I read with interest Roxane Gay’s piece a couple of weeks ago at HTMLGIANT called “Taking No For An Answer: Some New Thoughts on Self-Publishing.” I can understand her motivation for writing such a piece, and I’m generally sympathetic with her opinion, namely, that despite the success of Amanda Hocking and the like via self-publishing, there is much writing that shouldn’t see the light of day. As a self-published novelist since 2003 and a consultant to those who pursue self-publishing, I say the same to writers all the time.

I disagree with other points in her piece, and I feel compelled to highlight one aspect of it that is particularly unsound. Gay writes: “There is also the matter of price which seems a little out of control for self publishers. Particularly where e-books are concerned, many self published writers are basically giving their writing away for $.99-$2.99….The $.99 price point is a terrible, terrible idea and it sets a terrible, terrible precedent….If you have to basically give your writing away, what does that tell you?…If I cannot sell my books at a [m]ore reasonable $8-$10 price point, perhaps the market is telling me something about my writing. Humbling? Perhaps.”

Gay implies that the prices of books are necessitated by the quality of prose therein. This is almost never the case. Buyers rarely determine the price they’re willing to spend on a book by the quality of the writing. (They should, but they don’t.)

How do buyers decide the amount they’re willing to spend on a book? There are lots of factors, but there’s one very important factor that many writers don’t understand: the easier a type of book is to reproduce, the less a buyer is willing to spend on it. By and large if buyers feel a work is, for one reason or another, less rare, they pay less.

Is this fair to the writer of fine prose? Of course not. Is it fair, in terms of the writing, that Jane Austen’s novels are largely available for free as ebooks while anything Sarah Palin writes is worth 25 dollars in hardcover the day it comes out? No, but there it is. Selling your ebook for 99 cents does not–to me and to most people–speak to the quality of its writing. It speaks to the medium being purchased and the way we as buyers perceive that medium.

Let’s look at an example in the visual art world, where the differences between media are more obvious. Think of the famous di Vinci painting Mona Lisa. The original Mona Lisa, which is in the Louvre in Paris, is worth millions of dollars. A poster of the same painting in the Louvre museum store goes for maybe 20 dollars, and a digital version of the same image can be had for nothing. Why is this? There are many reasons, but primarily it’s because the painting in the museum is un-reproducible (there will never be another original Mona Lisa). The poster, however, is reproducible at many places, like a printing company, so its value is seen as less than the original (push a button and you can have 1000 such posters in a few hours). A digital version of the painting is pretty much free to anyone willing to “steal” it from the internet, (which I did).

The same principles apply to books, if a little less obviously. Rarely is the “original” of a book for sale, although maybe it should be. (“You can own the final manuscript of Freedom that Jonathan Franzen sent to his agent upon completion. Click the ebay link below.”) I think the famous Kerouac scroll of On the Road changed hands in recent years. These items would go for big bucks, much more than a manufactured copy of the book. A new hardback–which buyers often think of as collector’s editions–generally goes for more than a new trade paperback, which goes for more than a new mass market paperback. Each step down the chain conjures less perceived value from the buyer, so the buyer pays less. (I know there are other factors at work–like the fact that a mass market paperback usually comes out well after the hardback version–but I still contend the perceived value is less the further one travels down this chain.)

What does this mean for ebooks, a medium that, in some forms, can be mass produced simply by sending a version of it in an email to your friends? The outlook is not rosy for the price of ebooks. Consumers–even the ones who like ebooks–seem to be reluctant to think of them as “actual books.” I don’t believe this is because self-published writers are selling their books for 99 cents (although that can’t help). I believe it’s because the ebook version of a book is seen by most buyers as having less value than the print version. It’s digital, a medium they can copy from the internet, paste into a Word document, and voila, they “own” that work. All for free. That perception is difficult to fight.

And maybe that perception will change. Maybe in the future parents will pass down their Kindles to their oldest living offspring, making their ebook collection a sort of heirloom, and one protected from damage by fire or flood. That might be the best argument for the $9.99-14.99 price point many in publishing seem to want. Maybe there are two ebook markets developing, one exclusively for your ereader ($9.99) and one .pdf-like version (99 cents) for anyone brave enough to tackle the work on a computer. Maybe they’re the trade and mass market paperbacks of the digital age!

