My publisher’s free books in the big Smashwords sale

Smashwords “Authors Give Back” sale of discounted or free books runs through April 20. My publisher, Thomas-Jacob, has the following free e-books in the sale.

 

 

 

 

 

Stay inside. Read for free. Enjoy the books.

–Malcolm

 

Do free books devalue an author’s worth in the public eye?

There must be a thousand gimmicks on the Internet showing emerging writers how to become better-known writers. Some “gurus” advocate “street teams” who read and talk-up an author’s books. Some suggest various methods for gaming Amazon’s algorithms so that an out-of-nowhere book suddenly becomes a bestseller. Others say each of us needs a giveaway book that shows readers our style that includes links to the primary books we’re trying to sell.

I’ve had dinner at Antoine’s numerous times and I like their food. One has to earn the kind of reputation they have. But that doesn’t mean everyone else is chopped liver.

There are stories–some probably true–that tell of unknown writers who followed a guru’s publicity program and suddenly sold $100,000 worth of books. These often sound like the claims I used to see in chain letters. And, notably, while I read a lot, I’ve never heard of any of the authors who became rich according to these claims.

If you look at a lot of prospective books on Amazon and elsewhere, you’ll see that the Kindle edition of a well-known author’s fiction costs more than the hardback edition of an unknown author’s novels. Well, obviously people are going to pay more for a dinner at Antoine’s Restaurant than a quarter pounder and fries at McDonald’s.

Yet, sometimes I think emerging authors are setting their prices too low. This reminds me of the old phrase “I can get it for you wholesale.” Sure, but how good is it?

I don’t expect to compete–on price–with John Grisham or J. K. Rowling. Yet, if I set the price of my books too low, this gives prospective readers the idea that I’m not charging more because my work isn’t worth more.  Nor would I expect a mom and pop diner in Peoria to charge as much as Antoine’s. However, when a new restaurant or an emerging author sets prices too low, I think they are devaluing their work.

As C. Hope Clark (Funds for Writers) has said on multiple occasions, writers are often expected to jump at the chance to attend a conference or serve on a panel “for the exposure.” Why do those in charge of writers’ retreats expect us to jump at the chance when everyone else supplying something to the venture–from publicity to catered meals–is being paid?

In a recent blog post, Clark said, “A few people will get their feathers ruffled. ‘Not me’ or ‘I know a lot of exceptions to that’ but the grand majority of people see free as something of lesser value; otherwise, it wouldn’t be cheap. And if something costs more, there usually has to be a reason.”

I agree. Yes, FREE might have its place, but generally, it’s not a good place. It makes us look cheap and unworthy. As Hope says, “In the long run, you deem what you are worth, and the more you give it away, the lower your stock value.”

I don’t think this is the impression we want readers to have. Experience has taught me that giving away books seldom leads to anything positive: the people who get them don’t flood Amazon with positive reviews or trip over themselves to get to my other books. The same can be said for pricing everything at 99₵. Do mainstream authors to this? No, of course not, so when we do it, the price just screams AMATEUR.

Frankly, I don’t trust cheap or free. When I download cheap or free, I’m usually disappointed. I definitely don’t go looking for more of these authors’ works because my time is worth more than the books’ low prices. Sad, but true.

We have a duty, perhaps a right, to price our books reasonably, neither free nor what James Patterson expects. I don’t think it helps us as authors to devalue our work with too much CHEAP and too much FREE.

Malcolm

 

Late August Book Promotions

Two books are free, one novel and one short story. Another novel is being featured in an Amazon giveway.

