Bang for your Buck: Coffee, Books, and Cash

I saw this a while ago. It resurfaced in early April, and I've been thinking about it ever since. It impacts every aspect of my professional life. My new releases are $4.99. It used to be $5.99, but I ultimately settled on $4.99.


This cup of tea 001Robert Swartwood's tweet illustrates it perfectly. As a society, we're willing to pay a barista to make us a coffee for $6–and we'll drop change in her tip jar, all because we appreciate the work she put in for us.

Usually, this work is no more than 3 to 5 minutes.

It takes me at least a quarter of a year to write a novel. Sometimes I write one faster, if I'm pushing really hard at it. I work 9+ hours a day, churning out words in the hopes of making something out of my career.

Some days, that barista makes more in tips than I do in sales on my novels. That's what society has deemed as important, and I don't know how to bust through that wall.

I want people to look at my months of hard work and effort and believe it is worth more than that 3 minute cup of coffee.

My novels take longer than 3 minutes to read, too. It usually takes a reader longer than it times to drink that cup of coffee to finish one of my titles. Even if you speed read at 1,000 words per minute, you'll looking at an hour and twenty minutes to read my shortest novel.

Some of you may claim that it's possible to return that cup of coffee if it doesn't take good.

Trust me on this one–you can with books, too. It happens to me all of the time, almost always in the first two weeks of a novel's release. You know, when people want to read the book but don't want to pay the author for their hard work. It's pretty frustrating looking at the returns in the first two weeks of a release, knowing that a title is either in progress of being pirated or someone just doesn't feel like paying. Of course, there are those who genuinely bought by accident due to one click buying, but… after a while, you get used to the fact that people aren't in that later category.

It sucks–especially when you realize that a cup of coffee is worth more than the hard work and effort spent writing and editing a novel.

Is that a whine?

You can bet your bacon that it's a whine. (Or you can just give your bacon to me, because I like bacon a lot.)

Go ahead and judge me if that's up your alley. From where I'm sitting, it really sucks knowing that my novels can't compete with a cup of coffee. It's a real kick to the self-esteem. Many authors (myself included) have battered self-esteems. I'm okay admitting that. It's the truth.

Many authors have second jobs. I'm not one of them. I'm stupid, crazy, have probably made the worst financial decision of my life, and I refuse to give up my career choice, which makes me irresponsible, too.

If you can afford to buy a $6 cup of coffee, please don't tell your author friends you can't afford their book. Just be honest with us and tell us why you don't want to buy the book. Your honesty goes a lot further than empty promises and lies.

At least we learn something when you're honest about it. We learn what sells our books and what doesn't sell our books. That's almost as valuable as the golden egg of being paid for our gold work–almost.

And if that answer is that you enjoy your coffee more than you do literature, that's all right. Seriously, it is.

Not everyone is a crazy book hoarder.

If only cash were not a finite resource. If it weren't, I could have my $6 cup of coffee and all of the books I want.

And yes, I skip the coffee to buy the books… or I twist a friend's arm and have them buy me a coffee. And yes, I'm totally guilty of this.

Leave a Comment:

susan emans says April 19, 2015

I don’t drink coffee, and if I did, I am way too poor to spend $6 for a cup of coffee. I save my pennies, and dimes and quarters, for books. I give up other things so I can buy my books. I love it when I find a great new book for a lower price, but I do not begrudge my favorite authors their full worth. I try to spread the word about the good books as much as possible, so others share in the joy.

    RJBlain says April 19, 2015

    That’s exactly my approach to it, too. I spend way too much on books as it is, but I’m okay with that. 🙂

    There are some days I will go splurge on a fancy coffee–curse you, pumpkin spice! Curse you! And curse you hazelnut praline!

    I’ve gotten to the point I don’t buy from used book stores much any more because I want authors to get royalties, even though it costs more… >.>;

      susan emans says April 19, 2015

      I admit I still buy used, mostly older books I need to complete a series that I have have started to buy or books that I would not have bought if I did not find them less expensively.

        RJBlain says April 20, 2015

        I totally do the same, especially when the ebooks aren’t available. Or, if I’ve already bought the ebook and I want a physical copy because I loved the book that much. 🙂

Avery K. Tingle says April 20, 2015

RJ, if you were to devote even a third of your time to marketing, you’d be up there with Rowling.

    RJBlain says April 20, 2015

    I’ve done a substantial amount of marketing, Avery. It doesn’t guarantee success. It doesn’t even guarantee you’ll hit an amazon mailer. I just went through this with Winter Wolf. Don’t ask about the number of hours (or amount of money) I spent on Winter Wolf to have it flop, ranging from press releases, a lot of blog work, and so on.

    Marketing time and expenditure doesn’t equal success.

David says April 30, 2015

That’s an interesting observation, now that you mention it. I rarely buy coffee for $6. I’m more likely to pay $10 for a tin of instant that lasts me a couple of months. That said, I have been known to splurge, but when I find an e-book for, say, $3.99, I actually wonder if it’s worth the money.
I wonder.
Perhaps it’s because reading also requires a commitment of my own time. Say a cup of coffee “costs” me 10 minutes and $5, but a book costs me “2 days and $3.99”

If, on the one hand, that book is great, then I feel my 2 days was well spent, and the money too. But if the book is bad, I feel ripped off — I wasted good money *and* time. It’s a far greater cost (to me) than a bad cup of coffee.

Oh how much worse it is when you keep reading “in case it gets better”.

I was recently stuck on an airplane for a few hours and had a free download of Morgan Rice’s Book #1 of the Sorcerers Ring series on my phone. You can imagine my growing horror as I paged through it, hoping against hope that it would improve.

(As an aside, I stumbled onto your site because I was looking for a sane review of her product : I was dismayed to find so large a number in favour of it)

So despite the fact that this “novel” was free, I still regretted wasting my time on it. It is one of the few I have not bothered to finish. I am glad Ms Morgan Rice does not have any of my money — she should not be further encouraged to dilute literature with her words.

One final note, more pertinent to your post : Theres a flip side to your point about how much time and effort goes into writing a novel vs a cup of coffee — you don’t have to write a new novel for every customer.
If you compare your efforts to the entire supply chain for a cup of coffee, (plantation, harvesting, delivery, processing etc), it might be a fairer comparison. The economy of scale that they get from bulk is similar to the economy of scale you get when you issue multiple copies of the same book.

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