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How Good Does a Book Have to Be At 99 cents?

The 99 cent book is becoming a mainstay of the publishing landscape.  Pioneered by self published authors, the 99 cent price may be reshaping customer expectations.  John Locke, the eighth author to achieve Kindle Millionaire status, once famously told the Wall Street Journal in an interview that at $.99, the other authors have to be 10 times (or more) better than he.

“When I saw that highly successful authors were charging $9.99 for an e-book, I thought that if I can make a profit at 99 cents, I no longer have to prove I’m as good as them,” says Mr. Locke. “Rather, they have to prove they are ten times better than me.”

Is that a truism? In other words, does this apply to all books across the board? Does the 99c self published Regency Historical only need to be 1/8th as good as the $7.99 Regency Historical?  I suspect no and here are my two anecdotes.  I would love to hear your own opinions in the comments.

I bought The Heat by Heather Killough-Walden in May (which is no longer for sale in the Kindle store as far as I can see).  There were several problems in the book but there was definitely something compelling in the story that made me wonder about the other characters.  I’ve purchased one other by her but I have yet to read it because, for me, it was just okay.  Instead, I’ve been trying out other authors at $.99 instead, hoping to see if I can find a hidden gem.

Ned finished Joe Ambercrombie’s Last Argument Of Kings: The First Law: Book Three and didn’t know what to buy.  He hasn’t found a fantasy blog that fits his tastes and it is hard for him to find the next book to read.  He decided to buy a $.99 book that was highly rated in the fantasy section: Mageborn: The Blacksmith’s Son by Michael G. Manning.    He reported that he couldn’t get past the first chapter and abandoned the book.  (It’s easier to do when you only pay $.99)  He then decided to re-read the first book in George RR Martin’s series which cost him $7.99 (and he already owns the series in paperback) rather than try another $.99 book. Martin was a sure thing, Ned told me.

The difference between Ned and I is primarily one of volume. I read nearly a book a night. Ned reads one book a month, maybe two at the most.  My conclusion is that for volume readers, the $.99 price point is really important. For the casual reader, price isn’t as important.

What do you think?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

76 Comments

  1. Lelia Girard
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 04:07:48

    Here’s the thing. I try not to be a snob, I really do, but it genuinely bothers me that so much really bad writing is now considered “published.” It’s not that I think everyone has to be Jeanette Winterson or George Martin – but should complete crap be out there? I’ve seen some “published” books in which the author couldn’t seem to manage to put together even one well written sentence – one I found had 27 words and no punctuation. Really? Even at .99 I think that’s just sad.

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  2. Ros
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 04:26:15

    As a reader, I’m happy to pay as little as possible for books I enjoy. I think most readers feel the same (see how Heyer dominates your bestseller list the week her books are on sale, and also the outrage about Agency pricing). If all books were 99c I’d buy hundreds more than I currently do. Because I have a limited budget, like most readers, I can’t buy as many $5.99 or $6.99 books as I can 99c. books. I can see that if you only buy one or two books a month, that’s not quite such a big deal.

    As a beginning self-publishing author, my book is 99c at Smashwords but $1.41 at Amazon because I don’t really understand how to change that. I don’t think it’s fair to ask anyone to pay more than that for an untested author. What I’m looking for is for people to give the book a chance and hopefully they’ll enjoy it enough to come back for more. Maybe once I have several books self-published, the ‘brand’ will be strong enough to push up the prices, though I think I’d always leave at least one at the 99c price point to give people a cheap way in.

    What I don’t buy is the argument that 99c price point devalues writers’ work. Price is a factor of supply and demand, not some kind of intrinsic value. I can set my price at whatever I want, but if I set it too high, no one will buy the book and my profit will be zero. I have to try to set it according to what the market will sustain and if that’s 99c, that’s 99c. Of course, writers who don’t want to sell books at that price are welcome to try charging higher prices and perhaps they will find a market at that level. Or they can choose to stop selling altogether. By selling my book at 99c I’m not saying it’s 1/10 as good as a book at $9.99, I’m saying that I think it’s the price people will pay for my book in the current market. It’s an economic decision, not an artistic one.

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  3. Mikaela
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 04:30:19

    I read a lot. Lately, Ihave found that I have two different mindsets when it comes to pricing. 4.99 for a book from a publisher, I view as a bargain.

    4.99 for a self-publish book, I view as too expensive. ( Unless it is an author I love.)
    I think the reason for that is that in general, self-published books are cheaper than traditional books. I use Smashwords samples before I add books to the cart, to weed away the worst books.

    Oh, and Jane, if Ned likes fantasy, I recommend that he samples Lazette Giffords books.

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  4. infinitieh
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 04:37:05

    At 99 cents, I’m a bit more forgiving about iffy writing, WTH moments, and lack of clear punctuation, leaving me to wonder who was speaking to whom (but this may be an ebook thing, irrespective of price). I do believe that the 99-cent ebooks are more teasers for the author’s rest of the series than anything else. If the formatting truly leaves me scratching my head, of course I’m not going to try the rest of the series or anything else by that author. If a full priced book had all those problems, I’d be throwing the book at the wall in no time. I expect more from a full priced book. After all, to me, the full priced book is competing against the library, where I can read a book for FREE, rather than the 99-cent books.

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  5. Ann
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 04:59:05

    I’d like to make a recommendation to readers like Ned to download the sample before buying the ebook. That has helped me personally decide on which books and authors to invest my time and money on. Sometimes the blurb may sound like the book is perfect for me, but reading the samples help me weed out the poor writers/stories to find the gems.

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  6. library addict
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 05:14:21

    I love to try new authors for 99 cents and enjoy book sales and make use of the library as much as the next person. But truthfully, unless the book is a really short novella, I think books are worth more than a buck and am willing to pay more for a well constructed, well edited book. Does that mean I’m willing to pay $9.99? For most authors that is a “no” :P Not for an e book I can’t sell or even loan out to friends.

    There was a discussion a while back about readers and rather or not we thought about the authors when we were purchasing books (how much work they put into the book, could they afford groceries for their kids, etc?) and while I don’t put that much thought into authors’ personal lives, I do think the entertainment value of books in general should be higher than 99 cents.

