The 299 Author Movement

This article is a follow up to my last post, We MUST Have a Voice. Everything in this article is based on the sources I’ve noted and my personal opinions. It is not intended to vilify any group, but to spread awareness in hopes that we might find a solution together.

Is it time to make some waves?

Over the past week, I’ve seen an uprising in the author community regarding the devaluation of books and the impact it’s having on the industry. Author Mia Downing wrote a poignant article on the subject which can be found HERE and I followed her story with my own article to let Ms. Downing know she’s not alone. The response was overwhelming. Over 150 post shares in under 24 hours. Obviously, this topic resonates with the struggling author community.

Any search on the “devaluation of books” will prove that this trend has become an epidemic and many are suffering. But we are not just devaluing books. We are devaluing authors. The culprit? It’s us–the authors. Yes, there are other influences at play, but in the self-publishing industry it is the author who has sole autonomy over the price of their product.

How does it work? Here are the basics…

FREE books = $0 Rolyalties
$0.99 to $2.98 = 35% Royalties*
$2.99 & up = 70% Royalties*

*Based on Amazons Direct Publishing policies.

What do those numbers mean?

Books priced below $2.99 are hurting authors. The market is saturatedhand-792920_960_720. We are drowning. What used to be a marketing technique now is just a waste of time. Why? Because almost every single indie author is lowering their prices in hopes of gaining exposure. But when a tactic becomes the norm, that tactic no longer acts as a way to “stand out”. It’s not a sale if it becomes the expected cost.

Books, which were once valued between $5 and $30, have devalued to FREE or $0.99. Of course this is not all books, but it’s happening to enough that something has to change. Technology took a toll, but I’m grateful for the age of eBooks. It opened up a lot of opportunities for authors and readers and even publishers. With out the cost of print, producing books has become a very achievable goal for many. But with the rise of indie authors came the necessity of freelance industry professionals. Indie authors (authors who self-publish) are responsible for the production costs. And there is a cost–even for paperless eBooks.

Here are some industry price averages:

Developmental Edits: $200-$1,500
Copyedits: $150-$700
Proofreading- $100-$500
Beta reading- Free-$300
Cover Art- $30-$400
Cover Artist- $75-$300

What’s the cost of writing? 

Good question! Let’s try to figure that out…

student-849824_960_720A full length novel (roughly 80,000 words /350 pages) takes months to years to write. For simplicity, let’s say it takes 1,000 hours. That’s 125 eight-hour days. The minimum wage in the US ranges from $5.15 to $10.50, so let’s average that to $7.82 an hour.

$7.82 x 1,000 hours = $7,825.

Based on the numbers above, if we are pricing our books below $2.99 we would have to sell somewhere between 3,000 and 8,000 copies of that new book to earn a minimum wage income for our time. Unfortunately, the average author is not making that many sales. (FREE books don’t equate, because they don’t produce a royalty.)

What are authors ACTUALLY selling?

According to BookScan, which tracks most bookstore, online, and other retail sales of books, the average U.S. book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime. Not good.

Quick math:

250 copies of a $2.99 book earns a 70% royalty of $523

When the cost of producing a book ranges from $555.00 to $3,700.00, authors are coming up very short. We are not even close to breaking even or earning a minimum wage for our time.

Now for the clincher…

If books are sold under $2.99 (35% royalty), the author is looking at a return between  $86 and $260 over the course of a year!

$86 -$260.

Really consider those numbers for a minute.

Jeans can cost $86 (not my jeans, but still…).

$260 wasn’t enough to buy a refrigerator during the 1920’s. It’s the cost of a bicycle today.

Tell me, could anyone survive on $86 – $260?

The answer is no.

So what is this doing to your books?

Well, some are cutting corners. Editors are losing clients. Unpolished work is clogging the market. I think I speak for many when I say, we want to give you our very best, because we want to earn your trust and faith in our product. And we also want to give readers a fair price.

The competition is fierce! According to Leonid Taycher, a Google software engineer who works on the Google Books project, 129,864,880 books exist. Every year the number of books published increases. We authors have no choice, but to price our books competitively. But we also have to survive.

“The average books sells less than 250 copies in the first year.” ~BookScan

In my previous article, We MUST Have a Voice!, I explained the price war in more detail, addressing the true cost of bundles and the marketing logic behind such deals, which once was sound. Ms. Downing pointed out that in one week she was able to download 170 FREE novels. We’ve removed the need to purchase books, because with so many free, who has time to read more? We are the proverbial cow. Why buy it when you can get the milk for free?

We don’t just need a fair price for readers. We need a fair price for authors. We must be fair to everyone.

A book of stamps costs $9.40, yet novels are selling for under a dollar. Quality has a cost. Writing is a business and there must be a balanced budget or that business will bankrupt itself. I trust that my readers see my efforts to provide quality in every page they read when they purchase one of my books. I invest in editors and professionals to help me along the way, like many authors do. And I believe readers will understand my position when I say:

I support the 299 Author Movement.

