Edinburgh underground

This week’s Footnotes on Friday is a cry for help.

I’ve dropped one of my characters into trouble, and I need atmospheric detail and historic fact on the way to getting her out. Are any of you experts in Edinburgh’s underground?

Amy Cunningham, daughter of Susan Cunningham and granddaughter of Lord Henry Redepenning, has been kidnapped and is being held in the cellar of a house somewhere in Edinburgh. She finds that a pile of rubbish hides either a hole or a trapdoor that lets her into Edinburgh’s underground ways, where she has various adventures and experiences before being taken up by an amiable crowd of university students/apprentices/seamstresses or whatever I decide, and escorted to her family townhouse.

But which underground ways?

I’ve narrowed it down to the South Bridge Vaults or Mary King’s Close, both of which were available to me in 1812.

The Vaults are chambers formed in the arches of South Bridge, which was built in 1788. South Bridge was a shopping arcade that bridged a gully, and the 19 arches beneath it contained 120 rooms that quickly filled up with taverns, tradesmen’s workshops, and slum housing. All in the dark, and increasingly illicit and nasty.

Robert Louis Stevenson described the places in his 1878 book Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes:

“…under dark arches and down dark stairs and alleys…the way is so narrow that you can lay a hand on either wall. (There are) skulking jail-birds; unkempt, barefoot children; (an) old man, when I saw him last, wore the coat in which he had played the gentleman three years before; and that was just what gave him so preeminent an air of wretchedness.”

Mary King’s Close is a relict of a much earlier time. In a city enclosed by walls, it’s common for new buildings to be erected on top of old ones, the weight of centuries sinking the past with cellars containing what was once the street or even upper floors of a building. Legend has it that Mary King’s Close, which is under the City Chambers, was sealed up in the 1640’s to prevent still living plague victims from infecting the rest of the city. Another source I found says, more pragmatically, that the City Fathers of the time were worried about losing trade to the New Town so they:

decided to build a grand new Royal Exchange. And they found the perfect spot opposite St Giles Cathedral, with just one small problem – the streets of houses already there. But rather than knocking them down, they took the top floors off and used the lower floors as foundations. Mary King’s Close was covered over and swallowed up into the building’s basement. The sloping ground meant the houses fronting the Royal Mile were destroyed but further down the close whole houses were buried intact. [https://www.ontheluce.com/underground-edinburgh-mary-kings-close/]

People being people, many of the denizens refused to leave, and you could drop into the underground right up until the start of the twentieth century to have a wig made or to buy tobacco.

So which one? And what would it have seemed like to a gently-born if feisty 15-year-old Regency maiden? Can anyone help? Drop me a message on my contact page. I’d love to hear from you.


Spotlight on Christmas Babies on Main Street

The box set for which I wrote A Family Christmas has its preorder up, and you don’t have long to wait. Christmas Babies on Mainstreet goes live on 12 October. Nine contemporary novellas of between 20,000 and 40,000 words each for only 99c.

Nine individual stories from the bestselling Authors of Main Street – New for the 2017 Christmas Season!

This year, The Authors of Main Street have combined their talent to bring you stories about love, the holidays, and babies from around the world. From the small hamlet of Eastport in Canada, to the gorgeous landscapes of New Zealand, to Main Street, USA… you’ll find the Christmas spirit and warm love stories on every page. And not all of our babies have pudgy little fingers and adorable toes… one of them has hooves and a mane!

Inside this year’s box set, you’ll find Christmas novellas from Kristy Tate, Carol DeVaney, Jill James, E. Ayers, Lizzi Tremayne, Jude Knight, Stephanie Queen, Susan R. Hughes, and Leigh Morgan.

Snuggle up with your favorite blanket, grab a cup of hot chocolate, and let the Authors of Main Street help you celebrate the holiday season.


Cover reveal Lost in the Tale

I’m nearly ready to release my 2017 collection of made-to-order stories. I have the stories and the cover, and I’m just waiting for the proofread files and a bit of time to set up the pre-release. No date yet, but it looks like it’ll be early September.

