Are Self-Pubbed Authors Killing the Publishing Industry?

Self-published authors have created a devaluing of the written word, and, some of them are scrambling to see how low they can go to get noticed.

Let us list the ways: 99-cent price point for ebooks.  Free ebooks via KDP Select program.  Unedited work. Kindle giveaways to get attention and bulk up sales.  And lastly, nasty reviews from other authors with the sole purpose of driving down customer ratings.

Why are indie authors selling their work so cheap?  In short, mismanaged expectations. Many self-published authors hear about the outliers who earn hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they’ll do anything to try and reach that pinnacle. The plain fact is that most of them never will.

The recently reported that, “Despite the splash caused by self-publishing superstars such as Amanda Hocking and EL James, the average amount earned by DIY authors last year was just $10,000 (£6,375) – and half made less than $500.”  That was backed up by a recent poll  of authors who have 2 or less 99-cent ebooks on the market that revealed that 75% of authors are selling less than 100 ebooks per month at that rate, with 46% selling less than 10 ebooks per month.

Yes, there are 99-cent anomalies. A recent headline on GalleyCat reported that, “99-Cent Sale Sweeps Self-published Bestseller List”. Yes, Stephanie Bond did achieve bestseller status with three of her titles, all listed for 99 cents but what most indie authors fail to realize is that Stephanie was previously traditionally published and has a following in place. As a new author, that’s very difficult to match.

Although many do try, and not just by giving away books for less than a buck. Many indie authors are now relying on gimmicks to gain sales. They’re giving away Kindles and iPads in exchange for reviews and as raffles during sales promotions. Traditionally published authors aren’t stooping to these tactics. Why are indies? The short answer is that with over 1 million ebooks published each year, it’s difficult to make a mark.

The lesson may be that if indie authors don’t value their work, chances are no one else will either. Readers want, and deserve, quality books, and they’re used to paying for them. Think about it: pennies for pages didn’t exist before ebooks and self-publishing were viable.

Does this mean that self-published authors are killing the publishing industry? Yes, in a sense it does.  What can be done about this devaluing of the written word? How can self-published authors change this scenario and help make self-publishing, as a whole, shine and earn as respectable of a reputation as traditional publishing?

Goals of self-published authors vary. Some dream of wealth, while others simply want to get their stories read. Some writers are now afraid to self-publish because of the reputation that self-published works are garnering. If indie authors are going to make their mark, they’ll need to band together, put out reputable works, and stop looking for get-sales-quick gimmicks. The cycle of pricing books lower than the next author is a dangerous one.  After all, there’s nowhere left to go after “free”.


Melissa Foster is the award-winning author of three International bestselling novels, she is a community builder for the Alliance of Independent Authors and is a touchstone in the indie publishing arena. When she’s not writing, Melissa teaches authors how to navigate the book marketing world, build their platforms, and leverage the power of social media, through her author-training programs on Fostering Success. Melissa is the founder of the World Literary CaféFostering Success, and the Women’s Nest. She has been published in Calgary’s Child Magazine, the Huffington Post, and Women Business Owners magazine. Connect with Melissa on her website, Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest.


  • Sandra Salinas

    As a reader, not a writer, I do see some of the major publishers reacting to the self pubbed world, mostly with YA books because the younger reader is so wired today with social networking sites. Sometimes they have reduced the price of their regular published first book in a series to self pubbed books of about 2.99 in an effort to get the reader to purchase the next book. I rarely buy an e-book for more than 9.99. Why bother? I have found many self pubbed books even better entertaining than the ones I bought off the shelf! And as you can read the first several chapters before buying, you can avoid the books that could use better editing or aren’t what you are interested in. I won’t go for the “gimmick”, but I notice many indie authors are “teaming up” with like minded authors and that is where I get many of my next book ideas from. They don’t want to team up with someone who they don’t view as a poor writer, and they help each other out with proofing, and ideas. Even Maggie Stefvater of the Linger series had an on-line writers group before she became a published writer with Scholastic books. The age of the indie may not be good for the traditional publishers, but it is a golden age for the reader.

    • I am also a reader and not a writer finding tweeting Authors has led me to many books we have no access to! Its like book heaven Anazing authirs of every genres .. We the readers are findung authors we would never have known otherwise.I am personally tired of OTHERS deciding what I want to read .Generalizing Everything to the average ( reader) I Hope I am unique and my tastes are my own !

      • Hi Antoinette, I’m so glad you are discovering new authors! Yes, social media has been a great way for readers and authors to connect. I totally agree.

  • Dear Melissa,

    I loved this article, especially for an aspiring writer as myself. This was so insightful and I really liked all the points made on this. I have to commend you for all your hard work and dedication, This was great Kudos!!!

    Syl Stein

    • Hi Syl, thank you for the kudos! I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

  • I don’t think that 99 cents is a bad price point, for a lot of the crap out there. Sadly, I see “authors” turning out a new “book” every couple of months. Some “creative marketers” are re-embracing the serial and publish chapters. Those priced at 99 cents makes sense. The reading market will get savy to the system. My mom has figured it out. (And she has a hard time learning new technology!” She has learned to appreciate how many words a book should be (as opposed to page numbers) has learned to use sample pages to determine quality, and eagerly writes reviews on Amazon! Authors need to look at their plan long-term and decide what their goals are. I think that the 99 cent is a fight against the $14.99 e-book. That is an outrageous price! I personally will price my books between $2.99 and $5.99, depending on length. I might occasionally drop the price for promotion. If authors take a practical view of their work, readers will as well. There is my 2 cents 😉

    • I agree with what you’ve stated about the 99 cent price point for chapters, and your mother sounds like a smart reader. Bravo! $2.99-$5.99 sounds like a very reasonable price — but, having said that, digital or not, it’s still a very cheap price for all that goes into writing a good book:-)

  • Jim

    While it is true that some self published authors are putting out unedited work or work they “think” is edited correctly, we cannot blame them solely, we can also blame the digital publishers for allowing it. I think we will see that in the very near future as revenue to the big players decrease because of this.

    • I agree with you, Jim. There are many calling themselves “editors” who are really not qualified to be using that terminology. This is a time for learning for all involved.

  • Sandra, I agree whole heartedly about collaboration between authors, and I think this is a time of learning for authors, publishers, and readers alike. Traditional publishers have had to do some price changing, and I think we’ll see even more changes as the wheat is separated from the chaff. The goal of the article was to point out this cycle that many authors seem to be falling into looking for quick fixes to long-term issues. And, in many way, it is a golden age for readers, but also, it’s a difficult time for them, because they often pay for books that are unedited, and whether you blame them for not reading the sample first or not, it’s still wasted money and leaves a bad taste, I would imagine.

  • Andrew White

    Frankly, I don’t even bother with 99 cent titles. I have no compulsion to read “something.” I want to read something “good” and the continued success of a title and author will steer me to better quality. I don’t have a ton of time to read fiction, so I have to be choosy.
    I don’t know who these people are who can sit around with a kindle and while away the hours. Most everyone I know has a 2nd job or they spend their free hours on social media.

    However, I am happy to see publishing go from the hands of publishers to a more free form with self-publishing. Used to be you had to show up with your hat in your hands at an agent’s office. They in turn showed up with hat in hand at a publisher. And on with the hats in hand until someone in charge approved a title.
    Now, the free market decides if a book is worthy, not a publisher. I like that.

    • I like that too, Andrew. Indies have power and options, but I do think more and more readers are going the way you have with overlooking the lower priced books, and there is word on the street that even Amazon is promoting the higher prices with more visibility. Who knows, really, but in any case, as I said in another comment, I think the wheat will separate from the chaff along the way, and authors who invest in their work will price as such. Thank you for your comment.

  • This is a bizarre post, especially coming from IndieReader – and from an author who helps other authors with book promotion, social media and self-publishing tips, no less. Why the pessimism? If half of indie authors could make $500 a year on their book, those are still pretty good odds. An enormous amount of competition doesn’t have to mean that the quality is getting worse. Yes, indie authors have to do ridiculous things to get people to notice them, and price low to stay competitive. That doesn’t mean they don’t value their own work (pricing high is a doubtful opposing strategy – and the article doesn’t seem to be proposing any solutions). It sounds as if Melissa wants indie authors to create a secret coalition of price-fixers to keep prices inflated. I can’t see how that would work out, when one of the only advantages indies have against traditional publishers is their ability to price low. “Killing the publishing industry? Devaluing of the written word?” Actually, in the past several months I’ve been surprised, again and again, by the outstanding quality of writing I’ve been finding in self-published books – books that were unexpectedly good and much better than most of the traditionally published books I’ve read in recent years. Of course quality matters – but well written, well made books will find fans, and lousy books, poorly made will quickly fade into obscurity. Everything is moving faster, and at a larger scale than ever before – but that’s exciting. And the opportunity is still there for any would-be writer to put something out into the world, without having to navigate the secret world of publishers and literary agents. (All that said… I think I agree with Melissa that some authors are making bad choices, which reflect poorly on self-publishing as a whole… hence the need for services like hers, which – for a price – help authors to get more things right.)

    • Hi Derek, this is not a pessimistic post, though I appreciate your input. This is reality. If you are not an author, than you might not realize that $500/year does not pay for editing a book, let alone an author’s time to write it or the cost to cover and market books. The last thing I would want are price fixers, and that is not what this is about. I think I speak for many when I say that earning 35 cents from a 99 cent book is hardly worth the trouble it takes to write the book. Everyone would love to be able to work for free, but authoring is a job like any other, and it can take a year or more to write books for some authors, so you are suggesting that perhaps authoring should be a hobby that means nothing and should not be taken seriously as a career? I tend to disagree with that for sure.

      While things are moving faster and on a larger scale, and that is exciting, there is no reason that indies need to give away their work. Build platforms, reach out and meet readers, in other words – market your work on a larger scale. If you use giveaways as your means of marketing, that’s a plan for many, and it might work to bring on a few follow-on sales, but why give them away? That’s what I’m saying. Value your work and present it to the public as being valued. Hold a temporary sale with a price reduction and do it effectively with marketing surrounding the promotion–that’s a great way to get noticed without devaluing your work on a long-term basis.

      This is an article about how low indies are going, and how as a community for authors, we should be thinking about producing quality work and valuing that work effectively, not price fixing. Authors can choose how they price–this is information so they may make informed decisions.

      • Hi Derek, after re-reading your post, and then receiving your private email, I have to ask why you aren’t giving away your book cover and formatting services for free or 99 cents if you believe that is cost-effective for authors? How do you think authors can afford to pay you if they don’t put a reasonable price on their work? I’d love to hear your response and I mean that in a meaningful way, not sarcastic or disrespectful.

