Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

We need to talk about Kevin’s book

dollar sign

The real question is: How do you make people pay for something they have been taught is now free?

That’s writer/blogger Blaise Lucey thinking out loud vis-à-vis what has happened to the music industry over the past ten years or so. “Are Spotify & Pandora Killing Music?”

The same question can apply to publishing, obviously, in particular self-publishing, where the Amazonian model has made it nearly impossible for an unknown writer to ask for more than three bucks for a novel. In fact, with giveaways as the standard promotional tool, readers would be foolish to pay for a book they’re interested in when they can reasonably expect to get it for free if they wait a little while.

Lucey is of the mind that this trend isn’t anybody’s fault. The problem is that artists have to adapt to the new reality and find a way to exploit it. “Musicians,” he writes, “have been busy making music, without paying attention to how music is being consumed around them.” The same is true in publishing. We have to operate with a bicameral mind, as writers, first, but also as entrepreneurs, and it only stands to reason that most of us are a little weak on the latter.

I’m concerned about this more intensely these days because I’m about to publish a small collection of stories on Amazon (maybe Smashwords too) as a way of testing the waters for Yesterday Road. It’s nothing I expect to make any money on — just five little short-shorts amounting to all of 4700 words) — but I wanted to go through the entire process, from cover design to ebook formatting to pushing the “publish” button, so nothing will take me by surprise later. So far it’s coming along well, and I should be able to announce availability within a couple of weeks.

But the kink in all of this is the price. I have to charge a whopping 99 cents for the thing! Amazon won’t permit anything less, so potential readers will have to cough up .0002 cents per word. Ripoff! (And incidentally, Parts Unknown over there in the sidebar is a comparatively spectacular deal at .000049 cents per word, give or take. Betcha can’t eat just one!)

So here are some questions: Would you pay 99 cents for a short story? Shouldn’t a writer be able to convince readers to hit that Buy Now With 1-Click button at the risk of losing less than a buck if they’re not happy? If we can’t expect to make a dollar on something we’ve made from scratch (you can’t even buy a goddamn gourmet cookie for less than a dollar!), are we in this strictly for vanity’s sake?

Whether you’re a reader, a writer, or both, I’d love to hear your thoughts. And strategies.

10 comments on “We need to talk about Kevin’s book

  1. Christopher Lee Deards
    July 25, 2013

    Writing is a buyer’s market. Anyone with a wordprocessor can spew words out onto a page, and now with e-publishing, there are no longer any gatekeepers to the readers of the world, which I view as good and bad.
    Good because now anyone can publish.
    Bad because now anyone can publish.

    There’s a race to the bottom on price, and as writers there’s not much we can do about it, because the market is flooded. All you can do is write quality material, promote yourself and hope for the best.

    But you know all of what I say. If the work is good and worthwhile, it should not be free. How can you make a living? I’m a good engineer and scientist. I can make a living with that career. If you are a good writer you should be able to make a living as a writer. Just takes work. If the talent and work are there, both in the writing and promotion part, I believe that you can make a livable wage writing, even with a flooded market. The cream does come to the top, after all.

  2. jcollyer
    July 26, 2013

    “The problem is that artists have to adapt to the new reality and find a way to exploit it.” – you are absolutely right. Lots of people complain about the age sucking the integrity out of the artists’ market but frankly, we have to suck it. It’s the way it is. It’s just as easy to take advantage of the situation as it is to bemoan it.

    As to your question about paying $0.99 for a book, I DEFINITELY would, even if it were just a 4,700 collection of short stories. I think anything up to £5 (in my money) is reasonable for an e-book, especially since the average paperback this days in this country is a whopping £8.99.

    Although there are parallels and the markets are going the same way I feel there is a difference between music and books. I am happy to invest in a book. A book is somehow more of a commitment than an album. It’s all about the concept of value, which is a peculiar and fluid concept. Whereas I would happily check out an album on Spotify (though, for the record, if I like it I will usually still buy it off itunes) I will always, always be happy to buy a book, even though there are free ones around as well.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 26, 2013

      I wish there were more readers like you! I have to admit, I feel a little guilty buying someone’s novel for 99 cents, knowing what went into the creation of it. And yet, the competition is so fierce out there I can understand the economics of it all right now. It’s not fair, but it’s the way it is.

      Thanks for visiting, and I appreciate your comment!

      • jcollyer
        July 27, 2013

        Any time 🙂 I look forward to reading your novel

      • jcollyer
        July 27, 2013

        /short stories

  3. Patti Hall
    July 27, 2013

    Hey Kevin,
    As a special, short promo, ok, give it away. However, as a rule don’t. I agree with those who say that giving your work away sets a trend. That trend is happening now and I am firm on not jumping on that wagon. People pay $3.00-10.00 for magazines with fewer words than your compilation.
    The other trend that drives me crazy is news agencies who are firing all their writers and photographers, and USING amateurs to fill the gap—for free.
    Ok, one more point, if I may. I dig around and research writerly topics all the time. Here’s the other trend I see: writer as circuit rider. “They” say flesh out your brand, plaster it, get known for that specialty. “They” say that is because you are never going to make a living writing, but you CAN make a living traveling around (virtually & in the real world) giving talks about your subject. Of course the talks end in book signings, but you earn your money from people who want to hear about your specialty.
    End of my rant,
    Patti, who supposes she should save this for a post:>) and may.

    • Kevin Brennan
      July 27, 2013

      Thanks for this, Patti, and I hope you do write a post on the subject! I guess this is what happens when the market is saturated and the “providers” are engaged in what is a labor of love, ultimately. Anyone with the calling to write will do it whether paid or not. Same with music, painting, sculpting, dance, you name it.

      On the “writer as circuit rider” point, I’m not sure there’s even much opportunity for that either. Seems like there has to be some degree of name recognition for a writer to be able to book enough events to make a living from it. But in principle I’m with you — it only adds to the idea that writing is not enough. It’s just part of a package.

  4. 1WriteWay
    July 30, 2013

    I’m guilty of taking advantage of free promotions, but they do make me uneasy. I feel a commitment to providing a book review for the free books I get, even if I download them through a promotion (that is, the author didn’t sent the book to me directly), but there’s also something creepy about waiting for a free promotion just because you don’t want to spend 99 cents on an ebook. People can be so cheap in so many weird ways. My favorite example-a tall skinny vanilla latte-will be gone within the hour, yet it costs 3 to 4 times more than some ebooks which last as long as I have access to a computer or ebook reader. I think it is very wise of you to test the waters with a collection of short shorts before you try and make a big splash. And I think that anyone not willing to shell out 99 cents for a collection of short shorts is not much of a reader, in the grand sense of the term anyway. There’s my rant 😉

  5. Kevin Brennan
    July 31, 2013

    I’m so with you on this. I’ve been trying to blindfold myself to freebies as much as I can, buying self-published books for the price the author has set whenever possible. And usually that’s somewhere between 99 cents and $2.99! I think there’s a perception (and it was confirmed on at least one book blog I spent some time looking at) that self-published books are mostly bad, so why pay for them? I hope that perception is changing, or changes soon. If people begin to see value for quality maybe they won’t mind dropping a buck on a book.

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This entry was posted on July 25, 2013 by in Publishing, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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