As writers in 2011, we could rage against the 99 cent price point all we want, but I believe we’d be chasing windmills. I think the more likely way we’ll see more return for our work in the digital age is by getting a lot more people–people who aren’t necessarily our ideal readers–to buy a copy of our book.

Take Amanda Hocking (everyone’s favorite example of everything these days). Amanda has sold 500,000 copies of her ebooks. Let’s think about those buyers. How many of those people do you think will actually read her ebooks? 90 percent? 50? 30? 10? I don’t know, but I’m guessing not every person who bought an Amanda Hocking ebook will read it. I’m also guessing that, at that price point, this read-through percentage is less–perhaps much less–than what it would have been had these people bought print versions of her books. I bet a lot of people were excited about a rising internet star and bought her ebook to see what the fuss was about. I also bet some of those readers are genuinely fond of her work–good for them, good for Amanda–but the brunt of her income may have come from people who won’t read much of her work. They wanted it in a moment, and bought it, and maybe perused it, but perhaps quickly moved on to something else.

This is not some kind of slight of Hocking–who by all accounts is pretty down-to-earth about her success–but a realistic assessment of how something bought for a dollar might be treated by its owners. The price point is so cheap they probably wouldn’t bother trying to steal it, or hit up a friend who owns it. Seen in this light, it’s nothing short of a great business move by Hocking. She got her books to her real readers at a very cheap price, and made customers out of thousands–maybe hundreds of thousands–of folks who had to see what the big deal was. I don’t think Hocking planned this, but now that she’s done it, we can try to do the same.

When I started writing, I didn’t expect this to be the market for my books. I suspect Gay feels the same. Still, the new way has its advantages. Think of the above as the Hocking Model for selling your work. Maybe it will lead to more writers making a livelihood from their writing. And if it does, they can thank a self-published writer for showing them the way.

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ART EDWARDS's third novel, Badge (2014), was named a finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association's Literary Contest for 2011. His second novel, Ghost Notes, released on his own imprint Defunct Press in 2008, won the 2009 PODBRAM Award for best work of contemporary fiction. His first novel, Stuck Outside of Phoenix, has been made into a feature film. His writing has or will appear in The Writer, Writers' Journal and Pear Noir!, and online at Salon, The Los Angeles Review, Word Riot, The Collagist, PANK, JMWW, Bartleby Snopes, The Rumpus and The Weeklings. In the 1990s he was co-founder, co-songwriter and bass player with the Refreshments.

66 responses to “The Hocking Model”

  1. Jessica Blau says:

    Great post, Art! I hadn’t heard of Hocking until just this minute. Will look her up now. Will also go look at that Franzen manuscript on ebay–nutty!

  2. J.E. Fishman says:

    You’re doing a great service, Art, by reminding us that the marketplace will ultimately decide how we get compensated for our work.

    One thing you’re leaving out of your calculations, however, is the time factor. In the past, buyers have been willing to pay for currency. They bought hardcovers, for example, not necessarily to cherish as objects but simply because they wouldn’t wait for the paperback. Ebooks might have replaced (or competed with) mass market paperbacks rather than hardcovers. But publishers foolishly sat by while Amazon let the genie out of the bottle.

    Also, I’m a little more sanguine about writers (and publishers) establishing more sane pricing for ebooks eventually. If buyers calculated prices largely based upon the marginal cost of reproduction, then you’d never pay hundreds of dollars for a software program. Yet most people do.

    That said, you’re right that the marketplace gets the last vote. The market will bear what it chooses and cares not a jot for our hopes and feelings.

    • Art Edwards says:

      True, I only briefly mention the time factor. It’s probably the biggest factor in buyers choosing hardback. I still think, all else equal, the hardback has more perceived value than the paperback.

      I have to admit I’ve become enamored with the idea of the two-tiered ebook world, one for, say, above $5 (unsharable), and one for below (sharable). I’m not an ebook device owner, so I’m way out of school at this point, but I believe books purchased through Kindle are not sharable, right?

      I can assure you there are many folks who do not pay for software. No one I know personally, of course…

  3. Very nice, Art. Thanks for pointing out the Gay piece. I’ve certainly seen the one side of self-publishing: people who’ve asked me to blurb a manuscript that was terrible, I said no and suggested edits, they didn’t listen, couldn’t find an agent and self-published.