        • I agree with the message: producing quality work and valuing that work effectively. Part of this article seemed like a rant, rather than a helpful guide, which may have sparked an unfriendly tone for me – apologies for that.

          I agree that your strategy will work for many authors. However there are still reasons to price low: the barrier for indie authors is getting someone, anyone, to read their work. Yes you can create a sense of value and demand with higher pricing, but you will still get significantly fewer sales, and fewer reviews. A strategy that has worked better for me and authors I know, is to begin pricing low, or free. People don’t pass up a free or cheap book because they think it has no value. The data shows that low-priced or free books get more downloads, every time. That is a much greater pool of opportunity for new readers. The only real way to grow a fan base and author platform is to have good writing and get people to read it. Talking about yourself and your books, but charging people to actually get the content, will severely limit your name recognition. Building a platform of relationships by talking about other things not related to your book can work too – but it’s a major effort, and not for everyone.

          Another reason to price low is that readers have lower expectations, and consequently, are more easily impressed. A pretty good book bought at .99 may earn glowing reviews, while an excellent book at 4.99 will be met with a higher level of critique. If an author prices higher and sends the message that their book is more valuable, readers will be more discerning. In the beginning, when it’s critical to get lots of great reviews, low prices can help you get them.

          In my opinion, there is too much demand and too much noise to try and build an author platform without low pricing – the quickest and easiest way to find new readers is to have them buy your book on amazon; not find your blog posts or articles online. If you enjoy blogging, it can be a very good strategy (something I see you’re doing very well). Personally, writing unrelated articles to try to get attention to my books is too much work. I’d rather have more .99 cent books than spend so much time and extra work promoting a 2.99 book.

          That said, I should say at this point that you’re right to question my idea of writing as a career vs. hobby. I agree with you that to be successful, writers need to start thinking of their book as a product, which means doing things well, producing high quality books, and investing enough time and money to get things right. It *should* be more like a career. But at the same time, for about 99% of indie authors, it *is* a hobby. We all have real jobs, and writing is something we do in our free time, and if we’re lucky, we can make a little bit of money from it. I also think 99% of us aren’t in it for the money – we produce books so that people will read and enjoy them. For many indie authors, writing a book that’s good enough that strangers will like it and buy it, and earning $500 extra a year, is still a big success. It’s much better than writing a book that everybody hates.

          (In fact if I wanted to focus more on the business of writing to make money, I would stop focusing on quality, and simply produce more cheap, mediocre books).

          For the other question: originally I did price my services very cheaply. I was inundated with orders. There is far too much demand. Editing, formatting, book cover design, are necessities to even begin selling a book. Authors pay for what they can afford before they sell any books anyway – the pricing is not really related. Ideally they can recoup the costs of publishing eventually. I charge based on what other people are willing to pay for the quality of my work; which is just how I think indie authors should price their books – according to what others are willing to pay. (Likewise, as I get more reviews and a bigger platform, my prices will continue to go up).

          I’m sorry to have hijacked your article with this long comment. I don’t feel that we’re really in disagreement, simply exploring subtleties of pricing strategy. I’m not saying an author should always stick with low prices or giveaways. But for an unknown author, low pricing is so much easier and faster, and it doesn’t appear to have any negative effects on the perceived value of their work (it can actually enhance it, if readers feel that they got a ‘good deal’.) Giving a book away or cheaply and having a range of other books at higher price points has also proven to be a successful strategy. After an author has an audience (demand for their work) they can charge whatever they’d like. My guess is that your books are very good and worth the money, but lower quality books at .99 are still outselling yours and getting more readers.

          • Hi Derek, thanks for the note.

            I think a promotion at 99c can have a strong effect on sales, but for many, it doesn’t. And as we saw with our poll, the number of authors it has worked for is very small vs the number of authors who hang out at that price point with little to no sales.

            Even new traditionally published authors don’t have readers clamoring to read their books. Marketing is a process and expectations of authors should not be so mismanaged as thinking they’ll be a bestseller immediately or that they need to give away books to get noticed. They need to reach out to readers, build platforms, and market their books.

            As for investments, yes authors need to make investments, but investments are absolutely made on the expectation of sales to come. Investments need to be recouped if the book is good enough to professionally cover, it’s good enough to price as such.

            As for my books, I’ve sold almost 300K copies, so maybe you are right, I could sell a hell of a lot more at 99 cents, but you know what? I feel good about where I am right now, and I see no reason to do that as a permanent price point. You see, I do value my work and my time.


      • I agree with you entirely, Melissa. I actually won’t download a free book, even from friends, but will purchase it when it is available again at its normal cost. I have spent six years myself to bring my project, The Dracula Chronicles, to the public domain – purely because I want it to be a polished and very professional enterprise. There is no way, after all that time and expense, because my works are very epic in scope, that I would ever give them away for free. It is dismaying to see the quality of some of the offerings out there, but we must not all be tarred with the same brush, though it happens. As has already been said, a true gem of a book will shine through, whether or not it is independently published. I have spoken with many publishers and agents over time, but have deliberately chosen the path I am taking for a number of reasons – essentially because this is my life’s work and I couldn’t risk a deal for one book jeopardising the future of the other seven to follow. I am certain not all the best writers follow the traditional route for a variety of reasons, this being one of them. Great article though. Thank you.

        • Thank you, Shane. I’m glad you found value in the article. That means a lot to me.

  • K. Rowe

    I am a self-published author with 7 novels out there. All but 1 have been professionally edited. Their ebook prices are from 2.99-4.99 and I sell only a few a month. I also write erotica, and they are priced from .99-1.99. Now there is where I make my $$. Sad to say, smut sells. For every novel I sell, I may sell 50 erotic short stories. It seems to me that folks like the cheap ebooks, despite the fact that the real quality is in my novels.

    Yes, I agree that those who rush to publish poorly (or non-edited) books with improper formatting and glaring errors are hurting the publishing industry, but with so many freedoms in getting their work out there, there is little we can do to stop them. All we can do is hope that after a period of poor sales that they will give up and find something else to do. But for those of us who are serious about our writing and take the time to make sure we put forth the right image, hopefully there will be rewards from it.

    Time will hopefully separate the wheat from the chaff.

    • Agreed and congratulations on your success. WIsh I could write erotica, it does sell. I blush typing those scenes.

      Let’s hope this resonates with others.

  • I loved this article, and, I have experienced all of the above at one level or another. I am an indie author and I worked very hard to make sure my manuscript was tight and professional before I published my work; however, it is so hard to get noticed without the machine of a publishing house. I laughed when I read the portion of your post that talked about other authors giving nasty reviews. This actually happened to me and made a huge difference in the daily downloads of my eBook after the troll did her deed. I finally unpublished the book because I had no recourse (smashwords). Thanks again for a great article, and I hope other indie authors will listen to your words of wisdom. WP

    • I’m so sorry to hear that you were hit by those review trolls, and yes, they are definitely out there. I get them, most authors who gain any amount of success do, too, but you see them mostly after you gain in rankings. I guess we can consider it a right of passage 🙂 (Spinning it positive, right?).

      Thanks for your kind note, William.

  • Sherri Hayes


    Great article. You’ve brought up some valid points I’ve noticed myself. I don’t think ebooks at 99 cents are bad. Neither do I think free books are horrible. I do, however, think that it is being pushed to the limit. In my opinion, 99 cent and ebooks should be used as a promotion to other authors works, not as the guiding force. For example, I stumbled on a free book for an author a couple of weeks ago on Amazon. It looked good, so I downloaded it. After reading it, I was so impressed by the story, the quality of writing, and yes, the editing, that I looked the author up on Amazon and found she has several other books, all of which are now going on my TBR pile.

    As a writer with a small publishing house, I directly compete with indies for sales all the time. My books are only available online, not in stores, so potential readers are sizing up my books right along side self pubs. More and more I’m seeing people adding comments about the price of a book to their reviews. ‘This was too expensive for the price.’ or ‘It wasn’t bad for a free book.’ Since when did we, as readers, decide it was a good idea to qualify a book based on how much we paid for it? I can’t ever remember going into a book store ten years ago, picking up a book, and going…’Hm. I wonder if this will be worth the $10 they are asking.’ Because it’s published, the assumption that its a decently written book is already assumed. That’s not the case anymore given the influx of self pubs.

    Also, a correction to your post. E.L. James was not self published originally. She was with a new, small publisher out of Australia. Her books were also never priced as free or 99 cents.

    • Thanks for the comment, and I agree with your question about readers deciding the value of books. It’s one of the issues. I hate to say it, but KDP Select, and free books have certainly created a scenario where readers expect books to be free – a clear devaluing of the written word. But again, it comes down to how indies try to gain readership, and that’s the path of least resistance. I hope that more and more authors will learn the value of marketing and building a “real” readership. Most free books and 99c books aren’t even read, so the author might gain a few pennies from their 99c run, but are they gathering a following? That has yet to be seen. No doubt a 99c short term promotion is effective, and for many, vital.

    • This is an interesting discussion and I’ve enjoyed simply reading the thread, though I have to jump in here in response to your question: “Since when did we decide it was a good idea to qualify a book based on how much we paid for it?”
      Before I, and I think most people, buy anything, I consider whether it’s worth the money. Unlike you, I often went into book stores, picked up the $24.99 hardcover by an author I hadn’t read yet and wondered whether the price was worth taking the chance. Sometimes, I bought it. Other times, I decided to wait for the paperback. So–yes, I think of course we weigh the cost vs the worth (to us), as we do with any other purchase.

  • I don’t think the 99 cent price point is nearly as damaging to the overall rep of SPAs as the immature, whiny petulance some of the most vocal of them exhibit. Write a bad review that’s well deserved? Be prepared to be called a “bully,” a “cyber-harrasser” or worse.

    I don’t care what someone else prices their book at. As long as they grow some thick skin.

    • Interesting point, Pete, though we all know that while some poor reviews are well deserved, others are merely other authors attacking author’s ratings as they climb the charts. Amazon has actually caught quite a few who have opened multiple accounts and posted those nasty reviews, and they’ve removed a number of them.

      Poor reviews that are deserved, yes, they definitely happen, and guess what, true or not, they do sting.

    • Well said! I was devastated with some of the amazingly personal attacks to my first published effort (a technical course for SANs). The SANs Director told me “you cannot please everyone. You got an 80% approval rating for a first time presenter and that is amazing. We consider anything over 70% a re-invite speaker.”

      It took a while for that to sink in but after that I just ignored the rants and personal attacks and tried to address the specific critics that pointed out clearly where what they thought was wrong. Not that I actually changed to match, but I did consider them.

      There will always be those that are just angry and belligerent. Just do your best to work around them.

