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Not all authors are hugely prolific. Some take a long time to craft a story; then chiselling it into a book takes time, irrespective of whether one goes the self-publishing way, or is taken up by a mainstream publisher. Everything to do with books is very time-consuming. Even authors with a high out-put say that time is one of the things they wish they had more of.
So why on earth - or online - would an author ever decide to give their writing away for nothing? There are some perfectly good reasons to do this. There must be: some authors with pretty big names have given books away for nothing. Cory Doctorow is perhaps the one that first comes to mind. There are many others. Here's an article that includes interviews with ten authors who decided it was the way to go:
Interviews with authors who give books away
They were all asked the same questions, and some gave very different answers. The crux of the matter, however, is exposure. Giving half a book away might entice a reader to buy the second half. Obtaining an entire book by an author might very well persuade you - if you like what you read - to purchase everything that author has ever published.
That, perhaps, is what I tossed up when I was presented with the concept, and the opportunity, to give away some of my books. Some! Yes - at the moment, I have three small books up at SmashWords that anybody can download and own for absolutely no dollars... or pounds... or yen... or euros.
What's more: they are available in nine digital formats, which means that there is no excuse, no matter what platform you do your digital reading on, for you to go on without trying out my stories! Seriously - this is a great opportunity for readers to try authors out, because many are doing this. They are tried out on PCs, on iPads, on Kindles, on Nooks... on every digital device known to humankind. Before they go and splurge on a lovely paperback - without the least notion, except perhaps for a review and a say-so from a friend - they try the author out and see whether whether their books are what they like to read.
Now I have taken a great risk, because the three books I have at SmashWords are literary fiction. They are atmospheric stories that are mostly about location, culture, folklore, tradition, and about language. They are almost fancy writing, I suppose. But they do tell you a lot about the person who thought them up, who wrote them. They tell you how I think, and how many styles I can write in, and where my fancy roams.
Then you can decide whether to purchase my debut novel, a mystery called Death in Malta, or not. And it will persuade you, perhaps, to purchase my brand new thriller, According to Luke - soon to be released by BeWrite Books. It will not be such a great risk, and your euros, or dollars, or yen, or pounds, will be well spent.