Publishers, you need to hear this

It continues to amaze me that now, years after e-books became a viable alternative to printed books, we are still having discussions about e-book pricing. When you look at what the Big 5 are saying about e-book sales vs what you see in the Author Earnings reports, you have to ask if they are operating in different worlds, maybe even universes. One tells us that e-book sales are slowing to the point of almost being flat. The other tells us the opposite. You look at the best seller lists on Amazon and you see more and more mid and small press books — as well as indie — finding their way onto the lists. So who is right?

If you want to be honest, both are. I have no doubt sales for Big 5 e-books are slowing. All you have to do is look at the pricing of their e-books to see why. The hard cover for Seveneves by Neal Stephenson sells for $20.83 on Amazon and BN.com. The e-book version is currently available for $17.99. The paperback version, currently listed at $12.22 won’t be available until May 17th.

Shadows of Self by Sanderson currently sells at $16.65 for hardcover and $14.99 for the e-book. What is particularly interesting is that the paperback version is apparently already available and sells for $11.44. If my math is correct — always doubtful this early in the morning — that is $3.55 less than the e-book version. If the product page is correct and the paperback version is available already, then it puts to lie the promises made by the Big 5 publishers long ago that they would drop the price of their e-books when the paperback versions came out.  (I will note the paperback versions being listed apparently come from overseas but I still have to ask why the publisher continues to sell the e-book at such a high price.)

Devoted in Death, the latest in JD Robb’s In Death Series, is available as an e-book for $7.99. The mass market paperback, which comes out today, sells for $6.79. Hmm, the e-book still sells for more than I would have to pay for the print book.

So, is there a trend — or possibly a clue — here as to why e-book sales for the Big 5 are leveling off?

Some folks were having this discussion yesterday in a private FB group I belong to. The consensus among those taking part in the discussion was that the price point publishers were charging, especially for newly released titles, was more than they were willing to pay. Not just for e-books but for hard covers as well. Those who aren’t big fans of  e-books lamented the fact they were turning to used bookstores to buy those hard cover titles they wanted. Not because they were paying less for the book but because they knew authors don’t receive royalties for those sales.

Note, they weren’t worried about the publishers.

And that is something the Big 5 needs to realize. The reading public is starting to look at the prices they pay for their books — whether they are print or digital — and wonder why the prices are so high. They are following their favorite authors, many of whom write for publishers that aren’t the Big 5 or who are indies, and they are paying attention to what the authors are saying. They understand that the life of the writer is closer to struggling author working in a coffee shop than it is to Castle. They are beginning to realize that the majority of the money they pay for that book, the vast majority of it, goes not to the person who created it but to the corporation what distributed it.

But more than that, the reading public can look at an e-book and realize that it doesn’t cost anywhere close to produce it as it does to produce a print book. So the reading public is asking why it should pay close to hard cover prices for a bunch of electrons, especially when the publisher tells them they don’t own the e-book.

The Big 5 continues to come back with the double talk about costs and then says that the real fan will pay the extra money to read the e-book as soon as the title becomes available. Sure, some will pay it for certain authors. But they aren’t paying it in the numbers the Big 5 believes they should so, duh, as far as the Big 5 is concerned, e-books are a craze that is slowly leveling out.

And so they believe their own press and continue to ignore what is happening around them. They aren’t looking at the number of commuters who read on their phones and tablets on the way to work. They don’t pay attention to their family and friends who are doing the same thing. They aren’t looking at the number of indie authors who are able to live off of their earnings — and do so by charging well below the $9.99 price that seems to be the cut off for most e-book buyers. In fact, I would say most e-books that sell well do so at $5.99 or less.

Yet the Big 5 continues to operate under a business plan that doesn’t adapt to the market and consumer demands. Instead, they issue statements about how the “trend” is a slowing of digital sales. Those blinders they have been wearing for so long must have been joined by a posture collar that prevents them from looking anywhere but straight down at their own P&L statements.

Here’s the thing. When readers understand they are being treated badly by publishers, they tend to look elsewhere for their reading material. As an indie author, I’m thrilled because it means more sales for me. How long will it be before the Big 5, and those who follow their lead, start looking beyond their own propaganda and realize what the full sales picture looks like? I doubt it will happen before the Big 5 becomes the Big 4 or maybe even the Big 3.

The problem is the only ones who will lose then are the authors contracted to those houses and the readers. And the suits in their corporate towers will continue to say e-books and whatever comes after them are only flashes in the pan and soon everyone will return to printed books, even as the price of print media continues to increase.

The wake up call has been issued. It was issued long ago. The problem is that the Big 5 and their hangers on hit the snooze button. Readers are sounding the alarm again and I can see the corporate hand reaching out to hit the snooze button once again. Will it deviate from its path or not? My money is on not. How about yours?

94 Comments

Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: PUBLISHING

94 responses to “Publishers, you need to hear this

  1. riteturn

    It seems like an epidemic of arrogant stupidity, and not just business…
    They are saying – we are in control – we’ll force folks to do what we will and the sheep will still line up to be sheared.
    I see the same thing in politics and medicine and finance…
    Don’t count on it folks. The sea of humanity is growing restless and when you overreach far enough it will be too late to retreat and try to recapture your previous status.

  2. They keep expecting to plug *the* hole in their ship, but like the ship in Tono-Bungay there is no one hole, but a hull becoming ever more porous. Despite the rising water, they see no one hole and therefore refuse to operate the pumps. The buying public has had enough of their… quap.

  3. Mark Alger

    I suspect the shakeout is already happening. And it’s not publishers getting shaken out, but authors.

    My alpha is published by T**. She has recently been given notice that the trade paperback of the second book of her maiden trilogy will be pushed back a year (Or was it two?). Sales were so disappointing, (This while the first book in the trilogy earned out its advance in three months.) the hardbacks of the first two books were going to be remaindered — meaning they would no longer be available to sell AT ALL, just when the third book needed the support.

    Of course, remaindering means that the books will be sold — at a deep discount that probably will only cover printing costs at pennies on the dollar — so the publisher is getting paid — albeit at a loss — but the writer is not. And removing the books from mainstream commerce means that the author won’t get paid and the sales won’t count to her benefit when it comes to assessing her works’ performance for T**.

    The first words off my keyboard were, of course, “Self-pub the next one and labor toward getting your rights back to these.” No word of how her (big name) agent is treating her, considering the new leper’s bell of the midlist writer’s poor-sales disease.

    Would a reasonably priced ebook edition have saved this writer’s career? I dunno. But I can’t help thinking that, the more this happens, and the more the word of it gets around, the fewer writers will be available to the Big 5-4-3-2-1. The best and brightest will take the lesson and go indie, the quality (and thus the sales) of Big n books will suffer, readers will learn to avoid them, sales will drop. Your prediction of the reduction in the n value in Big n will be fulfilled.

    M

    • That kind of story makes me thank my lucky star that my one try to get trad-pubbed ended with a form rejection letter. When you add together the absolute need to have a stellar performance in the first eight weeks of release (or less), the restrictive contracts, the enforced limits on production (one or two books a year for the most part) and the fact that you’re at the mercy of not only editors but assorted bean-counters, and it just doesn’t make sense to leap into that meat grinder.

      With ebooks, there is no need to be a “best-seller” out of the gate or be consigned to mid-lister hell, no competition for limited shelf space, and no remaindering or going out of print (which of course most publishers use mostly as an excuse to hold on to publishing rights forever). Mainstream publishers should be figuring out ways to capitalize on the opportunities the new medium offers, and instead are trying desperately to hold on to their buggy-whips.

