Caught in the Net that Is “Net”

Since last week, the online publishing world has been ablaze with the news that Harlequin is changing the royalty rates it pays its authors from 6% of cover for category romances and 8% of cover for single title books to 15% of net and 25% of net. This change is retroactive and applies to authors who are “actively writing for Harlequin.”1 Authors do not need to sign an amended contract to accept the new rates; rather, they must contact Harlequin if they want to turn down the new rates.

There has been a LOT of angst about what this “means” to authors. Is 15%/25% of net more per copy than 6%/8% of cover? Less? About the same?

Harlequin’s stance in the letter is that for most authors, the new terms represent an increased royalty rate, but there’s some evidence that whether that’s true might depend on lot on when the contract in question was written/signed. Elaine English did an analysis for NINC of multiple Harlequin contracts and concluded that in some cases, the royalty paid under the new terms for some books would actually be only 2%-3% of the cover price. Clearly not an improvement. That said, Harlequin has responded via Angela James to some of these concerns on Dear Author this morning, and this analysis of how net is calculated supports the notion that the change is an increase, not a decrease. Even so, individual authors would be wise to review their contracts with their agents to determine whether the change is or is not to their benefit.

But here’s the real kicker in the whole story, at least as far as I’m concerned. Authors have been signing contracts for 25% of net on digital sales FOR YEARS. It’s pretty much the standard rate in the industry. Harlequin has been bagged on for years for offering “only” 8% of cover on single title works, but now that they’re moving to offer the “industry standard” rate, their authors are up in arms, wondering if Harlequin is trying to pull a fast one on them. It’s ironic, don’t you think?

In a post back in March on the Avon Impulse line, I said I thought 25% of net was a pretty terrible royalty rate for digital-first/only books, because it meant you were, at BEST, being paid 17.5% of the cover price. When you compare that to the royalty rates being offered by the digital-first small presses, which are typically around 35%-40% of either the sale price or of net (depending on whether the book is sold directly through the publisher’s website or through a third party), 25% of net starts to look pretty crummy.

However, when you get right down to it, the problem with being paid on “net” isn’t the percentage itself; it’s the fact that it’s typically not clear or disclosed how net is calculated or how much net will be. Angela James’ post on Dear Author (referenced above) seems to indicate that Harlequin’s “net” is calculated on 50% of the cover price, but I know from my own royalty statements from Kensington that my “net” is all over the map–it seems to depend not on the cover price of the book, but the the actual sale price less the distributor’s cut and who knoews what all else.

I’ve never understood, to be honest, why the prevailing terms for digital royalties seem to be based on the net receipts rather than the cover price. Print royalties have ALWAYS been based on the cover price. It doesn’t matter how much the retailer actually sells the book for; the author still gets a predictable royalty on every single copy sold. Why should digital books work differently, especially when the publisher in question is agency-pricing, which means the publisher is getting a predictable portion of every single sale? In theory, if the publisher is agency-pricing your digital books, 25% of net should mean a predictable royalty, but that’s only the case if you know for sure what’s getting netted out AND your publisher never puts a digital special on your books (as both Avon and Hachette did for some backlist titles earlier this month).

I don’t expect to be signing another contract with a publisher any time soon, but more and more, I truly dislike net calculations for royalties because they are so potentially fungible and unpredictable. If and when I’m in that position again, I may well try to negotiate either for digital royalties based on the cover price (although, obviously, I would not be asking for 25% of the cover, but more like 15%) or for a clear disclosure in the contract of exactly how net will be calculated. And that’s partly because, if the publisher later decides to change its terms, I don’t want to have to guess whether the new terms are more or less favorable to me. Which is the net many Harlequin authors feel caught in right now.

1From my perspective, the most puzzling thing in the whole announcement wasn’t the royalty change–it’s what the heck “actively writing for Harlequin” means! Are you only actively writing for them if you have an uncompleted manuscript under contract? Do revisions and copy edits consistute “actively writing”? If you’ve completed the last manuscript under your existing contract and have either not yet submitted an option book or don’t have an option clause, are you no longer active even though you have books that have yet to be released? Are you no longer active if you turned down a contract offer from them, even though you still have unreleased books? It’s really very puzzling, and a clear definition of that term would certainly have been helpful!

Do Low-Cost eBooks Hurt or Help Authors?

