Valuing your craft… reprised…

How do you value the results of your craft?
It’s one of those questions that’s always hard to answer, and harder to answer as a writer than, for example, as a carpenter. You might want to bear with me here for a moment…

A carpenter decides to make a table. He cuts the wood, joins the pieces together, sands down the rough edges, lays on a few layers of varnish, then polishes it all up. Possibly he does a bit of nice fretwork or uses a couple of different woods that compliment each other in tone and quality.  Then if he adds up the cost of the materials, ascribes some base value to an hour of his life, and figures out how long he spent making the table, before adding a reasonable percentage on top, voila he has found the value of his work. So can look to sell this finely crafted table at a price that reflects its worth. If he is a highly skilled craftsman making bespoke furniture he can charge a little more, because people will be able to see the value in his work, but ultimately whoever buys the table to is paying for a singular item with a solid as you like value. In short, it’s relatively easy for a carpenter to value his craft…

For a writer, however, the value of your craft is somewhat harder to ascribe. Ironically so as while what is written is singular and unique in nature, the way we market it is not.
If, for example, you add up all the hours I spent on thinking about, writing, editing, redrafting, proofing, final editing, typesetting, revising again, when I wrote my first novel Cider Lane it stacks up quite considerably. In the same time, I would posit, our carpenter could have made a fair few tables, or else he could have made a very beautiful and very expensive table.
The novel took me a year to write between the first word I typed on the screen and it reaching publication, and if you add up the hours spent drafting, redrafting, editing, re-editing, reading through, printing it off and editing it again, polishing every word, every syntax, and re-writing the bits I was not entirely happy with, and you get a rather large figure. One which a reader does not as a rule see, hence the iceberg below.

 

Despite this, the craft of writing is for me a labour of love. I don’t write to make a living, I have a full-time job and writing is a hobby, though if I could make a living as a writer I would. I am not alone in this, truly professional indie authors are few and far between. While I get my fair share of readers, I would need to sell a lot of books for writing to replace my day job, and that’s not going to happen any day soon. Cider lane took a year to write, Passing Place was written over a period of five years, the forthcoming Hannibal Smyth Novels have been in the works since 2015, even ‘A scar of Avarice’ a short novella I released this year which took about three months to get from concept to printed page was only happens so quickly because over half of it was already written in other forms over the last couple of years. In all this far from huge body of work has been ongoing since 2010 (I have been writing a lot longer than that, but my published works were started back then) The amount of time I have spent, the long evenings, early mornings, stolen lunch hours etc. add up. That iceberg is far bigger than you possibly imagine. Oh to be a carpenter making tables…

As I say, I write for the love of it, it is a calling perhaps, a hobby certainly, an obsession much of the time, and I don’t do it for the money. This does not mean, however, I don’t want to be paid fairly for my work. It may not be how I pay the mortgage, but reasonable recompense for the work I put into it all would be nice. It is however very hard to ascribe a value to such work. A balance between trying to find new readers and getting fair recompense has to be struck, and unlike our friendly carpenter’s table placing that value on that work remains a difficult proposition.

There is compensation, however, as when we sell a book we can sell it to more than one person. The words we craft aren’t carved into a stone tablet by hand after all. We can figure out the cost of paper and ink easily enough, print on demand sites will tell you exactly what the minimum is and you can just add a value to that in order to figure out the price you should charge for a book. I used Createspace originally for my own novels, before moving them to KDP (so it’s in the same place as the ebook variants) though they are plenty of other POD services. Some possible better, a few worse. You don’t even have to do that in this day of electronic publishing. But I’m a heart a Bibliophile, I like seeing paper copies of my novels, and like selling them direct when I get a chance, though the paperback market, I am sure you will be unsurprised to learn, is not where I sell most of my books, it is still somewhere I like to be.

E-books are however the main marketplace for new and aspirating authors who decide to go down the self-publishing route. E-books which bring their own questions of value to the table. With the E-book you’re not even a physical thing. All your selling are binary strings of code that together to form a readable text. We can sell them, then we sell them again, it is effectively a never-ending supply of binary code. Which, if you think about that for a moment, make it harder to ascribe a value to, because ultimately you’re selling nothing but a copy of that code. You’re not, however, not really…

What your selling, what I am selling with every copy of one of my novels sold on Kindle is a little piece of my writer’s soul laid bare. A little slither of my thoughts and dreams and on occasion nightmares. Of the ide of my inner being. And yes… I say this fully aware of how pretentious it sounds, gleefully aware in fact.

Market economists (a grey inhuman bunch, who are as lacking in souls as it is possible for a human to be) would tell you that the market finds its own values, through supply and demand. (see the note at the end). They would, I suspect, advise a new writer that wishes to find readers that they should give their work away. Make it free, and they will come… Create a free supply, and you will undoubtedly be at the peak of the demand curve… There is even some degree of sense to that, certainly, if you have a series of novels in the marketplace. Make the first one free, and you may well create your own market… Which is true enough. But what rubs against this idea for me is a simple thought.  ‘Do people value anything they get for free?’

I know that I myself have seen free e-books advertised all over the place. I also know I have ignored them on the whole simply because ‘If it’s been given away its probably not worth anything’?  I am, at heart, a child of consumerism after all. Yet even if a book is set at a price that is the bare minimum you’re allowed to set them at (on Amazon that’s £0.99) it still it suffers from the ‘if it’s that cheap it must be worthless’ factor. This is despite the fact a lot of books are set at such low prices, exceedingly good books in many cases, utterly wonderful novels on occasion are set this low or given away free.