The short stories in the collection have only been available as print books, on Wattpad, or to party goers and newsletter subscribers as ebooks. The novella has so far been seen only by the giveaway winner who gave me the ingredients.

Like Hand-Turned Tales, Lost in the Tale will be free at all eretailers as soon as I can persuade Amazon to drop from 99c.

The Lost Wife: Teri’s refuge had been invaded: by the French, who were trying to conquer their land, and by wounded soldiers from the English forces sent to fight Napoleon’s armies. The latest injured man carried to her for nursing would be a bigger challenge than all the rest: he had once broken her heart. (short story)

The Heart of a Wolf: Ten years ago, Isadora lied to save her best friend, and lost her home and the man she loved when he would not listen to her. Ten years ago, Bastian caught his betrothed in the arms of another man, and her guilt was confirmed when she fled. Ten years on, both still burn with anger, but the lives of innocent children and the future of their werewolf kind demand that they work together. (short story)

My Lost Highland Love: Interfering relatives, misunderstandings, and mistranslations across a language barrier keep two lovers from finding one another again. The Earl of Chestlewick’s daughter comes to London from her beloved Highlands to please her father, planning to avoid the Englishman who married her and abandoned her. The Earl of Medford comes face-to-face with a ghost; a Society lady who bears the face of the Highland lass who saved his life and holds his heart. (short story)

Magnus and the Christmas Angel: Scarred by years in captivity, Magnus has fought English Society to be accepted as the true Earl of Fenchurch. Now he faces the hardest battle of all: to win the love of his wife. A night trapped in the snow with an orphaned kitten, gives Callie a Christmas gift: the chance to rediscover first love with the tattooed stranger she married. (short story)

The Lost Treasure of Lorne: For nearly 300 years, the Normingtons and the Lorimers have feuded, since a love affair ended in a curse that doomed dead Lorimers to haunt their home, the Castle of Lorne.

Now the last Marquis of Lorne, the last of the Lorimers, is one of those ghosts, and the Duke of Kendal, head of the House of Normington, holds the castle.

Kendal doesn’t care about the feud or the ghosts. He wants only to find the evidence that will legitimate the son his Lorimer bride bore him before her death, and to convince his stubborn housekeeper to marry him.

But the time allotted to the curse is running out, and his happiness depends on finding the Lost Treasure of Lorne before the 300 years draws to a close. (novella)


A chance in the spotlight

I’ve been doing my accounts over the holidays, which has been slightly depressing.

I first published just over two years ago, and here are my figures for the entire period to 31 December 2016.

Total downloads from eretailers, all books: 78,700

Approximate number of words published: 470,000 (around 200,000 a year)

Approximate number of hours spent researching, writing, editing, or proofreading: ten hours per week on average

Total income after all expenses: minus NZ$1,500.
(I’ve paid for developmental editing, professional proofreading, photos and cover design, advertising, and a whole heap of other things.)

So that’s it. I’m losing around $1 for every hour I spend writing stories.

I didn’t expect to make an instant success

Which is just as well, really. Like everyone, I hoped I’d be discovered the day I published my first book, but I knew it is an overcrowded market and I’m an unknown living on the edge of nowhere. I figured I needed to get four novels out there before I began to  make an impact, and the fourth is almost finished, and still several months from publication.

Big hugs to all the wonderful readers who have joined me this early in the journey. Your comments, emails, and reviews have given me the rewards and the confidence I needed to continue.

I have a publishing plan and a marketing plan, and the hope that sooner or later my writing will actually pay enough that I can do it full time, instead of fitting it into the gaps of a busy life.

