The Business Rusch: Pricing Part 2 Or (Discoverability Part 7 Continued)
As expected, I couldn’t answer e-mails or work long on my blog last week. I may take that tactic this week as well, because you folks had a much better conversation in the comments than you would have had with me involved.
Besides, I don’t like talking about pricing. Yet here I go with the second part of this series.
Some of you e-mailed me personally, some of you commented here, and some of you carpet-bombed me on other sites (you know who you are). I have a hunch I didn’t get all of the comments/e-mails either, because of some of the things said. So sorry if I missed yours. If you donated and didn’t get an acknowledgement from me, I apologize. I usually say thanks, but I got only about half the e-mails sent to me, including the ones from PayPal.
That said, some things came up that I will address before moving into the last part of this post.
First, bookstore questions. Every once in a while my 30-year history in this business bites me in the ass, particularly when it comes to clarity. When I tell you that you will get on bookstore shelves if you price your paper books correctly (which means at least $2 profit to you in extended distribution—not $1.50, not $1.68, but $2), I don’t mean you’ll get on all bookstore shelves. Nor do I mean actual shelves.
Here’s the hard truth about bookstores—and yes, I need to write a long post on this—no bookstore carries every book published that week, let alone that month or that year. When I was travelling last week, I stopped in bookstore after bookstore, from Hudson News to Powell’s to some other indies whose names my tired brain can’t remember, and none of them had one of my favorite mystery author’s latest book. He’s a New York Times bestseller and his book came out the day I left. I had special-ordered a copy, and figured I would regret it, because I’d see it everywhere. Instead, I saw it nowhere.
That’s pretty common these days. Not even the Times bestsellers are getting physical shelf space.
Why? Because bookstores now have virtual catalogs, and the authors their customers buy less frequently aren’t on the shelf, but in the virtual catalog. Which is where you will not be if you price your books incorrectly.
Readers who don’t want to shop at chain stores or through Amazon or who just want to support their favorite indie will buy books off the indie bookseller’s website.
As an example, let me show you the site for Mysterious Galaxy. They carry many of my Kristine Kathryn Rusch books, from WMG and from traditional publishers. Yet neither I nor WMG ever contacted them directly about taking a book. How did they get these books? Through Indie Bound, the program that the Independent Booksellers Association runs (which helps bookstores build websites, btw). Indie Bound took the books after a few stores requested them (again, not instigated by me or WMG), and supplies the books through one of the distributors (either Ingrams or Baker & Taylor).
That’s what I mean. You don’t have to lift a finger. Someone just has to ask for a paper copy of your book at an independent bookseller, and that bookseller has to order the copy (and pay for it). Voila! Your book will be warehoused with a distributor (who generally orders more than one copy). Then, your book will be in that distributor’s catalog, which is a good thing. It’s another way to be discovered.
The blistering e-mails: A number of you wrote me very heated e-mails telling me I have no idea what I’m talking about, that no writers you know ever get into bookstores even if the writers hit e-book bestseller lists, so why am I filling people’s heads with lies? Well, because I’m not lying. If the writers aren’t getting in, they’re either approaching the stores incorrectly (yes, I know, another post), or they have bad covers, or their books are priced wrong for the paper market and the bookstore can’t make a profit. I would bet that the books are priced wrong, given the tone of the rest of the e-mails.
I know some of you sold your first books very well by under pricing. I know that a handful of you hit the Times ebook list with 99-cent ebooks, and then people are buying the rest of your series. I know some of you are using price to game Amazon’s algorithm. If what you’re doing is working for you, continue doing it.
Realize, of course, that once Amazon realizes a bunch of writers have gamed their algorithm, Amazon fixes the algorithm so that game no longer works. In other words, the things that were effective on Amazon six months ago might not work at all in 2014.
No One-Size-Fits-All: So many of you believe that I’m obligated to tell my readers “the truth” and that truth is your truth, which is the only way things should be done.
I don’t believe in a truth, particularly in publishing.
The point of this entire series is to show writers their options, so that they can make informed choices about the things they do make sure their books get discovered.
The biggest mistake that indie writers make is the same one that traditional publishers make: they believe that just because something worked for one writer, it’ll work for all writers. I find it ironic that when there is such freedom of choice, writers glom together and believe that one way is the only way.
I hope that you will use these discoverability posts as guidelines for your work. And that you will chose Path A for one of your books and Path K for another. Because one size does not fit all, even with the same author. Got that?
I also realize that some of you comment after reading about 1,000 words of the post. So before you do, please look at the assumptions I’ve listed at the end of this post and make sure you understand where I’m coming from before you set a single finger on your keyboard. I don’t care if you disagree with me; I do care if you disagree with something I’ve already written about and you can’t be bothered to read the previous post.
Okay. Back to pricing.
Please read last week’s post before reading this one, because I dealt with important pricing topics last week.
Please remember that every time you price your books, you must do so with a strategy in mind. That strategy should not be “become a bestseller” or “sell as many books as Famous Author John Doe” but an actual business plan, which you should have for your books. (Jeez, last week I mentioned profit margin; this week, business plan. Imagine! I’m asking you to think like someone running an actual business…)
A Final Word On Discounting
Last week, I told you to set your prices properly, so that the books could be discounted. Many of you worried that Amazon (or B&N or some indie bookstore) would discount your book upon receiving it, and advertise it for the low price. Some writers even lower their prices to prevent that, proving that they have no idea how bookstores work.
Amazon will discount your price and, depending on the terms and conditions they have with you and your company, you might get a percentage of the discounted price, or you’ll get your percentage of the full price. These things vary according to the type of book you’re publishing, how you’re doing it, who you’re doing it through, and how the percentage gets paid to you. I can’t tell you if your book will end up paying you a full royalty or not.
Accept standard business practices. Amazon discounts everyone. If you don’t like the policy, don’t do business with them. It’s that simple.
If you want your prices to look low, and you want your customers to have choices, here’s how to do it without lowering any of your prices. Have a paper edition. Seriously. Take a look at this listing on Amazon for the Kindle edition of my novel, Snipers. You’ll see that Amazon lists the print suggested retail price of $18.99. Then you’ll see that Amazon lists the Kindle price of $7.99. And then, Amazon kindly tells you how much you’ll save if you buy the Kindle edition: $11.00. Amazon has done this for years, and readers will compare across formats because many, many readers like both paper and ebooks, and will base their purchases on price. (If the prices are close, then the reader is more likely to buy paper.)
And now, let me touch the third rail of publishing blogging:
When used properly, “free” is a strategy that works.
