Why would people pay to read my stories?

Last week I read a good discussion on somebody’s blog that basically said you should be pricing your fiction in bands based on the word count. He was saying something along the lines of 0.99c for every 10k to 20k words is a reasonable fee for his output. I really wished I’d kept the link so I could reference it here; it was good a discussion and was certainly worth a read but as I finished it, I just wholeheartedly disagreed with his conclusion.

The basis for his discussion was that as a producer, he needed to be paid for the work that he generated. I’m not disagreeing with that. The farmer won’t give me a bag of potatoes for free and sadly the barman always asks me to leave his premises when I demand a free pint. If you want it, you pay for it.

However, and here’s the sting, writing is different. Not uniquely different, I’d say music is the same, but it is different. There’s a bus load of really good material out there for free. You may have to dig around for it and know where to look, but lets face it, it’s there and it’s very good. And, for a few pennies more, you can buy good quality novels for 99c, take Joanna Penn’s Pentecost for example. A short story is 2-10k words, novels are 80-100k; why pay for a short story when you can get a novel for the same price. Would you pay the same in a cinema to watch a 5 minute cartoon as you would a 100 minute feature?

As you’ve probably gathered, the basis for my pricing argument here isn’t the production, it’s the consumption. If you can dig around and find good stuff for free, why would you dig around and pay for mine. I’m not an established author, I don’t have a global reputation for quality writing so my name isn’t at the top of any reading lists. Hopefully that will change in the future, but currently, that’s the way it is, that’s the world I’m living in.

When I first published my books on Smashwords and Amazon, my readership counts were good and were exactly as expected. I put out messages on Facebook and Twitter, and many of my friends took a nose either to support me or just out of simple curiosity. Once they’d done their business and read all they wanted, those counts dropped away, but there’s still a steady stream of readers. The counts currently are in the order of several thousands, far more friends than I have, so my work is getting out to a bigger audience and this is excellent. And hopefully it’s getting me a reputation and a fan base, all good stuff.

But that happened because those early books were free. Had I have charged, even if my writing was so beautiful it could make angels weep, I wouldn’t have needed many heavenly hankies because no-one would’ve read it. My counts would be the sum of my wealthier friends and families, and then the numbers would’ve flat-lined.

So, in conclusion, I believe the pricing needs to be pragmatic. If you’ve got a following and people look for your work, then you can charge a reasonable amount. If you don’t, and like me you’re just one of those faceless writers toiling late into the night, chasing the dream, then we need to incentivise people to find our work and to read it. And if that means making those books free, then that’s what it needs.

I’d rather be read by several thousand people than make just about enough for a single pint!

The problem is, I’ve got quite a thirst, so I’d better get that following soon…