What Am I Worth?

I went to check my Kindle sales yesterday at Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. The numbers nearly took my breath away: 134 copies, 157, 142. Then I took a closer look and realized these were not sales, these were copies lent via Kindle’s lending program. This is where authors can allow those who purchase copies of their eBooks to lend them to others for free. Compare that with actual sales for those same days: 3, 2, and 2. Well, how would you feel if you were me?

The selling point for authors to join this program is that it lets others become familiar with your work in hopes that they might choose to buy it. But even after all those copies were borrowed, sales never went up. Sales remained consistent at 0 to 3 copies sold per day. So how am I, as an author, benefiting from this? I’m not.

I had a similar experience last summer. I was contacted by a major magazine publisher who publishes several popular homesteading related magazines plus maintains a blog on their website. They wanted me to become a regular contributor to their blog, with the caveat that they could only offer exposure, not pay. As most hungry artists will tell you, exposure carries with it the hope of being “discovered” and hence finally “making it,” i.e. being able to make a living at it. I’m not immune to this thinking, even though 5 Acres & A Dream The Book has been very successful for an indie publication. One successful book, however, does not a successful author make.

Initially I was responsive to their offer. The red flag went up when they wanted me to sign a contract. If I’m working for free, then why would I need a contract? Since I was busy with Critter Tales at the time, I was told I’d only need to contribute one or two blog posts per week to start. To start? That didn’t sit well with me so I checked out their website. I found lots of articles by a few well-known authors, but what caught my attention was that none of these blog articles had any comments. That begged the question, was anyone reading them?

So who really benefits from things like this? Amazon and the magazines, of course. They build a reputation and following for offering extensive free resources, but at no cost to themselves. They invest neither money nor time into those resources, yet they profit from them.

But why should I be surprised? This is the work ethic of our time – to make money off of other peoples’ labors, not one’s own. Doesn’t it seem ironic that those who do the actual labor in this world get paid the least, while those who do the least work get paid the most? That’s true no matter what the business.

In “2016 Book Publishing Industry Predictions: Myriad Opportunities amid a Slow Growth Environment,” Smashword’s Mark Coker points out that a consequence of Amazon’s lending program and free books for Amazon Prime subscribers is that these are training consumers to expect eBooks for free, to the point where they complain about having to pay even a small fee for them. It’s true that there are no print costs for eBooks, but an eBook requires just as much of an author’s time to research and write as a print book. Why doesn’t that count for something? I daresay that the complainers would never dream of working for free, and likely consider themselves underpaid no matter how they earn their living.

I have no illusions that my own complaints will change a thing. If anything, the trend will not only continue, but get worse. I can only decide what to do for myself and my own work. Even if no one else thinks so, my time is valuable to me. My free work is on my blog, where I willingly share the ups, downs, lessons and how-tos of homesteading. For my books, well, if I ever hope to be a professional writer, then I’d better start acting like one now. If that aspiration fails, then at least I will have not cheapened myself and my work. I will have given it my best shot.

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8 Responses to What Am I Worth?

  1. Garrett says:

    Yes, Leigh, this is really on my mind lately as well. There was a recent “internet meme” going around where (in a cartoon) someone gets paid with “exposure” and then tries to use that exposure to buy a hot dog. The vendor’s reply was curt and rude, and summed the whole thing up rather well, IMO.

    I have my books on Amazon with the lending enabled, and I’m thinking that it most definitely does not help sales.

    Of course, I’m not doing any active marketing, so I’m not helping sales either… πŸ™‚

    Two days ago I lowered the prices of my books from $2.99 each to $.99 and sold 4 copies! That’s 4 more that I sold in the last 60 days. Maybe it helped… Maybe it was pure coincidence.

    But the pricing issue for ebooks pulls me in two directions. On the one hand, authors most definitely should be compensated for their work! But as a reader, I ask, “Why is this ebook the same price as the printed book? I don’t get to own a physical copy. So is the paper free? Or am I over paying for the ebook?” I’m sure it’s not that simple, but that’s where my consumer brain goes.

    I expect to pay for ebooks — and I hope most folks do — but I’m (so far) just not willing to pay full paperback price for them. There has to be some middle ground there.

    I’ve also toyed with writing a couple short stories in the “Jute universe” and using them to “sweeten the pot” for giveaways/etc. by throwing them in bundles with the full books for free.

    In order to really make that work, though, I’d have to put back on my marketing hat, and, quite frankly, I took that off so long ago I think I lost it! πŸ™‚

  2. Leigh says:

    Garrett, I agree about pricing. It’s difficult for a print book, but more so for an eBook. When I see the electronic version of a book going for close to the same price as the print version, I definitely think the e-version is overpriced. (Or maybe the print version in underpriced!)