  • Well said and well written! I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve read a book and kicked myself for wasting money and time. I have hear (more than once) from self-published authors that they cannot afford to pay for a copy edit and a great cover. They’ve also said that it’s the cover that sells the book, so that is what they choose. It pains me when I hear those kind answers. To me, they are saying that they don’t plan on providing quality work. I do hope that more indie and self-published authors read this and take it to heart.

    Thank you for sharing,
    Sass 🙂

    • Hi Sass, I agree. It’s painful and I often advise those that can’t afford to hire an editor to wait until they can. Better to give the readers a great product than try to apologize to so many.

    • Good point. Self-published authors should look at the longer-term goal of making this a career. A good cover may sell one book, but a good reading experience will sell the next book.

      • Exactly. I wish I could paste that across every author’s web page so they might remember it.

      • I agree that is an excellent point.

  • Melissa,

    Thank you very much for pointing this out. I too feel that the 99 cents ebook should be used for promotions. I am about to release my first book of a trilogy and I spent nearly a year learning the ins and outs of the publishing industry. I decided to go the Indie route but I still hired a well recommended professional editor. She has provided very valuable insight into my book, helped with tightening up the story and talked me out of putting the first book up for free. :^)

    It might shock some others to learn how much it costs to put out a big publishing house quality book. I am sure it could be done for a little less than what I am doing. I hunted down well recommended professionals for editing, art and publication formatting. I could have done this for a lot less and I fully expect to loose a couple of thousand dollars (yes I said loose about $2,000) on my first book because I need to build an audience. I’m not out of books in my head and I am doing this on the long range sustainable plan instead of a get rich quick dream.

    Thanks for the honesty!

    + Leeland

    • Leeland, yes, exactly my point. Writing is a career, just as editing, driving a truck, doing surgery…we all deserve to price our work in a fair way. Thank you for the comments.

  • Melissa,
    This article makes so much sense and I have been saying this to my friends for years now. We all love to save money but I don’t like to read a book loaded with mistakes and worse. I have written my first crime novel, “In A Small Town,” and had no idea how to price it in the marketplace. Since I am a novice in the publishing world, I hired Infinity Publishing after extensive research. They have been wonderful and I would reccomend their publishing services to anyone just starting out. I had my book professionally edited twice on my own which does incur quite the expense. I happen to live in a community that supports local authors so I have almost made my investment back at this point. I will not list my e-book for .99 cents because In my opinion, from the reviews I have received it is worth much more. I feel asking less than five books for an e-book is reasonable. For those who still like to hold a book in their hands, I don’t think asking $12.95 is a lot of money either. I can understand someone trying to create business for themselves by undercharging for their book or giving their e-book away for free. But I didn’t write my book to give it away for free. There has to be a price set based on what the author believes his/her book is worth. It’s all about the readers and what they want to read. It is their choice to pay what they want. Thanks for writing an amazing article. Shop local and read local!

    • Thank you, Marc, for your kind comments. I agree with you, it’s up to the author to place value on their work. That’s exactly what I’m trying to convey in the article. Congrats on your book!

  • Melissa,

    Thanks for this provocative article. I would like to make a distinction between self-published authors and independent authors that goes beyond mere semantics. In my opinion a self-published author produces a book that is of overall lesser quality than the traditional publishing establishment from the writing, to the editing, typesetting, cover design, and marketing/promotional tactics. Independent authors are those who aspire to produce books with the same standard of the traditional establishment while at the same time taking advantage of social media marketing and other methods to find, captivate, and build an audience a book at a time. The self-published author is looking for shortcuts to publishing while the independent author takes no shortcuts. Until we in the indie publishing community help readers understand the difference between self-pubbed and indie we will all be lumped in the same category.

    • That’s a very hard distinction because some would say indie authors are those publishing through small press and self-pubbed are those independently publishing. There’s a need for clarification, but I fear that’s a ways off.

  • Oh, blah, blah, blah. So publishing is now just like every industry. Get over yourself.

    • Raymond

      Glad somebody said it…BTW, have you ever seen such a combative blogger? Scary…

  • G

    The thing that no one seems to appreciate about the pricing of ebooks is that the problem/cost doesn’t originate with self published authors but with the music industry. The music industry has been fighting an internal battle for years over digital content and has settled on a price around 99 pence/cents per song. Consumers now expect digital content at the price. Why pay 10 dollars for a digital book when a digital song is a tenth of the price. Is a book worth more than a song? It becomes even more difficult to draw a distinction when consumers by both books and songs from the sale online retailers. How then do you justify a price difference to consumers? Raise the prices and they will resort to the piracy levels of the 90s.

    • I see your point, however, I don’t agree. A song lasts roughly two minutes and a book takes days to read. That is only a minor difference. The typical album, however, downloaded digitally sells for $9.99 and that is more equivalent to an entire book, rather than a song equating to a chapter. So, using your rationalization, we indies would be charging roughly $9.99 for an ebook (which I think its a bit much in this economy).

      Piracy is running rampant already.

      • J.J. Aben

        I gotta completely disagree with an idea proposed here…

        “The music industry has been fighting an internal battle for years over digital content and has settled on a price around 99 pence/cents per song.”

        That’s all fine and dandy, but a CD still costs (usually) $9.99

        A lot of people write short stories and put them at the cheap price point, which is what belongs there because short stories are more like songs. (In my opinion)

        A song is more akin to a chapter in a book. When an artists releases an album, usually, the entire album has some sort of theme or sound and all the songs connecting in some way.

        The problem is nobody will buy a chapter in a book for $0.99 like they would a song. A song is self-contained and doesn’t require an entire album to give it context or meaning. I think this is part of the problem where the Publishing industry has gone wrong. They too look at CDs and Books as being similar, completed, works of art and price them accordingly. A CD is $9.99 and so the average eBook is $9.99

        With that in mind, how often do you buy an entire album?

        Most artists (Music Companies) probably only accrue $2.99-$5.99 in sales from their average digital customer only picking and choosing the songs they like. Full and complete eBooks need to follow the same trend and this is why the Publishing industry is failing when it comes to the eBook market.

        I don’t think the price point of a few indie authors is going to have any effect in the long run and I don’t think it devalues the written word either. Where Indie authors are failing is looking to the music industry to help determine price points.

        If John Mayer releases a new song, he didn’t write, record, do vocals, play the instruments, and mix/produce the song himself. He has a team from his publishing group helping him put the song together. An Indie Author cannot write and publish a book to Amazon by himself and expect success.

        Unfortunately, we have recent stories of people like Amanda Hocking who did just that, but they aren’t the norm. Those people exist in the music industry as well. Artists like Skrillex and Deadmau5 create and produce their own music and they’re huge! It doesn’t mean I can go out and create my own mixes and become an overnight sensation. As a matter of fact, you could almost compare someone like Amanda Hocking to Rebecca Black, you know, that girl who released that terrible song and video for a song called “Friday” and got instant fame.

        People like this exist in the movie industry as well. Ever hear of Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez? With no prior work in the movie industry these two went on to write and direct a little film called The Blair Witch Project. How about Jared and Jerusha Hess? Their only prior work in the film industry included miscellaneous behind the scenes cast roles in movie production and they went on to write and direct the Indie Blockbuster Napoleon Dynamite.

        How many “Indie” movies are released each year that never go further than small film festivals? How many garage bands create music each year that never leaves the garage? THOUSANDS!

        Too many people out there think they can when they actually cannot but it certainly doesn’t devalue actual good pieces work.

        People are smart enough to understand that the quality of most eBooks is price dependent. Chances are, if they only buy $0.99 or Free books they are going to grow frustrated with eBooks that are riddled with spelling and grammar errors as well as nonsensical plots. Chances are, if they only listen to music downloaded (legally) for free it’s going to suck (However, one of my favorite bands Drycell, released their one and only album for free after they broke up). Chances are, if you only watch movies that have been uploaded to YouTube you aren’t going to get that blockbuster film making experience you get in a theater.

        What it comes down to is the quality of writing. If you can write well, it doesn’t matter if your book is published at $2.99 or $9.99, you will generate sales. What a musician has that an indie author doesn’t is the PR machine promoting their work. Authors need to rely on professional covers and well written blurbs.

        You can write the next Great Gatsby, Tale of Two Cities, or The Hobbit but if you don’t edit your work, don’t get a professional looking cover, don’t write an effective blurb, don’t find ways to promote your work, don’t continue trying to work in the same field perfecting your craft, and don’t see writing as more of a lifestyle than a quick way to make money then chances are you’re not going to sell many copies.

        • Agreed and very well said. One thing to note, Amazon Singles are now being sold…books sold chapter by chapter for a one-time fee of $1.99 the readers receive each of the following chapter installments free. $1.99 is higher than free and 99 cents:-) Even Amazon knows value matters…

          • G

            You won me over with your album/book versus song/chapter/short story analogy. The problem now of course is convincing consumers of the same thing. Don’t bless everyone with the same gifts of logical thought that we here possess.

  • As a traditionally-published author and an author with a self-published ebook and another on the way, I agree you make some excellent points regarding self-publishing, in particular that some are poorly edited or not edited at all. The slow state of traditional publishing and the difficulty of getting your work in front of editors these days is partly to blame for the proliferation of the DIYers, especially those who have been published in the past and have less time to wait while their manuscripts move through the laborious, time-intensive process. As with any business, however, self-publishing requires an expenditure to ensure a quality product. That means professional editing. With that in mind, I’m going to quote a passage from your post and add a gentle rebuke:
    “That was backed up by a recent poll of authors who have 2 or less 99-cent ebooks on the market that revealed that 75% of authors are selling less than 100 ebooks per month at that rate, with 46% selling less than 10 ebooks per month.”
    A professional editor would have immediately noticed that “less” is misused in both instances and should have been replaced with “fewer.” I’m not going to quote chapter and verse on when to use each, because doing the research yourself is more effective. As I said, a gentle rebuke, but one that emphasizes the need for professional editing. Keep up the good work.

    • Yes, you caught me – I did not have this post edited. I’m in complete agreement with you on the editing stance.

  • Welcome to the digital age. We live in a time when all mediums are getting cheaper. Music, movies, television, you name it. Why should books be any different? Frankly, no ebook, traditional or indie should cost more than a cup of coffee. That’s the way media consumer trends are going. Unlike five, ten, or twenty years ago, consumers have a rapidly expanding horizon of almost unlimited choices on what and how they can spend their entertainment dollars. More competition, lower prices. Sorry, it’s not about indie authors sinking the publishing industry, it’s the publishing industry itself not adapting fast enough to the digital age.

