You can name your own price — pay what you want — for any of my fiction or non-fiction e-books (minimum $1.00 USD; no maximum amount) when you buy directly from me via my website or through my digital sales and delivery partner, Gumroad.
As an independent author whose stated intention is to live a comfortable life solely through revenue generated by my creative endeavors, why would I make such a decision?
How could it possibly make sense?
There are two complimentary reasons.
One is based on marketing. The other serves my mission.
A Mission-Driven Decision
Everything I do in my creative and professional life can be distilled down to one thing: a desire to add to the culture.
Which is to say: bring new creative works into the world.
I do this in my day job as a creative services provider working with authors, podcasters, and other creators, helping them bring their creative works to fruition, to market, and to an audience.
When a client of mine releases a new book into the marketplace and that book finds its first readers, I know I have served my mission. What was once intangible and potentially tragically ephemeral becomes, thanks in part to my assistance and expertise, a tangible creative work.
I’ve done my job.
As a creator myself, I do this every time I bring my own works (fiction, non-fiction, podcast episodes, music, and so on) into the world and the marketplace.
Here’s a little open secret: All but a fraction of a percent of my monthly revenue comes from my own creative endeavors. The work I do for other creative folks pays my bills.
This is a persistent fact. It’s the status quo for me.
I am proud of the fact that I’ve helped bring dozens of new works into the world, and been paid to do so.
I’m far from immune to ego, however.
I’d be lying to myself and to you if I claimed to not want more readers of my own work, or more revenue as a result. I’ve gone on record many times stating that I want to flip the ratio of revenue from client work vs revenue from my own creative work.
Right now? It’s not happening.
I could grow bitter about that. I could call it failure. Comparison to others; comparison to my own expectations… it’s unhealthy.
In a recent episode of Sonitotum with Matthew Wayne Selznick, the companion podcast to Scribtotum, I even admitted (to listeners and to myself pretty much simultaneously) that I’ve come to associate writing, especially fiction writing, with disappointment, and it’s affected my ability to create.
So why not focus on the mission? Why not do something that might introduce my work to more people, rather than bemoan that I’m not?
And so: I’ve eliminated set prices on my e-books, so long as they’re purchased directly from me and not through a commercial marketplace like Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and the like.
If there are people out there who have passed on reading my latest novel because they couldn’t justify the suggested price of $4.99… well, that barrier to entry is now only a dollar.
A Marketing Decision
My most successful work, Brave Men Run — A Novel of the Sovereign Era, owes its success in no small part to the fact that I did something that, at the time, earned a lot of attention for being, to most, counter-intuitive and even foolish.
Brave Men Run was the first novel in history with an initial simultaneous release in paperback, in five different e-book formats, and in a free podcast edition.
This was in 2005. Podcasting was not quite a year old.
I spent more time explaining (in blog posts, on Internet radio shows, in panel discussions, and one-on-one) both what a podcast was and why on earth I would give away my book as a podcast than talking about the actual book.
Know what, though?
There were months in which my revenue from voluntary donations to the “free” podcast was double, triple, or even an order of magnitude higher than royalties from the print or e-book editions.
I learned a lesson about providing value, about over-delivering, and perhaps most all, about trusting the reader community.
Allowing people to name their own price when they buy my e-books directly from me: that’s another exercise in trust.
It’s also an exercise in humility; in being less precious with my creative works.
And yes, it’s a marketing strategy.
Every person who names their own price and buys one of my e-books directly from me will also become part of my mailing list reader community.
They might pay only a dollar for a book that retails for $5.00 elsewhere… but in return, I’ll have permission (unless and until they unsubscribe, which of course they can do at any time) to reach out to them whenever I have something else for them to buy.
That’s a very, very fair trade: the ability to stay in contact with, and market to, a reader forever, in exchange for letting them decide what each of my works is worth.
It’s also not something available to an author when a book sells on Amazon or any of the other third-party marketplaces. When an author sells a book there, that marketplace gets the right to e-mail that reader, not the author.
I would rather make that connection.
I would rather build my own community of readers than give that privilege to a company like Amazon and the like.
Everyone on my mailing list who wants it gets my free weekly fiction serial, Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights: “How It All Got Started,” as part of their subscription. So they not only name their own price for one of my books, they get another novel-length work delivered week-over-week, absolutely free.
Provide value. Over-deliver. Build community. Add to the culture.
Do I Devalue My Work When You Name Your Own Price?
Some authors have said that pay what you want / name your own price models seem desperate. That they devalue the author’s work.
After all, it takes months, scores of hours, and uncounted sacrifices to complete a novel. “Is all of that,” these authors might say, “really only worth a dollar?”
Those critics are missing the point.
First: “name your price” / “pay what you want” means the reader can pay anything — as little as $1.00, or perhaps the recommended retail price (which for my novel-length e-books is $4.99), or ten dollars, or twenty dollars, or even more.
The last time I experimented with pay-what-you-want, about a decade ago, a statistically significant portion of readers paid more than the recommended price. In balance, over time, the revenue from a particular book often ends up the same as when it’s sold at a set price.
Second, and more important: the value of the work is not determined by its price.
The value of the work is determined by what it means to the people who experience it.
The reader — especially in this Conversation Age, this online meritocracy in which we live and work and create — the reader is the sole arbiter of value.
I trust them.
I trust you.
Does Name Your Own Price Make Sense to You?
As an author, do you use the name-your-price / pay-what-you-want approach?
As a reader, have you ever paid whatever you wanted / named your price for an author’s work?
I’d love to know your thoughts… in the comments!