Educator embraces idea of free books online

After online pirates swiped Chris McKitterick’s first novel and made it available for free online, the Kansas University teacher took swift action.

He made it available for download himself.

McKitterick had listened to blogger and digital freedom activist Cory Doctorow talk in Lawrence last year about how he had plans to give away his books for free, so McKitterick thought, “Why not?”

McKitterick is a part-time teacher of English at KU who teaches science fiction writing and technical writing, and is associate director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction.

“The worst thing that can happen to a book, especially for a new novelist, is for nobody to know about it,” McKitterick said.

So he hopped on a national trend. Doctorow and others have begun to offer books for free as a way to market them effectively to the public. McKitterick asks for donations online, but he said probably no more than 2 percent of people donate. Some offer small amounts, though, and one person even paid the full hardcover price as a donation, he said.

He, of course, had to clear it with his publisher first.

“We’re a small press and we like to experiment,” said Eric T. Reynolds of Hadley Rille Books, which published the novel. “I think a lot of people will still want to buy a printed book.”

It’s a much different way of marketing than his traditional methods, which include book signings, a web and social media presence and a minimal amount of advertising, he said.

The science fiction book “Transcendence” is available at McKitterick’s website, Like its author, the book addresses current online trends.

It’s about a near-future world in which social networking and Facebook have progressed to the point where humans rarely interact anymore.