June 13, 2011

i be disrespectin'

Last night, I was in a dilemma. I wanted to read a book with romance in it, a love affair between two people doomed to fail. Those are my favorite romances, because more often than not, whatever rules keeping the lovers apart eventually surrender. It’s ridiculously gratifying. In my dilemma, I sat in front of my bookshelf, staring at books I’ve read at least once, most of them twice or more. None of them had that love affair. Not a single one. Most of the time, I fill that desire for forbidden love through movies or television shows. The love affair between Guinevere and Arthur in BBC’s Merlin, is one of my favorites… ever. I love stories about the lowly slave, maid, or commoner falling in love with a noble, a prince, or a king, knowing nothing could ever come of it, and then miraculously, the man returns their love.

So I took my dilemma to my husband, who cocked an eyebrow when I told him I needed to read a romance novel. This desire stemmed from a book I recently finished, where the forbidden love surfaces. The king admits his feelings for the commoner, and just when I think they will kiss and give into their feelings, the commoner runs away. No kiss. No embrace. No exchange of love in any form or fashion. She effing runs away. How dissatisfying. This is the second book in the series, and there are at least three more to be read.

This leads me to complain about ebook prices.
My husband owns a Nook, and I have considered buying the newest one. The problem is: I can buy hardbacks or paper backs for cheaper from Amazon than I can the Nook books, or if not that, at the same price. I still have a love for paper, but I see the convenience of having an ereader. Most new ebooks rack in at $12 or more, including the fourth book in the current series I’m reading, and I don’t think that is a price worth paying. Ebooks should be less than the hardback price, and I know that they are half of the so called “trade” value, but no one sells books at trade value except in brick-and-mortar stores. Honestly, I think ebook prices should be around or below the trade value of paperbacks: $8.

My husband agrees with me here. He then goes on to say “You know you can get a lot of fantasy books for under five dollars, some for free.”

This is when the monster that is the publishing industry seeps into my mind and takes over. “I don’t trust books under five dollars.”

“Most of them have really good ratings, four to five stars,” he says.

“It’s not just that I don’t trust books under five dollars; it’s not that I don’t trust the four or five star reviews on these books. It’s that… It’s that…” I writhe and transform into this snooty, presumptuous writer-beast. “Hissssssss.” My forked tongue lashes out, and I dwell on the comfort of books I know have passed the gatekeepers’ challenges. I know that when I purchase one of these books, there will be a good story.

Husband looks at me incredulously. “If you can’t even respect indie publishers… If you…” He’s at a loss for words. He resigns to hole himself up in the bathroom so that I can’t hiss at him any longer.

And then the little squishy ball of fluff that is my hopeful, optimistic self burrows out of the black, misshapen, globby harbinger of publishing doom. Books published by traditional publishers don’t necessarily guarantee quality.

Hissssss. Yessss. They do. Anyone who sssself-publisssshessss or publisssshessss with an indie company issss a bad writer.

But I’m going to self-publish.

Then you are a bad writer.

I bat the evil beast away, but I dwell on its words. I am a bad writer. I’m not good enough to be published traditionally, so I’m going to do it on my own.

You’re giving up, says the beast.

But that’s not it… I remember.

I’m not self-publishing because I can’t pass the gatekeepers of traditional publishing. I’m self-publishing for a reason, a good reason. I’m self-publishing because as it stands, legacy publishers have it wrong. They’re fighting the transition to digital media rather than embracing it. They’re keeping the prices of ebooks high so that I have to continue purchasing physical bound books. So, even though I’ve defied them, they’ve still captured me in their web. I purchase discounted books instead of paying the price set by the same publishing companies, but I refuse to purchase books that are less than that price because… they are of lesser quality? I drive their ability to continue selling ebooks at those prices. I’m contributing to the problem. I’ve let the publishing industry tell me that self-publishing and indie publishing are bad, and I’m using the prices of those books to quantify quality.

Why is it that I have this mind-set? Why am I so leery of 99¢ books, of $1.99 or $2.99 books?

It’s because they can’t sell them at a better price, says the beast. They’re selling themselves out, reducing the prices to sell more copies, because who wouldn’t buy a 99¢ book?

But I respect writers who choose to self-publish, don’t I? Perhaps I do respect them, those that find success with it, those that prove to be good writers. I don’t respect all of them, or I wouldn’t be so hesitant about buying less expensive books. I’ve let my “training” as a writer aiming for traditional publication cloud my judgment.

