Saturday, 15 March 2014

An Attack of the Freebie-Jeebies

Picture c/o Herts Advertiser


So once again your friendly local writer has been asked by somebody to ''donate'' a book to a blog giveaway. This is happening more and more and I am getting a tad fed up of it. There is too much wanting summat for nowt out there, as my late Yorkshire father-in-law might have said.

As some of you know, I have my own views on the ''Free book/Ebook'' promotion thing. My views being that it creates the expectation in readers that something you sweated blood over for years is worth less than a small cappuccino. Happy to retweet your promo if you insist on doing it because you are a friend, but Hell will freeze over before I voluntarily choose to join you. And from what I gather, some of the nastiest reviews on Amazon come from people who acquired your book for nothing. Go figure.

Interestingly, in one of those plot lulls that occur at about 42 thousand words, I sat down last week and actually worked out my hourly rate if I were to regard writing as a business, and pay myself a wage from what I bring in via book sales. Let us just say that there is no way I shall be awarding myself a £3 million bonus at the end of this financial year.

What I think some of the freebie people fail to realise (if they are not writers themselves) is that the cover price for a book falls far short of what the writer of the book actually receives. (For breakdown on earnings, see post on Agents here). Currently the selling price of the paperback edition of Diamonds&Dust (£6.99), after all necessary bookshop discounts, supplier discounts, printer discounts and contractual obligations have been taken off barely gives me 44p a copy. Shocked? Thought you might be.

Entirely self-published writers are slightly different, but are unlikely to charge as much as ''publisher'' published books. Unless they are very well established. By which time they have probably been snapped up by a publisher anyway. Mind, all our books are discounted on Amazon, so you are unlikely to ever pay the full price should you go down that purchasing route.

There seems to be this myth abroad that writers write for the sheer love of writing (we do) and that somehow, that should be sufficient reward in itself. Sadly gentle blog reader, it is not so. Food, heating, petrol and life generally impinges upon the creative impulse, bringing with it terrible thoughts of maybe throwing in the literary towel and getting a job in Asda to make ends meet.

So at the risk of someone pasting a label saying Mrs Curmudgeon on my forehead, let me reiterate: I will not hand out books to all and sundry like sweeties because right now, I can't even afford sweeties. If you want to read my work (and I'd be honoured if you did) BUY it!

I don't ask or expect my plumber/electrician nor the lovely consultant who performed my 2 cancer operations to work for free. Nor should you, dear readers, expect writers to do so either.

If you'd like to sample Diamonds&Dust A Victorian Murder Mystery, you can do so here. US readers can do so here.


52 comments:

  1. Aah, Carol, when my books were first published by a publisher, they tried the freebie giveaways to promote real sales. I never quite figured out how giving my books away would encourage the same people to buy them, though, so it never made sense to me. I mean, would you buy a book you've read for free? One of my books 'sold' 9000 copies in one weekend. Sad, isn't it? I bet it's still sitting at the bottom of the buyers' Kindle lists, unloved and unread. I know myself that if I download books for free, they are the last ones I read, and I have a few on my Kindle that have been there for six months. I still haven't looked at them, so my reader behaviour supports what my writer instinct knows to be true. I will have occasional 'sales'. I have one now, but like you, I will not give my books away. Not after that experience. Great post, dear one!

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  2. Thanks Val. This is a ''controversial'' topic, as there are many writers who ''will do anything it takes'' to get their ebooks etc sold (As I have already been told). The dismantling of the Net Book Agreement lies behind a lot of this, sadly. I am expecting flak for this post. Tough. One of the reasons I have never been a full time writer is the paltry rates we get.

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  3. I agree - speaking as someone who seems to be asked to do everything for free! I get offered lots of books as giveaways on the site - I mostly decline - I am happy to review- but would rather publish an interview with the author - perhaps with a short excerpt to encourage my readers to buy the book. I think we are living far too much in a culture of having everything for free.

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    1. Quite. I work for less than a child labourer in a third world country. (as do musicians and some artists).

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  4. Couldn't agree more Carol - as you know from my blog on the subject I share similar views - and I think it's a shame that the economy surrounding writing has got to the situation where a book can be worth little or nothing. That simply doesn't reflect the value added to it by the writer and I resist it despite wise heads telling me what a wonderful marketing technique giveaways are.