    What’s missing I think for some in this calculus really is the time that you need to spend to produce a quality piece of work: not that you can’t find a good copyediting service and someone to handle layout and artwork. I know you can go it alone, but I feel the same way about editing my own work as a surgeon operating on herself. I say as someone who’s spent the wee hours of the night remixing my self-produced comedy album. Over and over again.

    The reason, which Gay admits, that someone like Steve Almond has been successful is he hustles like Jay-Z. And he’s more like the Radiohead/Wilco example than the Amanda Hocking example: she was able to do this straight out of the gate, where Almond burned his way through several books at mainstream houses. He’s paid his dues, he’s spent years at conferences and teaching and writing about writing – CANDYFREAK was a bestseller in 2004.

    I definitely believe in the sort of third way: a career in which you can hop between traditional publishers and self-publishing. If for no other reason, the sixteen-month wait you spend between signing a contract and seeing your book at a bookstore doesn’t make sense in the digital age.

    Also I think an appropriate, useful niche industry will evolve around self-publishing: not large rapacious vanity presses, but small shops that handle packaging: edits, copyedits, layout and a marketing street team.

    • Art Edwards says:

      Thanks, Greg.

      I’m into writers having different options for success. With Hocking coming out of nowhere and creating a livelihood for herself via ebook self-publishing, we all have another possible avenue for success.

      As a self-published writer, it never crossed my mind I was choosing self-publishing over traditional. I realize it’s become a mini culture war, but that’s just stupid. More options, for writers and readers.

  4. Very thought-provoking, Art.

    When I’m buying something, it’s because I know I want it, and I’ll pay whatever for it because I really, really want it. I prefer digital because I really, really want it right now. But wouldn’t it be lovely if I could support my addiction on the cheap?

    As a writer, though, I’m not so sure about the super low price point. I mean, from what I’ve read, getting those numbers as a literary fiction writer is far, far more difficult and unlikely than it is for the genre writer (which I think Hocking is, right?).

    • Drew Goodman says:

      When it comes to literary vs. genre on ebook sales, I would have to believe you are correct. J.A. Konrath writes an interesting blog, “Newbie’s Guide to Publishing” which looks at the ebook sales that can be created by offering a lower price point ($.99-$2.99) than traditional publisher are offering ($7.99-$14.99). If you look at his numbers, and those of other people he talks to, and about, there are people who are making good sales, even making a living, at selling ebooks for $2.99.

      But, if you look at Konrath’s books, and those authors he talks to, and about, almost all of them seem to be genre type writers. Even my own work that I’ve started to upload to Amazon and B&N as ebooks are genre titles. Having worked in bookstores for the last 17 years, it seems that physical genre books are more disposable than literary books. Genre readers seem (based solely on anecdotal evidence) to grab a mystery, plough through it, then toss it away (thrift stores, used book stores, and God help me, the garbage), as opposed to literary readers who hold onto those books, keep them around on bookshelves and loan them to friends, expecting them to be returned. Genres just seem to lend themselves to the lower price points for ebooks.

      It would be interesting to see actual publishing sales numbers of genre vs. literary titles when it comes to ebooks.

      • Art Edwards says:

        No doubt genre books sell more.

        Maybe all this ebook nonsense means lit fic can finally start charging more per title than genre fic, which I’m guessing is easier to write. As I said above somewhere, I regularly pay $15-25 for something I know the writer labored over for years to create something less ordinary. I have no problem playing the same for a literary self-pubbed book. More in the writer’s pocket.

        It wouldn’t surprise me at all if, in the next decade, we see a lit fic title by a nobody go nuts via self-publishing. Konrath and Hocking and even Almond are all wonderful success stories, and they were all pretty predictable to anyone paying attention to self-publishing over the last decade.

    • Art Edwards says:

      Yes, far more difficult. But then so much of literary fiction is harder in every way.

      I really, really wish there were a way to charge by the quality of the prose–I think Herzog by Saul Bellow is worth at least three figures–but that’s not the way it works. We’re going to be lucky to get the standard $15-25 for lit fic as we go forward, but as long as we support those authors at those price points, there’s no reason it can’t happen. I pay that price all the time, if I know the effort is there on the author’s end.

