Can I buy some milk with this smiley emoticon?

I’m feeling a little bit bitter today.  It’s not a feeling I enjoy, so I’m gonna write it out.  Here’s my issue.  We’re getting hosed.  I have literally smeared the internet with words – and 90% of them do nothing for me monetarily.  I have one novel on Amazon: Joe Café. I have gotten 25 reviews and the book is rated at 4.5 stars.  Cool.  I got a review a while back that started “Well written & compelling.”  Good, right?  Then it said the ending was abrupt and that it was “worth it” as a .99 cent book, but the reviewer saw that the price had been raised to $4.99 and it was not worth that much.

Bad reviews come, and I have enough good reviews that the fact that some random guy thinks my book ends abruptly (a conscious choice) doesn’t bum me out much.  What gets to me is the economics.  I am not a greedy person.  But here is what pisses me off.  If you thought the book was “Well written & compelling,” then it was worth $4.99.  Do you know how much a sandwich costs?

But, I’m a sucker.  So, my novel is back down at .99 cents.  And I am not alone.  My friends price their books way low.  And it bothers me.  A lot of readers can’t tell an amazing book from an average book.  That’s part of it.  By which I mean, why pay for a really good book when you can get a ton of free mediocre books on your Kindle?

But the real crime is this.  Writers, the majority of us, spend a LOT of time on our work.  We write, edit, market, blah, blah, blah…and .99 cents is the going rate for an indie book?  Are you freaking kidding me?

That’s a soda.  That’s 1/3 of a double latte.  With Caramel.  Got to have the caramel.  There are a lot of good things about the way the publishing industry is moving right now, but there are some bad things, too.  And one of the baddest of the bad things is that people think $4.99 is a ridiculous price for a book.  Remember ten years ago when a paperback cost $7.99?  What about magazines?  You buy a magazine at the newsstand and you’re out 5 bucks.  WE REGULARLY BUY A BOTTLE OF WATER FOR A DOLLAR, AND WATER CAN BE HAD FOR FREE!  You’re telling me that water with a fancy label that doesn’t even undergo the same governmental oversight as tap water (and is therefore worse for you) is worth more than my novel???

The fact that you can buy a good book for .99 cents is insanity.  Yet people who smoke (you could buy my book 5 times for what cigarettes cost now), or tip a buck with their coffee are incensed by the idea that an indie author might actually charge what their book is worth.

On my blog (, there is a collection of short stories – a decade’s work.  Some of them have been published.  Some have won awards.  All of them are available for free.  I write essays on there, too.  All free.  But people don’t even leave a comment because it’s a hassle.  Granted, I get a lot of emails and messages on Facebook, but leave a comment on the actual blog!  It helps me out!

And this is when I really get pissed.   There is a collection of short stories available to you for free.  There is a ‘book’ of essays available for free.  I interview other writers and introduce you to cool new stuff you might not have found on your own.  ALL OF THAT IS FREE!  I have recorded four records.  All the music is available for free download here.  The only thing that costs money is the .99 cent novel.

I regularly go to shows, art showings, etc. and I buy something to help support the artist.  Where is this sense of gratitude for us lowly indie writers?  You’d think one of the hundreds of people that tell me on facebook that they loved the stories on my blog…that one of the posts I wrote about fatherhood was the funniest thing they’ve ever read…you’d think they’d think to themselves…hmm, how can I give back a little?  Well, I could drop NINETY-NINE freaking cents on a novel.  Even if I’m not going to read it – even if I don’t care for the genre.  It’s the principle.

This is not about me.  This is about all of us, because we are all getting screwed in the same way.  You’re reading this for free right now.  I don’t see a thin dime as a result of that.  Cool.  I’m good with that.  But if you message me on facebook and tell me that something I wrote on my blog was “really amazing’ and that ‘it came at a time when you really needed a smile/chuckle/escape”.  Well, golly gee, thanks.  There’s a real simple .99 cent way you could express your appreciation and help me pay my rent.

