Note: This essay isn't intended for my friends and true fans, both groups of whom are virtually identical.
DURING ANY given year, various works of mine are offered free of charge at selected retailers. I don't do this happily, believe me.
There are two choices when laboring in the dank shadows at the bottom of a playing field that isn't merely tilted against you, but vertical:
- You can refuse at any time to offer your hard work for free to anyone; or
- You can offer your hard work for free in order to combat obscurity
Both options come with difficult consequences.
Refusing at any time to offer your work for free sounds noble, and maybe it is. But the cost of that nobility is, as a person languishing in the shadows at the bottom of the playing field, absolute obscurity. It's the route I took initially. As a result, not a single novel of mine got read for something like seven years.
And so, on occasion, I'll offer some of my work during any given year gratis. I'm still flirting with absolute obscurity, but flirting with absolute obscurity is a damn sight better than being absolutely obscure.
Believe me, I don't like giving my work away. No sane person would. And if the very unlikely day ever comes that I'm no longer all that obscure--say, I can make a modest living as a writer--you can bet that I will quit offering my novels and essays for free.
If you have read one of my novels for free, I want you to be very clear about what I see as your obligation to me and to other unknown artists and writers.
You read, free of charge, what was almost certainly years of sweat, effort, tears, anxiety, hope, joy, frustration, anger, ecstasy, and love poured into that project. If you blithely put it away or delete it and forget about it after finishing it, you are, very simply, a parasite.
Don't agree with me? Well, then, you've never given your all to something original and completely your own. You never worked on it for any significant length of time, spent countless sleepless nights thinking about it, spent hours and hours with your head in your hands, wondering about this passage or that chapter, never slogged through depression because you are languishing in the shadows of obscurity under a fucking "playing field" that is anything but, and you have never prayed over your efforts or meditated over them or taken many long walks while thinking of them. You don't know what original, relevant, significant effort looks like. You're too busy being a cog. A consumer. A parasite.
You know what? I feel sorry for you. I pity you. I really do.
If you read one of my works for free, you are obligated to:
- Write and post a favorable (4- or 5-star) review for every work you read free of charge, complete with a link to where you downloaded it and a link to this blog;
- Share your free copy with a friend or family member;
- Show your gratitude by actually buying one of my novels, or, even better, actually buying another obscure author's novel
It isn't a lot to expect, and it isn't unfair of me to expect it. Compared to the work I put into that freebie, what I'm asking is almost nothing in return.
The only people who are exempt from this three-point obligation are those I consider friends. These people have demonstrated through their actions, offered over a long time, that they give a good goddamn about me, my livelihood, and my work. They probably do most or all of these things regardless, or something just as helpful. All without asking.
So enjoy my free novel or collection of essays or illustrations or fractals. By all means! Here's to hoping you have the (unlikely) decency to fully appreciate your good fortune; and here's hoping that you're a good person who will do something positive and helpful for me or another obscure author or artist in return.
Are you a good person? Or are you nothing more than a parasite? Let's find out, shall we?