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    1. It may well be a wonderful marketing technique for writers not making a living from it! What is now happening is that mainstream publishers are jumping on the bandwagon and offering writers for free..Gah! On a linked subject, I got taken to task by a writer for not charging for events, as this undermined those who did and created a sense that THEY should also be free. Pointed out that this writer did 'Freebies'' of their work. Ah, but that was to enhance their profile. I am, sadly, coming to the conclusion that, as Mr Cameron says, ''we are not all in this together''.

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  5. Great Post!
    I am unsure whether I entirely agree... sometimes you have to give a little to gain a little.

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  6. I've been saying the same thing (though sotto voce) for a long while. There is ONE of my books available free right now, but that's only if you've already bought the paperback.
    There has become a culture of *anything as long as it's free* and it doesn't help the market.
    Good post.

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    1. Thanks. It is the ''race to the bottom'' that is concerning. Eventually,it will deter a lot of 'serious' writers from setting out.

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  7. I have a free short story collection available to download (Not a Drop to Drink) and people have told me they've bought one of my books after reading it, so I think that was worth doing.

    Paying to have books printed and handing them out is a different matter. You'd have to be very sure of getting useful publicity for that to be fonancially worthwhile.

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    1. I think I have a ''free'' story in my publishers anthology coming out. That is entirely different from 'I'm giving my book away for free.'' what happens is that people then WAIT for the next book to be given away FREE and it becomes a self-defeating enterprise. I have had people tell me they are waiting for my FREE giveaway. It is undervaluing what is a very wonderful skill...

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  8. Couldn't agree more, Carol. I never give my ebooks away (except to my daughter, and I reckon they earn it, given what they put up with!)

    They'll never make me rich - but writing is not just a hobby, a pastime to fritter away the years until I'm dribbling into my cocoa. It had value - and I'll not give that away.

    (Except for occasional charities. I did join the authors for the philippines thingy, and am happy to give stuff away if I think it will truly benefit others.)

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  9. Excellent post, Carol. I don't expect to make a living from my writing, but equally I don't expect to be regarded as a charitable institution. If I WANT to give my work away, that's my decision - but no writer should ever be expected to.

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    1. I wish!! The pressure to ''give it away'' is immense....interestingly, I have had tweets from artists/craftspeople that they have the same problem!

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  10. *Hat Tip* ...for putting this out there.

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  11. Couldn't agree more, Carol. Putting free books on Amazon may (temporarily) improve your ranking, but (a) many people never get around to reading all the freebies they collect, and (b) even if they do read one, they probably don't download any others. So the whole freebie business seems a bit pointless to me!

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    1. Thanks David and Paula. I am awaiting the backlash from the other side...waiting...waiting....

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  12. I feel quite strongly about this - and thats as a Reader and not a Writer!! I would no more consider asking for a free copy - on the basis of a review - than of flying to the moon!!

    The rewards for writers are little enough, anyway. I have been GIVEN a couple of books, both with personalised inscriptions, by friends. I treasure them!

    I will continue to pay for my books - and I'll give an honest review. If I think its awful, I won't post it - I'll let the author know privately. At the end of the day, its only MY opinion.

    John

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  13. Great post! I totally agree with Val. I sold a few thousand over the weekend and then apparently the need was saturated.Sales are trickling at best.Why do authors play this game? It's undercutting everybody-even themselves.

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  14. Great post Carol. I tried the freebie route when I first started publishing the ebooks and saw a spike in downloads that never translated into better sales, so I don't see how it works as promotion (unless it's the first of a series and will encourage readers to buy the other books). But my main concern with giveaways is that it's disrespectful to the readers who have already spent money buying the book and may even prevent them from buying the next one.

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    1. This is an EXTREMELY good point - and thanks for bringing it up! I agree: I would be peeved indeed if I spent money on a product which was then being given away for free.

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  15. People just sit around and wait for books to free now. It's given readers a sense of entitlement. It's now what they expect. I tried once. I had a book get downloaded like 10k times while it was free and after that...well, it never sold another copy hardly. I believe it sold two in an entire year after that. Some people say it really works for them, but I don't get it. It has never ever worked for me. Not once.