    That said, if I read a real dud I am not generally as upset if I only paid 99 cents or got the book for free. I don’t finish every book I start, but I am more reluctant to DNF a book I paid $6.99 for. So I do think the price paid factors in to “how good is the book?” particularly for new-to-me authors at 99 cents (yes, I will seek out the backlist or no, I will never read this author again) or even favorites I bought in hardcover (well worth it or I can’t believe I paid so much when the book was such a letdown).

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  7. Jill Q.
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 06:33:50

    I’m new to ebooks, so, sorry if this opinion comes off as not quite thought out, but I’m not sure I agree with Locke’s statement just b/c for me a big issue is time AND money. If I buy a .99 cent book and I hate it, what sticks in my mind isn’t “well, at least it was only .99 cents.” What I remember is “I can’t believe I wasted an evening’s reading to see if this was going anywhere.” I hate that feeling of being burned (hate it w/physical books too) so I save my Kindle for “auto-buy” authors and things I’m sure I want. If I’m iffy on a book, I will probably go to the library or try a free sample, I won’t automatically go “oh it’s .99 cents, I might as well buy it.” So money is still a factor, but I guess what I’m trying to say is a lesser quality book takes just as long to read as high quality one and provides less enjoyment. I’m not saying I think all .99 cent books or self-pubbed books are all lower quality at all! I’m just saying assuming “I don’t have to be as good (be it 10x or 3x or 100x) and I will still make money” doesn’t seem like a good long term business plan.
    Of course, I can’t say my buying habits are reflective of anyone else or that they won’t change as I have an e-reader longer.
    Just my two cents.

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  8. Lexxie Couper
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 06:38:50

    Last week I ventured into the self-publishing world at Kindle with an erotic sci-fi novella (Assassin ~ The Boundaries Book One). I was originally going to price it at $1.99, but after some serious thought, I decided to go the .99c route instead.

    I did this because I figured, at less than a dollar people who have no idea who I am may be more inclined to give my little sci-fi/werewolf romance story a chance. The book itself was originally published six years ago by a small publishing house and listed on Kindle for over $5. In the five days since its release, it has sold thirty times the number of copies it ever did in its lifetime at its previous publisher. Yes, thirty times. I put this down to two things: 1/ the new cover (which is stunning) and 2/ the price.

    .99c isn’t a lot to lose if you’re hunting for new authors to read. That being said, I pride myself on knowing I’ve released a book that is just as professionally edited and presented as those from houses that charge over $5.

    .99c shouldn’t mean you are buying a cheap product, just an inexpensive one. And from all the feedback and emails I’ve received since its release, it appears that’s exactly what I’ve managed to do – offer a “high-price” read that doesn’t hit the hip-pocket :)

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  9. Linda Hilton
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 07:51:26

    Whether it’s $.99 or $9.99, I try the free sample. For me it’s a combination of time and money, so even at 99 cents, if it’s a dud, it’s a dud and I’m not going to waste my time OR my money on it. I currently have 22 samples of self-published historical romance novels on my Kindle for PC. One or two of the actual books were free, though most were $.99 and I think two were $1.99 or $2.99. After reading the samples, and in some cases after only a page or two, I knew these were not books I wanted to spend my time on. The air would have been filled with WTF? and I might have been tempted to bang my laptop against the wall, which is not cost effective. Ultimately, however, I saved roughly $22 by reading the free samples and NOT buying the books.

    What’s disheartening for me, as a print-published author going back to the business via e-publishing, is that Amazon makes more money on the 99-centers. (I can’t speak for the other platforms, and I still don’t understand how Smashwords does it.) I started publishing in the days when Leisure and Zebra were paying 4% royalties, and it ticks me off that anything under $2.99 gives Amazon the 65% split. So when I see a new author’s work out there for $.99, I’m going to make damn sure the reading is worth it before I give Amazon that chunk of my money.

    The $22 I saved by looked at free samples was spent on e-re-published and new books — almost all at $2.99 — from authors whose work I knew would give me solid entertainment. Some of the books were titles I wanted to read when they were first published, but all of them are good reads. The writing is clean and the stories are coherent and the historical details are, if not perfect at least believable.

    I will also say that in the first week after getting the Kindle software, I downloaded four or five free self-e-published books from new e-pub-only authors. I’ve not been able to finish a single one. In some cases the writing is too sloppy, and in others the story just never grabs me.

    Do I think the price is indicative of the quality? No, not at all. I think it’s more indicative of the writer’s desire to sell, at any price. And maybe I should look at the lower “royalty” on cheap books as a method for Amazon (and I assume the others as well) to be able to afford the higher royalty rates on the $2.99 – $9.99 books, but that’s not how my mind works.

    To me, $.99 for a story or a novella is one thing, but $.99 for a novel means the author either can afford to give it away as a means to getting big sales numbers, or she/he knows it’s not really very good and is hoping people will throw away a dollar on it. I can’t afford to throw away that many dollars on that many bad books.

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  10. joanne
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 08:08:12

    Has anyone here actually read a book by John Locke?
    I can’t speak to how good or bad his writing is but I don’t think a high price equals quality or that a low price equals a bargain.

    There are some authors who, for me, are worth ten times the 99c price point. There are some that should be giving there work away. Some old rules still apply: it depends on the writer.

    I am most definitely a volume reader but I’d rather pay top dollar for a real ‘keeper’ that I’ll re-read than a dollar for a book that reads like a first draft and needs to be removed from my device to clear space for something better.

    I also seem to get caught in a web of ebook pricing. If I find a new author that I like whose first book is 99 cents then, for sure, the next books are crazy expensive. Ack.

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  11. swati
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 08:12:55

    For me a book has to be a 99 cents book has to be as good as a 5$ one. Otherwise i am never going to buy that author again.

