Friday, May 6, 2016

Should Ebooks be Free?

Recently I read an email an author posted on Facebook from a fan who wrote her to say that she enjoyed her books very much, but she had to return them all and get her money back because shecan't afford to pay $3 a book. She requested that the author make her books free so more people can enjoy them. Unfortunately, the author responded and things got a little heated.  But it got me to thinking. This is not the first time I've heard readers complain that books aren't free. After all, this particular reader said "Why should we pay for stories in your head?"

I've been an author now for twelve years. This is my only source of income. So, I thought I'd bare all and lay out for those reading this, just how much cost and work are involved in writing a novel.

Cost of Actual Work.  It normally takes me 8 months to write a novel. I used to work 50 hours a week, but since I've been caring for my granddaughter two days a week, I've only been putting in about 35.  Okay, so let's say I should be paid $15.  That's actually minimum wage here in California. Of course, for someone with so much experience and skill, I should be paid more than that, but I'll accept minimum wage. (Not saying I'm highly skilled, but just putting a novel together requires a skill many don't possess)

35 hours a week.  4.3 weeks per month x 8 months = 34.4 weeks x 35 hours a week = 1204 hours x $15 = $18,060

List of expenses per novel. (I'm listing my expenses from 2015)

Salary:  $18,060
Cover:  $400  (Can be anywhere from 200-2000. I usually pay $400)
Editing  $500  (Can be anywhere from 300-3000 for the best editors)
Office Supplies:  125.69   (Printer ink, envelopes, stamps, etc)
Professional Services 2835.23  (Web fees, Audio Narration, Backup Systems, ISBN purchases, Copyright purchase)
Commissions and Fees $184  (Membership in various writer's associations)
Contest Fees $90 
Education: $140
Research: $67
Marketing: $2461.25  (This includes the cost of shipping for all books awarded to readers, beta-readers, postcards, bookmarks, purchasing stock photos, newsletter costs, online ads, online book tours and facebook parties, ordering paperback books-yes, they cost me, etc...)

And this doesn't even include all the free books I hand out.  Plus last year I didn't travel anywhere for research, which I normally do.

NOTE: I should note that the above is from self-publishing, which is what I do now. If the book is traditionally published, I would get a lump sum called an advance from the publisher which could be anywhere from $5000-$15000 depending on how well they expect the book to do.  And I would not pay for the cover or editing and some of the marketing. I still would pay for some marketing I chose to do, research, education, office supplies and contest fees. I would not get another dime from the publisher unless my book "sold out"  or made more money then they paid me. And then it would be a very small percentage of each sale, something like 15%

Total amount of my cost and investment in each book I write:  $24,863.17

I can tell you with all honesty that except for perhaps one book, which I'm not sure of because I don't have all the records, I have NOT made that much per book. This includes the books that were published by a traditional publisher as well as the books I've published myself.  When you purchase an ebook for 4.99, I do not get 4.99.  I get a percentage of that determined by the store in which the book is placed. It can be as high as 70%, but in most places it is around 30%-40%.

I could not live here in California if I were the sole breadwinner in my family. I would not be able to write without my husband's salary.

So, should authors be paid for "the stories in their head"?  I think most people must have a vision of authors who just write out a few chapters at night in their spare time and then go on to live a life of leisure the rest of the time. Being an author is a full time job. And speaking from someone who used to be a software engineer, being an author is a very hard job. It takes incredible brain power, time, and talent to put together a coherent and interesting plot with deep characters who grow throughout the story. We authors sweat blood and tears over every book.  That is why it is so hard sometimes to get trashed online by nasty reviewers. Imagine putting in a year's work at your company where you did your best work and worked harder than you ever had and then to be called into your supervisor's office and told you weren't going to be paid for any of it.

Okay. Enough said. Many of you reading this don't expect books for free. I thank you for that. But perhaps this will give you a glimpse into the financial struggles of many authors. We love what we do. Believe me, most of us are not writing for the money. We write because we want to share our stories with others, to entertain, to bless, to encourage.  So, next time you fret over paying $5 for a novel that will give you hours of pleasure, think about all the hard work and money that went into creating that book.

Have a great weekend!



  1. Wow! I knew that being an autor was hard and you don't get paid that much, but I didn't realize the full breakdown. Personally, I just thought the publishing house paid for marketing, research, contests, etc. I download free books like anyone else, but I also don't mind paying for the books I read, especially when it's an author whose work I really enjoy. Thank you for bringing to light what really goes into writing a book. I don't think I could ever be a writer because I don't have the creativity needed to write a great story, so I will continue to read books by authors like you.

  2. I appreciate this eye opening description. More people need to understand about your business. I will think about authors and publishing with a different understanding now. Thank you for your time and love of your craft.

