In these days of economic uncertainty, comparing prices has become the norm. Everyone likes a bargain and, if you can find what you need in a charity shop, the sales or on e-Bay, you’ll feel well chuffed. Don’t get me wrong, “smart shopping” is not a new phenomenon by any means, but perhaps, living in post-recession Britain, coupled with the advent of digital expansion, has turned us into some sort of specialised, savvy consumers.
At the same time, consumerism has been on the rise since the middle of the 20th century, peaking as we entered into the 21st. Larger businesses keep lowering prices, creating a tougher arena for the small ones and for sole traders. We used to hear only about fast-food; now we have fast-fashion as well. We buy in bulk and we buy cheaper. Think about modern clothes shopping: there was a not so distant past when you would set off with the intent of purchasing the item you actually needed. It was a simple mission of seek-and-retrieve. Now we enter shops with supermarket-type baskets, and even wheeled trollies. Fast-fashion means buying in bulk: it’s cheap, available and, most of all, what’s on display this week will be gone the next – the turnaround in some high-street shops is two weeks or less.
The book industry has changed a great deal as well, and still the traditional publishing companies set the average retail price for a paperback (the airport is a great place to get a feel for it). On-and-off, the norm has previously been £7.99, though market changes have now pushed the limit up to £8.99 and beyond, to account for rising costs, etc.
It may seem a lot, especially in consideration of the fact that the digital version goes for 60% of the paperback price, but when you consider the amount of work that an author has put into it, it’s not.
I often get asked by self-publishing authors how they should set their prices. The main problem is that they don’t feel they can charge the regular £7.99 or £8.99 for fear of not being competitive enough, perhaps because it’s their first book and nobody knows them.
In all honesty though, when you enter a bookstore and pick a book off the shelf, of which you know nothing about, it’s like browsing in a digital shop. You will get the chance to read the first few pages and you can tell pretty quickly if the book is for you or not – you’ll know if you like the style, if it’s well written, etc. And these new and unknown books are not going for £2.99, but at full price. You’re not asking someone to remortgage here. A pint of Guinness in the centre of Rome goes for £8/9; I think you can spend that for a book!
For a diligent self-published author, the costs of producing and releasing a good book are very real – and they hurt! Traditional publishers will tell you that not even they can guarantee full returns for a book on which they choose to invest thousands of pounds in marketing, but they at least have an established stage to showcase new authors and all their products. It’s a massive advantage.
A self-published author’s budget per book is of course on a much smaller scale and again, to make back what they have invested in a product can be quick, but in most cases it will take time – and I mean months if not years. This has repercussions when it comes to hiring a cover artist, or paying for a freelance editor, for example. How much is too much?
At the last Fantasycon convention I attended, a self-published author was telling me about her enquiries into finding an artist and an editor (keep in mind that publishers, both traditional and independent like myself, will cover these costs for you). She said she had put the word out and several artists got back to her. A talented young man requested £2,000 for a cover art. Needless to say, she simply couldn’t afford to go with that.
But let’s say for a moment that she had gone with that price tag. She then needed an editor, and all she found was the common £10 per 1,000 words (her novel was roughly 100,000 words).
And so, even without going into the whole marketing conversation, she would have spent about £3,000 to release a book by herself. She wasn’t a happy camper, let me tell you.
I am not suggesting for a moment that the work of an artist or an editor is less valuable and should be cheaper – as an independent publisher (Luna Press Publishing) I fully believe in the power of a good cover and a well-edited book. I am simply hoping that artists and editors are willing to consider catering for this abundant slice of the book market in a way that allows self-publishing writers to enter the fray with a fighting chance. Their success is the artist’s and editor’s success too.
Now, I know many great artists and editors who charge incredibly reasonable prices (from £100 – £300 per piece of cover art, to editors who edit professionally at £2 – £5 per 1,000 words – because they do this part-time and/or are banking on repeat business), and allow for self-published writers to actually DO business, rather than going bankrupt every time they have to release a book. These are the people that will get asked over and over to work for someone, building their names, portfolios and bank accounts.
It’s still a considerable expense for a self-publishing writer, but in my opinion, a book should really be edited before release.
There are literally thousands of authors out there, especially after a NaNoWriMo epidemic, who would LOVE to find a reasonably priced editor and artist for their book. You’ll not run out of business as one of these, believe me! And if you work well and manage your time, you can actually pay your bills too – how about that?
So, supporting the book trade is a great thing, and supporting self-published authors is a fantastic thing. Costs are real, so please, pretty readers, don’t begrudge the cost of a self-published paperback.