    How does one even quantify the quality of writing ? when i finish a rotten book, i don’t think ‘ah! never mind, its just a dollar’ …. i think ‘what rubbish! i am never buying a book by this author again’ and when discussing books with friends, i say ‘i just read this pathetic book by so-and-so, please avoid. its a waste of money’

    Even if one is a volume reader, no reader would appreciate a bad book thinking it costs little. How many bad 1$ books does one end up buying before one realizes that all those dollars add up pretty fast. So you end up spending a small fortune buying substandard books and don’t get a fraction of the joy of reading.

    Good books with low price points is win win for all. The reader doesn’t have to pay a lot and the author benefits from volumes.

    I read this on Dean Wesley Smith’s site
    “Please, I know I will make typos and such. I don’t care and please don’t tell me. Thanks. If you have trouble reading something with a few typos, please don’t read these stories.There is no such thing as a perfect story and I ain’t trying to write one.”
    - Now why would i buy a book by him ? If he doesn’t respect me as a reader, why should i give him my money, even if it is just 99cents.

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  12. cead
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 08:17:24

    I read a lot, and I’ve yet to talk myself into buying self-published titles. The older I get, the pickier I am about the quality of prose and editing; there have been plenty of traditionally published books that I’ve been unable to finish because I couldn’t get past the clunky prose. This makes me very wary of giving a chance to books that probably have been subjected to less editorial input, cheap though they be. Of course, this doesn’t apply to authors like Courtney Milan. Milan’s debut really impressed me, so I know I can trust her writing, and therefore I’d read her self-published work.

    The quote from John Locke (whose name amuses me, sorry) really bugs me for some reason, although I haven’t yet pegged it.

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  13. Lynnd
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 08:20:35

    @Jill Q.: You are not the only one who feels this way. I don’t have enough time to read books by authors I like. A badly written book at any price annoys me because it’s taken up time when I could have been reading something I might have enjoyed. I am skeptical about any full-length novel being priced at less than $2.99 unless it’s a new author and it is obvious that the $0.99 price is purely promotional. I believe that there are some things (like editing) that any book should be exposed to and the $0.99 price tag says to me that this just wasn’t done. I will look at short stories or novellas at $0.99.

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  14. Jennifer S
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 08:24:51

    I read for entertainment. I want a good story and engaging characters. Even at .99 cents I’m less likely to try an unknown author to me unless it’s been recommended or the sample really grabbed me. I have limited reading time and what to make sure I fill that time with enjoyable material.

    So, perhaps, if I was a volume reader, I would venture into the .99 cents books more. But being I have limited time and there are so many books I want to read, I usually go with a known author to me. Even then I do have a price point to stay under for an ebook. I keep a list of ebooks to watch for sales because I just can’t pay $9.99 for an ebook that I cannot then donate or lend to a friend.

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  15. Mireya
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 08:33:13

    When I got fired from my previous job last year, I learned to be a LOT more careful with my book purchases. I used to spend upwards of $100 per month on books (mostly ebooks). Now, I am still careful with what I buy. If I buy a PoS book at .99 I am likely to never touch that particular author’s future work, just the same way I don’t with books priced higher. To me, it’s not a matter of pricing. I have to like the book for me to be willing to pay ANYTHING for the book. That’s why I read the blurbs and sample chapters before I spend a single dime on anything. Mind you, I am not a pennypincher at all, but with books I am a bit particular. I do have to say that I am still of the mindset that a $9.99 ebook is a rip-off, and I seldom, if ever, pay that for ANY ebook.

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  16. Laura Florand
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 08:53:58

    My biggest factor in reading a new author is time and emotional investment. Trying a new author isn’t a question of wasting money, fundamentally, and not even entirely of wasting time, but of wasting emotions–my concentration, my willingness to try their world–and being disappointed. That said, yes, I am somewhat more likely to try a new recommended author if that author has something low-priced available, or, as always, if I can get at least one book at the library. So it does remove one hurdle. I don’t think authors have to publish all their books at a .99 price. But it does seem, with ebooks, that having 1-2 available for readers to try/see if they like you, is a good idea. If I self-publish something one day, I will probably do that.

    I don’t think it’s anything to do with quality. I think an author who sells something at .99 in the hopes of drawing in a large audience would be making a big mistake to have that .99 something not be good. Conversely, I suppose if a very well-established author is doing something a little different (like, branching out into futuristic romance when she is known for historicals), she might offer that to readers at a low price partly in a way of saying, “This is really different from my usual thing.” Or, “I kind of wrote this for fun because I couldn’t get the idea out of my head, I do hope you enjoy it, but it’s not to be taken as seriously as some of my other work.”

    There is, of course, a volume vs. quality issue. I do know of romance readers who do not distinguish in any way between the different Harlequin authors–they just read all of them. I think price point would be more important to that type of reader. I have always been the one who latched on to certain authors. So price point is less important to me, except when trying a new author, and even then, .99 or no, there has to be some other reason for me to try it (lots of good reviews, for example). Once I know I like an author, I don’t think twice about the price, beyond a dramatic difference (like her enough to buy hardcover, or like her enough to wait for the paperback). And like Ned, I might pay full price twice for a well-loved book that I want to re-read and have lost rather than try a new author at .99.

    I do think one of the fundamental problems with ebooks is there’s nothing to do with the disappointments. You can’t pass them on to the library for their sales–they are just a total waste. And this really affects the willingness to pay a traditional book price for them.

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  17. DS
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 09:23:56

    I don’t buy every $.99 book I see but if I’m even mildly intrigued by one I will buy it. I haven’t bought a $9.99 ebook– the highest I have ever gone is $7.99. However, I don’t judge the worth of a book on a sliding scale based on price once I’ve bought it. The price of the book is what gets me in the door for an unknown author.

    Sampling which I once thought wonderful isn’t working so well for me right now. I have discovered that often the first few pages that end up in the sample are more polished than the rest of the book I think authors have caught on to the importance of making a good first impression.

    The last time I relied solely on a sample I got stung– and it was a $2.99 ebook– not $.99 one. The book just fell apart after a promising sf beginning. Once the author had her main character in a situation, she didn’t seem to know where to go from there. The story wandered around until it keeled over and died. There was supposed to be a sequel, Maybe she was saving the plot to be in the second book. Am I bitter about my $2.99? Maybe a little.

