Saturday, March 23, 2013
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.
at 9:45 AM