Writers are not generally greedy people.  If they are, they are stupid because this is not the place to get rich.  But I don’t understand why social, monetary conventions don’t apply in this world.  You tip cab drivers, waiters, and baristas.  Hise started this blog to help writers.  A lot of you have probably read a good bit and gained some information and entertainment on here.  Why don’t you buy his book?  Why don’t you donate a few bucks?  Hell, I donated and I work here!  For FREE!

My blogs don’t reach as many people, but they reach enough – you know I can track how many people visit the blogs right?  And there are people literally all over the world (in countries I’ve never even heard of) listening to my music (props to my partner, Pat Renker, BTW).  They are getting something out of the deal.  Our song is on your iPod.  How come all we get are pats on the back?

Now, enough with the bitterness and back to the writing.  But seriously people, a lot of work goes into people’s blogs.  Leave them a comment.  .99 cents is cheap for a BAD book.  You can get a good one.  So, do it.  Support the writers and artists you enjoy so they can keep doing their thing.  Think about how much you pay to watch a crappy TV show.  The bag of chips you eat while you watch it probably cost more than my book.

*     *     *     *     *

JD Mader is the author of ‘Joe Café’ and a Contributing Author to IU. You can find more of JD’s writing at his blog


Author: JD Mader

JD Mader is an award winning short story writer and novelist. 'Joe Café' and 'The Biker' are out now, as well as 'Please, no eyes'. and the collaborative 'Bad Book'. Mader has been writing for half his life and has no plans on stopping any time soon. Learn more about JD Mader at his blog and his Amazon author page.

60 thoughts on “Can I buy some milk with this smiley emoticon?”

  1. Oh, man, Dan. I so hear you. I got a comment about my book being worth .99, too, along with a 5 star review. I was part pleased (with the rating) and part felt just as you do. These same people would likely think the $15.00 book by a mediocre but well known pulp writer worth it, but a good tale, well written, well – maybe .99. It actually feels, I don't know, dirty, somehow. Are we beggars?

    1. It certainly feels that way. I don’t bitch about it much, but it is truly an injustice. Indie authors are one of the last great bargains and it doesn’t seem to matter.

  2. Dan, I agree with you. Making books available to the reader for anything under $10 should be considered a gift. Anyway, when I read a book I've never compared the quality of the book to the price – that shouldn't be the measurement. You either like the book because of the way it was written or you don't – not I'll read this $.99 or free book but won't worry about the quality. Give me a break people – consider the skill of the author not the price. But Dan here is a positive for you; that bad review will have more of your friends wanting to read your book and I am just adding it to my Books To Read list today!!!!!

    1. Wow, thanks a lot! I appreciate that. Things will even out eventually, I hope, but right now the market is so saturated. And people are weird about money. I know people that will spend 12 bucks on a drink at a bar, but haggle over a dollar on a bill when eating with friends. You’re right, it should be about the quality of the product, not “how cheap can I get it for”.

  3. Hey JD,

    The price of ebooks is all the rage right now. It is probably because the traditional publishers is squeezing the marketplace, which is making the readers a little unhappy too.

    I agree 4.99 for a compelling book is not too much. I just saw a price range from a bestseller who is now self-publishing. He recommended 4.99 for a full-size novel 40,000 words or more and 2.99 for novellas around 30,000 words. If you have less than 20,000 words you can play around with 1.99 or 99. But according to his numbers, we need to stay in the mid-range so that we can live off our writings.

    I think since I am pretty new at novels that I may stay around the 3.99 range. I found that with my biography about my disease that people are willing to pay 2.99 for it. And yes, it is around 20,000 words more or less.

    So good luck, and don't be upset if your readers feel betrayed. — 4.99 is still a very good price when some ebooks are being sold for 9.99 and up.

    Yours, Cyn

  4. Sorry for the grammar errors – I was writing too fast.. And I meant that everyone in indie publishing is talking about price points. 99 cents is a discount price… Just to make that clear.


