As a writer and as a reader, I have been struggling with something. What is the value of a book? Of course I would say books are priceless, but what are we really willing to pay? Let me set the scene…
Browsing along the shelves of a stationary shop on a cold January day, I pick up one of the fancy notebooks they have for sale. It is a small notebook, about the size of my hand, and beautiful. I open it to find warm, welcoming pages just waiting for someone to scrawl on them. Maybe someone like me! Then, I turn it over to find the price – $20. My arm moves without command back to the shelf to replace the notebook and a small sigh passes through my lips.
My eyes keep jabbing at my heart because of all the wonderful stationary. I love it all and discover some smaller card stock variety scratchers. They are basically just paper folded over and stapled together in the middle to form a book of blank pages. Turning it over, I find the price – $5. Again my fingers return the book to its home.
I pull open the door to the stationary store and am met with cold air. Hunched, I make my way to the next shop and enter to find it is a book store. So many stories fill the shelves. They can take me on a ride through history or navigate me through a world in the future. Maybe I can find a book that shares knowledge and helps me understand a complicated concept in a new way. The story transports me to another place and creates friends I could have never known if not for turning the pages of the book. Nothing short of magic.
Though the suggested retail price is $15, they are selling them for $7. An entire adventure for only $7, and the stationary store is offering blank pages for $20.
Sure, the notebooks are in a stationary store, so perhaps I should expect for them to be expensive. But I could go to any large box store for the typical notebook you buy for school and easily pay $5 or more. For blank paper. How much work did the manufacturer do to make the notebook? How much time? How many resources?
The answer: a helluva lot less than an author.
An author can spend hours researching a book. Hours more writing the book. More hours editing. Even more hours formatting it and creating a cover and whatever else needs to happen just to get the book made. Alternatively, authors can spend thousands of dollars to outsource the editing, the formatting, the cover design and then still must spend time making sure everything is as they envisioned.
Now, they must market their book, or pay someone to do it for them. They put their life, their tears, their frustrations, their passions into a book, but generally can’t sell it for more than $4.99 for a digital version, which is less than what you’ll pay for most low-end notebooks with blank pages.
I love a good notebook. I need one to write my journal entry every day. These are the pages where ideas for articles or stories appear as well as issues I need to acknowledge and work through. One could say this is where the value lies. The notebook is a blank slate waiting for you to fill it with your ideas, thoughts, and pains. You can use the notebook.
A book is usually one and done. You read it and then you have no more use for it. It either collects dust on your shelf or it gets sent off to the thrift store or library. And that’s if you like the story. Maybe you can’t even finish reading the book because it isn’t what you expected, or you simply can’t get into it. Why would you want to gamble your money on something you might not like?
Until I really got serious about publishing my own book, I never really thought about all the work that goes into producing it. I mean, I of course knew about the work of getting words out of your mind and onto the page, but that is one piece of the entire package. And this one piece may take years.
There is so much more I never thought about. And I am betting you never thought about it either (unless you are an author). Now that I know all the work that goes into writing and producing a book, it is hard for me to look at the price of a mass-produced notebook filled with blank pages and think, “Yes. I will spend that much money.”
It is also much easier for me to look at the price of a book, either fiction or non-fiction and think, “Yes. I will spend that much money and more!” Because now I understand the heart and work behind the words. Why did it take me going through the process of publishing my own book to learn this value, when of course the value was there all along?