Little known authors face some disturbing trends

  1. The book market is crowded, and becoming increasingly so.
    Books never go away. Ebooks and print on demand books cost nothing for the retailers to carry, and so they remain on the lists.
    The lists at Amazon abound in silliness like 50 page 99c books that finish with cliffhangers and are followed by four more of the same kind. And authors who apply keywords with every regard to finding a little populated list, and none to accurately representing the story.
    Anyone can publish, and — with the loss of traditional gatekeepers such as purchasing agents and editors — many people serve their writing apprenticeship right out in public, without any more editing than their Mum provides, and with a spellchecker their only proofreader.
  2. Amazon will dominate the market for the foreseeable future, and they serve their own interests, not those of readers or authors.
  3. Many readers expect books to be free or no more than 99c, and will complain at paying more. I say this with some trepidation I saw a comment just a few days ago from someone castigating an author for commenting about people signing up for a newsletter to get a free book then unsubscribing. “Authors should be grateful people are reading their books,” this reader said.
    Here’s why you should consider buying at least some of the books you read.
    On the other hand, I give away a lot of free stories, always have at least one free book, and post weekly on Wattpad so I can share at least some of my stories with those who can’t afford to pay. I agree with Shannon Thompson on this one.
    On the other hand, if you download pirated books, on your head be it.

What does this mean for readers?

You might not much care. Writers will continue to write, no matter whether, in the balance, they are losing money. So you’ll always have new books to read. The greats will keep writing, and you can always save for their books or get them from the library. And a few authors will persevere and have the good fortune to be picked up by libraries and prominent reviewers so you find out about them.

I’ll soldier on, too, doing my 200,000 words a year until I can retire and write full time. I’ve published three novels (and almost finished writing a fourth), five novellas, and a number of short stories, so if I could triple my output, I’d be doing that each year, once I write full time.

But remember that, in one sense, readers do pay for every book an author gives away, or every book sold at 99c (for a 35c royalty). They pay in the books the author doesn’t have time to write, because of the day job.

Can you help the authors you love?

You can help the authors whose work you most enjoy, and it doesn’t have to take much time or money. Read our books and tell us what you think of them
. Write reviews, even a couple of sentences. Tell your friends about our books. Ask for them at your local library. The world has many undiscovered authors worthy of a chance in the spotlight. And in the new world of independent publishing and ebooks, the power to direct the beam lies with you, the readers.


#MFRWAuthor blog challenge: A long hot Christmas holiday

My Summer holiday is officially over, and the working year begins again on Monday. What better time to begin a 52-week blog challenge? One post a week on one of the themes below.

This week’s challenge is ‘A few of my favourite things’. What are my favourite things about a New Zealand Christmas?

Time with my personal romantic hero. I’ve been on holiday and his workload is down. Our wedding anniversary is two days after Christmas, and after 45 years of marriage, I love the guy more than ever.

Fresh berry salad. That’s a family favourite. Strawberries, red currants, raspberries, boysenberries, cherries (okay, I know they’re not a berry, but they’re red), blackberries, blueberries… they’re all in season, and mixed together and served in the crystal bowl we were given as a wedding present, they’re delicious. And a traditional centrepiece to our dessert at Christmas dinner.

Hot dry days. Okay, this is New Zealand, and if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute. But we’ve had some hot dry days!

Time to catch up on things I don’t normally have time to do. We now have a drain across the front of the deck, I’ve made a start on tidying the sewing room and have sorted out a bag of clothes to donate, and I’ve updated my asset list for the will kit. I’ve also been to see two exhibitions at Te Papa, our national museum.

Time with friends and family.

Yes. Christmas holidays are the gift of time.


Tea with Cedrica

monday-for-teaCedrica stared out of the window, but she saw nothing of the scene before her: the rectory garden, bounded by a low wall, and beyond it the village lane; the gray church through a small gate to her left, and on the right another gate leading to the rectory orchard.

The view was as familiar to her as the shape of her hand—she had known both her whole life. But she sat and looked into the future, and which was unfamiliar and had no shape at all.

Whatever was she to do?

At least here, the villagers knew what to expect from Papa when he wandered off, visiting from cottage to cottage all over the district, bewildered that the parishioners of his youth were not there to greet him; that his beloved Hannah, Cedrica’s mother, was nowhere to be found.

The children and grandchildren of those parishioners would bring Papa back home, where—until today—he recognised his daughter and came back at least a little to himself.

