Providing Free Writing Could Come at a Cost
Posted on August 12, 2013
One of the issues of being a writer is getting people to read your work. In this age of self-publishing, with so many people being able to get their work out there, the pool is getting quite filled. Having your work stand out is getting harder. One of the ways to get it seen is to offer your writing for free, but what are the real costs for doing that?
Consider the many different ways a writer can put their work for free. You could include a free sample on your blog or website where people who read your blog can also see what you write to decide whether or not they like it. You can publish your work on different platforms like Amazon’s and set the price to free for promotions (like you can through Amazon’s KDP Select program) or even set up a book as “permafree”, which means the price always remains free. You can post your work through websites such as a fan fiction site or a dedicated free site like wattpad.com. It seems like there are many ways to offer your work for free.
As a concept, it seems like a great idea. It’s a form of marketing to possibly garner you some readers. And there are some who have benefited from it such as Beth Reekles, a 17-year-old, who got a publishing deal for three books with a Random House imprint based on the popularity of her work on Wattpad. There are authors out there who got their start on fan fiction sites such as E.L. James and Cassandra Clare. If an author who is just starting out wants to gain some readers, what better way to try and build a readership before publishing his or her first works?
Reekles’ story isn’t the only one from Wattpad that is encouraging. Dianne Greenlay outlined how Wattpad helped her self-published novel Quintspinner – A Pirate’s Quest reach 500,000 reads. Greenlay details the benefits of using Wattpad, but it should be noted that her book fit the main readers on the site. It seems to mesh well with writers of the YA genre, so it’s possible that not every genre would do as well there. For every writer like Greenlay, there are many others who post and get hardly any reads on their work.
As for fan fiction sites, there are many that cover all manners of subjects that fans can post extensions of stories, new stories for different characters, and other ways to express their love for the original work through writing. It seems that lately, fan fiction sites have been getting a negative nod because of being fodder for plagiarists to find and use for their own nefarious reasons. The case of Jordin Williams and the plagiarized NA novel is one example where some of the lifted text came from a fan fiction site. And more examples of this happening have popped up since then.
The availability of free writing is the real danger. Diana Peterfreund wrote about the epidemic of plagiarism and its effect on indie writers on her site. She wrote, “Liz Burns at Tea Cozy, her SLJ blog, reported on an instance of another Amazon author, Jessica Beckwith, was outed in the midst of her highly publicized blog tour as having stolen all her work from yet another free-fiction site, Fictionpress. The thirteen authors she’d stolen from were livid…”. From reading her post, all authors who provide their work for free should start to worry about what could happen to it.
If you put your writing for free somewhere where anyone can read it, you have to assume that someone untrustworthy could come and steal parts or all of it.
Peterfreund used the verb “scraping” as a way to describe what the current plagiarists are doing. They go into the free sites, copy, and paste it into a text that they can then self-publish under a name they choose. They can even do the typical marketing of any self-published author such as blog tours to promote the work. They make the money they can until someone recognizes the stolen works. Then they disappear, presumably with the money they made. “Scraping” is a good term for this as it has a pejorative message. They aren’t creating a work. They are scraping bits and pieces to stitch together to make something horrible. And what’s left are scraps and hurt feelings.
Plagiarism isn’t found only in the indie writing world, so it would be a mistake to say it reflects poorly on those who self-publish. There have been countless cases of plagiarism and fraud in the traditional publishing world as well. But it hits closer to home in the indie world because using the marketing tool of free has been beneficial to indie writers. Using Amazon’s KDP Select and their free days used to rocket sales for writers and get them more visible, although its effectiveness has declined in recent times. Putting the first novel in a series as a “permafree” option has helped authors promote and sell the following books in the series.
At this point, there hasn’t been any way to really stop the “scraping” method. It would be great if publishing platforms like Lulu, Amazon, Smashwords, or any of the others would utilize a text reader that catches plagiarism much like what’s used in educational institutions. Having used those myself, I can say that within less than 24 hours, the software can catch down to the percentage of copied text. It would be an easy way to stop this practice of plagiarism.
You have to ask yourself if the benefits of free outweigh the threats. If you put your writing for free somewhere where anyone can read it, you have to assume that someone untrustworthy could come and steal parts or all of it. If you feel you really do want to make it free, it would benefit you to find a way to do it so that someone can’t just highlight the text and copy. If you make it just a little harder where they’d have to type out the entire work themselves, perhaps that extra step would deter some from “scraping” your work. Until there’s a way to stop plagiarizers from using stolen words, it’s up to the writers to protect their own work so that “free” doesn’t end up costing too much.