After watching the stunning uptick in the Kindle rankings for low-cost romances on Wednesday (see yesterday’s post for the details), I’ve been giving even more thought than usual to digital book pricing. There have been a plethora of posts from various industry professionals bemoaning the rise of the 99-cent novel and its supposedly harmful effect on authors’ (and, by extension, publisher’s) bottom lines. I’ve already said that I don’t believe that the price of digital full-length front-list novels will actually settle as low as 99 cents, although it could easily settle as low as $4 or even $3. However, if the prices DID settle at 99 cents for all ebooks, independent of length, what would that mean for authors and publishers?

I think before we can even think about this, we have to throw out the fact that Amazon and most of the other retailers currently “punish” you for pricing a book under $2.99 by taking a significantly greater percentage of the cover price for themselves. If ebook pricing were to settle lower than $2.99, I have a strong suspicion that the retailers would ultimately find themselves forced to increase the percentage they pay to the author/publisher, although probably not to the levels they’re currently offering on the $2.99-$9.99 titles. That said, we can’t RELY on the royalty split for those $2.99-$9.99 books remaining as generous as it currently is. The reality is that Amazon and B&N (the two major players right now) can change those percentages at will, and if they do, are authors really going to walk away in droves? I doubt it.

So, let’s not think right now about royalty splits and just talk about the potential effect of low-cost ebooks on total book sales, and talk instead about what we know about the buying habits of readers who own ereaders. And what we know about them is this–they buy WAY more books on a monthly basis than the average print book reader. I’ve read many stories about people who were indifferent/irregular readers in print, got a Kindle or Nook, and then went on reading (and associated book-buying) tears. As more and more people get their first ereading device (be it an exclusive ereader or something like an iPad or other tablet), it’s reasonable to predict that more and more will read and buy more books than they did in the past.

But there is a limiting factor on the total number of books any individual can buy, and that’s disposable income. Most people DON’T have an unlimited amount of money to spend on ebooks (or on anything else, for that matter). This means that pricing matters way more to digital book buyers than it does to print book buyers. They want to buy more books than they did in the past, but they still have roughly the same amount of money to spend on those book as they did when they were reading print. This means that if they have $30 per month to spend on books, they can buy MANY MORE at 99 cents (or even $2.99) than they can at $5.99 or $7.99 or $9.99.

Thus, it stands to reason that, while lower average prices for ebooks means less income per copy for the author/publisher, lower average prices increase the total number of units sold–not just of any individual book, but of ALL books. The more books I can afford to buy, the more books I probably will buy. And that goes for pretty much everyone.

So there is a possibility that this is a “rising tide lifts all boats” scenario. I’m not suggesting that every book that is priced at 99 cents will sell enough copies to make decent money for an author or publisher. That isn’t even happening today, when the total number of 99 cent books is clearly less than it will be a year from now (or even a month from now). What I am suggesting is that keeping the price of ebooks artificially high actually depresses sales for all books to the extent that everyone in the chain suffers.

Do I want to sell my novels for 99 cents? No. Truthfully, I don’t even want to sell a meaty novella (meaning 25k+) for less than $2.99. But if that’s what the market demands, it might not be as bad for authors and publishers as all the hand-wringing prognosticators are positing. Especially if readers who own ereaders go from spending $10 a month on books to $50 a month on books. And I’ve heard plenty of stories where just that has happened.

I wrote a post a long time ago called “It’s All about the Pie.” I think this is about pie, too. It’s not about slicing up the pie differently, but about making the pie bigger. And I really believe low-cost ebooks have the potential to do just that.

Amazon Marketing and Unintended Consequences

I feel like a real chatty Cathy this week, with posts that are literally all over the place in terms of topics, but yesterday was particularly eventful, and I have musings I must share.

So, as many of you probably know, possibly because you received it, Amazon sent out an email yesterday highlight six 99-cent romance titles that were highly rated and doing well in the Kindle store (among them Courtney Milan’s UNLOCKED and Paula Quinn’s LAIRD OF THE MIST). Immediately after that email blast, those titles started shooting up in their Amazon ranks. Courtney’s novella reached the #2 overall spot and LAIRD OF THE MIST is currently at #11 (and may have peaked higher).

