Ninety-Nine Cent Novelist

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We need to do something about this. I don’t know about you, but most of the time my book is selling; I’m doing a 99 cent promotion.

Not very encouraging when you have two more books being prepared for publication.

Granted, I’ve stepped out of the promotional arena, because the brain energy it takes to produce a novel consumes me. Trust me, that stuff doesn’t come in a bottle.


Well, maybe it does for some.

Recently, I was with a group of people talking about minimum wage jobs.  There was much feedback from young people that were upset because they could not make an adequate wage to meet the cost of living, rent, power, water…never mind, cell phones, internet access, laptops, cars. So, most had two jobs, and that seems to be the status quo.

The old-timers just laughed and talked about paper routes and mowing lawns, working at odd jobs for pennies while they gained experience in the world. But times are different, yes they are.


I mentioned it was tougher to be a self-published writer and promote your own books. I heard this response, “Yeah, the ninety-nine cent novelist is never going to make ends meet.”


Yep, in the minds of the educated public, the self-published author is a ninety-nine cent novelist. That’s what we’ve earned.

Now, you can spend years of your life devoted to writing a few books that will sell best at 99 cents, UNTIL you break out of the fortress of the unknowns and BECOME somebody.

There are a zillion posts on the internet telling us how to do this, write dozens of books, brand yourself, build an author platform, make trailers, do interviews, maintain a blog, and use all manner of social media in thirty thousand different ways to reach your audience and the media experts that can get your work noticed.  Or hire a publicist. That will likely run you thousands not hundreds of dollars. Unless you have a team of minions.



If you can do all of those things well, you’d be better off to become a publicist. Publicists get paid a mean $60,400 per year as of May 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But I digress.

We’ve created this impression of ourselves. We wanted to sell something, anything, at any price, to get our preciously crafted words into other hands and minds so they might be appreciated by others as much as we appreciate them. We’re willing to give it away for free, because we know once someone hears our stories, they’ll pay whatever we ask to hear more, right…wrong. It’s crazy. It’s giving away your hard earned money in hopes that someone will pay more later. They won’t. They’ll just wait till your next sale. Because we have taught them that we will have one.

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Now, there is this whole culture of readers out there who won’t pay more than 99 cents for a novel, and free is better still. We created this culture. At any given point in time readers can find something for 99 cents or free that suits them, or not, and they are quick to let you know if not. Their biggest complaint being quality, which they most often define as “poor editing”. Readers want to beat writers to death with their books.


Don’t believe me, just google free or bargain priced books and see how many hits you get. Then go to any forum discussing the self-published.

Yet, that’s part of the promotional process…and it’s killing us.

There’s got to be a better way.

A couple of years ago, there were many calls for a collective of sorts and several efforts were made by people trying to organize self-published authors.

But I think that’s the wrong approach. It serves to further the divide.

Another approach:

A quality writer’s collective that promotes itself with both traditionally published and self-published authors whose books range in price from $2.99-$10.00. A web site store where readers could select quality self and traditionally published books that are reasonably priced. And quality authors would be promoted for starters. No reason why we can’t work with publishers to accomplish this. After all, we ARE publishers.

Oyster and Scribd have tried to do this and they are failing because they are not meeting their own standards for quality and they are attempting to get rich off of monthly subscriber fees.

The last eight books my husband ordered from Oyster and Scribd were hideous! He won’t even go there anymore, for traditionally published or self-published. And he’s getting frustrated, so frustrated that he told me my work is the best he’s read in a month and he reads a lot. So, I took that as a compliment. (As off-handed as it might have been, I know he meant well.)

The focus and promotion should be on Quality. Reasonable prices. No subscriber fees.

Gatekeepers (other author members) would not judge the content in the way that a developmental editor would, but no book would be accepted if it didn’t meet strict guidelines for copy-editing and proofing. Authors/publishers could pay a small fee to have their books reviewed for a set criteria. If the book is rejected, they wouldn’t be given but one opportunity to correct it, so there would be a great incentive to do it right the first time.

Word of mouth is supposed to be the very best marketing plan. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could promote ourselves and others in a way that makes everybody happy?


So, what do you think?

Settle for this:


When our sales look like this:


Ideas, thoughts, suggestions?

59 thoughts on “Ninety-Nine Cent Novelist

  1. I can’t set the pricing of my books, so I’m a little removed from this. But I think your idea of a quality website is sound. I suppose the question is, who decides that quality? If it’s the person running the site, as you mention, they’ll be biased because they’re thinking more in financial terms. But if an editor were to oversee such a thing, the screening process might be better. Sorry to hear your husband had such bad luck with that site. It’s tough for indie authors to make it when poor quality work overshadows everyone else’s.

    1. Oyster is not indie. These were traditionally published books. I think rudimentary grammar, spelling, punctuation, typos, formatting; are the things most readers are complaining. Surely a panel of good authors could discern whether or not a book was up to par.

