As an author, you’re always stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to book pricing and reviews

Several posts in groups I belong to on Facebook highlight the constant dilemma of the modern author: book pricing and reviews. The two seem totally unrelated, and maybe they are, but one thing’s for sure: as authors, there’s very little we can do. Or is there?

I’ve had readers tell me that they’d never pay more than the infamous ninety-nine cents for a book below 200 pages. Yeah, they’re not in the publishing industry, because anyone in the industry knows that 200 pages are a moving target. Increase the size of the font and a 30K novella easily reaches that magic threshold. My publisher decreased the font size on my – to date – longest novel, and suddenly it was shorter than some other works. No, page numbers are worthless. However, it shows how some readers tick. They see reading as a matter of quantity, rather than quality. I

Disease, the cover, a novel by Hans M Hirschi

Disease, my new novel, will most likely attract some good and some awful reviews. So far though, they’re amazing…

I’ve had readers tell me that they’d never pay more than the infamous ninety-nine cents for a book below 200 pages. Yeah, they’re not in the publishing industry, because anyone in the industry knows that 200 pages are a moving target. Increase the size of the font and a 30K novella easily reaches that magic threshold. My publisher decreased the font size on my – to date – longest novel, and suddenly it was shorter than some other works. No, page numbers are worthless. However, it shows how some readers tick. They see reading as a matter of quantity, rather than quality. I know readers who read up to 2,000 books a year (they didn’t specify what sort of books, shorts/novellas or novels), still, an impressive number. Needless to say, paying ten thousand dollars for that hobby is very different than say, a fifth of that. I can see the appeal of low prices, the appeal of monstrosities like KU.

Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of KU, not just because of how easy it is to break the system, but because it treats literature like a product. While a liter of fresh whole milk is comparable across the world, books are not. A play by Shakespeare is infinitely better than my stuff, and according to the experts in the field, so are the works of Booker or Nobel Prize winners. And there are books that are of a lesser quality than mine. Not to mention that there are different genres, and what not. It’s just not something you can compare. But in the eyes of Amazon, a page is a page is a page.

I’ve seen signs recently that some authors are increasing their pricing. I’ve asked my publisher to increase the prices of my books by $1 at the beginning of the year. We’ve not seen a drop in sales. knock on wood And just the other day I’ve seen another author announce a price increase on her self-published works. A dollar more may not seem like a lot of money, but when you only sell a few hundred copies a year, it’s a considerable difference for our bottom line. We spend so much time, so much energy to create the best possible stories for our readers, spending months on the writing, and then some on the editing process, proofing, and marketing. No other professional (outside the arts) would ever even consider lifting a finger for the pennies we make an hour. No minimum wage for authors…

I think that we’ve seen the worst, and it can only get better now. Reading is still decreasing and the people who buy books are increasingly aware of the value they pay for. I think we’ll see that artisan literature, mass produced literature will continue to be sold at low price points, while quality literature will be sold at slightly higher, more healthy price points. Do you also see this?

Reviews are the other pain point for authors. We all need them, and the more reviews a book gets, the more it will be pushed by Amazon. And just like some authors “cheat” by using bots to fix their KU figures, so can authors pay on the dark net for reviews. Professionals who will write great reviews for a book. Whether those reviews actually help readers find good reads is a different story. But it seems to work and such reviews sites charge hundreds of dollars for their work. Authors seem willing to pay.

What pains authors more is the constant beatings they receive on GoodReads, or GollumReads as I prefer to call it. I’ve LONG ago stopped reading reviews, I’m just not enough of a masochist to subject myself to the idiocy of some readers. But, and I think this is crucial to say, and GR themselves stressed as much during a convention I listened to them, they’re a readers’ site, not an author site. And as authors, we have to accept reviews for what they are, no matter how incredibly stupid they may be. Dramas getting 1-star reviews for the lack of a HEA, romances getting beat up for sex scenes, and just about every book is being criticized for poor editing, writing and/or grammar. By people who can’t even punctuate properly. Needless to say, such reviews hurt, but there’s little you can do about it. And let’s face it: if someone criticises you for bad writing, someone who can’t spell themselves, someone who doesn’t punctuate, someone who confuses countries or places with each other, why would you take that person seriously? Here’s the thing, and that is a personal conviction: if a book only receives 5-star reviews, I’d be skeptical as a reader. Simply because there is no book that appeals to everyone. Not even the so-called holy books do. So why would worldly literature? No, I believe that the best literature will have people split among somewhat even lines. Some will love it, some will hate it. A review that complains that a crime novel isn’t a romance says more about the reviewer than the book itself. We mustn’t be offended by it, and any sane person who reads that review will realize that, too. But yeah, it still hurts, because believe it or not, authors are human beings, too… With very thin skin most of the time, because we need that to get in touch with our characters.

Anyway, time to get on with my Monday. What’s your take? Do you agree? Disagree? Authors, are you troubled by pricing, reviews? Readers? How do you gauge how much to pay for a book? Let’s hear it!

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Thanks,

Hans

 

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