The problem is that most writers have no idea what “properly” means. Unfortunately, in the early days of self-publishing, “free” worked, even when it was misused. Amazon’s algorithms took a book on the top 100 free, and for 12-24 hours after the book’s price got restored, that book would shoot up on the top 100 paid.
Shortly after Amazon established Kindle Select, that strategy stopped working. Why? Because every writer discounted their books to nothing, and the top 100 paid got cluttered with books that really weren’t selling. Those books were given away.
“Free” no longer works that way. If you’ve read advice telling you to market your book for free so that book will make an Amazon bestseller list for paid titles, then you’re reading advice that is either four years old or based on advice that’s four years old.
And yet, here I am, telling you that “free” works sometimes—when used properly.
The best term for “free” isn’t “free book” but “loss leader.”
According to The Business Dictionary, a loss leader is:
Good or service advertised and sold at below cost price. Its purpose is to bring in (lead) customers in the retail store (usually a supermarket) on the assumption that, once inside the store, the customers will be stimulated to buy full priced items as well.
You aren’t running a grocery store, but you are running a business. And the moment you offer a loss leader, you are using a retail strategy. You’re discounting a book not to sell the book (remember last week’s note on discounting). You’re discounting the book to lead a customer to other products.
Again, entire marketing classes exist on the use of loss leaders. And marketing professors write entire scholarly papers on the effectiveness of loss leaders. Not to mention the fact that different schools of economic thought believe completely different things about whether or not to ever use loss leaders.
When loss leaders are used in actual retail environments, like grocery stores, the stores do many things that we as writers cannot do. For example, the stores put the free item at the back, so you have to wade through aisles of product to get to the free thing. That will increase sales of fully priced goods. We don’t have that placement option in an e-shop.
An effective loss leader displays the full price, so that the consumer knows what a great deal they’re getting. With luck, that consumer will already buy other items like the loss leader, so that price knowledge exists deep in the consumer’s subconscious.
Back in the day when traditional publishing ruled the world, we all knew that a book cost anywhere from $5 to $25. So a free book was worth at least $5 (mass market) or $25 (hardcover). Now, with so many people offering books for free, that special feeling you get from receiving a free book has pretty much disappeared, particularly with ebooks.
All business books recommend that a limited number of loss leaders. In other words, if you’re giving away television sets to get people into your Best Buy, you better have no more than 100 television sets in stock, so that deal vanishes fairly quickly.
We can’t do that with e-books, except by limited the time of the free giveaway. So free for one day is better than free for one week and free for one week is better than free for one month. Perma-free defeats the point of a loss leader entirely. (However, I will discuss perma-free below.)
Loss leaders should be scarce, to prevent stockpiling. This is where “free” has lost its power. With so many writers offering so many books for free, readers have stockpiled books. If I read every free book on my e-reader, I wouldn’t have to buy books for a year. (Don’t tell Dean that.) Fortunately for you all, I do buy books anyway.
Honestly, the best loss leaders are high priced items, discounted to an obscenely low price. Not free. In books, for example, Nora Roberts’ Donavon Series sells as a collection on Kindle for $25. If you want to make that a loss leader, then you would discount the collection to $5 for one day only. That’s a hell of a savings, and it would introduce readers to Roberts’ work (the ten people who’ve never read her work). Time that with the next release of her latest novel, and hope that the loss leader means you will sell more copies of the new book.
In other words, whenever you’re offering a loss leader, you’re taking a deliberate loss with the hope of later gain.
This strategy works as intended only if you have more than one product, and generally more than ten. So, if you offer one of your books for free, then you are gambling (and I mean gambling) that readers will then flock to your other books and pay full price for them.
The more books you’ve published, the better this strategy works. If you’ve published five sf books, three romances, and two mysteries, then offer your loss leader in sf, because that gives you the greatest chance of recouping the loss you’ve taken on discounting your price to nothing.
The best use of the “free” strategy, however, is to give away the first book in a series for a limited time only. Make sure you have at least two more books in that series, or the math will not work.
What is the math? The sales on Books Two and Three have to increase enough to make up for the loss of the income on Book One.
For example, let’s assume Book One sells ten copies per month, Book Two sells ten copies per month, and Book Three sells ten copies per month. You decide to offer Book One for free for a month. Then Books Two and Three must sell 15 copies each to break even from your “free” giveaway.
Sometimes “free” works, and Books Two and Three sell significantly more. Sometimes “free” fails, and Books Two and Three don’t sell more than 15 copies each.
That’s a strategy and a gamble. If readers don’t like Book One, they won’t move to Book Two, no matter what they paid for Book One. In those instances, “free” doesn’t work at all.
There are two other reasons that “free” is a gamble, even as a loss leader. The first is that most people who take the free product, whatever it is—perfume, a show ticket, a song, or a book—toss that product away or never look at it. When we were in Vegas this week, I was offered free moisturizer (twice), free show tickets, free meals, and a free lighter. I took everything but the moisturizer (I’m allergic to perfume; didn’t want to touch the stuff), and tossed all of them away before I left.
Everyone I traveled with received something free last week, and to my knowledge, none of us used the free item.
That’s the risk you take. If you have 1000 free downloads of your novel, be happy if 10% read the book, and be ecstatic if 5% buy another book. Most people download a lot of free at various points in their e-book reading career, and most people usually stop doing so after the newness of the e-reader wears off.
The other big risk of offering a book for free? The increase in negative reviews. Everyone who has ever offered a book for free has experienced this. Reviewers who wouldn’t normally buy a book based on title, subject matter and genre feel obligated to comment on that book. Often, you’ll see reviews of romance novels that slam the happy ending or the fact that the book focused on a relationship, reviews of mystery novels that are “too bloody” for the reviewer’s taste—or not a rehash of Agatha Christie, and so on.
The number of reviews you’ll receive will rise, but so will the number of negatives.
When you offer a loss leader to everyone, then a good percentage of the recipients will not like the product. You have to factor that into the success rate of your “free” campaign.
There are better ways to use “free” than a blanket offering across all platforms. Here are a few:
1) Offer a book for free to your dedicated fans if they sign up for your newsletter.
What do you get out of this? You get names for your newsletter, e-mail addresses, and a chance for positive reviews because these folks are already your fans.
2) Offer the first book in a series for free when the latest book the series appears.
What do you get out of this? Theoretically, you’ll get new fans who will then flock to the next books in the series, including the latest book. If you let people know on social media that the first book is free because the new book is out, you’re doing double-duty advertising: your fans will become aware that your latest book has just appeared—and if they really like your work, they’ll tell a friend about the free book. This strategy starts word-of-mouth on both the series and the latest project.
3) If you sell books on your website, set up a buy-two-get-one-free offer. Buy two full-price books, and get the third book free.
