To be a successful writer takes many things. The first thing may be a definition of success. For some people, that’s lots of sales.
I’ve had my art in two art festivals. Hundreds of people walked through my booth. Some of those people stopped to look. A few of those people talked to me. And a few of those people bought my art. I think I sold about 20 pieces. I can’t remember exactly.
Two days of standing for hours in a booth chatting with strangers. Hours of set up and tear down time.
Unknown number of hours making the actual art.
Money spent to apply to the show, to pay for the space, the rent the tent, to have business cards, to build a display system, art supplies, frames, and all sorts of incidentals you don’t realize you need until you’re in the middle of a thing like this.
I didn’t make money.
I broke even (maybe) if I don’t count my effort and time.
And I’m not counting the art I made that I had to give up on or throw away–because not every picture you start is going to work. That’s just lost supplies and time.
Some people think the art is too expensive. Although the people who go to art shows all the time think the art is wonderfully priced. But here is the odd thing I learned, most of the time, when an artist’s work isn’t selling, the best way to get people to buy is to raise prices.
I ponder this as I watch the race to lower prices on stories. My reader-self would like stories to be free. I want everyone to have access to fiction. No matter how poor you are, if you want to read, you should be able to.
But writers have to eat.
How much is a story worth? How do you know?
7 thoughts on “This Witch Doesn’t Make Love Potions, She Makes Stories (although maybe that’s the same thing)”
Hm. I’ve heard this theory before and I can see the truth of it. When I’m not writing I create one-of-a-kind garments (the slightly pretentious term for it, I suppose, is ‘wearable art’) and I have noticed that the more expensive pieces seem to sell better.
But, I don’t think the same rule applies to books. They might also be ‘art’, but the purpose is different. A book is entertainment; some books we like particularly well might be re-read once in a while, but for the most part once you’ve finished the story it’s over. Contrasted to that, the lifetime of a painting is much, much longer. You keep it forever and potentially pass it down to your heirs. You get enjoyment out of it everyday. This is my personal theory on why people will happily pay big sums for that kind of ‘art’ – it’s an investment, something special, and the more it costs (ostensibly) the more special it seems. But people don’t approach entertainment that way.
The lines blur a bit in the case of some books. I said that some stories get re-read, and indeed most of us have favourite books, the ones we expect to read again and again. These are the ones we’ll pay a much higher price for in order to own in hardback. Again, it’s longevity – you want to invest in something with a lifespan, a special object. That’s never going to apply to all books, though. I think the lower price is necessary (especially for digital books which aren’t even physical objects) in order to get people to try them out. That’s the problem with entertainment these days: we’re drowning in the sheer quantity of it.
Then again, writers do indeed have to eat. As far as e-books go, there are some people proving that you can eat just fine off 99 cent books if you sell enough of them. Then there are others proving that you can eat fine off three dollar books with judicious use of promotions and temporary price drops. Some people are doing okay with even higher prices. I don’t think there can be a fixed rule because no story has a fixed worth – readers decide which ones they’re willing to pay higher prices for, usually after they’ve read them.
Art and books are different, that’s for sure. And yes, I know about people who see art as an investment–not me though. I just buy art I like. There are artists who make a good living doing the non-juried shows, make postcards, and inexpensive prints. Some artist make only the big grand pieces and wouldn’t dream of putting their art on a tee shirt.
Takes all kinds.
And I agree that we are drowning in quantity of entertainment. And for some stories, .99 works well. I might do that one too. So I don’t think it is wrong.
It is always tricky where money meets art. How much is it worth? What is fair? What does it say about a society that pays or doesn’t pay its artists and writers and the like.
I don’t have answers–that is for sure. I know some people are living fine off .99 stories. But when you consider how many people write, it can’t be that many. Going back to the drowning comment—-statistically it seems impossible to read enough for most writers to make that work.
We are in changing times (who isn’t?). It will be interesting to see where it all is in 10 years.
One person is paying for one piece of art, so that person should pay much more than each person reading a story. That said, what an author should get for a story should be based on how much the journal makes or is subsidized, or how well the book sells, which is much less per person, but could be much more per author. There is no FAIRNESS to any of it. It’s about the politics of art.
There isn’t much fairness to life. No reason to expect it in either the art or publishing worlds.
The worth is different for every story and every person. I take what I can get when it comes to my stories. Right now, that’s not much, because I don’t have the time to dedicate to writing. My writing time was reduced from whenever I pleased to a few hours on the weekends. I love my job, but I miss being a writer.
You can always be a writer! Find the time you can.
And yes worth is different for everyone, but it is hard to base a pricing structure on that. Well, at this point in my life I have no plans to self-publish, so it won’t be me deciding.
You know what pricing model I’d like to use? “You pay me whatever you think this story is worth.” Even if it’s nothing at all. This squares with my (no doubt sappy and overly optimistic) view that most people are honest and fair, and the ones that are stingy cheats would be balanced out by the ones who were overly enthusiastic and flagrantly spendthrifty.
The only reason I wouldn’t do that (“there was only one catch, and that was Catch-22”): there’s no reliable way to be absolutely sure the story stayed with one reader. (It doesn’t have to be 100% bulletproof. It just needs to be “inconvenient enough” to be shareable.) Because most people are also generous — and having read something they really really like, want immediately to share it with someone. I behave that way, too. I don’t think I’d be able to resist just slipping a copy to someone, whether it’s in digital or hard-copy form.