    • While I agree about digital books carrying less of a price than paperback, I don’t agree that a book should cost less than a cup of coffee. The average song may last two minutes. A book takes days to read and a book can take years to write and thousands of dollars to have edited and professionally covered. Do you work for free at your profession? Why not? I’m sorry, but it’s simply unrealistic to expect authors to work for free and I don’t believe that $2.99 is too much to pay for a decent novel.

      • Who said anything about working for free? Although, by that line of thinking, I guess you must detest libraries? Let me ask you something, do Hollywood studies cheapen their product by renting DVD’s out of a Red Box machine for 0.99 cents? Movies also take years to write, shoot, edit, and produce, and cost millions of dollars to create. You can object all you want to the current state of the entertainment industry as a whole, and the industry trends towards cheaper media. However, as a creator you need to accept the fact that consumers have a whole universe of choice as to how they choose to spend their entertainment dollars and adapt accordingly, instead of scapegoating independent writers who simply want to put their work out into the world. By the way, I also feel $2.99 is perfectly acceptable price-point for a good ebook, as well as a good cup of coffee.

        • Readers and authors both have choices and make their own decisions. I’ve seen by other commenters that many agree with me, and you are welcome to disagree. I can’t speak to the value of movies. I don’t work with movies, though I’d imagine that by the time a movie hits Red Box and the like, they’ve already made their profits and the actors and producers are not working for free.

          Just for the record, I love libraries and donate books all the time.

          • You missed the point of my example. How much did it cost to rent a movie ten years ago from say, Blockbuster? If it was a new release, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $3.99-4.99. Marketing trends in the film industry and home video markets due mostly to technological advances (i.e. streaming video) and growth in companies like Netflix and Red Box have destroyed that price point. The publishing industry is going through a similar transformation due exclusively to e-readers and the ability to instantly upload content. (Remember Borders, Waldenbooks?) We can respectfully disagree on the value placed on a given piece of work, but, understand, that it is not people uploading crappy books onto amazon that is ‘ruining the publishing industry’, rather, it is the way in which the media itself is being transmitted which market trends demand sinking costs due to technological advances.
            BTW- I’m glad you love libraries, so I guess sometimes you do work for free?

          • For some reason I can’t reply to your last comment, left: October 25, 2012 at 2:04 pm

            Yes, when I donate my books, absolutely.

            I of course see and understand advances in technology. And yes, we can respectfully disagree on pricing, but I do stand firm in my belief that in the last 12 months there has been an influx of unedited work priced at 99 cents, making those that had been selling at 99 cents with polished work part of the “slush” — and I believe, because I know what goes into writing a good book, that 99 cents is too low.

            The long and short of it is that first of all, I didn’t make the title to this article, but take away the title, and you have an article showing the indies that do write polished work that they don’t need to sell their work for 99 cents. Most assume they must, and I know this because I get emails daily — hundreds weekly, asking me just that. Authors need information, and then they can make informed decisions.

            Publishers didn’t create the 99c price point, indie authors did out of desperation. Times have changes, and we can differ on our beliefs, but in my opinion, it’s time for those that write respectful work (and that’s in the eye of the reader, not up to me or you) should place more of a monetary value on their hard work. This is a great article on pricing:

            Thank you for the interesting and lively discussion. It’s always a pleasure to discuss/debate publishing. I respect your opinion, even if we differ.

        • Chad David

          I realize this is an old thread, but I felt compelled to reply anyway.

          Well, the only problem with your argument Ryan, is that studios charge 99 cents or only a few dollars to RENT a movie — and watching a movie takes 90 minutes to 2 hours. I’m a movie collector, and sure I can easily rent a movie for 99 cents, but to OWN that same title would cost me 10-25 dollars. If you think a book shouldn’t cost more than a cup of coffee, the more power to you. You’re entitled to your opinion, which I respect.

          You’re just not the type of reader for me.

  • Nick

    The most helpful comments were the two from the readers above. After all, they are who we write for and they LIKE the fact that there is now a wide variety of many genres out there for an affordable price. I fear this post was written by another author who has sold so many books that she has forgotten her roots. Sorry, Melissa but you just diappointed a whole lot of indie authors who in the past admired you. I’ll soon expect an even more negative post when you sign a big contract. This is very much a negative post whether you respond and say it is or not. I certainly expect you do the same you did to others above. Sounds to me like you fear the .99 books are affecting your numbers so you had to criticize other indie authors who have worked so hard at their craft. Shame on you.

    • Nick, you are welcome to your opinion. I won’t ever forget my roots, and I think the hundreds of authors that I help weekly will attest to that. My books are selling just fine and I fear nothing. I don’t feel “competition” when it comes to my writing–readers read hundreds of books each year, so there’s no worry there. I hold no shame for my post, either. Indies work hard, and they should put value on their work. The world has changed, and the value of 99 cent ebooks has diminished, and those authors hoping to sell millions at that price point will have a very sore realization when it no longer works. Looking past your emotions and to the importance of pricing to reflect quality and value rings true for many, but thank you for your comment.

  • Yet another article trashing Indie authors. I put it right up there with Ann Coulter calling the president a retard or politicians talking about legitimate rape. All of these articles are the same asking why can’t Indie authors come together and put out “quality” work. What a wonderful world it would be.

    That utopia doesn’t exist. There will always be Indie titles that lack the editing, cover art, and perhaps even talent of most traditionally published books. And there will always be a lot of traditionally published trash out there as well, especially since the industry now favors platform over talent, which is why Snookie is a NYT bestselling author.

    But alas, writing is an art, not a profession akin to being a surgeon. If you read a bad book, chances are you’re not going to die. The literary world is the only industry where the self-proclaimed elite don’t even want anyone else to try. You never hear any player or coach from the NFL refer to Arena League players as Vanity Football Players.

    Not every artist can create a Mona Lisa but it doesn’t mean they should throw away their paints. Not every musician has the vocals of Mariah Carey but it doesn’t mean they should not try to make a living singing. All industries in the art world have many levels of talent and a lot of successful artists started out at the bottom.

    My advice to indie authors is to ignore every article you find like this one and do whatever it takes to get noticed. Agents want you to have a platform, so build one. If that means selling your books on Kindle for 99 cents, so be it. Just because the big six publishers have met and set the prices for ebooks at a ridiculous prices, which is against the law by the way, doesn’t mean you have to follow suit.

    • I think you have misread the article. I am very pro-indie. I’m simply pointing out that indies are not valuing their own work, which hurts indie authors as a whole. No, we’re not surgeons (thank goodness), but we are responsible for what we put on the shelf. Would you go outside without pants on? It’s basically the same thing. Put on your best face and put out your best work, before going public.

      Authoring, like any profession, is a learning process. Any authors first, second, and third books will likely be less well written than the ones that follow. That’s a given, but this is about valuing work as a whole. Why should indies give their work away for 99 cents? Would you work for free? That’s what that price range asks authors to do. 35 cents on a sale, and no author can guarantee a single sale, so why bet so low?

      I spend my hours helping authors succeed. That’s what my life is wrapped around. I simply believe that authors should value their work and shoot for quality and fair prices. This isn’t about price fixing, this is about fair market value. Authors will forever determine their own prices, at least it looks that way. Authors nowadays are falling prey to believing that free and 99c are the only means to an end of finding readers, and it’s simply not true. Strong marketing and reasonable platforms and exposure–interacting with readers–that brings readers. As several readers have noted, they won’t balk at a higher price, as long as the work is good and the price reasonable.

      • It’s kind of hard to misread an article that outright accuses Indie authors of destroying the industry. Twist it any way you like, it’s a rude and unfair suggestion. There’s nothing wrong with pricing an ebook for 99 cents. Nothing. There is no overhead, no shipping, no printing costs, no stocking, and there’s a thing in this world known as supply and demand. If an author can reach 100,000 more readers by pricing their book as such, it’s not a matter of not valuing your own work; it’s a matter of making very intelligent decisions.

        Consider this metaphor. A man owns a Harley Davison shop and a block away, another man opens a scooter store selling homemade scooters for $15,000 less. Is the Harley dealer worried? No, of course not. But if that scooter maker suddenly started making homemade cruisers and choppers and selling them for $15,000 less, the Harley dealer is very worried.

        The point is, traditionally publishers and traditionally published authors are not worried about Indie authors selling trash on Kindle for 99 cents; they’re worried about the thousands of Indie authors selling great books on kindle for 99 cents.

        You are right that the industry is being changed forever, and maybe its demise will eventually arrive, but it won’t be because of Indie authors. The traditional publishing industry is being destroyed from the inside.

        • Great post Neal.

        • I have no idea what the traditional publishers are worried about, as this is not about them, but, I find your post comical. “There is no overhead, no shipping, no printing costs, no stocking, and there’s a thing in this world known as supply and demand.” You have, in one sentence, shown that you have no idea of the value of what it takes to write a book, much less the written word. There’s not much left to say.

          • A personal attack? Wow. You’re right; there must not be much left for you to say.

          • Amazon and Kindle have a wonderful system in place known as reader reviews. If an Indie title, priced at 99 cents or not, has few or bad reviews, customer can exercise common sense.

            Just because you cannot comprehend what I wrote about supply and demand is not a reason to try to belittle me. I did not say that an author’s time was not important or valuable. But if an author can sell 100,000 ebooks at 35 cents profit, that’s still $35,000. And unknown Indie authors whose book is priced at $2.99 might sell 1000 copies for a profit of $2,093.

            Again, the point for a Indie author is to build a platform, and the Kindle 99 cent program is excellent for that. If an author builds a devout following, they can up the price of their next book.

            Either way, you are not the savoir of the literary world. You’re another author shouting down from their bully pulpit regarding the side of the industry you don’t understand.

          • Eh, Neal, belittling is so not nice, but that’s okay. Your comment, “You’re another author shouting down from their bully pulpit regarding the side of the industry you don’t understand.” doesn’t hurt me, it shows me that you don’t know me or understand what I’ve stated, because obviously you think $35K for 100K books is reasonable. We differ on that point. I wonder why you feel indie authors are worth less than traditionally published authors, but I don’t really want an answer because you’ve showed your hand.

            FYI – here are the facts. If an author priced the same book at $2.99, there is no reason they’d not sell 100K copies if they’re books is good. It takes the same marketing, the same platform building (which has nothing do to with Kindle, I’m talking about an author platform), that’s very short sighted of you to suggest. Their income would be $209,000 – that’s a huge discrepancy for the price of a cup of coffee.

          • Your self-righteous article begins by saying “Self-published authors have created a devaluing of the written word, and, some of them are scrambling to see how low they can go to get noticed” and you have the nerve to say I feel Indie authors are worth less than traditional authors?

