Friday, July 27, 2018

Authors Dropping Out Like Flies

I run a small local book festival. Its original purpose was to help promote all of our local literary talent because there are a lot of us. It grew into that, plus promoting overall literacy and supporting community in all of four years. This month was year four for the West PA Book Festival.

Any idea how much planning time, detail, funds, and stress it takes to bring in 20-some authors, do all of the promo for it to include newspaper press releases and radio ads, plus road signs (by hand to save costs)? A lot. Months. We even had a food truck, hoagies from the Legion Auxiliary, and music was planned (cancelled on us last minute). Set up and tear down, since it's outdoor and we use tents and a pavilion where we have to move tables out and back in, takes nearly two hours before and after the 6 hour event.

Our first year, turnout was wonderful. This year... Let's just say it was disappointing, with as well advertised as we were. People knew about it. They simply didn't bother to even walk around and see who was there and what kinds of books they might be interested in.

Over the next couple of days, my biggest thought was wondering what wasn't done well enough. And then I found another author's post on Facebook saying she was possibly throwing in the writing towel. Why? Because the money has disappeared. I commented about the low festival turnout, and this author who has done many of these events around the country said book signing turnouts everywhere have dropped to nothing. Along with that, online sales have dropped to almost nothing. She's hardly the first author I've seen say the same.

So, it's not a planning issue. It's a supply and demand issue.

The problem: Amazon is absolutely flooded with free and $0.99 cent novels. Not excerpts. Not short stories. Full novels, given away by the thousands from many, many authors in the name of promotion and with hopes that readers will love the "first of series" and go back and buy the rest at regular price (generally between $2.99 and $4.99 of which the author gets either 30% or 70%, and if they choose 70%, they have no option to keep it from being loaned out for no further compensation). Sometimes that does happen. Yes. A few years ago, some authors were making decent money this way.

By now that has crashed. Why? 

Readers have hundreds of free books downloaded, many of which they'll never even bother to read, or they pay for that monthly service to download as many as they wish without paying for any individual book. There's also the issue of returns. Yes, readers are allowed to read and return, taking ALL compensation away from the author. 

Why buy a book when every day more are being posted free? Why go out and buy a paperback, even a signed paperback, when you can sit at home and download more books than you'll ever have time to read at no cost, or almost no cost?

Who can blame readers? I certainly don't. We authors have done this to ourselves.

For years, I've urged authors to please not give their work away free or next to free. We're undervaluing ourselves, teaching readers that our work is just for fun and we don't need to be paid for it.

So now authors are quitting. Writing a novel is not play. It's work. It's a whole heck of a lot of work for those of us spending months or years on a story that's a part of us. It costs a lot of time, energy, emotional stress, advertising costs, production costs (not all authors pay production costs, but some of us do), not to mention the things we have to put aside to be able to find the time to do this. It's not spare time. It's valuable personal and business time. Just like with any career, it matters.

Yes, big author names will still sell paperbacks and hardbacks, and even e-books at $10-15 while indies are nearly giving them away at $3-5 (or worse). Big pubs don't give books away, more than a handful of prints for select reviewers. They know better than to kill their own market.

It's time we indies take a hint. Supply and demand. Stop flooding the market with undervalued books. We must start respecting our work if we want readers to respect our work and our time. At this point, it's going to take some doing to undo what's been done, but at this point, it's either change tactics, quit, or write as a hobby and not expect to make anything.

Readers, I fully understand appreciating free books. I do. I peruse bargain bins for lit fic by authors I haven't read. When I find what I like, though, I buy other books as they come out, at regular price, because I want them to keep writing. I don't want them to quit. A good book is worth far more than a fast food meal (equivalent cost of a paperback) or expensive cup of coffee (equivalent cost of an e-book). Or even request their books from your library. Most of us are available in print, e-book, and through the library. It's still free to you if you go through the library, but it helps us.

If you value books and good stories, please, consider bypassing some of the freebies and support authors you enjoy. Go to book signings and festivals. Even if you don't buy, pick up their promo and check them out online. But let them know they matter. Before they stop bothering.

There will be a 5th Annual West PA Book Festival because I don't give up easily. I believe in books, print books in particular (there is a difference in your brain between reading electronically and reading in print), and in supporting authors. I believe in trying to teach kids that books matter, literacy matters. They do far better in every school subject when they read regularly than when they don't. Obviously, reading matters.