      • Mine, too – the first book actually got a through read and lots of lovely compliments from a serious agent, who regretfully said it would be a hard-sell to any big publisher. I went through the motions with the second book, a few nibbles … and went indy, before becoming my own publisher.

        That first agents’ honesty spared me years of battering my head against a wall.

        And that first book is still a consistent seller, in spite of me doing practically nothing in the way of marketing it.

    • Mark, this has been happening for awhile now, unfortunately. How many mid-list authors have seen their careers go down the drain because the bean counters forget that it is these very same authors that made the backbone of their business. These were the authors they could count on to sell a certain number of books. But, in their greed for more, they kept paying their best sellers more and more – and often these books didn’t earn out — and then they would throw huge advances at new authors who were supposed to be the next best thing. Except they weren’t. So where were the publishers to cut costs? With the mid-listers, not realizing they were cutting their own throats at the same time.

      They are now doing that where e-books are concerned. Here is a low cost format they could use to bolster their bottom line. Instead, they are doing their best to undermine this format in order to prop up a business model that hasn’t worked well for years. They then laugh at publishers like Baen that have seen the advantages of the new technology and have done well in adapting to it. And the real ones being hurt by this hard headed approach by the Big Five aren’t the suits in their ivory towers but the authors and their readers. Readers are learning that they have alternatives and, slowly but surely, so are the writers.

      • Yeah, the “best-seller chaser” strategy sounds to me like a retirement plan based on taking all your disposable income and spending it in lotto tickets, because it only takes one…

        I;m still shocked that it’s so hard to find backlist books, or that they are hugely overpriced when they can be found. They are leaving massive amounts of money on the table and alienating a large percentage of their core business at the same time, while they hope the next Snookie tell-all book will make everything better.

    • Alan

      Yep. The new model seems to be: try tradpub on one or a few early novels, get reamed by tradpub, move to smallpub/indy for new works, wait a few years to get rights back to that one or few first books, re-issue in indy (subjects aren’t usually so topical you can’t do this), and then continue the series, if those early novels leant themselves to it, based on real market interest.

      As more real-life stories along these lines get out there, fewer authors will waste time and emotion on tradpub for their first novels, and the publishers’ slush piles will degenerate. So sad…

  4. I was recently recommended an up-coming writer’s work. When I went to check it out, I found her novels (ebooks) were being priced in the $12.99 range, so I shrugged and moved on. I also noted her Amazon sales ranks were in the mid six-figure range, which roughly translates into a book sale every two or three days – not exactly the kind of income over which you can quit your day job. About a year later, the publisher put the ebook for sale at $2,99, and its ranking went all the way to the low 2,000s (about *fifty* books a day or more). As soon as the sale stopped, of course, that ranking sank like a rock. It never occurred to the publishers that maybe pricing the book at $5.99 would have resulted in a steady seller. As a reader, of course, I was happy to get the book at $2.99. Now it’s sitting in my Kindle while I wait for the sequel to go on sale 🙂

    Their loss in market share in some genres is staggering. In fields like military science fiction, the Amazon Top 100 list is full of self-pubbed authors or hybrids (many of those being published by Amazon’s imprints). True, Amazon is not the entire market, but when it comes to ebooks it’s close enough.

    Throw in the fact that editors in most big houses are squandering their money on whatever social justice fad there is, and the end result is a huge number of readers who feel either ripped off by high prices, unsatisfied by the available content, or both.

    As of this year, most of my income comes from self-publishing, and I have to thank the Big Five’s self-destructive idiocy for much of it. They are helping create a market segment whose needs they cannot or will not serve, a growing market segment that indies will be happy to claim. All of this was clearly foreseeable, but my guess is that the Big Five will refer to it as “bad luck.”

    • TRX

      Some people have a problem with numbers. I used to call it “used-car dealer disease”, but it happens everywhere.

      Which makes you more money? One sale with a profit of $10, or three sales with a profit of $5?

      A whole lot of people who should know better fixate on that $10.

      Then again, there’s a whole system of pricing that counts sales as a cost center. I used to buy odd components from a local industrial supplier until they decided that it “cost” them $15 to make a sale, and they refused to take my money for a $12 item. I left it on the counter, the salesman went back to his TV, and I found an online vendor who’d get the same part to my door in two days for $8. Maybe the Big 5 have decided that each e-book “costs” them the same overhead as a paper book.

      • That makes a sort of twisted sense. The Big Five have a lot of sunken costs – and I’m not referring to things like editors, proofreaders and cover artists, but big expensive Manhattan officers, platoons of vice-presidents, and cushy expense accounts – that may increase their cost-per-unit to unrealistic levels. But publishing accounting has always been a mess.

        Most books don’t earn out their advances, which to me indicates a weak grasp on the market – if publishers truly understood the market, most books should earn out; that they don’t means their strategy is throwing crap against a wall to see what sticks.

        • Either that or their accounting practices are a little shady.

        • Griz

          Many manufacturers, whether of widgets or whatsits, equally divide the entire company’s overhead equally over all departments. This is simple and easy but can introduce big errors in profit if the overhead is actually driven by one or two departments.

          This may be what is happening at the big 5.

          • They’ve done this for years with their lists. They charge the same publicity cover costs, etc to midlisters and bestsellers even though the midlisters get much abridged treatment. By that accounting bestsellers are a huge win and midlisters a huge loss, but you know that’s now how the money is actually spent. So they get rid of midlisters, because that will will ave money. Disaster ensues and they don’t knwo what to do.

    • I’m still amazed to see backlist books that were new 30, 40 or more years ago priced as eBooks in the $10-$12 range. Granted, some of these authors are now dead, but the ones who are still alive and the estates of the others you would think would be howling mad that no one is buying their books at those prices.

  5. I saw William Fortschen came out with a sequel called One Year After. Went to check it out…and saw the ebook version was over $10. Um, no, not going to happen. I’ll pay that much for, say, a research book just for the convenience of having it on tablet, but it’ll be a cold day in Hades before I shell out that level of coin for mind candy.

    Something is going to break in this equation. I think it will be the first Aloha type author who has a major following then goes indie. When they make as much as they did under the Big 5’s auspices, and despite the Big 5’s inevitable attempt to destroy them? Well those sluice gates are going to open or the publishing dam will collapse completely.

  6. I briefly considered shopping one or more of my books around to a publisher of paper and ink. Just think, a professional editing staff, cover designers, formatters, just hand them a completed manuscript and let the dollars flow in.
    But I always come back to realizing that I’d be handing control of my work over to someone else. Yeah, it would be nice to see Jack L Knapp at the bottom of the dust cover, but would I really make more money that way?
    I don’t think so. For that matter, that hypothetical publisher might not want my book, or books. Also noteworthy, after you publish a number of books, particularly in series, they begin advertising themselves. I’ve got eight novels at the moment, two more in production, and my earnings are enough that I’m shopping around for a tax professional who will hopefully keep me from getting scalped by the IRS.
    The Ship has not yet been promoted, other than by fans and probably Amazon itself through their ‘also bought’ algorithm. So far this month, the book has sold around 500 copies and it has also racked up about 400,000 borrowed pages. The coattail effect has carried my other books along too, something that can only happen when books are in publication. If the publisher isn’t putting copies of books published in 2014 on the shelf, they won’t sell. Even if they did, I would probably never see a penny from the sales.
    Factor in one additional thing: Amazon is starting to clean up its catalog. Books that have too many typos, errors in formatting, and other indicators of low quality are being removed and the authors told to fix the problems. That’s going to raise the quality standards of ebooks, meaning even more pressure on traditional publishers. One of the things that has held the Indie published book back is the subtle feeling that the quality isn’t on a par with that of traditionally published books. Remove that, and more people will wonder why Big 5 companies think their ebook is worth twice as much as my Indie published novel.

