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Sunday, February 3, 2013

It's Not About the Money

     Okay, writing peeps. Here’s a topic that affects us all. Money. It’s obvious by the way we’re scrambling for the sweetened, $50,000 pot that Amazon is awarding in this year’s annual breakthrough novel contest. Drip. Drip. Hear that? That’s the sound of 10,000 writers drooling simultaneously. Nothing to be ashamed of, folks. The green stuff comes in handy. Wifi’s gotta work. Kids've gotta eat. My question is once we make it—get the contract or take the plunge of self-publishing, rake in the dough, garner good reviews, attract the readers—what if someone balks at paying for the product?

     I follow a catchy blog called The Red Pen of Doom which, this week, featured a guest blogger who reviewed a romance novel by Kat Martin (Deep Blue). I’ve never read any of this writer’s work and probably never will now, thanks to a review that concluded with a demand for money back. Plus tax. (Does a reviewer even have to pay for the book?)
     Okay, so maybe the demand was simply to prove a point, but it got me wondering what you guys think of this trend. Should booksellers refund money to readers who are dissatisfied with a book? How can one be sure that such things don’t stem from an ideological difference between the author and reader? I worked in retail. I totally get the mentality that the customer is always right—and in cases of bad editing, sub-par quality of download, other technical issues, I’m on the side of the consumer. But what’s to stop people from reading books and saying they’re dissatisfied just to get it free? We’re on the honor code here—and need I point out that society is getting less and less honorable as we speak? 
By all means, let's throw her another bone.
     For example, I could buy 50 Shades of Grey, even though I find both the subject matter and the syntax repulsive. I could read it in order to see what all the hype’s about and then demand a refund, which if granted will have allowed me to read the book without contributing to the author’s dubious success. Will I do that? No. I only buy books I have an actual interest in reading, and very rarely spend money on even these. (For those of you tempted to sneeze the word “cheapskate” into your palms: Yep, that’s me.) I’m a huge proponent of the public library.
Not to mention, deep.
     The last two books I purchased were Holly Schindler’s A Blue So Dark and Sarah Darer Littman's Wanna Go Private. I absolutely loved A Blue So Dark, and hated Wanna Go Private, which I reviewed on Goodreads, although briefly. I only ordered the latter book because it dealt with Internet safety and I am in the process of revising a middle-grade mystery set against the backdrop of social networking. I wanted to see how another author handled themes of cyber- safety, and, as far as I was concerned, this mission was accomplished. In my opinion, Littman handled this topic badly, with cardboard characters from the 50s that seemed transplanted into this decade and exposed to porn. There were many objectionable, downright creepy scenes that were painful to read, as well as a predictable ending. I chalked that ten bucks up to research, and got on with it.
     Even though I was disappointed with my selection, I recognized the author's triumph in getting it published, for it was a publishable book, just not my taste. Now it sits on a shelf of my bedroom, for I can’t in good faith recommend it to my daughter, even though I think the subject matter is important, especially for her age group. In the closet of that same bedroom hangs a pair of leather pants that I bought eight years ago. I wore them once and then decided I am just not the kind of gal who can get away with wearing leather pants. Will I be returning to the boutique and asking for my money back? Not in this lifetime. We make choices, and sometimes they’re…unfortunate. Not everything's like the picture.
Chalk it up to a fleeting insanity, and move on.

     I checked out the reviews of Easily Amused, by Karen McQuestion, a previous ABNA participant now in print, and was surprised to see that she’d popped in with a personal response to a one-star review. McQuestion politely suggested that the reader call Customer Service to get her money back. It might be brilliant marketing, but it made my stomach queasy. Authors get so little that is tangible from the sale of the book as it is. Just the pride of attaining a dream, seeing their name (and oftentimes a pen name) in print, some good reviews, the admiration of their peers and 20% (if they’re lucky). Dissatisfied readers have the chance to leave a negative review, and that should be enough recompense. Granting refunds sets a scary precedent, in my opinion. What say you?



  1. Interesting thing for writers to think about! My initial reaction is that what you are selling is less of a consumer good and more of intellectual property. Meaning, its not like you are selling a shirt that someone bought and it just doesn't fit right. Okay, no problem. You get the shirt back, give them their money and resell the shirt to someone skinnier. As writers, we are selling inspiration, a mode of escapism, philosophy, you could even say we are selling imagination. Is this something you can give back money for because the reader didn't connect with it? Not really. What they read cannot be returned and will most likely stick with them for the rest of their lives (good or bad.) While, yes, there are cheapos out there who always want something for nothing. To those people, I recommend going into politics.

  2. I've read books I didn't like. I never went back to the store and asked for a refund, I just. stopped. reading. it.

    If I buy a lemon doughnut, but I then find out I don't like lemon in a doughnut, but I do like lemon in lemonade, I don't take the doughnut back.

    Once bitten, or opened, be it paper, food, or anything else, unless it's actually faulty, then you don't get a refund for making a poor choice.

    The only way I'd ask for a refund on a book, would be if the download didn't fully come through, if pages were missing from the physical copy, or if it was physically damaged in the mail.

    You can read the first few pages of most offerings, be it online or physical.

    The writer worked to produce the book, you're buying their vision of whatever they wrote. If you then don't like it, tough.



  3. Thanks for stopping by, Micki and Lorrii! I agree whole-heartedly with both of you. Let's see if anyone feels differently. There must be someone who thinks a case can be made for getting money back. If so, don't be afraid to say it. There are no haters here, and I'm truly curious as to what pushes a person to take that step.

  4. It's an interesting thing to ponder. I guess I'm glad it's POSSIBLE. I think as an option to tell the publisher (or author) that they published something that shouldn't have been, THAT is important. But at the same time, I feel like the buyer has a responsibility to NOT do that for a genre mismatch (for pete's sake, if it isn't your genre, don't buy it) or for 'just didn't hit me right'. I think it should be reserved for 'badly done'. I ALSO think in this day and age with the sample chapters, readers can get some idea before ever buying, so unless there is a qualitative change later in the book--THAT is a bait and switch--but if it's consistent, then the buyer really shouldn't get to complain.

  5. Hart, I suppose I'm glad to have the option too (even though I can't imagine using it). But now I've read somewhere that createspace doesn't do returns. I wonder if that's true and if so, why they don't. Does anyone think that contributes to the higher perception of legitimacy for traditionally pubbed books over self-pubbed?