Permafree as an Ethical Choice (and how I learned to love Marketing)

I hate marketing.

Okay, it’s not that I hate marketing. I mean, I sell stuff, so I can’t hate marketing. Marketing lets me write books and then find people that want to read them. So it’s not fair for me to hate marketing.

Yeah, okay, I hate marketing.

My hatred for marketing goes way back. I started a company in 1997, and I think I ran just one advertisement for it in thirteen years. When I sold my company, I didn’t even advertise that— the buyer overheard me talking outside of a club at a conference and made an offer. When that company bought me and hired me, I got promoted several times until I was in a strategic leadership position.

Strategic leadership positions have to attend marketing and sales meetings. It was my least favorite part of the job. Dealing with me on any marketing or sales subject was my colleagues’ least favorite part of their jobs, too. I had a firm belief that if we just provided a quality product with fantastic customer support, sales would come naturally.

Apparently, people with marketing degrees disagreed with me.

Why I hated Marketing

I had moved on to a multimillion-dollar small business is one member of a team. A small number of millions, but it was millions of dollars nonetheless. After that, I moved into an even larger company with many, many more millions. I finally landed as an executive at a publicly traded company amazed that my tiny one-person shop had led me to a place where I had to figure out what a restricted stock grant was.

With each step up, I stepped further from my comfort zone. With each expansion of a target audience, each raise in customer numbers, each million added the marketing drivel felt more and more dishonest. Finally, at the end of my corporate career, I felt like nothing the company was doing resembled anything that it was claiming.

It felt unethical, and I struggled with it. Though devastated when I was laid off, I was grateful, too. I no longer had to pretend I believed in what I did or who I represented.

It was that ethical twisting, that slick shine of a lie, that made me hate marketing. I always kept some naïveté as I moved through the business world: I never quite understood why we grew less concerned with the things that had made us successful as our success grew.

I resolved to myself that if I ever had my own business again, I would never let myself get stuck, never get sucked into the BS again.

You mean the books don’t sell themselves? Well. Poo.

As I began my writing career, I was incredibly excited. My husband even commented that he had never seen me quite as excited about anything as he did about the writing. I love writing, and I love making up stories.

But I’m also plagued by that standard writer fear that what I love to do is not something anyone else would want to read. Indeed, they wouldn’t want to pay for it. Self-doubt may be the most common trope in a writer’s life. Common, and sometimes very difficult to deal with. It makes marketing particularly hard.

And yet writing is truly what I want to do. Telling stories, making up people in my head. This is the thing that I love more than I’ve loved just about anything else in my life, my family notwithstanding.

To do this for a living, to be able to focus 100 percent of my time on writing, I have to market. People have to buy books. An unread book is a pretty sad thing.

Or, it’s, like, really really bad. Could be that, too.

I hated marketing until I went permafee. Now I love it.

For the first year I was doing this, I truly tried. I bought all the marketing books; I spent gobs of money on ads, I took copywriting classes and advertising classes and worked my butt off trying to make this work. It was just about the least fun I’ve ever had in my life.

I think the thing that was the most frustrating was that I understood it. I had dealt with ratios and spreadsheets and CPC and cost analysis for some years. I should have been able to make it work, but it wasn’t working. And I was miserable.

As I previously wrote in the blog, I decided to pull out of KindleUnlimited and go wide with my books. In doing that, I also decided to make the first book in the series permafree. And not just The Witchiest Circus on Earth. Like, all future series. The first book always free. Forever.

My husband, who is my business partner in crime, asked me if that would be profitable. As I explained read through, people promoting the book because it was free without you having to ask, I ended my explanation with this statement:

In any case, it doesn’t matter. If it’s not profitable, it means the books suck and my writing doesn’t appeal to enough people. If the books are good, if people want to read them, then they will. I’m giving them a chance to like them without risk. That’s fair. If they don’t, it just means I didn’t do a good job.

After I said it, I realized that I was comfortable, even excited, about the permafree marketing concept because, to me, it was ethical. It was an ethical way to sell the book, an ethical way to approach the reader.

I am handing you a full-length novel that will broadly paint a picture of the world I intend to populate for you. I worked hard on it, but I release it with no strings to be experienced. My gift to you. If you don’t like the way I’ve written it, what I’ve sketched out, the concepts I’ve presented, you don’t need to move forward with it. We will shake, and go our seperate ways. If you do choose to join me on this adventure, I can feel confident that you truly want to be there.

Permafree has given me some of my confidence back as a writer. It’s made me far more comfortable with marketing, and it’s made me less reticent about talking to my readers as if they’re here with me (as opposed to me constantly prevailing upon them to hopefully like me).

It’s also made me more comfortable with the people that don’t want to read my books, funny enough. I feel like I’ve done everything I can to help them make an informed decision about buying in, and ensured that they would likely have a good experience if they choose to spend a few bucks on the Magical Midway. If they don’t, I’ve made sure they didn’t lose anything but time in giving my stories a whirl.

It is, to me, about ethics. It feels more ethical than an ad telling people they will LOVE the books – not everyone will. There are so many books because not all books appeal to everyone. And that’s okay.

I get to wake up every single day and know that all over the internet, in storefronts across the world, I gave people gifts.  How many people get to do that? For a few, that gift will be meaningful.

That’s marketing I can get behind.

Samson on Hill