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  16. You know I love you Carol and would never dare to argue with you ... but ... I resisted doing freebie promotions as I was unable to see the point. I, too, felt why should I give my blood, sweat and tears away for nothing. Then I chatted to many authors who had gone down that route, listened to the pros and cons and decided to go for it (albeit reluctantly)
    In one weekend 22,000 copies of Diary of a Mummy Misfit were downloaded - I could have wept! BUT ... on the back of that, sales of my other books went wild. I couldn't have asked for a better result.
    I have just recently ended a promotion of 'Lottie's Luck' and, as soon as it over, I was surprised to find this book become my best seller. In the last four days I have never seen sales like it in the three years I've been doing this.
    It hurts to give books away and I know that many don't read them (and they can fall in to the wrong hands and receive nasty reviews) but it helps to get a 'nobody's' name out there - and that's what I need, otherwise on Amazon I'm invisible and will never be found.
    We'll agree to disagree and fight it out over cake and coffee one day :)

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  17. We never fight!! I think different things work for different people, and I am glad for you if this suits you. I DO wish, however, for all the reasons on the blog and all the comments above that we did not have to do this. The playing field is not level. Whether it is the publishing industry, or the bookshops, I cannot say.

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  18. I come to this debate from two viewpoints--as a writer and as a reader/reviewer.

    I've recently published my first novel and joined KDP select. They have two types of promotions--free or a reduced price. I just couldn't offer the book for free. Thinking about doing so make my stomach hurt. It took me almost ten years to research and write that book. I did a countdown promotion--reduced my $2.99 e-book to .99 for a few days. Sold ONE. It's unlikely that I'll take part in another promotion like that until I have several books out and am more likely to see a boost in my overall sales.

    I held a Goodreads promotion. It cost me a small fortune in print copies and postage and resulted in two "ratings" and one review. Right now, I only offer free copies of my book to book bloggers/reviewers of historical or literary fiction. I research them carefully and only pitch those individuals whose interests seem to dovetail with my work.

    As a reader, I do download lots of free books and review a good number of them. Then again, I review almost everything I read--purchased books, gifts, library finds. I have a book blog and a good ranking as an Amazon.com/ Goodreads reviewer, which means I get offered lots of free books (and marital aids and coffee pots!) to review. For the record, I accept only books and only those that interest me.

    The e-revolution has translated into me purchasing many more books than I used to (my library misses me!), but I'm not necessarily buying books by authors whose work I have downloaded free. And the "free" trend has reduced what I am willing to pay for ANY book, print or electronic. If my behavior becomes the norm, traditional writers will be seriously impacted. Their list prices are high and their royalties paltry. Independent writers may fare better.

    What does this all mean? The reading/reviewing me is probably undermining the writing me. So the writing me is going to have to work harder and NOT give her wares away!

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    1. You raise some very important issues here, and I shall be interested to see what response you get. I certainly think that we are undervalued - because we allow ourselves to be.And yes, there is a dichotomy ....and I don't know what the answer is either....

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  19. I'm truly shocked that you make so little from your wonderful efforts, but I don't really know why I am. It's pretty much like the rocker who works for thirty years and never even gets to be a one hit wonder. A lot of effort for little recompense. Still, I imagine the journey is worth it if you HAVE to write! :) And I would NEVER ask an author for a freebie!

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    1. Aw..thanks Hap!!! I survive. But it's probably one of the reasons I haven't written as much as I might...had to earn a living wage..

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  20. I too have been down that road, the one where you work out how much you earned from a book that took, in my case, almost a year to research and write. It came to mere pennies a day I seem to recall. I also have a gripe about friends who say, "Have you got any of your books going spare?" And "Could you let me have a few and would you sign them please?" I don't supply books. I write them and I make a pittance from it. It's a good job we're both of an age where there is a small but steady income from the state!!!

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    1. Absolutely. People have NO Idea, do they!!

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  21. Agreed. I may give my book to some friends and family members, or to the local library (they don't get to decide which books they will purchase, the state decides it), but I don't see why would anyone *expect* to get a free copy. We don't get free food just because we want it, either.

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  22. True ..and if we get ''cheapies'' in the supermarket, it is at the expense of the suppliers/farmers.