  5. Joe Daly says:

    Interesting stuff, Art. I first heard about Hocking from Bob Lefsetz, whose take on her success is that more than anything, it’s a tribute to social networking than to epublishing. She originally sold about 1000 books a month (she’s published 19), but she kept at it with bloggers and social media sites, and pretty soon she caught fire, seemingly regardless of her style or content.

    But here’s your point proven: the Borders bookstore near me shut down a few months ago. I saw the “GOING OUT OF BUSINESS SALE” sign and headed in, going straight to the music section. I found Chuck Klosterman’s Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs on sale for $19. I tucked it under my arm, entirely willing to pay that amount for the read.

    On my way to the register, I passed the Audiobooks section- a depleted selection of books on CD. I scanned the titles quickly and on the top shelf, saw the audio version of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs– for $12. I scoffed the CDs, returned the hardcovers and that was that.

    The format certainly cost less, but at the same time, my digital version features the author reading his own work- arguably a case for a price markup, but that wasn’t the case.

    Same book, same words. Different modality, different price.

    I’m reminded of the John Maynard Keynes quote: “Markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.” It’s clear that an iteration of this quote could equally apply to publishing.

    Great stuff, Art.

    • J.E. Fishman says:

      Your example, Joe, is an affirmation of Gresham’s Law: Bad money drives out good.

      Regardless of the quality of Hocking’s books (which I haven’t read), her success is certainly testament to the power of social networking, as you suggest. It’s tough, in all this chaos, to figure out the right lessons.

    • Art Edwards says:

      Wow, what a great quote. I completely agree. Every day of my life I say, “Hey, no one asked me what kind of system I wanted.”

      Always work for the world you want, and always live in this one.

  6. Irene Zion says:

    This is really interesting, Art.
    I would like to know more about how self-publishing works.
    I suppose at $ .99 each, you need to somehow do some work to get your book noticed by as many people as possible.
    I don’t know how that is done.
    Do you?
    I’m interested.

    • Art Edwards says:

      Self-publishing is a very tough road, Irene, but sometimes people work hard and get lucky, just like in traditional publishing. It’s just another option. Not easier, just another.

      I’m sure Hocking–enterprising young lady she is–is working on her “How I did It” memoir.

  7. Irene Zion says:

    I forgot to say that I am impressed at the amount of work you have gotten done as a six-year old!
    Very impressive.

  8. angela says:

    Gay’s article annoyed me. that whole “I don’t have TIME to do all that!” as though one magically gets a publisher to save oneself time in publishing a book. and nowadays it doesn’t cost the author anything to publish a book except in publicity, but i for one keep hearing that publishing houses have less and less money to market little-known authors, and authors end up doing it themselves anyway.

    this annoyed me too: “Maybe sometimes, no,’ is the final answer and we should learn to be okay with that.” i think it really depends on who is saying no. whose opinion do you care about more, an agent (or even a dozen) or real people reading your stuff?

    Gay implies that the prices of books are necessitated by the quality of prose therein. This is almost never the case. Buyers rarely determine the price they’re willing to spend on a book by the quality of the writing. (They should, but they don’t.)

    really good point.

    • Art Edwards says:

      Thanks, Angela. I winced a couple of times when reading Gay’s post too, but I essentially agree with her…and you. It’s very difficult to tell if another revision will get you that agent or publisher, or if it has more to do with them not believing in the market for your work no matter how good your work is. I understand why agents and editors routinely ignore, say, my work. I write fiction about rock music guys, and they can’t really point to a definable market for such work. Still, I write it, and I try traditional publishing with it every time. Does my work suck, or is it just that they feel they can’t sell it? The fact that I’ve self-published twice shows what I think the issue is, but I’ve hardly proven them wrong with my sales figures. I’m just glad that self-publishing is much cheaper and easier than it used to be. That’s always my fall-back option, and for me, it beats the hell out of putting it in the drawer and signing up for accounting classes.

  9. Paul Clayton says:

    I have had some direct experience selling on Kindle, and I have also sold books to commercial houses.