    • That’s the other thing – the control. If someone from a big trad publishing house came knocking on my door (metaphorically-speaking) offering a generous contract for one of my books … I would turn it down. I’d be giving over control of MY book to an unknown number of people who do not work for me, and do not actually have the best interests of my book as their first priority. Their priority is the best interests of the publisher.

      I’d rather hire editing, design, publicity, legal talent directly – who would work for ME.

      • TRX

        …and with the industry slump, there’s no shortage of experienced professionals available to hire.

        Of course, some of them are probably responsible for that same slump…

  7. Reblogged this on Spin, strangeness, and charm and commented:
    The same sort of hidebound small-mindedness that is decimating the music industry is now doing the same for publishing. Meanwhile, production values of Big Five books keep declining while those of indie books keep improving. Another chapter in the Chronicle of a Death Foretold

  8. Christopher M. Chupik

    Working in a library, I’ve started to notice a trend of hardcovers which say “contains bonus material found only in print version”. Guess they’re getting desperate.

    • Anonymous Coward

      Includes : special editor’s cut of the book, exclusive behind-the-scenes info about the writing of the book, outtake chapters, early sketches of the illustrations and cover art, interview with the author’s favorite nephew, and the hilarious bloopers (typos) . Yes indeed, sales are going to skyrocket after this clever new marketing idea is deployed.

    • Max

      The Forerunner Trilogy did that. Took the last chapter out of the e-book copy and only put it in the print copy, without any warning whatsoever. Made me furious, especially as that last chapter really wrapped things up and helped the “ending” I’d read make a lot more sense.

      I ended up reading it in a book store to get closure, but that was a majorly lousy move.

      • Laura M

        That is truly astonishing.

      • Uncle Lar

        You know, someone somewhere scanned or typed in that last chapter and appended it to the e-book file and put it somewhere out on the web. And I find that I really cannot fault anyone for resorting to such a bootleg in response to the action taken by that publisher.
        If you know where to look, most fiction is available as a bootleg file within a week of publication. I do not advocate or support bootlegs as there lies the path to the ultimate destruction of the art, but given the multitude of dirty tricks publishers play on both their authors and their customers, I can certainly understand the urge.
        Personally, were I driven to obtain a bootleg copy of a work I would find a way to reimburse the author a fair amount. Strangely, I find no similar urge to pay anything to the publisher.

      • That’s just disgusting. If I hadn’t already stopped buying anything from that publisher altogether, that would have done the trick.

      • nathan

        Was that why Halo soon found a new home?

        • Max

          No idea (I wasn’t even aware they’d switched). I did swtich from buying Halo books to checking them out from libraries, however. There was no way I was getting burned by that again.

      • Christopher M. Chupik

        That is the dickest of dick moves.

      • Sara the Red

        Wow, that’s…that’s a good way to ensure a reader never buys books by that author (or the publisher) ever, ever again. That’s a lousy, petty move on their part!

        Oh, it’s Tor. Figures.

  9. I’m willing to pay more for things that are more likely to entertain me. I’ll pay $15 or more for a handful of authors. I’ll re-buy some previously read paperbacks just to have them available on my Kindle.

    However, given the breadth and focus of most publishers, many of the books they publish don’t align with my reading interest. I do a better job selecting books based on Amazon reviews.

    What’s more, with Kindle Unlimited (KU), the sunk costs for dropping a book after reading a few chapters are minimal. It’s made me much more likely pick up a KU book and more likely to simply drop a book that doesn’t interest me.

    Now if Amazon, the authors, and publishers really wanted to make more money off me, they’d just need to create the ‘Kindle Unlimited discount purchase plan’: after reading a KU book, give me the opportunity to get a permanent copy for just a few bucks more. I’ve found enough good series on KU that I’d be willing to pay a little more to have them in my permanent collection.

  10. I don’t want them to ever figure it out. I want them to keep doing what they’re doing.
    Because I’m making bank off of their mistake. They would never publish me, I’m not PC enough. Yet there are thousands who read me, and that number goes up every day.
    Turns out all those writers the gatekeepers have been keeping out for decades are writing things that the customers want to read.

  11. Amanda..
    The Sanderson and Butcher prices for paperbacks are for overseas published Trades with different covers. Well for Butcher the cover is just zoomed in on the main character with less of the background but the Sanderson is a completely different cover.

    • I thought I noted that for one of them. Still, it makes my point. If you can buy a book from overseas for not much more than the price of an e-book, there is something wrong with the system.

  12. BobtheRegisterredFool

    I’m not in the business, and I do not gamble recreationally with money. I prepared a speech months ago using data from author earnings dot com. I’m confident that legacy industry will not change their methods and turn the trends around before I deliver. Almost confident enough to suppress my obsessive error checking.

    *Looks at the November report* ‘That doesn’t sound right, I need to ask for clarification.’

  13. kentuckydan

    They are in violation of the Third Rule of Acquisition

  14. TRX

    What has long amazed me is that while I can buy a DVD of a current major motion picture for $15, publishers expect me to pay $25 for a current major hardback. It takes me two or three hours nowadays to finish a book, so the price of entertainment per hour is roughly the same. Except that the production costs of a motion picture are a couple orders or magnitude higher than for a book, and even the guy who empties the wastebaskets makes more money than the author.

  15. I’m comparing these prices on a $/hr of entertainment basis. $18 for an ebook which might take 10 hours to read (and I’m a slow reader) is $1.80/hr. A movie at $12 (and I think it might be closer to $15 in many places) is $6/hr. A brand-spanking new copy of a AAA video game – we’ll use Fallout 4 – is currently $60 but you get 200+ hours of entertainment, and if you can download mods or maps made by other players it might end up being closer to 1000. If it is closer to 200 hours thats $0.30 an hour. If you wait six months after release all the extras will be there and it’ll be half-price. There are no shortage of cheap $/hr video games for sale while you are waiting.

    Obviously it is apples and oranges for all these things, but still. What are they thinking?

  16. As an author and a reader, this is a trend I’ve been watching for years. I’ve long-since been buying Baen ebooks (often as a way to get the book months before it would normally be available). And yes, for some select few authors, I’ll pay a bit extra for that privilege. But for others? Why? Baen has a number of titles that you can get for $4.99 or less (often free) as an ebook. Other publishers… not so much.

    What traditional publishers are doing is relying upon those handful of big name authors entirely as their publishing model, forgetting that the majority of their “other” sales are what makes them the money. The big name authors are their blockbusters, but it is the midlist authors that provide the groundswell. They’re wiping out their stables of authors because they’re demanding they compete at the highest level (often against each other), and then dropping those who are deemed “failures”. The average reader, when faced with buying two books for 4.99 or one for 9.99, is probably going to go for the two books for 4.99… so long as they’re available. When there’s only 9.99 books available (or worse, 18.99 or even 24.99 as I’ve seen a few trad-published ebooks), they’re only going to buy the one book, they’re going to be far more selective, and many of them, like me, are going to say to hell with it.

