Making Money Mondays — Cost Vs Benefit


Morning Y’all. Or afternoon. Or night. Whenever you read this. Yes, has a new format of writers posting at most any time, but I wanted to keep to Mondays most of the time simply because I’m used to it.

Today’s post is about fan complaints about the cost of eBooks. A fan (let’s call her Sue Doe, to keep the Jane Doe Yellowrock confusion at bay) sent me a PM (private message) that she would no longer be buying my books because the eBooks cost so much more than other writer’s eBooks. She said I should, “Tell your publisher that they have to lower the costs of the books.” Her claim was that when the eBooks cost more than the paper books (mass-market) the companies are gouging.

We had a polite, long, back-and-forth PM exchange and I ended up telling her I was sorry to lose a fan, but I was finished with the discussion. Why? Sue Doe had a position she was going to keep regardless of my replies.

CurseonLand_WebThis had been similar to a discussion about politics or religion, not something people are willing to change their position over no matter what valid or cogent arguments might be placed before them. No matter what scientific or mathematical or proven physical laws. It was a fact-based versus faith-based argument. As a person of faith, I’ve been on both sides of such arguments and partaking in them is a waste of time. I am not going to change my faith when I am on a faith-based side of the discussion, and no one else is going to change their faith when I am on the fact-based side of the discussion. Discussion is pointless except as a matter of sharing and seeking middle ground. Also difficult, often impossible.

But I realized after the discussion ended, that I was angry. I had been polite and so had she. But my very good manners had left me dissatisfied. My arguments about the marketplace had been dismissed. So I want to say some things here that I said there. Argue with me if you want.

  1. I have no – NO – control over what my publishing house charges for my book. NONE. Only self-published writers and, occasionally, small press writers have the luxury. I have never spoken to my publisher. Never met my publisher. Don’t even know his / her name. And calling him / her would be, literally, the hired help calling the president of the company. The call would not go through. Ever. Traditionally published writers have no price control power.
  2. Cost per word in reissued books doesn’t count. In reissued books that were once traditionally published, and are now out via small press or self-pub, the writer has made his or her nickel (in the advance and any possible royalties) and everything else is gravy. The writer doesn’t have to re-edit them. The cost of covers and formatting are (or can be) very low. All those cheap, reissued, old books out there for $3.99 and $4.99? Don’t count toward this argument. Uh – discussion.
  3. Cost per word for new books. All those new books out there for $3.99 and $4.99? More than 90% of those books have around 60,000 to 80,000 words. I write 120,000 to 140,000 word books. Most traditionally published writers have a word count in the contract and today the standard is around 115,000 words. If you are a product of the US school system and can’t do the math, here it is in simple terms. The cost per word is nearly equal.
  4. The editorial process. In self-pub, the writer pays the editor. In case that didn’t penetrate, here it is again in different words. The editor is paid by the writer to edit the book. If there is something drastically wrong (or maybe lots of little somethings wrong) with a book, the editor has no power to say, “Fix it.” The money goes the wrong way. I want my editor to flagellate my work, to rip it to shreds and advise me how to fix it. And to tell me when a book is not ready. When my talent is not sufficient. No editor, paid by the writer, is ever going to say, “This is a piece of crap. It should never be published and so we won’t buy it and we won’t edit it.” No. Their income depends on satisfying their boss – the writer. And crap often ensues. Not always, no. There are great FANTASTIC self-published books out there. But there are many more that are dreadful. Now you know why.
  5. Money. New York City commercial rental prices. Paying people to work in NYC, and paying them enough that they can afford rent and utilities and food and electricity. Should publishers move out of NYC? It would save them money.
  6. Professional art for cover art. PRICY!!! Don’t you love it??? Didja you see my new book covers???
  7. Paying the HORRENDOUS fees to lawyers to find and shut down prates who steal books. With the presence of eBooks, that cost has gone through the roof. Why? It’s way easier to steal an eBook and pirate it than a paper book.
  8. Promotional money. Koff-koff. Maybe more on that in the next post. I’m at my maximum word count today.

coldreign-coverfinalSue Doe. You are probably a fine woman. But we live in very different worlds.