But as the day wore on, I began to notice a strange phenomenon. Suddenly, THE REIVER was selling TONS more copies than it ever had before and climbing the charts rapidly. Other romances ALSO seemed to be gaining in overall ranking in the Kindle store (although not necessarily changing places all that much relative to one another). By the time I went to bed last night, my story had sold a whopping 200 copies in 24 hours (it had never before sold more than about 75 in a single day and was selling about 40-50 on an average day for the last couple of weeks). Its overall ranking in the Kindle store climbed from somewhere in the 1500s or thereabouts to as high as 323, and at its peak, it was #21 in Books | Romance | Historical.

Well, um, wow. I didn’t expect that. And it didn’t dawn on me until I hopped onto the Kindle boards this morning and read a post there on the subject that the reason for all those sales was, paradoxically, an email in which my story wasn’t mentioned at all. It seems that what happened was that people who jumped on that email and bought one or more of those titles also started scrolling through the Also Bought lists for those titles, likely searching for other well-rated romances with low prices. And, by virtue of the fact that THE REIVER was already on the Also Bought lists for several of the books Amazon highlighted, people found it and a fair number of them bought it. I suspect that my sales benefitted most from Paula Quinn’s book, which is also a Scottish historical.

Oddly enough, Courtney’s novella doesn’t appear at all on my Also Bought list. I find it hard to believe that no one who’s bought her novella (and at this point, that has to be a LOT of romance readers) has also bought mine, but for whatever reason, there’s absolutely no link between us (and that’s a shame, because I’d love to be linked to Courtney in anyway possible).

Sales have slowed considerably today as yesterday’s Amazon-induced buying frenzy seems to have slacked off to more typical historical levels (and I’m plenty happy with that!), but I learned something instructive. Amazon can pick and choose to promote certain titles, but when it does so, what it chooses to promote has unintended consequences. Those consequences can be happy for some (in this case, for authors with highly rated romance titles prices at 99 cents that already had decent sales rankings and Also Bought associations) and possibly not so happy for others (anything that wasn’t a romance and lost ground in overall rankings due to the sudden rise of romance titles).

Before You Sign on the Dotted Line

I’m sure there will be a follow-up post to this where I’ll explain the situation that led me to write it in more detail, but for several reasons, I can’t discuss all the facts just yet. I do, however, think I can share this one–and it’s something I’m a little ashamed to say I obviously didn’t do.

Specifically, authors, when you get that shiny offer from a publisher, when the contract comes, TAKE THE TIME TO REVIEW EVERY PARAGRAPH. (Yes, I’m shouting.) If you have an agent, get on the phone with him or her and discuss each paragraph/clause to ensure you understand exactly what you’re granting to the publisher and what you’re reserving for yourself. If you don’t have an agent and can’t afford to pay a contract attorney, read it thoroughly and carefully. If anything strikes you as odd or you’re not sure what it means, ask other authors in your circle of friends whether they know what it means and/or whether they’d agree to it.

Just because it’s the publisher’s “boilerplate” and they “never negotiate” does not mean that you should not take the time to make yourself fully aware of exactly what you are agreeing to. And if you find anything you really take issue with, at that point, you have to decide whether it’s serious enough to walk over. But at least you will KNOW what you have agreed to or rejected.

And please, for heaven’s sake, if your agent tells you that the contracts are iron-clad or non-negotiable rather than ensuring you understand thoroughly what you are signing, you need to run, not walk, in the other direction. But first, ask. Don’t just be so happy to have a contract that you sign first and get gobsmacked by something you never suspected later.

I didn’t ask. And I got gobsmacked. I’m not happy. Lesson learned.

Who’s Published (Are You Listening, RWA?), Part 1

As of this morning, I reached an interesting milestone on sales of my self-published short story. I’ve now earned $1,000 from it. That amount is a net, including the $250 advance I was originally paid by the editor of the anthology it first appeared in, less the cost of the cover art.

The reason this is interesting is because the $1,000 threshold has meaning within Romance Writers of America. An author is considered “published” for the purposes of joining RWA’s Published Author Network (PAN) when he or she has earned a minimum of $1,000 from a single published title. There are a couple of caveats to this. The first is that the work must be novel (40k+) or novella (20k-40k) in length. The second is that it must be published by what RWA terms a non-vanity, non-subsidy publisher.

I met the minimum requirements to join PAN when I sold Behind the Red Door to Kensington for a $2,500 advance back in 2008. (I’ve since earned about $800 more in royalties from that book, mostly thanks to digital sales.) This means RWA considers me published pretty much forever. I never have to sell another book to a publishing house to remain in PAN or stay on the list of published authors on their website or get the “Published Author” moniker on my conference name tags.