Variety matters, also. Indies lead the way in providing a wide variety of genres and genre mixes, so by now, you can find anything you're looking for, not only the "in" books big pubs put out. (For example: My LK books are a mix of lit fic, romance, and family drama. It's lit fic but lighter, romance but deeper, and family issues are always involved. My EMK books are romance due to the relationship emphasis, structure, and HEA, but also somewhat mainstream psychological, focusing on mental health issues, with none of the romance "catch words" you often find.)

Myself, I'm not about to quit because the money's not there. That's not why I started writing and I've never depended on it to pay bills (luckily!). I do find it sad to see so many authors throwing up their hands even when they have a lot of followers. There's something just wrong about that.

It's time to seriously rethink the book business and acknowledge books and authors as the value they are to society. Unless plumbers and carpenters and lawyers are going to start working for free, we shouldn't be doing that, either.

LK Hunsaker (mainstream/relationship/family/art):
Ella M. Kaye (contemporary romance/psychology/family):
West PA Book Festival:
Write The Light In:


Carol Schoenig said...

I agree with you. I didn't start writing because of money and I'm not wealthy. I think the authors all need to look at why they write. We have a burning desire in us to tell a story, to maybe teach others, to let others know they are not alone.

When it comes to free books, I do not make it a public announcement. I handout a free book to an individual of my choice. Example: Someone battling cancer and while they get chemo they have something to read. It is selective and not very many.

Many part of it is that I'm still new to the business.


Thank you very much for all the hard work you put into organizing the event.

May I share your blog with other author friends?

Until next year! Authors...write what is in your heart!

Mollie Lyon said...

Loraine, I do appreciate all you do to organize this event. I'm glad you have identified the enemy. I know, now, I never give a book away, like a promotion- didn't seem to work anyways. I do value my work and what you said a few years ago encouraged me.
I know it feels easy to give up the writing. This post renews my commitment to my craft. I do wish people would, like you wrote, come and walk around. I'm not a quitter, either, so count me for next year.

LK Hunsaker said...

Carol, thank you for your kind words. That kind of free giveaway, I believe in. After all, we want our words to reach people when they need it. A few copies here and there is one thing. It's the free to everyone for two weeks on the release date, and the permafree books that I think is going too far.

And no, it's not about making a living from it. It's about fairness and value and integrity.

Please share the link if you'd like. Thank you. :)

LK Hunsaker said...

Mollie, I understand the need to get your name out there, and a lot of "experts" were advising authors to do the free book thing. It did work. For some authors. For a while.

But that's short term thinking, and reality says that's usually a detriment to long term goals.

Thank you. I'm glad I can be of help in some way. :)

Lynda McKinney Lambert said...

This was a refreshing find for me today. You have hit the nail on the head, so to speak. I fully support the purchase of books - at the fair market price. Even though my sight is very poor, and I cannot read a paper book, I purchase them anyway. I have a collection. In particular I collect poetry - modern, contemporary poetry books. But, I also purchase the books written by other blind and visually impaired authors.

My thought is that when I want to do a review of a book, which I do occasionally, I purchase the book first. I've never expected the author to supply me with a free book. Occasionally, an editor has sent me a copy of a book, and asked me to do a review - and that was a nice gesture which I appreciated.

When I see authors giving away "free" books I cringe. They are lowering their standards and whatever they gain from this "giveaway of their intellectual property," they have taken away from other authors who want to receive a fair price for their work.

Like the other author, Carol, who commented, I have given away books to very specific people. I have carried a book in my handbag at times, knowing that there was someone who may need what I had written to uplift them and help them in some way. One, was a nurse who gave me a mamogam a year ago. Afterwards, we talked for a while because she had no idea I could not see, until she saw my white cane as I got up to leave the waiting room. We sat down and talked, and she shared with me the fact that she, too, was facing breast cancer and she was afraid. I encouraged her, and I reached into my handbag and said, "I carried this today, because I knew that someone needs it. That person is you."
I write for the same reason I make art and have done so my entire life. I write for the sake of beauty and for spreading a message of encouragement, inspiration, and faith.

There is nothing that is really free. Everything has a price. We have paid dearly to publish our books, as well as the immense investment of emotions, passion, years and costs of higher education to earn my 3 degrees, and personal time. No, my book is not free. And, yes, I expect a reader to pay a fair price for it.

I really admire you for doing the hard work of pulling together the festivals. It is not the advertising or the planning that is absent. It is the idea that what we have created is not worthy of being sold at the fair market price. We do need to reconsider how we are market out work. Thank you for this excellent post!