    I’ve got a wife and kid to support and even though I really enjoy reading Sanderson and Butcher and some others, my mind goes to the cost of groceries when I’m faced with almost $30 for a hardback, $20 for a ebook or paperback. I want to support my fellow authors (even if they’re on the Trad Publishing side since it’s been good to them), but maybe I’ll get the book at a used book store anyway. At least that way I can afford to eat while I read the book.

    I’m seeing the benefit of this as an independent author and I can’t say that I dislike the windfalls as more people turn to new authors. Even so, I feel like I’m watching the Titanic go down, with the Publishers locking their mid-list authors below decks while they wink at their big sellers and tell them there’s nothing to worry about, we’re unsinkable.

  17. carlton mckenney

    Horrible example:

    Mainline, traditionally published, good selling author, Jaye Ann Krentz (AKA Jayne Castle & Amanda Quick). Three of her books:

    Eye of the Beholder
    Kindle Edition $18.90

    FLASH
    Kindle Edition $17.45

    Sharp Edges
    Kindle Edition $16.72

    These books have been thru the traditional cycle, hardcover, MM paperback and sold fairly well. They are not available from the publisher in any form other than ebook. There are second hand copies available in both HC and PB in the $7-8 and $4-3 ranges thru Amazon and B&N and second hand stores. When I asked Amazon about these titles I was told that the price is as set by the publisher.
    This is an author that has been publishing and selling for decades and has always made out her advance. For reasons known only to the publisher they are deliberately suppressing the sales of these books. I sure don’t know.
    If the Big5 are willing to do this to a proven money maker what are they willing to do to less powerful writers?

  18. Max

    There’s something here that I’m noticing no one is mentioning with regards to pricing.

    Book length.

    My third book was just released today (Unusual Events, if you’re curious), and I priced it at $7.99. Which to some comments on here seems quite high. But I raised it precisely because I had a lot of feedback from fans of my last book, Dead Silver, that its $5.99 price point was too low for its length. Dead Silver was a 451 page book, which compared to a lot of other books around the same price point, is quite a bit longer.

    I’ve noticed that while we often talk about books being “too expensive” the inverse has never come up, that of books being overpriced. There are plenty of $0.99 “books” that are only ten or twelve pages long. Doesn’t the length of the book, as well as how well it’s written, have something to do with the value? Shouldn’t it?

    I don’t think it’s enough to simply declare that books shouldn’t pass a particular price-point as if that’s a law. Do I think Sanderson’s new book is overpriced as an e-book. Yes, even though it’s Sanderson. His publisher is asking $4.99 for a book that’s 380-some odd pages long. Dollar for dollar, I think that’s going a little too far (Unusual Events, to compare, is $7.99 for 515 pages, which feels a lot more fair to me).

    But what if it were a thousand-plus pages? I’m running into this conundrum with the book I’m editing right now. It’s over a thousand pages (closer to 1200), which is a lot of reading material. Do I aim low and price it at where so many like to say an e-book should be? $5.99? Or do I try and price it according to its value and the amount of time readers will spend reading it?

    I don’t think it’s enough to simply say that books should or shouldn’t adhere to a single, static price point. Because there are plenty of people who are hitting that price point that so many here are bringing up ($5.99) but are selling a book that’s only 200 or so pages long. Crud, some are shorter. And in the end, that’s really not that different from Sanderson’s $14.99 for 380 pages. Not that different at all.

    Perspective on what we’re buying changes a lot of things. I once had a reader contact me who’d just read my second book and tell me that they only thing he didn’t like about it was that it was too short for what he paid (which was $5.99), since he’d finished it in one setting. I expressed surprise and said he really must have enjoyed it, because that book was 451 pages long, and to finish it in one sitting and complain it was too short was a great compliment! My reader expressed complete shock at realizing how long the book actually had been and changed his tune. It was worth every penny, he told me, since he’d been so sucked in he hadn’t noticed that he’d read a 451 page book in a single go.

    I think that it isn’t enough to simply declare static price points or write books off because they’re not below some admittedly arbitrary price point. It’s fair to look at books in terms of the value they give us, but at the same time we need to be examining ALL the aspects of the title, from length to enjoyment to cost.

    Though this is an out-of-medium example, I bought every single piece of Borderlands 2 and it’s expansion material up front, as it released. $130. To date, I’ve spent 352 hours plumbing its depths. Worth EVERY penny to me of that $130. Does $130 seem like a lot? Sure, until I look at how much I took out of it.

    Sure, $14.99 is WAY too much for a 380 page book. I’ll agree there. $12 is way too much for a 300 page book.

    But something like $6.99 for 500 pages of adventure? That’s more my language. It’s a medium point where the author gets just compensation and the reader gets hours upon hours of reading material. That, I think, is the sweet spot we need to be aiming for.

    Enough arbitrary pricing without looking at the content of the book. Let’s end that, and bring some balance to things.

    • How many words are you talking about? Page count isn’t a good metric as pages can be anything from 200 to 400 words.

      For me, I will not pay anything over 5.99 for an ebook, and for me to pay 5.99 it has to be a good story by a proven author. It’s up to you if you want to sell an ebook at 7.99, and if you can sell it at that price, well more power to you for that. But I would never buy it. Personally I suspect you’ll see less sales at that higher price point, but that doesn’t mean you’ll make less money, you may make more.

      As for the 1200 page book. Again, how many words is that? 240K or 540K?

      • Max

        That’s 325,000 words. 1200 is a rough estimate of ~33,000 words per 100 pages, plus formatting.

        The new one is 515 pages, or 152,000 words.

        For me, I will not pay anything over 5.99 for an ebook, and for me to pay 5.99 it has to be a good story by a proven author.

        Honestly, that’s kind of your loss. You’re going to miss out on a lot of good books that way. It sounds more like you’re interested in getting the absolute cheapest deal than supporting authors with that price declaration. And again, you’re falling under the fallacy of “I’ll buy this 200 pages book because it’s $4.99, but not this 800 page book because it’s $8.99.”

        • Max

          Quote formatting didn’t work (and no edit function). The “For me … proven author” is supposed to be a block quote.

        • No, I don’t think I’m going to miss out on a lot of good books or authors. I know what indy authors make, being as I am one. I know where the price points are, and I know what sells in which genre.
          And I know what people are willing to spend. Yes, I’ve had people tell me I should charge more. Tried it, sales went down, profit went down. Just because a few people are willing to pay more, it does not mean the majority of your customer base is willing to pay more.

          Again, if you want to charge 7.99, that’s your decision. If you get lots of sales on it, good for you. But as a buyer, when prices start closing in on MM paperback, I go for the paperback. I do not want to support, what I consider to be, ridiculously high prices on ebooks. I drew that line for myself a long time ago. That line is 5.99.
          Yes, as a reader I do look at book size as well, if I feel I’m being charged too much for the size of the book, again, I won’t buy it. But the quality of the author writing the book does have an effect on that decision.

          Now, as an author, I’m driven by sales numbers. I tried an experiment based on years of experience, data I collected, data and comments from Mark Coker over at Smashwords, and discussions with other authors on Amazon, back before the forums there became a joke. I took my next big 150K word novel and split it in two, dropped the price to 2.99 and sold over 10K copies of each book.

          I have several thousand dedicated followers to the series I’m now writing and its now six books long (I’m working on #7 next month) I tired raising the price of book six to 4.99, because the fans I polled said they were okay with that (I’ve also increased book length as the series continued). Sales stagnated. So I dropped the price to 3.99 and bam, sold 200 the next day and sales came right back.