What do you get out of this? Well, you don’t have to set the book for free on any of the online retailers. Again, you’re getting names for your newsletter. If you set your prices right, you get more money when you sell off your website, so you can afford to discount all three books (which is, effectively, what you’re doing).
Those are just three free strategies. There are a million others. I do mean a million.
But…think twice before you use a strategy that has become really common among indie booksellers.
Do not pay to give away your book for free.
Places like BookBub and other advertising newsletters will list free books, but you have to pay to buy an ad with those companies. The only way to recoup that ad money is to have many books published, preferably in the same series. But most people don’t read their free books. So you’re losing money on your BookBub ad, at least in the foreseeable future.
It’s okay to discount to a lower price (not free) for those ads—again, if you have a strategy in place (and more than one book published)—because you will probably recoup the cost of your ad.
But advertising a product for free is something you should do only if you have deep pockets and money to burn. And a lot of other published books. Even then, I don’t recommend it.
Why? See the math for the free promotion above. You’ve just added the cost of your BookBub ad to the halo effect of your free promotion. Instead of selling 15 copies each of Books Two and Three, now you’ll need to sell 50 or 100 copies each of those books (depending on price) to pay for that ad.
Always have a strategy for your free books. Always. Then measure that strategy and see if it actually succeeded. Often, these strategies do not. Or they succeed on the free title, and not other titles.
I know a lot of writers are having success with this strategy right now. I have my doubts about it. (And please, if you’re one of those writers, don’t hijack my comments section. Write your own blog post, telling us how long the book has been free and how that has benefitted your other titles (with numbers) then link to that post here, so we can go see for ourselves.)
The only way I can see a perma-free book working is for that book to be the first in a series. And even then, you’re appealing only to the discount buyers. So many people search only for free books, and they’ll never buy other books in the series, unless those books are for sale.
Most book buyers, in truth, are more comfortable paying for books. It’s weird, I know, but there are books on the Amazon paid bestseller list right now that prove my point.
The first is Twelve Years A Slave by Solomon Northup, which is in the public domain and has been for about a century. The movie tie-in edition is selling as a $6.99 paperback and as of this writing, is #75 on Amazon’s paid bestseller list even though there are free paper editions.
The second is The Catcher in the Rye. This week, PBS aired a documentary on J.D. Salinger. As of this writing, The Catcher in The Rye, a $5.99 paperback, is #4 out of the top paid 100 on Amazon in books despite the fact you can get the book used for less than a dollar at any used bookstore in the country. (Or free and battered, since so many schools made the novel required reading.)
And finally, nearly a year after the movie came out, a $9 paperback of The Great Gatsby is #39 on the Amazon paid bestseller list even though Gatsby also exists in a million editions, many free or as low as 99 cents.
Readers don’t care about free. They buy a book because they want it, not because it’s on sale.
Free, Perma-Free and Discoverability:
Remember, this series is on discoverability. “Free” is not your best tool for discoverability. Why? Because, let’s be honest, free books are everywhere.
Don’t believe me? Then walk into your public library (Americans). For the price of signing up for a library card, and a time limit on how long you can enjoy the book, you can walk out with any title in that library for absolutely nothing.
Writers, you want to increase your visibility? Get into libraries. It’s not as easy as it sounds, especially with paper books. You can’t give your books to a library; they’ll put the book in the library book sale, not on the shelf. They have to purchase the book through library distributors (which is too complex a process to describe here).
However, if your e-books are available through Overdrive or if you’ve clicked library distribution on Smashwords, then your e-books are in most libraries’ databases and can be checked out.
Perma-free—at no cost to you.
That’s about all I can stomach on pricing. I always write these pricing blogs while cringing, because I know that price is a religion for a bunch of writers who’ve never owned a business in their lives and would never ever touch an economics text or read actual research on the way that pricing works in the real world.
(By the way, I have to say this: statistics always account for the outlier—the event at each end of the bell curve. If 99% of all writers experience what I just wrote about, then that means there are writers in that 1%. It doesn’t invalidate their experiences; but it also does not mean that their experiences will translate to the 99%.)
I am now going to move on to other things that enhance discoverability for writers with more than one published book. Next week, we’ll hit a different strategy for discoverability. Remember, these are not one-strategy-takes all, but a series of techniques that might or might not work for your current project.
As for me, I’m using a pricing strategy on this blog. It actually has a name. “Pay What You Want” pricing. As the marketing texts say, this strategy is high-risk, because many people will pay nothing. That’s why most texts suggest setting a floor price, which I have not done here. My floor is simple: the minute funding dries up for this blog, I stop writing it.
So far, a lot of you have funded the blog—and I’m very grateful. As much as I complain about the folks who attack me based on some blog topics, I appreciate those of you who come here every week so much more. You’re great. You challenge me, and make me think, and send me links. I love that.
“The Business Rusch: Pricing Part 2 or (Discoverability Part 7 continued)” copyright 2014 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Please Read These Assumptions Before Commenting:
I’m going to make some assumptions in the next group of blog posts, and I’ll repeat those assumptions each week until I’m done.
Assumption #1: I’m going to assume you’ve read the previous posts, beginning with this post here.
Assumption #2: With only a few exceptions, we will be talking about fiction here. There are promotion techniques that work for nonfiction—even on the first book—that do not work for fiction. I don’t want to muddy the waters here. We’re discussing fiction in these posts.
Assumption #3: You have learned your craft well enough to intrigue readers. You know how to tell a good story, you have grammar, spelling, and punctuation under control, you create interesting characters, and you write what you love.
Assumption #4: If you have indie published your work, then your work has a good blurb, a great cover, and a well-designed interior. Your work is available in ebook and trade paper formats. (I also hope you have audio books, but for our purposes here, I’m not going to assume it.)
Assumption #5: If you have indie published your work, your ebooks are available in every ebook venue you can find. Your paper novels are in extended distribution on CreateSpace or Lightning Source. In other words, if a bookseller whom you don’t know and never will know wants to order your paper book, that bookseller can call up a catalogue from a major distributor (Baker & Taylor, Ingrams) and order your book at a bookseller’s discount.
Assumption #6: If you are traditionally published, your books are with a company that makes the books available in e-book and paper formats, and your books are still in print. (If they aren’t, ask for those rights back and then publish the books yourself.)
Assumption #7: You have at least a minimal web presence. You have a website that readers can easily find. You have a list of your published books somewhere, also findable. You have some passive marketing in place. (A mailing list, a social media presence, or a contact button on your website. Something.)
Assumption #8: You have published more than one book. Most of what I tell you won’t work on one novel. You’ll need several—or at least a novel and some short stories. If you’re haven’t published much, make sure you’ve done 2-7, and write the next book.
