By Kelly Huddleston

Yesterday I had an interesting discussion with a few members on the Amazon Kindle Forum regarding the list price of my book.

It started when I wrote a post inviting Amazon Kindle readers to check out my book. I included the synopsis, the list price, and a link to my book’s page. At best I thought I’d receive a few replies, and MAYBE (but probably not) a few sales. What I wasn’t expecting was a member to write back to tell me that while my book looked interesting, she wouldn’t buy it unless I put my price down below $2.00, or preferably to .99 cents.

My novel sells at $4.95. With Amazon’s automatic discount, it drops to $3.96. My profit for each download equals $1.73 – roughly the same amount of money I would make from a royalty on a print book.

I think this is a fair and reasonable price, however other members wrote to try to persuade me to drop the price to .99 cents. One even said that because I was an “unknown” author, I needed to do this so that I could give them a chance to give me a chance. Even more members agreed.

Suddenly I had a small group of readers telling me that they wanted to read my book, but not unless I dropped the price to .99 cents. Because I am not a household name, and because I have yet to receive an Amazon review on my book, my effort to them wasn’t worth more than a buck.

Maybe after a few people had bought it, read it, and reviewed it, I could think about raising the price again. “Give US a chance to give YOU a chance,” they told me. And: “If you don’t drop the price but keep it at the price you think it is worth, you won’t sell many books. You might gain a readership, but at a much slower pace.”

So I dropped the price to .99 cents. I thought to myself, hey, I think four years work is worth more than this, but then again the marketplace says different. At least people are willing to buy it at this price. At least I’ll have a few readers.

Then I told my husband, who is also a writer, what I had done. He was furious.

“You are devaluing your art,” he told me. And: “You just set your own worth to pennies.”

It was a heated debate. At first I thought he was wrong. I told him that I was simply listening to the marketplace. “I don’t care about the money, I just want readers!” I told him.

Then I went to stretching class. Sat down on my mat on a beautiful wooden floor that had just been polished and smelled wonderful. The song “Return to Innocence” played on the stereo. A little girl opened the door, sat down on the stage, and watched our class stretch and reach and slowly breathe in and out. “What a nice scene,” I thought to myself. And: “I should write about this.”

It was when I paid the weekly fee of 5 euros that I started to feel angry – the same anger my husband felt about what I had done. What he had said to me earlier started to make sense. It clicked. I HAD willingly devalued my work. I HAD dropped my worth to pennies.

When I came home from stretching class, I wrote this message on the original thread:

After a break from the computer and a wonderful hour in stretching class (“reach those arms, girls, reach!”) I’ve decided to keep the initial list price of $3.96.

What you wrote – that if an author sets the price accordingly for what she believes it is worth, then she would ultimately establish a readership at a slower pace – makes perfect sense to me. Long ago I realized that I’m not going to make a ton of money on my art, however I do feel it is important not to devalue it just so that I can gain a quick readership.

Of course I want people to read my book. Of course I want feedback. But – oh, I don’t know – when I think about pricing my novel at .99 cents, I get this vision in my head of those 1-dollar stores inside suburban strip malls. I get the shivers when I think about my book sitting alongside shelves of plastic flowers, sticky tape, packages of combs, shoelaces, fat smelly candles, coffee filters and cheap nail polish.

Then I think about all the other struggling writers out there. I think about THEIR years of blood and guts and tears as they write their work. What about them? If I, and every other writer out there, price books to almost zero, then what does that say about us as a group? I think it says we’re ready and willing to be devalued. That our art, whether it is created by a master or an amateur, isn’t worth more than a box of Kleenex or a bottle of neon pink nail polish. I’m not ready to sign on to this theory – at least not yet.

I received one reply to this. It was not favorable. As a result, no one has bought the book.

Kelly Huddleston is a writer of works of literary fiction including The Perfect Pearl and Alone in the Company of Others.