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  18. Lisa J
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 09:26:38

    A bad book that costs 99 cents is still a bad book and like everyone else, I feel cheated and will not buy that author again. I am willing to take more chances with a 99 cent book versus a $9.99 book, but it still matters toward future purchases. There are several new authors I would like to try, but I won’t when their books are priced at $7.99 and up. A lower price allows me to try new to me authors (and pick up some great values from favorites).

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  19. BevQB
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 09:32:09

    Long ago and far away, before Kindle and Nook, even before Samhain, I used to spend $100-$150 per month on ebooks at Ellora’s Cave, Changeling Press, etc. This was in ADDITION to the $100 or so I spent on print at Walden’s and eventually Amazon.

    The main reason my ebook spending was so high was because I would visit EC to see if my favorite authors had any new releases and while I was there I would pick up a book or two or twenty that sounded interesting and gee, at the low prices back then, why not?

    I stopped reading ebooks a couple of years ago, but if/when I start buying ebooks again, I have no doubt I’ll again be adding more than a few low priced ebooks to my cart. In addition to being an inexpensive form of entertainment, it’s a great way to try out new to me authors and not feel like I wasted my money.

    One caveat though- I have a high tolerance for errors (non-plot related, that is) and tend to gloss over them for a good story and interesting characters. I read to be entertained, to escape, and if an author can take me there, I’ll buy more of their work.

    But even then I do tend to place them in price tiers in that some authors, while entertaining, will only remain “low price worthy” while others are worth higher, yet still reasonable, prices. Lately, only a few authors are worth MMP $7.99 and up prices to me and most of those are auto-buy authors (which I’ve drastically cut down on). The rest fall into low price, sale price or used categories. When I get back to ebooks, I will probably look for the best price on any given book regardless of ebook or print format.

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  20. Ros
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 09:38:35

    @DS: I agree that a few pages isn’t enough. I bought a book yesterday (on Smashwords) where I actually didn’t love the first couple of pages, but by the end of the sample I was half way through chapter six and I was pretty sure I wanted to read the rest of the book.

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  21. KB/KT Grant
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 09:39:23

    I will read mostly anything for under a $1. But unless an author sells tens of thousands of these books, they aren’t making big money. Even though Locke has sold over a million books of his for 99 cents, he hasn’t made millions as some may expect.

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  22. Las
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 09:44:43

    Unless a book is getting a LOT of buzz I don’t even browse through $.99 books unless it’s a sale on older books. No matter how low the price I just don’t have the patience for bad writing/editing, and the vast majority of 99 cent books I’ve read fall into that category.

    You get what you pay for.

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  23. Linda Hilton
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 09:47:43

    @KB/KT Grant: I think he’s making about 35 cents per copy, so at a million books that’s still $350,000 and that ain’t exactly pocket change. Amazon makes the other $650,000.

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  24. LG
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 09:51:32

    As a reader, cheaper works help my money go further, but I don’t just buy things at the cheapest price points. What I will tend to do, however, is buy the cheapest work by an author I’ve never read before but think I might like. If that cheapest work is really bad, I probably won’t even consider buying more by that author.

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  25. Sherry Thomas
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 10:03:54

    $.99 is not cheap if the story is bad.

    The upside to $.99 pricing is that if you actually do deliver a great story, it’s going to make readers that much happier.

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  26. readerdiane
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 10:06:46

    I read in volume- romance, mysteries, Sci fic and paranormal.
    I can’t bring myself to buy $9.99 e books, even if it is one of my favorite authors. I will not buy it even though there is quite a bit of buzz. On the other hand a $2.99 I will definitely try it.
    I think there are 2 issues here, e-publishing and pricing. I have found some new authors through e-publishing-like Terri Reid and Moira Rogers. Their books weren’t $.99 but less than the $7.99. I am glad I took the chance to read their books at a lower price because now I am a fan. I think there can be great e-published books as well as in the printed format.
    I am sorry to hear that Amazon is so greedy -65%- too much.

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  27. MarieC
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 10:14:43

    Funny, I just bought a 99 cent Rose Pressey book but haven’t started it yet.

    @Lisa J: Ditto. I totally agree. For 99 cents, I would like to be entertained for a little while. I’m less likely to balk at trying a new author (like H.P. Mallory) at this price than the agency price.

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  28. Jon Lundy
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 10:15:46

    I don’t buy books unless I’ve either read the author before or heard good things about the author. My time is limited, these days I only read 2-3 books a week. My spending pattern is about the same as when I was purchasing paper, a few authors I will by without regard to the price, some I wait for paperback prices (9.99 or less), others I want at a bargain.

    I actually don’t mind the new release pricing schemes too much. My pet peeve is the publishing of 20 year old backlist titles at 9.99. I wouldn’t mind replacing my paper copies, but find it hard to justify that price.

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  29. JenM
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 10:19:21

    I’m a volume reader. I read between 20-30 books a month. Because I’m on a pretty strict book budget of about $50/mo, and because I prefer eformat to paperbacks, I do tend to read a fair number of $.99 – $2.99 books. Honestly, I would much prefer to read mainly Agency books, but I just can’t afford it with that kind of volume, so rather than not reading at all, I go ahead and read the lower priced books.

    As far as I’m concerned, if I can rate the book at least a C then it was worth it. In my experience, the difference between Agency and self-pubbed books is that with Agency books, I usually can rate about 80% of them at least a C (and more often a B or an A), whereas with self-pubbed books, only about 50% are at least a C (rarely higher) and the rest are total stinkers. Even with sampling I still get plenty of those LOL.

    I’ve also learned that the best deals in the self-pubbed world are the authors who’ve gotten their rights back and are now re-releasing older books. Often these are very enjoyable. I don’t actually consider them to be self-pubbed because they were initially issued through a large publisher. They are often priced at $.99 for the first book, and $2.99 or $3.99 for successive books. For example, I just read a book for $.99 called Sing Me Home by Jerri Corgiat that I would easily rate a B or B+ in enjoyment. It’s the first in a series of 5 books that was originally published by an Agency publisher. I will definitely be reading the rest of the series. Christie Craig, Julie Ortolon, Marie Force, and Carolyn Jewel’s first two books were all great finds in that category also.

