I’ve just released my latest book, Cruel Water. At full price—all of $3.99. The price of a cup of coffee these days. I agonized over it. With books hitting the market everywhere at a mere 99 cents, would I even stand a chance?
Well, I decided to stick to my conviction that if I don’t value my own work, how could I expect the reader to value it. It’s a tough market out there if you don’t play the game, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. And still I hold out hope that if I demonstrate consistency in the quality of writing as well as the price tag, this will eventually pay off.
Perhaps I’m delusional—it wouldn’t be the first time.
I’m not going to bore you with the number of hours I spend writing these 100,000 word books (although my calculated guess is between 150 and 200 hours per book). I’m also not going to mention the hours invested in promotion and networking (although it’s probably close to 10 hours a day). And forget about things like cover design, marketing, editing and proofreading. Those are all things you’ve heard before. It’s not new. It’s also something you as readers shouldn’t really be concerned about.
I’m concerned about it, though, because I’m discovering that unless we as authors start assessing our professional time and skill at its proper (and still very reasonable) value, we end up shooting ourselves in the foot.
A simple calculation. For a 99 cent e-book we receive 35% in royalties. That’s a scant $0.35 per book. For a $3.99 book our royalties are at 70%, which rounds to about $2.79 per copy sold. In simple terms that means that for every full priced book sold, we’d have to sell 8 of the $0.99 ones to get to $2.79.
Not clear enough? Okay, how is this; for every 10 full priced ones, we’d have to sell 80 bargain priced ones. Are you starting to feel the pinch?
I agree, with the price set at $0.99 those of you who enjoy a bargain (and I will happily admit I at times am one too) start one-clicking away. Before you know it, another “best-selling author” is born, but what does that really mean when the title is mostly based on skewed sales numbers? I don't mean to imply that the authors are not deserving of the title, not at all, but what I am saying is: How do we know?
You see, I’m afraid that in an attempt to add to our credibility, the pursuit of that proud title may become our ultimate downfall. We may well be killing our own market.
I believe you create your own demand. Instead of riding the ebbs and flows of the market, we collectively scramble to garnish more sales. But as I've shown above, more sales does not always mean more income. Not for an author.
If as authors, we all keep saying that we won’t sell anything unless we underprice, we are not looking far enough ahead. This much too low price tag becomes the norm on which the market—the readers—base their expectations.
In turn, as authors, we have no choice but to start cutting corners to keep making ends meet. The obvious place to start would be to stop paying other people to do what we think we can do ourselves. And in doing so, we risk bringing down the quality of our own work. How does that make sense?
There is a reason a mainstream published book has those higher price tags. It’s because the money invested in consistent quality and product marketing has to be recouped. And readers will pay it, because they’re able to count on that consistent quality of product.
As Indie community, we all want to be seen as equals, as valid competition to mainstream published authors, but if we don’t properly value our own work how in God’s name can we expect everyone else to?
There is such incredible talent among the Indie authors. Beautiful books have been written and tremendous success achieved by quite a few. But even those who were riding high perhaps a year or two ago, are scrambling to keep up with the changing market.
It’s difficult to see an easy way out of this corner we've painted ourselves in. I certainly don’t have the answers. The only thing I can do is stick to my guns as long as I can in putting a fair value on my product, showing the confidence I have in my work. I don’t know how long I’ll hold out.
And in the meantime I hope and pray that the readers, the bloggers and the industry at large, won’t be too blinded by the $0.99 bargains everywhere to miss out on some pretty fucking awesome books that are available at a very reasonable price.
The cost of a cup of coffee.
Wish me luck.