          1. Oh man. I really have to stop getting to these posts before you, Frank. Otherwise how will I ever gain any points? (Just ignore us Susan. We’re playing a game of comment peek-a-boo. And I’m losing.)

  2. I agree with you, with the best intentions we have created a culture of free ( or near as dammit) books and although there are readers (who are very often writers) willing to pay full price for their books, there is a huge slice of the readership who, quite rightly under the circumstances, see the investment as pointless when there are so many excellent books out there for no investment at all. What do we do? I’m not sure.. but for starters the free and minimally priced books should be only used as occasional promotions, perhaps to publicise a forthcoming book. I started, like almost everyone else I saw, with the freebies and .99 books… not any more. Or not without a valid reason.

    1. I did promos for 99 cents four time a year. Typically I sold 200-400 books. My last promo, I sold 40. I’ve waited for almost a year with no promo and won’t have another till August, and even then, it’s a patch, not a fix. Hummmm.

  3. Very good post today. I joined RRBC and they will help with promotion to a degree. Most won’t admit it, but I’ll bet many of our sales stats look like that. It’s been pretty grim over the summer. There is always going to be someone who does a giveaway. If a reader isn’t particularly picky, they can read forever without paying a cent. I’ve said this one before, but the most profitable writing available to most of us says, “Will work for food.” I just keep writing. I’ve limited my free books to friends. Those who comment on my blog, or respond in other ways are more than welcome to a free book. I also know most of them are going to read the book in the first place, and will probably leave a review. I’ve done the free days, and the countdown. I saw no evidence that a giveaway ever led to an additional sale, or that anyone even read the book.

    1. Exactly!!! I want a place where readers KNOW, without a doubt, they are getting quality reads for their money…never mind the genre. Just get the editing done.

        1. I know how it works. I’ve had some association with it. But I see it as minor author promotion to other authors more than a reader focused organization. I’m really looking for a way to reach new readers. I know authors are readers, but the idea is to make it public accessible and reader focused. This means a web presence with excellent SEO.

            1. Something, of course, is something. I wholeheartedly agree with bkpyett, with all of the tech savvy folk in the world, there must be somebody that can set up a store site where books can be seen and found easier than what exists at Amazon with their multi millions.

              1. I had to come back and read your other comments. I think they would have to offer an outstanding royalty rate to compete with Amazon. Under those conditions, it might entice people away from KDP. If you build it, I will come. (Providing I can pass the editor’s scrutiny.)

                1. I don’t even care if the book links go to Amazon’s site for purchasing (or Apple, KOBO, B&N or all of them). I’d just like the exposure of a quality collective.

  4. Since I don’t have a published book, I can’t share my experience. I do know, it I had to worry about all of this, I’d never be able to write one sentence.
    I enjoyed your comical approach, Susan. Sign me up for that free money. 🙂

    1. I have a few fellow authors who agree. There must be a way to implement such a thing without to terrible much expense. I have a friend whose brother is a web designer. I’m seriously thinking about having him over one afternoon to explore options.

  5. Your other commenters have offered valid suggestions. I’ll just offer an observation or two. This quote hits the nail on the head I think: “They’ll just wait till your next sale. Because we have taught them that we will have one.”

    I’m guessing you had fun finding/picking out all those cute animations.

    These lines also caught my attention: “I’ve done the free days, and the countdown. I saw no evidence that a giveaway ever led to an additional sale, or that anyone even read the book.” Ugh-ah Bug-ah!

    1. It’s a real challenge. A smaller site than Amazon, that doesn’t charge fees for subscriptions, might be one way to go. People will come back to it if quality is excellent.

  6. It’s a great question and one not answered easily.

    It’s also probably a question of strategy and authors try different approaches until they find the tactic that works best for them.

    Have you tried selling them at a higher price? If so, have you seen that impact sales, up or down?

    I have read some comments of authors who have said, “Wow, I raised my price and actually saw sales go up.”

    But it’s like trying to read the tea leaves, trying to figure out what the best approach is.

    Johnny Sean and Dave of the Self Publishing Podcast did a recent show on this very topic, arguing that “Free” isn’t necessarily the absolute standard anymore.

    Some authors argue that their work is more valuable than 99 cents and that makes sense. Others argue that a low price today leads to more readers who will pay tomorrow.

    I have no idea who’s right. To complicate matters, the “right” choice varies from author to author.

    1. It does. I had my book at $2.99 and did see increase in sales when I went up to $3.99. My biggest problem is that almost all promotion sites want your book set at 99 cents or free or they won’t even promote you. I’m trying to think of ways to get out of the Amazon and 99 cent promo syrup and still get exposure without spending half a day marketing.

      1. Sometimes I wonder if it should follow the approach the movies take:

        1) Movie comes out. People most interested in it shell out the most for ticket and popcorn.

        2) Months later, rent it for 3.99

        3) Over a year later, get to watch it as part of your cable or netflix subscription.

        4) Many years later, it’s in the .99 cent DVD bin.

        Although many great older movies are still priced high to buy or rent and have avoided the 99 cent bin.