But here’s the thing. It has long been a precept of the professional writers’ organizations (not just RWA, but also SFWA, MWA, and, I’m sure, others) that all monies in publishing should flow toward the author. This means that authors are cautioned from signing with agents or publishers who charge any fees (other than, of course, the percentage they take of the book’s earnings or the author’s royalties). For a long time, RWA and other organizations hewed to the notion that it was critical not only for the author not to pay anything upfront to publish a book, but also to receive an advance on royalties, thereby effectively ensuring that author was never paid less than that amount for the work.

Of course, the digital publishing model came along and threw that logic into a cocked hat as authors began to earn good money. Although the sales numbers were lower, the royalties were significantly higher, which led to more money in the author’s pockets. The digital publishers also paid more regularly, sometimes as often as monthly, which meant that although the author didn’t receive any money upfront, the actual payout of royalties beyond the amount that might have been advanced was much quicker. But the recognized digital publishers still followed the primary tenet of writers’ organizations–the author was never charged upfront for cover art, editing, or distribution. All monies still flowed toward the author, albeit at a different point in the publishing process.

Even so, digital publishing was viewed askance for quite a long while in writers’ organizations. Although it seemed some authors made a LOT of money at it, the majority of authors didn’t (and probably still don’t). Moreover, there persisted a persisted a perception of a “quality gap” between ebooks and print books (although that divide between digital and print has narrowed because pretty much every print book issued now has a digital counterpart). Notwithstanding, there’s still a certain “sniff test” factor out there, and I imagine a lot of us still suspect that if you submit to enough digital publishers, eventually you’ll find one that’s willing to publish even the crappiest manuscript.

Now, we have the new age of self-publishing. Digital self-publishing is so cheap and easy1, everyone really can be published. And let’s face it–this fact, that everyone CAN be published, even the worthless hacks–is a huge bone in the craw of professional writers who’ve been at this a long time and feel they’ve “paid their dues” and shouldn’t have to share the status of “published” with authors who haven’t proven themselves through the gatekeeping structure of agents and editors. It just doesn’t seem “fair” somehow.

But it’s time for the writers’ organizations to get real. The fact that authors got published through the gatekeeping structure has never been an objective measure of quality or talent or skill. The fact that an author has earned at least $1,000 from a single title is no guarantee that the work isn’t a worthless piece of trash. The writers’ organizations like RWA have set up a system that is TRYING to control for quality by demanding the existence of a gatekeeper, but the reality is that this has never actually worked. When a relatively unknown author like me (I can’t even call myself midlist) can earn more money by self-publishing a short story than by selling a short story of twice that length to a major publisher (my advance from Harlequin for Grace Under Fire and Taking Liberties was $800 for each manuscript, and I will almost certainly never see another dime from them since the royalty rate is only 8% per copy sold) AND hit the Amazon top 100 with that self-published story, it’s difficult to see any reasonable rationale for steering authors (even previously unpublished ones) away from self-publishing.

Quite simply, RWA and other writers’ organizations have to stop pretending that the PUBLISHER matters. Authors who have published a book and earned the prescribed minimum from its sales should be treated as published authors, regardless of how the book was published. And yes, I’ll go so far as to say that even if there is a vanity/subsidy publisher involved (rather than the author acting as the publisher), that should be the case.2 If there are upfront costs to the author involved in publishing the work, perhaps those figures should be netted from total revenue to ensure that authors aren’t earning $1,000 on a book they paid $5,000 to publish, which isn’t exactly a winning strategy for a career, but that should be the only real difference between the self-published and the publisher-published book.

“But, Jackie,” you’re saying, “what about the Ritas? What about the horrible books that for inexplicable reasons sell thousands and thousands of copies? And ONLY $1,000? Shouldn’t it be more?”

To which I say, read Part 2, which I imagine will be up sometime early next week. (I was going to try to do this all as a single post, but this one is already too damned long!)

1I am not saying it’s easy (or necessarily cheap) to create a high quality product through self-publishing. But if you don’t care about having great cover art and you think your critique parts are editors (hint: they aren’t), you can publish a book for an upfront investment of less than $100. Doing it right is going to cost you a lot more than that–I anticipate spending around $500 to publish The Lesson Plan, which I’m expecting to release toward the end of October. That’s because I paid for a professional cover design (although really, that was very inexpensive) and I expect to pay my content/copy editor a nice chunk of change for her efforts. I won’t put out a book that’s not professionally edited. I just won’t.

