by Marsha Canham
Seriously. I think Julia should show up to the set every morning for seven o’clock (after staying up till 3 learning her lines), sit in hair and makeup for two hours, wait around the set all day to do take after take after take of her being mugged and terrorized by some thug who tries to drown her in the scene, which would require her to dry off after every take, get hair and makeup done again etc etc. And if she doesn’t get it right the first day, do it all over again the second day and the third day until the director is satisfied that she truly sounds like she’s being choked and drowned. After all, her audience expects a certain high standard of quality to her work. She’s won an Oscar and a People’s Choice and probably a bunch of other awards over her career that probably look good on her mantle but don’t really guarantee continuing success unless she’s willing to work twice as hard to meet the higher standard movie goers expect of an award-winner. She’s worked hard to get where she is, doing movies that maybe weren’t A list and maybe weren’t worthy of being mentioned in her resume all the time. But she was learning her craft, so those movies, bad as we might think they are, meant something to her, taught her more about acting and editing and sound and directing.
Writing is a lot like acting. We all have to pay our dues, starting out with books that are sometimes lacking in style, voice, content. We’ve all written some duds, but we all learn something from those duds, and we learn something from every book we write. We learn about characterization, about writing tighter dialogue, adding more plot twists, putting in more humor or more horror. We learn how to make a reader laugh or cry. For some of us that takes years and there are no short cuts. We sometimes have to write a scene over and over, trying it this way or that way until we get it right. We’re up at dawn and work until dark. Some of us even have jobs that take us away from writing for eight hours so that it has to be squeezed in between the day job, running the household, taking care of the family. Those are the writers who stay up until three in the morning and make the boss wonder why they’re so tired or crabby at work the next day. After all, our readers expect a certain high standard of quality in our work. They expect to be entertained, amused, driven to tears. Some of us have worked our butts off and won awards that look good on the wall, but don’t really have any cash return.
Does that mean we should make our next book free? After all, they’ve been loyal fans.
I received an email last night from a reader demanding…yes, demanding…to know why I hadn’t made one of my books free. Seems she’s downloaded the other three I’ve put free during brief promotions and she thinks I should make The Iron Rose free so she can read that one too.
It took me a year to write The Iron Rose. Hours of research, hours of plotting, days, weeks, months of being locked away in a little room with only a pen and paper for company. For all that it had a brief shelf life and slipped off to obscurity until recently when I was able to get the rights back and reissue it as an ebook.
Now this reader expects it for free….because? Because it’s a reissue? Because it’s an ebook? Because the $3.99 price is too much to bear while she’s sitting there sipping her $4.95 latte?
Wanna know my reaction to that? It made me realize that I have given away over 200K books in free downloads over the past year. Swept Away has been free, Bound by the Heart has been free, and most recently, Through A Dark Mist has been free. I’ll spell that out in case it didn’t make enough impact. Two hundred thousand copies. That’s more than all three books combined sold in print.
And for that, I get emails demanding I make more of my books free? Does this reader work for free? Does she show up at her job, smile at her boss, and say: I think I’ll work for free for the next year.
Yes, I’m crusty today, and I apologize to the other 99.99999999% of the readers who understand that we all have to struggle to make a living these days.
To the “avid” reader who wrote me, I’ll say this: Give up a latte. Buy a book. Because I, for one, won’t be making any more of mine free.