Sunday, October 3, 2010

Thoughts on Creative Commons

"Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy." - Tim O'Reilly

I've been listening to the straight run of Mur Lafferty's "I Should Be Writing" (my paying job involves up to six hours of driving in a day). It's been helpful in terms of tips and information, especially with regards to publishing, and once every four episodes she interviews an established author (including Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, and Connie Willis).

Ms. Lafferty's a big supporter of new media, and an institution within the Podcasting community. She's released two books in free serialized audio format, both of which I believe she later sold as print books. Thanks to her dedicated fans and her new media marketing campaign, she was able to bump her first printed novel up to #16 on

Obviously, new media and giving away work for free can help develop a critical mass of audience you need to sell in today's competitive market place, especially for novels.

These are the pros of the approach:
  • The single greatest advertising force, especially for something like books, is word of mouth.
  • People tend not to be willing to invest $7-20 in a new author they've never heard of before, but they are often willing to invest $0 and a little bit of time, especially in a format like audio that they can listen to on the road or at work.
  • Numerous authors have demonstrated people will buy a physical print version of a product they've already gotten for free (Doctorow, Lafferty, Siegler).
  • People who aren't going to buy your book for more than free would usually not have bought your book in the first place, but if they like your free copy, they may be willing to invest in your next.

That said, and despite the fact that paying work pays very little more than free, I'm not ready to pursue the free approach quite yet. For one thing, this kind of plan takes a very serious and constant media presence I'm not sure I can maintain. For another... it's going to sound a bit arrogant, but I think I can succeed in the traditional market, at least enough to meet my needs. I want the validation that comes with getting into the gated community of paid publishing. I also tend to write more short stories, which are not exactly moneymakers at the best of times, so marketing has a limited possible cash turnaround, and I suspect will actually hurt me in terms of selling the products themselves.

I think as I expand my library of finished (and ideally published) works, I will very likely make my back catalogue available for free, but I don't currently have a volume of work that satisfies the requirements of a media presence style of marketing. That's a running leap I plan to take after I've had a little more practice walking steadily.

One step at a time.

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