What does that mean? It means 95% of my novels will remain above the $2.99 threshold. I say 95% because I do feel there is a place for the $0.99 eBook. For instance, my McCullough Mountain series, which closed in 2015, has 7 stories. It is a successful part of my backlist and I hope it continues to attract new readers. The first novel of this series is set at $0.99 to do just that, but the rest of the series is priced at or above the $2.99 mark. There are exceptions, but we can no longer make $0.99 books the norm.

I’m calling this a movement, because we have a problem. If we don’t move in a different direction, we will have a serious crisis on our hands. We all contributed to the problem, not realizing how greatly we were shifting the market. Now, I’d like to add my efforts to solving that problem. Similar to kids making a whirlpool in a pool, we were all moving in one direction, and turning the current around will be difficult, but it is possible. We just have to make some waves.

I invite all authors and readers to join me in supporting the 299 Author movement.

I Support the 299 Author MovementHere is a badge, to help raise awareness. Please share it. Openly discuss this issues with your readers and fellow writers. Tweet #AuthorsMustHaveAVoice so that we are heard. We’ve been sinking in a crowded pool for too long, sucked in by the idea that FREE leads to more. We must make some waves if we intend to stay afloat in this business.

Please share your thoughts below and Tweet me @Lydia_Michaels. While these are just my opinions on the subject, I know I’m not alone. Together we can make a change.

And thank you to my incredible readers, who continue to follow my work! You are the force behind our words, the ones who get us through when the going gets tough. Without readers, there would be no such thing as authors. Thank you.

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11 Responses

  1. Linda Larrivee says:

    I am in total agreement. I have brought this subject up in discussion many times. The movement must go forward if authors are to survive.

  2. I’m new to this game and I thought I was just being a rookie thinking that the low (or no) cost of books can’t be ultimately a good thing for authors and literature in general. I’m glad I’m not alone.

  3. Well said. Unfortunately, I’m not in control of the pricing for all of my books. Publishers have that prerogative for some of them. I think 99 cents is a good, fair price for a short story, and a 1.99 works for a novella, but I agree, full-length books should be at least 2.99. At the rate things are going, we will never get out of this mess on our own. We do need to band together.

    • I agree, and for the record, I’m a hybrid author, so I have some books with Penguin Random House, some with a small press, and some on my own. I understand the publisher’s authority and I take no issue with it. I also agree that novellas are fine priced under the mark, but I can’t seen doing that to a 100k novel (which is what I typically write). I’m curious, what do you all consider the cut off for a novella? I usually assume it’s anything under 50K.

  4. Jean Joachim says:

    And don’t forget Kindle Unlimited!! We need to get out of there, too. That’s the same as free books. I agree with this and will blog about it, too. I will be changing my short stories to $2.99 and using $.99 only for a sale or first book in a series. Thanks, Lydia. I hope this takes off.

  5. Tara Nina says:

    I am behind this. It’s time professional authors stop devaluing their work.

  6. J.A. Kerr says:

    I completely agree…what other industry gives away free products. An incentive yes…$.099 is still a great deal for the reader.

  7. Tabitha Shay says:

    I completely agree and I recently had such a discussion and was told by another author that I thought my books were too good to be sold for $.99. I write books that have a word count of at least a 120k words. I’m not about to sell them for $.99, unless it’s some kind of special sale. She didn’t seem to understand how this is crippling the market or the industry for all authors. And no, I don’t and didn’t think my books were too good to sell so cheaply, but I do think I work too hard, spend too many hours alone and away from family, as I’m certain we all do, to devalue my work by just giving them away. I attended a conference in early May and everywhere I sat, authors were discussing this same subject and many of them were and are angry at these low prices. The occasional sale or holiday sales, etc., I think is fine and short stories for $.99 is great, but to sell novels that have over a 100k words for such a low price is a bad thing, and it’s happening. Readers now expect the prices to be low on all books, and they don’t care about the word count or how long it took the author to write it. They want them for nothing. I’m with J.A. Kerr, What other industry gives away free products? Only those who are doing a brief, one time sale to promote and get their items noticed and out there, but they sure aren’t going to keep doing it. Like us, they’re there to make money. I’m not aiming my comments at anyone in particular, and my thoughts and feelings on this subject aren’t new. I felt it was a huge mistake from the very beginning when the prices were cut so low. Everything here is JMHO. It isn’t worth much, but hey, I’d love to earn enough money to make a living at selling my books. Wouldn’t you too?

  8. So true. I’ve been at this literally longer than anyone else on earth (early 1996). I’ve lived all the phases since then and lately begun documenting at my imprint (Clocktower Books), especially the museum pages there with heritage sites going back to 1996 (before e-commerce). The market is glutted – but it’s a free market – and the only thing I can think of at this point is that we need *curation* – that’s curating. Look, people who still buy into the New York model get their suggestions from talk shows and so forth. People who buy in the free and open e-book market look for bargains (free if possible). You’re right, and there’s more. What I suggest is that book lovers begin to pick up on something like the Goodreads model (which was purchased by Amazon; I have no real idea how it works). Curators are people who collect and recommend, in this model. There are many ways to do it. For example, a Lydia Michaels fan could start a website or blog carefully (key word; not glut; not quantity but quality) recommending picks that would appeal to that demographic. Do it one book at a time, not piles & piles.

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