Thursday, May 3, 2012

Do You Get What You Pay For?

By C.J. West
Suspense. Creativity. Action

Hitch had a great post this week about new authors and their quest to turn their manuscript into a published book. Being a publisher encompasses a whole lot more than writing and her post “Writing The Book Was Step Zero” was apt. There is editing, cover art, then marketing, which is an occupation unto itself.

When all that is done, a book that might have spent an eternity in a hundred different slush piles comes to market. The new writer sees a world of opportunity and braces for an onslaught of attention and what he hears most often is crickets. He feels isolated. Locked out of the market.

I’m reminded of a story from a few years ago. I’d been self-publishing for about 5 years. I had a book optioned for film and was excited about my prospects. I’d had enough bookstore doors slammed in my face to know that the industry wasn’t receptive to self-publishers, but I ventured off to Bouchercon eager to meet other readers and writers.

I met a well-respected reviewer and we chatted several times about panels. This person was impressed by a large e-book panel I moderated. When the show was over, I was included in a roundup of the event. But when I read my name, I was “self-published author C.J. West”.

Self-published. Like a warning label. Or a contagious disease.

None of the other authors mentioned was linked to a publisher. Just me. A friend suggested the publicity was a good thing. It felt like discrimination and I still think I would have been happier if my name had been omitted.

Fortunately all those gatekeepers who held new writers back have become much less important. Self-published authors can easily get books into the hands of readers.

But that means the slush pile has moved to

It’s now up to readers to discern if a book is worth reading. Readers see a book description, a cover, and list a price. If a self-publisher is a good marketer, it becomes really hard to tell their book from one that’s traditionally published.

Until you open it.

In the last few months I’ve been hearing frustrated comments from readers about ninety-nine cent books. I know from personal experience that many of these books are really disappointing. Some readers who have been disappointed enough times steer clear of deeply-discounted novels altogether.

I think this is a sign that Kindle is hitting the mainstream reader. The early adopters were excited about the technology and embraced pioneer writers that brought them inexpensive stories. Many Kindlers still go out of their way to read self-published books and offer “kid-glove” reviews.

The mainstream reader expects a well-edited story that hangs together until the end. This isn’t true for a lot of self-published books and unless you know the author or carefully read the reviews, sometimes you are in for a huge disappointment. Please note the distinction between a book that you don’t enjoy and one that is full of grammatical errors, sloppy writing, and plot inconsistencies.

At the same time I’m seeing writers experiment with price increases to move away from the self-published crowd. For now, the $2.99 price dominates for new writers, but I wonder if readers will begin to think these books are worth avoiding.

Will we see a time when a majority of readers treat inexpensive books like they deserve a warning label?

Are you willing to pay an extra $7.00 for a book you know was professionally published?


  1. Professionally published doesn't mean what it used to mean, so my answer is "It depends."

    Unless I'm confident, I download a sample of a book I'm interested in. That doesn't guarantee a story that will hang together and provide a satisfying ending, but I can weed out the trash books pretty fast.

  2. Some readers may be wary of the .99 cent price point, yet many others know that even traditional publishers are using it for the first book in a series or in temporary pulses to spur sales. Within another year or two, the price of an ebook will no longer be perceived as related to its content. Ebooks prices will become more uniform, and price will simply be viewed as the publisher's strategy.

  3. I don't see that many publishers dropping prices on eBooks, but I could be wrong. I think eBooks should be the same price as a mass market paperback. I've only downloaded a couple of books thought was worth their salt at a low price point (2.99--I've yet to find a good one at 99c) and I knew the authors and knew their prior work.

  4. LJ,

    I hope you are right. John Locke had fantastic success with $.99 books. And I think the gap in price between big name authors and "the rest of us" helps us compete in a market with millions of choices.

  5. When you see all the 5-star books being offered for free, you have to let go of the idea that high price equals great content. Especially when you also consider that a lot of new (and possibly untalented) authors price their ebooks the same as mass market paperbacks, hoping to make good money. In the ebook world, price is a marketing strategy, not a reflection of the content.

  6. I absolutely agree with LJ's last comment.

  7. Thanks Sex Scenes,

    I have heard this comment over and over. There are some great writers out there who sell books for $.99, but they are hard to find. New guys like Tom Adair don't come along often. There are some bargains that are really great books. The trouble is that for every great bargain book, there are 100 that are terrible.

  8. And I think eBooks should be priced lower than m.m. paperbacks because you can't flip through them or return them.

  9. I still hold firmly in my belief that the cream always rises to the top and that a good book will find its way to readers, regardless of the price, if marketed well.

    Prices for e-books among indie authors are still fluctuating wildly and have yet to stabilize. I think for the reader, this means taking them on a case-by-case basis, and judging them individually. That's not a difficult thing to do when you can look inside and read the first several pages. Consumers also have the option of returning a book if they find it's a dud, so the risk is really minimal. There have been plenty of .99 books that have made it into top 100, some even into the top ten, which indicates readers are still taking them seriously... at least for now.

    Interesting post CJ--a point well worth considering as we continue to shape our futures as indie authors.

  10. Thanks for a thought provoking post CJ and the shout out. I feel like I have so much to learn and I'm so happy to know all of you and learn from your seasoned advice. As for me, I've paid big bucks for hardback books from the big six and been plenty disappointed so I guess I'd rather lose $2.99. Even then, there is always something beneficial to learn, even in a "bad" story. In that way it's a lot like crime scenes. I see "new guys" complain that they only went out on a petty crime instead of the big murder scene and I remind them that every scene can teach valuable lessons. You just have to be open to looking for them. I think this industry is still finding its legs and I for one am excited to see where it leads!

  11. "The mainstream reader expects a well-edited story that hangs together until the end. This isn’t true for a lot of self-published books and unless you know the author or carefully read the reviews, sometimes you are in for a huge disappointment."
    This is not true for a lot of traditionally published books as well.

  12. C.J. West, every time I open a link to quickly scan something you've recommended/tweeted, I find myself glued to every word, including the comments others make. This was no exception. You have a way with words which draws your reader in and I enjoy it very much. Can you tell?

    I must admit that I sit with LJ in my assessment about ebooks not really being judged by their price points - but time will tell and, as an author and avid reader, I look forward to seeing what the future brings.

  13. Thank you Norma! That is very kind.

    Blogging is a new endeavor for me and I am really enjoying it.

    I hope you are right about the lower price points continuing to work for indie authors. Those lower prices are an advantage as we compete against the big names.


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