How then do we value the writer’s craft, if writers themselves give their creations away so often, so freely? Some readers I have come across have got so used to free books on the internet they just don’t understand why they would ever have to pay for something. I’ve genuinely had people cursing at me on facebook for saying ‘no’ when they ask for a free copy of one of my novels. Not as a reviewer, not as a website writer or a blogger, not as anything other than a reader who might, possibly, consider writing a  review on Amazon, if they can be arsed. I have had people swearing at me, or even threaten to write a negative review if I don’t send them a free copy of a novel. It has somehow become something they feel entitled to, not just expect but demand at times… The below is a genuine quote from one facebook message I received…

“I get Neil Gaiman books for nothing why should I pay for yours?”

The world is ever a strange place, but it is all the stranger when people expect something for nothing while valuing it all the less for being free. Not to mention I strongly suspect the only reason they got a Gaiman book for free is because they downloaded a pirate copy. Which makes that statement all the stranger…

“I impinged a famous writers copyright, so why should I not impinge yours?”

Such experiences harden my opinion of humanity somewhat. But it is the market writers live in, and no one ever said all readers are nice people…

Its also, as an aside which irritates me somewhat unreasonably perhaps, a market where Mr Gaimen’s (and most well established big name authors) publishing companies routinely drop the cost of his novels on Kindle and the like to £0.99 for a week or so. Which make me mildly apoplectic, because it is hard enough to compete for readers with other indie writers and those still trying to ‘breakthrough’ without competing with the big names coming down to our level… I love Neil Gaiman, hell I’ve even bought a couple of his novels in the past when they were at £0.99, because while as a concept it might annoy the hell out to me, I’m not stupid. But I would have bought them at a higher price at some point, and I am fairly sure the same is true of most people who take advantage of his publishing companies largess. But that is somewhat off topic…

What inspired this topic, and the original version of this post a couple of years ago, was back when Cider lane was my only published novel I dropped the price down from  £1.99 to £0.99  for several months in the hope of selling a few more books (which btw it didn’t, because the difference between the £1.99 market and the £0.99 market is negligible). Which inspired this ramble or, to be more exact, the mixed feeling I had about the experience.

While I honestly care nothing about the money I make from book sales. See the whole, it’s not my job, it doesn’t pay the mortgage or put food on the table thing above.  I do care about people valuing my work and the feeling of value I ascribe to it myself. Readers are important to me. I want my work to be read, far more than I want fiscal returns for my work. I wouldn’t want one reader paying me the true value of my work  (I did the maths on Cider Lane once and just in hours spent on that one novel it’s at least £20,000 worth of my time if I use the hourly rate I get paid in my day job. No one reader is ever going to pay me the value of my work… ) I would, it has to be said, vastly prefer 20,000 readers, who, even if I made a quid a book on sales (which I don’t) would barely cover the time invested in a novel. But I would have 20,000 readers. I put Cider Lane back up to £1.99 a while ago, and it still feels like giving it away. As does the option to do just that and make a novel free on Amazon for a week, which I did once and shifted a lot of copies. Hopefully, a lot of those who took advantage of that and got a free copy, enjoyed the book. I really hope that is the case. But, in the end, it did me little long-term good as Cider Lane is a stand-alone and not part of any logical series of even loosely connected novels. But as long as those who got it for nothing enjoyed it, I am happy, though you would have thought that would net me at least a few Amazon reviews… As far as I can tell it didn’t.

Ultimately, artists (any form of artist) seldom get the true value in return for the work they produce. Some lucky souls perhaps do. Big name authors make thousands, tens of thousands, millions even, but they are the few and far between. The vast majority of us still toil away more in hope than expectation of our work being valued to what we might consider its true worth. We live in a culture that sometimes seems to glorify the average, thinks nothing of paying footballers millions to kick a ball around a field, yet wants its movies/ books/art for free. It is hard to see how anyone could ascribe true value to work that someone puts there all into. After all…

 “I get Neil Gaiman books for nothing why should I pay for yours?”

But if we, the artists of all kinds, do not value our own work, who will… If not in monetary terms, then in terms of art at the very least. Pretentious as that may be…

Cider lane, Passing Place, and A Scar of Avarice remain available on Kindle and in paperback for a fraction of the value of my soul, of which they are, I venture, a slither… and a fraction of the value I would wish ascribed to them and the work I put into bringing them into the world.

To follow me on Amazon, click on my face below, or just imagine your punching me, whatever works best for you…

headshot

 

Note on Economists as promised above…

I did a degree in politic’s philosophy and economics. What I learned is this.  Economics is politics with the humanity removed, people are figures on a spreadsheet, their hopes and dreams an irrelevant factor. They never consider if they should be doing something because it will be good for people, they only the effect it will have on the little green bits of paper they obsess about. This is why few socialists are economists.

This entry was posted in amwriting, blogging, indie, indie novels, opinion, politics, rant, self-publishing, writes, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Valuing your craft… reprised…

  1. Mrs S says:

    Mark I’m sorry to hear you were treated so shabbily on Amazon. Consumers are fierce creatures. Thank you for this interesting insight into self publishing. As an aspiring author it has gone some way to preparing me for battle.

    Liked by 2 people

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