Book Ascetics: Price, Cover, and Other Temptations

I’ve been thinking about prices and other book qualities this week. Word of mouth is the only way to sell a book without the best cover or price or whatever. Outside of that, an author or publisher has to work hard to make the package appealing.

I’ve been a reader barely longer than I’ve been a writer. I do remember $1 paperbacks (and 25 cent comic books.) I’m the type of buyer who wants to pay as little as possible. Cheapy, I know, but there are some things I would pay no matter the cost. Certain authors release hardcovers and I will buy release day/week. Video games. Movies. Music. If I’m going to buy it, I’ve learned that I need to buy it when I see it because it won’t be there when I come back.

I’ve been a reader of digital books for about three years. Digital books have a notoriety for being worth what you pay for, especially with the bad reputation of self-published works being poorly written and not even worth free sometimes. I’ve downloaded a few stinkers. These were so bad I stopped reading and deleted, the poor grammar or horrible writing made it unbearable to read. I’m thankful I didn’t fork out any money because eBooks are not refundable. Samples are valuable, similar to reading the first few chapters when in a bookstore, letting you see if this story is worth your time.

When I buy a book, my intention is to keep or donate. If it’s cheap, say a buck or two, I’ll buy it. If it’s something I don’t want to own or pass on, I won’t buy it. Digital books are a different kind of purchase, because it’s yours (DRM-free allows a different type of sharing but I’d rather not worry about illegal distribution or whatever.) These are lendable in some cases but otherwise it’s yours. All purchases final.

I’ve bought a lot of books for cheap or free. Most of the books have been worth it. Steven Montano’s Blood Skies series and Chuck Wendig’s 250/500 writing series are priced lower than traditional fare but worth more than the cover price. Paperbacks run $7.99 – $9.99 new. You can get cheaper at a used bookstore (and I think of used in a similar fashion as adopting a pet; if you don’t take one home, it’ll be so lonely.) I try to buy with a sense of “this is going to get more than one use.”

Back to eBook pricing… I think the price of some titles is too low and the price of others is too high. Why would I pay $12.74 for a digital Alex Cross, Run preorder when I can wait and get a copy for $2 at the used store? But why wouldn’t I pay $9.99 for Redshirts if I know I like it enough to buy. The buy low idea conflicts with the underprice dilemma because I tend to try new self-published authors based on cheap or free titles. Tom Lichtenburg is my favorite free sci-fi/fantasy self-publishing author.

My taste in books is very cover related as well. Covers are part of selling, the initial sales pitch, *shady guy opens his trenchcoat* “Hey, you wanna buy some of this?” If the cover has done its job, the first chapter has to get the rest done. Sometimes just the title or blurbs do the job. I bought a used Storm Front by Jim Butcher because I thought the title was cool and because Glen Cook blurbed on the cover. I’m glad I bought it because Jim is one of my favorite authors.

When I try a new author or series, I try to go by recommendations. Some of the time, though, the cover is there calling my name. I started reading the Grantville series by Eric Flint & co, the Destroyermen series by Taylor Anderson, and A Song of Fire and Ice by George RR Martin based on covers that made me want to buy.

The first chapter or sample is instrumental for anyone still on the fence about buying a story. Some authors can slap their name on the cover and the work sells. Most of us have to capture the audience with that hook. Back in the days of typewriters, authors had to hook with that first page. Some would just write first pages to get better at doing so. I read about an author (not finding a name right now) who made several stories from certain first pages.

So remember if you’re selling to me, you need a fair-priced, spectacular-covered, superb-first-chapter-hookin book. Or lots of fans who will vouch that it’s good.

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