          So yes, my advice to everyone is lower prices, get in the 2.99 – 3.99 sweet spot. Volume is where you make the money, not price. If your book is huge, break it into parts, readers actually DO prefer shorter cheaper novels over larger more expensive ones, by about 70 percent they prefer it. Readers DO prefer serials, again, 70 percent. Mark Coker did some wonderful analysis of the market and posted this data a couple years ago. Turns out it worked very well for me. So I aim for 70K to 90k words a novel, and if the story is longer than that, well I write a second book.

          This is my experience with the market, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned with everyone else here. Yes, it may not work the same for you. Yes, you may do better doing something different. The choice is yours, and it’s nice that we are the ones who get to make these choices and then the market decides, it’s not some person in an office in Manhattan deciding for us. I just thought I would share my personal experience.

          • Fully agree. I find the $2.99-3.99 pays off rather well for my books. And the occasional $0.99 sale works wonders, too. I actually released my last book at $0.99 (price went up to its regular $3.99 fifteen days later), and it took off like a rocket. Sales remain shockingly high two weeks after the sale ended.

        • Congratulations, and my sympathies. You’ve found one of the things paper books do better than ebooks: the impression of value for money by page size to the browsing buyer. There’s no easy way to translate this into ebooks, to make an impression. While the file size and estimated page count are in the file description, they’re not right up front and center to make an immediate impression on the buyer – only the cover art, title, author name, price, and (in promo postings or if they make it to product description page) blurb are.

          Your casual browser, therefore, who doesn’t know you from John Doe, won’t take the length of your work into account when making the immediate “click that thumbnail to see more?” decision (this decision usually takes less than 1/3 of a second.) If your work is priced above genre norms, it’s going to be investigated or skipped based on that fact, regardless of the length.

          Similarly, if the browser makes it to the product page, they’re likely to read (in this order) first paragraph of the blurb, possibly rest of blurb, review rating, and possibly top helpful/critical review. The decision to buy/ sample / pass generally takes 1-3 seconds for most browsers, on most product pages. Readers, who are uninterested in the mechanics of publishing, generally don’t even notice the file data. (As evinced by the many, many readers who complain about short stories not being novels.)

          So, what to do about it?

          You could publish as-is. And sell as-is. This is always a viable option, knowing that you’re going to be slower than some who are putting out 55K work novels. (But not all.) It’s not a race, and you won’t lose all the income if you’re slower to publish than Speedy Gonzales. If you have a cracking good story, well-told, then you have the rest of your life + 70 years for your heirs to sell that book and its companions before it becomes public domain.

          You can split your book into multiple parts – but if you do this, you must make sure that each part has its own coherent story arc, providing a satisfying story to the reader on its own, as well as in concert with the others. Otherwise, your readers will feel cheated. Before you try this, sit a spell and listen to old-time radio shows, to get a feel for how to tell a story, wrap up as much as you need to, and still leave your audience wanting to tune in for more.

          You can try a low-cost entry into the series, and once readers know what an awesome story they’re getting, raise the price of the later ones to above -genre-standard. The upside is you’ll get to sell the early entrant at a competitive price, while getting higher profit-per-sale from the later ones. The downside is that the later ones will be too high for casual browsers to generally pick up, and thus lose value as entry points into the series.

          You can, being indie published, try all of the above at any given time.

          Please remember, though, that stories are not cheese, and will not sell by the pound – or the word count. No matter how much effort it took for you to create, the reader is only going to value it based on whether it looks entertaining.

    • But if I don’t like your book and toss it out after reading a few chapters, it doesn’t matter if it’s hundred pages or a thousand pages.

      I’m being a little flippant here, but it’s important to remember there are a few important price points. At one price point, you’re going after readers unfamiliar with your work or reputation. At a second price point, you’re going after readers familiar with your work and reputation. There may also be different price points for “I enjoyed it enough to have a copy in my library”, “this is my favorite author”, and “I’ll purchase this as a gift”.

      While length of the book should be a factor in the final price, these other price points are as important. Rightly or wrongly, independent authors are effectively compensating readers for the risk of picking up a book from a new, untried author.

      • Max

        Except that there’s a very clear “Click here to read the first 10% of the book” on Amazon and a lot of other indie sites. The longer the book, the more that’s letting you read. You can easily read the first few chapters of a lot of books without ever clicking “purchase,” especially today when a lot of good indie authors will put samples out there on their personal sites to make sure that as many as possible will give that book a chance.

        There are a lot of tools to minimize the “risk” of a new author.

        • Sure, but the sad fact is, a *lot* of readers make their purchase choice without ever taking a peek at the “Look Inside.” I know it for a fact because of several reviews where people complained about things (like adult language) that appeared in the first few pages of the books in question. Many would-be buyers will glance at the cover, then the price, and if either of them turn them off, that’s a lost sale before they even check out the blurb and the Look Inside. And price is going to be a sticking point for a lot of people.

          The main goal when starting out should be to build an audience. Customers don’t care how long it took or hard it was to write a book.

    • mrsizer

      Chop the 1200 page book into two and meet the $5.99 price point. I’ve had the $/page issue with some author here. I don’t recall whom, right now, but the books were $1.99 and VERY short. Bought the first two then said “no more”.

      Pam Uphoff is very good with this. Take a look at the length and pricing of her Wine of the Gods books (and buy them; they’re excellent).

      • Max

        That’s actually one of the options I’m considering. $5.99-each for Part 1 and Part 2, or $9.99 for the whole thing in one book.

      • Chop the 1200 page book into two and meet the $5.99 price point.

        That would be easier with some books than with others. I think the author would have to be very careful that naive readers did not feel that they had spent $5.99 and bought only half a book. If the first book can come to a satisfactory resting point, and thus the second feels like a sequel, well and good. If it ends with everything “up in the air”, not so much.

        One site where I buy many of my music downloads charges by the minute. Longer pieces (we are talking mainly classical music here) cost more than shorter ones. I can imagine ebooks being priced by the kiloword, but I know of no site that does that currently.

        • That’s how I’ve been packaging my books, so that (with the exception of the Christmas short stories) it is $.99 US for 12000 words, i.e. one or two short stories, maxing out at $3.99 for novels. My novels tend to max out between 70K and 100K words, so charging more doesn’t make a great deal of sense. I know, I should price higher, but I’m not a Name author (yet).

          • Holly

            If the first book doesn’t have a satisfactory ending, and I’m supposed to go buy a second half, I will not only never read the author again, I will actively tell people don’t read this author. So if you’re going the splitting route, please make sure you put in a satisfactory ending to the first part.

            • I dropped a series because of a cliffhanger. And then the next book, well, I hope it will be like a certain other series where everyone just pretends the second book never happened and you read 1 and 3.

              I don’t have anything long enough yet to do a “one into two” split. Yet.

            • Xenophon

              Hmmm… I don’t mind getting “half-a-book,” as long as the author has VERY CLEARLY indicated that what I’m buying is the first half of a novel.

              For example, the 2nd book in C. J. Cherryh’s “Pride of Chanur” series was published in three volumes, with NO modification to make each stand alone. And it was a GOOD thing, because the story was just that big.

              On the other hand, this fact was clearly indicated on the front cover, the back cover, in the author’s introduction, the inside-the-front-cover blurb, and heaven-knows where else.