            A little advice to someone who pretends to have thick skin but clearly does not: Don’t write an article looking down your nose at millions of authors and not expect someone to defend them. In fact, until you can write better than “there is no reason they’d not sell 100K copies if they’re books is good,” I would suggest not writing articles at all.

            See, it’s easy to stoop to your level and simply talk down to someone. It takes a helluva lot more character to write encouraging material.

          • No editor on staff to review posts here, Neal, and you can “talk down” to me all you want. I appreciate your opinions, even if I don’t agree with them.

          • Amy Edelman

            Yes, Melissa, there is an editor on staff to review posts and she would like to ask you and Neal to step away from your computers and eat a cookie. Fact is, there will always be different points of view–which IndieReader is proud to give voice to. We just request that you keep them down as you’re upsetting the children.

          • Thank you, Amy! I’ve already walked away from this post, cookies eaten:-)

  • Hi Melissa. I’m a successful self-published author and I pay good money to have my work edited, proofread, fomatted, and designed by others who are experts at what they do. I’m just the writer and I know that. 🙂

    On one hand, I feel your article is valid. I price my books at $2.99 and $3.99. However, for purposes of KDP Select free days, there’s no question it increases exposure for any author. The mistake many authors make (or are told to do by various organizations) is to keep the price at 99cents once they port back over to paid, because they’ll only make 35cents per book as opposed to $2-$3 royalty — a practice I personally don’t feel is the best way to go.

    And there’s no question, people troll for free books and then trash the authors because it’s ‘not their usual genre.’ I see it all the time.

    As an independent consultant (I founded BadRedheadMedia last year), I always advise my clients to value their work, but not to the point it becomes unaffordable. 99cents is fine for a release or promotion — say a week or so. But longer than that, we risk devaluation and that’s a difficult spiral to swim out of.

    • Hi Rachel, thanks for the comment. Sounds like we’re on the same page with pricing and value. Glad to hear it!

  • Hi Melissa. I figured I should leave a comment since I blogged about this article this morning. I tried really hard not to take your article personally, but as a self-published author who has employed many of the “tactics” to sell books that you refer to, I found parts of it frankly insulting. What’s wrong with selling a book for 99 cents? I am. It doesn’t mean I don’t value my work. In fact, my self-published book is much more valuable to me than any of my others. It was a story I wanted to tell and nobody else wanted to publish it. Besides, maybe it’ll attract some more readers for my more traditionally published e-books. I may not have paid for a professional editor for my self-published e-book, but I challenge you to find any more typos in it than you could find in my other, professionally edited, books. What it all comes down to is that as writers, traditionally published or not, we have to sell ourselves, and I, for one, will use whatever ideas I can to attract readers.

    • Hi Michelle, congrats on straddling the indie/traditional line, many authors are doing that with great success.

  • Ken Hartley

    I can’t speak as a writer, just as a (very heavy) reader. I’m one of the knuckleheads who stood in line for an iPad on day one and since then I’ve accumulated 350+ eBooks. I can count on my fingers the number of those books that cost more than $10, because I can’t justify paying $12-$15 for a book that can be had at the used book store for $4. This means that I’ve largely moved away from the “big” authors I used to read (Robert Crais, Stephen Hunter, Lee Child) and explore far more. I’ve stumbled across countless new favorites like Richard Kadrey, Suzanne Collins (pre-hysteria), Alison Groggon, Patrick Ness, Karin Fossum, and Patrick Lee by picking up one of their books in the $2-$5 range and getting hooked. As long as their other works are less than $8, I happily keep buying. I of course religiously check the Kindle Daily Deals and won’t hesitate to spend $2 to “test” a new author that looks interesting when they turn up there. I thoroughly picked through Amazon’s collection of 99 cent books 2+ years ago and found nearly all of them lacking; I don’t bother looking at them any longer, and routinely assume that if a book is listed for 99 cents it isn’t worth downloading. Just my two cents…

    • Thank you, Ken. I think reader responses are probably the most important. I agree, the $2-5 price range is a solid one. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  • Melissa,

    I absolutely loved this article and thought it was point-on. Many people who will read it, probably don’t realize how active you are in the self-publishing industry and how instrumental you are in helping new authors and self-pubbing authors not only publish their books, but do it right.

    As authors, we spend an inordinate amount of our lives toiling over our “babies” (manuscripts), so it is very important that we all take the time and care to present them to the world in a professional and dignified manner.

    Thank you, Melissa, for caring about us enough to educate us properly.

    Rayne Cullen

    • Thank you, Rayne. I’m so glad you see the importance of the points in this article. Thank you for reading and responding.

  • jane

    I just now read the article and the discussions. If you write about any topic on the internet, there will be plenty of people who will disagree so you should expect that. Some of your responses sound like those of a child. I agree you do not understand indie authors. Are you so wealthy that $35K means nothing to you? But what you don’t understand, and will never understand, is that it is not about the money. As an indie author, I would give away 100K Kindle books and five quarts of blood if it I knew it would help build a reader base or get the attention of an agent. It’s a hard row to plow getting an indie title noticed, much less sell enough to make decent money. I commend indie authors for having the guts to put their work out there and using every tool at their disposal to promote their books. Unlike what you claim, indie titles are not necessarily unsuccessful due to lack of editing or talent. There is a stigma in this industry regarding indie books, a stigma fueled by articles like this and people like you.

    • Hi Jane, no I’m not so wealthy that $35K means nothing, I just am smart enough to recognize that he same sales at a reasonable price of $2.99 per book will bring significantly higher income.

      What I do understand, as I am an indie author, and what I will always understand, is that writing is hard work. Garnering attention of agents is hard work. Finding a publisher (if you wish) is hard work. I do not appreciate you assuming that I don’t know these things. I began self publishing in 2009, at a time when nobody would look at indie authors, unlike today. It is a “hard plow” and I know this because I’m in the trenches daily, helping authors with every aspect of publishing, marketing, and writing.

      The stigma you speak of is growing only due to poor quality at this point. Readers do not care–or most of the time even know–who publishes a book. Ask 50 readers about publishers and you will see that. I have, I know. The stigma comes from indies claiming “indie” status and then producing poor quality work and garnering scathing blog posts and reviews from readers, thereby hurting the entire “indie” industry.

      There is no magic to success. Write a good book, work your butt off to connect with readers, build a platform and build relationships. THEN you have the ongoing task of keeping your online presence noticeable and writing more books.

      The only thing holding indies back is themselves. There is no glass ceiling for indies. If your book is good enough, you can earn millions, it’s up to the author to decide if they want to do that 35 cents at a time or $2, $5, or $10 at a time.

      • Ah, but pricing is a matter of “what works” for many of us–not an ideology.

        It may be that distributing many free copies is an author’s best means of building an audience. It may be that an author simply can’t sell copies at a higher price. It may be that an author can realize more money at a higher price but at the cost of sales/readers, and the best move in that situation is open to debate.

        My experience (very limited) is that my books will sell at $.99 or $3.99, but not at $2.99. When I had a giveaway, people downloaded a couple of thousand copies. Nothing earthshaking there, but it made me happy. I will almost certainly experiment with other prices as I go along. Do you know what the results will be? Do you know what the average ebook price will be in five years?

        I’m guessing you’re just winging it, like the rest of us. Some things have worked for you, and you’ve extrapolated a principle or two.

        My opinion is that there’s a lot of randomness & general fluxitude (yes, I made up the word) in play here, and the rules keep changing.

        So…am I devaluing something? Perhaps. You’re entitled to that opinion, if it pleases you. As for me, I don’t see the point of such claims. I hope you continue to do well, operating just as you please.

  • Breaking into the mainstream is the dream of every indie author. Whichever ethical way to the target is valid, if it works for a particular author. Wouldn’t you agree?

    • Can’t be true, and I can prove it: I’m an indie author. My opinion: what you mean by “mainstream” is in fact drying up & becoming a dusty gulch. And it’s about time, too.

  • Monica

    I think people are under the impression that Ms. Foster is another traditionally published author frowning upon Indies. But from what I can tell on her website, she too is an Indie author, but one who has had great success with three books. Sadly that makes this column all the more disturbing. She is literally demeaning other authors for not only not mimicking her success, but by not doing it the exact same way she did by accusing them of being too cheap to pay for editing and having low self esteem. Oh, and let’s not forget that these authors of such low morals are destroying HER industry. I’m sorry, this is appalling and please don’t post to tell me how I misunderstood your words. I think most people who have read and responded understood fully. I will say this, if you’re going to tout yourself as the champion of Indie authors, this is not the way to go about it.

  • Mahip Chadha

    Actually ,one would like to approach a publisher. But–there is little or no transparency in sales or marketing and publishers dump you to print copies on their own. Also–many of them act pricey and reject you work without giving reasons. Thus self publishing comes to the rescue!It is not an easy process but there is no doubt that publisher gets rich while the authors are dust binned!I have three books to my credit–GRIT GUTS and GALLANTRY–Rupa Publications;INDIA, SOLJER SOLJER –Author House and GIN and LIME WHISKEY or WINE?–

  • As an editor who specializes in working with self pubbed authors, I’m all about them needing to get their works edited and having them go about the publishing process in as professional of a way as possible—but you’re overlooking some in-the-trenches research here.

    While I agree that no one is going to make money by listing their book at 99 cents forever—and certainly not by giving that same book away for free—there have been any number of authors who have shared their experience with KDP select and found through due-diligence that creating a proper marketing plan and experimenting with various promotion options really do help sell more books (and make more money) in the long term.

    One example: David Gaughran shared his experience and his logic over on his site the other day. And he’s not the only one I’ve seen do this. So while I agree with you that indie authors will be the only ones who can change the reputation of indie publishing, I disagree that offering promotions of the types you named are truly a bad thing.

    • Hi Melissa, thanks for reading and responding.

      There is no doubt that freebies can increase sales and ranking with follow-up sales. However, for as many authors as that works for, there are twice as many (or more) that it does not work for.

      It’s not really the one-time free promotion that’s an issue, it’s the idea that free and 99c used in cycles are the way to gain a following. Most free ebooks are never read, and many that are read are receiving bad reviews because it’s not the “typical genre” for the reader, but on a free download frenzy the reader didn’t look at that and the author pays the price with their reputation. In my opinion, while a promotion every now and again is valuable, and yes, it is for many, I think authors are not focusing on quality and/or value of their work. There are far an onslaught of authors starving with their books priced at 99 cents, and they hope readers will follow, but often when they finally increase their books prices they realize that their followers were 99c trackers, not readers who value books and will pay $2.99 or more. It’s about where authors want to be and about managing expectations and working hard to gain a true following.

  • Wow. Clearly we live in different worlds, and I imagine we’ll be best pleased to so remain.

