The nature of the publishing industry is in a constant state of flux, which is awesome for writers in many ways. It means we have more options than ever for getting our work published. But, there are also downsides.

Lately, I’m seeing more and more reviews (on a variety of books on Amazon) where readers are saying that a book should be free, not because of the quality, but because they don’t want to have to pay for ebooks, especially if it’s from an independent author or one signed with a small press.

At the same time, fans are demanding more books faster from authors, and are becoming more critical of typos and editorial errors.

So basically, many readers want their books fast, free and flawless.

Well, that ‘aint happening. Ever.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I know not all readers are like this. I have awesome fans that patiently waited for the Forbidden Trilogy to come out over the course of a year, and fans who overlook the occasional typo, or who are happy to pay for my books, so this isn’t about them or my work specifically.

This is a rant about people who have become so accustomed to FREE books, thanks in large part to the KDP Select program from Amazon, that they are demanding this from everyone, but still expect the books to be well-edited, well-formatted, with pro cover art and written and published quickly so they can keep reading about their favorite characters.

I do understand. The economy is tight, and I’m not inclined to pay $15.99 for an ebook, especially when there are excellent books for far less, but I don’t think books should be free, or priced so low that it’s impossible for the author to make a living on those books.

And books will never be flawless. Even traditionally published books that go through a year of editing and formatting and pre-marketing come out with flaws. I’m not saying indie authors should be lax in editing, or put out work that is sub-standard, because quality really does matter. I know there are a lot of books out there that are in desperate need of editing and professional cover art.

But here are a few facts that I wish readers understood better.

1: It’s expensive to publish a book. It costs real money to hire a professional cover artist, editor and formatter. All in all, this process can cost thousands of dollars PER BOOK! And that’s not including the expenses we have in marketing our own work. When an author chooses to become their own publisher, they are taking on the responsibilities and expenses of a publisher. If they are published through a small press, that publisher must cover these expenses. Either way, a book HAS these expenses regardless of who published it, so the price shouldn’t be weighed differently for ‘Big 6’ books as compared to indie or small press books.

Here’s a short list of what it takes to put out a pro book:

A: Content editor: 1k or more

B: Line editing: 2k or more

C: Proofing (To catch those pesky typos that linger like lice): several hundred dollars or more

D: Cover art: A few hundred dollars or more

E: Interior formatting: Another few hundred dollars

F: Marketing: a few hundred to a few thousand dollars

This is PER BOOK! And given that it’s harder than ever to gain exposure for our work, how fast do you think most authors recoup their money? Now, how fast would they recoup it if they gave their books away for free? Or even left it at 99cents forever? Even at $2.99 it takes A LOT of sales to break even.

2: Fans want books out faster, and authors can’t make a living putting out a book or two a year. This is the truth: it often takes an author having 7-10 books or more out before they can even START to make a living. Now multiply that by the amount each books costs to publish professionally, and you can see that it’s a lot. Also, this means writing fast, or taking over a decade to make it. Most of us don’t have a decade, so those of us who can, write fast. This means considerable expenses back to back to launch books, and it also means we sometimes miss things.

When I was with a publisher, I had an excellent content editor and one of the best line editors, but still I paid out of pocket for proofing when my book was done. And guess what? With three editors and considerable self-editing, a friend of mine STILL found typos in a 140k word book. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that no matter what I do, those pesky typos linger like bad lice. I do my best with each book to get solid editing, but things slip through, especially when you’re working fast. But if I didn’t work this fast, I wouldn’t be able to make a living on my writing. What’s a girl to do?

3: There’s no such thing as a flawless book. See point two on this.

At the end of the day, if readers want quality books that are well-edited, well-formatted and have professional looking cover art, then they need to accept the fact that they have to pay for books. I’m not sure why this is such a hard concept to grasp. If I gave my books away for free, I wouldn’t be able to afford to write.

Some of my books have been discounted or free in the past, usually the first in a series for a specific marketing effort, but it’s not something I could do with all of my books permanently!

My pricing philosophy is flexible, but generally I charge 99cents for short stories, $2.99 for novellas, $3.99 to $6.99 for full length books and $9.99 for omnibus editions. Sometimes the prices for a first book in a series is lower, and depending on who my publisher is, I might not have a choice about the pricing, but this is what I feel is fair for the amount of work that goes into something.

While I think $15 is too high a price for an ebook, the $5.99 to $9.99 price range seems fair to me, whether for an indie author, small press author or traditionally published author. This gives enough of a profit for all the people involved to get a fair pay for their work.

Writing a book is hard work, and a decent book gives readers hours, and sometimes days and weeks, of entertainment. Why are so many people willing to pay $10 to see a movie for two hours, but won’t pay the same to read a book?

For many of us, this is a career. This is how we pay our rent and feed our kids. I couldn’t write as many books as I do and still work a job to pay the bills, and I’m not alone in this.

Now, please understand, this post was not inspired by any attack on me personally (so loyal fans, no need to light the torches and grab the pitch forks–though I love your loyalty!). It’s the general feeling in the air, the comments I’ve seen in reviews from many authors. It’s this attitude that everyone is entitled to books for free or, at least, 99cents.

Perhaps people don’t understand what it takes to write a book, or perhaps they are misinformed or uneducated about how much money and work it takes to actually publish a professional quality product. I’m not sure, but I do hope that this shifts soon.

You might get a book fast and free. You might get a book fast and high quality (but nothing is perfect). But as a long term publishing strategy, it’s quite impossible for any author to give you all three all the time.

And I just want to thank my fans for all of your support! You guys are the best.

What do you think? Do you think books should always be free or super cheap? What’s the max you’ve ever paid (or are willing to pay) for an ebook?