Assumption #9: You will finish this discoverability series before you decide which of the things I mention is for you. Because one of the last posts I’m going to write is how to measure success. That should have been one of the first posts I wrote, but of course, I write out of order, and so it’ll go at the end. [VBG]
Those are the assumptions.
Now, I have one big WARNING:
Everything I say here, everything, MUST take place after you’ve finished writing your story/book/novel. Do NOT take ANY of this advice into your writing office. None of it. Be an artist: write what you love. When you’re done, then worry about marketing it. This new world of publishing allows us to write whatever we want and publish it. Please take advantage of that. When you write, be an artist, be a great storyteller, not a marketer or a salesperson.
I know, I know. Lots of warnings and assumptions. But I had to be clear, because these points are extremely important. I won’t get to everything this week or even the next week. So…you need to be on the page that I’m on to understand what I’m talking about.
So much so great advice …
I have kind of a problem to apply this on my own case: I’m starting a serial, books are around 60000 words which result because of formatting around 280 pages (it’s kind of a screenplay).
The problem: I have no idea if it will be a ten books or a hundred books serial (I love to just be driven by the story and having no end within sight and to publish all along the way). Applying your advice I would price it 6.99 Euro (before reading your advice I would tend to 3.99 Euro) for the eBook and the CreateSpace-Paperback for 9.99 Euro (or higher, not sure).
I have the feel, the more books this serial will consist of, the more angrier readers will become because “WTF??? You have to pay around 700 bucks to get the whole story??? You can’t be serious!!!”
So, would you suggest to set the price for a long running serial lower or would you say “a book is a book, no matter if it’s a long running serial or not”?
A book is a book. Readers can choose how fast or slowly they read it, and some of that will be determined by price. Make sure your work is available in library markets, and do the occasional discounted book. Also, later, bundle some together for a lower price. If you set your price properly in the first place, you have all kinds of options for discounting later.
Remember, readers have been paying full price for serialized books from the beginning. Witness Robert Jordan’s work. If you’re personally uncomfortable with the 6.99E price, then go a dollar or two lower. But give yourself room to run sales prices.
Thank you so much for this series! Wish I had found it a little sooner, as I have just committed to a month of freebies for the 1st book of my new series.
Like many others here, my personal experience also bears out your advice, but I did not have enough perspective to put all the puzzle pieces until now.
I have a short prequel anthology to my series that is perma-free, and has done pretty well, peaking at #285 in Free Kindle. But when I launched Book 1 in December, sales were dismal, even though it was priced at 99 cents. The massive free downloads from the prequel did not translate into sales, even at a low price.
Right before reading this, I had just completed all the marketing to do a “Valentine’s Special” giveaway for Book 1 – just what you advised not to do. I can’t undo it all, so I am just going to ride it & see what happens. But I do now see where this would be a better strategy to do when I am ready to release Book 2 this spring. Hopefully, I won’t turn into another cautionary tale…
Thanks again for the enlightening info!
Thank you, Dara. I hope the free promotion does work for you. But I’m glad that you have perspective in case it doesn’t. Good luck with the series!
Thanks! We’ll see how it goes. The 1st wave of marketing hits on Monday, with a 2nd wave scheduled for the following Monday. Regardless, I am continuing work on the next book.
I don’t have your vast experience, but I would like to share the results of a little experiment with you, mostly regarding underpricing (which should probably go into your previous blog post comments, but over here I can comment of both posts 😉 ). A few months ago on Scribophile we had a fun little contest: we were given a quirky theme, a budget of 10$ for the cover, and two weeks deadline to write a short story at a minimum of 5k words, and publish it on Amazon under a brand-new, unused pen name and at a price of $0.99. No previous advertizing, social networking or anything, we just had to throw it in there and see if it’ll sink or swim on it’s own. The one who sold the most copies in 6 weeks time was the winner.
My first thoughts were, since I was an occasional reader of yours and Dean’s blog, that at the price of $0.99 nobody would buy it, because of the so called notoriety of the $0.99 section, and, based off some numbers I found on Dean’s blog, I expected to sell maybe 5-6 copies a month. I was wrong on both accounts. The short story sold much above my expectations. It wasn’t a best-seller by far, but it went pretty good for a single title short story of an unknown indie author, so it was quite a successful little experiment. Then, when the contest’s six weeks were over, I thought I’d play a little with the pricing. Someone had just commented something in the lines of “If the reader is willing to pay $1 for a short story, she’ll be willing to pay one dollar more for it, it’s not such a big difference.” So I raised the price to $1.99 to test that theory. The sales died. I only held it a few days at that price before I lost my nerve and changed it back to $0.99, so I don’t know if it would have picked up eventually, but as soon as I lowered the price, the sales jumped.
What I realized was that readers don’t find a short story of about 11k words, especially from an unknown author, worth more than $0.99. For you, of course, and for Dean, and for authors like George R. R. Martin, selling it at that price would be ridiculous. The readers are more than willing to pay the “right” price for your work, but for indie authors, not so much. Why would they risk paying $2, $3, or even more for some no-name, when there are plenty of safe and tested writers out there to chose from? I know I wouldn’t. You can see it in the Amazon reviews, comments like “It was a decent read, for the price”, or “I found it too short for the price” if the price is a bit higher. For paper books, I find your advice on pricing priceless ;). But for the e-books, you said it yourself, we are selling our books directly to the readers now, and that also means that the reader is the one dictating the price. Not the author, not Amazon, not publishers or distributors or book stores because they’re out of the picture, only the reader. We can cry that our book is under-priced, that it’s not worth selling it at that price, that we’re not getting enough return for the time we invested in it, or that we won’t fulfill our business plan if we sell it lower than the price we had planned. We can cry all we want, but the thing is, the reader doesn’t care. If the reader finds your price too high, what can you really do about it? You can bitch and cry and sell nothing, or you can lower your prices to what the reader is willing to pay and make a profit. It’s as simple as that. The whole debate over under-pricing and over-pricing e-books is pointless and ridiculous. You put the price that sells, period. You try a low price, you try a high price, and you choose the one that works the best, end of story. It’s not economy, it’s not rocket science, it’s trial and error.
Also, I’d rather sell 5 copies at $1, than one copy at $5. I might earn the same (I’ll ignore the percentage the distributor takes for the sake of simplicity) but if I sell five copies instead of one, I have five times greater chance that 1) the reader actually reads the book, 2) she likes it, 3) she buys the next one, and 4) I get a fan. So for me, an ideal price is not the one that makes me the most money, but the one that sells the most copies.