    I don’t agree with you about a cheap price cheapening the book, at least not to a real ‘reader.’ What am I talking about? Well, when people buy a Kindle eReader, they want to ‘fill it up, just like somebody who just got an iPod. Yes, they’ll buy the Ken Follett, the Stephanie Meyers, but then the money begins to run out and they see all these ‘bargain books’ for $0.99, and they might buy a dozen or so of them. I believe we Kindle authors saw a lot of that during the Christmas season. Most of us had our best months ever, selling in the thousands. Then, come February, the sales started to slow down a bit. Now a lot of those people who bought those 99 cent specials will never read them. They’ll just sit in the Kindle, not taking up space, or virtually.

    But for other Kindle owners, let’s call them ‘power readers,’ we don’t buy books and neglect to read them. Right not I’m about three quarters of the way through Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis, and really enjoying it, and learning a few things too. Wow, this guy was way ahead of his time. Anyway, I’m reading this on my Kindle. I bought the ‘book,’ 50 Classic Novels, on Amazon for $2.99. That’s about $0.06 a novel, novels like This Side of Paradise, Anne of Green Gables, Captain Blood, The Death of Ivan Ilych, Pride and Prejudice, The Warden, etc. And I intend to read most of these.

    As far as the ‘Hocking Model’ goes, I suspect it might be beginning to play out. When Amazon started pushing the Kindle, they needed content… bad. So I believe they went out of their way to make ‘self-publishing’ easy and many writers decided to test the waters, myself included. Of course Hocking writes a damn good book; she’s probably every bit as good as Meyers (I’m guessing as I don’t read paranormal). But Meyers had a big NYC publishing house to roll out the big guns and enable her to storm the beaches. Hocking didn’t have that. But she did have the pricing advantage. Her $0.99 book, which would have given her 33 cents per copy, was enough to support her, in contrast to Meyers who was supporting not only herself, but probably a couple hundred folks in the publishing house, staff and other writers who weren’t selling nearly as well. So Hocking’s $0.99 book gets a run up in the sales ranks and appears alongside Meyers, and the rest is publishing history. It’s a great success story. However, I think there may be fewer and fewer of them.

    Yes, self published writers will do well on Amazon and other etailers. But I think the days of becoming a 99 cent author-millionaire are receding. As more and more self-pubbers enter the fray, and mid listers pull their books from failing houses and self-pub them on Kindle, and as more and more publishing houses experiment with pricing, lowering their series leaders temporarily down to 99 cents, the magic works less and less.

    • Art Edwards says:

      Big congrats on those Kindle sales over Xmas, Paul.

      I’m not sure exactly what we disagree on–I argued above that cheapening the price of the book does not cheapen the book–but I suspect you’re right on the magic of the 99 cent book running out. I can’t believe the amount of press the Hocking thing has gotten–plenty of people were successful at self-pubbing before her–but I’m thankful for the attention for self-pubbing in general. Ten years ago, the implication was that self-pubbing and trad pubbing were two different worlds with no overlap. It’s been very gratifiying to watch the two worlds meld. That’s only going to continue.

  10. Art Edwards says:

    Some facts about Hocking’s success from Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords:

    “update: about two weeks ago, she announced she sold her 1 millionth book, and then three days later she announced a $2 million four-book deal with New York.

    Her readers are fanatical. The first book in her series is 99 cents, and the rest $2.99.”

  11. Paul Clayton says:

    Paul, I agree with you on growing overlap of trad, self- pubbed writers. It’s as if all the big canning companies went out of business and now we all had to can our own veggies and fruits. There’s a slow motion crash in publishing and in the econonomy at large. Giant trees are falling and carpets of tiny shoots coming up around their corpses. A few other points if I can share further, yes, people may ‘copy’ an ebook or download it from a file sharing site. But reading it on your computer is very different from reading it on a Kindle. Reading on a Kindle, the current models, is very close to reading in a book. Sitting on a couch with a Kindle in one’s hand… to me it’s not much different from having a book in hand. The experience is just about the same. Okay, you can’t smell the paper. Maybe Amazon will come up with that for the folks that insists on it. A big reason a lot of people don’t want to buy ebooks and readers is, I believe, the distasteful idea of not being able to ‘own’ a physical book. There are two things going on with all of this, I think, the ‘reading experience’ and ‘ownership.’ If the thing you own is not physical, that is, the file, some people may be unhappy with that. Actually, if I really like a book a lot, I’ll read it in Kindle and also buy the hardcover, in the hopes of having the author sign it.

