A natural consequence of writing books with the intention of making a profit from their sale is that the author and publisher (sometimes different entities, sometimes the same) tend to think of the books as having an intrinsic dollar value. In other words, if selling books is your business, you tend to associate a “reasonable” price with those books. What you deem a reasonable price will rest on many factors, including the length and genre of the book, the percentage of the sale price you will earn per sale, and what the market seems to bear for similar titles, but the bottom line is that whatever price you come up with, it is easy to get married to it. I cannot tell you the number of times I myself have thought, “This book is WORTH at least as much as <insert similarly priced disposable item>, damn it, and I will NOT devalue it by setting the price lower.”
But guess what? Every time I have thought that, I have been wrong. Oh, perhaps I have not been wrong that my book is WORTH as much as I think it is to those who know what they’re getting when they buy my books. Fans of my work may even tell me it’s a STEAL at that price. But if there aren’t enough readers willing to PAY that much for it without knowing what they’re getting, I have a problem. The more I stick to my guns and refuse to budge on my pricing, the more readers DON’T discover my book. The fewer readers buy my book, the more it sinks into obscurity. The more it sinks into obscurity, the less money I make, no matter what price I set.
I am dealing with this right now with Hot Under the Collar. I am going to be completely honest, here: I’m disappointed by this title’s sales. I expected it to do much better than it has and at a higher price point, because, after all, it’s longer than the first novella in the series (The Lesson Plan) and frankly, I think it’s a better story.1
I started out pricing this novella at $2.99. After all, it’s nearly 40,000 words, which is a short novel by RWA’s standards. But it didn’t sell. For a couple of months, I resisted dropping the price and “devaluing” my work. After all, I busted my butt writing that story. It was *worth* $2.99, damn it. Surely it would catch on.
But it didn’t and I was forced to face the facts. I could either drop the price or allow a book I’d put my heart and soul into to drop into complete obscurity, never finding its audience. This wasn’t even about making money anymore; it was about not letting something I care about sink into oblivion. And so, I dropped the price. And then I dropped it more. And then I even made it free for a short period of time. And all of those decisions, in the end, have made me more money than I was making when I stubbornly stuck to my guns about the book’s worth. Making it cheaper didn’t make devalue the book–it made it accessible and visible. And that, in turn, makes me more money than sticking to my predetermined per unit price ever could.
I know a lot of people who say that when a book is free or 99 cents, they assume it’s a crappy book with poor production values and pass right over it. I’m sure this is true. But the majority of readers/digital book buyers simply don’t see things the way those of us who are immersed in the world of books and who understand the time and effort and expense that goes into producing a quality product. And unfortunately, writers can’t make their living by depending solely on the readers who see a higher price point as a sign of quality. We have to appeal to the readers whose impulse buy point is free or 99 cents or “look, it’s under $2 and on a bestseller list so it must be a good book.”
Does this mean our work isn’t WORTH more? No. But Shakespeare is free. And guess what? We still have to compete with the asshole, even though he’s dead.
1When I say it’s a better story, I don’t mean that it’s better written or more engaging or anything like that. I mean that I personally find the issues and ideas I was able to explore in Hot Under the Collar more personally fulfilling to me. Plus, I’m in love with the hero of that book. Walter is definitely my fictional husband; don’t tell Mr. Barbosa .