2Given that several well-respected epublishers, most notably Ellora’s Cave, started in large part to publish books written by their founders, the distinction between author and publisher becomes even sillier, doesn’t it?

Woohoo! According to Mark Has a Cover!

Which is a good thing, since unless Cobblestone has slipped the schedule, it will be available for purchase later this afternoon! Here it is:

It’s not an exact match to the first two covers in the series because the artist who did those is no longer working for the publisher (mainly, I think, because she has too much other work these days, lol), but it’s darned close. I’m not completely sure about the floating handcuffs and whether they get across “BDSM” (correct) or “romantic suspense” (incorrect), but all in all, I’m pretty happy with it. I particularly like the color palette.

Want to know more about the book? Read the cover copy? Read an excerpt? If yes, go here.

Also, FYI, if you’re thinking about buying, I’m not sure when it will be up but there is a 15% off sale at the Cobblestone Press site (likely the only place it will be available for purchase today) through the end of August.

Teenagers and Romance Novels

Ever since the Judy Mays incident, I’ve been thinking a lot about teenagers and romance novels. Like many authors of more “graphic” romances, my website’s front page includes a disclaimer that my books are meant for people over 18 years of age and suggests those under that age ought to skedaddle.

But do I really believe that? Do I really think that that young people (and by young people, I mean teenagers in the 15-17yo range, perhaps dipping down into the 14yo’s, but not 12yo’s) will be perverted or damaged in some way if they read read my stories? Er, no. I don’t. Not really.

I know that’s kind of going out on a limb. A big chunk of the defense of Judy Mays’ right to write erotic romances under a pen name was predicated on the fact that it wasn’t as though her students were buying and reading them. The corresponding implication is that, if her high school students were buying and reading her books, that would be bad thing and make her writing considerably more morally suspect. It’s one thing if ADULTS are reading “those kinds of books” and quite another if KIDS are.

And I agree, when by “kids” we mean children, tweens, and younger teens. But for older teenagers? Frankly, I’m just not buying the harm here. There seems to be a general notion that if teenagers read sexy romances, they’ll become overly eroticized and more likely to engage in premarital/pre-adult/risky sex. This seems to me to be perilously close to equating the consumption of romance novels (even really hot ones) with straight-out pornography, and I simply don’t agree with that. It also, quite simply, ignores the fact that a sizable percentage (one might even say a majority) of 15-17 years olds are actually engaging in sex, whether we adults approve or not. Arguably, it’s sort of silly to be enjoining them not to READ about sex when they’re actively HAVING it anyway.

Romance novels contextualize sex. They are about more than rubbing body parts together for physical satisfaction (or, at least, they are if they are any good). Romances focus on the development of committed relationships and the expression of love. Are we saying, as a society, we think it’s BAD for teenagers to read about sex in the context of loving, committed relationships? That it’s somehow damaging for them to equate sex with respect, caring, and mutual devotion? Because if we are, then, wow, I think we have a lot of work to do.

As to whether reading romance novels encourages kids to have sex at younger ages, my own PERSONAL experience would argue the reverse and other long-time romance readers I’ve discussed this with seem to have had similar experience. I started reading romances when I was about 15. I cut my teeth on the fairly tame Harlequin category romances of early 80s, but quickly escalated to historical romances. One of my favorite authors back then was Bertrice Small, and let’s face it, her books were among the most sexually explicit you could find in the 80s. I ate them up along with many other very hot romances that would probaby horrify me now if I read them, not for their sexual content, but for their forced seductions and other questionable gender politics.

Notwithstanding the forced seductions and questionable gender politics and explicit sex scenes, I grew into a healthy adult who waited until I was in a steady relationship in college to have sex. And I think one of the reasons I WAITED for that steady, committed relationship with a young man I found incredibly sexy who knew how to push my buttons was because I didn’t want to have sex JUST to have sex. I wanted it to MEAN something. And be good!

I went on to get married just one time (not to my college boyfriend, but hey, not everything works out long-term), and I’m still married to that man (my hero, swoon) more than twenty years later. Despite having read hundred of romance novels in the past 30-odd years, I haven’t become dissatisfied with my sex life (another supposed potential danger of romance novel reading, pfft!).

