Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Value of Words - How Cheaply are Authors Willing to Work? Boxed Set vs. Individual Novel Sales

Happy Wednesday, everyone! I know it's the middle of the week and all, but today, I'd like you all to get your brains cranking. There are some things I'd like your thoughts and opinions on, and we're gonna crunch some numbers (you all know how I love that)! If you're ready, get your typing fingers ready, your coffee in hand, and let's get going!

I know you've all seen the huge boxed sets floating around the book world. Sixteen books for just under a dollar sounds pretty dang good, right? Well, it is. That's only around six/seven cents per book. Each novel included is usually around 60k words, so that means a word is worth 0.000001 (or one penny per ten thousand words [math: .99 divided by 16 divided by 60,000 multiplied by 10,000]). One hell of a deal for your reader, right?

Now, let's look at the typical full-length novel. They're priced between $0.99 and $5.99. If they're from a big five publisher, you can bet they'll cost a bit more (say $7.99 to $12.99). We'll say those books are the same length as the ones above, and I'll give you the cost per word for a few (gapping so this post of numbers isn't quite so long). At $0.99, a word is worth 0.0000165 (or $0.17 [rounded up] per ten thousand words [math: .99 divided by 60,000 multiplied by 10,000]). At $5.99, a word is worth 0.00009983 (or $0.99 per ten thousand words). And, at $12.99, a word is worth 0.0002165 ($2.17 per word). To readers. This isn't what you make. Stay with me.

I don't know about you, but I write about 2k words per hour. Most of the people I know do 1k or 1.5k per hour, and others do even fewer than that. Let's figure out how much authors are making per hour selling their books, shall we?

At a rate of 2k words per hour, selling a 60k word novel in a boxed set will put the author making less than one penny for every five hours of work put in writing the book (0.00066 per hour). A 60k word novel should take 30 hours to write at that pace. Few of us work 5 days a week, so we'll say two weeks. You would've made a whopping $0.02 for your two weeks (or 30 hours) of labor for each sale (because you don't make the whole $0.99 on a sale, it's more like $0.32 -- divided by 16 people -- divided again by 30 hours). Less than a penny for all that work. But then there's another (at least) four weeks of editing and proofreading that take another (let's say 6) hours. Your pay just got cut. You're now at $0.00055 per sale per hour because you're at 36 hours of work without adding words (goods) to the value of your time.

But wait!

You paid to get into the boxed set, likely paid for a cover and an editor, and you pay for marketing, right?

Before you get into the "it adds up over time" clan, let's really crunch those numbers. Stay with me!

Let's say your buy-in for the boxed set was $200 (just FYI, this is on the low end). Your cover was another $200, and your editing was $2k. Marketing also cost you $200 (being reserved here).

You're up to $2600 at this point just for the extras.

Your end number for each sale is $0.02. You have to sell 130k copies of that boxed set to break even. You haven't even "made" a penny yet because you pre-spent the money to get into the set and market. But then there's dear Uncle Sam...

Now, if you look at the average novel outside of a boxed set, the author has to sell only 8,125 books to break even if their book is priced at $0.99. They'll make $0.09 per hour per sale once they've covered their out of pocket costs (left in the buy-in as it could be used for other things). At the higher payout of 72% and a book priced at $5.99, the author has to sell only 618 copies to break even, and they'll make $0.50 per hour per sale afterward.

Of course, readers want the boxed sets, but how cheaply are we, as authors, willing to work? What would you buy, nearly 1M words at $0.99, or 60k at the same price?

Are we screwing ourselves?

Are these boxed sets undervaluing our time?

Talk about it!

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!



  1. Yes, yes, yes!!!! I am blown away by all these sets I've been seeing. I thought, at the price, that they were a themed series of short stories (Like you might give away on instafreebie) that is a great way to get a reader interested in your series. I didn't even realize that you have to pay to "buy in" to the box set. SMH... Authors cannot make a living if we don't stop shooting ourselves in the foot.

    1. It's typically much higher, but like one person commented below, it usually includes things like a cover, formatting, and the marketing. But it generally comes out to around the same number (especially if you're making the run for a list). I've seen them as high as $1500 for the buy in.

  2. Having been in a number of the positions in the literary realm, including consumer, I can tell you that I have finally backed away from my lifelong dreams due to the fact that everyone seems to want something for nothing. Consumers want to pay little to nothing for a good read, a great deal of writers either want covers and editing done for nothing by a professional, or attempt to do it all themselves with no help, which leads to shotty product and low sales once word gets around. Of course, health issues put the final nail in the balloon, but the above had a great deal to do with it also. I am always willing to help anyone and everyone who needs it, and I enjoy it most of the time, but at times you have to ask yourself if you're being taken advantage of. Then, there is doing editing and asked for advice only to find the client has ignored nearly everything you gave them. You ask yourself why were you asked. In short, yes we cheat ourselves on many levels. Sad, but true.

