Gabrielle Bisset

Saturday, March 23, 2013

How Much Is Your Work Worth?

I've been watching the indie publishing world for a while, and I'm seeing a trend that seems to have seduced a lot of my fellow writers. Just this week, I saw a box set of eight full length books go up for sale for $.99.  A good number of authors are literally giving their work away for free at all times with at least one of their books costing nothing. The loops I'm on include very passionate proponents of these marketing ploys who claim that this is just smart business and these are clever business tactics that indies must take. Their arguments often center on one main point: readers don't know the indie writer, so they must be given a free or very inexpensive taste of the indie's work to convince them that it's worth a higher price for subsequent books.

This seems misguided to me. Did Stephen King's first book have to be given away for free or nearly free? Did J.K. Rowling's first Harry Potter book have to be promoted as so cheap you couldn't pass it up? No. Then why do indie books have to be treated differently?

The Free/Cheap Books people will tell you that these aren't valid questions. Those authors had NY and its massive publicity machine behind them. They weren't up against the competition that indies are--competition from a deluge of books written by virtually anyone with a laptop and the merest command of the English language and NY's releases, not to even mention the smaller epub books that come out with alarming speed.

I disagree. I think these are exactly the kind of questions that need to be asked. As an author, I know how many months I spend writing a book. I know how much work goes into crafting the story, researching the details of setting, history, and all the smaller points which add to a well-written book. After all that, I can't help disagree with the argument that one of my books is worth $.99 or should be given away because no one knows me. No one knew Stephen King or J.K. Rowling when they began either, yet their books were priced in such a way that showed a respect for their work.

The $.99 price point and the free giveaway only help to encourage consumers to believe that writing books is something anyone can do and that good writing isn't worth more. Neither of these are true. I think these marketing ploys also show something about indie writers even they don't see: that they don't believe their work is comparable to NY writing.

Not that they are more clever than NY but that they are less than NY, and therefore, should be paid less.

There's a tendency in this country to devolve down to the lowest common denominator, and nowhere can this be seen more clearly than with indie publishing. By showing readers that indie books are synonymous with cheap books, indies demean their own work even as they get bigger and bigger sales. It's ironic, but even those sales aren't going to fix the mindset readers inevitably will have about cheap indie books: easily obtained, easily read, and easily forgotten.

The $.99 and free price points are okay for sales and brief promotions, and I have no problem seeing $.99 as an appropriate price for a short story. I have two shorts around 5K each that I sell for $.99. However, the idea that a novel length book (or even a 30K word novella) is something so worthless that it should be given away for less than the price of a cup of coffee or even for free permanently is a mistake that I believe indies and the entire industry will pay for in the long run.

To me, writing books is a job. Maybe that's why I seem to differ from the many indies who believe in these marketing ideas. I have to guess that they don't see this as a job. Perhaps it's something they do in their spare time. Perhaps they rely on someone else to support them and writing is just there to provide what my mother and grandmother used to call "pin money." I guess that maybe if I saw this as a hobby, I wouldn't feel like I was selling myself short with these ploys.

The fact is, though, that this isn't a hobby to me, and I don't have a husband who supports my family so I can tinker around with writing in my spare time. I have a day job, as they say, and because of that, I know what good work is worth. I also know that I'd be selling myself short if I sold my work I do after the day job for mere pennies, no matter how many people purchased it.

I grew up with parents who used to say all the time "You get what you pay for." Times may have changed drastically, but this is still true. $.99 or always free for a book tells people that the author and the book aren't worth their time or consideration. If you're uncertain of this, spend some time in a dollar store or even the dollar bins at Wal-Mart and then make a visit to a basic department store like Macy's. There's a difference between those two types of stores, and you know it the second you walk through the doors. Macy's may not be Tiffany's, but it commands a bit more respect than the dollar store.

In the end, indies have to decide if being the dollar store in the publishing business is what they want to be. For me, I never find much of any good in the dollar store. I think I'll stick with Macy's, and who knows? Maybe one day, I'll spend some time in Tiffany's.


Hamilton St Claire said...

Doesn't the high volume of certain genres (erotica for example) drive the price down? Why would consumers pay 2.99 or 4.99 when many works are available for .99 or even free on sites like Literotica?

Gabrielle Bisset said...

Hi Hamilton! Thanks for stopping by. Erotica, even though it can be found for cheap or free on a site like that, is often the most expensive indie selection. People who enjoy the sexy stuff will pay a few dollars for very short stories, while other readers won't. As in many things, sex sells. Erotica doesn't drive down the price but actually bucks the indie trend. If only other genres would follow suit.

Selene Grace Silver said...

Articulate, well-stated. I agree that many writers are undervaluing their work. I am struggling right now with what to price my first full-length novel, which I hope to publish this spring. I have published two short pieces of fiction at 99 cents (one set by the publisher) and the second a price largely set by Amazon's self-publishing system. The additional work that a 250+ page or longer novel requires in terms of writing is substantial.
I'm curious. What do you think a 300 page novel, well-written and edited, is worth? Some publishers seem to gravitate to $4.99 or up to $7.99 while others lock in much higher at $9.99 for a digital book. I'm not sure the traditional publishers or small presses know the value of a writer's work either, at least, regarding ebooks.

Root said...

I agree in part, but mostly disagree. I write, not for a job, but because it is my escape. I have a stressful job and a family and I like nothing more than to sit down and immerse myself in my characters and my story. It's what keeps me sane.

I try to be a good writer and author, and crave feedback. Therefore, I offer my work for free where I can, and the lowest price I can elsewhere. My latest work, not written under one of my pseudonyms is 95,000 words and is a full length novel. It went through several edits and rewrites and I have had nothing but good feedback from it, but if I start deriving an income from it, then it becomes a job and I can't see writing as my escape.

I know people like me are not liked by "real authors" and I am aware that my work might be slightly less polished, but after spending weeks writing a book, I want people to read it, but just don't want to charge.

The small amount of royalties I have made I have just given to charity as I don't want them and to keep them would be wrong. It would spoil my enjoyment from writing; is that so wrong?


Gabrielle Bisset said...

Hi Selene! Thanks for stopping by! I think a book the length you mention and well-written/edited is worth at least $4.99. For me, that's still low, but I think subsequent books could be higher.

Gabrielle Bisset said...

Hi Root! While I can appreciate the happiness you derive from writing, Amazon is a business and putting your books up for sale there means you are involving yourself in the publishing business. There are many places you can offer your writing for free, such as a personal blog, critique groups, and places such as Wattpad where you can receive possibly millions of views/reads and a great deal of the feedback you crave.

When you put your book into a professional sphere like Amazon, people expect a professional product. If you truly want useful feedback, the lowest price point isn't the most effective. Writing groups and critique groups are probably the best bet for writers like you.

Morticia Knight said...

Great post Gabrielle. I too work a day job, and writing is an escape - but it is also the hope that someday I won't have to work a day job that saps my strength. I think it is appropriate to offer free or 99 cent promotions, but in a limited capacity. If you can always get it cheap, why bother to pay more? The sense of urgency you feel as a reader disappears.