What is my work worth?

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeHi! This is a post for the insecure Writer’s Support Group, we post the first Wednesday of each month to air our writerly insecurities. Join us! Or just hop around and read our posts, and feel less alone in your own insecurities.

Usually I try to keep my IWSG posts fairly short (I think it is a group rule actually) but this one will be a little longer. Sorry! I haven’t posted to this blog in almost a month, and I’ve got a few extra words to say.

So let me start at the beginning… My favorite genre, the genre I read and write in most, is Gay Romance, or m/m Romance. And in m/m, the drama level is generally higher than normal for some reason. I’ve learned to deal. It does suck me in sometimes, though! The latest drama storm has a few centers. One is about the way readers will “read and return” e-books to amazon, or pirate our work, or just demand lower prices. Overall, this sucks. But let me break down the layers of suckage:

Layer 1: Amazon lets people return a digital book, no questions asked, within 7 days of purchase. In some ways, this practice is good for me as an author. It means buying my books is a zero-risk decision. Don’t like my book? Send it back. So people can feel free to click that “buy” button without worry. The trouble is, it is SUPER easy to keep on reading for free by returning. Even if Amazon catches on and cuts you off, you can just make a new account and keep on scamming. I have very few returns, so I don’t personally have a big problem with this Amazon policy, but it does hurt some authors, and I will back them up before I back up Amazon.

Layer 2: Pirates. There always will be thieves, we can’t stop that. But book thieves are an odd breed, who somehow think they are doing us authors a favor when they steal our books. As if we get some kind of power or boost just by being read. Uh, no. I’m not Lord Voldemort, and simply saying my name (or reading my words) does not pay my mortgage. Pirates don’t help authors. That is a lie they tell themselves because they know damn well they are doing something wrong. It might help them sleep better, but it is still a lie. Yet I can’t stop pirates, I am powerless against them, so I guess I should not waste my energy worrying about them.

Layer 3: Readers want lower prices, would prefer all books be free or .99. And oh yes also they’d like books to all be over 200 pages, please, otherwise it’s not really “worth it.” I will admit I have a lot of sympathy for the price issues. As a reader I also balk at books over $5. Romance readers are THE BEST readers, and I’m not just saying that because I am one (okay maybe that’s why) but because we read a lot. Most of us can happily tear through a novel a night. And at $5 or more per book, well, that means we can easily spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars each year on our reading habits. That’s…nuts. So we constantly search the current free lists, subscribe to bookbub, and whine about “overpriced” books. I get it. I’m with you. BUT: I also write and self-publish, which takes a lot of time and money, and when people tell me that my art isn’t worth as much as a cup of coffee, it hurts. And it also means I have to write less, because if writing isn’t paying the bills, then more of my time has to get diverted to a job that brings in real money.

So all that is one part of the drama. Another is about an author who is really a group of authors. I guess someone noticed that an author was popping books out at a crazy pace, and those books were all making rank, and they got suspicious. It might sound distrustful or mean but I do understand their worry. With the abundance of plagiarists and scammers out there, especially (it seems) in m/m Romance, their suspicions were reasonable. (And how sad is that? 😦 ) The author responded by admitting they are actually a group of authors working together to produce books quickly, and that explained that. But it left me with an odd feeling. I don’t begrudge this author-group their success, still I don’t like what it means: that a single author’s chances of “making it” are slim. Amazon’s algorithms reward new releases and readers reward quantity. But even the most prolific of us can rarely get more than three books out in a year. How can we compete with “authors” who can put out one or two a month?

All these things devalue writing. Treating books as less valuable than almost anything else you can buy sucks. (Seriously what can you buy for $3 nowadays besides an e-book??? And how many of those things will entertain you for hours? Make you laugh, cry, think, feel??? Let me know when you think of something.)  Expecting authors to be like machines, who need to pump out product at impossible rates while still interacting with readers and posting blogs and tweeting and instagramming and whatever else also sucks. These expectations, combined with Amazon’s algorithms and policies which shower the top earners with more exposure while keeping the unknowns unknown, make it a minor miracle anyone can earn even a hobby income from publishing these days.

It all leaves me wondering: what is my work worth?

Is it only worth what people will pay for it (so, basically, nothing)? Or is it priceless, as art, with an intangible value beyond dollars and cents? Is it worth your time? Is it worth mine? Is it worth less if people don’t like it, and more if my star-rating average is higher? I have no idea.

What I will say is a giant THANK YOU to those who buy, read, and review books. Not just my books, all books. You are keeping authors in business, literally. You are awesome! I love you.

I also love my fellow authors who constantly try to produce great books, who share their tips and tricks, who dive in to author/reader communities even though it can sometimes be a crazy jungle of feelings and opinions, filled with innumerable dangers. You also are awesome! Thank you for being part of my community.

I want to keep producing quality, carefully crafted books. I want to earn some money by doing that. I also want readers (and society at large) to appreciate the diverse beauty and multi-faceted influence of fiction. I wish I knew how to help these things happen. Any ideas? I’m listening.

14 thoughts on “What is my work worth?

  1. I believe that good writing wins in the long run and I believe that those who are cheating the market will suffer the consequences in their own lives. The only thing I can say is to keep producing quality carefully crafted books. Don’t sink to the methods and tactics that others are using. You won’t feel comfortable with yourself because your goals demand excellent.

