Pricing Wars: Do Writers Undersell Themselves With 99c Priced Books?

(Yamina’s Note: I love this “fictional”, but very informative  exchange between author Nancy Lynn Jarvis and her book’s protagonist, Regan McHenry, about  book pricing. It’s certainly  a unique way to discuss  this hotly debated topic and “Regan” gives writers a lot to consider on the subject of worth and compensation. Enjoy.)

Regan: I’m a real estate agent, Nancy, and I’ve learned not to work for free.  (Scrunching up her face). You know, with a 99¢ book, the writer only nets 30¢.

Nancy Lynn Jarvis’s $12.95 book, “The Widow’s Walk League”

NLJ: 30¢ per book isn’t working for free.

Regan: You’re right. In California that’s about what an inmate gets paid per hour for doing laundry.

NLJ: But, there’s a writer who sold a million copies of his book that way. He earned a lot of money.

Regan: His book was non-fiction, a how-to for writers looking for the secret to amazing success.  You bet it sold well — every aspiring best-selling author bought one. But, you write mysteries; Nancy. Who needs to read a mystery?

NLJ:  Well…but…everyone says giving away things grows your business. You have to get your name out there.

Regan:  You remember how I tried to ingratiate myself to people when I was newly licensed, don’t you? I did free reports and home evaluations for potential clients, gave out little American flags, gave out packets of seeds and happily drove people around, showing them lovely houses. I didn’t ask for anything in return.

NLJ:  Yes, I remember. But what does that have to do with book pricing?

Regan: , I did all of that because I hoped they would eventually buy through me. But not many did.  When it was time to commit their money, how many of those people actually used another agent to write their contract?

NLJ:  A few…ok, most.

Regan:  And why didn’t those buyers I had ingratiated myself to expect the other agents, the ones who wrote the offers and  got paid, to be the ones spending hours playing chauffeur?

NLJ:  Well, because they knew those agents had escrows and listings that needed attention.,

Regan:  That’s right. And unfortunately, I hadn’t realized at the time that by being so available I made people think I didn’t have anything better to do. The message I was giving to ‘my clients’ was that my time and expertise wasn’t worth much. No wonder they didn’t want to take a chance on me when it was time to buy.

NLJ:  You wouldn’t have had any business if you hadn’t given away your time. Besides, most of those people were nice. They thanked you for your efforts and said they liked you.

Regan: (throwing up her hands) Of course they liked me I was helping them. For free!!!  I thought they would at least recommend me to their friends. They didn’t, though. They forgot me.

NLJ:  But didn’t showing houses make you feel like you were working?

Regan:  I had that illusion for a while, but finally I realized I was working hard and deserved to be paid for my efforts. I worked on improving my skills. Once I knew I had something valuable to offer, my clients started believing it as well. They didn’t mind paying me a reasonable commission for my services. They told their friends I was a good agent, too.

Regan smiles.

Regan: The point is, Nancy, I think being a writer is a lot like being a Realtor. If your books have value, you deserve reasonable compensation for writing them. Have a little confidence in your readers. They’re smart people. They’ll get it.


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Some notes about the HOST OF YAMINATODAY.COM – A. Yamina Collins

A. Yamina Collins is the author of the fantasy/romance novel The Last King, A modern-day love story about a young woman innocently caught in a war between two age-old nemesis: God, and immortal beings whose ancestors ate from the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden.

The Last King has already been in Amazon’s Top 100 Bestseller’s list in Fantasy, Sciencefiction, Women’s Fiction Literature and Christian Women’s Literature.

Twenty-eight year Emmy Hughes has never quite fit in—she’s six feet tall, dark-skinned, and daydreams of being Galadriel from Lord of the Rings. But when she is badly injured in a car accident that kills her mother, Emmy does not dream of fantastical worlds anymore—she just wants her shattered life to be normal again.

Unfortunately, normalcy is the last thing in store for her once she meets Lake George’s newest arrival, Dr. Gilead Knightly. Granted immortality from a line of people whose Great Ancestor marched into the Garden of Eden and ate from the Tree of Life, Gilead has been alive for centuries and has met everyone from Nubian kings to Napoleon.

But Gilead and his eccentric family are also hunted beings because God considers the Edenites’ possession of immortality to be theft. And for thousands of years He has dealt with their transgression by sending each of them a “Glitch” —an unsuspecting human meant to retrieve this stolen “property” of immortality and kill them off.

When Emmy discovers that she is Gilead’s Glitch, she is not only thrown into a world of immortals who eat bone marrow, panthers who read minds, and a family whose blood is made of pulsing gold, but she finds herself the target of Gilead’s vengeance: he must get rid of her before she gets rid of him.

Easier said than done. Because Glitches are not only an Edenite’s greatest threat—they’re also their greatest love.




leave a comment


Collette Scott says: September 29, 2011 at 12:23 pm

What a great point, Nancy. And Yamina, another awesome post!

Starla Ramcy says: September 29, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Definitely something to think about. I’m new to the e-book and self-publishing, and was shocked to find out how many authors give their work away for free. Disappointing, because I spend a lot of time on the creation of my novels. Although the biggest reward for me is knowing someone read my novel and enjoyed it.

Brian Bianco says: September 29, 2011 at 1:17 pm

A great interview. Regan is right. Know your worth, that what you have to offer has value, even if some people can’t see it. Being an author, I refuse to sell my books below what I think is fair value and what I believe it is worth. My eBook sells for $4.99, though I think it is worth more and I refuse to go any lower. If it doesn’t sell because of the price, I can live with it because in one way, it is not about the money. Its about the effort, the time, and the creativity that when into making it and believe it or not, it has value. I loved her answer about the author who sold millions of his books. Those are the books that people purchase because of everyone who has a book to sell buys them as if they hold the holy grail, which just isn’t true. A good story, good writing and style is what sells books, not how-to-books and not hype. Anything that is successful is built on a solid foundation, no matter what it is. A $.99 eBook that works out to $.30 for the author actually works out to just about nothing when you consider in all the factors that created it. Doesn’t time have value, especially when it is your own? I’m glad Reagan doesn’t work for free. Neither do I. If I want to work for free, I donate my time to those less fortunate than myself.

Brenda Bigbee says: September 29, 2011 at 1:38 pm

You have expressed my thoughts exactly. Thank you for this article and the unique way you have expressed your point.

Daniel L Carter says: September 29, 2011 at 2:33 pm

I couldn’t agree with Nancy/Regan more. =) I grew up believing you get what you pay for. If it’s free then don’t expect much. Getting your name out should not include giving away everything. As an author I’ve worked hard to learn my craft, do my research, spend countless hours doing rewrites and edits. What I came up with was something I’m proud of and feel is of great value to people. To give it away for free or at such a discounted rate undermines everything I worked hard to accomplish. I know that people who actually buy my books will be happy they did.

Thank you so much for sharing this interview Nancy. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Daniel L Carter
Author of The G-6 Chronicles

jACQUELINE SEEWALD says: September 30, 2011 at 7:29 pm

Hi, Nancy,

Excellent post. I really do feel that writers deserve to be paid decently.

Jacqueline Seewald