A slice of cake is comparable in worth to a Frappuccino. A can of Pepsi costs the same as a can of Coke. One pair of underwear is about the same as a pair of socks, but your 100,000-word novel costs the same as a pack of gum, maybe less. How do struggling authors manage to earn a living by selling their work so cheap?
First: Sell your book for as much as you like. That right will always be yours, obviously. But if you’re the type who’d like to tell others how to price theirs, maybe you should read ahead before you pour the hate on those who are selling books for a buck.
First rule for the author looking to earn money: Make it easy for your consumer to choose you over the competition. Second rule: Don’t worry about the way it’s always been done, worry about how it’ll be done tomorrow.
If you’re a self-publishing author competing against Random House, it’s probably not a good idea to price your books
close to theirs. Face it, they have quite a few things you don’t. (Things that contribute to the cost of the stuff they sell, by the way.) You see, self-publishing authors often make the mistake of attributing aesthetic value to market value, and these things are as incompatible as Charlie Sheen and professionalism. Sure, a great work of fiction should be worth more than a buck. It should be worth more than a pack of gum or a pair of underpants. The trouble is: the word “should” doesn’t stand up to market realities. It never will, so scrap it now.
So you’re an author who wants to make a living selling books. The 99-cent eBook has ruined your life? Well, crying about it isn’t going to change the world, so let’s see if it isn’t better to position ourselves as leaders and earn a living
at the same time.
Consider what qualities give something its market value. In other words, a book is something you can hold and put on the shelf. An eBook isn’t. They’re two different products. The eBook gets downloaded through cyberspace, like a song, or an album. It is intrinsically less tangible, and now you’re thinking like a business person. If you want to sell your book for more money, then sell it in formats you can charge more for. (In print, or as audio CD, for instance.) It
costs more money to produce that way, but your price will be correctly aligned in the marketplace.
Another reservation authors have with the 99-cent eBook is the perception of its quality. How can anyone see a 99-cent book as something of high quality? It’s a good question, and one I don’t claim to have the answer to — but let me turn the question on its head: What did you pay for a book that changed your life? Now what is that book worth to you? Do you see the problem? Ascribing a price based on a book’s content or impact is totally arbitrary. (By the way, the Bible changed a lot of people’s lives and that book is free.)
Also, there is the question of length in eBooks. How can a 100,000 word novel be sold at the same price as a 20,000 word novel? Another great question. This one gets a surprising twist. As consumers we are given to believe that more of something is better. So if you’re getting more of something, you should pay more, right? Well, not necessarily. Some business models conclude that brevity has greater intrinsic value. If you can write a 100,000 word novel in 20,000 words — why wouldn’t you? It takes less time to write, and it takes less time to read. You’ve heard the expression “Time is money?” The author writing novellas on a mass production schedule and with a shrewd sense of marketing could make a killing with the 99-cent eBook. Perhaps your single novel is already divided into three Acts? Did you ever think to sell it that way?
Authors are conditioned to think about writing in print-publishing terms. In print publishing it was cost ineffective
to produce small books, so the market adapted accordingly. We dream up epic stories told across multiple books, in
part because we get caught up in the world we’ve created, but also because we understand that once a reader has invested the time and energy to get familiar with our characters, they’ll want to revisit old friends later. Their connection with our shared friends is what puts food on the table. But with eBooks, you can chop that giant behemoth up into much smaller books and get a lot more mileage because the book is published at the same cost. You get a bigger bang for your buck. Your eBuck.