When is 99¢ the most appropriate price for a writer’s work? When it’s just a short story? An essay? An entire novel? I’ve noticed a number of books offered on Amazon for 99¢, usually from first-time writers trying to get their name into circulation. If you invested $1,000 to publish a novel yourself, you’d have to sell more than a 1,000 novels just to break even. This issue reminds me of a question that came up years ago, when I worked for a major bank in Dallas – how does human resources decide salaries and bonuses? What criteria do they use to determine how much someone should be paid? If you’ve kept up with the recent financial implosions on Wall Street and around the country, you’ve surely wondered how someone could justify a 7- or 8-figure salary.
So, what price do we place on a writer’s work? Should the writer set that standard? Or, should the market? And, there again, what criteria does “the market” utilize? As publishing companies struggle to survive in a rapidly changing market, so do the writers who essentially keep them in business. We all want to be paid what we think we’re worth, but that’s always subjective.
How often have you read a book or watched a movie and regretted paying for it? It went on too long; it had too much filler. People often make it through a fiction novel and think it would have been better off as just a short story. Other times they feel a non-fiction book could have fit into a magazine article. Agents and editors often will try to construct a book around a single good magazine piece. Anyone submitting a nonfiction proposal probably should have published several excerpts well in advance, as a form of vetting the work.
Writers always come up with good ideas – I have a notebook filled with great synopses – but it’s a different matter to flesh it out into a coherent story that will hold the reader’s interest. Still, you really can’t make a decent living selling your stuff for 99¢. People may buy it, but unless you’re already independently wealthy, gainfully employed, or more than willing to suffer for the sake of your art, I don’t think you’ll be too happy with how things turned out.