  3. Thank you MaryLu for posting this. In creating a novel it is an act of pure love on the authors side. Her book is her baby, she has worked hard creating the words to tell a story for others to enjoy. When it is published, it is still her "baby" . Thank you for the break down in the cost of publishing a book. There is more envolved than passing over the book and then wait for the money to roll in. I have never been published and yet there are many stories inside my heart to tell. I appreciate you and all the authors I love, and I know the hours and hours you pour into books , not for money --although money is nice--but because you love creating everything between cover to cover and those who you create are as close to your heart as your own flesh and blood. I do download books in my Nook so that I can take them with me when I travel. But I also purchase the real page turning books as well as ITune books for my iPod for listening . I do this for my favorite authors , MaryLu Tyndall, Ronie Kendig, Lori Benton, and a few others . I wait eagerly for all your books and for their day of coming out , so we who love what you do-- thank you for your gift of creating hours and hours of amazing reading.��������������

  4. Those question mark things were roses and clapping hands in appreciation for all that you do. Sorry!!!!!

  5. Thank you so much for this post, MaryLu!!

    God put such a love in my heart for Christian Fiction authors and their work, along with leading me to share and promote them as often as possible. I've long been aware that few authors make that much money from their writing and that it truly is as you said - for the purposes of entertaining, blessing and encouraging others. Writing Christian Ficion is an often underrated profession - thank you for heeding His call and writing those wonderfully inspiring books, regardless of cost and effort!!

    Love, prayers, and hugs!!

  6. Thanks for sharing. This quite an eye opener. God bless you!

  7. Thank you all for your kind comments. I really appreciate it. I wasn't looking for compliments, truly. I just wanted to give people an idea of what it takes to put a novel up for sale. I know most of my readers willingly pay for my books. And I THANK YOU! Without you all, I could not continue writing. Bless you all for that! Only a few big name authors in this business actually rake in the dough. Most of us wallow around in the penny pond. LOL. Love you all !!!

  8. I can't imagine someone saying that. Don't get me wrong, I love a freebie and will definitely grab it when it's comes up, but thinking $3 dollars is too much...really? That's not only a fair price, it's a great price. One thing that does kinda get to me is when a publisher chargers the same price (or higher) for an ebook than a printed book. That, I don't understand. But otherwise I totally agree with you, it's a fair price for great entertainment! You keep doing what you're doing because you do it really well. Thank you for wallowing in the penny pond, I know I for one appreciate you and your work!!!! Big Hugs!

    1. I agree, Sherry, an ebook should not be priced as high as a paperback.. not sure why some publishers do that. Thanks!

  9. MaryLu, thank you for sharing this information. I have such respect for what you and other authors do. It truly is a gift. I can't imagine someone thinking that $3.oo is too much for a book. What a great deal that is. When I find books at that price, I snatch them up. And whenever I've received a book free from an author, their generosity totally blew me away. What a sweet thing for them to do. Believe me, I have NO problem supporting authors by purchasing their books, especially my favorite authors. ;) Love you!

  10. Marylu, this was such an eye-opening post.:) Many people think writers sit on a pink, fluffy cloud while waiting for the inspiration to come, then they hear the cash rolling in. Nothing further from the truth.:( Your hard work deserves to be acknowledged, not trashed by cheap comments. I feel for that author. It must have been quite a blow to get into an argument over $3.00 Like seriously now.I wish I could get books at such a low cost ( in my currency here I mean).But how can I overlook the entire process of writing a book? Even though I struggle financially, I do save up money to buy my favorite authors' titles.:) A sacrifice of love, just as you make one for your readers with your lovely stories.:)

  11. Are you kidding me? Complaining about the cost of e-books? That's totally ridiculous. E-books are cheap! Especially compared to paperbacks.

  12. The laborer is worthy of his wages. Luke 10:7

  13. And I personally want to thank the authors that I enjoy. Because without you we would not have books to read. I love winning a book or getting an ARC but I'm willing and do buy all of my favorite authors. I probably spend at least 4 to 5 hundred or even a little more a year buying books from my favorite author and ones I think I will really love. (Just don't tell my hubby how much I spend) Lol

  14. Please excuse my ignorance, but I was just wondering what your opinion is of Amazon's Kindle Unlimited? I pay 9.99 a month for unlimited free books. Am I hurting the industry by subscribing? I read A LOT, and this program pays off for me in the end. Of course, If I really love a book, I am very likely to buy a hard copy and pass it on as a gift for someone.

    1. I love Amazon Kindle Unlimited! Thanks for asking the question. Amazon pays the authors a percentage of the pages read of their books. There's some weird formula they use based on what author is the most popular, but for me, it has paid off. So, no worries! I appreciate the question and your concern. :-)