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Giving Stuff Away Is Not a Strategy

Photobucket [1]Because I advocate writers be very entrepreneurial in their efforts to market and promote their work—and engage in some form of content marketing [2]—eventually I hear or receive something like this:

“You’ve said to post content, or to give content away, which to me means post chapters or sections. How can I do this to good effect?”

Let’s split an answer into three parts.

1. UNpublished Novelists, Memoirists, Essayists, and Poets

First ask: What you want to accomplish by sharing or posting your work online? Posting your work online isn’t going to lead to a traditional book publishing deal—at least not by itself. Here are a few strategies that writers typically have in mind:

While I don’t think you’re killing your chances of traditional publication when posting your work online (no matter what your reasoning), there’s not much point in doing so unless you have a strategy or goal in mind, and a way to measure your success. One writer, Dave Malone [6], recently used Scribd to post a serialization of his novella [7]. It helped him build readership for a new newsletter, get started on Twitter, and further build an audience for his work—one that will likely stick with him for the next work he produces.

If you have no interest in marketing your work and connecting with readers after posting your stuff online, don’t do it.

2. Published Novelists, Memoirists, Essayists, and Poets

Depending on the level of your fame, it’s a good idea to have a consistent blog or means of interacting with people who are fans of your work—the ones who have already bought your books.

Newly minted authors who are still working to get known with their first book would do well to blog on a very focused topic or area that can gain a following quickly. (Authors with strong name recognition get to abide by more relaxed rules when deciding what to write about—famous people can seemingly write about nothing at all but still have huge followings. Not so for the rest of us.)

It’s also essential for published authors to make some portion of their work available for free as a teaser, to increase fans/followers. (I can’t imagine a publisher objecting to an author using his own work for content marketing.)

3. Experts/Authorities (Nonfiction Authors, Published and Unpublished)

People working in nonfiction categories (who are not memoir driven) are under the greatest pressure to give away some form of their content. That’s because, in today’s world, the problem isn’t insufficient information—it’s TOO MUCH information.

What you’ll often find is that nonfiction authors use their book as something that helps open the doors to other money-making opportunities (coaching, teaching, speaking, consulting, etc). Since content itself is not scarce, the nonfiction author must capitalize on what IS scarce in today’s world, which is time, personalized attention, customization, and immediacy.

Also, it is near-impossible for most nonfiction authors to land a book deal with a Big Six publisher unless they have a strong online presence, especially in popular how-to/information categories (e.g., health, self-help, business …). And an online presence usually involves some form of content marketing, whether an e-newsletter, quality blog posts, digital downloads, and so on.

Whenever I hear an author or writer say, “Why would I ever give my work away for free?” I want to ask: “Do you not want to grow your audience?”

HOWEVER: Making your work widely available for free (in any form) is not a way to succeed as an author. Knowing how and when to make an offer is key, and can be a strategic move during moments of your career.

For more of my thoughts on posting your work online, read this controversial post also on Writer Unboxed. [8]

Photo courtesy Flickr’s Newsbie Pix [9]

About Jane Friedman [10]

Jane Friedman [11] has more than 20 years in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media and the future of authorship. She's the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet [12], the essential industry newsletter for authors. You can find out more about her consulting services and online classes at her website, JaneFriedman.com [11].