Writers & Money

For a period of years I’ve made a modest living as a freelance writer. Before that, I was in advertising where I wrote, did a great deal of client contact, pitched new business, and dealt with all the non-creative aspects of a boutique ad agency. Still, the tiny bits of income generated by my fiction are always something to celebrate. Even if I can measure the dollar figures in cups of coffee, it’s still a validation of my creative work.

I’m not complaining. I know that I’m fortunate in being able to spend time & energy on writing that is unlikely to produce real income. What I’d like to address today, is how readers respond to the “cost” of books.

Since I bought my first Kindle (it was either 2010 or 2011), I’ve read many indie ebooks. Motivated by low cost, curiosity, and the idea that ebooks don’t contribute to clutter, I’ve experimented and had some great reading adventures. I discovered new authors while exploring genres I might not have read at the full cost of hardback, conventionally published novels. I subscribe to three daily emails that offer FREE and discounted ebooks and to Amazon’s Kindle First program (one free book a month, new books, heavily promoted by publishers & Amazon).

Periodically, I treat myself to a book to an ebook with a price tag comparable to a trade paperback or hardcover—11, 12, 13, 14 15, 16… dollars. Usually, these purchases are motivated by an interview with the author on NPR or the recommendation of a friend. I’ve recently increased the number of these “higher priced” ebook purchases, while still buying & reading lots of indie ebooks.

A few recent conversations with non-writer readers has led me to wonder about how much non-writers value the work of writers. One, intelligent, successful, educated reader was a little too proud of never purchasing ebooks. Since I recommended a particular mystery author to her, she’s been happily borrowing that series from her public library. She was surprised that I actually “purchase” ebooks. I replied that I’m invested in writers getting paid for their work.

Yes, I know that libraries serve a critical role in distributing every kind of book, but they don’t distribute a great deal of validation to indie authors. Yes, there are minimal residuals and exposure offered by libraries to authors with conventional publishing contracts, but there’s not much there for the indie/self-published and small press authors.

The woman in question supports other kinds of artists—buying jewelry, ceramics, artisan-made clothing—but when it comes to writers she’s bargain hunting. Do you have any thoughts on the value of storytelling?

Payment for writing—even small dollar figures—is validation.


  1. I don’t think there’s a single person from amongst my friends and family who has read one of my books. Part of the reason is the disconnect between the historical me and the ‘new’ writer me, but another part is the lack of a ‘real’ book. Right or wrong, they don’t see ebooks as real somehow, so the whole thing plays into the ’embarassing hobby’ view [which they hide from me by making sure they never have to comment on anything I write].
    I understand the reaction, but boy is it frustrating. 🙁

    • Candy Korman

      You will find it even more frustrating when your social circle gets iPads & Kindles, because they fill them exclusively with library books while spending money on other story-based media (Netflix subscriptions, movies, etc.)

      As for my own ebooks, I have friends who have read ’em and friends who have not. They seem to think I generate some kind of income stream (LOL) if they like them and sometimes even more if they have not read them. If they understood the validation that authors get from even small nuggets of compensation, I think they might be more adventurous readers. But I’m often astonished at how and why and when people spend money in general.

      Bargain hunting is a kind of hunting and everyone likes to come out ahead. I just wish more people valued stories, storytelling and storytellers enough to want to buy what they read.

  2. Deborah Duran

    Truthful I really cannot afford to pay more then $3.99; and I usually get my e-books for free or $0.99. Ocassionly If I have some extra money I have been known to pay $10-$15 dollars on an e-book. I do look to see if I can get a new or used paperback cheaper then the e-book. 75% of my 7000+ e-books are/were free. But, I try to reveiw the books I have read and will usually suggest other books by the same author.

    • Candy Korman

      I think you have a reasonable and rational plan that suits you. The fact that you have a dollar figure in mind, means you have given thought to the value of what you read and to the fact that compensation is part of the writer’s end of the experience. We have to make decisions based both on what we can afford (the part of the equation with more weight) and the value we give to the storyteller’s work. Good plan!

  3. I went through a huge downloading phase of free ebooks, but then ended up deleting most of them. It’s hard to try to read what everyone is writing, so once I stopped posting book reviews, I got pickier. For the most part, I wait until Amazon sends me links to popular books that are on sale for $1.99. I guess I draw the line at ebook price for an unknown author in the five or six dollar range. It does get me a bit riled up to spend over ten dollars on an ebook from a traditional publisher. I can’t really say why though. Spending ten to fifteen dollars on hours of entertainment is quite a bargain.

    • Candy Korman

      I felt fine spending a “premium” price on THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE by Mariana Enriquez (fabulous & creepy short fiction by an Argentine author in translation), but ripped off by the BIG non-fiction book of the moment HILLBILLY ELEGY by J. D. Vance. It’s true, I bargain hunt for theater tickets (often seeing shows in previews when it’s cheaper), I bargain hunt for clothes, wine, food, etc. and for books, too. But I’m spending something on nearly everything I download because I value the experience of reading and want writers to be paid something. It’s becoming a mini crusade. FREE is fine sometimes, but putting a little money into the game ups your expectations. If I get a book for free and it’s a bore I rarely make it through to the end, most likely bailing by 1/3. But when I purchase the book, I give more of my time, more of my energy, and more of my critical thinking to the process. Yes, I offer short stories for free on my blog site. It’s my way of meeting new readers and, hopefully, giving them a sample that entices them to spend money on my fiction and the fiction of other indie authors. When I bookshop, the pricing feels haphazard, even capricious, but we live and learn and sometimes download a disappointment.