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  30. Linda Hilton
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 10:20:40

    @Jon Lundy:

    A hearty thank you — for sparking me to check out digital copies of National Geographic. Talk about a bargain. 122 years on 5 DVDs for $50. I’m going to clean out a whole closet!

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  31. Jane
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 10:38:25

    @JenM

    As far as I’m concerned, if I can rate the book at least a C then it was worth it. In my experience, the difference between Agency and self-pubbed books is that with Agency books, I usually can rate about 80% of them at least a C (and more often a B or an A), whereas with self-pubbed books, only about 50% are at least a C (rarely higher) and the rest are total stinkers. Even with sampling I still get plenty of those LOL.

    This is how I feel about it too. There is a greater chance of getting a C and higher book with an Agency book. With a 99c book, there is a greater chance of getting something that is just insanely bad. Also it seems that 99c books are shorter. I am not sure how I feel about that.

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  32. Tina
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 10:47:26

    For me, the book is the thing. When it comes to books, for me, my time spent is as valuable as money spent. Even on free books, I check to see if it is something I’d even want to read before clicking the button. So no matter if the book is .99 or 5.99 I never want to feel that my time spent was a waste.

    I will say, though, I think John Locke might be onto something. Time spent aside, I probably would require better quality in a book that I am spending 9.99 on than I am spending .99 on. Same thing with any consumable good. You’d expect more quality of a 200.00 dress at Barney’s than you would of a 20.00 dress at Walmart.

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  33. Ros
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 10:47:35

    @Jane: I like shorter books, so I generally don’t mind that the 99c books are shorter. I do like to know upfront how long the book is, though. Smashwords makes it very clear but Amazon doesn’t, unless the author specifically includes that information in the blurb.

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  34. Allie
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 11:05:26

    With ebooks, I generally only buy a few authors that I know and like. My Kindle, though, has some 200 books on it, almost all free. I zip through the free ones – if I like it, I look for more of the author’s work. If I don’t like it after the first few pages, I delete it and move on. There are SO MANY free ebooks available every week in every genre (thank you, Books on the Knob) that I don’t need to buy anything to find new authors. LOTS of duds this way, but I’ve found a few new good ones, too.

    I still buy all my favorite authors in paper, since the paperbacks cost the same on the Kindle (why buy ether when you can have substance for the same price?). My home office’s walls are lined with bookshelves, which are packed with books. I have overflow in a closet and another room. I love regular books. When we packed to move, I had panic attacks after I packed my books and had to go sit in the library to calm down.

    I do make liberal use of my library to try out new authors and to try out nonfiction, especially cookbooks, before I buy.

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  35. Courtney
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 11:28:23

    I agree with Sherry Thomas that if a book is horrible, or DNF, then that author has likely lost numerous subsequent sales regardless of the fact that the book was only $.99.

    On a different, but related note, does anyone think pricing should be related to word count/length of the book? I’ve noticed some “reissues” of books I’d estimate to be around 50-60K being sold at $7.99 for the mass market paperback, when I think they should be sold for somewhere around $3.99-$4.99. I have a problem paying the same amount for a 50K book and for a 100k book.

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  36. Bettie
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 11:33:55

    $0.99 is an attention-getting price point, though I think it works best for novellas and backlist titles like Courtney Milan’s Unlocked or the Georgette Heyer backlist. I get suspicious of full-length self-published books listed a $0.99, for precisely the reason stated at the outset of this post: Is this book comparable to traditionally published books? Which then leads me to the most important question when it comes to books and pricing: Is this book worth my time? The books I love and the authors I return to are the ones like Milan’s Unlocked that make me feel like $0.99 was a bargain and my time was well spent.

    No matter how cheap $0.99 may seem, it’s still too much to pay for a bad book.

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  37. Jennifer Estep
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 12:16:55

    If Ned is looking for fantasy books, I’d recommend The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch and The Sword-Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe.

    ReplyReply

  38. swati
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 12:17:39

    @Laura Florand: Strange you should mention harlequin. Here in my country, they are the cheapest romance novels one can find and you find stacks of them at train stations and airports.And yes, i pick up any one randomly because it is cheap.

    But here is the thing, if the book is terrible, i remember the author and make sure never to pick any of their other stories. And if the book is fabulous (so rare in the harlequin world), I always try to find another one by the author.

    So harlequin as a whole might benefit from low pricing but i don’t think that can be said for all authors

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  39. Nadia Lee
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 12:37:48

    Life’s too short to waste on a bad book, even if it’s 99 cents.

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  40. Hell Cat
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 12:44:29

    I’ll admit that I do buy the .99 books on Amazon/Nook. Why? Because it’s a good introduction price. Yes, there may be some grammatical errors but given the way publishing houses are treating the same problem, no big deal. What I do like is that I’m able to look beyond the obvious.

    I read several books by Donna McDonald and I’m very glad I did. I enjoyed them but would have missed entirely based on unknown quantities, even though it was exactly what I was looking for. I gave her a chance and promptly bought the 3 books that weren’t free. For 3 bucks I found some enjoyable books, which after paying 9.99 for a book that was NOT enjoyable not two days before was a surprise.

    It’s not about price so much as quality. I’ve recently paid .99 for some of my favorite authors. Tera Lynn Childs has two of hers for cheap and it wasn’t the YA that I’m used to by her, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. It gave me a new side to someone I enjoyed. It’s a fun little series that doesn’t take a lot of my money. I appreciate those considering the agency pricings of 7.99 and 9.99.

    Those books were just as good as my favorites because they hit my buttons. Price made it more viable for me to buy and try. It seems almost…snobbish to say that a self-published book isn’t as valuable because it’s not Agency. How many errors do we find in Agency books? Look at recent complaints of authors like Lora Leigh. From what I can tell, her books would be riddled no matter what. And I’d be more angry at paying 7.99 for an incomplete book than .99.