    1. Gotcha Cyn, and thanks for the comments. I think I may raise the price of Joe Cafe back up to 4.99. For pride if nothing else. I'm a cheap date, but not THAT cheap. 😉

  5. Fantastic post. The cost of a book has nothing with its quality. Unfortunately, people that will waste money on lottery tickets, fancy coffees, or the latest gadget balk at paying basically nothing for a great book.

  6. If we can't get our books into the hands of readers–we won't sell books. All of us authors need to pull together and figure out how to get more people reading. I feel this starts with the children. I blame the teachers of today. They aren't pressing the importance of reading to our children. I am currently unpublished. Soon to publish my 1st–a short story. What can be done about this? Let's pull together and figure out a solution.

    ~Rebecca Scarberry (on The Kindle Book Review–Scarberryfields on Twitter)

    1. Rebecca, I was a reading specialist/teacher for years. Kids mirror the culture and unfortunately our culture lacks culture. I saw my parents read and followed suit. Exposing them to good books works, but you have to be able to have freeform discussion about it. Too many teachers hand out worksheets and make reading a drag.

      1. This is so sad. Once I learned to write book reports, I was totally hooked on reading fiction. I wanted to convey how great the book was that I had read. Peter Hobbs, an author I follow on Twitter, has a 12 yrs old son. He is teaching the boy to love reading & the boy is writing reviews on Pete's blog. Maybe the parents are going to have to take charge here because the teachers aren't. So, I guess we need to focus on the parents. How do we go about this?

        1. Parents need to be involved, but most of all they need to be good role models. I have talked to so many parents who complain that their kid never reads. I ask them what they last book they read was…

  7. I hear ya, Dan. My first novel was just under 11k words. .99 is a fair price for an e-book of this size. But my next book due out next month was a year of blood sweat and tears, and I'll be damned if I put it up for only .99.

  8. Oh, preachin' to the choir, dude! I respect everyone's right to price their books the way they wish, but I would happily pay a fair price for a good book. Your caramel mocha-cappuccino lasts, what, ten, fifteen minutes, tops? I spend HOURS reading a book. HOURS of enjoyment. I hope this madness does not continue.

    1. I'm afraid the madness is going to continue. There are so many indies who are (understandably) so desperate for readers that they're willing to prostitute their work for 99¢. I don't see that ending any time soon… if ever. I thought about pricing my first novel at 99¢ but then I thought, wait a minute. I spent nearly 9 years working on that damn thing. It might be my first novel and it might not be the greatest thing to hit the literary market since Harry met Potter but I sure wasn't going to let it go for a measly 99¢ or even $1.99. So I opted for $4.99 and, fortunately for me, it did quite well and continues to sell a fair amount even after nearly 4 years.

      My second novel took 3 years to write and I've priced it at $3.99, even though it's technically much better than the first one. But $3.99 is as low as I'll go.

      If we can somehow convince indies to show a little pride and price their books in the $2.99 – $4.99 range, maybe there's still a possibility of establishing that range as the "norm". But hey, I'm just a writer. What do I know?

      1. You make a lot of sense, Gary. Good for standing your ground. And congrats on your success. Your write. We should have a writer's pact.

  9. A lifetime love of reading starts with PARENTS. I was ridiculously lucky to be raised by parents who loved and valued reading, read to me, and took me weekly to the library. Even now, when I call my father, his second question (after "how are you?") is "What are you reading?" I can't blame it completely on our culture. I know people my age (50) who don't care to read and kids who devour books.

  10. What bothers me is that the ones of us who believe our time, effort, research, etc is worth more than .99 is overshadowed by the ones who put their books up for free, have hundreds of downloads and get top ten rankings. Therefore the readers are more drawn to the books because of the price (free) and the high rankings. The rest of us are left out in the cold.

    We all need to come together and price our books to what they are worth so we can all sell our books on their own merit.

