NOTE: This is the third in a series of several posts David Nygren of The Urban Elitist and I will be cross-blogging concerning the issue of authors (whether traditionally published, e-published, or self-published) actually getting paid for their work.
Outside of David’s and my continuing exploration of how to monetize our work (and for me, this means fiction), I’ve come across some interesting things that really only cement my opinion that, in a misguided attempt to be generous, knowledge is flung around like rotting leaves on a late fall day: plentiful, soggy, and seemingly worthless.
In ages past, knowledge was specialized and carefully husbanded, passed down from father to son or from master to apprentice, under the craft guild’s auspices: tailoring, goldsmithing, masonry, jewel cutting. These trades were respected, well paid, and each had their—get it?—guild to watch out for the trade. (I won’t go into the differences between a guild and a union at this time.)
Not that long ago, esoteric specialized trades with their own secrets began to write how-to books. I still liken this to the groundbreaking This Old House (and if you don’t know how groundbreaking this was in the building and remodeling industry, you just weren’t paying attention or you weren’t born yet). In 1979, I was 11 and I ate it up, glued to PBS every Saturday morning. (There’s a genome for DIYers, you see.) Still, the how-to books got bought and people learned these things—and they paid for the privilege.
A couple of years ago, I thought I’d undertake the task of making drapes, so I bought (oooh, there’s that word again) an e-book on the subject. It was self-published, an A-to-Z how-to with simple instructions laid out for an idiot ADDer like me, and far superior to anything I’d seen in a bookstore or at the library. It was $24.95 and worth every penny. (Never did get around to doing the drapes, but now I understand the concepts and principles of drape-making.)
Today, I went looking for how to create dollhouse plans and build a dollhouse. Now, I have never been into dollhouses and this project has to do with my current WIP, Stay, for which I want to build Whittaker House (a gothic revival mansion inn) and its surrounds in miniature. And I found this: FREE dollhouse plans and instructions.
I would’ve paid money for instructions like that, perhaps as an e-book or as a serial or a do-along project. I mean, she seems to know what she’s talking about, right? I wondered, “What’s wrong with that woman?”
But then I looked at the header of my own blog, where it says, CREATING E-BOOK SERIES. I’ve been spending hours and hours building the next post on this (in case anybody was wondering where the hell it was). What’s wrong with that woman in the mirror?
1) I’m a dilettante. I’m not sure I’m doing this the “right” way. I can only share what I’ve done; thus, I’m not sure my knowledge is actually worth anything.
2) I like to teach, and any bit of knowledge will spur me on.
3) I’m a compulsive helper. Knowledge is power and I think there are a lot of people out there who could use some empowerment.
If I had a penis and had gone to a master to teach me, say, stone cutting, my father would have paid the master to take me on as an apprentice. I would have served in his household in whatever capacity in exchange for room and board and knowledge for a period of 7 years (or more), which would have made me little better than an indentured servant. And then I would have struck out on my next phase as a journeyman and continued training. Once I earned the title of master under stringent training and specification, I could then say, “These are my credentials because I gave 14 years of my life to my trade in money, blood, sweat, and tears, and I am now in a position to charge money for my expertise and get my own little slave.”
If I had gone to college and enrolled in their fashion program, I would have paid tuition and gained credentials that told people, “Yeah, I kind of know what I’m talking about, so you need to pay me for my knowledge.” Oh, wait. I did do that. And I have a couple of awards to show for that. In my particular field of textiles, I’m considered a bit of an expert. So I charge.
But I didn’t go anywhere to learn how to create e-books. I learned my CSS and (X)HTML on my own from the free sites online (which sites exist in order to promote a standard markup). I learned the software programs by hit-or-miss. Nobody taught me; I didn’t ask anybody to teach me. I don’t feel I know enough to charge.
So why am I doing it?
To get traffic here into my blog to get you to buy my book. I am an expert on the subject of The Proviso, so I want to get paid for it. I am fortunate in that a couple of people have mostly agreed with me on my level of expertise.
Rightly or wrongly, some knowledge has to be given away to entice you to buy my product. Sometimes, those enticements don’t seem related. Obviously, there are some problems with the method I’ve chosen, which is to say, the people most likely to show up here to take the knowledge I’m offering free are probably writing books of their own and I should view them as my competition. They probably view me as their competition, too.
But say I’m wrong and it’s painfully obvious to everyone (except me and the people who take my advice) that I have no clue what I’m doing. Well, then my competition will screw up, too.
Sometimes free isn’t worth what you paid for it and can actually cost you a whole lot of real time and cash.