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  41. Angela
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 12:46:47

    Pricing doesn’t usually figure into how I value a book. I will be more upset if I buy an Agency book (for example) and it stinks or has poor editing, but in the end I expect the same level out of every book I buy.

    The plot needs to be consistent and interesting, the grammar and punctuation needs to be at least good enough to not pull me out of the story, and at the end I have to have felt that it was time well spent.

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  42. willaful
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 12:54:11

    There’s maybe *some* truth in it for me. I have to really want to read a book to spend a lot of money on it. But I won’t buy any random book thinking, “oh well it’s just $.99, it doesn’t matter if it’s not that good.” I have to have some interest in the author or have heard something positive about it — to have at least an expectation that it’ll be good.

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  43. Brian
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 13:23:34

    I used to be more apt to jump on a $.99 book than I am now. If it’s $.99 from an established publisher and it sounds interesting or is from an author I’ve been wanting to try I’ll probably bite, but as far as self pubbed stuff I’ll only bite if it’s come personally recommended or has good reviews from folks I know have like tastes. The self-pub market is so flooded with free and $.99 stuff and some of the stuff I’ve tried has been sooooo bad that $.99 alone isn’t enough for me like it might have been a few years ago.

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  44. M A
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 13:54:53

    I admit I have lower expectations of $1 books, or even $5 books.

    From time to time I’ve had a lucky find where I paid the lower prices for self-published work and was pleasantly surprised, or even blown away. The talent is out there and it is definitely competitive with better-known authors and the professional publishing industry. One must shop wisely (read sample chapters to get a good sense of the book’s style and editorial quality) but the talent is there and it’s worth seeking out.

    In particular, I like how epublishing seems to have revived short fiction. I love good short stories and novellas, sometimes it’s nice to have a comfy read where one can finish up in one sitting.

    At the end of the day, however, I don’t expect self-published work to contain the level of polish normally standard with traditional publishing. So if it’s not clean, perfect writing, I don’t trip on it.

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  45. Janet P.
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 14:25:25

    I also have very low expectations of 99cent books. Sometimes I pick them up just because the cover catches my eye and it will be months before I even attempt a read. If their bad, I figure it cost about the same as a chocolate bar and at least my butt didn’t get bigger from the experience.

    Nothing churns my stomach more though than an Agency priced book that disappoints. More of Linda Howard’s backlist was just released and I bit the bullet and paid $7.99 for Mr. Perfect and Open Season – books that I re-read at least once year. The spelling errors are so bad that I really considered contacting Amazon and getting a re-fund I was so steamed. And believe me, the errors have to be pretty bad for me to notice them because I am anything but a grammar and spelling Nazi. If it was discounted I’d probably shrug my shoulders (and break into the file and make my corrections and generate a new ePub) … but I just feel taken advantage of there, asking me to pay new release full price and then pulling something like that.

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  46. Liz
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 14:30:42

    I have purchased three self-pubbed books at the 99c price point. All three were recommended, all three had great reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. One was great (Unlocked); the other two were crap. My fault for not trying the samples. That certainly won’t happen again.

    But here’s the other result. My time is valuable. I’d rather read an actual book than waste time reading even a free sample of dreck. I’m really unlikely to try any more self-published books other than those by established authors like Milan. If these were the *good* ones, given the reviews–I don’t even want to know what’s out there.

    I’m someone who’s happy to pay for good books. Sure, I’m choosy, and I think $8 for an ebook of a mass market paperback is too much–but I’ve paid it before and will pay it again. Not too often, though. Samhain gets a lot of my money these days. (On the other hand, I think $13 is fine for something only out in hardback; paying a premium to own/ read something immediately is something I’m OK with. Not that I buy very much at that price point; but every penny I spent on Room, for example, was utterly worth it.)

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  47. Liz Mc
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 14:40:16

    I have lower expectations of 99 cent books, which is why I mostly stay away from them. Unless I have a reason for higher expectations, like Courtney Milan or Ros (from her blog, etc. I know she’s thoughtful about romance and grammatically competent).

    What’s more important to me than my expectations are the *writer’s* expectations of a 99 cent book, which unfortunately are usually hard to know. Why would I want to waste my time, or even my 99 cents, on a book by someone who thinks s/he only needs to aim at 1/10th as good because it’s cheap? There’re enough bad $9.99 books that I don’t find that attitude encouraging. I’ll fulfill my need for volume other ways, like the library.

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  48. MeganS
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 14:43:48

    Books that waste my time are irritating at any price. I’m pretty careful about buying any book: I read reviews and excerpts before purchasing, no matter the price, because my objective usually is to read books that either are high-quality storytelling or push my personal buttons in just the right ways, even if the book itself isn’t an example of high-quality writing. Even when it’s not that big of a monetary loss, I’m displeased when a book turns out to be a waste of my time.

    Also: I’m more likely to write a review at Goodreads for self-pubbed books because I assume other readers approach self-pubbed books with wariness (which is my default approach, too), and I want to help fellow readers out by articulating what worked and what didn’t work for me. So that’s a BIGGER time investment I choose to attach to a $.99 book. Sometimes that makes me a liiiiittle extra bitter about an overhyped cheap book and makes me worry about looking like a cheapskate jerk when criticizing said cheap book. (But on the flipside, when I find inexpensive self-pubbed books I love or even just like more than average, I’m so excited to review them.)

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  49. SAO
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 14:52:49

    I have a low tolerance for crap, so if it isn’t worth my time, I’m not going to spend the money, regardless of how little it is. I would put up with worse editing and a godawful cover, if it was a great story.

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  50. Carin
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 15:08:14

    I love a bargain, but feel like I’ve been burned enough with 99c (or even free) books that I don’t generally buy without a glowing recommendation. As others have mentioned, my time is valuable.

    I really appreciate a 99c opportunity to get to know an author. Carina Press has had a couple sales where they have the 1st in a series for 99c. I thought that was very smart.

    In general, I’m buying authors I already know, or ones that come highly recommended. In that case, I don’t mind spending some money (though $7.99 still feels too high) to get a well written and editted book.