  • The Sun Singer, a novel, free 8/26 through 8/30. – Robert Adams is a normal teenager who raises tropical fish, makes money shoveling snow off his neighbors’ sidewalks, gets stuck washing the breakfast dishes, dreads trying to ask girls out on dates and enjoys listening to his grandfather’s tall tales about magic and the western mountains. Yet, Robert is cursed by a raw talent his parents refuse to talk to him about: his dreams show him what others cannot see. When the family plans a vacation to the Montana high country, Grandfather Elliott tells Robert there’s more to the trip than his parents’ suspect. The mountains hide a hidden world where people the ailing old man no longer remembers need help and dangerous tasks remain unfinished. Thinking that he and his grandfather will visit that world together, Robert promises to help. On the shore of a mountain lake, Robert steps alone through a doorway into a world at war where magic runs deeper than the glacier-fed rivers. Grandfather Elliott meant to return to this world before his health failed him and now Robert must resurrect a long-suppressed gift to fulfill his promises, uncover old secrets, undo the deeds of his grandfather’s foul betrayer, subdue brutal enemy soldiers in battle, and survive the trip home.
  • Conjure Woman’s Cat, a novel, enter the Amazon giveaway for a chance to win a free Kindle copy  – Lena, a shamanistic cat, and her conjure woman Eulalie live in a small town near the Apalachicola River in Florida’s lightly populated Liberty County, where longleaf pines own the world. In Eulalie’s time, women of color look after white children in the homes of white families and are respected, even loved, but distrusted and kept separated as a group. A palpable gloss, sweeter than the state’s prized tupelo honey, holds their worlds firmly apart. When that gloss fails, the Klan restores its own brand of order. When some white boys rape and murder a black girl named Mattie near the sawmill, the police have no suspects and don’t intend to find any. Eulalie, who sees conjure as a way of helping the good Lord work His will, intends to set things right by “laying tricks.” But Eulalie has secrets of her own, and it’s hard not to look back on her own life and ponder how the decisions she made while drinking and singing at the local juke were, perhaps, the beginning of Mattie’s ending.
  • The Lady of the Blue Hour, a short story, free 8/26 through 8/30 – When Kenneth arrives home from a high school band trip with exciting news, he finds the house empty. His parents appear to have gone to a hospital in a hurry. At twilight, a strange woman appears on the street, and she might be looking for him. No doubt, there’s magic afoot. As a member of my junior high school and high school bands, I rode on a band bus similar to the one in this magical realism story. And yes, the girl who sat next to me on the bus was the very one I had a crush on, thought I don’t think she knew.

Enjoy the stories!

–Malcolm

Dog Days of August Book Sale

Okay, before I get a lot of comments, I’ll admit that the dog days are already over, but I was on vacation in North Carolina with seven other members of my family watching this:

Malcolm R. Campbell photo, copyright 2017

 

Books on Sale

The Sun Singer, contemporary fantasy, free on Kindle August 28-31 – Robert Adams is a normal teenager who raises tropical fish, makes money shoveling snow off his neighbors’ sidewalks, gets stuck washing the breakfast dishes, dreads trying to ask girls out on dates and enjoys listening to his grandfather’s tall tales about magic and the western mountains. Yet, Robert is cursed by a raw talent his parents refuse to talk to him about: his dreams show him what others cannot see.

When the family plans a vacation to the Montana high country, Grandfather Elliott tells Robert there’s more to the trip than his parents’ suspect. The mountains hide a hidden world where people the ailing old man no longer remembers need help and dangerous tasks remain unfinished. Thinking that he and his grandfather will visit that world together, Robert promises to help.

On the shore of a mountain lake, Robert steps alone through a doorway into a world at war where magic runs deeper than the glacier-fed rivers. Grandfather Elliott meant to return to this world before his health failed him and now Robert must resurrect a long-suppressed gift to fulfill his promises, uncover old secrets, undo the deeds of his grandfather’s foul betrayer, subdue brutal enemy soldiers in battle, and survive the trip home.

Sarabande, contemporary fantasy, 10 free Kindle copies during Amazon giveaway, August 27 – September 10 – When Sarabande’s sister Dryad haunts her for three years beyond the grave, Sarabande begins a dangerous journey into the past to either raise her cruel sister from the dead, ending the torment, or to take her place in the safe darkness of the earth. In spite of unsettling predictions about her trip, Sarabande leaves the mountains of Pyrrha and Montana on a black horse named Sikimí and heads for the cornfields of Illinois in search of Robert Adams, the once powerful Sun Singer, hoping he can help with her quest.

One man tries to kill her alongside a deserted prairie road, another tries to save her with ancient wisdom, and Robert tries to send her away. Even if she persuades him to bring the remnants of his magic to Dryad’s shallow grave, the desperate man who follows them desires the rowan staff for ill intent, and the malicious sister who awaits their arrival wants much more than a mere return to life.

Mountain Song, general fiction, free on Kindle August 28-31 – David Ward lives in the Montana mountains where his life was impacted by his medicine woman grandmother and his utilitarian grandfather. Anne Hill suffered through childhood abuse and ultimately moved in with her aunt on the edge of a Florida swamp. Their summer romance at a mountain resort hotel surprises both of them. But can they make it last after the initial passion wears off and they return to their college studies far apart from each other especially after an attack on a college street changes Anne forever?

