Should You Give Your Writing Away for Free?

This guy visits me all the time. He’s a writer, too.

Give Your Writing Away for Free

I give away my writing for free. I’ve been writing on this blog for years. I post several things, but not nearly everything I write. I’ve written three novels in the last six years, they’re not posted. Some of my longer short stories will never be posted, even though they’re in my sweet spot for storytelling.

But what I’ve been wondering about lately is, does it make sense to post your fiction for free when you’re trying to make a go of writing?

The Community

One of the best things about putting your writing out there is that you build a community and network of fellow writers, who encourage you and help you on your way as you do the same for them. Could that happen if you didn’t show your works? I don’t think so. And that community is foundational – it keeps you moving, makes you see your writing in a different way, and just feels supportive.

To all the people out here who are part of that journey, and who’ve been so supportive for so long – you know exactly who you are. And you know that I love you. I have no way to properly express my thanks. Without you, I wouldn’t have evolved as a writer. So putting my writing out there has given me a tremendous gift in terms of this community.

The Profession

And yet you do hear that professionals in the agenting and publishing community are not high on you doing it your way. They don’t seem to like self-publishing (which I suppose blogging falls under, though I don’t sell anything on here), and possibly would react negatively to you putting out your stuff for free. It may work against you if you’re looking for representation.

But how else do you build an audience? How else do you show who you are? I’m not particularly keen on being polished, and as some of you have noted, I go on an occasional rant through one of my alternate personas on here. But that’s part of who I am, and here I get to showcase that. I think that’s a good thing.

The Perception

But really, if you think you’re good at what you do and you want to make a living doing it, why not put a value on that? Even if it’s a small value? Writing is hard work. It takes a creative effort that is hard to describe, and at times, it’s hard to even cull together the words. We all go through that, and have to battle through the doldrums to find the wind. It’s effort, and work, just like anything else – maybe not exactly like anything else, but work nevertheless.

So why not take a mindset that you should put stuff out only if people are willing to pay for it? Why would you give your writing away for free? If you’re good and you have something people want to read, have them pay for it. That’s sort of the way the world works, right? I think there’s some merit in this argument, but it has to be balanced against the other reasons for putting your writing out for free.

A Little Boy

There was once a little boy who, at seven, started writing a book. He didn’t know it was a book. But the story, in his tortured printing, kept going and going and going. One day, his grandfather saw it and asked him what he was doing, and he told him he was writing a story. Grandfather did not understand, so he hid the thing after that. But he kept writing it until one day, his family moved across an ocean and he lost the thing.

That story is gone now. But when that little boy was seven, he didn’t care about having an agent or being published. He didn’t care about making money. He cared about telling a story, even if it was just a story only he would ever read. Over several periods in his life, he’s lost that thread. He’s stopped. Not because he didn’t think he would get back into it, but because there were other formative things happening in his life. But he always came back. Always. And the reasons for coming back were always the same – he was just a little boy in the end, one that wanted to tell stories. Even if only he ever read them.

I’m proud of that little boy.

Future Times

I’m looking for representation for ‘Girl Island’. It’s young adult, mostly. It’s about a girl who has a privileged life and that finally has something happen that doesn’t go her way. Her reaction is to do something unusual: she starts her own country. And on this country, only girls can be citizens. Because I celebrate girls. I celebrate my daughters in this one.

I’m also going to try and market ‘Meanwhile, Mandy Shakes her Head’. It needs a lot of work, and I’ll get back to it, but the story is different. It’s dark urban fantasy with a lot of humour. It’s about a society that casts out the elderly, the poor, and minorities into a discarded part of a city, and tells the story of one old man near death who miraculously comes back from that precipice – in the form of the oldest superhero that’s ever lived.

I have another novel to market, but I don’t talk about that one. Few have read it, but it’s the best of the bunch. And yet it needs some extreme structural work, which I will get to. Right now, I’m planning a trilogy of new books, easily the most ambitious thing I’ve ever planned.

Fiction, and Other Made-Up Stories

That’s my tag-line. I think it works. Fiction is already made-up stories, so the other stories on this blog (the non-fiction) are also intended to be made-up. But not this one. Not this post. It’s not made-up at all. It just is. I’ll keep posting short stories here, and I hope you read them. Give your writing away for free… sure, I’ll continue. Maybe less than in the past, but still. I hope I get to read what you put out.

But there is an essential fiction here, and I need to tackle it at some point. My identity is assumed. It’s unreal, and not that little boy from above. It’s not any version of that little boy. And it ignores who I am, and what makes me who I am. At some point, I’m going to correct that. Because in the end, I’m still just that little boy. And this is a story I won’t lose.

Dream hard, rage hard.