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  51. Darlynne
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 15:13:08

    @Nadia Lee: I’ll go a step further and say, “Even if it’s free.” Although I download free books occasionally and love that B&N offers a specific book every Friday, I don’t download as many as are out there. My time has value, too; not wasting it is almost as important as not wasting money.

    Unless DA and SBTB are all over a 99-cent book, or it’s an author I’ve always wanted to try, I don’t usually bother.

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  52. JulieW8
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 15:23:48

    Interesting discussion, referred to me by a friend after I sent her a link to my latest blog post on this very topic.

    I disagree that a lower-priced book doesn’t need to be as good as a higher-priced book. If an author is attempting to gain a following, I think it has to be as good, or even better. Then again, my thinking would be to offer at the lower price until I had a maniacal following of readers, then increase prices of subsequent titles. If an author’s goal is to charge $0.99 for every title, regardless, then yeah – it probably doesn’t have to be as good. Marketing 101 tells me, however, that it’s less expensive to retain existing customers than it is to keep having to find new ones.

    I have my own criteria for buying unknown authors and I’m more willing to give them a try at the lower price point. I think it’s a great way to get your name out there, but it doesn’t excuse dreck. No author should want to see a bunch of bad reviews or books shelved as DNF.

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  53. Anthea Lawson
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 15:35:55

    I find that reading the low, ideally one-star, reviews helps me winnow my purchases – and helps balance the friends/family effect of gushing 5-star reviews.

    I priced my recently self-e-pubbed (whew, that’s a mouthful — but it was printed in a traditional anthology last year) short story at $.99. When my next novel is ready, I’ll price it somewhere around $2.99-3.99. That gives me a HECK of a lot more income per book than my traditionally published romances!

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  54. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 16:09:34

    I’ve come to terms with my pricing because I just won’t do 99c. I have lots of opinions on that, which I will spare you.

    Re reviews of self-pubbed novels. I’ve learned (as has my friend RJ Keller) that one-star reviews for “vulgarities” and moral outrage at this, that, and some other thing really crank up my sales.

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  55. willaful
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 16:13:19

    @Darlynne:

    I quite agree. Even though they don’t take up space, ebooks do take time and energy to maintain. I went crazy with the free books at first and I’ve lived to regret it. Am much more selective now.

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  56. Lindsey
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 16:28:29

    I tend to associate the price of a book with its quality, hence why I very rarely buy books at the $0.99 price point unless they’re novellas by highly recommended authors, or novellas by authors whose work I already enjoy. The few times I’ve deviated from this method of buying haven’t worked out for me, so I’ve been sticking to it. At the same time, since I’m on a limited book budget, this means that I’m mostly buying from my autobuy authors (almost all of whom are Agency pubbed), with the occasional deviation into small-press authors that look intriguing. So I’m buying less books, but supplementing with books I got on sale, or that are free on Kindle. Sometimes they freebies hits, sometimes not so much, and though I don’t love the waste of time that I feel a free book has been if I don’t like it or don’t finish it, it’s worse if I paid money (even as little as $0.99), because my pennies are more precious than my time right now.

    tl;dr:
    I expect $0.99 books to be up to the standards of their higher priced counterparts, because otherwise it’s a waste of my money.

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  57. Ros
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 17:25:31

    @Liz Mc: I think I’ll put that on the back cover of my next book: ‘Grammatically competent.’ ;)

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  58. Ros
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 17:28:11

    @Moriah Jovan: Ooh, I should definitely put more ‘vulgarities’ in my next book, then send it to lots of easily shocked people. Good marketing strategy!

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  59. Darlynne
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 17:30:44

    @Ros: No joke! I think that might be a new and useful reviewing classification.

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  60. Ros
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 17:43:01

    @Darlynne: Also: ‘Can spell correctly most of the time.’

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  61. Nikki
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 18:20:14

    I am willing to give a chance at 99c vs a higher price. I read a lot, but I am picky whether I am buying you at 99c or $3 or $10. Despite all the books available for free, I still don’t just download them. If the sample is not interesting I move on and don’t waste my time. I will say, that Killough-Walden has kept me reading her work because of the relatively low price point. It is not perfect but I keep buying because I don’t have to commit more than a few dollars and some time and there is hope that she will make the jump or I will fully click with her work. I have to say, even at 99c you need to have some sort of a polished product because it represents you and makes or breaks your reputation. Sadly, it is something authors at much higher price points have yet to figure out.

    A question for all the people recommending sampling, have you noticed that certain publishers give a sample that ends before you even read a paragraph? How are you really supposed to make a decision based on that?

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  62. Courtney Milan
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 21:07:53

    My expectation going into my novella (simply because of the lower price point) was that given what I spent on editing/production, I wouldn’t break even for months–I just figured it was a form of advertising, and hopefully one that wouldn’t cost me too much money.

    But my thinking went like this: if you’re going to have a gateway drug, it has to be the real deal. You can’t get anyone addicted by giving them a hit of baby powder.

    My expectations have been happily exceeded.

    I have a lot of thoughts on pricing, most of them contradictory and confusing. But I only have one thought on quality, and it’s this: doesn’t matter what the price is, whether it’s free or 99 cents or $9.99–if it’s not the very best work you can get out, you’re doing yourself and your readers no favors.

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  63. Kaetrin
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 21:49:27

    There are some things I will buy a cheaper version of because the quality difference (if there is one) doesn’t matter to me (eg, home brand milk or flour). Books aren’t one of those things however. If I can get a book cheaply, that is great, but my reading experience is not ‘cheap’ – I want the same enjoyment from any novel I read – I don’t always get it of course, but I don’t think “well, I got it for free so it doesn’t matter if it’s rubbish”. I think – “well that was a waste of my time when I could have been reading something good”. So, I’m with Courtney Milan – with books, never skimp on quality.

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  64. willaful
    Aug 22, 2011 @ 00:59:37

    “if you’re going to have a gateway drug, it has to be
    the real deal. You can’t get anyone addicted by giving them a hit of baby powder.”

    Absolutely. It’s astonishing how often this advice is ignored.

