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Ramble On

The Value of a Novel

Posted by bigceebee on April 24, 2011 at 11:23 AM

I’m a writer. I’d like to say that I earn my living as a writer but I haven’t reached that point… Yet. I am currently self-published with five novels, all part of my Barry/McCall crime thriller series, but I’m also represented by Cari Hawks Foulk of Tribe Literary Agency. But enough about me, let’s get to the subject at hand…


What is the value of a novel? When I self-published my first three novels about two years ago, part of the process included assigning a price to my books. An avid reader, I was well aware that a paperback cost somewhere in the $9.99 to $13.99 range and finally decided to price my print versions at $12.00. At this price, I get anywhere from $0.74 to $1.22 per copy sold. Yeah, big money…


In November 2009, I made my novels available as e-books and, once again, had to determine sales prices. As there is no printing, shipping and other such physical costs related to e-books, it made perfect sense to me that my prices should be relatively lower and I finally settled on $4.00 which yielded me from $1.70 to $3.25 depending on the sales point. Oh, yeah, rolling in dough…


Then came the advent of the $0.99 e-book. Less than a dollar for a novel. Hmmm… I consider the time and effort I’ve put into writing, editing, re-writing, promoting, marketing, pimping and slaving to get my name out there and bolster some sales. At $0.99, that would pay me somewhere between $0.30 and $0.60 per copy depending on the distributor. Is that what my books are worth? Is that what any well written, entertaining novel is worth? I certainly hope not. Yes, there have been some success stories with authors who have sold millions of copies and made a fortune but, let’s face it, we are not talking about a majority but rather, a handful.


I consider iTunes downloads as a comparison to e-books. You can download a single song from iTunes for $0.99 or a complete album for $9.99. I like to think of a novel as a complete album. I’m not suggesting that e-books should sell for the price of an album and find ridiculous that big-name authors’ titles are retailing at $10, $12, even $15. However, I do firmly believe that a well developed and written novel should not go for a song.


I recently reduced the price of my e-books from $4.00 to $2.99 in order to stimulate more sales. When I announced this on Twitter, one person asked me if I was happy to be selling the intellectual property which I had so painstakingly created for the price of a Big Mac...

Food for thought indeed...

Is the value of a novel no more than that of a Big Mac or worse, less than a small order of fries?

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Reply CherylGallion
01:19 PM on April 24, 2011 
Do you think McDonalds is suffering from the price of a Big Mac?
It's all relative- Until you have a following and people know your name I would think getting it out there and exposure is worth the low cost. Alas my starving artist friends are insulted that they would lower themselves to that point- but can't pay the rent :(
This little girl- is doing it- and others.
Reply bigceebee
02:01 PM on April 24, 2011 
Hi Cheryl,

Thanks for your comment and links. In regards to the price of a Big Mac, I know that a corner diner doesn't sell its burgers for a quarter simply because it isn't globally known.

As for Amanda Hocking, she is one of the success stories referred to in my post. it should be noted that five of her ten Kindle editions are priced at $2.99 and all five are also doing extremely well.
Reply CherylGallion
04:28 PM on April 24, 2011 
Excellent point!! I never thought of it that way, thank you for the insite.

And now that I think about it I'd suppose that, more than likely Amanda is an aberration, not a new and effective means of marketing.

It's tough, I've watched my friend for years struggle with getting his work out- Just when things start going well something else puts a stop to it. You just have to hang in there and never loose faith.
I could never do it.
Reply [email protected]
08:06 AM on April 25, 2011 
First of all, nice job, I really like this blog entry. As a fairly unknown author, it really made me think.

Although I often question why, I have been giving my first novel, Sudden Death, away for free at Smashwords in hopes that it would increase sales of my sequel, Dead Ball, at $2.99. As an unknown author in a very tough business I want to get exposure. One good way to get lots of people to download my novel was to offer it for free. At first, it moved slowly then downloads began picking up. It wasn't until the amazon UK Kindle store matched the free offering that downloads increased to over 200 per day. Then, for some reason, my US Kindle store sales increased even though my books were not free there. In just a few months over 40,000 copies of my books have been downloaded ? most for free, many for either $.99 or $2.99.
Although giving my hard work away seems crazy, I never would have reached over 40,000 potential new readers in a few months. Even though I really could use the money (like many, I am a starving author,) at this point in the publishing game I think exposure is as (or maybe more) important than the few $ I would have made at the rate my sales were going before my free offer.
The publishing world is a tough one to figure out, now even more so with digital books reducing the costs to make our work available to readers, (by that I mean tangible costs- not the price of all the blood, sweat and tears as we write and re-write.)
So,while I hate the idea of giving my work away, I love that so many people are reading (I hope) my books.

As far as the value of a book vs. a Big Mac? I more of a pizza guy. I hope giving away one free slice makes them hungry enough to buy the 2nd & maybe even the whole pie. (I have 3 more books on the way)

Congrats again and thanks for writing this thought provoking entry.
Michael Balkind
Author of Sudden Death & Dead Ball (endorsed by bestsellers; James Patterson, Clive Cussler, Wendy Corsi Staub, John Lescroart & Tim Green)
Reply Kim
10:17 AM on April 25, 2011 
I enjoyed this a writer with 2 manuscripts in editing, I'm at the crossroads of how to pursue publishing - i.e. self vs traditional. As a reader - and a Baldacci fan, I have a huge problem paying $15 for an e-book. I want his book, but if I have to pay that much for it - I may as well have the advantage of an actual book to hold. The outcome - I want the book but have failed to purchase thus far.
Reply Janice Maddox
02:24 PM on April 25, 2011 
Personally, I'm glad you haven' t gone the 99 cent route. I think a book should be more than a song and I'm hoping to stick to my belief on that. But, we'll see how my thinking changes when my first book is out there. I'm not planning on pricing it that low, at this time. There are other ways to market, besides low price. Like, tying yourself naked to some famous person's gate in protest of something?
Reply bigceebee
02:29 PM on April 25, 2011 
Hi Janice,

Thanks for your comment. Hmmm... I haven't tried that tied naked to a famous person's gate thing... More food for thought! :)
04:07 PM on April 25, 2011 
Perhaps I should publish under a porn name...that might get some quick attention ;) For now I will continue to hope I can find the same passion for editing as I do for writing so I can finish my projects, but I'm proud of you for not pimping out your hard work for less than a candy bar!