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My book is 99¢ on Kindle today, a decision my publisher and I made in order to boost sales and garner attention for it beyond the friends and family members who make up the core group of my loyal readers. I'm not opposed to this decision, mind you -- quite the opposite. It's a business decision, and I'm in favor of almost anything if it sells books, but the choice to pursue this idea did get me thinking.
What does it say about us as a society of readers if we expect to get the fruits of someone's creative labors for 99¢? Or free?
Please understand. This is not a rant post, a criticism of my publisher's decision or a pity party. It's a sincere question.
As a reader on a limited budget, I do it, too. I borrow books from the library (and I donate copies of my book to libraries). I buy books secondhand. I wait for my trusty e-coupons to arrive from Barnes & Noble, compare prices in several places and settle on the cheapest, and subscribe to emails whereby I can get other people's books for free.
A Happy Meal at McDonald's costs more than my book does today. And I'm not alone. Authors line up and actually pay to have their books featured on daily emails and tweets that offer books for free.
Again, I'm not complaining. If it gets people to read my book, that's a good thing. But there's something counterintuitive (to say the least) about paying someone to advertise your book so that people can scoop up copies for free.
Self-publishing is no longer the thing that authors do when they can't get accepted by a traditional publishers. Okay, some authors do this, but the rise of the hybrid author -- the author who chooses both self-publishing and traditional publishing paths -- has writers with recognizable names joining the ranks of the self-published for a variety of reasons. In addition, the relative ease with which someone can publish a book today creates a glut of reading material, the quality of which varies widely. I'm somewhere in the middle. I don't write books that are rife with misspellings and poor grammar, but I don't write books that future generations of English scholars will dissect in minute detail either.
In some ways, that's not a bad place to be. Not everyone can be Shakespeare, Arthur Miller or Harper Lee, but that doesn't mean our stories aren't worth telling. But, when you're an author in the middle of the pack, surrounded by other authors trying to make their mark and miles behind those who already have, the middle is a very crowded, undifferentiated place.
The middle is the place where you sell your book for 99¢.
And I'm not quite sure how I feel about that.