I announced in a recent post that I would soon be giving all of my books away for free. I wanted to get them available before I got into the details of why I’ve decided to do this. As of now, you can get all of them for free on Kobo at this link, and I’m working on getting them on Smashwords shortly. The Amazon prices have been reduced to the minimum price ($0.99 USD), and I hope Amazon will make them free soon, but that’s in their hands (typically when they see a book free elsewhere, they make it free themselves pretty quick). In the meantime, if you want a free book in Kindle format, just email me (GregSisco@GregSisco.com) and I’ll happily send one to you.
Okay, so here’s why I’m doing this. To understand, you have to know a little bit about me as a writer, as a filmmaker, and as a person. We’ll begin with how I came to self-publishing.
WHY I WRITE NOVELS
I always fancied myself a filmmaker. I love storytelling in all its forms but the high I get on a movie set beats the hell out of everything else in life. That’s me. As far as I can see, no matter how much time I spend on movie sets, when I die, my regret is going to be that it wasn’t more.
The issue is it’s a difficult industry to crack. You’re always seeking approval. You have to spill your guts to make an independent film. In my case I broke my bank account on both films I made, I poured my lifeblood into them, I bled and sweated and cried and I made movies I was enormously proud of; and then fifty film festivals said, “Meh. We’ll pass.” That’s heartbreaking, because I loved those movies more than anything and I couldn’t get them in front of audiences.
I came to novels because there was no gatekeeper in this industry anymore. Tides have shifted and a self-published author pays little to no overhead and gets a shot at having his/her work take off in a big way. That’s extraordinary. And I love it.
I had two goals in writing novels. The first was to build up a source of passive income that would eliminate my need for a day job so that I could indulge my creative side full time. To do that, I moved to countries with low overheads. I stopped spending money on things I didn’t need. I reduced my cost of living as far as I could, to a few hundred bucks a month.
The second goal, the bigger goal—to which I’ve alluded on this blog but which I’m not sure I’ve ever stated outright—was to build up esteem for myself and for these stories so that I could raise interest and funds in order to adapt them to film, and to make other films. I like writing novels. I will continue to do so. But I have a need to make films.
Ever since I published Thicker Than Water two years ago I have been working toward these goals. I am clawing my way toward them, but I am doing so very slowly.
For months now I’ve wrestled with a really difficult decision, and I’ve recently made up my mind. So now I’m taking the gamble. I’m trying something drastic, perhaps foolish, and I’m crossing my fingers as I do it. I’m making all my hard work of the past few years free. I’m no longer taking a profit for writing.
1. I WANT MY BOOKS READ
Until today, my books have always been Kindle exclusives. Each time I agree to 90 days of exclusivity on Amazon, they allow me 5 of those 90 days to give my book away free. In all honesty, the days when I’ve done this have often been the most exciting days of my life for the past two years. Especially when the promotions go well, I don’t even want to leave my apartment to go get lunch because all I can think about is all the people downloading my writing.
I made over $200 in one day in 2012, selling 100 books the day immediately following a free giveaway. It was exhilarating. But the fact is I was even more exhilarated the day before when I gave 6,000 copies away for free in a single day. SIX THOUSAND COPIES! If I’d been diagnosed with testicular cancer the next day, it still would have balanced out to be a pretty happy week.
One-Night Stan’s, my favorite novel I have written, has sold (as in people paid money for) about 250 copies to date. Around 10,000 have been downloaded for free. In fact, on my least successful free promotion of that book, I gave away 58 copies. That’s 20% of the number that have been sold in total, to date. If I could average that for a year, I’d give out 25,000 books, make contact with 25,000 potential fans.
And that’s what I love. The small amount of money I make as a writer is nice, but the fact that people all over the world have copies of my books that they are reading or thinking about reading… that’s heaven to me. That’s bliss.
But I worry. I worry about the fact that for every one person who buys the book, 100 others might have been willing to give it a look if I’d let them read it for free. I don’t want that barrier. If somebody wants to read my book, I want that person to read my book. I don’t care about the goddamn $2. Just read my book. Laugh. Have fun with it. Show it to your friend. Tell your brother about that sentence that made you laugh.
Because, well… in my case… here’s the thing:
2. I AM A FILMMAKER
I didn’t do this to be a celebrated novelist. That’s lovely, and I’ll take it if I can get it, but I did it because I want you to fall in love with the stories so that you can help me make them into movies. I wrote them because I wanted you to love reading them. I want a small sliver of the world to love them enough that somebody will pay attention next time I have a movie finished, so I don’t have to have my heart broken again.
