Earlier today, I was the target of a bit of ridicule for giving away my books on Amazon. The person involved took the following stand: writing is work. If the work is good, it deserves to be paid. If you give something away, therefore, it must not be any good. And then he topped his argument with this statement: I don't "get" volunteering. And he proceeded with an illustration of a hospital volunteer who gave him bad directions. "Next time I'll ask somebody who's getting paid," he said. And he implied, "And I'll read books whose authors charge for them."
I didn't respond to the comment at the time, although it was on a very public forum, but the more I've thought about that statement, the angrier it made me. What kind of a person does not "get" volunteering? i started by looking for definitions. The best one said: "To choose to act in recognition of a need, with an attitude of social responsibility and without concern for monetary profit, going beyond one's basic obligations." The same site defined a volunteer as "Someone who gives time, effort and talent to a need or cause without profiting monetarily."
Does that sound like something worthless? Something to be ashamed of? Not to me, it doesn't. My critic was right in labeling my book give-away as volunteering. I offered people a product that I had produced with my time, effort, and talent, and I did so without profiting monetarily, in hopes of making their lives a tiny bit richer.
The world is not a perfect place, with equal opportunities for all. There are always unmet needs and people who need more help than they can afford. What a cruel, sad world we would have if people acted only in their own self interest and demanded money for every act. Volunteers make that world happier and easier for all with their selfless acts.
So go ahead, Mr. Critic. Call me a volunteer. I'll wear that label proudly. I'm happy to make my books available to people who can't afford to buy them. I write to communicate with others, to tell a good story, to say something important. I don't write to make a living from it. Wouldn't that just make me a "hack," a writer for hire? I stand by my original statement. Kindle free books are the modern equivalent of a great public library--opening worlds of knowledge to all who want them.