As for the perma-free first book in a series, or a perma-free short story prequel or whatever, I don’t see it as a “loss leader”, I see it more as a sample. Sure, Amazon lets you sample a book before you buy it, but that sample is just too small. What can you really see in, what, five pages? Maybe the story has a great hook and starts with a bang, but then it just falls apart after those first five pages. Having a whole story, or a good chunk of it for free gives the reader a much better picture of the writer’s storytelling skills than mere five pages. Sure, a lot of those free downloads never get read. I have at least 30 free titles on my reader that I might never read (I’ve only recently started reading e-books more actively). But I wouldn’t have bought them anyway, so what’s the difference? The author lost nothing. Out of the ones I did read, maybe 6 or 7 titles, three of them I liked enough to buy the next book in the series, because I had to know what happens next (the fierce urgency of now), the books I would have never bought if I hadn’t read the free one. So, the author lost nothing and made a sale that he otherwise wouldn’t.
The world of publishing is changing, but don’t forget, the reader is changing with it. Lots of readers will not go for an indie author without that free sample, it’s becoming sort of a standard, and the readers expect it now. Lots of readers these days search for new indie authors by going through the free section, because that way they risk nothing. It’s a great way to discover new authors that costs nothing but the reader’s time – and we are talking about discoverability here.
While I find all of your advices priceless, I feel like you have different experiences, being an established author, from someone who made it solely as an indie author. I’ve read many blogs from indie authors that made excellent use of discount, perma-free, KDP Select free days, BookBub ads… These are all powerful tools that can, if used the right way, greatly improve your sales. Advising against it, just because you haven’t had success with it, is a bit irresponsible, in my opinion. Why not, instead of a vague “it works for some people” find out how it works for those people? For example, Elle Lothlorien wrote an excellent post where she breaks down the numbers of just how many books you need to give away to get some profit out of it. The info is probably already outdated, but it’s still an example of how free can be (or could have been at that time, I don’t know if anything important has changed) made useful.
Lots of myths and assumptions in your post, Catie, including this: “Advising against it, just because you haven’t had success with it, is a bit irresponsible, in my opinion.”
I never said I had no luck with it. I find it fascinating that you made this assumption. I’ve been in the business for 30 years, and have used free and discounting prices throughout my career in a variety of areas–not just e-books. Again, pricing is a strategy, and should be used with forethought, not because everyone else is doing it.
It truly is a myth that writers who had never been published before by traditional venues do worse than traditionally published writers, if the new writers fail to put their books at low prices. Just scroll through the comments here. You’ll see people who have had all kinds of reactions to pricing. Some of those people tried free, and it didn’t work for them. Nor did low prices. And these people were not published by traditional publishers first.
I hate the title of Elle Lothlorien’s book. Except that I think she’s right. If you want to “pimp” your book–and think about that word for a minute–then go ahead. It’s a pricing strategy. But you need to understand that it’s a strategy, and one that worked well 2 years ago. It doesn’t work very well now. Before when it was a new strategy, it made some writers rich. But it doesn’t work that well any more. I don’t care who you are.
I’ll blog on the bandwagon phenomenon later in this series. “Free” and 99-cents fall into that category.
99-cents for a short story, by the way, falls in line with what some traditional publishers are doing. Readers are okay with 99-cent shorts. 99-cent novels (permanently, not as a short-term discount) puts your book squarely in the discount area, and makes many, many, many readers avoid it entirely. Granted, some readers only buy discounts. But most readers buy books that they want over time, regardless of price, rather than because it’s cheap.
After years in business (not just books, but retail [I’ve owned two retail stores] and other businesses), I’ve learned that discount customers are not loyal to the brand. They’re loyal to the price. I’d rather have people buy my work because they want my work rather than buy it because it was cheap.
I didn’t mean that indie necessarily do worse, it’s just that, if I see an e-book from George R. R. Martin, or you for that manner, I know what I’m buying. I’d look at the author’s name and the title of the book, and I wouldn’t care, no, I wouldn’t even notice who the publisher is. You were already a name long before this whole internet and social networking boom started – I knew who you were back in the day when I didn’t even have dial-up, and my only connection to the internet was a public computer at my Uni. As opposed to, I don’t know, Amanda Hocking, who made her name solely through self-publishing. Yours and hers experiences while making a name for yourselves are very different.
Funny, in this whole story about pricing nobody mentioned quality. If it’s a business like any other, and it is, we know that a house made from cardboard doesn’t sell at the same price as the one made of concrete. A Hundai doesn’t sell at the same price as a Honda, and a Honda doesn’t sell at the same price as a Rolls Royce. Even though that Hundai just might be of a better quality than a Honda. Honda has a name. You mention pricing a paper book according to the number of pages and binding. I guess (and I am guessing here) before, publishers thought that any book they found worthy to be sold is of good enough quality to be sold at the standard price (regardless of the real quality of the writing inside that book). With indie, that’s gone now. You can’t sell a Stephen King at the same price as you sell I. M. Nobody (even though that Nobody might be just as good, or even better). But the price you put is telling the buyer just how much quality your book has. We both agree that if you put a price of $0.99 on a 200k words novel, you’re basically saying to a potential buyer “Even I, who wrote this book, don’t think it’s worth more than a few cents”. But it also works the other way. If you put the same price on your e-book as a Stephen King novel, you’re basically saying “My novel is so darn good it can kick Stephen King’s butt”, and let’s face it, most of us are not that good. Maybe we will be when we write our 50th novel, but not now. And just as the reader expects your book to be fantasy if you’ve placed it in the fantasy category (or your cover, font, title, blurb, whatever, screams fantasy), she expects it to be of a certain quality, if you’ve placed it in that price range. If it’s not, you’ll get more than one angry review saying “I can’t believe I paid so much for this drivel”, as opposed to “It was a fun read for the price” if you’ve priced it correctly.
On the other hand, putting the first book of a series perma-free is not the same as saying “I think my book is worthless”, it’s saying, “here’s my sample, try it, and if you like it, you can buy the rest.” If you put a short story that’s a prequel or tied to your series in some other way perma-free, there is a chance that people looking only for freebies will grab it and ignore your paying books. But I don’t think there is a reader, of a sane mind, that would read a first book in a series, knowing she would never know how the story ends. If you don’t have money to see a movie, would you go see first 15 minutes for free? What would you get out of that? Would it be a satisfying experience? For me, it would only be torture. So why would you read a small part of the story knowing you have no intention to read the rest? Who does that? A masochist? On the other hand, if you pay to see a movie, and in first 15 minutes you realize the movie is total crap and leave the cinema, would you be angry you paid for it?