    I contacted a blogging acquaintance after the magazine approached me. She’s a freelance writer and photographer, so I wanted her input. She said a fellow writer says, “People die of exposure.” She pointed me toward great resources which helped me realize that if I don’t value my time, no one else will.

    Have you read any of Mark Coker’s marketing strategies for eBooks?(free at Smashwords site) His statistics indicate that giving the first of a series away for free is a good strategy. I think your short story idea is a good one. There’s a lot you could do with Jute’s world! The story has the potential to sell itself – it’s just ongoing marketing problem of getting the word out.

  3. Charlene St. John WNCFHG President says:

    Leigh, As a consumer, I love the idea of the first book free. It allows me to get hooked on a story or find out that I really like what/how an author expresses themselves.
    As a hard copy author, I don’t get sucked up into this type of marketing strategy, but I know it works. I’ve had discussions with other authors at the Macon County Library book fair (we have a surprising number of authors here in the mountains) and many agree and/or encourage others to try the ‘give away one’ strategy. It really has increased sales for them. Good luck with what you are doing.

    • Leigh says:

      Charlene! Good to hear from you. And you are Guild president! I know the Guild is under good leadership now. I did not realize you writing books. I’d love to know more.

      Of my eBook series, I do offer the first one for free, for the exact reasons you mention. I’ve discovered some good authors myself that way, and have been willing to buy the rest of the series. Where I balked, was finding out that all my books were “free,” as part of the Amazon Kindle lending program.

      With my hard copy books I do giveaways (through my blog) at launching and for milestone sales. I give extra entries for those who help promote the giveaway, and I think that helps get the word out. Of course I ask for reviews, because I think reviews drive sales the best of anything. Some folks are willing, others don’t.

      No matter how you look at it, it’s tough promoting one’s own work.

  4. Interesting. I have had several attempts to have me write article on website, for free of course πŸ™‚ My response was- sure, how much will you pay me? Or, why would I work for you for free? I understand the possibility of “exposure” but it’s not that big of a things for me. I may write a book someday, but I think I’d either start with paper then go to eBooks, maybe. Anyway, good info! Nancy@LittlehomesteadinBoise

  5. Leigh says:

    Nancy, my apologies for not getting your comment up sooner! I’m usually so busy with the homestead blog that I don’t visit here often.

    I think the whole “you’ll get exposure” approach is an attempt to get something for nothing and using another person to get it. You were smart to want payment. Unfortunately, there is always someone out there with stars in their eyes, hoping that maybe this will be their big break.

    As far as starting with print versus eBooks, maybe read my next post. πŸ™‚

  6. Tammi Day says:

    Leigh, I just found your π»π‘œπ‘€ π‘‘π‘œ π‘ƒπ‘Ÿπ‘’π‘ π‘’π‘Ÿπ‘£π‘’ 𝐸𝑔𝑔𝑠 book on Amazon, and had the sudden urge to visit your website. I’m not an author (to speak of), but I wholeheartedly agree that you should receive fair pay for your work.

    I am a 50-year-old, semi-disabled wife and mother homesteader-wannabe with about a third of an acre in Michigan. My health issues are severe enough to prevent me from working at a “normal” job (whatever that is!), but not bad enough in the eyes of the government to receive disability. My husband has his own special problems which limit his employability as well.

    Now that you know me ;), I want to tell you that since I am an extreme case financially, I only “purchase” free books and use the public library when I can get out-and-about. Truthfully, I sometimes feel that I am a leach to authors of books and programs.

    While you (authors of great value) are frequently uncompensated financially, I want you to know and remember that you are a blessing to many and a contributor to the education of future generations. I wish my thanks would pay your bills (and mine!), but I will put you on my prayer list.

    With gratitude,

    • Leigh says:

      Tammi, hello! Thank you so much for your encouraging words and for taking the time to comment and share your story with me. You obviously aren’t the kind of person I’m complaining about, LOL. If you haven’t already, please visit my homesteading blog 5 Acres & A Dream The Blog, because that’s where I do my “free” writing and share everything I’m working on, learning, and trying to figure out, with lots of tutorials and links to tons of resources. Also, if you ever have a question about anything, please email me because my primary goal is to encourage others in their homesteading hopes and endeavors. There’s actually a lot you can do on a third of an acre.

      When you borrow books from your public library, you are supporting authors, because the library will buy the book. I often tell folks who can’t afford to buy my books to request that their library buy them. Plus it makes the books available to others as well, and that’s the important thing. πŸ™‚

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