Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Problem with Free

This is not a post ranting about all the free Kindle books, I promise. There are more than enough of those out there. Besides, I have no idea what I feel about them.

Instead, this is a random note about writing free projects, just for fun.

I've been working on a free short that I had planned on offering here, and on my website, as a little gift to my readers and a promotional item. Give readers a chance to read a nice, complete, short story (say, about 3-5,000 words), to see if maybe they'd like my other stuff. It seemed like a fine idea to me, and I'd still like to offer such a thing. I think.

I've also been toying with the idea of writing a free novel, bit by bit, and posting maybe a chapter a week here on my blog, or on my Tumblr blog. That also seemed like a fun thing, since I have a story idea in mind that I'm eager to play with. It's not something I'd be interested in writing for publication at the moment, but I'd like to do it, just for kicks.

My first concern is that I'd be talking to myself, I admit. I'm worried I'd lose interest if no one was reading, and I don't care to start projects I won't finish. However, I'm extremely tempted, and if I knew enough people would read it to make it worth my time, I might give in to that temptation.

But, here's the main concern - nothing escapes theft on the internet!

I'm not all that fussed about pirates, as I've said here before. Sure, I'd rather people buy or borrow my work legally, but I don't expend energy on the whole piracy thing. What I'm talking about here isn't about piracy. Since these stories would be free, I'd have no cause to complain if they got "pirated" by file sharing sites.

What ultimately makes posting freebies a tough decision is plagiarism. The constant threat of plagiarism feels like a gag. I don't want someone ripping off my fun, free, weekly serial from my blog, sticking their name on it, and trying to con people out of 99 cents on Amazon with it.

I've tried to tell myself, "Don't be so full of yourself. Who'd steal your rough little blog book?" Myself has not believed me. You and I both know, if we've paid attention to the web at all, there are content grinders out there who'd steal ninth grade history papers and pass them off as their own if they think they'd make some money off it.

Nothing is safe.

Recent stories about fanfic writers getting screwed over should be enough to give any of us pause. Not only do you lose your work, without credit, but someone else profits from it - this is particularly galling if you were offering it free of charge to begin with. It especially annoys me when people rip off fanfic writers, since they are writing out of sheer love of the work and for the enjoyment of their community. (I'm sure there are other, more concrete, benefits, as well, but I admire fanfic writers for toiling away without great hope of immediate compensation.)

Frankly, piracy is one thing, but plagiarism is where even someone as sedate as I am must draw the line. Especially if that plagiarism turned into passing off a free lark for money to unsuspecting customers on Amazon, who don't deserve to be robbed any more than I do.

Besides, I come from academics, where plagiarism is a cardinal sin, the taint of which is enough to sink a whole career. I can't shake that training, and I bring that along with me into my "night job" of writing fiction.

So, I'm torn about posting free content. And, thus, I remain undecided. So far, I have been very careful not to post too much of my work online, especially before it's been published, for the very reasons I've stated here. I don't even use online crit groups, just in case!

You can see why I'm reluctant to jump full on into the fire, right?

What are your thoughts? Does this ever stop you from posting free work? Are you seeing more or less free content online? Are there any safe ways to do it, or should I just go limp and let cheaters steal as they may? Do you have any war stories to share?

Do blogged novels even get enough attention to make the risk worth it? Or, maybe I am worrying needlessly. Is this a case where the greatest potential threat is not theft but obscurity?

I'll have to continue thinking about it, I guess. Right now, all I can say is that I'd love to, but I'm still sorting out the pros and cons. Any comments are more than welcome as I try to puzzle out my thoughts on this.

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