              If you [i]surprise me[/i] with half a book, you’re off my list for as long as I remember. Which is likely to be a very long time.

    • Robin Munn

      I’m having a hard time figuring out how you judge books to be under- or over-priced. The examples you gave aren’t consistent. Let’s look at your numbers:

      “I had a lot of feedback from fans of my last book, Dead Silver, that its $5.99 price point was too low for its length. Dead Silver was a 451 page book …”

      $5.99 for a 451-page book comes to about 1.33 cents per page. Your fans were telling you this price is too low, and you agreed since you set your next book higher.

      “Unusual Events, to compare, is $7.99 for 515 pages, which feels a lot more fair to me.”

      $7.99 for a 515-page book is about 1.55 cents per page. This, you feel, is a more appropriate price. But…

      “Do I think Sanderson’s new book is overpriced as an e-book. Yes, even though it’s Sanderson. His publisher is asking $4.99 for a book that’s 380-some odd pages long.”

      $4.99 for a 380-page book is about 1.31 cents per page. And this book you felt was overpriced.

      So you felt a book priced at 1.33 cents per page was underpriced and should be higher (around 1.5 cents per page). But you felt a book priced at 1.31 cents per page was overpriced.

      The simplest explanation, of course, is that book prices look very different to you when you’re buying than when you’re selling. Fair enough, of course, you do want to get the maximum profit for your work that the market will bear. But look at how you felt about Sanderson’s book being overpriced at 1.31 cents per page. Don’t you think there are a large number of other people who might feel the same way about your own book at 1.33 cents per page?

      Like I said, your numbers aren’t consistent. You might want to reconsider your pricing scheme: you yourself would feel that Unusual Events (at 1.55 cents per page) is overpriced if you were buying it, rather than selling it. You’re probably losing customers because you’re looking at the price from the wrong end of the sales equation. I’d suggest putting it on sale for $4.99 for a while — see if your total profits go up. If they do, reconsider your price point per page.

      • It’s a matter of what the market can bear. At one end you have free books, which are great for readers but, on their own, generate no profit. On the other you have outrageously priced books that would generate huge profit, but no one buys them because they’re too expensive. In theory, sales drop as prices increase, so there’s a sweet spot where the price of the book generates maximum revenue due to the number of readers willing to buy it. Just what that sweet spot is varies, not only by the market but by readers and time.

        My own sweet spot for fiction is lower than for reference material, and non-fiction for entertainment is somewhere slightly higher than the fiction level. If you’re an author I like, I might be willing to pay more for fiction, and if it’s reference material I really want I might shell out more. That said, I’ve passed on favorite authors because their works are priced too high, and on some reference material because it was priced beyond reason.

        Using a recent example, I love the Discworld series and slowly reading the books, usually in publication order. But the price for the books gives me pause. As the current levels, I regard a Discworld book as an occasional treat. The only reason I read two last year was that one was the discounted Wee Free Men, perhaps as a promo for The Shepherd’s Crown, and I bit the bullet for Moving Pictures. But while Moving Pictures was good, it wasn’t that good, and looking at the price for Reaper Man raises the cry of the pictsies: “An’ we won’t be fooled again!” If the price dropped I’d probably read one Discworld book a month. As it is, it’s once a year. That’s twelve sales at, say, $5.00 = $60 vs one just shy of $10.

        So why don’t I buy six Diskworld books a year for that same $60? Because the individual price climbs above my mental sweetspot. Rational? No. Yet it’s still there. And that’s how the sweet spot for maximum profit works.

        Do I look at page length listed on Amazon? Very much so. How does that figure in? With the perception of value. For reference books I’m willing to shell out more for +500 pages, but there’s still a limit. For fiction, I find myself looking over the 360 page limit for “full” novel price. Why 360 pages? Dast if I know; that’s just what I noticed, and how subjective all this is.

      • Max

        Umm … not consistent … what?

        Ah, there’s a typo. That’s the problem. Sanderson’s book is $14.99, as discussed in the original post at the top and several in other places on my comment. Sorry for the confusion, but I can’t go back and fix that.

        Anyway, that’s $14.99 for 380 pages, which comes out at 3.9 cents per page, roughly 2.5 times the cheapest example you’ve offered

        Sorry for the one typo, but the price was discussed in several places in the comment, and in the article above.

        • Max, you are comparing apples to oranges. Honestly, not only are you comparing the price per page of a best selling author to your own work but you are comparing traditionally published work to, I’m assuming, indie published. As I said, apples to oranges.

          Someone upthread suggested you bring you next book out at a moderate increase from the previous book. Then compare your sales. I agree. Compare not only the initial sales but how the sales increase or fall off during a period of at least 3 – 6 months. Then drop the price and see if the sales continue as they had been or if they increase.

          I would also suggest you look at the prices other books in your genre are selling for — especially those in the top 100. Then check the KDP Pricing Support Beta tool on your KDP dashboard. That gives you a pretty good snapshot of not only how much you can make per sale but where most books similar to yours are making the best money.

          Don’t get hung up on the price per page. That really is a false indicator.

          • Max

            All right, now I’m confused. If the original article begins by comparing the prices of the ebooks for Sanderson’s work to indie publishing, than isn’t that the whole point of the discussion? How can it be apples and oranges if part of the original gist of the discussion was “Here’s the price of this ebook from a traditional publisher; it is way too high?”

            Of course price-per-page is not a be-all, end-all. There are a myriad of areas to consider when purchasing a book. However, at the end, when all is said and done, readers do like to feel that they’ve got a decent amount of enjoyment worth what they paid for.

            But I really fail to understand why you would say that comparing traditional publishing to indie is apples or oranges. Both are a way of bringing a book to a market. Both are striving for the same market: Readers. And both are attempting to show those readers that they can provide a fun, enjoyable experience at a good price.

            Now, I think we can all reach an agreement that a lot of the traditionally published books are being sold at a price that is simply too dang high, specifically when it comes to ebooks. After all, this is the argument made in the original post. $15 for an ebook is too much.

            But I can’t help but wonder if a lot of the comments here are, in a roundabout way, heading right back in the same direction through concealment of cost? For example, the consensus seems to be that no ebook should be over $5.99 or around there. However, those same arguments made for that have also affirmed cutting the length of the book to compensate.

            When did this become a race to the bottom? If we cut a book into segments sold in $2.99 chunks, all we’re doing is cutting the cost of a $8 book into four pieces.

            Additionally,calling indie and traditional “apples and oranges” makes it sound as if you’re saying indie shouldn’t strive to be a competitor of product to the traditional book markets. The follow-up comment that books should be far, far lower priced seems to support this. You’re in support of a “race to the bottom” stance, wherein prices are cut lower and lower … in pursuit of what, though? Readers? In line with the apples and oranges comment you’ve made, it would seem you’re making the argument of “our books are lower priced and should be lower priced because they cannot be compared to the traditional publishing industry.”

            Why not? What is stopping an indie author from producing work every bit as polished as a traditional publisher? Why shouldn’t indie authors be able to say “Our work is just as good, but more reasonably priced.”

            Studies have shown that products priced low enough, even if they’re superior products, are often treated, received, and viewed as lower quality products by the buying public simply because of the implied “cheapness” of the low cost.

            I think indie and traditional should be eyeing one another and comparing one another. This is a battle for the readers, and indie authors should be saying “Look, we’re an alternative” not “No, you can’t compare the two.”

            Saying that they’re apples and oranges and driving a race to the lowest possible price point, I think, hurts that credibility and tarnishes the reputation of indie authors as opposed to lifting them.