This novel is loosely based on the author’s experiences as a seasonal employee in Glacier National Park even though he did not grow up on a Montana sheep ranch.

Malcolm

 

Hex Free (mostly) Halloween Book Sale

Yes, you can go door to door begging for free candy and still take advantage of my 99% Hex Free Halloween Book Sale.

hexfreeSale dates: 10/28/16 through 10/31/16

Free Books: Waking Plain, Dream of Crows, At Sea, Willing Spirits

The Stories:

  • Waking Plain is a story about a sleeping prince who is so plain nobody wants to kiss him and wake him up. Bummer.
  • Dream of Crows is a story about a poor slob who’s being led into an early grave. Warning: it just might be you.
  • At Sea is a novel about a conscientious objector serving on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War. As it turns out, friends and family are more dangerous than the Viet Cong.
  • Willing Spirits is a story about a girl who waited to the last minute to do her book report and asks the dead author for help. You know before you start reading that this can’t be good.

Warranty: In spite of modern technology no reputable author can guarantee that his or her books are 100% hex free. We do our best to keep hidden hexes and subliminal messages out of our books. But a small percentage of you might fall under a spell that will cause you to buy more of our books and/or steal your children’s Halloween candy.

Malcolm

 

When free and cheap transcend plots and themes

The header of an e-mail message this morning proclaimed: “Download Two Free Audio Books.”

I get e-mails like this all the time, variously titled Get Free Books, This Week’s Deals, and 99¢ Books in Your Favorite Genres.

ebooksodaThese deals don’t tempt me at all. I can’t imagine basing my reading choices on books that happen to be free or cheap this week. For one thing, the list of books on my To Be Read List is already long enough. Reading the books I select based on plots and themes (and, yes, on authors’ names) will represent an investment in time. Seeing a deal for a cheap or free book doesn’t grant me a cosmic gift of 30-hour days of extra reading time.

booksendsMy books have benefited from their listings in newsletters like ebooksoda and booksends. When I reduce the price and advertise the book in a newsletter for 99¢, there’s a lot of movement on the book’s Amazon page. My hope here is that people who are already tempted by a book from an author they don’t yet know (me) will try out the book while it’s on sale. Some of those who enjoy the book come back and write reviews.

Newsletters, tweets and e-mail messages offering low-cost books definitely offer a service too readers. I’ve found and enjoyed books by known and unknown authors this way. I image lots of people do.

99centsNonetheless, I’m bothered about the process because after seeing the seemingly infinite number of pitches and promotions for cheap and near-cheap books, I start worrying that everything I say about the plots and themes of my own books–or recent books I’ve enjoyed–doesn’t matter to anyone without the presence of a deal.

Seriously, are large numbers of people reading books based on free and cheap rather than anything else? Or, with the advent of e-books (after all, it’s just a file), is there no room in the economy for books that sell at a high enough price to actually pay the authors’ for the time it took to write them?

Most little-known authors won’t sell 11787.8787879 books to earn $11,787 during the year. ($11,787 is the federal poverty level threshold for one person.) In fact, if they’re paying to get their books included in the deals newsletters, they’ll be running at a loss if they sell 11787.8787879 copies at 99¢.

noAmazonThe economics from the author’s perspective are rather grim when the marketplace–with Amazon’s constant pushing–looks at the default book price for anyone who isn’t on the New York Times bestseller list as 99¢. Amazon, of course, can make a profit when selling by volume because Amazon isn’t using up a year or two worth of writing hours to create the books on its site.

For authors and others who love great books and well-told stories, the main concern here really isn’t personal income because earning enough to live on is assumed for the most part to be impossible. The biggest concern is that more and more book-buying choices aren’t based on great books and well-told stories, but on free or cheap. When that happens, quality becomes the lowest common denominator in ones book-buying choices.

Wikipedia photo
Wikipedia photo

I used joke with my mother about the “savings” of spending a several extra hours’ worth of shopping time each week (and a lot of extra gallons of gasoline in the car) for going to multiple grocery stores to “benefit” from a few pennies off here and a few pennies off there. My view was that she was running in the red looking for deals. Now, the Internet makes the deals easier to find with little time and energy devoted to the search.

So where do we end up? Are books’ plots and themes losing out to free and cheap because the Internet helps us find the deals without having to spend much time looking for them? Or, are readers who care about plots and themes still finding the books they’ve always loved at a reduced price?

