The Care And Feeding Of Your Favorite Authors

Mmm. The $0.99 e-book kerfuffle continues, and continues. And also: continues.

Some required reading, before I yammer.

Zoe Winters asks, “Does low-balling attract the wrong kind of reader?

Cat Valente points out that if you’re willing to plunk down $5.99 for a latte, you should be willing to shell out more than a piddly buck on an e-published novel.

And finally, sticking the landing, Scalzi makes the electronic publishing BINGO card.

Go on. Go, read those.

I’ll wait.

Back already? Excellent. Here, have a cookie and a coconut water.

So. Do I think that, at its core, a buck is too cheap for novel-length fiction? I do.

Do I think that self-publishers saw the larger prices put forth by big publishers and decided to counterbalance too dramatically with a race-to-the-bottom price? I do.

Do I think that $0.99 represents something of a slippery slope for book values? Do I think readers are accustomed to, even in the cheapest used book format, paying more than a buck for fiction? Do I think that publishing is a totally different ball-game than the music industry and that ultimately you can’t compare the two meaningfully in part because musicians have other ways of earning out while writers have only one, which is the value of their words, and nobody long-term can sustain bottoming-out story values? Do I think that alpacas are part of a giant fuzzy-headed pyramid scheme?

I do.

But that’s not what I’m talking about.

Really, this is inside baseball. I’m sure readers at some level are aware of this and have an opinion, but the larger readership does not yet understand it. My mother doesn’t know about it, and my mother is a voracious reader. None of the authors she reads price their books like that. Frankly, they may never. Will we start to see Jodi Picoult and Stephen King throwing around $0.99 e-books? I’m not sold on that.

What this is about is that it’s hard out there for a pimp writer.

I don’t have stats, but from what I can tell, it’s getting harder to make a living as a writer. The money is down. The work isn’t there. Part of it is the recession, but it goes deeper: the Internet democritized content and creation but it also softened the value of that content. Maybe it’s a supply and demand thing. The marketplace is flooded with storytellers. At this point we’re like wandering troubadours. We swarm your town. You throw us your bread-scraps and we move on. Maybe it’s an illusion. Maybe we’re all floating around on yachts and I just didn’t realize it.

It may be true that you consider a dollar a reasonable price point for fiction. It may be true that you don’t feel any responsibility to the marketplace now or in the future.

But hopefully, it’s not true that you don’t care about authors. Authors are awesome. Batshit crazy, maybe. Functional alcoholics, most certainly. But they’re fulfilling a critical task that mankind has needed filled since forever: they’re telling stories. And that’s some pretty nifty shit.

Here’s what I’m exhorting. I’m asking that you take care of your authors. Think of them, perhaps, as little whisky-guzzling Tamagotchi. They require care and feeding lest they wither and die in a cubicle farm.

If you find an author you like, support them.

What does this mean?

It means, if they have other books? Buy ’em. Now. Right away. It means, get on social media and say, “Hey, this book, this author? Some hot shit right here.” Ultimately, it means you’re spreading the word and trying to keep it so that they can buy things like food and mortgages and Bourbon. See an author at a con? Buy him a drink. Does the author have a Cafepress store? Buy something from it. Or donate on his donate button. Become a fan. Expect good storytelling in return. This is doubly true if you’re buying books at a bottom-dollar price. You do that and you like what you got out of the deal, then it’s up to you to make sure they don’t starve in a gutter somewhere while wasting away from a Bourbonless life tuberculosis.

Writers are part of your creative ecosystem. Don’t damage that ecosystem. Give back to it. I know that writers need you. I hope that it turns out that you need writers, too.

This has been a public service announcement from the Bourbon Distilleries of America.