            • No, Max, it doesn’t drive the race to the lowest possible price point. What I was trying to point out — as have several others — is that you (and this is a generic you) can’t compare the price per page that a best seller “costs” to what an indie does. For one thing, indie published works do not have the investment in the title that a traditionally published work does. If you want a realistic comparison, compare what you make per page with what the author for that best seller makes, after the publisher and agent take their cuts. When you do that, in many cases, you will see that the indie author is making as much, if not more, than the traditionally published author.

              For another, you used Patterson, iirc, as your price point to compare. Do you write in the same genre? Are you comparing two similar novels or a comparing a novel to a collection of short stories? What I will pay for an author I know as opposed to an author I have never read before is very different. What I’m willing to pay for non-fiction is different from what I’m willing to pay for fiction.

              Honestly, comparing the prices for indie works vs trad works is like comparing apples to oranges in a way because of the differences in the “businesses”. An indie author doesn’t have to worry about making back an advance paid to an author. They don’t have to worry about keeping stock on hand, transporting stock to the marketplace, etc. They don’t have to worry about books being remaindered. Yes, as indies we have expenses but they are not the same as what the trads put out and we don’t have to worry about giving an agent 15% or more of what we make, plus expenses. Don’t agree with me? Fine. However, I continue to say you need to look at more than just how much someone is paying per page for a book from Bestselling Author as opposed to your book and using that as justification to raise your prices. There are other factors, as I’ve said, to be considered. Finding the best price point that will bring you the most sales isn’t working to the lowest denominator. It is a way of reaching the most readers. Why? Because there comes a point where that lower price point will wind up making you more money and giving you more exposure which will, in turn, make you even more money as people start talking about your work.

              • Max

                Fair points made. Perhaps I should have been more descriptive in my original post in outlining that we’re both writing the same genre and to the same crowd, as well as the other factors that went into things, because you are correct, they do need to be considered.

                However, I wasn’t arguing that they shouldn’t be in my initial post, and if it came across that way then the error is mine. My original point was that it was one factor to consider when pricing or purchasing a book, and no comment yet had approached the issue.

                • But you are still missing one major point, you are comparing your price points to that of well known best selling authors.
                  Yes, they are going to get more, because they’re well known and famous, they sell tens of thousands (if not more) copies of their books.

                  If you are going to compare your prices to another author, you should compare yourself to one with the same level of fame as you have, but who has way more sales. See what their price point is.

                  And I would not call it a race to the bottom. We all charge as much as the market will bear, while keeping in mind that balance between price and volume so as to maximize profits. These are business decisions, they are driven by market constraints and customer perceptions. We don’t control what they’re willing to pay, but we can take advantage of it by offering more value on the dollar by under cutting the trads on price.

                  I really must ask, what is your goal here? To just publish books and make a few dollars? To be widely read? To be a full-time writer?

        • Robin Munn

          Ah, yes. I’d also find $14.99 seriously overpriced for a 380-page book. Now that I look back, I see you did indeed write $14.99 in several places, but I just figured you were talking about a different book. Forget I said anything, then.

  19. mrsizer

    After reading the Heirs of Alexandria books, I felt like some Mercedes Lackey, so I started in on The Elementals (or something like that). At $7.99 each, I read four of them before saying “no more”. There are eight more that I’m not going to buy simply because $8.00 for an ebook is too much – and the copy-editing (Penguin Books, btw) has left a bit to be desired; they are not “littered” with typos, but there are plenty.

  20. Raster

    Remember, there are such things as libraries for trad-pubbed books, and sadly the publishing company and the author get zero-zip from me, even when later I buy it from the library for a quarter.

  21. If I ran the Zoo – and you know they never would let me near the levers of power, because this makes sense – I would make up for the lack of back catalog by putting out eBook editions of everything that my house had that was out of print. After all, they’re sitting on the rights to all these books that are not earning them a penny. And if they keep them cheap enough, it could even recoup the money “lost” to second hand dealers.

    But publishers are not smart.

  22. I don’t think readers are just now looking at pricing. I have since the price of books began going up in the 1970s. That’s what started squeezing bookstores and magazines. When magazines reached the old price-point of paperbacks, the perceived value for the money dropped as the brain screamed “Overpriced!” I have always frequented the bargain bins, and this, and library clean-outs, have been my primary source of hard backs.

    Even Baen books are a bit over my set-point, and my purchases there have been non-fiction. It’s also why I always look at the Kindle daily deals and for freebies. Recently picked up a somewhat pricey reference book at a huge discount that way. Even reference books have a mental set-point

    Of course, the reason print increased in price in the first place was rising costs of paper, labor, storage, and transportation. But as has been pointed out countless times, e-books do not have these limitations, and once you make it, the expenses are much less than print. And that makes me balk a great deal at e-books that cost as much and more than paperbacks.

  23. Here is a question for everyone. My wife and I wrote a book. We were planning to self-publish it. We showed it to someone who said, “Hey, I know a guy who is an agent. He might be interested in this. Shall I introduce you?” One thing led to another and now we have actual representation from a publishing professional who has a long history in the SF/F industry.

    I still wonder, however, if we haven’t made a mistake. Of course, no one has actually made us an offer for our book, and we have at least one idea for a completely different series that we can rush out pretty quickly, but, given that the whole agent thing literally fell into our laps, were we foolish to jump at it?

    • Laura M

      One of the great resources for making these kinds of decisions is Kristine Katharine Rusch, who has written at length on all sorts of business aspects. When I say at length I mean a lot. Highly recommended. http://kriswrites.com/business-rusch-publishing-articles/ One of the big take-aways is to make sure you read and negotiate any contracts you enter into.

      Another good business-y blog besides MGC is The Passive Voice. If you go traditional, reading these articles will help you protect your interests.

    • Speaking from the indy perspective, here are some points to consider:

      Going indy costs money. Covers, editing, promotion, you can do them on the cheap but the most likely outcome is not going to be great (and the sad thing is that it’s not even a case of “you get what you pay for” because sometimes you don’t even get that; I spent a lot of money on editors and ended up with error-ridden books nonetheless).

      It also costs time. If all you want to do is write… well, even if trad-published, you’ll still have to do more than just write; you’ll be expected to do promotion on your own, but going indy means you’ll have to do a lot more of everything, If the time you can devote to writing/publishing is limited, that’s something to consider.

      Would you like to see your book gracing the shelf of a bookstore? Not bloody likely if you go indy. My books have sold thousands of ebook copies and dozens of trade paperbacks (and I actually make more per ebook than from a hard copy). A few indies have made inroads in the dead tree market, but not many.

      So landing an agent could spare you from those problems. Would I go with an agent? No. The advantages outweigh the problems, at least in my case. Just the fact that the second a book is ready I can send it out to the world, rather than wait for someone else to fit it into their schedule, makes going with an agent a terrible idea. Also, I’m no spring chicken, and the idea of waiting years for someone to deign to sign me up just has no appeal – I don’t know how many years I’ve got in me, and I don’t want to spend them waiting for a letter or e-mail that may never come. My first novel came out in November 2013. Since then, I’ve published six more. Given the realities of trad publishing, I’d be lucky if my third novel was out already.

      tl;dr: it all depends on your situation and priorities.

    • First, I advise you to start work on the other series – you don’t need to sacrifice quality to “rushing it out”, but if you do get an offer, and if you choose to accept it, it will be at least a year before the book is in print (likely 18 months from this point). In fact, if this book has room for a sequel, start working on it now.

