one of my novels–a Regency Romance (think Jane Austen, but without the zombies) called An Immodest Proposal. It’s a drawing room comedy of manners.
I am fond of this novel–I like the characters, and ultimately decided that while the trend in the industry was towards sexier, saucier Regency Historical romances, in which intimacy between the characters happens relatively early, this just wouldn’t be true to these characters. And I liked them too much to try to change it to fit the market. So, I just took it off the market instead. Ultimately, I was more interested in exploring the dynamic between two people who knew they really shouldn’t be together for reasons of their own, but who just couldn’t seem to manage to stay away from each other. I also didn’t want it to be about conflict for the sake of it–I wanted it to arise out of their respective situations and values. Which is by way of saying, I’m not offering this book on a “try before you buy” basis because I think it’s not worth paying for. I really like the book, and have gotten positive feedback from people who have acquired it via lulu, and contacted me to let me know they liked it (more about the lulu thing in the “about” page).
Now, putting one book out there on a “try before you buy” basis is obviously not going to be determinative of whether we, as a culture, value our writers. Some people who value writers/creators will read the book and not care for it–where they would have paid for another book that they actually enjoyed. Others will value it, and will enjoy the book, but may forget to actually get around to making the payment.
Still, it will say something. If I end up having a lot of downloads from the site, and getting not a dime, then that will be pretty definitive (i.e. either the book really sucks and no-one likes it, or our culture right now prefers to acquire the free thing, over supporting creators. In which case, alas for us creators. We’re screwed for revenue until things shift, and our creative work would have to be relegated to a “hobby” rather than serving as a career or as an income supplement.).
The idea is to be transparent. I will offer the book as a digital download on a try before you buy basis. You can send the book to whomever you want (i.e. to all intents and purposes, I’m releasing the right to copy/consume for personal and non-commercial use. Copy the digital book, send it around etc. But if you want to put it to any of the other uses mentioned in the list, including the “etc.” you’ll need to get in touch with me–I’ve reserved all the other rights, basically). As well, the release is a conditional one: I’m asking you to pay for the book if you end up reading it and feeling that you enjoyed it as much as you enjoyed other recent reads (I’m suggesting somewhere in the range of $5-$10, though I won’t refuse more!) i.e. any books that you paid for before reading them.
Basically, I’m just saying: take the novel. I trust you. And then pay me if you like it.
I have no way of enforcing this (that’s the nature of trust, after all). If you like it and feel that your desire for free stuff trumps any value you place on the effort/creativity/time I put into writing the book, then I have no way of making you pay. If by some remote happenstance, we met one day, and I happen to ask you if you liked it, you could just lie–or lie by claiming that you paid for it. You might accrue a minor bit of bad karma (maybe someone will deprive you of $5-$10 sometime), or feel a bit guilty, but otherwise, there’s no real consequence.
Ultimately, I’d rather put the book out, trust people, and lose some possible revenue, than assume people are inherently untrustworthy and I need to put digital locks and stuff on it.
I’m hoping to launch the book in the near future. There’s some back end stuff I need to do (set up paypal, format and generate the downloadable file, look into possible cover art, etc.). But it will be up soon.
For more on the experiment, visit the “About/FAQ” page.