I don’t know if quality is suffering or not. But I worry about it.

–Malcolm

 

 

Dear Reader: If you buy books like widgets, I don’t want you

“We get on social media, we try different kinds of events, we create interesting displays, we sell the hell out of the books we love, but none of that reaches the boardrooms where the big decisions are made. If I could get one wish from the ghost of Sylvia Beach, it’s that she, or someone who cares about the inherent value of books, gets a seat in those boardrooms to advocate for readers not consumers, for books as a pillar of culture not as a unit of sales, and for bookstores as community centers not retail outlets and merchandise showrooms.” – Josh Cook of Porter Square Books, Cambridge, Mass

We hear stories from time to time about artists, jewelers, furniture makers and other stubborn souls who, after perfecting the art and the craft of their work for nearly a lifetime, refuse to sell their work to customers whom they believe won’t appreciate the work for its inherent beauty and artistry or who try to prostitute themselves, the art and the artists by acquiring the perfect bentwood rocker, diamond ring or sonnet at a rock bottom price.

Amazon, the Internet and parents who rear children to believe they (the children) are the center of the universe are conspiring like planets in trine to create a book buying atmosphere in which many (but thankfully, not all) prospective readers feel entitled to free, or almost-free books. This attitude is strengthened by the unfortunate, but popular, mindset that anyone selling or making anything is corrupt, cheating at taxes, and trying to rip off customers one way or the other. Therefore, like every other false right people are claiming to have these days, cheap books have become a component of the public’s feelings of entitlement and a way to get back at those who are purportedly stealing us blind.

If you listen to Amazon and to those who believe Amazon has done more for authors and readers than anyone since Gutenberg, then you are hearing that an e-book is just a file.  That means that neither the publisher nor the author is paying printers to print it, nor warehouses to store it.  Those who buy books as units or widgets or just files, see no value in the product other than the momentary gratification of reading them. They not only do not see the inherent artistry in the storytelling, nor the expenses an author incurs in creating that file which might include: (a) a year or two of full-time work, (2) hiring at editor, (3) paying for cover art, (4) travel and other research, (5) promotional efforts including mailing off free review copies, maintaining a website, traveling to book signings, purchasing bookmarks and fliers.

Some authors who have become household names by selling their books through large publishers, can take their fame—as well as their talents—off into the self-publishing world and earn a living selling books for a dollar or two on Amazon. They will lead you to believe that any author or publisher who asks you to pay, say, $5.00 for an e-book is ripping you off because (after all) the book is just a file.

According to the Census Bureau, the current poverty income level in the United States is $8,959. Looking at this simplistically, if I take a year to write an 80,000 word novel, I would have to sell at least 8,959 copies of that book on Amazon at the $1 price to break even at the poverty level. If I had any expenses in creating the book, I’d be under the poverty level.

In spite of the success stories we read about from time to time, most self-published books sell less than a hundred copies. Small-press authors are lucky if they sell 1,500 copies. In both cases, the authors are under the poverty level.

My great hope is that my readers will be happy with my books and will feel that a near-lifetime of art and craft has gone into them. I’m just an everyday, journeyman writer, so I do not feel like a “Hemingway in the making” or a “not-yet-discovered” Pat Conroy or John Grisham. Nonetheless, I do work very hard to tell exciting stories, with three-dimensional characters, pitch-perfect descriptions and themes that provide food for thought. Yet, and I tell you this without vanity or guile, if you want to purchase any of my novels at rock-bottom prices to you and to others like you, don’t bother.

If you think my e-book is just a file rather than the words and the work within the file, I don’t want you buying any of my books because, while we might have to agree to disagree about this, I don’t think you will appreciate them for their value as art/craft/culture. And, if you are earning an income above the poverty level, my strong belief is that if you want me to live below the poverty level selling my books with a rock-bottom, Amazon-style price, then you’re not the kind of person who will appreciate me as an author.

Based on the comments I’ve received on this blog, either directly, or when I post the links on Twitter or Facebook, I know that my regular visitors agree with the Josh Cook quotation I used to set the stage for this essay. I’m not talking to you because that would be rather like preaching to the choir. I’m talking to the people who will find this post via search engines with search words like “rock bottom prices” and “Amazon.” If you are one of those people and if you came here hoping I can “get it for you wholesale” or give it away for nothing, then I don’t want you.

For everyone else out there who respects books for their stories, words fail me in telling you how much I appreciate you.

Malcolm