    However, I do have a few thoughts about the future of indie publishing, which (spoiler!) will soon mean nearly everybody. The first in a 3-part blog series:

  • Self-publishers haven’t ruined the industry; above all they can inspire those in it. It’s very challenging day in and day out to be a self-publisher. Indies have freedom to do what they want with their book but with it comes a lot of hard work, sweat and tears, the behind the scenes grit of editing, production, financial managing, creative and design, and for those who know how to hustle, market and promote their book successfully themselves THAT is even more to carry with the title of ‘author’ or ‘publisher.’ Pricing any product as an indie depends on the time and financial investment you’ve put into the product and depending on the market and being competitive with it. Yes, anyone can publish a book, anyone can create music, create a clothing line, be the next big thing, get their five minutes of fame, be a one-hit wonder, but we all know to stay aflame it takes guts, courage, persistence, passion and deep love for your craft. Being a self-publisher doesn’t mean your any less or produce works that are low quality, or that you have to sell your work for less, it means you’re wearing many hats, doing it all, getting your own coffee, calling the shots, focusing on striving to gain, being realistically ambitious, dealing with the pressure, the stress, the opportunity, or the loss, battling against failure, trying each day, putting yourself out there, believing in yourself even if you’ve never been heard of before and you’re your only reader, not giving up because you wake up for the chance to do what you love. Self-publishers are heroes.

  • I understand the intent of this article, but it’s very limited in perspective. Indie authors aren’t the only ones with low prices. Many so-called traditionally published books are out there for rock bottom prices as well. Everyone in the pulp side of the equation is trying to figure out how to get noticed. Pricing is one issue. Others are all the silly marketing practices with tweet avalanches and email bombs and websites where writers spend all their time talking to other writers. We’re in the very early stages of a new marketplace.

    But indie writers killing traditional publishing? I hardly think so. That’s a joke, right? The publishing industry is killing itself. It has been ever since the 1980s. Back then you could have written something similar about independent publishing houses. Book companies have been this weird venture capital hybrid for years. Most of them publish a small number or quality product and then a bunch of pulp (romance, mystery, etc) and eye candy books like pop star bios, fad diets, and how-tos. There’s a lot more writers out there than the industry wants to handle.

    So that leaves a lot of folks out in the cold. Just like in the music world and in film. Pricing issues right now are all about writers trying to figure out what works best. It’ll all work it’s way to a more workable situation as soon as the carpetbaggers and amateurs have their fill. Quality doesn’t necessarily always win, but it’s usually a lot easier to stand your ground when you’re good — both on price and in the heat of battle.

    Melissa, you are respected a great deal. You maybe should think about the implications of your words more. Silly stuff.

    • David, please understand that I did NOT create that title. It was not my intent to slam indies, and that was not the title of my article. The full article I wrote is here: and honestly I feel as though I have been thrown to the wolves with the sensationalized title. It immediately puts people on the defensive.

      The intent of the article has been explained a number of times throughout my comments, but basically, the way I see it, we do have an onslaught of unpolished work, and indies are going in cycles of giving away books and permanent pricing at 99 cents, which somehow has been chosen among indies as the “go to” price. My intention is to let authors know that there is a world of fair pricing levels out there and before they fall into the gimmicks, freebies, and 99c pricing, they might consider putting their work at a level where they are perceived as valuing their work. The decrease in sales numbers will be made up in revenue, and while most 99c ebooks are never read, when readers make mindful decisions about buying books for $2.99 and up, the author is more likely to gain a true following.

      I think the hundreds of authors I help and the thousands who take advantage of the free promotional and connection avenues that I created and provide through the World Literary Cafe recognize that I am not slamming indies, but rather opening eyes.

      Marketing is a learning process for all, and as the landscape of publishing changes, so does quality and value–we’ll see changes for several years, I’m sure.

      • Really? You’re leaving my comments “in moderation” but answering others…I think I’m done here.

        • David, I have no control over IndieReader’s moderated content.

      • Yes, the original article does get the point across much better, Melissa. This line for example – “That’s a generalization – there are many self-published authors who polish their work and brand with value and many positive sides to self-publishing” adds so much character to what has become the first paragraph in this edited piece. I would certainly recommend to everyone to read the original article before responding. You gotta be careful. There are a lot of people out there who will respond with kneejerk reactions and just try to get the last word. Yes, that sums up me and every author I know. lol

        • Thank you, Neal, for taking the time to actually read the article and not just respond to the title. I agree, and I think you are right – we all (me included) can be knee-jerk reaction responders.

  • You know, I suppose I’m one of those authors who has relied on giving away books to get noticed, but in my case, it worked. Or rather, a judicious application of a combination of pricing, the free program with KDP Select, and making the first book in a series free, have resulted in me wildly exceeding any sales expectation I had for the year.

    I’ve given at least 300K books away since January. We are in agreement that most of those won’t ever be read. But by understanding how the free downloads can impact visibility via the Amazon algorithms, I’ve also been able to sell almost at a clip where I’ll have gone over 100K books sold in 2012. And those books are typically priced in the $5 range. I don’t know a lot of indie authors who have been able to hit those kinds of numbers, so I consider myself extremely fortunate. That being said, I also invest in a pro editing team to scour each novel, doing multiple passes. And I NEVER price my work at .99, except for very short-duration promotions. As an example, I just launched JET and JET II, the first two installments in my newest action/adventure series (which is basically Kill Bill meets Bourne – so much for the shameless self-promotion) and priced JET, the first book in the series, at .99 for a week. I then raised the price to $1.99, which is still probably too low, but my goal is to get as many new readers into the series as possible – so I view the series as a total ASP more in the range of $11 netted across three books than selling one book for $2. The conversion rate has been very, very high, so it’s working out.

    I believe that pricing promotions and free promotions have their place, but the sad truth is that they aren’t a replacement for good writing and a responsible work ethic. I’d almost say free is basically worthless now, unless you wind up in the top 40 free, because the algorithms don’t get shifted by anything less successful, so you just wasted your time. And the hope that maybe, just maybe, some decent percentage is going to read your book is an empty one. I’d be surprised if 5% ever wind up reading my free books. That, and it invites the one star slams by readers who aren’t part of your target audience – “I hate romance books, and when I read Love in the Desert, it was filled with romance, so it sucked.”

    Gimmicks have their place. We exist in a retail world as self-publishers. In retail, you are only as good as your last sale, and you have to be endlessly inventive in terms of promotions. But I fear too many have latched onto gimmicks as the solution to achieving visibility, and have left out the part where you write good books people want to read, and will tell their friends about. Most of my success, such as it is, comes from enthusiastic readers spreading word of mouth. The free promos got my foot in the door, but it’s the content that keeps them coming back.

    I’ll also say that having had your help on a number of book launches, that it has made a difference. Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet I’ve seen. It all comes down to hard work, luck, and willingness to think outside the box. The sooner self-pubbed authors learn to be smart about their marketing versus chasing the latest gimmick, the sooner they will have a shot at making real sales. But in the end, it will always come down to the writing. Maybe a free iPad will bring them to the door, but it won’t keep them coming back. Only one thing I know of will: A compelling story, well told.

    Russell Blake
    Suspense Author & Anti-Clown Activist

    • Hi Russell, thank you for such an informative comment and for touching on all the bases. This is spot-on, “It all comes down to hard work, luck, and willingness to think outside the box. The sooner self-pubbed authors learn to be smart about their marketing versus chasing the latest gimmick, the sooner they will have a shot at making real sales. But in the end, it will always come down to the writing. Maybe a free iPad will bring them to the door, but it won’t keep them coming back. Only one thing I know of will: A compelling story, well told.”

    • Love your insightful response and your tag ‘Anti-Clown Activist’

      I think you’re right that free books is a gimmick that’s pretty much useless now unless you are lucky to get into the top 40 free. It’s only valuable as long as it was a novelty. Now that everyone is doing it, it’s no longer special and most readers aren’t stupid. They know the majority of free are by newbie authors, many of whom won’t have the rigorous work ethic that you do. So, I know many readers who consider FREE=CRAP now and don’t even bother downloading them, or if they do, they read it with a ‘handicap’ expectation, expecting it not to be that good, else why give it away (beg people to read it).

      • Correct. But even worse, I never in the first place believed free was good for anything but jimmying the algorithms. Sure, there are some who have read the work and liked it, but with 300K given away, I doubt that 5K have bothered to read any of it. Maybe I’m wrong. But talking to other authors, I don’t think so. I have a friend who has given away over a million books. His sales have suffered rather than improved – he saturated his market. Why buy anything if you know the author’s going to give it away in the next few weeks for free? That’s why I have taken the majority of my books out of the program. It’s counter-productive after a point, and now that the algorithms assign precious little benefit (even if you are #1 overall, as I was twice over the last 45 days for two different titles – Silver Justice and Jet, and #4 with Zero Sum, you are lucky if you see 1000 sales as a result – and there can only be one number one. You wind up #4, you see more like 500 sales, you see #15, maybe 100). Some would say that’s still significant, and it is, but it’s nothing like it was in March, when you would sell 8K from being in the top 20.

        And how many will ever be in the top 5 on Amazon? With 5K or more books going free every day? Long frigging odds, thus not worth it for most.

        Look, all’s fair. We all must do what we can to get visibility. I think Melissa’s core point is valid. Most authors are setting reader expectations for books low, and are setting their own expectations even lower, and under-valuing their work. Or conversely, they are valuing their work correctly, and it’s not worth more than spit.

        In either case, a bad road, even if much traveled. IMO.

    • Ken Hartley

      As a reader who uses an iPad (no KDP freebies), “free” normally doesn’t work for me – I assume it’s another bollocks author giving away junk – but it did work in your case. Researching KDP pointed me to D. Vinjamuri’s Operator, which pointed me to you, and I just downloaded your free “Night of the Assassin” to test-drive your works. I wasn’t willing to spend money on you because of the dread words “Super-Assassin”, a genre that has been trampled by way too many hack authors. Your freebie gives me an opportunity to sample your work without wasting money.

      From my perspective authors with no buzz have two major hurdles nowadays breaking through to readers like me: (1) I can’t find you in the massive crowd of newly published works, and (2) my recent purchases include American Gods ($3.99), Coraline ($1.99), Redbreast ($3.79), Winter’s Tale ($1.99), We The Drowned ($1.99), Ship Breaker ($2.99) , The Wool Omnibus ($4.99) and countless other books I knew would be compelling, all at attractive pricing. With this sort of availability, why should I bother with authors that are unfamiliar to me?

      Finally, this is just my opinion but a Kindle giveaway wouldn’t draw me in. I already have a shiny reading toy and this just smacks of desperation, suggesting that the author is trying to cover up poor writing via gimmicks.

