I know for most of us that this is a very touchy subject.
I just got off of the phone with my femme fatale after a heavy-duty blow out. She firmly believes that I should be giving away as many copies of my titles as is sanely viable. In certain instances I agree, but I carefully consider the ramifications of doing this on a continual basis, and I have become thoroughly fed up with the lack of sales regardless of “to be or not to be.”
I recently attended the BEA in New York, and what a carnival it was! Now I am not going to denigrate the sincerity of authors who are mainly self-pubbed. Over the years I have found that this is one of the most difficult things to do in life. Forget every aspect of the creative process for the moment and think about the costs in time, effort, and energy to get something out into the market. Oh, and did I forget to mention the financial onus?
There must have been hundreds of self-pubbers along with the mass of traditionally published authors sitting at an enormously long dais in the rear of Javits busily signing away their lives. I have coined a new phrase about this activity and I call it the T-N-T endeavor: take and toss.
Signing and giving away all of these books in the ardent hope of someone actually reading your work and getting it to a major who might buy the rights is not really the issue. The issue is whether or not the work is read and actually reviewed in a noticeable venue and your sales soar or put it in the jargon and sales become brisk. When I give away a book, I make sure that I know the value to me of the person I am giving it to. When I send review copies, I first establish that the reviewer in target is interested in receiving it, and then I begin to follow up periodically in order to develop a relationship.
Regardless of ego driven intention, the overwhelmingly vast majority of the books given away are simply not read. They are accumulated for the most part so that the recipient can glom a ton of stuff and hang onto it until they arrive at the inevitable trash can. I have figured out who actually makes the most money in the publishing game—paper suppliers and printers. Now it is also becoming the eBook converters. Hey, more power to everybody! But, how about the authors? The real authors who actually make their living from the craft? I am not talking about Granny Smith writing a poem for her grandchild and then publishing it online and calling herself a published author. Point of fact is that she is a published author because the work is actually published. What did McLuhan say? “The medium is the message.”
I am a successful author and have good sales records of my work and I have established myself as a legitimate expert in my field. With my self-pubbed works, even with the giving away process in person and via my freebie offers on my blogs, I have yet to see any significant increase in sales by giving them away or becoming “friends” with the populi mondo. (Made that one up, too.)
Many so-called marketing experts are all in favor of telling you that it is essential to 'give 'em away'. Of course, these people for the most part do nothing except tell you how to distribute your work for a fee, and that you will probably, depending on your efforts, become a household name...until you are struck with a profound shot of lightening luck and you zoom to the top.
The only way to drive sales is to constantly make personal appearances at conventions, seminars, or garden parties where you have the opportunity to SELL your books to attendees. Book signings at major retailers is another way, but you are giving the retailer the majority of your profit and you must know this going in; it is the nature of the business. And forget the scams with Amazon and the other online eTailers. It costs you more than 60% of the cover price to sell one book. Rarely have I met anyone who honestly tells me that they get orders of quantity to indicate some sort of profit for their brain-melting work. I do make fairly decent sales with Kindle and Nook, but not to the extent I would think is acceptable based on my output. Even with book trailers that I place in various venues on the net, it is still a matter of getting people to the sites. PR representation with the proper agents is another way if it isn't too costly depending on your alleged budget. The whole promotional sweat equity is based on you busting your ass to get recognition, and then you still have to maintain it unless you are a one-shot Charlie.
Writing should not be an ego trip. With a painting, you can look at it and like it or not. With music, you can listen to it and like it or not. With writing, you are imposing extensively on someone's time and space to donate part of their lives to your cause. If you write, it is because you have no choice in the matter. You write because that is who you are. You write creatively and not competitively. If you are writing to create a better donut, you might as well go to the deli and buy one.
So there, I have just vented and ranted. Excuse me, I have to get back to writing a book. When it is done, I will tell you about it. Buy the damn thing!