I recently came across a post somewhere — sadly, I’ve forgotten where it was and who wrote it — about valuing one’s own work. The context was self-published books, and while I don’t have a vast amount of experience with this, I do have some, and I’d like to share my experiences with you.
The post in question suggested that people shouldn’t charge less than $10 for their self-published books; while that’s a great idea in theory, in practice it’s unworkable. First of all, it’s important to know what others are charging for similar works. Also important: ask yourself are you a “name?” By that I mean, are readers/consumers likely to have heard of you? This is the time for brutal honesty. For me, the answer is “no.” Despite having written for dozens of RPG supplements, very few people in the gaming industry have even heard of me, much less associate me with a gaming product or piece of fiction writing. “Names” can charge more for their work, as they tend to have fans and followers who will specifically buy their works, and spread the news of a new title by word of mouth.
In my case, both of my self-published titles are short works for gaming. Being short, charging $10 a piece for them a sure-fire way to sell very few copies. Also, gamers are notoriously “price-conscious,” meaning they don’t often like to shell out money for their gaming stuff. Fair enough; gaming books can be kind of expensive. I priced both of my self-published books around $2: it’s cheap, and also, since the page count on both is low (16 and 9 pages, respectively) two dollars seems a reasonable price for that. Certainly I would like to earn more; since both are published under community content authority, I split the money: I get half, and the publisher of the source material and the hosting company split the other half. I feel it’s a fair deal. So the idea of a blanket cost of $10 should be taken with a grain of salt Again, I strongly suspect the author of the post was referring to novels; even so, I think that price point needs to be adjusted for common-sense reasons.
There is also a perception that ebooks are worth less. Since they aren’t printed on paper, the costs associated with it should be lower, right? Yes and no. While it’s true that it costs next to nothing to deliver an ebook to someone, there are still costs involved with producing that book, whether in print or digitally. First, you have to pay the writer of the work (YAY!). Then there are the artists who create the fetching cover artwork, the interior illustrations, and even the layout of the book. Next, there are the editors and proofreaders, who make sure the book is as good as it can possibly be. For ebooks, you also have to kick back part of the cover price for the site that hosts your book, making it available to browse and be downloaded. All that costs money.
I am among the legions of authors who find their self-published work available for free on pirate sites. There are pretty strong opinions on pirate sites among the author community for obvious reasons; they steal our work and give it away for free, literally taking food out of our mouths. However, I feel that most people who frequent those sites wouldn’t buy the book anyway. Mostly, they seem to be hoarders, grabbing something because it’s free, not because they genuinely want it, or even will use it. In that sense, it appears much less like they’re taking food out of my mouth. If the book wasn’t available on a pirate site, it’s doubtful the majority of those people would even have heard of my books, much less bought them. I’ve heard stories that a customer contacted a publisher — usually at a convention — to tell them that they found one of the publisher’s books on a pirate site, downloaded it, and liked it so much that they bought a copy. Sadly, those stories are few and far between. Mostly, the scenario runs like this:
Gamer: “Hi, I really liked your work on X. I got it from (known pirate site) and my friends and I use it in nearly every game.” Author: “Sigh.”
So here’s where I plug my own stuff: I have a sourcebook for Vampire: the Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition, titled Madison By Night. It gives details on the fictional vampires and locations of note in the area of Madison, Wisconsin, and also gives background on the areas history, blending the real with the fictional. Here’s the link: http://Madison By Night link: https://www.storytellersvault.com/product/218710/Madison-by-Night?src=hottest_filtered&filters=0_45624_0_0_0_0&affiliate_id=234579
My most recent effort is a scenario using the D&D Fifth Edition rules in a setting called the Scarred Lands. It’s a short adventure, suitable for one evening’s play, and works well as either a one-shot adventure, or to kick off a new campaign. Here’s that link: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/271587/Consumed&affiliate_id=234579
Valuing your own work is definitely a positive thing overall. It gives one a sense of confidence and self-worth often lacking in our culture. However, it’s also important to be realistic in one’s approach to pricing one’s own work. The best rule of thumb is to find out what others are charging for similar work and go with that. Making a living at any of the arts is tough, but selling some for less is usually better than selling none for more.