  • I loved this article and all the comments, because I think it shows such a spectrum of where the industry is right now, and how many authors are viewing it.

    Self-publishing is such a relatively new animal, and it’s changing so quickly–as is the entire publishing industry. I don’t think there are any concrete answers yet as far as what works, what will make an author a success, what catches readers’ attention, etc. I do see some of the authors I work with doing the KDP Select promos, or promotion engines like Goddess Fish, or simply pricing their books in what Mark Coker of Smashwords thinks is the golden zone–$2-5–and doing all the promotion they can. I have seen all of it both work and not work, and it’s hard to tell at this point what makes which happen.

    Authors want their work noticed–at a time when, more than anytime in my experience in the industry, they have more direct ability to direct their writing careers than ever before. I think there will be a lot of experimentation on how to accomplish their goals before anything like a standard approach is reached. What I keep waiting for is some kind of objective review engine or reliable, unbiased rating system so that readers can sift through the mountains of books that are out there. However, I agree with all the commenters who tout the importance of professional editing, formatting, cover design, etc. Usually a flip through a few pages with the “look inside this book” feature is a pretty good indication of the overall quality a reader might expect from the whole.

    At any rate, thanks for a thought-provoking post, Melissa, and one that has generated such a wide array of responses.

    • Thank you, Tiffany. I appreciate your thoughtful comment.

  • Kenneth Morgan

    Perhaps they wouldn’t selling themselves so cheaply if they used propoer grammar.

  • Great article Melissa. As an indie author we can oftentimes be overly sensitive about or works. This can cause some to jump on the defensive without truly understanding what is being said. I think your article is right on point and speaks to truths about the industry that many do not understand, or want to accept. I write for the pure enjoyment of it, however, I value my time and talent, which to me is worth more than .99 cents. I view it like many top designers, just because something similar is being sold at Walmart doesn’t mean they are going to lower their price to compete. The person who buys my ebook for $5.99 or $7.99 lets me know they respect my work and will read it. The people who downloaded my ebooks for free during my enrollment in KDP Select (which I truly hope fads into oblivion because it is the biggest detriment to the publishing industry), and then purchased my other work, is an addition to my reader base. But I must be honest with myself, there were thousands upon thousands who downloaded the books and probably have no intention of ever reading them.

    Before I close I do want to share that I was toying with the idea of offering a free Kindle Fire in December, as part of a promotional giveaway to entice those who have read my books to post reviews…you made it seem so cheesy 😉 . On another note, I was on Facebook the other day and read a post by an author who states he will give a free Kindle Fire to the last person to comment on his post; I checked the date and the post had been going since February…now that’s cheesy.

    Peace & Blessings,

    Tracy L. Darity
    He Loves Me He Loves Me Not!
    Love…Like Snow in Florida on a Hot Summer Day
    The Red Bear Society

    • Thanks for stopping by, Tracy, and for sharing your thoughts. I’m sorry about the Kindle Fire / review issue, but I do feel that it sways reviews. It just opens a door for not completely honest reviews, and in a time when reviews are being scrutinized and reviews are being removed from Amazon (many, as a matter of fact, on a daily basis), I would personally shy away from anything that might make the validity of your reviews at all questionable.

      I feel the same way about Select:-)

  • I really don’t get this “hurt the publishing industry” argument. You go to the supermarket to buy a product suitable for your needs. The market stocks products of different levels of quality and you buy one or the other depending on your budget and your needs. But it is YOUR responsibility to make sure the product you buy is acceptable. Selling books is the same. If you end up with a bad book you have no one to blame but yourself. I never buy a book without looking at the sample pages, the author’s website, or taking a peek at who is behind the reviews.

    As to the pricing, there are excellent well written books out there that are not selling because the authors are unknown. When these authors set their price at $0.99 or give their books away for free for a few days they gain fans and sales. You do not devalue a book that is not selling by lowering its price or giving it away for free. That said, Amazon has recently changed the algorithms to favor higher priced books so that is something Indies have to take into account.

    Finally, I have heard over and over the argument that real authors should not penny pinch on their book covers, editing, and formatting. But when I start tallying the costs involved, I find that the resulting tab may be in excess of a thousand dollars. There is no way the majority of authors can meet these demands, especially for books that will not sell well anyway (the majority, and quality has nothing to do with it). I often find these notions are nothing but an attempt to set the bar so high that few authors will qualify as “real authors” effectively banning all the self-publishing crowd.

    • “But when I start tallying the costs involved, I find that the resulting tab may be in excess of a thousand dollars. There is no way the majority of authors can meet these demands, especially for books that will not sell well anyway (the majority, and quality has nothing to do with it). I often find these notions are nothing but an attempt to set the bar so high that few authors will qualify as “real authors” effectively banning all the self-publishing crowd.”

      —- RE: Your above comment – are you saying that you think books should not be edited or professionally covered because it costs money? Do you invest in your education? How about in any retail outlet, would you buy a couch that was colored with crayons instead of one that was covered in fabric? Think about what you’ve stated. You’re asking readers to take a risk on what might be poor writing because it might take an investment on the author’s side. That is exactly what hurts the indie author’s reputation. Those books that are thrown into the hands of many without being edited, then bring the backlash from readers toward indie authors. Investing in polishing your work can only help retain your audience.

      • I did not advocate to publishing unedited books or books with lousy formatting or bad covers. What I said is that few authors can afford to sink hundreds and hundreds of dollars into professional editing, formatting, and cover design. This is just a reality; it’s the way it is. With regards to your question about education; it’s the same principle. It took this economic crisis for many parents to finally wise up and refuse to pay the exorbitant costs of big name schools to educate their children. That is why enrollment in community colleges is up throughout the nation.

        The alternative to professional editing, formatting, and cover design cannot be to not publish: that is not acceptable. A book that does not have formatting, editing, and cover design to the standards of professionals is not necessarily a lousy book. Millions of readers are reading such books and liking them. Shopping for books is no different from shopping at a marketplace. Do you shop at a supermarket by blindly placing items in your cart? No, you have to be discriminating and think about what you buy because there are items of good and bad quality plus you are shopping on a budget. You take a risk when you buy a book without checking the sample pages, the reviews the book has, or the author’s website and other free samples of the author’s writing. When you buy self-published books, there isn’t an editor doing the vetting for you. So as a reader you have to think and be discriminating with what you buy (just like you do at a supermarket). If a reader buys a lousy book because they did not perform their necessary due diligence, they have no one but themselves to blame.

        The vast majority of books published by new authors do not sell poorly because they have lousy covers or are not professionally edited and formatted. The majority sell poorly because the author has no name recognition, and paying large amounts of money for editing, formatting, and cover design will not make them sell better. I strive to make my books as good as possible on my budget with the help of fans and friends and people who will not charge too much for their services. But it is unrealistic to sink a chunk of money into a book when the odds of recouping your investment are so low. This is common sense, not sloppiness or mediocrity.

        • We can agree to disagree on a few points.

          I agree that readers should be discerning, but I think authors should expect to invest in their craft and product if they want to hook and keep readers. What you are saying is that putting out unpolished work is acceptable. I think we’re hearing from many readers that it is not. Again, that’s a choice every author makes for themselves. Unfortunately, those unedited pieces of work are what gives indies a bad name. So your choices actually hurt others who do care about their work enough to invest, even if we don’t recoup our investment.

  • Hey! I think I commented on this article everywhere I saw it printed. Noticing the variety of responses, I have to say that it would be interesting to have some one correlate the bias of the responders to the nature of the venue. I also wonder why so few comment on the anomalies of the industry. Like “someone” selling (cash not free) 32 books in one day and then two books in one month. And I would also love to have someone investigate the effects of the trolls on sales cuz they are everywhere. And I would like to know Amanda Hocking’s feelings regarding her current position as “author” compared to her beginnings. And, of course, I must point out, as someone did here in an earlier post, how can you say anything definitive about such a new and currently volatile industry?

    • Great post! Yes, the responses vary widely depending on the venue where it’s posted, and I agree about the volatility of the business. Trolls and Amazon have a hold on lines that make/break sales for authors. No doubt that the algorithms (which change so frequently) and the ability for anyone to slam a review and hide behind a fake name effect sales. I don’t think this is definitive (though I did not create that title, and understand how alarmist it is). This is a noticing of trends and a hoping of opening eyes to many different areas of being an author. Pricing, gimmicks, paid reviews, nothing is static in this industry–in another month trends will change again. This is a noting of trends and a call for authors to value their work and look at their long-term strategies.

  • Emmanuel Bell

    Dear Melissa,

    that was a pretty nice article to read, especially for newbies authors.

    I have a question though about the whole “killing the x industry” (x could be publishing, music, gaming etc). Don’t you think they kill their own industry by over-pricing everything? I mean their pricing policy is like: “ok 1-2 $ for the author and cover art, 2$ for the paper and 15$ for us, although we didnt do anything during the production process of the book”. How is that fair for authors?

    I dont know for others, but for me, every indie-industry is one step away from capitalism. Why have some smart guys harvest your fruits by overpricing your work, when you can do it all by your self? And i believe, that applies to any other industry that indie creators have invaded into: music & gaming for example.

    Kind regards, Emmanuel.

    • Funny, thanks for injecting some humor and for commenting. As for the trad pubs, they have many more aspects of overhead than those mentioned, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right path for everyone. Just as indie isn’t right for everyone. At some point this will hopefully all shake out and do well for everyone.

    • @Emmanuel,
      No need to equate books with movies, games, and music, because those industry have a much larger customer base. MOST people will listen to music, play games, and certainly watch TV & movies. Reality: Reading books is at the bottom of MOST people’s ‘to do’ list.

  • This article would be far more compelling if the writer had bothered to interview successful independent authors. There are so very many and they aren’t hard to find. Many have had such successful sales numbers that they’ve been offered traditional contracts. Some have even turned those contracts down. Self-publishing is the new slush pule. And the stigma has been all but shattered.

    I also have a problem with the blatant misconceptions tossed in for effect. First, traditional authors have giveaways all the time. Marketing dollars are practically nil for debut and midlist authors. Publishers are pushing authors to market their own books, so sometimes they choose to do this via giveaways. It’s not a gimmick, it’s business 101, offer the customer an incentive to purchase more merchandise. Independent authors who take their job seriously know this.

    And lower priced reads have been around since pulp fiction and paperbacks splashed onto the scene in 1950 for 25 cents a copy. Yes-pennies per page.

    Just wanted to offer a more balanced perspective.

