Sunday, 6 March 2011

What's a novel worth?

THE hot topic on the writers' forums I frequent right now is the price of ebooks, and more specifically, what a self-published writer should charge.

(We all know publishers have their own dark reasons for charging more than the price of a paperback, in spite of the negligible or zero costs of producing, storing, and distributing an ebook, and I'm not getting into that topic here.)

Here's a summary of the main arguments for a higher price, and my thoughts in italics:
  • I value my work, and I demonstrate that in the price I charge for it. This book took me a year to write and is worth a sensible amount. What matters is not the author's perception of value, but the purchaser's, and it's an act of faith to buy and spend hours of your time on a novel by an author you've never heard of.

  • Self-publishers who price their books low are doing a disservice to other indies by engendering an expectation of low prices. Welcome to the free market. In business, you price to sell your product, not to win friends; I am responsible for no one's sales except my own.

  • If you price your book on Amazon at less than £1.49, thus earning 35% rather than 70% royalty, you will need to sell six times the number of books to break even. With a popular book, you will do this and much, much more. See JA Konrath and Victorine Lieske. And, in a more modest way, me.
The whole publishing industry is in a fascinating state of upheaval right now. Pricing is just a part of that turmoil. One can only speculate on what the industry will be like in five years' time, and the prices that ebooks will command. There'll be one constant, though. Readers will still buy books they like, and it will still be impossible to predict which books have that magic quality.


  1. You can't argue with a bargain!!!

    Basically, the lower the price the more attractive it is. This trick is enough to perhaps and most likely guarantee that enough people will buy for a profit to be made.

    As for quality - well it's like my work colleague - bought a jumper from Tesco - cost £8 - didn't understand why the sleeves frayed the day after. I said, you pays what you gets. But I bought a lovely top from sainsbury's £5 - and it's still going strong.

    Welcome to the free economy!

    Take care

  2. Kitty, I get my jumpers from Peacocks, also £8, and very good they are.

    One has to consider the total profit, rather than profit per sale. Plus the benefit of gaining lots of readers - there is little point writing if no one is reading your books. God bless readers!

  3. I think that pricing very low is a brilliant strategy for a debut novel.

    There are many superb established authors churning out books, especially in the thriller or romance genres, so why would a reader bother with a new author?

    Of course it's curiosity that killed the cat and likewise, if there is nothing to lose price-wise, many will take a chance because the cover or title looks appealing. I think it was the title 'Remix' that first caught my attention then the cover .... I'm a sucker for blonds!

    If the book is good, its fame will spread rapidly by word of mouth or through the many blogs now discussing books. This can lead to an exponential growth in sales and almost overnight the author will be hobnobbing with the rich and famous in the field.

    The power of the Internet for 'spreading the word' is awesome and I don't think that the publishing world has really got to grips with the global market for e-books yet. It's almost unbelievable that NYT best selling authors can often only be downloaded in North America. For example I used to download regularly from then something changed and Eloisa James amongst others, became unavailable to me.

    Happily this is gradually changing as publishers realize their stupidity!

    Fascinating thoughts Lexi

  4. Ahh yes pricing, the vexing subject of our times. What price will you put on your book? Personally I’m swaying more towards Lexi’s position, especially since I have worked in retail, wholesale and commission artistic craftwork. But the important factor for novels and books is getting your piece out there, if your first novel is priced low then the browser will pick it up driven by curiosity. I’ve seen my partner shop the same way on Amazon. Now the question is what do you price the second ebook at? Well probably a little more expensive, though that depends on if your first ebook sold. If it didn’t then you have to go back and work out a few issues, like editing, cover, presentation, storyline and publicity.
    Having had a good cruise around the ebook writing blogs (thanks Lexi!) I’ve re worked my publishing plans, the first book to come out is a Tudor period short story of around twenty five thousand words (sometime next week we hope!). Priced at 99c (US) It will have all the main characters from the Tudor series plus maps and info as well as a simple cover. The next book (which is finished) will be $1.99 (US) then the third at $2.99 (US) where the price will roughly stabilise depending on size and extras.
    Anyway that’s my plan.

  5. Your second point (in answer to those who say that low chargers are spoiling it for others) is particularly well taken. It's nobody else's business what you charge for your own work, and anyone who thinks it is has got a cheek – or maybe even two – if not four.

    Publishing is moving at extraordinary speed, and we can't be sure that it's going anywhere good. Count on it, however, that today's dinosaurs are as doomed as the last lot.

    The great thing about the e-revolution is that it has democratised publishing. Self-publishing used to be a form of torture. (It was used in the Tower of London when the rack failed.) I don't believe in very much, but I do believe in democracy.

  6. Interesting, quantum - are you saying you'd have passed by Remix if I'd stuck with its earlier titles Catch a Falling Star or Heart of Rock?