Honestly, I don’t even remember the book’s name. I can tell you that I don’t like her name, I don’t find it very original (it’s funny, they tell you you should blog about writing if you want to sell books, but in the end people only come for your info about writing, they don’t even remember the title of your books). Maybe the strategy doesn’t work anymore, but the numbers, the math behind the numbers makes sense to me. I don’t know if it’s correct, but it makes sense, at least. “20,000 is the minimum number of readers who must download your book during your promotion in order to see any post-promotional benefit whatsoever.” I’ve seen a number of people post how Kindle Free days don’t work, when the truth is, it didn’t work for them because they didn’t hit the magic number (whether it’s really 20,000 or something else). How do you achieve that number might have changed. For all I know, it might be even impossible to do it now. But at least if your free promo had no results, you know why it hadn’t: because you didn’t reach that magic number. Oh, and she’s not just talking about making a quick sale, there are 4 and 5 star reviews in that equation, as well as readers who buzz about the book. Reviews stay after the quick sale frenzy is over.
Thanks for the comment about my work, Catie. 🙂 However, you’re still dealing in myths. For example: You can’t sell a Stephen King at the same price as you sell I. M. Nobody (even though that Nobody might be just as good, or even better).
That’s just not true. Traditional publishers have sold new writers for the same price as established writers since the beginning of publishing. If anything, King is often cheaper than the new writer from a traditional house, because the traditional publisher knows they can lose some profit on King and still make money.
Read this week’s post on readers. You’ll see where I’m going. And as for quality, that’s subjective. What I like you might not and vice versa. See the assumptions at the end of this post as to where I’m at when I’m writing these things. I’m assuming a lot about quality before I even get to the advice I’m giving.
I am far from getting to this point, but I was thinking I like how Lawrence Block has occasional free stories available on his blog. I’m not sure if he has novels, but every once in a while he’ll have an “Orange Wednesday” (I think that’s what it’s called — I’ve only happened on it once) and have a free story. I was thinking that something like that, or perhaps having a major discount day every once in a long while — like “Toonie Tuesdays” (I’m Canadian) where any book of your choice is available for $2, with a special code for newsletter readers to get around having to discount it for everybody. I assume this is something I will one day figure out how to do. Can it be that hard to have a discount coupon to reward loyalty? Other businesses do it all the time.
I give a free story away every Monday–on the website only–and for one week only. People tell me they appreciate it, and many of them are different readers than the ones who come to the business blog. (I love the people on the writer boards who say I’m anti-free. Apparently they don’t look at a website, just at one blog.
A discount coupon is a great strategy. Free to fans who are in your newsletter is a great strategy. Toonie Tuesdays sound like a great strategy–as long as you know what you want from it for your business. 🙂
This last comment you made about being a “premium author” is exactly what I want to be. I want to be like Nora Roberts and have them buy the next book because they know what they are getting and will pay full price. I don’t want to be a discount author selling at .99 cents or doing free-even for the first book in a series. I know it might work for some and I don’t see any problem with discounting the first book to half price for limited time. That’s about all I’m comfortable with. Of course it’s nice to offer some stories like short stories to readers for cheap as a thank you but over all I want reader to invest in me.
As an experiment I discounted some of my books upon the release of the last book in my vampire series. I did it for two weeks. The third day I saw a tiny jump in sales, then it went back to normal. Then the sales trickled off. I pulled all the prices back up to what they were and the sales came back. lol.
With the release of this new book in my new fantasy series, I’m going to try what you said in pricing it higher than all my other books since it’s the newest. I won’t lie, for some reason, the hardest thing for me is pricing above $4.99, but I’m going to do it.
Thanks for the report, Ramon. When you go free, you get the customers who shop discounts. As we get deeper in this series, I want to get you to be a premium author whose fans have to buy your next, no matter what the price.
No problem, and thank you, Kristine. At this point, what I took from that experiment was to forget about promos for now and continue concentrating on building my body of work. Closing in on that ten book mark as I climb to the twenty title milestone. 🙂
Harking back a bit to changing the prices in other locations so they’re not Weird Converted Prices, does that cause Amazon to try to match your Lowest Price in all currencies? I.e. and e.g., if I price a short story at $2.99 in the US, and 3.99 in SadTimes-istan where that converts to around $1.50 in US currency… will Amazon drop my US price to $1.50?
(I went poking at the KDP Terms and Conditions but was hoping you might have a better reading on that section (it’s late and my eyes are acting up), but I’m not allowed to talk about the KDP T&C because confidentiality. Ack! I can’t talk about confidentiality, either! I’ve lost The Game! *headdesk*)
Anyway, the great hassle with trying to do temp-free, and maybe Amazon will match it and maybe they’ll drop it later (when you don’t want it dropped), etc., is… well, a hassle that makes me twitchy about anything but perma-free (one (very) short story there, 2 others on Smashwords) or perma-priced.
Thanks for the series.
As far as I know, Beth, Amazon matches your price within each country. So if you lower your US price, they lower their US price. But not the UK price. Has anyone had a different experience?
I’ve been going through the various e-tailer sites and changing the “Weird Coverted Prices” on my books in other currencies to what I hope are less weird prices.
Thus 3.41 becomes 3.50.
Or 2,86 becomes 2,95 or 2,99.
The thing is…I don’t really know what other cultures consider to be a “weird” number.
So should 3.41 become 3.50? Or should it become 3.99? Is 3.50 weird? Or not?
Should 2,86 become 2,99? Or should it become 2,95?
I’d be really interested, Kris, in learning what parameters you use to regularize your foreign currency prices.
I don’t do it any more, J.M. WMG does. But I know that the Kobo Writing Life site has a blog post on this very topic. (And good point.)
I know when I went hunting for SFF and accidentally brought up the international sites, my favorite trads all had .99 prices internationally even when they had odd cent prices in the US (such as .17 or .84). So I just went and changed all mine to .99.
Thanks for the education about the business of publishing from your many years of experience. As someone who is getting ready self-publish their novel, this series has been valuable. Maybe it should an e-book or paperback on its own.
Oh, it will, Marion. Thanks. 🙂
As a reader, can I suggest that there be a SIGNIFICANT difference between the dead tree version and the ebook? I saw a book listing yesterday where the trade paper was $12.99 and the ebook was $10.99. I immediately thought that that author did not have a CLUE about pricing and the market and had no idea of what ebooks are about. Which is not a person I feel like supporting. Why did they bother with the ebook at all? Now this author is probably somewhere opining how nobody buys ebooks because no one buys theirs, all the money is in paper books, blah blah.
I think eReaderPerks will list your free book for free, and they have new postings every day for Kindle, Nook, and Kobo. Maybe they charge like BookBub, but either way, there’s an audience primed for several ereaders and many genres. So plug your limited time free books there. I got a few titles from there myself today in SFF, mystery, and romance. (They also do non-fiction)
One perma-free works on me, for duologies, trilogies, and series. So do free prequel novellas, free spin-off short stories, other work set in the same genre/universe. I’ll read a short story or two for free and then think it’s worth trying a novel.