I don’t have a hometown. I don’t even have a home country. I’ve never stepped off an airplane and felt ‘home.’ My home is on a movie set. And I’ve been away too long. I need to get back. (And I will, next summer, but I’ll tell you about that a little later).
To reiterate, none of this means I’m giving up writing novels. That won’t happen. But I think I’ve put too much focus into the “business” of writing books when books for me were meant to be more of a stepping stone. Or a weapon, even. A big, pointy, steel-toe boot to get my foot in the door.
If filmmaking is my destination, I do not want to waste years away trying to prove myself as a novelist to get there. Not if I can do it faster by sacrificing a couple hundred dollars a month in royalty checks.
The big problem with me and self-publishing is this:
3. I AM A SHITTY BUSINESSMAN
I got involved on Twitter solely to sell my books. I barely tweet at all. I hate myself there. I tried to sell my books in forums and Facebook groups with other readers and writers and I hated myself there too. I hate myself because I feel like a prostitute trying to sell myself to readers on a street corner. “Hey, sexy, you like vampires? Got three bucks?”
I don’t like asking people for money in general. But I especially don’t like standing in the public square shouting “Give me money!” at any stranger who will listen, and even less so when most of the strangers I’m shouting at are shouting the same thing back at me. I know it’s how the whole business of self-publishing works today, but I dislike it. That said, I’m a lot more comfortable handing somebody something free and saying, “Pass it around if you like it.”
I hate hustling. It’s why I transitioned to novels to begin with. I hated begging film festivals and distributors to help me, only to be shot down repeatedly. But I also hate it when it comes to chasing bloggers and websites and begging them for help. I just want to create. I just want to tell stories. I don’t want to be a businessman. And I’ve decided, at least where my books are concerned, maybe I just won’t be.
WRITING FOR TIPS
Right now I’m rushing to get my books available on every site I can. No more Amazon exclusives. I’m putting them up everywhere and at the minimum price, particularly where it’s zero. Even the cost of physical books will soon be lowered to the cost of on-demand publishing. You’ll pay the publisher and the delivery company, but you won’t pay me.
I have, however, added a note to the back of each book. In so many words, it says this:
“I don’t take a profit on my books. If you liked this one, please read another. Recommend it to somebody. Post a review. Friend me on Facebook. If you feel the experience of reading it was worth money, I would be humbled by any donation of whatever you can spare, or whatever you think the experience was worth.”
In the future, I may or may not utilize crowdfunding for the writing of new books. I may raise money so I can afford to pay for cover art, proofreading, and so I can afford time off work to write harder and faster. That way I can continue to offer everything for free. I can entertain you, and I can entertain myself, and I can work for tips.
I’m a realist. I know most people who download a free book won’t leave a tip—it’s unusual and not how the system works right now. I know I’ll probably make a lot less money this way. But if the money I’m making now is money I’m making by preventing thousands of people from reading my book who might otherwise love it, you know what, fuck that money. I’m not so terrified of a day job or some freelance online work that I want to hide my lifeblood from fans who don’t know they’re fans yet.
Every writer says this, but I mean it, and I think it’s easy to forget it: the money was never the reason I wanted to do this. I just wanted to tell stories I liked, and I hoped other people would like them too, and I hoped maybe they’d help me make more.
This plan may not last. It may prove not to be sustainable. Maybe nobody reads books they download for free. Maybe people will stop downloading them after two weeks and I’ll be completely forgotten. Maybe people will think no writer worth his salt would give his work away for free. Maybe I’ll chalk it up to a failed experiment and go back to the grind of traditional sales. Maybe this. Maybe that.
But I really hope it works. I really, really hope.
The bottom line is this: I wrote my books to be read, not sold. They’re art, not products. And I am confident I have created some work that a lot of people out there would love, if I could just get it to them. And there’s this feeling I have—one of those gut feelings—that if I just make this stuff as readily available as possible, as easy as I can make it for anyone on Earth to consume, then, somehow, everything’s just going to work out.
So this is my new adventure. For me, I think it might be the key to the life I want.
Thanks for being a fan. I’ll be back with a new book soon. And I’ll give it to you for free because I want you to read it. And you can add it straight to a torrent site for all I care because I just want it damn well read.
If you can’t tell, while all this makes me a little nervous, I feel really, really good about it.