  11. Dan, availability is a factor. I asked you a few weeks ago, about being able to buy your book in India, where I live now. Not everyone reads on Kindle here…and our Kindle stopped working, and we are not gonna replace it, it is one of the earlier, clunkier versions. Point is, is it hard for Indie Authors to make as big a marketing push as traditional publishers, until they hit the big league?

    Also, can I read your book on iPad?

    1. Good point. A print version is coming, but for now the ebook aspect is limiting. And yes, you can definitely get the book on iPad. You just need to download the free Kindle App. And thanks!

  12. Hear, hear, Dan. We all agree, but it is supply and demand. There are too many books for the number of readers, so the readers can keep the price down. That is the reality. But we don't know where this e-book trend is going to take us. Maybe, just maybe, it will create more readers. That is what we need. And then I think too that artists, especially in the United States, don't make money. Only a few musicians, painters, sculptors, actors, etc. make much money. Why should writers be any different? We just go on making our art, and the monetary results are pretty much out of our control. Joe Cafe is a good novel. I don't say it should make you rich, but you should be adequately compensated. Unfortunately, that is not what happens in the world of art.

  13. I only have one book out there, the second coming on Jan 20th, and I feel like I'm never going to make the money back that I spent to produce the book. I'm in the red, and its not that much, but it is enough to hurt a little. I get lots of comments on my FB page about how much people liked my book, but they don't reviews, so the only ones reading it are my friends and family and the book is free. I would just like a review from some of these people.

    1. I know, it's frustrating. Time will help. Learning about marketing…which I am trying to do with all my might…helps. This site helps. And staying positive helps. At the end of the day, we write for ourselves. If you've written two books you've done a lot more than most people. Good luck! 😉

  14. I know exactly what you mean. Ultimately, I’ve decided to price my books equal to that latte with caramel. I may not sell as many, but at least I don’t feel like I’ve been robbed when someone decides to read my work.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Susan. I have a new novel coming out soon and I have decided to price it for what I think it is worth…consequences be damned. 🙂

  15. I am in total agreement with you, JD. I actually have some insight into this from, believe it or not, readers. Quite a few have told me that if a book is priced at $0.99 they won't buy it because they feel it isn't any good; the quality is crap. In other words, if an author does not believe in or have confidence in their writing to price it higher, it is telling the reader it isn't worth buying. Why should a reader pay more for a book if the author doesn't believe or have confidence in themself to price it higher, that it is worth the reader paying that much for it. If this is going to be your "job" as a writer whereby you make money off that "job" then you need to believe it is worth more in order for a reader to pay more.

    We, who believe in our writing, that it is worth more than the free or $0.99 price, are being screwed by the authors who are slamming theirs out there at those prices. When will it stop? But who is going to decide what is worth more than those prices? Eventually, it all comes down to the reader.

    Just my 2 cents.

      1. I am keeping my one and only book so far at $2.99. I may lower it in the future when I get more books published, I may not. But I feel my writing is good enough to be priced at where I have it. I first tried $7.20, then $4.99, then $2.99 and a few times at free and $0.99 (with not much success at free and $0.99).

  16. Well, JD, I get your frustration, but the truth is that things are worth what people pay for them … and it appears that .99 is what a novel is worth these days … I'm not sure why, but here's my theory: there are a breed of authors out there who can crank out a book in a few days … they go for volume and .99 works when you've got 200 books out there. More power to 'em, but, unfortunately, less productive writers … like moi … get drowned in the backwash. By the way, you've got more money in that cup than I made off my books in the last quarter … what corner are you working?