Also keep in mind the economy right now. I may not buy your second/third/fourth book today because of cash flow, but it’ll be on my wish list and when I get money, I’ll buy. I realize most readers are much more impulsive and need it now or never, so YMMV. Heck, you might consider the time of the month and schedule releases around payday.
I spent far too much time in the bowels of academia in the 1980s, studying literary theory at the height of literary theory as a separate discipline. I cannot resist; I must make meta comments!
(1) The “proper pricing” issue’s rhetoric and viewpoints have uncomfortably close parallels to two other issues that are also of critical importance to writers, although (fortunately for Our Gracious Hostess’s sanity!) not usually discussed here: The propriety of f@nfiction, and the meaning/extent/scope of copyright in electronic files.
Just be glad those battles aren’t here.
The common thread is a simple one: An extraordinarily high proportion of advocates (of both the mainstream/accepted viewpoint and of those who… are outside that description) constantly makes the fundamental logical error of presuming that their own preferred outcome/framework not only is the preferred outcome/framework, but the only outcome/framework (and is an adequate — indeed, compelling — explanation of what is). In more directly theoretical terms, the usual rhetoric defines the limit of pluralism as “one.” Returning to “pricing” for a moment, consider not just what “there is a single correct price-range for e-books” says, but what it implies about the single proper purpose and business plan for e-publishing. Application of the resulting cringing to those other two controversies pointed out above is left as an exercise for the student… or very, very intoxicated group of authors at a convention bar after the awards ceremony…
(2) Timeframe matters. Even commercial publishing admits this by changing the prices of editions over time; indie authors (and particularly those who are publishing primarily as e-books and on-demand) have the advantage of being able to do so with substantially greater flexibility. For example, those who recall the commemorative Legolas-on-the-cover editions of The Lord of the Rings when the films were in theaters over a decade ago (!) may also recall the pricing differentials between those editions and others offered before, during, and after the theatrical period. Indie authors can do this easily — and, more to the point, exclusively; it was a huge logistical nightmare for the commercial publisher of those editions, especially because it was extremely difficult to establish a clear endpoint for the price differential (all those copies in warehouses…).
The key timeframe distinction is that “indie authors” can be constantly tweaking their strategies to adapt to what is working (and not working); commercial publishers… not so much — the logistical nightmares of changing big systems after they’re in the wild are more than sufficient barriers, let alone the sheer lack of time to consider those changes.
* * *
The key thing to remember is that this remains a rapidly evolving issue. Data on “proper pricing” from three years ago is unlikely to be more than informative; it certainly is not definitive, and especially is not definitive when applied to different natures of works, different business plans, different marketplaces, etc.
‘So many of you believe that I’m obligated to tell my readers “the truth” and that truth is your truth, which is the only way things should be done.’
“You speak the truth you know, and I, the truth I know.” –Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Word for World Is Forest”
Myself, my experience is that ‘free’ does not translate into later sales of that same work. Nor does ‘free’ translate into sales of other works by the same author. On the gripping hand, if I really, really like this book, I shall look for other books by the same author: for examples, Terry Pratchett, Marshall Harrison, William Gibson, Ian McDonald, Robert Heinlein, Stuart Woods.
After I bought the last book by Terry Pratchett, a friend asked, “How much was it?” I replied, “I don’t know.” “You don’t know?” “No. I wanted the book. I had the money. I just one-clicked Amazon.”
Budget? I don’t need no stinkin’ budget.
Perma-free got my series going, but I don’t think it will keep it going.
So the question is when do you take that book off perma-free? It’s tough because so many spent so long getting it there.
Sometimes a little is better than nothing, but could you do better if you gave up perma-free?
My results aren’t as good as they were a month or two ago, but I don’t think they’ll improve by going back to paid.
So I wait and watch the winds.
Consider appealing to the free, discount, and retail market simultaneously. Put the first back at full price for the retail people, then come up with two introductory stories to your series that you can keep perma-free and discount.
A prequel short story can be kept free, and a tie-in novella featuring your main character can be discounted. This way you have three introductions to your series that appeal to the three types of customers. It will also expand your virtual bookshelf.
You could take the first half of the first book in your series and publish it perma-free as a novella then return the first book to full price. So now you have some version of your first book on the retail and free side of the market. Also that’s one less work to write. Just pen a novella that you can price at $3.99/4.99 and occasionally discount.
I can personally confirm Kris’s premise that indie paper books show up in bookstores all by themselves. After making all of my titles available in Amazon’s Extended Distribution (and with the price allowing discounts) I have seen a slow but steady increase in sales via Bookscan. I can even see that some specific areas *keep* ordering my books, using the geographic map!
For the record, I
-never had a legacy-published book, so no previous name recognition
-didn’t spend a cent pushing my book to bookstores, or even chatting them up (I may have benefited from the “local author” cachet in Seattle, but I didn’t tell them that. Might have been helpful friends, though.)
One factor that probably *did* help was Extended Distribution happened after I already had a good number of sales and reader reviews, but that’s just a guess on my part.
Thanks for this, Sabrina. With more people commenting, maybe we can dent the myth. I love your use of Bookscan! I hadn’t even thought of using it that way. Great stuff!
How do those bookscan sales compare to the paper sales you get on Amazon?
Hmm, good question. It’s all over the map, paper sales–but at a rough guess about half of my paper sales are going to bookstores right now (and I hasten to add, Stephen King has nothing to worry about. The numbers are not huge).
Well, I for one can’t thank you enough for your insights. I am at the beginning of the process. I have an MBA, so i know a little about business, but not THIS business. There are a ton of people out there ready to give you advice about how to proceed in this business. I thank that higher spirit in the sky that I discovered you at the beginning of my journey. Your insights into the pricing issue just sounds right. I self-published a book 12 years ago (its still on Amazon), and because I am now a “disciple” of yours, I am going to re-edit, re-cover, re-name the work, price it correctly (it’s still selling on Amazon for $12.95 -though I’m sure it hasn’t sold a copy in 2 or 3 years)and use it as a “loss-leader” to publicize my new book “One Death Too Far”. Question: How far in advance should I make available the “loss-leader” before I introduce “One Death Too Far”? I’ll add a section in my “discounted” book trumpeting that my new book is “coming soon” (with the free preview) . How “soon” is “coming soon”? Anyway, thanks. You are the best.
Thanks, Dennis. I would use the loss leader when the new book is widely available. Since self-published authors can’t do preorders on many sites, it’s better to do your loss leader promotions after the new work is out. Just my opinion.
