How does a guy go from getting paid $85 an hour to taking the risk of self-publishing? It’s not such a big leap.
Last night, on impulse, I bought a little tub of Heavenly Hash ice cream for $1.99.
That explains everything, huh? Okay. Let’s go deeper:
When a new tax hike hit my province last July, my business changed. I’ve been a massage therapist for 18 years. I have great clients I care about and not just a few who care about me. To accommodate the new tax, my hourly rate went up to $85 per hour. A bunch of my clients took it in stride, but several just couldn’t afford to come in for treatment as often. I live in a lovely, but economically depressed area. Since I work as a part-time therapist and that fee is before tax, $85 an hour isn’t quite as great as it sounds. When I did my taxes, the numbers confirmed what I suspected: I like my work, but it wasn’t paying. I needed to change something if I was going to have anything left over at the end of the month. I could go back to working out of clinics full-bore and full-time and make “real” money or I could explore other options.
Then I thought, “You know, I don’t have that much to lose now.”
That’s the “A-ha” moment. I believe in my writing and marketing savvy. It was time to bet on that and switch to writing full-time. This wasn’t coming out of nowhere. I’d held several positions in traditional book publishing and trained and worked as a journalist. As a freelance editor, columnist, features and speech writer, my writing income rose to become a healthy chunk of my overall income. Last year I spent more time working on writing and editing than I did in health care.
Also—and this is crucial—I had five novels in my drawer ready to edit and bring to fruition.
Many authors propose books and only start to write them after they get someone to ask them to do so. (That’s a smart way to do it, by the way, but it’s not the only way.) I had opportunities to go that route. However, I had no interest in doing so. I have a strong streak of I-want-to-do-it-my-way (which doesn’t always serve me best but, for me, that’s the only way it’s going to happen and sustain.) I hadn’t sent out any manuscripts at all! As soon as I completed one book, I rushed on to the next, giddy and getting high off the writing. Writing is always way more fun than chasing agents and editors. It’s an odd kind of procrastination, staying busy kneading dough but never actually finishing a loaf of bread so you can eat it. I helped several authors get their books published, but was in no hurry to bring my own out into the world. I was waiting for something and that something was me.
This week, I finally caught up to me. I finished the last manuscript I needed to get written before I could move forward with my grand plans to go full-time as a writer. (More on my complex marketing plans in another post, another time.)
Soon I will jump into what I call the Couch Change Economy. You could call it the iTunes Purchasing Model or more simply, impulse buying.
That Heavenly Hash ice cream I bought? It was a stab of nostalgia that did it. I grew up in Nova Scotia. In the summer my parents would sometimes take me to the shore in the evening to cool off and watch the sunset. An old clapboard ice cream shop with poor posture leaned into stiff Atlantic winds just 100 feet from relentless ocean waves. That was the only place I ever ate a waffle cone with two scoops of Heavenly Hash. If the tub had been priced higher, I wouldn’t have picked it up and put it in my shopping basket. I haven’t tasted it yet. I may not even finish it all. But for $1.99, it’s a cheap indulgence that reminds me of a good time with a dead mom.
When a book is cheap, no one minds taking a chance on an author they don’t know if the book sounds like it might interest them. If you don’t like a cheap ebook, you aren’t going to lose sleep over the equivalent of the sum of coins you can find in your couch.
How low that ebook price must be is the subject of many passionate discussions.
John Locke says 99 cents (and a marketing strategy) made him a million-book seller.
Joe Konrath has run the numbers and says $2.99 is the “sweet spot.”
Others object that these prices devalue the work and no author who believes in their writing should charge so little. While I understand where they’re coming from, that sounds suspiciously like The Great Personality Argument. You can have a great personality, but if you don’t arrive at the party smiling, freshly scrubbed, with your hair combed, few people will approach you to discover how smart and funny you are. In short, couch change pricing sells more books than pricing on arbitrary values the author holds for his work. An author can believe in their work all they want (and they should) but for the sale, what matters is how much the buyer values the work. Your ideal readers may never discover how great your book is unless you make the package very attractive at low to no risk. Pricing at couch change levels is the No-pressure, Get-to-know-you price.
As debt ceiling negotiations rage in the United States and nervous stock market investors watch in horror as economies go off the rails, this is an excellent time to be working in a non-premium market. Low-priced items are low risk. Low-priced items sell at higher volume. (And a massage therapist doesn’t ever work in high volume.) I’m optimistic—which doesn’t come easy for me—that this is the year to make the jump if I ever will. And so I’ve begun informing my patients that I’m wrapping up my practice. Self-publishing suits the kind of hairpin I am and the math makes sense to me, if not to everyone.
Most important, writing full-time is my unfulfilled dream. I don’t believe in heaven or reincarnation, so I get one shot at making my heaven here and now.
A client (who isn’t mean but does have sarcastic streak) asked, “So when do the millions start rolling in?”
“I may never make millions,” I said. “It’s quite a loss compared to the billions I make as a massage therapist.”
We both laughed because the working poor are, considering all the challenges we face, surprisingly good-natured.
But I think things will work out. I believe in my books. I’m willing to price my work low enough that readers will find me, take a chance on something fun and quirky, new and different. Over time, I believe they will believe in me, too.
And last, consider this:
I’ve written books for years, very happily, giving no thought to getting paid at all.
- TOP TEN: The divide between the published and the self-published (chazzwrites.wordpress.com)
- DRM: The Digital Rights Management Scam (chazzwrites.wordpress.com)
- Time Saving Steps for your WIP (kimkoning.wordpress.com)
- A Quick Note on the Manuscript (howtolivethefreelancelife.wordpress.com)
- Note to Self: Get Serious About Your Writing (donweston.wordpress.com)