  7. Enjoyed reading your thoughts. I’ve always wondered why there aren’t more people out there who could help authors. Fine artists have curators who manage their work; with galleries to help sell their paintings. sculptures etc. To get a book published in the conventional way is becoming very difficult. With all these talented young people who are so technically savvy, you’d think some of them might be interested in helping to promote good writers? I enjoy the writing part, but am stumped with the follow up.

  8. Completely agree with you that pricing is the ultimate dilemma for self-published authors. It’s one of the reasons (out of 2,832) why I’m not really writing much these days. Why see something to completion when the light at the end of the tunnel is a .99 light bulb? What I want to do is come up with a way to sell directly to readers. And also to come up with some kind of collective as you describe. Some way for like-minded authors to support each other and produce a publishing environment that allows us the support and presence to do something more than .99 or free. I actually blame Amazon for a lot of this because of their never-ending cost pressure that they really twist down hard on for self-published authors. Name me one promotion site that allows for promotions at “full price.” I haven’t found one, they are all about only promoting your self-published book at free or .99.

    1. I haven’t found one either except ones that tell me to reduce my book to at least half price and then charge me triple what they charge for promoting free or 99 cent books. Even BookBub does that, and their promotion prices are outrageous.

      It does make me less motivated to keep at it. I’m doing it because A) I love to write, and B) I’m not in a position to have to be employed right now. But I am terribly dissatisfied with the lack of exposure. I know in many ways there is no one to blame but myself, but how much of myself can I realistically give?

  9. Definitely, every author just needs a team of minions. (But watch out for the purple ones.) 🙂 I haven’t had much luck when I’ve tested out 99 cents, even at promotional pricing, but my books are nonfiction and most are longer than average. Most of the fiction that I buy is in the $3.99 to $5.99 range (though these days I borrow books through Kindle Unlimited much more than I buy them), and that’s where I tend to price (and sell) most of my e-books..

  10. You raise some difficult points. The flood of books on the market makes it difficult for readers to find quality. In a tsunami it’s hard to find good water! The filtering done by the traditional publishing industry went a long way to performing that role in the old days. But the fact is that through history writers have had day jobs. And at least now books that cross genres or don’t fit in any genre can get out there.

    Writers aren’t alone in this problematical new world. Musicians have practically given up charging for their work and have to rely on concert income. Artists who at least used to be able to sell their prints now see high res copies splashed across the net. I used to be in software and there is a strong bias that says all software should be free. And the people who download all the stolen work don’t see themselves as doing anything wrong.

    I don’t know what the answer is. We’re not going to turn back time. I, for one, wouldn’t want to.

    1. You are so right. I remember Napster and the huge law suit. I have indie film maker friends who spend thousands to make a film that only gets seen in a few venues. Then it goes to You tube for free. I’m glad to be able to produce books in ebook form, as that is mostly what I sell. The future does seem rather shaky. I’ll keep writing, no matter what happens,. It’s what I do. But I’m not expecting myself to really make a living at it. Thank goodness for disability and a supportive husband.

  11. I think it is a great idea. The quality of books is a growing issue. There are great books missed in an ocean of drivel and some badly written books getting sales because thousands have been spent on exiting and publishing.

    1. Precisely. An ocean of drivel, and people do complain about that. I know my husband spends about thirty dollars to find an author he likes….he’ll read through two dozen books or more until, voila, he finds an author he can enjoy following.

  12. I don’t set my price, so I can’t weigh in. This is one of the reasons I chose traditional over self-publishing. It’s a shame, too, because there are so many wonderful self-pubbed books out there.

    1. Self published are also finding it difficult to sell now that so much of the marketing burden is upon them. This collective would be for all authors who have books priced under ten dollars.

      1. Most of the marketing burden is on ALL authors regardless of publishing path. However, trad-pubbed authors can’t set their own prices. Though you can request promotions, and they’re almost always granted.

        1. The traditionally published crime novels my husband purchases are usually priced around $7-8.00, so those fall well into the range I’m considering. He passed on the latest Sue Grafton novel until it goes on sale. He won’t pay twice that for anyone.

  13. This post makes a lot of good sense, SK. The quality issue is a big one. And so is marketing.
    The simple fact is that many more people are writing these days, and millions are writing books.
    Who sets the standards for quality? And how to stand out from among the millions?
    I wish I knew the answers.
    For issue #1, all I have to say is: “Every good writer needs a great editor”.

  14. Very interesting post, Susan. Quality is definitely important, as well as price. I wish I had some answers.

    On the other end of things, I can’t set the price of my books. The reference books I’ve done most recently are intended for libraries, but I think if they’re weren’t so expensive, individuals might buy them, too. (I think the Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast would be a great coffee table book.) 😉

  15. When you get down to it Susan, all the time spent writing, editing, publishing and marketing doesn’t even add up to minimum wage in the long run. And yes, we’ve done this to ourselves and are backed into a corner it seems! ~Elle

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