A famous rock band once released their new album free of any charge, then asked downloaders to pay what they thought it was worth.
The average donation turned out to be about what they would have normally charged, for an album that buyers would have normally taken a bet on, not having heard it in total and therefore knowing for sure if payment was worth it.
That's the point, right there.
Movies, music, food, all marketed as a bet.
Unlike socks on a store shelf or a birthday card, those are items that people use their hard-earned coin to bet on.
The bet is based on impressions, assumptions, prior experience, and opinions of trusted others. The assumption is that the product will be at least as claimed, maybe better, but worth at least the transaction price to the purchaser. You don't find out with lots of things if they're worth the money you paid up-front until you've pulled them on, started them up, swallowed them.
So it is with writing.
My column provokes the occasional question: Ever consider writing a novel or play? That comes from two views: My columns are already popular (thank you very much; I'm obviously doing my job) and I show some talent that can spill over into other facets of the prose-generating business. (Thanks for that viewpoint, too.)
I write the column twice a week, and it's been around for a few years, so my track record is lengthy and popular enough so it's an excellent bet I'd find a willing agent for some other form, and a ready market.
Funny how this works. On the strength of those columns, an experienced agent and editor could estimate my sales prior to any actual ones, and plan accordingly. There might actually be an advance!
Still, they're promoting a bet, no matter how successful the author has been to then. A few top-shelf authors currently shoot YouTube videos like movie trailers, to pump up demand for their next book. I've seen some, and they're pretty cool. Hope they're financially worth it; video can cost a wad. Although some look like they were shot with an iPhone--near-perfect, close enough.
I can name a few big authors who have written novels that wouldn't have sold well if it weren't for the fact that they authored them. After safe bet after safe bet, there was a bit of a fail. Let's not get into Hollywood producers who shot a bomb or two. Or three. Trusted, normally-reliable producers.
I'm not good enough to know what kind of publicity needs to be in place, to drum up sales and buzz prior to shelving a new book. I don't know if writing this column is enough.
Furthermore, a relative is trying to round up an agent for his novel, and getting little interest, even though he already has a nonfiction book on the racks and has gone through the publishing/editing/book tour stuff already. Somehow, that kind of track record doesn't count for much, but my little old stream of blather dribbling out thrice a week for a couple of years has what it takes to go for a strong launch in a different area of publishing. I'm told.
I'm mixed up and my brain's throbbing.
Good thing I'm not a literary agent.
Making these bets between the urgent pleas of an author wanna-be and a ripped and buff publishing giant and depending on performance from both sides to put another meal on the table has to drive some to Monster.com for some just-in-case window-shopping.
Maybe all they need to keep smiling through the briers and gopher holes is the idea that they're avoiding a punch clock for yet another day.
I sure couldn't punch one.
Maybe that's why I'm doing what I'm doing, and why I'm accused of chronic cheerfulness.
Anything else is paralysis.