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  65. How Good Does a Book Have to Be At 99 cents? – Dear Author « Nintendo Previews
    Aug 22, 2011 @ 01:21:36

  66. Selene
    Aug 22, 2011 @ 01:31:25

    It’s Joe Abercrombie, no “m” required. :-)

    And I love all his novels. Scott Lynch’s “The Lies of Locke Lamora” is also a bit along the same vein of more brutal and realistic fantasy (no Evil Dark Lord vs Heroic Farmboy in sight).

    If what interests him most is shades of gray and moral ambiguity, he might also try C.S. Friedman.

    Selene

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  67. Nadia Lee
    Aug 22, 2011 @ 01:43:53

    @Darlynne: I agree. That’s why even if it’s a free book, I won’t read past the 1st 1-2 pages if it sucks.

    But I’m not a fast reader, and with a newborn to take care of, I don’t have a lot of free time for reading. I can’t afford to waste it on a mediocre book.

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  68. Carin
    Aug 22, 2011 @ 08:58:32

    @Courtney Milan: I love the idea of 99c novella/story/book as a gateway drug! That’s how I see it. It was very easy to recommend Unlocked to friends. At 99c even if it wasn’t their cup of tea, they weren’t out much.

    Bettie Sharp has a free story on her website that was the start of my Bettie Sharp glom. I enjoyed it so much I felt like I needed to buy a story, both so I’d have more to read and to give her a financial thank you. I felt the same way after reading Unlocked.

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  69. Jody W.
    Aug 22, 2011 @ 10:02:44

    Just had a thought. I will watch a movie or TV program I don’t love or rent something I’m dubious about if it’s cheap more readily than I will finish a book I don’t love or buy something I’m dubious about if it’s cheap. Reading takes a kind of mental energy and investment that tv/movies don’t usually require, so I’m pickier about how I’m willing to spend my limited, precious, and oh so coveted reading time. Also, I can multitask with the TV watching–it doubles as family time or hubby time because I rarely watch TV alone–but reading time (when I’m not reading to the kids) is all about ME ME ME.

    And I’m worth it :). It’s one of the few things I do that’s just for me, so I’m not going to short change myself.

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  70. Darlynne
    Aug 22, 2011 @ 11:45:00

    @Nikki: [H]ave you noticed that certain publishers give a sample that ends before you even read a paragraph?

    By the time you get through the cover, copyright, table of contents, dedication and then the acknowledgement of every person the author has ever met in her/his life, you have maybe five pages of an allegedly 22-page sample to read. Prologue, too? Just give up.

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  71. Castiron
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 21:35:44

    Looking at my actual reading habits, I’m not going to pay even 99 cents for a random unknown writer’s ebook when I can spend some time on my favorite fanfic archive and get writing just as good or better for free. I’d rather save my money for the $7.99 book from an author I know and trust, and I’d rather sample unknown authors at the library where I’m only out some time if I don’t like the book.

    (Yes, 99 cents isn’t much, but when I have a backlog of MP3s that I want to buy, spending 99 cents on a book I might hate is less appealing; I’d rather spend it on a song I know I’ll really like and will listen to 50 times in the next six months.)

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  72. Kinsey
    Aug 25, 2011 @ 00:32:00

    There’s no way to make this sound not bitchy, but honestly the only .99 books I’ve been happy with are those written by people who’ve already been professionally published. It’s not that the published authors are inherently better writers; it’s that they’ve been through the editing process. They know they need an editor (my big, big pet peeve is big name authors who think they don’t need editors.) Professionally published authors know the 2nd, 3rd and often 4th draft are not the ones that should be published. You just have a much more critical eye for your own work if you’ve been ground down by editors and copy editors a few times.

    I’m kind of merciless when it comes to grammar and punctuation. If you’re not confident of your grasp of both, you shouldn’t try to self-publish without a whole bunch of editors and proofreaders (let me state right now that I’m exhausted so errors in grammar or typing should be ignored. Of course.) Some writers think the story is more important than the ability to tell it correctly. I disagree.

    I think .99 is a good price for first time writers or writers self-publishing for the first time. If someone buys the book and doesn’t like it, they’re likely not as resentful as if they’d spent 9.99.

    I did a series of short stories as promo to one of my books, then collected them and put them on Amazon. 2 good reviews, one awful one. I do think .99 is a good price point for little known authors or authors who are branching out into new genres.

    I also think it’s a function of length. I would not charge more than .99 for a book less that 25K in length. 30K and up, I think 2.99 is reasonable–the same length costs more with the e-pubs.

    My SIL has the “.99 must be crap” mindset. My co-bloggers and I did a serial parody (19K words) and put it on Amazon for .99 — we’ve seen good sales. We’re working on a second one, and I suggested 2.99 because it will come in at 35K or so, but they’re not comfortable with anything above 1.99. And they’re probably right.

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  73. Jocelyn Z
    Aug 28, 2011 @ 20:36:16

    Jane, if Ned is still looking for books, he might want to check out Ben Aaronovitch’s “Midnight Riot” (contemporary police fantasy set in London) and Patrick Rothfuss’ “Name of the Wind” (first 100 pages are slow, I think you’ll still get enough backstory if you start on page 55).

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  74. Jane
    Aug 29, 2011 @ 07:00:16

    @Jocelyn Z He has read the Rothfuss books but not the others. I’ll send the first one to his Kindle and see what he thinks. Thanks!

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  75. Velda Carpenter
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 11:48:11

    Whether the cost is $.99, $5.99 or $12.99, regardless if the author is well known or not…I first look at the cover art and then I base my purchase on the blurb and in some cases the free sample. If neither of these grab my attention, I move on to my next choice.

    Whether someone is self-published or a proven author should have nothing to do with a choice. I applaud the self-publishing authors who try to get their work out there to be read. It’s very hard to get published through the regular channels and if self-publishing can get work out there – bravo.

    ReplyReply

  76. Stumbling Over Chaos :: What has it gots in its linkses, precioussssss?
    Sep 01, 2011 @ 19:21:56

    [...] Dear Author wonders how good an ebook needs to be for $0.99. [...]

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