Today, he had stared at her blankly, and become angry when she insisted that she was Cedrica. “This is a cruel joke,” he told her, with great dignity. “I must insist you leave before you upset my wife by taunting her with her childless state.”

In the end, cook had taken him upstairs and put him to bed, and Cedrica had come to the study, filled with memories of the kindest father in the world. Her long-awaited birth had killed her mother, but her Papa made sure she never wanted for affection. How many evenings had she played on this very hearth rug while he wrote his sermon? Here, he told her stories, taught her to read, helped her with her first stumbling letters. Here, as she grew older, they worked side by side, Cedrica proud to help her father with his careful little monographs on English wild flowers, and his letters to other botanists all of Europe.

Where were they now, all those friends with whom he had corresponded? She had written to them and to everyone else she could think of when she and the good people of the village could no longer hide their dear rector’s increasing confusion. Few had replied. Those who did sent only good wishes.

Good wishes would not save Papa from the bishop’s plans to put them out from the only home Cedrica had ever known. Oh, his letter was polite enough. The new rector would require the rectory. Mr Cedric Grenford would be better off in a place where people of failing minds were cared for. The bishop would be happy to write Miss Grenford a recommendation for a position. Perhaps as a companion to someone elderly?

In desperation, Cedrica had written to the last person her father would wish help from—the distant cousin whose great grandfather had banished his son, her own grandfather, for the unpardonable crime of falling in love outside of his class and station.

But the Duke of Haverford, head of the Grenford family, had not replied.

Movement on the lane caught her attention; a magnificent coach, pulled by four black horses, perfectly matched down to the one white fetlock. The equipage was slowing, stopping, one of the two footmen up behind leaping down to open the door with its ornate crest, and put down the carriage steps.

First through the door was a tall man immacutely dressed in a coat that hugged his broad shoulders and pantaloons that hugged… Cedrica schooled her eyes to turn back to the door, as the man himself did, holding out his hand to assist a lady to ascend. A very fashionable lady.

A great lady, as Cedrica would have known by her wise eyes and her kind face, even without her escort, the carriage, and the servants.

The footman opening the gate, and the gentleman gave his arm to the lady and led her towards the rectory door.

Cedrica shook herself. The door. With cook upstairs and the maid on her half day, Cedrica must answer the door, and there. That was the knocker.

Refusing to speculate; refusing to hope; Cedrica hurried into the hall and checked her appearance in the tiny mirror. Reddened eyes. Old fashioned dowdy clothes. She could smooth her hair back under her cap, and she did, but she could do nothing about the rest.

With a sigh, she answered the door.

“Please tell Miss Grenford that the Duchess of Haverford has come to call,” said the man, barely glancing away from the duchess.

“I will… That is, I am…” Cedrica trailed off. She was sure the duchess had never in her life opened her own door. Despite her embarrassment, she could not take her eyes off her illustrious visitor.

The duchess was shorter than her, and elegant in a redingote of a deep wine red that matched the silk flowers inside the brim of her straw bonnet. Yes. Cedrica had been correct. The lady’s eyes were kind, her mouth curving in a gentle smile.

“I think, Aldridge, that this is Miss Grenford. Miss Grenford, allow me to present your cousin, my son, the Marquis of Aldridge.”

Startled, Cedrica turned to look at the man that most of England called the Merry Marquis. He did not look like a dissolute rake. Although, to her knowledge, she had not before met a member of that tribe.

He bowed, a graceful gesture at odds with his dancing hazel eyes.

“Miss Grenford, your humble servant.”

Servant. What must two such aristocrats think of her opening her own door? Cedrica blurted, “It is the maid’s day off, and cook is sitting with Papa.” She could feel her own blush, heating her all the way from the roots of her hair to her- her chest.

“Aldridge, find the kitchen, dear, and put on the kettle,” Her Grace ordered. “Miss Grenford—or may I call you Cedrica? Cedrica, come and sit down, my dear, and you and I shall have a cup of tea and discuss the safest place for your Papa, and the best place for you. You have family, Cedrica, and we will not let you down.”