      One of the downfalls of new author trilogies in legacy pub is that the new author may have taken 1-5 years to refine the concept and write the initial book. When they sign a contract for three books, the publisher wants the most time available for their own internal processes, so they’ll contract for the next book in 6 months to, maximum, a year. Starting the second now removes rushing, panic, or plotholes due to throwing it together for impending deadline.

      Also, if you get an offer and decline it, or fail to get an offer in a reasonable timeline (how long do you want to tie up your intellectual property, waiting for a possible sale?), then you’ll have multiple books for a staggered release, taking advantage of having a book in the series eligible for the “hot new releases” list for two months in a row.

      Second, start searching for a good IP lawyer. I don’t know where you live, but the IP lawyer who runs The Passive Voice is a good, author-friendly one, and may be able to recommend others. If you get an offer, you’ll definitely want a good IP lawyer looking over the contract and helping you 1.) understand, 2.) negotiate a better contract.

      Your agent may say they can negotiate the contract. Your agent is not a lawyer. Your agent’s ability to sell depends on keeping the editors happy, not the clients. Do not let an english major negotiate your legal document.

      Third, sit down and list out your goals and timelines. The agent thing fell in your lap. Hey, it’s an opportunity; an opportunity is never a bad thing. But, how long are you willing to let the agent sit on it? What terms and conditions are you willing to accept for industry publication? What terms are dealbreakers?

      I strongly recommend reading Kris Rusch on the business of publishing, Dena Wesley Smith on Think Like A Publisher and the myths of publishing, and start reading The Passive Voice as well, to educate yourself on the state of the industry. If you don’t know what you want when you head into negotiations with a multibillion dollar media conglomerate, you’re going to get screwed, because the initial offer is designed to give the company everything they could every dream of wanting, and leave you with just about nothing, and no way to get anything back or break away.

      Kris and Dean do have some of their blog posts consolidated into books – if you have more money that time, those are a viable alternative to reading through five? six? years worth of archives.

      • Thanks to everyone for your thoughts. One of the semi-annoying things about this situation is that we actually had considered many of the points you raise above about covers and editing. We paid out good money for a professional artist to do a killer cover, and we went over the manuscript with a fine-toothed comb, then hired an editor. She was astonished at the book, saying she had never seen a manuscript so clean, almost no typos or grammatical errors in sight.

        I have been reading through Kris’s archives. There are a number of things there that I intend to pay attention to. Of course, the most important one is that if an offer is no good, we can walk away. After all, there is always Plan B, indie publishing, if everything falls through.

        We are working both on the sequel and the new series. We are almost certainly going to do the new series indie, since it is pretty unlikely that we are going to find a publisher willing to take a chance on a “samurai noir” hardboiled detective novel set in Edo in the late 17th century. I don’t even know who we would approach about publishing a beast like that.

        In any case, I will look over everything people have pointed out and hopefully something good will come from it.

        We’ll see.

        David

  24. Christopher M. Chupik

    Choice commentary on this article from Vile 770:

    “Aaron on January 26, 2016 at 6:13 pm said:
    No, Amanda S. Green, that’s not how it works.

    One might also note that her version of market research was to talk to her Facebook friends. She then expands upon this conversation to claim things about what the “reading public” thinks. That’s some real high quality analysis she’s doing there. My eyes rolled so hard they got stuck.”

    “lurkertype on January 26, 2016 at 6:57 pm said:

    (snip responses to other topics)

    (7.2) It’s called “capitalism”, Amanda. It’s always worked that way. Perhaps your little Facebook pals should read up on economics.”

    “TheYoungPretender on January 27, 2016 at 7:14 am said:
    Re 2nd (7)

    It’s been fascinating to learn more about what’s behind the pricing of books and e-books. I had originally written off Green’s piece as part of the burgeoning internet sub-genre of “Libertarian Champions of Capitalism Whining About Others Practicing Capitalism On Them”; while I still have that opinion its very nice to learn something about the topic as well.”

    These guys can get nasty over *anything*.

    • If File 770 even capable of reading comprehension or logical thought? I mean, I didn’t realize that favoring capitalism as a market system meant that you had to believe that everyone in that system knew what they were doing.
      Of course, then again, your average File 770 commenter does believe in a system in which all the decisionmakers have to know what they’re doing, otherwise the entire things falls apart, so perhaps I should be more forgiving. They’re not incapable of logical thought, they’re just myopic.
      Every time I hear from these people, I take their pronouncements less seriously.

    • And this may be the best example of the mindset that is setting the Big 5 on a collision course with irrelevancy. For it overlooks that core principle of free markets: Just because they sell it doesn’t mean you have to buy it. Overprice your product and people won’t. You have to have a monopoly on an essential product to dictate outrageous prices, and the Big 5 has neither. That spells disaster not only for the Big 5, but for those who sign with them, which, in a nutshell, is the point of the post.

      Here’s something else: when there is a lost of confidence in a brand, the downward trend isn’t pretty, and here there’s the added factor of authors cutting their loses or not going with the Big 5 even when they have that option. That reduces the Big 5 authors to the existing big sellers. That means, in the long run, they no longer have a pool of mid-listers with the potential to be the Next Big Thing. That looks like a double-feedback mechanism where you have declining sales due to high prices, but not enough new books to drive up the number of sales to make up for across the board price reductions. And the latter will have to happen unless the Big 5 are content to become boutique publishers.

      The thing is that when the downward trend picks up momentum, it’s very hard to recover, even when you figure out what went wrong. It happens in every single market on the planet, and there is absolutely no reason it can’t happen in publishing.

    • Peter O

      (7.2) It’s called “capitalism”, Amanda. It’s always worked that way. Perhaps your little Facebook pals should read up on economics.”

      Lol. She’s saying that the publishers are failing at capitalism you bint.

  25. Amanda said “Shadows of Self by Sanderson currently sells at $16.65 for hardcover and $14.99 for the e-book. What is particularly interesting is that the paperback version is apparently already available and sells for $11.44. If my math is correct — always doubtful this early in the morning — that is $3.55 less than the e-book version.”

    The confusion here is due to SimPub in NA, an hc by Tor and an ebook at $14.99 and in Britain a hc by Gollancz at £9.49 discounted from £18.99 and a Gollancz ebook at £9.99

    The Gollancz pb isn’t due for a year but Amazon have got that wrong.

    Mike D
    Little Egret in Walton-on-Thames

  26. Draven

    The thing is, waaaay back when, the price increase of MMPB from $3.99 to $4.99 was pitched as an increase in the price of paper. Each step between $4.99 and *.99 was, iirc, pitched as successive increases in the price of ink, paper, ink, and ink. If this was true, then ebooks should be less than $3.99. If this is not true, then they have an established pattern of lying to their customers and investors and should not be trusted with money.

    • snelson134

      Draven, couple of points.

      1. inflation is a thing no matter what the government says. Unless you’ve adjusted for it (and using what the government puts out might get you halfway there), you’re not comparing apples.

      2. Amazon and B&N are definitely paying something to set up and maintain the infrastructure to deliver that content fast and seamlessly. That sort of thing has been my day job for 18 years now.

      Yeah, the price points are not nearly as high as tradpub and others are setting them, but they aren’t quite what a mass market was in 1990.

      • Draven

        my point is, the increase in costs was only partially publishing costs, but the ‘publishing’ costs for ebooks are comparatively nil.