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  23. Great post, missus. I worked out last year that I earned 4p an hour in one particular author tax year. I had about 16K free downloads of Sign of the Times, if not more. I have never offered my 2nd book for free, although I have put it on sale a few times, after it had been out for around a year. My newest book hasn't been on sale and in fact, I recently raised the price, as I thought it was too cheap and it is more or less still having the same sales. I have to say 2 years ago doing the free promo and my book getting to nr 1 in the free chart really did catapult me into readers' minds and I sold 450 copies the following week. but those halcyon days are long gone. I have a baby to feed and you have a beautiful granddaughter to buy gifts for, so yes, please buy the books!

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    1. The people who insist on giving away freebies/etc are, I think, undermining the writing profession ..as someone said, you don't give away free food. As you point put, we have to live! If people want ''freebies'' they have charity shops or libraries. Pay us a viable wage!!

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  24. Well said, Carol. I have been an avid reader all my life and when I started looking into e-books I was shocked at the low prices, wondering “Why would an author devalue their work so much?” I know it is more complicated than that but it is hard for me to unhook myself from this thinking. I can’t see myself ever purchasing an e-book that is offered to me for “less than a cappuccino.” If you don’t value it, why should I read it?

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    1. Thanks Diane. Sadly a lot of writers are very pro giveaways. I don't know why.With few exceptions, nobody on the comment stream knows why. But there it is!

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  25. I would agree that I hate this! There have been a few books I've won that prompted me to buy more books, but there have been some that did not. The crap thing is that there are so many free books that people are less willing to pay for books that aren't free. I also hear the side that you get false followers. People who sign up for your blog or facebook accounts to enter and then nothing pans out if they do or don't win. I am not sure what is the best way to get your book into more readers hands.

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    1. I agree entirely with your comment about why okay if it is free. When Diamonds&Dust was launched, someone on Twitter said they'd wait till it was ''free'' before buying it. I had to bite back the words, I really did!!Guess they're still waiting...

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  26. I really do see your point on this. Having said so, I have a free promotion starting tomorrow - but it's for my short story collection, which I only ever published as a way of people 'trying me out' before buying a book. To me, that's the same as me reading a Jilly Cooper short story in 19 magazine in about 1976, and liking it so much I went and bought her first novel when it came out. I shan't ever do a free promotion for my novels again. I'm kinda done with that, and it doesn't have the effect it used to, anyway.

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    1. Well..I was awaiting a diatribe!!! hahaha... it is very annoying and as someone pointed out, unfair to those who spent money on a book..

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  27. Oh God no, I've said all I have to say on this. The reason I am not doing any more free promos (apart from the shorts, occasionally) is not out of any great principles, though, just that I can't see the point. it's such a lot of work to make it effective, and although I probably DO get sales of other books from them and they always yield a couple of new reviews, it doesn't seem worth the effort. I'd rather exert myself promoting a Kindle Countdown week - they're SALES, from people who will, presumably, read the book! I do agree, though, that it doesn't seem fair to the people who've bought it. If I could be bothered to take them off Amazon KDP Select, I would put the short stories on free all the time, but I can't be bothered to do all that formatting it for Smashwords then getting Amazon to price match malarkey.

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  28. Wouldn't it be great if no-one could even give away a freebie-book/e-book! on Amazon - at least everyone would then be rated/ranked according to their book sales, and fairly. A fabulous post Carol. I hope all those authors who do giveaways read this… I feel as strongly as you about this subject… You' ve said all there is to say here, and I hope those who are 'guilty' about giving their books away just to 'rise up the ranks' on amazon realise it's all so false. They are really only kidding themselves into thinking their book is doing better than it really is!

    A great post, well written, and as always 'honest' - I loved it.

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    1. Thanks Caz. What the devaluing of writers is now doing, I gather, is (c/o Amazon) allowing readres to RETURN ebooks and demand their money back. I am not blogging about this as I don't want to highlight the practice!!! Appalling!! My publ. reckons 5% of their ebooks are ''returned''. As far as I am concerned, anybody who does this to one of my ebooks is NOT the sort of person I want reading them in the first place.