But they’re not the ones in charge anymore. Writers are in charge. Readers are in charge. It’s a cooperation of people interested in one thing: books. Writers want to get more books out there, so yes, they do price them lower when they can. Readers want cheaper books. There is a higher likelihood of a book being purchased if it’s under five dollars, because, as I’ve said before, readers don’t care. The beast inside of us writers drives this stigma of self-publishing, of even indie publishing. We’ve been trained to believe that legacy publishing is the only validated road to publication, and though I fought the battle and won on the writing front, the reading battle was lost to me.

So, I am going to make a commitment to not let legacy publishing and trade books hinder my love of reading a good story. I’m going to make an effort to find books written by self-published authors and buy them. I have to let go of this notion that cheap books are bad. Cheap books can be good. Yes, there is a swamp of terrible literature swarming the self-published world, but with the power of the reader and their reviews, perhaps I can sift through the sludge and find something spectacular.

After all, since I will be self-publishing my own work, I will depend on someone else sifting through the sludge to find my story.

Where do you stand on ebook prices? Do you avoid self-published books, or books that cost less than a trade paperback?


  1. Do you speak Parseltongue too?

    Great post. You present both sides in an entertaining manner. There used to be a blogger who only reviewed self published books. This was a couple of years ago and I forget her name, the blog name. Maybe she's still doing it?

  2. I find (like you said I believe) that ebook prices are kind of high. Sometimes higher than hardbacks. Or occasionally paperback. I find that slightly irritating. If I'm paying that much then I'll definitely be buying a physical copy.

    As far as avoiding self-published books or books under trade paperback value: I don't. To me a book is a book. And it's what is inside that counts. Not the publication method or cost. If the book can hook me with a blurb/few pages then I'll probably buy it. If it costs me $8 for a traditional book or $.99 for a self published.

    I, too, am a self-publishing writer. (Already published a short story in ebook format) And I agree that there is a lot of bad self-published books out there. I feel like most are an attempt for people to con others out of money.

  3. As it so happens, I got to study the e-book publishing market for my college classes this year. There's a lot of interesting moves and counter-moves that have led us to the current environment of 12-dollar e-books and 10-dollar hardbacks.

    Originally, e-books on the Kindle were sold just like hardbacks: The publisher sells to Amazon at a set price, then Amazon sells the license to their customers at whatever price they like. It was a good market, and is when Amazon was offering as many bestsellers at only 9.99 on the Kindle, even though they were taking a loss on them!

    Then Apple came on to the scene and offered a new pricing model, what became known as the 'agency model.' Basically the agency model is how self-publishers have been publishing: Set your own price, the seller/distributor takes their cut. Apple, of course had a huge potential market, and the publishers loved this idea. They loved it so much that it caused a minor scuffle between Macmillan and Amazon.

    Amazon caved to the demands to the members of the Big Six who got called the Agency Five in the news stories. E-books on Amazon were moved to the agency model, and the publishers moved the prices of their bestsellers back up closer to the 15-dollar range.

    Amazon's counter to this is to take the loss they used to take on e-books, and convert it to hardbacks. Instead of being able to sell 'e-books are cheaper AND more convenient!' they've dropped the price of real books and now use the convenience as their core marketing.

    So you can blame the publishers for the high priced e-books and blame amazon for the low cost hardbacks.

  4. Thanks for the insight Patrick!

  5. Some of us had this conversation a while ago (← blog post). There are several people who have done extremely well selling their eBooks for 99¢ (google "Kindle Millionaire"), but it takes both quality and quantity.

    I agree, the problem with anyone being able to publish a book is that anyone can do it. But on the other side of the coin, just because everyone can, doesn't mean nobody should. Reviewers are the key, like you said, and they'll point out copyediting issues even if they like the story.

    I've been playing in the cheap seats, and have found a lot of good material there. Copyediting is a little uneven, at times, but if you're allergic to typos then the reviews will tell you what to avoid. The good thing about eBooks is, a writer made aware of a raft of typos can fix them & post a 2nd edition. In my opinion, the ease of republishing actually obligates us as authors to do it.

  6. FAR has a great post that you should all read if you have the time! (link in his comment)

  7. To this day, I have only read 3 self published book. One was absolutely amazing and I have two more from that author I can't wait to read. Another was good. There were two big flaws in the first few pages but after that, any errors were minor and the story was good. The last one started out great, I was devouring it. Then it went to crap and the last 30 pages dragged! I don't mind the indie low prices. I can stomach a 99 cent flop better than a 10$ flop. Disappointment stings less.

    Pricing aside, I think, if we stress the importance of putting a quality book out there, we can raise the standards on indie publishing and hopefully deter anyone who thinks after the first draft and MS paint cover it's okay to hit publish. Self publishing is a business venture and does need to be treated as such IMHO.