Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What Do You Mean Your Book Is Free?

This is the question I get asked more than any other, right after "How in the hell do you have time to write novels?"

Yes, Rising Shadow is available for free as a PDF file on my web site.

No, it's not just a Look Inside preview. It's not just every other page. And it isn't covered with ads. It's the whole thing formatted in smaller pages so it's easier to read online (less scrolling).

The reason for providing the book for free is simple: I am a huge advocate of volunteering your time, money, and resources to the best of your ability, and making my book available to those who can't afford it seems like the most obvious way I can give something back. (It's also going to be available for free in Braille for the visually impaired on I'm fully aware that many people will start reading the PDF, decide it's too much hassle to read it online, and order a copy, which is great. I also have a Donate button on my web site, so those who want to read it but can't afford the $12.95 cover price can contribute any amount they like. This makes my book available to everyone who wants to read it without the pesky money thing getting in the way.

I got the idea for giving the book away from working in open-source software. Before I joined my current company, I couldn't understand how you made money by giving software away for free. But I quickly learned that there are a lot of people out there who are willing to donate their time and expertise to a community-built project, and that you can build a company around giving something back to the community (new features and testing) as well as make money off the venture (provide premium features and services for a fee). Now that I've been there a while, I can't imagine doing business any other way. It's awesome.

People also raise their eyebrows when they hear I donate 20% of my royalties to charities instead of the usual 5 or 10%. I suppose people are afraid I'll never strike it rich by giving my money away, but I don't really see it as "my money" in the first place. Sure, I believe in being compensated for your work, but whether that's 100% or 80% of the arbitrary price printed on the cover is irrelevant. I'm just thrilled that selling this book will give me extra money to donate to organizations that I know are doing good in the world (in my next blog post, I'll talk about how I chose the charities I did).

And speaking of the cover price, people also ask why I priced my book so low. Again, I'm just not interested in trying to squeeze as much money out of my readers as possible. On the contrary, I set the price as low as I could to just cover my costs plus a couple of bucks a copy so I have something to donate.

The truly cynical out there will call this whole approach a gimmick. That's fine. If you want to think of me as a brilliant businesswoman, I certainly won't stand in your way. For my fans, though, I really hope you enjoy the books and that you feel like you're getting value for the money you paid. Especially if you read the free version.

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