    Anyway, don’t mean to take you off course. If you ever want to know about my experience with selling on Kindle, drop me a line.


    • Art Edwards says:

      So many good points here, Paul.

      I’ve written a blog about this “smell” everyone pines for. I don’t buy it. I think people like books because they’re not computers. It’s one aspect of our lives that doesn’t have to be dominated by a computer, and that is a big plus for some.

      I also won’t let Amazon have my money, so when I do break down and buy an ebook, it will have to be from some other company.

  12. Paul Clayton says:

    Dig. ? What did Amazon do to you (not that they’re related or anything, just curious.) Also, what Amazon gives, Amazon can take away. I know this because it already happened to some folks I know, if you want to chat privately about that sometime.

    I hear what you’re saying about not wanting to give our lives over to computers, but the Kindle is the one ereader that, for me, is most like a book. Check out my earlier post on this, where I sing it’s praises, the Kindle, not Amazon. The nook and the ipad, they’re are tied into the web and all it’s sirens of distraction, and so I leave them alone. And, don’t get me wrong, I still love books, the paper kind. But, truly, ebooks are the new mass market paperback. Instead of reading them and forgetting them on the plane, or in the bathroom, we simply close the file and move on to the next one in our ereader.


    • Art Edwards says:

      Largely prejudicial, Paul. I’ve always had a hard time with companies that have to devour all the competition. They’re out to ruin much of what I consider sacred–independent bookstores, for one–so I do what I can in my small way.

      I’m always telling people not to support the things they bitch about–say, the fiction choices inThe New Yorker–so I try to practice what I preach. I realize this produces all kinds of problems when trying to buy an ebook device–and I totally get your reasoning for going with the Kindle–but maybe this is why I have yet to fully embrace the ebook form, as a reader, at least.

  13. Becky Palapala says:

    I’m just sitting here, reading, and feel this familiar black cloud creeping.

    Not at what you have to say, but the environment that necessitates it.

    The more I read about commercial publishing, writing where “price point” is a regular and important term, where there is great fixation on selling as the destination, the way this logistical minutiae consumes writers and talk of writing, the more convinced I become that academia is the place for me.

    I realize the implications of this. What it makes me to the e-book & marketing converts of the world, those out there moving and shaking and networking and so on, and I have just stopped caring.

    That is what I’ve come to. I may be a dinosaur, a dreamer, a snob, an artsy, sanctimonious fuckwit destined to die obscurity, muddling along on traditional rather than e-book income, but after much internal struggle, I have discovered that I am simply perfectly willing to be that person.

    I just don’t think I’m in it for whatever the Hocking model gets me. I know I’m not alone, but man, it sure seems like it sometimes. Probably because I hang out on the internet too much.

    • Art Edwards says:

      Totally agree, Becky. I’m reading the TNB book club book of the month right now, Stewart O’Nan’s Emily, Alone, and its contents are far more relevant to contemporary literature than anything having to do with price points, in my opinion. Thank you for reminding us all what it’s all about.

      All the good things are still out there, and they’re still good.

      • Becky Palapala says:

        I suppose, like anything, there are any number of varied and valid reasons to get into writing.

        It’s clearer and clearer to me that I’m in it for ideas and that the marketplace of literature is moving away from ideas and the abstract, reflecting a larger media/consumption culture that’s high-speed, profit and entertainment-driven and–with fewer exceptions than not–fairly uninterested in the traditional intellectual concerns/obsessions of literature. Like, there’s a certain amount of looking down on that these days, it seems. Definitely an anti-academicism, in some circles, an anti-intellectualism.

        With the exception, of course, of the oft-maligned snooty fuckers over in the academy.

        Which means I’m going to have to join up with them at once.

        • Art Edwards says:

          I think snooty lit fuckers should run the world, Becky. That is the good fight, and I will be rooting for you.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          On that glorious day when snooty lit fuckers take over the world and declare me (naturally) empress of all-times and everywheres, I will appoint you to my high council at once.

