The best things in life are free, said Luther Vandross and Janet Jackson. Whether they were right or not depends, I would argue, on if you’re the person providing the freebie.
Long before I even contemplated becoming a novelist I knew the look, a mixture of regret and reproach, offered by people giving something out for free in the hope that it might prove a loss-leader and drive sales elsewhere. You see, I love food festivals. Being a bit of a tight arse, I would never consider paying £5 for an artisan, hand formed, sourdough loaf but if someone is offering me a chunk of it, perhaps with a nice black olive tapenade to dip it into, I’m game. Similarly, I’m not going to spend £40 on a bottle of craft-gin made with a special blend of locally sourced botanicals, when a bottle of Gordon’s (well, Bombay Sapphire more like, but I’m trying to sound entirely down-to-earth here) will do the job just as well. However, if you’re going to give me a sample in a nice little plastic cup, tempered slightly with your similarly expensive, real-quinine tonic, then who am I to say no?
But I know, they know, even if I casually saunter up to their stand, and make all the right cooing noises about how much better it tastes than what you can find in Tesco, that I have no intention of buying anything (unless I find there are many independent alcohol sellers and I wake up the next morning, surrounded by all manner of unpronounceable cheeses, stinking deli sausages bigger than my head, and with my credit card maxed out). And yet they tolerate me; it’s all part of the game and they can’t very well start announcing to the packed crowd which of those gathered look worthy of trying their produce because, heaven forfend, people might realise that their sole purpose of being there is actually to make money.
Nevertheless, I shall not be visiting any food festivals this summer because I have experienced the bitter taste of offering something I am passionate about, and believe in, away for free. And it wasn’t just a small sample, a morsel, like these people but a whole book, from (awesome) start to (explosive) finish. I thought it was bad enough when I ran a promo where it was discounted for a week to 99p, but at least then I was seeing something in return for all my blood, sweat and tears. In an earlier blog I talk about the catch-22 advertising but common consensus for an indie author who has written a series is to give some people the chance of reading it for free in the knowledge that many of them will go on to pay for the sequels. Now I’m not claiming that this hasn’t been the case but that doesn’t stop me feeling some resentment for those people who have no intention of paying for a book ever again because, like me, they are happy to fill their bellies hoovering up all the freebies they can lay their hands on.
But before you call me a hypocrite, remember I said that I played the game at the food festivals. I didn’t just barge my way through to the counter, snatch up what I could and then push my way to the next one before even swallowing what I had taken. I said that I masticated slowly and then told them how delicious their product was before moving onto the next freebie. Therefore, if you are reading this as a result of being required to sign up to my newsletter as part of the deal for getting a free copy of one of my books then don’t think for one moment I am having a pop at you. You may have no intention of buying any of my other novels, but at least you are keeping up your end of the bargain, and for that I am grateful. And if you would be so kind as to leave a positive review on Amazon (consider it the equivalent of me cooing over those hand-raised organic pork pies) then I would not just be grateful, but would also consider you a friend, and someone who is welcome to dip their sourdough in my tapenade any time they like.