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There’ a lot of talk these days about getting everything for free.

It’s everywhere.  I’m watching commercials advertising “call for free information.”  Makes me wonder if they charge for information normally and now it’s just on sale.

People seem to not want to pay for really…anything.

The world costs money

I dunno—maybe it’s that weird principle of Star Trek that showed up in Next Gen where humans evolved past money.  I mean, how does that even work?

Trade is how man pushed out into the world once sailing allowed for long travel distances.  They could find new people to trade with, and new profits. Like spices.

Critical Cat wanders in and sniffs indignantly.

Free has a price

Wait—how can free have a cost?  It’s free, right?

Well, no.  It still costs something.  If it’s an object, the materials come from somewhere.  If it’s art, someone has to create it.  If it’s a class, someone has to teach it.

Wherein lies the problem.

Free means it probably isn’t very good quality.  If it even has quality.  Or there’s a not as obvious cost.

When I went to Las Vegas, I ended up going to a timeshare sales pitch.  They were offering free tickets to a show.

The cost?

The obvious: My time.  It was an entire afternoon, plus part of the next day.

The sales pitch: They don’t really give away the tickets for free.  They get you into their offices and sell the timeshare like crazy.  It’s a very high-pressure sale so you will spend money.  The free tickets lure you in the door.

I thought I could resist the sales pitch.  I end up signing up for a timeshare—and believe me, they kept adjusting the deal to get me to sign up.  The next day, it was “What have I done?”  I knew under the law (and they’d even mentioned this) I had a timeline to kill the contract.  So I took a cab back to the place and put the timeshare out of my misery.

In this case, “free tickets” took about a day, cost me an expensive cab fare, and a lot of stress.  And I was supposed to be on vacation, having fun!

Critical Thinking Cat needed to saunter in and give everything the smell test.  But sometimes things don’t work that way.

We don’t value free

Writers have a huge problem with free.  Everyone is always trying to get us to donate our time so they have to spend any money.

Magazines will spring up: We need fiction.  We can’t afford to pay you for the stories, but we’ll give you exposure.

(That’s usually a bio and link at the end of the story on the site.)

Problem is that the stories that they’re getting aren’t going to be very good, so readers aren’t going to visit.

But this also has the effect of working in reverse.  And this one’s very insidious because you don’t realize the cost.

When I was submitting to print publication, I’d get the Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market.  It has the magazine listing and how many submissions they received versus the acceptance rate. 

The pro magazines got a lot of submissions and had a small acceptance rate.

The non-paying got fewer submissions and had a higher acceptance rate.

I should have put on my Thinking Cat at that point and let Logic Squirrel wander in and ask questions (maybe with an acorn or two).  There would have been some very obvious questions.

Why were all the pro magazines getting such a high volume of submissions?  Because they PAID.  That also meant their quality was better.

But I submitted to the non-paying.  Got a lot of stories published. 

When I joined International Thriller Writers, I ran into a problem.  I got this puzzled rejection from them along the lines of, “You’ve got a lot of publications, but they don’t meet our requirements.”  As a result, I’m associate charter member.

Then I took several advanced writing workshops that cost $300 and worked my butt off learning new skills. 

And hit me.

Free is stagnation

I’d stagnated with the non-paying publications  I didn’t have to improve as a writer to get into them because the bar was so low.

Not only that, I was subconsciously telling myself that I wasn’t good enough for pro markets.

First pro market I submitted to, I got a personal rejection. 

Please explain to me how exactly free does us any good.  I’m sure not seeing it.