Now, does this mean I’ll be handing my kids a copy of one of my romances to read when they turn, oh say 15? Probably not. But not because I don’t think they should be reading romance novels of ANY kind. It’s more because there are some places in my mind I’d rather not share with my kids. (Frankly, I might not want them to go there even when they’re 30, lol!)

But other books by other authors? You bet. If they come and ask me for recommendations, I have quite a few on my shelf I’d be MORE than happy to lend them :).

Ask Not What Your Readers Can Do for You…

Today, Gail Carriger, author of the Soulless series (books I have enjoyed, by the way), wrote a post urging her readers to buy her upcoming book in print rather than digital format. I’m not going to address the substance of her post in any significant way. A lot of the things she says about the publishing industry are true. Even though most traditionally published authors earn more in royalties from digital book sales (25% of net compared to 8% of cover), what really matters when it comes to that next contract is selling-through as much as possible of each print run. As more and more readers convert to digital books, print runs are shrinking and that makes publishers unhappy because, at some point, it becomes unfeasible to print any books at all, especially in mass market paperback. ‘Nuff said.

But here’s what I really came here to say. I hope I never get to the point where I feel entitled to ask readers to do anything for me. Because, when you buy one of my books, the person who is entitled to something is you. You’ve spent your hard-earned money to spend time in a world and with characters I’ve created. As an author, I want you to have a good time there. I want you to enjoy your experience. I owe that to you. You don’t owe me anything. You bought the book. And, if you read it, you will be spending something even more valuable–your time–on something I created.

So, I never want to ask what my readers can do for me. I always want to ask what I can do for my readers. And what I can do is, I hope, write books that will entertain and move you. I hope to earn your trust that I will deliver another good book, so that when you spend money on my next book, you feel it’s worth it.

And honestly, if I can do that, I’ll be happy no matter what format you buy my book in or from which retailer. That’s your choice. Just like it’s your choice whether to buy one of my books or not.

Reasons to Self-Publish…and Reasons NOT to

I said during the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention back in April that, judging from the number of panels on the subject, self-publishing was the new black. And in the two months since then, the pace has only accelerated. Authors who were cut by publishers back in the first midlist publish in 2006 are now resurfacing, my favorite among them being Candice Hern, and many solid midlist authors have recently either begun to self-publish or have announced that this is route they’ll be going (Courtney Milan, Emma Holly).

With the relative success of my first experiment in self-publishing, I’ve decided I can’t see many downsides to going it alone, at least for some of my work. This isn’t to say that I’m shutting the door on publishing houses, but from a business perspective, unless a publisher is going to offer me an advance and strong print distribution, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s probably not in my best interests to sign away my rights. I need some evidence that the publisher can bring something more to the table than cover art, copy editing, and distribution to the major online retailers that’s actually going to result in significantly more sales than I can achieve on my own.

But this is not to say that self-publishing is the holy grail or something everyone needs to rush to do. (In fact, please DON’T rush to self-publish. More on that later.)

There are some really GOOD reasons to self-publish. Among them:

1. You control the price point of your book. As soon as you give a publisher the rights to your book, you allow them to set the price, which means that if the book is selling poorly because it’s priced to high (or selling well but could probably sustain those sales at a higher price point), you don’t have the right to change it.

2. Your work need not be constrained by word counts or genre limitations. Although it is true that digital-first/only publishers have been offering more flexibility in terms of word count and genre for years, they are still largely focused on the adult romance market and on erotic romance in particular. If you’re writing outside of those genres, there simply aren’t a lot of options for you to place your book with a publisher, even if you wanted to.

3. You have an established fan base that isn’t large enough for a publisher to offer you a print contract (or the terms of the print contract offered you are execrable) and you want/need the flexibility offered by points 1 and 2. In this scenario, it’s possible that a digital publisher is a better option, especially if you don’t want to handle subcontracting the cover art, editorial, and formatting (or doing the formatting yourself–not necessarily HARD, in my experience, but definitely time-consuming to do right).

4. You are willing to put the time, effort, and emotional commitment into producing the best book you possibly can. This should go without saying regardless of who publishes the book, but the bottom line is that self-publishing RIGHT requires an investment from you that other forms of publishing don’t. You’re going to be doing it all yourself–choosing the cover art/artist and approving the design (do you have the eye for that and know what’s marketable/not marketable), finding a content and copy editor and then being tough enough on yourself to take input from them even when you are paying them (are you willing to kill the sacred cows in your writing if you don’t HAVE to?), and so on.