Cedrica, following her new sponsor blindly into the shabby parlour, could not stop the tears, and in moments she was in the duchess’s arms, crying on her shoulder.

“There, there, Cedrica. You have been very brave, but you are not alone any more,” the duchess assured her.

It was a great deal to take in, but the situation was too strange not to be believed. A duchess was sitting in her parlour, the shoulder of her gown damp with Cedrica’s tears. And in her kitchen, a marquis was making the tea. Cedrica’s sobs stopped on a shaky laugh.

“I beg your pardon, Your Grace.”

“Call me Aunt Eleanor, Cedrica. For we shall become very close, you and I. I have what I think you need, my dear. And you are just the person that I need.”


Cedrica Grenford is the heroine of A Suitable Husband, a novella in the Bluestocking Belles’ holiday box set, Holly and Hopeful Hearts. The vignette above is a prequel to the novella. Cedrica also appears in the other novellas in the set, as does Her Grace. That rogue Aldridge wanders in and out of the pages, too. Find out more on the Bluestocking Belles book page.


Globalisation ancient central Asian style

Not so much a road as a route, and only one of them, at that. Imagine a procession of heavily laden camels, donkeys and carts.

Not so much a road as a route, and only one of them, at that. Imagine a procession of heavily laden camels, donkeys and carts.

I’ve been fascinated for most of my life by the histories I didn’t learn at school. According to the wisdom I received from my teachers, enlightened thinking began with the Greeks, was codified by the Romans, and was resurrected after the Dark Ages in the Renaissance where it grew into the humanist and democratic beliefs that bubbled up in Europe in the 18th Century and reached its culmination is the set of beliefs and practices widely known as western civilisation.

(Gandhi was once asked what he thought of western civilisation, and said he thought it would be a good idea.)

This view, of course, completely ignores the fact that Europe was a backwater until at least the 16th Century, and all the time inventions and advances and discoveries in the rest of the world laid the foundations upon which Europe would later stand.

Let’s leave for today the great kingdoms of Kush, Nri, Songhai, and Asumite in Africa, the Olmec, Aztec, and Mayans of the Americas, Kutai, Khmer, Dvaravati in South East Asia. In the past months, I’ve been filling my head with the broad swathe of city-states, kingdoms, principalities, and empires that created, maintained, and thrived because of the Silk Road. Not so much a road, but rather a rambling plaided string of trade routes from China and India to the Mediterranean Sea by diverse ways.

This was the mixing ground of cultures, ideas (including religious ideas), new technologies, and products. Above all, products: silk, paper, and spices travelling West; carpets, jewels, drugs, metal, glass, and other trade goods travelling East.

To hear the Venetians tell the story, they started the whole thing. In fact, they were very late into the game. One of the main western arteries did come first, established in Persia. It was the old Persian Royal Road, with postal stations along the route. The pony express was nothing new. The Persian route was established close to 2,500 years ago.

2,250 years ago, an emperor of China, struggling to keep the horse nomads of the north out of his land, sent an envoy west looking for help. Zhang Qian’s expedition led to trade deals to purchase the larger faster horses the envoy found in central Asia. Silk for horses. The Chinese beat of their enemies, and settled down to consolidate the trade, while from the other end the Parthians (who now controlled Persia) were doing the same.

For 2000 years, the Silk Road was how China got its western goods, and places as far distant from China as England got its silks and spices. Then, in the 15th Century, the rising Ottoman Empire blocked European merchants from using the routes, impelling them to find a sea route. Columbus went west, and Vasco da Gama south. And the rest is history.

If you’d like to know more, this 10:30 minute video is entertaining and interesting.

Huh! How about that. I set out to write about the Kopet Dag mountains between Turkmenistan and Iran, and the place of their inhabitants in the silk routes, and I’ve got all excited about ancient history. Another time, perhaps. Meanwhile, feel free to look at the novella I have in the Bluestocking Belles 2016 box set. Called The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, it features as hero a young man who grew up in a small kaganate high in the Kopet Dag mountains. The link is to my book page, which in turn links to the first two chapters.