24 thoughts on “Should You Give Your Writing Away for Free?

  1. That’s certainly something to think about… excellent post.

    I think for me it’s practice. I give it away until I think it’s good enough to sell…

  2. Good post, Trent. Like every other blogger, I have a book-in-progress and I’ve often wondered whether it would be a good idea to post part of it on WP just to see if anyone would like it. But then I’m afraid that if it is, in fact, worthwhile, someone might see it and steal my ideas for a book of his/her own. On the other hand, no one in the publishing world has ever heard of me, so the likelihood of publishing the darn thing is pretty slim anyway. Certainly something to think about.

    1. You’re writing a book??? I don’t recall that from your blog, is it a secret? Can you talk about it? I’d love to know something about it, or to help in some way (you’ve helped me!). Even if someone stole your idea, they could never do your version of the story justice, I think.

      1. No one really knows I have a book in progress. I may have mentioned it once or twice over the years, but since I haven’t made much progress on it. I keep it to myself. Since it’s sort of autobiographical, as most first books are, I still don’t know how it’s likely to end and I’m hung up on it somewhere in the middle. But maybe I’ll send you a chapter or two and see what you think? You’re far enough away that if you really hate it, and are honest about it, my feelings won’t be hurt.

  3. I’m all for assumed identities and essential fictions. I have one myself.

    I got all up in a huff a few years ago about WordPress using millions of peoples’ free writing to sell ad space on our blogs or make us pay to stop them. Then they commissioned me (and two others) to write a flash fiction piece for a featured thingy they did, and while I was flattered, a part of me always wondered if it was hush money. If it was, well … it worked, and I’m kind of ashamed how cheaply I can be hushed.

    1. I don’t think there’s anything cheap about you, Walt.

      My problem with the assumed identity is that I picked one that’s contrary to a basic part of my identity. Like I needed to cover it up, but this last year has been one of revelation for many, and now I think I made a mistake. I’m almost sure of it. I just don’t know what to do about it. Working on it.

      I’d never thought about that selling of ad space on the backs of our writing… we provide the content, someone else gets the money. Interesting.

  4. I’ve been without internet for more than 24 hours, and responding to this post is just not something I want to do on my phone. But … wow, would you look at that, the internet is back!!!

    Anyway, I think it really depends on what your objective is and what the story is. There is value to sharing some of your writing on-line for free. To attract an audience and also to get feedback, to the extent such a thing exists on-line. But … there is also value in holding things back and trying to find reputable publishing opportunities with on-line literary journals or the more traditional routes. Many of which refuse to consider anything published elsewhere, including on your own blog.

    I’ve tended towards posting on my blog every short story or poem I write – meaning it’s difficult for me to find other publication options for those efforts – while focusing my publication efforts on longer pieces. Why? I don’t know. I feel like I need to post things when I’ve completed them to let my readers know that I’m still here. Beyond that, it’s also nice to know if what I’m writing remains interesting to readers.

    I think you’ve found a good sweet spot with what you do — you post a lot of what you do, while holding back things that may have more “potential.” And that’s totally the wrong word for what I mean, but hopefully you’ll get it.

    And now that I know about this third novel … when are you going to send it to me? 😉

    1. Yeah, I think it’s hard to find that sweet spot. One thing I can’t surrender is sharing with great people like you, and reading what you have to offer. That just keeps me going. Sometimes, I get so excited to post something on the blog, even though a voice is telling me not to. Stupid voice! Get out of my head!

      The funny this is, the stuff you hold back – you may never publish it. It may only stay on your computer. That’s sad.

      Third novel, that one I have to edit first. There’s a big structural change I know I have to make to it, and I know how to do it, but it’s going to take a concentrated amount of time. Just trying to find the time for it. One day!

      1. I know the feeling. When I finish a short story, I just want it out in the universe. Don’t wanna go through the hassle of submissions and rejections and maybe an acceptance three years later.

        As for the third novel, you know where I am when you’re ready.

  5. Reading your blog is how I was introduced to your work. I enjoy your work so I read more. Your work moves me…not always in comfortable ways…but, it moves me. It leaves a mark…again not always in a comfortable way. 😉 So now I am one of your many fans and I will continue to read you as long as you continue to write. When you publish your books, I will buy them. I will buy them because you wrote a blog and introduced me to your work so I could fall in love with it.
    For the record, I don’t care if you are green or purple, as long as you write, I will read.

    1. I’ve met so many great people on here (some that aren’t so great, but so what…). I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. And thanks Michelle. I hope I have something out there for you to buy. And by the way, I’m not green or purple!

  6. I don’t know the answer except to say I’m certain you’re a blockbuster hit I always have been . I love you word king.

    I would melt if I read a whole book of yours.

    Silver Poet

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