Setting Stories Free…For Free

The following piece is Lynn Viehl’s introduction to a recent reissue of her short story collection, Sink or Swim, which is now available for free on Scribd—a site on which any author can make his or her work available for online reading, whether in full or excerpted form.

In the introduction, Ms. Viehl explains how making her short stories available for free online has opened an invaluable line of communication between herself and her readership and helped to build her readership, yet still meets with the disapproval of her peers in mainstream publishing. 

Nine Years Ago

When my first novel was published in 2000, I decided to try something a little radical to help promote my work. At the time what I did was considered unprofessional and, in some quarters, really stupid: I gave away more original fiction for free to my readers by posting stories on my web site. At the time there were published authors who gave away one or two stories for free during their career, or who made their stories available only to people voting for certain annual industry awards, but that was about it.

Me? I gave away a new story almost every month.

Respect for new ideas was, as always, in short supply. Contempt, on the other hand, came at me from all directions: You can’t put work on the internet and let people read it for nothing. Professional writers have to be paid for their work. It’s the same thing as tossing the rights away. You’ll never be able to sell it to anyone afterward. You’ll ruin your career. You’re an idiot.

They were probably right, but I didn’t care. I had plenty of stories on hand; twenty-six years’ worth, and I wanted people to read them. Aside from the promotional aspects, I was interested in finding out which ideas my readers liked best and wanted to see me develop. I wanted people in other countries to be able to read my work. I also had this crazy theory: if you let people read a story or a novella or even a novel for free, and they like it, they’ll go out and buy the books you have in print. When I proposed this theory, other authors simply patted me on the head. It’ll never work, they told me. No one in publishing is ever going to give away books for free.

I continued giving away free stories for the next nine years. I have been trashed for it, most notably by Romantic Times magazine, whose editor erroneously quoted and attributed to me a SF author’s temper tantrum about other authors who released print work as free e-reads, and how that was undermining all the other authors’ advances (I have never released a print novel as a free e-book. All of my stories published for free on the web are original and exclusive. My publisher does not underwrite the costs and I make no profit from them at all. The editors at Romantic Times should really do a little research before they tar and feather an author.)

In addition to destroying Publishing as we know it, or not, I’ve also published forty-two print novels, and I’ve had seven straight USA Today bestsellers since 2005. Last year I became a New York Times bestselling author with two books on the mass market list, and one in the top twenty rankings.

So much for ruining my career.

I’m not quitting, either. To celebrate the ninth year I’ll be giving away free ebooks on the internet, I’m kicking things off by releasing a revised edition of the very first free e-book I gave away. Sink or Swim, a collection of the stories I published on my old web site, will be only one of the hundreds of free e-books that will be given away by authors and publishing this year. Because as it turns out, what I’ve been doing all these years is not really stupid, and I’m not such an idiot after all. Imagine that.

In this revised edition of my 2001 collection, I’m also going to add a little more information and career perspective on the stories you’ll be reading. Many of them became novels and novels series, thanks to the helpful feedback I received from my 7 readers, and a few are still evolving. To date I’ve never been paid a dime for these stories, but I consider them priceless.

If you’d like to know why, keep reading.

S.L. Viehl

Ms. Viehl is a successful, mainstream author who nevertheless has a lot of unconventional ideas about the "rules" of writing, publishing and being a professional author. Publetariat recently ran another piece by Ms. Viehl, in which she deconstructed her first royalty statement on Twilight Fall, her 2008 book which debuted in the top twenty of the New York Times Bestseller List but nevertheless has yet to net her any proceeds.

You can read 

Sink or Swim on Scribd, and learn more about Lynn Viehl and her work on the GenReality site.

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