Unequally yoked? Love across the boundaries on WIP Wednesday

brakespearew-youngloversDo you have a pair of star-crossed lovers? If so, what makes their union impossible? Different classes? Different races? Different faiths? Feuding families? Warring countries?

Today on Work-in-progress Wednesday, I’m looking for excerpts in which characters show the chasm they must bridge before they can be with their loved one. My piece is from my story in the Belles 2016 holiday box set.

Ah. Here was his goddess, approaching across a generous entrance hall that appeared at first glance to be full of people, though in truth he counted eight, not including the pair blocking his way inside.

“Felicity, you put me to the blush.” She turned from her sister to address the girl in spectacles. “Allow me to present Lord Elfingham, Miss Ellison.” Then she regarded him with wary eyes. “Have you come for the house party, Lord Elfingham?”

James gathered the wits that had scattered at Lady Sophia’s approach and told his tale of a lame horse and the need for shelter until he could diagnose and fix the problem. The other ladies and gentlemen stopped their work of hanging ribbons, garlands, and wreaths from every available vantage point, and gathered around to be introduced to the scandalous barbarian suddenly in their midst.

James smiled, nodded, and exchanged pleasantries, moving farther into the hall, his back prickling as he found himself surrounded by these polite strangers.

“There is a horse in the forecourt, and it will not move. Odd looking beast. Small head and too long in the back. And one blue eye! Whoever heard of a horse with blue eyes?”

James turned toward the voice at the door, and met the eyes of Nathan Belvoir, Earl of Hythe.

For all his youth—Hythe was three years Sophia’s junior and seven years younger than James—he was head of the Belvoir family, and James would prefer to have his blessing to court the man’s sister. From the hostility in young earl’s blue eyes, it would not be forthcoming.

“My horse,” James explained mildly. “Seistan.”

“The horse is lame, Hythe,” Lady Felicity told her brother, “so Lord Elfingham cannot travel on tonight.” She turned to the young woman in spectacles who had entered behind Hythe. “Will you inform the duchess, Cedrica?” The girl nodded and went back outside.

“He cannot stay here, either,” Hythe declared, his brows almost meeting as he frowned. “You should have stopped in the village, Winderfield, or whatever your name should be. The duchess will not want your sort mixing with her guests.”

James schooled his face to show no reaction. At least two insults in as many sentences: the denial of his title and his legitimacy, and the “your sort” comment. Sophia would doubtless be displeased if he challenged Hythe, or simply punched him.

Or punched Wesley Winderfield, who was grinning like a loon at Hythe’s elbow. Weasel Winderfield was some sort of a distant cousin and had been heir presumptive to the Duke of Winshire after the untimely deaths of the duke’s three sons one after the other, and then of his eldest son’s heir, his only known grandson. Weasel was most disappointed when Winshire’s third son proved to be not nearly as dead as reported, the inconvenience of his return compounded by the tribe of offspring he presented to his father when he arrived in England.

Weasel’s presence here was unfortunate but not unexpected. He was an acolyte of the man most determined to prove James a bastard: the man who owned this house, the Duke of Haverford.


The plot twist on WIP Wednesday

ginger-root-gingerbreadI’m at the point in my current WIP (The Prisoners of Wyvern Castle) where something needs to happen to stop the story from ending too soon. You know that moment? A complication. A change of plan. A misunderstanding. A new discovery. A missed opportunity or one taken.

So this week, I’m inviting you to share up to nine lines from a spot in your story where things change. Here’s mine, from Gingerbread Bride, my novella in the Bluestocking Belles’ box set Mistletoe, Marriage, and Mayhem. My heroine, Mary, is baking gingerbread for a local wedding, while trying to avoid the attentions of the father of the bride.

She inclined her head, the barest minimum politeness required.

“Have you come to collect your daughter’s baking, sir?”

“No, no. Ruthie will do that herself. She’s just out there in the kitchen with your good aunts. What have you there, eh?” He came around the table to her side. As Mary moved backward to avoid him, her head struck the shelf behind her, upending a canister that struck her a glancing blow as it fell. Mary staggered, and was momentarily grateful for Mr. Owens’ steadying hands.