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    2. I'm glad to see that the trend for authors to offer freebies is diminishing, partly because Amazon changed the algorithms, so that achieving x free downloads no longer has the same benefit as it did a few years ago in terms of boosting Amazon search engine visibility. Also it's refreshing to know that in some cases increasing the price of a book can even lead to sales increases! (People often assume that if something's priced cheaply, it must be rubbish.) The only circumstance in which I think I'd give a book away free would be if I had a series of books whereby giving the first one free - or making it relatively cheap - would encourage people to try it out, then, once hooked, go on to read the rest of the series. (I call it the drug-pusher principle!!) But otherwise, for every free download, I'd be wondering whether (a) the person who downloaded of it represents a sale lost or (b) whether someone has downloaded it who is not my target reader and therefore might hate it and leave a rubbish review. Not happy with either of those options, so won't be doing it! There was a great post on the ALCS Newsletter in February by Danuta Kean about why writers shouldn't write for free, by the way - which is what giving away free books amounts to, Well worth a read.http://www.alcs.co.uk/getdoc/648bc939-ff17-44a9-9439-7a504292bc54/.aspx

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  29. Wow, I am shocked at how much you make from each book. My daughter loves your Spy Girl series (she has all of them and, yes, we paid for them!!) and I would have assumed that you'd have done well financially from them. I'm in the middle of writing a children's book; it's a good job I enjoy the process because it doesn't sound like I could ever make any money from it!!

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    1. The only people wh make money are the very well established writers, or 'celebs' or those who have been 'discovered' via a pushy agent, a contact or a publisher deciding to promote them as ''the next... (Rowling made it under this banner) HOWEVER that should never stop you writing. Ever! The writer who only writes to make money is not a real writer.

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  30. I did hear from a writer friend that her e-book had been returned, and here is the reason: A reader clicked buy thinking the ebook was still free when in fact it wasn't anymore. They obviously then read it, and felt annoyed that they had in fact paid for it, and cheekily returned it and got a refund! A comment was made that they wouldn't have 'bought it' and only ever downloaded freebies!!!!!!

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    1. Says it all, this is why I deplore the whole concept. As someone up in the comment thread has speculated: it won't be long before readers will object to paying ANYTHING for an ebook, as they ca ''get it free'' elsewhere.

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  31. It's about value and it starts at home, so to speak. I value books and the people who write them. Just recently I started a flash fiction challenge on one of my blogs as a way to meet other writers and practice craft. My goal is to build up enough participation to offer a prize to one monthly winner. Because of my background, I have access to natural food--you, know a box of granola bars or a stash of green teas. Not super thrilling, but fun and something accessible to me. My second idea is to pair that food with a book I've read (trying to focus on Indies r new writers). But it has to be good and no way would I ever ask for a copy for free! The idea is to share what I've read and value it enough to purchase a new copy for a prize. 12 a year is perfectly affordable, even on a writer's budget! Loved your insight. Thanks!

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  32. Well done you for standing up and speaking your mind on this issue. I hope you haven't received any flack for it. I agree with all that you say. I think of writers as artists. Can you imagine this happening in the art world - galleries giving away artist's paintings/sculptures just to get people through the door? It is basic human psychology that something which is handed to us on a plate will never be valued as highly as something we have paid our hard earned cash for. Writers deserve to be paid for their efforts as much as anyone else.

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    1. I think Amanda Egan -- see above was the worst I got. Mind if anyone had sent an anon comment, I wouldn't have read it. I think if one tackles a subject in a polite manner, it discourages trolling. I tend to get spat at more for my political views, which is totally fair game and I am happy to take anybody on!! Haha

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  33. It's pretty clear to me that just handing out books for free on Amazon or random giveaways gives as much benefit as throwing copies into the street. However, several commenters have pointed out ways of having a successful free campaign--plus more ways of having UNsuccessful free campaigns. As a debut author, I will not mark my book as free. I will (and have) given away copies in exchange for a promise of a review, although I know better than to expect a 100% return on that. When I publish a second book, I MAY run a limited free campaign of my older book in order to entice readers to my newer book--but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

    I'm reluctant to say. "I will never" on anything, but on this, I say, "I will always know why I'm doing it and I will never just do free willy-nilly without a concrete expected, tried and shown successful outcome."

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