    Barbra Annino

    • The stigma is not all but shattered. I’m a very successful indie author and run several businesses that help indies connect with readers, and I can tell you from direct conversations with readers that there is a huge stigma that still exists. However, if you only interact with indie authors, you will never see/feel that stigma in any other way than lesser sales. There will always be a stigma associated with independent publishing until there is a way to separate the polished from the unpolished books, because readers will always talk about the differences. That’s not to undervalue indie publishing. Indie authors have made huge strides since I began publishing back in 2009. We have gained a greater market share and we no longer are a minority, so to speak, but we have a long road ahead.

  • Also, let’s not forget that traditional publishing is the machine that brought us books like:

    If I Did It–OJ Simpson’s book, the royalties of which were originally slated to go to the killer himself before the victims’ families sued.

    A Shore Thing– by Snookie

    Modelland by Tyra Banks

    and 50 Shades of Gray

    Reputable literature indeed.

  • While I agree that inexpensive or free ebooks tend to devalue books in general, a bigger threat to the book publishing industry comes from everything that is clamoring for a reader’s time: Facebook, Pinterest, blogs, magazines, movies, TV, YouTube, email, and millions of other websites. The most decisive factor in the vitality of the book publishing industry seems to be cultural shifts in perspective on whether people should place a high priority on book reading relative to the other uses for their limited time.

    • That’s an excellent point, Pete, and I have to agree that there is much more vying for our readers’ attention these days.

  • Melissa,

    Yours is a thought-provoking article and I understand the courage it takes to make provocative statements. I believe that a civil discourse is important for this industry and the odd combination of artists, craftsmen and professional marketers it engages.

    I stumbled across indie writing as a reader and traditionally published author. I had two reactions. First, I was annoyed that so much of what I was reading was so poorly written and that I was wading through more books to finish them. Secondly, I was relieved that I was finally paying what I viewed to be fair prices for books. I had no misconceptions about the publishing industry – I knew that the printed, delivered cost of a book was only part of the publisher’s value chain. But I felt that the mistakes of the industry (paying crazy advances to too many authors, making too many risky bets, not providing solid marketing support for a wider number of smaller authors) were being paid for by ordinary readers.

    I also felt that not every book is worth the same amount. I was willing to pay over $10 for an author I loved or an author that everyone was reading to become part of the social experience – or even for a very long and meticulously prepared book. But many of the books I had been reading before indies fit none of these descriptions – and I often did not know this until well into the work.

    I understand your comments about pricing and devaluing writing but I hesitate to support them because I have not seen actual data to support them. I am a consumer marketer by training so I can tell you without hesitation that giving away something for free devalues the product less than a sustained low price over a long period of time. This has been proven by brands from Ivory (a category leading brand damaged by long-term discounting) to Red Bull (which built a huge following by the innovative use of in-situ, full-size free sampling).

    A separate and important question is whether free promotions are effective for the vast majority of authors on KDP select and here I would defer to authors like Russell who have much more experience than I do. However I’d suggest that we simply don’t have data to know and the available data from other categories suggests that you won’t hurt the brand unless you sample for free so often that people expect it or you saturate the category.

    I understand your emotional feeling about .99 cents but again I am not sure that there are data to support it. Certainly a prolonged low price can hurt many products. On the other hand, there are books which should genuinely sell for $0.99 and are worth that amount. John Locke had the right formula for his own success, I think he priced appropriately and offered a fair value to both readers and himself. You cannot unequivocally state that $0.99 pricing is wrong for every author because every work is different.

    This leads me to the one statement that you make that I’m a bit uncomfortable with. “Self-published authors have created a devaluing of the written word, and, some of them are scrambling to see how low they can go to get noticed.”

    I think there are two parts of this statement that are difficult to establish. The first is the idea that the written word can be devalued. This implies that there’s some monetary value to writing that exists outside of what readers are willing to pay. This is a peculiar conceit of book authors that bloggers and other writers don’t share. In fact, both your words and mine here have no value except perhaps to Amy and the good folks at Indie Reader. So at the base I think it’s unfair to charge low-pricing Indie authors with devaluing the written word itself. They are clearly trying to understand a market-clearing price for their own work. This price clearly changes based upon their own brand, popularity, genre, style, marketing and lots of complex market variable.

    I suspect what you’re actually trying to say is that Indie authors are hurting other authors by undervaluing their own work, and here you probably have a point. The problem is that the point is nearly impossible to prove and demonstrably untrue in some cases (as with John Locke). I think it’s safer to say that book publishing – for the first time in years – has become a truly free market. The market is going through turmoil as new entrants try to use price as a competitive advantage. Everyone is getting hurt in some way by the price wars that are now raging – readers (through lack of quality and curation), publishers (lower profits), traditional authors (lower sales) and indie authors (lower profits, difficulty breaking through).

    I don’t think you can blame a single actor in this complex system for what has emerged. It’s the fault of a system that evolved too little for too long. When hundreds of thousands of authors are all doing similar things, it’s a pretty good sign that they’re responding to market forces just the way the rest of us are.

    • Hi David, you raise excellent points.

      On the other hand, there are books which should genuinely sell for $0.99 and are worth that amount. John Locke had the right formula for his own success, I think he priced appropriately and offered a fair value to both readers and himself. You cannot unequivocally state that $0.99 pricing is wrong for every author because every work is different.

      I agree with you, books are worth different values. John Locke did have a recipe for success, as did Amanda Hocking, but the market has changed significantly since that time, and the 99 cent price point alone is not as valuable as it was then, when there were fewer authors using that pricing as their “hook”. I was pleased to see that John had increased his price after gaining a following. He used that price point well. The permanent price point of 99 cents right out of the gate for full-length, well written and polished novels is where I have concern. Why so low? Perhaps the novels that fit that description don’t need to see such a low price point as their “hook” but rather the authors might work with a strategic marketing plan to gain readership. It seems as though many authors rely on ads and 99 cents to grow a following, rather than valuing their work higher and working effectively to grow their following while maintaining more reasonable expectations. Yes, it’s hard, almost impossible at times, but so are many things. Most 99 cents bestsellers last a day from a good promotion, but they aren’t long-standing bestsellers.

      When hundreds of thousands of authors are all doing similar things, it’s a pretty good sign that they’re responding to market forces just the way the rest of us are.

      Again, I agree with you on this. They are responding to market forces, but what I wonder is, are the forces coming from other indie authors and not necessarily readers? According to the readers I’ve queried, most would pay more for a well-written, polished novel without hesitation. The real question is, is it time for indies to value their work and time more than 35 cents per sale, and work more effectively toward expanding their readership in other ways. Why cling to a price point that has so much slush mixed in? Sure, you’ll sell less books, but if you are worried about royalties, they’ll probably come out about equal. Readership will probably be stronger with the readers thinking instead of impulse buying, too.

      99 cents has it’s value, but as a permanent price, it may also carry detrimental effects.

      It was a pleasure to read your comment, and we can’t say anything definitively in such a rapidly changing field, but it’s strong fodder for thought.

  • I find sensationalist articles like this REALLY annoying. First of all, traditional publishers are killing traditional publishing, with their low royalty rates, inaccurate sales reporting, lack of promotion, often disrespectful treatment of their mid-list and lower authors, and high ebook prices. I’m not against traditional publishing and want publishers to succeed, however, they are making it difficult for themselves.

    Secondly, not all indie books are unedited and poorly written. Some unfortunately are, which brings down all other self-published books.

    Thirdly, most authors who write reviews of other books do so according to their genuine reading experience, although many will not write bad reviews because they don’t want to be seen as putting down their competition. If they don’t like a book, they don’t write a review. Those few dishonest authors have tarred everyone else.

    Thirdly, an unknown author can do very well with a self-published book priced at .99 because the royalty is about .34 more (or usually less) comparable to the amount an author would make on a traditionally published book. I think a few authors, journalists, and readers are going around banging the drum that a low price devalues a book. The majority of the readers are glad to have a bargain book to try. If they like it. I know many authors whose .99 books have been a starting point for a lucrative career.

    I am a case in point. My first book, Wild Montana Sky, a sweet historical Western romance priced at .99 had almost 100,000 sales before Amazon Montlake published their version (now priced at 2.99.) That book made the USA Today list. Readers who liked that book went on to buy the next at 2.99 and the third at 3.99. I’ll make over $100,000 in a year (from the self-published versions) on those three books alone.

    Yes, my books have both a developmental and a copy editor. No, I do not do promotion, except for sometimes writing a blog post.

  • I don’t think self-pubbed authors are killing the publishing industry. That industry has shot itself in the foot so many times that it’s just bleeding out.

    I started my career at Viking-Penguin (subsidiary rights), then went to Simon & Schuster (editing), back in the late 1980s. It was a lousy industry then, and it’s worse now. What the Kindle and Amazon’s promotional programs have done is give readers and writers more ability to steer the marketplace. It’s in the early stages, and of course there is a lot of junk. But, as another comment said, there’s a lot of junk in traditional publishing, e.g. Snooki.

    I don’t think traditional publishers will die, but they will continue to eat themselves and adapt. In a decade, as e-readers become the norm, these things will settle out. Some indies will do very well; most won’t. But let’s be frank — the odds of most writers getting published otherwise is the same as becoming a movie star. Let them have their day, see what readers like (not acquisition editors and publishers — *readers*), and the overall marketplace will grow and improve.

    I just stuck my toe into the self-pub pool (last week, in fact), and it’s been a great experience — on Amazon. BN doesn’t seem to take indies seriously; their PubIt service has a lousy reputation. If the traditional houses don’t get into the 21st century, Amazon will own the digitial content realm — not through the invasion of the Vandals or some Illuminati conspiracy, but just through natural market forces. I welcome it.

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  • Alys Marchand, Author

    This article is making the rounds again, and I have to toss in my 99¢. Do you want to know what’s killing the traditional publishing industry? Publishers choosing the same crap over and over and over and over and OVER and over and OVER again. More than a hundred fanfics of Twilight had had traditional deals, and several fanfics of the most famous fanfic, Fifty Shades, have followed. Indie-publishing authors are bringing variety to the market that the traditional industry won’t take a risk on.

    You’re also very wrong that self-pubbing means a lack of proper editing. True, some people rush books to market without doing much. Guess what. Fifty Shades has a professional editor assigned, yet the number of errors are in the four figures ( is counting), and After isn’t any better. Meanwhile, I’ve read indie works with very few or no errors.

    If a book is good, and the hooks catch readers, and the reviews are good, readers WILL pay higher prices. You’re belittling readers by saying readers only look at the price. Even when a book is free, it’s still not always easy getting someone to spend their time reading it. It takes work, and price plays a smaller role as you think.

    Frankly, I don’t see how you can be a community builder for the Alliance of Independent Authors when you’re shredding indie authors for “ruining” the industry. You can’t effectively build a community when you hold such contempt for those you claim to want to represent.

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