Neil Gaiman: “It’s Time To Be Dandelions”

I’ve already lauded the speechifying of Amanda Palmer on this site. Her husband, the wildly talented Neil Gaiman, gave the keynote address at the London Book Fair/Digital Minds Conference. It was something special.

“I worry that too many of us, like the man in my calendar anecdote at the beginning, are certain that if only we can get 1993 to come back again, we’ll clean up; if we hold our breath and close our eyes and guard the gates with bigger and more dangerous weapons that time will turn backwards and it will be yesterday once again–and we all knew what the rules were yesterday. The rules of publishing were simple: authors, agents, books. Incredibly long lunches. That was publishing. It’s not any more. These days the gates being guarded are gates where there are fewer and fewer actual walls.”

Should I Be Giving My Books Away?

Amanda Palmer–alt-rock music star and wife of fantastical writing genius Neil Gaiman–did a talk for TED on ‘The Art of Asking’. The synopsis from TED:

“Don’t make people pay for music, says Amanda Palmer: Let them. In a passionate talk that begins in her days as a street performer (drop a dollar in the hat for the Eight-Foot Bride!), she examines the new relationship between artist and fan.”

Amanda and her band famously used Kickstarter to fund production of their new album, asking fans to contribute a total of $100,000. They ended up with $1.2M, donated by only 25,000 people at an average of almost fifty dollars a piece. Astounding.

Unlike Amanda, I’d hesitate to call myself an artist–it seems a bit pretentious, for some reason–but watching this made me think, as the parallels between music and books are obvious. The digital indie publishing revolution has brought writers closer to their readers than ever before, tearing down the barriers and hurdles of finding agency and publisher representation, of shipping physical copies to a bookstore.

What’s to stop me posting a new novel here, on my website, available to anyone to download for free? With just a PayPal or Google Checkout button next to it with a message saying “If you enjoyed this book, you can help me out here. Thanks.”

Nothing. There are no barriers.

But should I do that? It’s early days in my writing career, but I have a certain amount of confidence that ten or twenty years or novels down the line I might be able to make enough from my current, standard indie pub model that I could make a living at it. (Industry changes permitting, of course.) And if I did make that living, why would I change?

Might doing so make me richer? Would some deep-pocketed fans happily download one of my books, and give me $20 in exchange? $50?

Would it make me more famous? Would I care if it did? Would I even like it if it did?

Would TED invite me to do a talk? (That would be cool.)

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions.

Writers, would you consider giving away your work and trusting in the generosity of strangers and fans to pay your bills? Why? Do you yearn for the emotional connection to fans that Amanda talked about?

Readers, would you donate before you read, or happily accept a freebie? Or maybe come back and chip in what you thought the story was worth once you’d read it? Or maybe you prefer the Amazon shopping experience with eight million books at your fingertips, rather than having to traipse over to every individual author’s website to pick up your latest read.

What are your thoughts, folks?