        • Art Edwards says:

          Yes! My first declaration will be:

          Don’t read literature because you love it. Read Literature until you love it.

          I think John Updike said that.

        • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

          Becky, will you finally be getting the PhD you so need? Hurry up and become a professor already. You are singularly responsible for the literary future of our youth. Also, I think you should learn spoon-bending. I believe in your brain, Becky. You have magical powers.

          Art! This looks like a good ‘un… I’m just popping in through the recent comments board, I’ll be back for a proper read after work!

        • Becky Palapala says:

          LRC, I’m never totally sure if you’re teasing me or not, but I don’t care. Say more! Say more nice things about my brain! What else can it do???

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Art, that is a magnificent quote.

          On day, it will adorn the header in each and every one of my syllabi. And the archway leading into the imperial palace grounds.

        • Art Edwards says:

          As you command, fearless leader.

  14. Gloria says:

    Thought provoking and insightful. I enjoyed reading this perspective very much. Good for Hocking, man. Wow. Great! My mom used to say, “Well, Gloria, you know that JK Rowling started out as a single mom…” NOW I’m going to be hearing about how I can make 500 thousand dollars just by self-publishing an eBook. Eesh.

    • Art Edwards says:

      And it is just as easy as putting out an ebook, Gloria. Why haven’t you cash in yet?

      It’s funny what gets pushed by the media and what doesn’t. People have been using self-publishing for years to get ahead. Alan Shepherd, for one. Laurie Notaro’s first book was published first with iUniverse and went on to be a NYT best seller. Steve Almond self-publishes smartly and profitably, etc, infinity.

      Still, a $2 million book deal with St. Martin’s is big news.

      • Gloria says:

        In total, for all of my writing, I’ve earned: a $10 Stumptown gift card, a free copy of the literary journal that published me, my undergrad Professional Writing credits (I lead a team of editors for eight months), street cred, and the respect and love of a really neat online community. My mom’s implication that I’m simply not working hard enough or that the ends that I’ve received don’t justify the means irks me. But then, it’s my mom. Moms irk, right? I used to say, “I don’t write fantasy, mom. And, talent aside, JK Rowling got really lucky.” Now I just say, “Uh huh” into the phone while I bash my forehead into the wall in front of me.

        • Gloria says:

          To be fair, my mom finally did quit harping on me about my writing once I got her to start reading it. Once she realized I was going to make my millions not off of glittering vampire wizards, but off of detailed expositions about my shitty childhood, she started asking things like, “So how’s work going? Do you think you’ll be getting a promotion?” So at least there’s that.

        • Art Edwards says:

          A $10 Stumptown gift card might be the sweetest plum in the industry these days.

          I hope–probably futilely–that all those childhood Rowling readers will cross over to other genres as they get older, but I think the Harry Potter gang may not get what I get from reading. It might be apples and oranges. I hope not.

        • Gloria says:

          I don’t know. I’ve raised one and am currently raising two other Harry Potter devotees, and they’re all three voracious readers with staggering critical thinking skills. Well, at least two of them has staggering critical thinking skills. The other one has a baby. The point is: I think there’s hope yet.

        • Gloria says:


        • Art Edwards says:

          Way like, G.

          I didn’t grow up reading genre–or reading much at all–and I got freaked out by Lit in junior college. I read two Stephen King books in a Introduction to Horror class, and I really didn’t get it. Much later I read 100 pages of the first Harry Potter and didn’t get it. That’s pretty much the breadth of my experience with genre lit. It seems to offer something I can’t grasp–even the good genre–so sometimes I wonder if my work would ever appeal to genre fans. I know some of my readers love genre lit, so maybe that’s my answer.

          If my work has a genre, it’s rock lit, which is so sparse as a genre it’s almost like inventing a genre for yourself, which is fine too, I guess.

        • Gloria says:

          IMHO, “genre lit” just means “targeted audience” – and I think every work of writing targets a specific audience. You can’t please everyone.

        • Art Edwards says:

          Okay, I’m going to stop now for fear that I’m coming off as Snooty Lit Guy, but know I totally get what you’re saying, and agree.