    Gregory, best of luck with the books. It's good to have a plan - as long as you are prepared to be flexible if it doesn't work out :o)

  7. Iain, I felt your pain reading that article. It occurs to me that I wrote the fantasy version of it a few years ago, in my short story Showing Them.

    Thank goodness for the Kindle, is all I can say.

  8. Darn, why didn't my link work? I looked up how to do it and everything. I'll be back.

  9. I have had some success by offering attractive financing to purchasers of my book. Zero percent interest and only 70p down payment with no further payments due until I write another book. At that point a balloon payment of five thousand dollars comes due.

  10. Ah, balloon payments, also known as partial amortization. My blog and the comments are an education for its lucky readers.

    Alan, yet again you missed an opportunity to promote Boomerang. Dear me, must try harder.

  11. I must confess that I am a little concerned about the "race to the bottom," even if I am a willing participant. Several of my fantasy books are only $0.99 US, and I have two books I'm giving away for free. One is actually a novella, the other is a collection of shorts.

    I've found that low priced (or free) books definitely have a value in terms of exposure. I'm using that to build a platform. Future installments in a series will not be as cheap as the original, at least until another installment arrives. But I do worry that with millions of people jumping on the self-pubbing bandwagon, readers might quit bothering to pay more. If that becomes the case, it's going to be tough to make a living as a writer. Then again, it always has been.

  12. Jordan, when I started I gave away Remix on Smashwords, but I won't ever do that again. People do not value what they get for free - there's a big difference between free and cheap, in my experience.

    I was shocked by Nathan Bransford's latest post divulging what published authors earn per book - it's so little, they are right at the bottom of the heap compared to everyone else involved in the book. And yet the industry cannot exist without them. Writers are exploited like workers in the third world.

    I'm getting 26p for each copy of my book I sell on Amazon - about the amount I'd get per paperback if I was mainstream published. So far I've sold 16,800. Not Amanda Hocking, but not so bad either.

  13. I hadn't heard of Amanda Hocking until one of my "fans", a nice fellow who goes by williewit, mentioned her on an Amazon UK forum. And then Douglas Jackson had a link to her blog on his Facebook page. So I read her blog, found it interesting and well thought-out, a figured I would purchase one of her ebooks, "Switched". I guess she must be doing something right in the storytelling department because her writing isn't much to write home about, as it were. I guess people like her stories and look past her lack of literary graces.

  14. Amanda Hocking comes across as very bright, sparky and hard working - and obviously has that touch of magic you need to succeed big time, which is so difficult to discern before it reaps its rewards.

    I must read Switched, and will when I've finished writing the current book.

  15. Interesting, quantum - are you saying you'd have passed by Remix if I'd stuck with its earlier titles Catch a Falling Star or Heart of Rock?

    Lexi,I might have come up with those two titles myself. Never in a million years would I have thought of 'Remix'.

    It has an air of magic and mystery that irresistibly draws me into the pages. The girl on the cover holding a rocking horse is the perfect complement.

    I think that you have set yourself very high standards which may be difficult to better.

    But no matter. I'm already hooked! *smile*

  16. It took what seemed like a million years to come up with the title Remix - well, more than a year. I hit on it weeks before I published. Then I found an old list, and one of the ideas was Rock Remix, so I'd nearly got there at an early stage, but missed it.

    There's some moral there...

    The new novel will be Unofficial Girl. Or Hard Copy. Or Mortal Echo...

  17. Hi Lexi
    I like most things about the internet, but something I dislike is that it's made me expect to get data/knowledge for free. And you're right that we don't value what's free. I also don't really value what only exists as bytes. I like to print my photos, buy cds to put onto my iPod and I like having a real copy of Remix to read. I happily pay for all of these things and I value them. Am I hopelessly old fashioned?

    As for the next title: am liking 'Hard Copy'..!


  18. Old fashioned? Not at all, K. Anyone who understands the working of a modern camera has my respect :o)

  19. The new novel will be Unofficial Girl. Or Hard Copy. Or Mortal Echo...

    I like 'Mortal Echo' best of those.
    'Mirror Image' might have been good if not used many times already.

    For something with a scientific flavor I think 'Odd Parity' would be eye catching and appropriate if the twin has features which are opposite in some regards.
    (Using parity in the context of mirror images)

    I would feel honored if you liked my suggested title .... no charge for use! *grin*

  20. Odd Parity...the daughter says No, I'm afraid. One Beth is an exact replica of the other (though the cover I'm working on has a mirror image - that's art for you).

    I like Mortal Echo, but it's a bit fantasy-ish. UG is a sort of thriller, so probably I should call it The Replica Conspiracy or The Duplicate Files.