Until she heard the gasp from behind him.

Until she opened her eyes to see both aunts, her cousin, and Ruth Owens standing in the doorway, their mouths identical O’s of shock.



How much should an ebook cost

In a recent post on a Facebook group, someone complained about paying 99c for a book that was advertised for sale, then finding it only had 185 pages. “I don’t think I should have to pay more than that for 185 pages,” she said.

I was a bit taken aback. 185 pages. That’s around 50,000 words, maybe more.

The discussion ranged widely and came to no conclusions, but it sent me back to the perennial question we self-published writers need to solve on their own. What price is a good price for an ebook?

(Note: all the prices below are in US dollars)

Average price for an indie published book

Author earnings says that indie books averaged $3.87 in May.


This is an increase of 5% in the past 15 months. By contrast, ebooks on Amazon from big-5 publishers have increased in price from $8.29 to $9.53.

Average price for a bestseller

According to Digital Book World, the average price for a bestseller in the first week of April was $6.14, and it’s been hovering around $6 for some time. Most of these are by big name authors, and traditionally published. When you buy a big name author, you know exactly what you’re going to get. When you buy a book from one of the big name publishers, you can assume a certain level of copy editing and professional publications values.

Indie books might be well written and professionally published, or they might not. It’s up to readers to decide whether they’re willing to pay 50% more for a ‘name’.

So what is a fair price for 50,000 words?

Third Scribe has written an interesting article on book pricing. They’ve based their assessment on 50,000 words (the same figure, I’ll remind you, as our Facebook friend’s 99c book). I’m not going to quote at length, but here’s the summary table – and it doesn’t include the cost of all the stuff that goes in behind, such as websites, newsletters, accountants, and so on.

Tallying these up…

Editing: $1,200
Cover Art: $400
Formatting: $100
Promotion: $400
Grand total: $2,100 ($12,100 if you count the author’s time).

That is a real, no bullshit, actual, honest to God cost of what it takes to produce a quality book in the digital age.

How many books does an author sell?

It’s hard to get the figures, but best estimates seem to be that 50 to 100 sales in the first year is average, and 250 sales in the lifetime of the book is pretty good.

And remember that, for books sold on Amazon, the author gets 35c of the list price of a book priced under $2.99.

To make back those basic costs – not your time, just your production expenses – at a cover price of 99c, you’d need to sell 6,000 books. That’s 24 times the average.

So people cut corners. They skip the editor and do their own cover art. Which impacts quality and disappoints readers. That’s not a path I’m prepared to go down.

How do readers feel about price?

Of course, the costs to the supplier are not the only factor. We’ve also got to consider demand.

Dear Author posted an interesting assessment of how readers feel about price. The quotes below summarise their views. Click on the link to see the whole thing.

1)  99c = I’ll buy you but I’m in no hurry to read you.  There’s no question that 99c will result in sales but how many people are reading it?

2) $1.99 is a dead zone.

3) $2.99 – $4.99 is the “I’ll try you even though I’m unsure whether I’ll love it.”  I think this is the discovery price range.

4) $5.00 to $7.99 is the “I’ve read you before and enjoyed what I’ve read.”  This price range is reserved for authors you’ve enjoyed in the past and figure you’ll be entertained for a few hours.

5) $8.99 and up is the “I’ve read you before and I love you.” At this price, you are foregoing purchasing at least one other book, if not more.

And Mark Coker of Smashwords has the figures to show that a 99c book may sell more copies, but a book priced between $3 and $3.99 will generate more income.

I have no conclusions

I don’t know the answer. I’m learning as I go, and trying new things. I’ve given away one book, a novella of 24,000 words, to show my writing style to prospective readers. I’ve priced a long novel at $3.49. And I’m thinking of putting A Baron for Becky – a long novella of nearly 50,000 words – on the market at $2.49. (It is currently for preorder at 99c.)

One lesson I did take from the discussion is to be very clear about labelling. So I’m going to change my book descriptions to say how long the books are. Beyond that, it’s all experimentation.