        • Gloria says:

          I will not be on Becky’s Snooty Lit High Council. Except, maybe, in the capacity of the hilarious and humbling Fool, which is a gig I could enjoy. I probably said what I had to say in too simple terms, but I’m glad you understand the core of what I was getting at. However, I’d be happy to have this debate because I love being schooled by non-douche bags, which you totally are.

  15. Who cares? Solution: quit writing, join a band, and after years of hard work put out a kick-ass two disc concept album supported by a national tour paid for by the record company. Voila.

  16. I’m not sure what I can say that would add to this or to the comments that have followed. Anyway, I enjoyed it/them all and am mulling it/them over.

    My own experience has only extended to publishing magazines. I am constantly arguing with the other people on board about the pricing… Which as of now is free. It’s free for a number of reasons but of course people want to affix a price and that includes a number of problems. I guess it all started on Day One when I bottled out of choosing a price tag and then reaslised that people don’t like to suddenly pay for what they’ve previously gotten for free.

    • Art Edwards says:

      It’s an age-old problem, David. I believe firmly that people are paying for the package, not the content. If the package isn’t working, that doesn’t mean the content isn’t. You’ve got to fool them into thinking it’s a new thing, which would require to see the product in a different light. I’m not sure if this is possible for your project or not, but that’s what I believe.

      Thanks for reading.

    • dwoz says:

      Trade publications have followed the free subscription model for many years. I doubt that would be a good business structure for a BOOK though…

  17. Erika Rae says:

    That $.99 book may very well earn her the same as an $8-$10 book might earn another author, depending on the deal, depending on whether what the author sees is net or gross. The pub house will walk away with the lion’s share. Seem silly for Gay to be saying that kind of price cheapens a book. You have to look at what the author makes – not the cost of the book.

    And anyway, if the price of a book determines value or worth, what does a library say?

  18. Art Edwards says:

    I agree, Erika. That’s an element I didn’t even go into, but it bears your mention.

    I just think we’ve gotten used to thinking of publishing one way, and it’s not one way any more. In fact, it never was just one way, but publishing has always had a strange, often irrational prejudice against any kind of self-publishing. I’m so glad that’s changing, because writers need as much from the sale from a book as they can get.

  19. Simon Smithson says:

    It’s an interesting discussion, Art, and one that’s far from over, I think. When Will Entrekin and I sold our very short collection, Sparks, on Amazon, we set the price at $0.99. Which seemed more than fair enough to me, as it was four pieces of short fiction; however, if I’d put the additional time and effort in to craft a full-length novel, I think I’d want to sell it at a higher price point. It’d strange to think that as authors we’re now guestimating what the worthwhile reward for our time and labour may be – $X! – and then trying to back-rationalise our way to what the fastest sales route to get there is; selling for market depth, or market width.

    That being said, while members of the general public may not be expected to have such specialist knoweldge and take it into account, the mammoth savings that ebook publication allows for should necessarily result in lower pricing. Selling through Amazon rather than through a bricks-and-mortar store immediately saves what, 35% – 40% by combining retail and distribution? The trick is how to represent that in a way that is fair to the consumer, the author, the publisher, and the distributor.

    In the absence of that (the genie out of the bottle, as Mr. Fishman has said above), the marketplace will (and is) dictate the price, and that’s not necessarily for the best.

    • Art Edwards says:

      These are all such good points, and thank you for making them, Simon.

      I really do pine for a fairer world for writers, but I do my best to realize that isn’t this world. For the record, I’m totally willing to take $100 a unit for my novels. Or $1000. Fine artists take a lot more money per unit than writers, but it comes down to the medium, and how easily that medium is reproduced. I really like the idea of one-of-a-kind fine art novels, but then you’re selling what amounts to a visual piece. I want my books to be enjoyed like they’re books and not some sculpture. Still, they’d sell for a lot more that way.

      • Simon Smithson says:

        Believe me, I’ve considered that; often while running, and wanting to turn my mind away from the fact that my legs are sore, I think: Man, when I’m in charge of a giant publishing house, what kind of awesome things will I do?

        And, especially in this day and age, I think it would be great to make something reproduction-proof; handmade books, for example, or something that crosses the line between sculpture and manuscript. In this day and age, it’s possible to have both ends of the spectrum.

        Maybe just not so possible to sell them.

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