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Moronic Ox Literary and Cultural Journal - Escape Media Publishers / Open Books
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Editor's Notebook

Pondering How Much My Novel Is Worth
by Kelly Huddleston

Recently I had an interesting discussion with a few members of the Amazon Kindle Forum regarding the list price of my book.

It started when I wrote a post inviting Amazon Kindle readers to check out my book. I included a synopsis, the list price, and a link to my book's page. At best I thought I'd receive a few replies, and maybe even a few sales. What I wasn't expecting was a member to write back telling me that while the book looked interesting, she wouldn't buy it unless I lowered the price below $2.00, and preferably to .99 cents.

My novel sells for $4.95. With Amazon's automatic discount, it drops to $3.96. The subsequent royalty for each download equals $1.73 - roughly the same amount of money I would make from a royalty payment on a print book.

I think this is a fair and reasonable price, however other members also wrote to try to persuade me to drop the price to .99 cents. One even said that because I was an 'unknown' author, I needed to do this so that I could give them a chance to give me a chance. Even more members agreed.

Suddenly I had a small group of readers telling me that they wanted to read my book, but not unless I dropped the price to .99 cents. Because I am not a household name, and because I hadn't yet received an Amazon review on my book, my effort to them wasn't worth more than a buck.

Maybe after a few people had bought it, read it, and reviewed it, they said, I could think about raising the price again. "Give us a chance to give you a chance," they told me. And: "If you don't drop the price, you won't sell many books. You might gain a readership, but at a much slower pace."

So I dropped the price to .99 cents. I thought to myself, four years’ work is worth more than this, but the marketplace says different. At least people are willing to buy it at this price. At least I'll have a few readers.

Then I told my husband, who is also a writer, what I had done. He disagreed with my approach.

"You are devaluing your art," he told me. And: "You just set your own worth to pennies."

A heated debate ensued. At first I thought he was wrong. I told him that I was simply listening to the marketplace. "I don't care about the money, I just want readers!" I told him.

Then I went to stretching class. Sat down on my mat on a beautiful wooden floor that had just been polished and smelled wonderful. The song "Return to Innocence" played on the sound system. A little girl opened the door, sat on the stage, and watched our class stretch and reach and slowly breathe in and out. "What a nice scene," I thought to myself. And: "I should write about this."

It was when I paid the weekly fee of five euros that I started to feel angry - the same anger my husband felt about what was demanded of me and other authors by a small group of readers trying to control the ebook market on Amazon. What he'd said to me earlier started to make sense. It clicked. I HAD willingly devalued my work. I HAD dropped my worth to pennies.

When I came home from stretching class, I wrote this message on the original thread:

"After a break from the computer and a wonderful hour in stretching class ("reach those arms, girls, reach!") I've decided to keep the initial list price of $3.96.

What you wrote - that if an author sets the price accordingly for what he/she believes it is worth, then he/she would ultimately establish a readership at a slower pace - makes perfect sense to me. Long ago I realized that I'm not going to make a lot of money on my art, however I do feel it is important not to devalue it just so that I can gain a quick readership."

Of course I want people to read my book. Of course I want feedback. But when I think about pricing my novel at .99 cents, I get a vision in my head of those one-dollar stores inside suburban strip malls. I get the shivers when I think about my book sitting alongside shelves of plastic flowers, sticky tape, packages of combs, shoelaces, fat smelly candles, coffee filters and cheap nail polish.

Then I think about all the other struggling writers out there. I think about their years of blood and guts and tears as they write their work. What about them? If I, and every other writer out there, price books to almost zero, then what does that say about us as a group? I think it says we're ready and willing to be devalued. That our art, whether it is created by a master or an amateur, isn't worth more than a box of Kleenex or a bottle of neon pink nail polish. I'm not ready to sign on to that theory - at least not yet.

I received one reply to this. It was not favorable.

About the author: Kelly Huddleston is the author of two novels, Alone in the Company of Others (Open Books 2009) and The Perfect Pearl (Escape Media 2002). She is also co-owner and technical editor of Open Books. She is currently at work on her third novel.