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How much would you pay for an ebook?

Things to know before you read this:

  • I’m a huge reader, and always write as a reader first.
  • I’m a publisher with a unique philosophy about what a publisher’s role should be. I make money from it.
  • I buy a lot of ebooks — both fiction and nonfiction.

So, I’m going to be honest.

I’m a huge fan of ebooks, but I don’t own a Kindle or Nook or whatever, and do not plan to own one in the near future. I want my ebooks to act like MP3s — files on the hard drive. Easy to use, just load ’em up. Not a file that can vanish from my device depending on where in the world I am. And not something I have to unlock, transform, or hack before I can consume my legally-acquired copy.

For these reasons, I only buy and read non-DRM’ed PDFs, HTML, and plain text. All those other formats? For a fiction book, forget it. I don’t want any fiction book so badly that I’m willing to put up with this junk to read it. Plenty of other fish in the sea.

Now, let’s talk about price.

I understand that book publishing is a hard business, especially the fiction publishing. I totally understand the need to make money. But speaking as a consumer of ebooks, as a reader, I do not want to pay more than $5 or $6 for a fiction book.

No matter how good it is, no matter who wrote it or how profound the message, no matter the rereadability. I used to buy a lot of new paperbacks for $5 – $8, and I don’t want to spend any more than that for what I see as the next generation of paperbacks. In fact, I think ebooks should be a bit less than the hard copy. Not a lot, but a dollar or two.

Is this irrational, considering I know from experience the costs of producing and marketing a book, regardless of the format? Perhaps. But as a business owner, I know to serve my customers first, because without my customers, I would not have a business. That means listening to them, and above all, trying not to piss them off.

As a reader, what is your idea of a fair price for a fiction ebook?
Think of what you want, strictly as a consumer and book buyer. Cut out the justification; pretend you don’t know anything about what it takes to produce a book, and you don’t care.

What do you want to pay? Do you think $14.99 is too high? Are you OK with Kindle’s $9.99 or less? I’d really like to find out what you think as a buyer first, no matter if you’re also on the production end.

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The role of publishers (according to a profitable publisher)

I’ve been looking at Publetariat, a site I had previously noted but hadn’t explored. April, the founder, recently contacted me about using one of my blog posts, and it reminded me to check it out.

The whole site is for people who want to self publish or start their own small publishing ventures. It’s really cool to see real support, real community, and real discussion about these issues, not vanity presses taking advantage of people’s ignorance.

But it really got me thinking about the role of publishers.

And I’ve seen one horrible issue discussed by both writers and publishers, and it really disturbs both my reader and publisher sides.

A lot of writers think that they should have to do their own promotion. Should have to, like it’s automatically part of their job. They denounce other writers who speak against it as having a sense of entitlement. “If you’re not willing to promote yourself, then you’re not worthy of being published.”

What?!

Since when is a writer’s value dependent on how well he or she can promote themselves? A writer’s value comes from what they write!

Here’s what gets me: Small presses feel justified in asking their writers to do it, which implies that somehow, writers will be able to do it better than the small presses.

Wrong-o! What is a publisher? A business that refines, packages, and sells “the talent’s” output. If they can’t market and sell, what is their job?

Remember, I am a publisher and business owner, so I put my money where my mouth is. I’ve brought in a profit every month for the last four years. If I don’t do a good job, if my numbers are down or I get complaints, it’s because I made bad business decisions. If the book I invested in doesn’t do well, it’s because I was wrong or I’m not selling it properly. But I don’t blame the book or the writer. I look in the mirror, not out the window.

A publisher’s responsibility is to sell the products they invest in. That’s how they make money.
Writers need publishers because it’s the most efficient division of labor. The talent makes the product, publishers sell the product. Optimally, it’s a partnership set up for maximum performance on both sides — an assembly line that results in both better quality and faster output, like any improvement in organizational technology.

It’s not the writers’ fault that the publishers aren’t doing their jobs.
Current publishing conditions dictate the need for self-marketing, but this automatic link between promotion and being a writer is bogus. When I talk to other marketers, fiction publishing is a joke because the industry, on a whole, is so dumb about marketing.

Skill share time.

That being said, I believe in being part of the solution, not the problem. I accept the current reality: the way things are now, writers need to self-promote to succeed. What I can do right now is share some knowledge that you can use, almost immediately.

This skill is the most important skill for a small business, taken from smart marketing techniques used by “silent millionaires” everywhere. It’s so basic, so simple, that it’s easy to underestimate, especially since so many people think they’re doing it right, but aren’t.

It is learning to build and sell to an email list.

Not anything revolutionary, but so incredibly useful. It’s what real marketers learn to do first — and it’s responsible for my being profitable on the first day I offered something for sale.

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“A good editor should leave no footprints?”

Someone recently sent me this saying: “A good editor leaves no footprints,” (or something like that) and asked my opinion about it.  Keep in mind that my writing experience is a few satirical short stories, some nonfiction books, critique partnering, and a lot on the business side.

I said, “That sounds like total BS!”

Editors have personalities.

If the definition of a good editor is to leave no “footprints,” then why is it so hard to find the right one?  Editors seem to be more like social workers or doctors — you have to find a good match for a good outcome.  Editors are human beings.  To say that editors shouldn’t impose their own ideas on a manuscript is to say that architects shouldn’t impose their own personalities in their buildings.

I do understand that there may be some rules or conventions (“cut the prologue! too much backstory! no info-dumps!”), and a good editor shouldn’t rewrite the book, or edit the author out of his own voice, but they are human.  I expect they will bring their own identity — their own personal beliefs, philosophy, and background — to each piece they work on.  Just as you can have ten violinists all playing the same song, but the performers will all have different interpretations of it because they are all unique beings with unique identities.

Editing is a partnership?

Editing seems to be a partnership, which is why editors get royalties along with the author.  Some writers don’t welcome this kind of partnership, but most of the writers I know thrive on it.  I’m a beta and critique partner, and even though I change no text, I leave plenty of footprints — and people like it that way!  They come to me because I have a good understanding of certain aspects of storytelling, they know I like certain kinds of stories, and they want to leverage my particular strengths.

An editor’s footprints come through in everything they do: questioning word choice, story structure, what they want to see cut.  There’s no way to take the editor’s identity out of the job, and no real reason to, if it’s a good match.  If I hire an editor in the future, I will view it as a collaboration and look for the human being whose ideas can make my work stronger.