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28 October, 2006

Writing For Free

Anyone who knows me will be aware of my pretend band Gray Wave. I write all the music, play it through software synthesizers direct from the score, do the post-production work, publish my own CDs, and then I sell them through my website. It’s a great hobby (or so the tax man tells me – I like to think of it as a loss-making business) but I’m never going to get rich. And the main reason for that (apart from the quality of the music – which I think is wonderful by the way!) is that my CDs don’t appear in any record shops anywhere. Heck, I don’t even accept credit cards on my site – I ask people to pay by PayPal (which I know is too much trouble for most people – and impossible for people in many countries - but the credit card companies would charge so much it wouldn't be worth it.)

Writing the music, performing the music, and publishing the music turns out to be the easy part. It is marketing and selling the stuff that is hard. I’ve tried various ways to get some publicity for it but nothing seems to be effective. The thing that has worked best has been putting up ‘band pages’ on social networking sites like SoundClick, UK Gig Guide, Triple J Unearthed, and MySpace. (Mind you, uploading 5 megabyte files to these sites is no joke without broadband and with a line that usually drops out before the upload is complete – No, love, I live in Brisbane, Australia, not the Gobi Desert.) This kind of publicity has actually driven a lot of traffic to my site but I think the people who go there are mostly interested in hearing the music for free (which they do) rather than buying my CDs.

It’s very much the same in the book business. Since I joined Crime Writers Queensland, I’ve met a lot of people who have published novels. Crime Writers Queensland itself has published six short-story collections. None of them has sold more than a couple of hundred copies. That’s because they all go in for either self-publishing or ‘partner publishing’ (where the author shares the costs with a publisher) so, in all cases, they effectively handle their own publicity and sales. Even with a ‘real’ publisher, the chances of them doing a decent job of pushing a new author into book shops are vanishingly slim. It’s pretty much put me off even trying to publish my books. I’m thinking of serializing them on my website instead.

Same with the music. Since I can’t sell it, I might as well make it freely available. I just need to work out a licensing scheme so that people who download it can’t sell it either. It would be just my luck to make someone else rich selling stuff I’ve given away!

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