  17. The truth of the matter is, JD, readers don't look beyond the book per se. Ie, it's a frigging ebook, they say, how much can it cost to produce it, I'm blowed if I'm going to pay more than 99c for it. Hell, I'm saving a rain forest or two if I buy an ebook instead of a DTB. That's what a lot of readers think and don't or maybe won't look behind the scenes to understand the blood, sweat, tears, toil, endless meals of baked beans on toast that went into the finished article. Having decided that ebooks cost nothing to produce, the reader will then factor in, hell, I don't know this author, I'm not paying 7.99 for an unknown. Unfortunately for the author, naivete and some pigheadedness (of the reader) is standing in the way of your welfare. Sad but true. How people spend their money is a subject that touches controversy……why do footballers get paid more than servicemen/women? Why does someone spend $300 on a pair of jeans when they could give $250 to charity and still end up with a decent pair of jeans. Life's a bitch.

  18. Well, here's my two cents.

    I've learned a few things here and there about pricing and marketing after nearly 20 years in 'the biz.' The most important think I've learned, is that if you give it away (charge nothing), then the perception will always be: that's all you're worth.

    I've never been treated worse by clients than when I donated my services (for charities and such). Ironically, the more I charge, the better I'm treated. It's a silly and ridiculous formula, but it's been proven over and over.

    When I decided to self-publish, I took the same approach. I told myself I'd 'never' sell my book for 99 cents. Perhaps I'd sell more if I priced lower, but would I garner more loyal fans and followers? Experience (and tons of data) says, no.

    As a consumer, I've never purchased a 99 cent novel (unless it's by a friend). I've tried lots of samples, but I can't bring myself to buy one. I'm sure there are some good ones out there, but if there are, I still haven't found them.

    Personally, I think you were wrong to put your book back down to 99 cents. That's just too much money to give back to Amazon. Treat yourself: Try 2.99 or 3.99. Still cheap, but you'll get a lot more back. And the people who purchase at that price are a lot more likely to stick with you.

    1. Well, Cary, you and everyone else have bolstered my spirits. I raised the price back up. Now confirm your hypothesis by buying the book, please. (Just kidding…sort of…of hell, buy it). 🙂

      Thanks for your thoughts and stopping by IU.

  19. JD,

    Glad I bought your book before reading this. The last thing I need is a guilty conscious. 😉 I'm also proud to say that it was purchased for 3.99. This one has been on my 'to-get' list for a month.

    There are more than a few hundred authors that I follow on twitter, nearly all of which are self published. Will I read all of them, no, probably not, but twitter has given me the opportunity to get a feel for their style.

    When I first came across JD Mader, author, I found someone that spoke his mind, damn the consequences. There was an immediate attraction to find out more. Blogs and Facebook were then on my follow list.

    What I've learned is that you have an honesty that translates well in your writing. Remember, I have not even read your novel yet, but knew I wanted to. All the 'free' stuff that you've posted made that an easy decision. The only issue was timing. I have a dozen books on the shelf and new Kindle to get through.

    Price was never an issue. Of course it would have been nice to grab the book at .99, but honestly, I would have paid up to 9.99 for it, simply based on the 'free' stuff that I've read.

    After clearing two books this week, I was able to pick up some new additions, one of which is Joe Cafe. There are still four books on the Kindle that I need to get through, but this is the one that I'm looking most forward to reading. That includes the half-dozen paperbacks and hardcover's of well known authors that my family gave me for Christmas.

    With that said, and the beginning pangs of a guilty conscious subsiding, let's talk about the .99 problem.

    I'm sure we have a marketing expert out there that can weigh in on the statistics, but I've read somewhere that if you market a product to 100 random people, only 1-3% will likely respond. This is why demographics are an important part of marketing research. If you can narrow that field of 100 people to a target audience, then your chance of success increases.

    Otherwise, there's very little you can do to package your product to increase sales from a random group of 100. The only thing that works is increasing the number of people that you market to. If you want to double your sales, then market the product to 200 people, and so forth.

    Authors such as Grisham and King have bestsellers on the Amazon Kindle list at prices well above $10 – Why are customers willing to pay that amount when they could purchase much cheaper, and in some cases, better books?