5. You can afford the monetary risk of failure. If you can’t expend a minimum of a few hundred dollars to produce a quality product and not go broke if you never earn that investment back, you shouldn’t self-publish. Period. Because there are no gaurantees.

Those, in my opinion, pretty well sum up good business reasons reasons to self-publish. (Note that “get rich quick” is NOT on that list. )

Also not on that list are my other top reasons NOT to self-publish:

1. It’s quick and easy! You just finished your book yesterday and you can be selling it tomorrow.

2. You can’t be bothered with polishing a book until it’s “good enough” for an agent/editor’s slush pile. Especially not when you can make a quick buck by throwing it up on Amazon.

3. All your friends/family say your book is great, but agents/editors keep sending you form rejections. What do THEY know, though? You KNOW you’re the greatest writer ever, and readers will flock to your book by the thousands once you get it up.

4. Amanda Hocking! HP Mallory! John Locke! Look how EASY it is to be successful in self-publishing!

5. Instant fame and fortune. (Yeah, I know I already mentioned this one. But it bears repeating.)

Right now, the self-publishing boom is a mix of people self-publishing for the right reasons and those self-publishing for the wrong ones. Some of those who are doing it for the wrong reasons do well in spite of themselves. But most won’t.

So before you decide to follow the lemmings off the cliff, ask yourself if you’re doing it for the right reasons or the wrong ones. Because self-publishing, as freeing and motivating as it can be, isn’t for the lazy or the faint of heart.

What Is “Worth” 99 Cents?

I just got my first Amazon review for THE REIVER where the purchaser felt that 99 cents was too much to spend for such a short story. I do feel a little bad about her experience, because it seems she relied on the file size to indicate how long the book was, and apparently the last version I uploaded has a very high resolution/uncompressed version of the cover art because the file really is gigantic! (Obviously something I have to fix.)

That said, my product information clearly says the story is about 35 pages long and all of the reviews also mention that it is a short story. On the one hand, I’m sorry the file size misled her, but on the other hand, I feel I’ve done everything I can to give readers a fair sense of what they are getting for their 99 cents.

Be that as it may, I find it interesting that a short story that takes half an hour to read is not perceived by some people to be “worth” 99 cents. Because there are many things we pay a LOT more for that take a half an hour or less the consume. I mean, how much does a cup of coffee cost? 99 cents would be CHEAP! How long does it take you to consume a cup of coffee? Unless it’s really hot, I’m done in 10-15 minutes, tops.

Now, believe me, I do understand that when there is a physical THING involved, an actual consumable, we are all aware that there are costs associated with the production of the item that must be recouped. The time an author spends writing a story isn’t perceived, IMO, as a cost of production to most readers. The costs of production for a book, as far as many people are concerned, are the costs of paper, ink, printing, shipping, etc. The author’s time and effort doesn’t factor into that equation, in part, I think, because the author’s time and effort is a one-time expenditure–that is, an author writes the book ONCE and then can sell it over and over and over again without any more “work”. This differs from our cup of coffee, which must be replaced by making ANOTHER cup of coffee. You can’t keep selling the same one over and over again.

On the other hand, your cup of coffee can only be consumed once. If you buy a story or a song for 99 cents and you really like it, you can listen to/read it over and over again. Doesn’t that increase its value, possibly making it worth the 99 cents?

I don’t have a good answer to my own question here. I have paid 99 cents for quite a few books. In some cases, I felt I got my money’s worth. In others, I felt I was ripped off. And in still others, I felt like I got a steal. But I don’t think ANY of my perceptions of value were based solely on the “length” of the book–I would much rather pay 99 cents for a GOOD short story that I really enjoyed reading than to pay 99 cents for a full-length novel that I couldn’t get past the first ten pages of (and I’ve run into plenty of those at many different price points).

I do appreciate that some people feel 99 cents for a short story is a rip-off, no matter how good the story. And yet, I wonder how many would balk at paying 99 cents for Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain, which comes in just shy of 11,000 words. I think a lot of people would say that story is worth far MORE than a mere 99 cents.

To me, 99 cents seems like very little to pay for even a very short story, provided it is well-written and well-edited. Free is too expensive for a 100,000 word novel that is neither well-written nor well-edited. The hard thing is figuring which books are which!