Until next time,


8 comments to Making Money Mondays — Cost Vs Benefit

  • sagablessed

    Hugs. Tbh…i used to be her…. back before epub. Yes…i am that old.
    I have met authors. I read their blogs. I read the publishers journals and fan sites and and and.
    Now i understand. So i do not comprehend her pov.
    So all i can say is

  • At least she was willing to pay something for ebooks. Lots of readers believe ebooks should be free because of no paper, and the expense of editing, etc., was paid for during the paper book process. Sigh.

    The editorial process has nothing to do with the low or high cost of the ebook, only its quality, so it has nothing to do with your argument. I’d also say that a good editor, whether self-pub or traditional pub, is a good editor. I’ve read dreck from both sides of the publishing process where the editor was truly terrible. Some of the big name authors in publishing should either hire their own editor or scream blood murder at the mess made of their books by incompetent editors.

    The real reason that NY publishers price the ebook at paperback or trade paperback level is that they know that the ebook format will replace one or both of these formats in the near future. If the ebook price is considerably lower than these formats, the publishers will take a big financial hit when the paper formats fade away because increasing the price of the ebook would anger readers even more than they already are.

    As an ebook pioneer, my first book was published as an ebook in 1998, I’ve listen to whining about prices through the whole period, and I’ve learned that some people will consider the price too high no matter how much they pay because they are cheap and selfish, and they devalue creative works, particularly fiction. These same people are willing to pay an appalling price for a movie ticket or a cup of fancy coffee, but fiction should be free or next to it. I ignore these idiots.

  • This is a brilliant post, and makes the argument I have made, only better. I would add one thing: There is value in the creative endeavor. If you don’t want to pay for my work, or Faith’s, or someone else’s, that’s fine. You don’t have to. But that doesn’t mean our work is too expensive. Art — story, narrative, visual art, music, whatever — has intrinsic value and when you complain about price, regardless of format, you are saying, in effect, “Your art isn’t worth that much to me.” Again, that’s fine. You’re entitled to make that choice. But making that choice doesn’t make you right.

  • Razziecat

    I can sympathize with someone who says “I really love your books but I can’t afford to buy very many books.” I get that. I’ve been there. Sometimes I borrow a book from the library (even e-books can be borrowed these days!) first, then if I really love it I will buy it.

    What I don’t sympathize with, or agree with, is the generic criticism that something costs too much simply because ….the person saying it believes it costs too much. They often don’t even have a specific reason why they think it’s too expensive, they just “know” it’s too pricey. Perhaps this means the book isn’t worth that much money to THEM, personally. Fine: Don’t buy it. But unless you’ve researched the costs behind putting out a book, don’t tell an author their book costs too much as though you are the sole arbiter of what constitutes monetary (or any other) value.

  • ChristinaStiles

    Authors usually get a larger percentage of the ebook money, too, don’t they? I often buy a print and ebook copy just to support the authors I love. Heck, most paperbacks/ebooks are still less than the cost of lunch out–or even the cost of a movie at the theater–so it’s not that big a deal. If someone doesn’t have money, though, it’s an issue–in which case, perhaps the library is the place to look for the book. However, if you have money to spare for books, then the cost of ebooks really should not be a problem. The money supports the author AND the publishing company. It allows them to exist. I don’t want a world without traditional publishers. I still want that to be a viable option for authors. Plus, I want to be able to browse at bookstores!

  • Thanks for all the comments, y’all. I will add that people will pay $10 – 15 to see a movie, $5 for a cup of coffee and then complain about a work by a writer who poured 6 months into a book. Art is worth nothing. I am getting perilously close to getting a very big, very unpleasant mouth about such things.

  • Wow. That’s really disrespectful. Like, if you don’t like the pricing a publisher does, go email the publisher, but telling an author you’re going to stop reading her books because they cost too much is just saying, you’re books aren’t worth it to me. If you don’t have the money, go to the bloody library. If you don’t want to read the books, don’t read the books, but seriously, do you grab strange children off the street just to say, “you’re ugly!”
    I think you’re right about the devaluing of art, especially writing. No one wants to pay for anything anymore unless it’s a commodity.

  • Tom G

    Great post. I wonder what that reader did before e-books. Read fewer books? Or actually pay the bookstore price?