    Price aside, it's a matter of marketing. It doesn't matter how good the book is if nobody is reading it. Indie authors not only have to write well, they need to find creative ways to market their work – and themselves.

    Okay, this is turning into a blog post all it's own, and my apologies Dan for taking up the space. It is however a testament that you're hitting the mark with your words. Now, we just need to find a way to increase your audience.


    1. Rush, you don't ever, ever, ever have to apologize for taking up space when you are saying such awesome things. Thank you. Truly. And what you say makes me very happy to hear. I have always thought that if you provide enough free content that people will eventually migrate towards the stuff that is not free. It is nice to know that is working…in your case. And surely there are a few others.

      I appreciate your kind comments. Especially regarding honesty. As I have written on here and many other places, I feel that honesty is the most important quality writing MUST have. I could go on and on. I have to write another blog post. You made my day. Thank you. Now, if you wouldn't mind printing a thousand copies of your comment and plastering them everywhere I would be much obliged. 😉

  20. As a non-writer but avid reader (who also paid $3.99 for Joe Cafe and loved it, as my review reflected), I want to chime in.

    I 100% agree with you that a BOOK (in digital or paper format) should cost more than a cup of coffee, a bag of chips, or a pack of cigarettes. I am sorry that you authors have to bend to the pressure to price lower, and lower, and lower… I, for one, am ALWAYS skeptical of books that are only $.99. ALWAYS. I figure, does the author not value his work more than that?!?! Also, there are plenty of completely shitty books out there that honestly aren't worth me spending any of my money, paltry $.99 or not. JD, I hate seeing your posts that your book is only $.99 whether "for a limited time" or not. It's certainly worth more than that! And I would never lump it into the "not worth it" category, even if it cost $9.99. But maybe I'm not typical.

    All that aside, in regard to "paying you back" with comments on your blog, I personally hate leaving blog comments where I have to sign in first. Sorry, but I do. Probably because I am constantly switching between business and pleasure reading and I don't want to take the time to stop my momentum. Selfish? Maybe. But I'm already signed in to FB, so visiting your page and commenting there is *easier* for me. So that's what I do. If I could leave blog comments like I am on this post, I'd do it. Not so much for the anonymity, but for the convenience.

    But now, I guess, I've only confirmed that people don't want to expend anything in exchange for something they've already received. I guess therein lies the problem. *sigh* Keep it up, buddy.


    1. Therein lies the problem indeed. One of the few things I dislike about my blog is that it is such a pain in the ass to leave comments. Even for me…I have to click the button like 3 times and sometimes enter some nonsense just to answer a comment on MY OWN blog. So, I feel your pain. The only reason it matters is that, to the outside observer, it seems that no one ever comments…which as you know is not true. It is a bad situation, but there is no ill will.

      As to the novel, thank you again for reading it and appreciating the work that goes into writing 50K some words that actually make sense and are compelling. It takes a lot of effort. You are the kind of reader that writers talk about in a good way. 😉 Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I post here twice a week and it is easy to leave comments. I believe this has something to do with Stephen Hise's lack of ethics and ritual animal sacrifices. Or his better understanding of how the internet works. Regardless, thank you.

  21. I read the free look inside of your book. Your style pleases me, its not long, drawn-out like some best sellers.

    I write the same, and I keep it simple so that even people with reading difficulties can get their minds around the plot, understand the dialouge and easily visualise the scenes.

    Your prose is hard-hitting, brutal and precise, worth more than a cup of coffee, though I have no idea what a cup of coffe in the USA costs.I know what a pound of coffee costs though and your story is worth a pound any day.

    I'll probably buy the book, at the moment I'm trying to promote my own work.

    I wish you the best of luck.

    T. S. Vandelocht (Pseudonym)

    1. Thank you very much. If you do buy the book, please let me know what you think. Good luck with promoting. It's the hard part for sure. We talk about that a lot around here.

      And a cup of coffee in the US costs WAY too much. We have our priorities kind of screwed up. 🙂


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