    Patricia @ http://www.patgarciaschaack.com/thinking_it_over/2016/05/wippet-wednesday-may-4-2016.html

  2. I once had a friend who financially supported his wife. She was a painter, and not surprisingly, she didn’t make much money. But my friend always said he was happy to support her, because, even if she never sold a painting, he believed the world was a better place because she made art. And I try to believe that myself, because I can’t imagine I’ll be making money anytime soon, as I move into the third year of working on my prequel (which will probably need at least one more year.) There’s almost no chance I will get a return on that time investment, but I do it because I love it and honestly, because I can’t not do it.

    I think some authors make the money their priority, and yes, they might make a little more, but probably not *that much* more. Your books are moving and lovely, and certainly worth more than people pay for them, and I’m glad they exist in the world. I don’t really know what can be done about the money end of things, but I agree there should be a larger shift in the way we think about how much to pay for books and how much art in general is worth.

    • omg I wish my husband would be more like your friend’s husband! (He is supportive but he grumbles a lot about being poor) that is a fantastic attitude your friend’s hubs has 🙂 I will try to keep it in my heart as well.

      And thank you for your kind words about my stories ❤

  3. I think I agree with Patricia.

    You have to think, too, that group of authors even if they’re doing it together are publishing at a super fast pace it will one day catch up with them. I read am AMA with Michael Grant (Gone series but more importantly ANIMORPHS omg my childhood love!) and he spoke of how he and his wife were at one point publishing a book a month for Animorphs and it seemed like a torturous thing. It seemed to be the making of him in a way, his writing was forged under pressure, but also it sounded like he knew it could never last and that he wanted to be given the time to write at a pace that was manageable and produced things he loved and were his own. idk if that’s of any help but I think what I’m saying is this too shall pass — both for you and the authors who are writing cheaply and quickly and under one name.

    • Hi Mia, thanks for the comment 🙂
      Yeah I think what really bugs me about the author-collective thing is not the author’s tactics, but what it reveals about the business of commercial fiction. I mean, more power to them if they found a way to band together for mutual benefit.
      BUT it does highlight the way most book vendors (and buyers/readers by extension) reward those at the “top” while making it ever more difficult for those closer to the “bottom” to break through. And I do understand why, it makes sense, it just kind of sucks because I am one of those on the bottom! lol
      It also kind of sucks for readers when the same few dozen authors are constantly the only ones promoted by Amazon (or other vendors) in their “you might like…” and “also bought” lists. Browsing sometimes feels like seeing the same few books over and over, and that is frustrating.
      *sigh* I am sure the current system will change soon enough, as it always does, and there will be new worries, new scams, and new yardsticks with which to measure our success 🙂

  4. I bought a mini Slinky from Walmart for less than $3. And that will entertain me for hours, but that could just be me…

    My goal in writing/publishing is to produce books that I’m happy with. If other people should happen to buy and like them, too, then that’s all right. And if they don’t want to buy my book because they think the price is too high, then that’s all right, too. I’m fortunate enough to have a significant other to support me in that endeavor.

    As a reader, I balk at buying an Ebook priced over $8.99. If it’s something I really want to own, I’ll just go get the physical copy instead.

    • Oh! If only my work could be as popular and well-loved as the slinky!! I’d never complain about sales or money again, I’m sure 🙂
      e-book prices are always a struggle, but I agree when it reaches a certain level it makes more sense to either buy a physical copy or just get it from the library.
      thanks for commenting!

  5. If it makes you feel any better, Amazon works it’s own employees at this same slave-driven whip-to-the-back pace. So instead of thinking of it as a production schedule determined to kill you, think of it as experiencing what it’s like to work for one of the most powerful corporations in the world. 😀

    • lol I will try to keep that in mind.
      It is a tough balance to keep production AND quality up. For me it seems like I can only manage one or the other!
      I guess I will keep trying 🙂

  6. I firmly believe quality will win out over quantity. There is a boatload of garbage floating around Amazon’s e-book section, a lot of it plagiarized, public domain or horribly written junk pushed out by people seeking a quick buck. Those people will always be there, because as the old ones get bored and find new quick money schemes, new ones take their place.

    All we can do is keep producing good books, and marketing them to our readers as much as possible. Keep writing what you love, keep putting it out there, and keep connecting with readers.

    P.S. I love m/m romance. Your novels are officially on my reading list 🙂

    • I hope you are right 🙂 and thanks for adding me to your reading list!
      A big part of why I try to produce the best work I can is that I want to be proud of what I do, I want to be able to tell people about my work and not internally cringe. I want my kids to someday be proud of my career.
      I also want to pay my bills, though… LOL
      I will keep trying to do both. Thanks for stopping by! ❤

  7. As to the question of what art is worht, I have only this:

    When Tolkien’s ‘Fellowship of the Ring’ came out, a highly regarded American critic stated if people “must read about imaginary kingdoms,” they should instead choose ‘Poictesme’ from an author named James Branch Caball.

    Who’s still remembered?

    • Interesting! I just looked him up, had never heard of him I’m sorry to say. But I might try to read his book(s).
      Unfortunately, I’m more likely to be a Cabell than a Tolkien, as far as fame and/or popularity goes, and even that is a long shot 🙂
      Thanks for the comment!

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