    1. I also believe we, as authors, need to change the way we look at the services provided to us. Too often, we expect quality for less. Something will always give in the service industry, either price, quality, or turnaround time. :)

  3. thanks for the post. I feel like it is just a numbers best seller game... not sure what that gets for us...even for the $

    1. It is. And I do wonder if (like someone asked on my FB post) it will devalue the term "bestseller" in the long run. :)

  4. As much as I agree with your blog post the figures are a little out :) The buy in covers the cost of the cover and marketing, normally. I don't know anyone who would pay $2k for editing, I would say $500-800 is about average. So, cost to participating author is, using your buy in figure, is about $1000. But, you are spot on with the rest :) I do this as a 'lost leader'. I've put forward novellas (25k words, a week's work, $200 editing costs) for anthologies, mostly charity ones with no buy in, and they will always be a piece that relates to a published book or series. That's where they can be beneficial, a little like the first free in series :)

    1. My buy in was supposed to be $500, but we ended up paying $200, and no marketing and only got a cover. Several people I know pay $2k+ for editing. I'm the EIC at INDIE Books Gone Wild, and I can assure you, the cost of editing (with us) is far more than $500-800. So, my numbers balance out in the end. Most buy ins are way more than $200. :)

    2. I have author friends, who shall remain nameless, who have paid up to $3,000 to get into a boxed set.

    3. That's why I kept it on the low end. I figured the numbers eventually balance out somewhat. :)

  5. Oh girl!

    Okay, there are some elements here that you've left out. I understand that for the sake of the hard numbers the calculations are easier without considering the following, however this all bears mentioning:
    Plotting time. This will vary, but how many hours does an author spend plotting a novel? I would say, for me, it's probably about 10-15 hours. Now I'm not going to charge for the brilliant ideas I come up with in the shower, but still. The hours spent staring at a blank notebook page, chewing on the end of my pen while I sort the story out can be quite lengthy.
    You've also left out the planning time. Even in a box set there are still strategy meetings, facebook posts, news letters, tweets. For our novels we publish alone there's the constant promo planning, it can take an hour to submit to four promo sites.
    Also, let's not forget the countless hours we spend lost in stock art heaven or hell, depending on how you look at it.
    Organizing ARC reviewers.
    Formatting, we either pay for it, or spend the time doing it ourselves.
    THEN, let's talk about the incidental expenses that add up over a years time.
    Newsletter provider. We can't just slap together an email and send it through gmail. We pay a monthly fee depending on the size of your list.
    Web hosting
    Web design if you can't do it yourself - and if you can't how many hours are put into the building and maintenance of your website?
    Writing blog posts can be time consuming.
    It all ads up.
    Here, I'm going to break bitchy for a minute, so please forgive me because I love my readers. However, sometimes they aren't mindful of all we do and spend on the production of a book. They send you a message of how much they loved book one, which they downloaded for free and would love to read book two. But they don't have the 2.99 to buy it and since it's digital would I mind sending it for free, because it doesn't cost me anything.
    So yes. I think the box sets really do undervalue the work, but I'll probably do one myself one day, because it's a valid method of building readership who you hope will buy your other works.
    Stepping off the soap box, dropping the mic.

    1. YES! Like I said, I was figuring on the low end LOL!

      Here's some food for thought:
      I was told there's a specific consumer base that purchases boxed sets, and that's all they'll buy. Now, by that thinking, would you say the reader who picks up the set is more or less likely to go on to buy/read your other novels? Does that idea make it more or less appealing to be in a set?

  6. A couple of years ago I was in one of those boxed sets and it did make good money. That said, I think the market is now saturated and it definitely hurts us indies, because readers now expect more for much less.

    1. I feel like we shot ourselves in the feet. :-/ I bought into one that ended up not being released as a set. I do wonder what would've come of it.

  7. After doing this for 20 years, the one thing I've learned that is consistent day in and day out is that people who only *read* books have no idea the time, energy, effort and expense that goes into *writing* a book. And furthermore, they aren't interested in knowing. It's the same whether you're published by a big publishing house or self-published. A few readers are loyal fans and will buy every book you produce, but most couldn't care less if you dropped off the globe. ..... One of my biggest disappointment with readers and this continues to be a disappointment though I've experienced it for years, is to give someone a book, then learn a month or few months later that they never even bothered to read it. It's the same whether it's an ebook, a print book or an audio book. And I don't even bother to ask them to leave a review somewhere anymore. ..... So if you haven't reached the same plateau as Nora Roberts or some other author of similar status, you just have to knuckle down and be prepared for lots of disappointment. Every day, for 15 of the 20 years I've been doing this, I ask myself why I'm doing it. Because I'm sure not getting rich. .....

    Writing books has become particularly painful now that click farms out of Third World countries are stealing material out of existing books that some legitimate author has spent hours writing. They repackage the material under a phony name and title and re-release it for 99-cents through the online retailers. Personally, I call this plagiarism, but most people are calling it "scamming", a word that doesn't begin to cover the seriousness and long-term consequences of allowing this violation of copyrights to continue unchecked and unprosecuted. Unfortunately, most starving authors can't afford to hire lawyers and sue them. I don't know how far one would get trying to sue somebody in Bangladesh anyway.

    1. Oh my gosh, THIS! Yes. It's frustrating, to be sure. I guess it comes down to defining success. If we're in it for the money, that's the wrong reason (isn't it?).

      CLICK FARMS! UGH! I have a ranty post about that coming this week. I couldn't believe the video I saw. How underhanded can someone be? Overseas certainly makes it rough. :(


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