Thank you for another insightful post. I am truly grateful that you’ve chosen to write this series of posts, as I’m sure many others are. Your previous article included advice on setting a price for a new release and a standard backlist price, which is so obvious, yet something that didn’t become obvious to me until you pointed it out! I’m following that advice for the books I’m publishing this year 🙂
Kris, I’ve often disagreed with you on certain things (branding for example :-)), but I DO agree with most of what you say. The major point I agree with is that the days of an author being anything other than a business person, is dead, dead, DEAD. You (generic) don’t have to devote your life to it, but you MUST understand the basics. Joke follows.
Q: What do you call an artist/author/craftsperson who doesn’t make a profit?
A2: an amateur.
(There are two answers so you can pick the one you “like.”)
In line with your pricing suggestions, remember two things. People pay for *perceived* value. A $29.99 book has to deliver at least $40 worth of value to the buyer. Whether that value is information, entertainment, whatever, the buyer has to feel that the value is there. You are asking a buyer to trade their _labor_ for your book, through the intermediary of money. It has to be worth more to them that the time they worked to earn it.
Second, price a printed copy to make a profit, and make the Kindle/Nook/whatever lower (if you can). I just bought L.E.Modessit’s book, Rex, Regis (IIRC), because the hardbound copy was more than I could afford, in Kindle. I swallowed hard at paying $12+, but it was closer to what I can afford (versus $25+). I bit the bullet, because I know (hope) that he gets more of the price, and I _really_ wanted to read it.
I’m going to make two final suggestions that is worth *exactly* what you paid for it. 🙂 If your genre has convention (like F&SF does), try to get together with 1-3 other authors in that area, and put together a “samples” flyer. Have 75-125 word samples, for up to four authors, on one sheet, and make them available. Include the title, price(s), newsletter address/website, *your name.* They already like that genre, and probably are looking for something to read, while waiting for panels/to eat. The opening to the book is probably the best choice for the sample. You DID make it a “hook” for the story didn’t you?
Understand that unless you send high quality direct mail pieces, the “buy rate” is likely to be about 1-5%, for flyers/freebies. If it’s well targeted, response rate can be a high as 10%. =8-0 IF it hits at: the right time; is well targeted; and _well_ written, response rate can go as high as 30-40% (very rare). But, at $0.025 to $0.05 per sheet (4 authors sharing), one book can pay for _40-80_ flyers.
Make sure that your book can be put on a *wish* list. My Amazon wish list would take about $1,000 to clear, but I _will_ buy from it as I have free funds. I understand that you want to “sell it _now_,” but a sale later, is better than never. BTW, I spent about $40 on it last year at Christmas.
Oh, Walter. You waded into “perceived” value. I decided those waters were too deep and avoided them. 🙂 You’re exactly right, and it’s a very, very, very important point. As for samples, I’ll be discussing those kinds of promotions in this discoverability series down the road. Thanks for the direct mail quotes. Excellent analogy. And the wish list as well. All good stuff.
I’ve just been to a certain forum and the thread is rather … tense. 😉 I won’t repeat it here but I have to say people are so defensive about this. Yes, so the strategy worked for you and and you don’t agree with Kris’ methods. But don’t go making assumptions about her career, or her motivations for writing the post, or judging whether she’s qualified on writing the post in the first place by the Amazon ranks of her books. I don’t mind the heated discussion, but I’m not sure what profit is there to judge people like that.
But anyway, Kris, I’m just a noob with only ONE short story out 😉 So I may have no idea what I’m talking about. Correct me if I’m wildly off he mark here, but I personally think that a writer should focus on diversifying her income sources and I see you and Dean doing it here through magazines, print books, audio books, movie options etc. Therefore I’m not overly concerned about my book ranks but on having many channels of income coming in. Focusing on trying to bump up your Amazon book rankings is a short-term strategy. One should think long-term – how can I make my career last for more than a year? How do I keep getting different streams of profit?
Thanks, Antonna. Yep, I’m being shredded on the Kindle boards right now, with people saying things they would never ever say to my face, or on this blog. How nice of them.
I know many of the writers leading the attack, and they have only one unit of measure–rankings on Amazon. It’s how they think and what they do. Granted, my Amazon rankings at the moment aren’t great, but I don’t spend weeks goosing the five or ten books I’ve published. I’ve published over 400 titles in the past few years. I do need to tend to that garden this year, which I will (this series is as much for me as it is for you all), but I haven’t yet.
As for what I earn and what I do, which is also what they attack: I’ve made 6 figures plus on my writing since 1991. I had one down year (about 2007?) but ever since, I’m earning 5 to 10 times what I earned in traditional publishing. I do it exactly as you say, with multiple projects and many income sources.
When Forbes tracks the richest writers in the world, they only use the public sources of information. There are so many other ways to earn money as a writer–from game contracts, to comic books, to Hollywood options…and on and on. Unfortunately, the folks on the Kindle boards only know one way, and if that way ever collapses, they’re in trouble.
Which is a long-winded answer to your question. Yes, you absolutely need to diversify. That’s why I tell writers to hang onto all the rights they can. I’m currently negotiating a contract on some rights I’d never sold before which didn’t exist five years ago. Things are changing in a great way, so a narrow focus only hurts the writer.
In other words, you have the right idea and are on the right track.
Now, please, you and the others here: you have more important things to write than a defense of me or my ideas on various blogs or list serves. Let the people have their opinions, and write your books. I put this stuff out there for free, so of course, I’ll get attacked. It goes with free. 🙂
You’re so right, Antonna. My Amazon rankings are abysmal. My traditionally published author friends are quick to point this out whenever I talk about increasing book sales over time. They just assume I’m lying because my books don’t have reviews, or because I have awful Amazon rankings.
If you were to ask me, due to my experiences, reviews, giveaways, promo and the like can actually make an indie author worse off.
Amazon isn’t the only self-publishing platform I go through and sticking with being an indie has worked for me over time. When I first started self-publishing I was like most indie authors, I wanted my newest book to sell NOW and sell loads. So I’d internet promote to the extreme, which usually backfired.
Slow and steady wins the race. I only sell a few more copies every month, but I’m getting there by just continuing to write and publish, write and publish…
I get frustrated when hybrid author’s talk about how well free works for them. Readers get ex Ted when a known author gives away a free book, Joe Nobody’s not so much. Or how about tales of how free worked in 2011. Things change. I have no problem with using free to a targeted audience. I’m still in shock over how many free downloads Konrath gave away. I’ve spent the past year reading blogs like this one in preparation for releasing my first book. I’m going to price it at $4.99. I may offer a discount on targeted romance venues; I’m still on the fence about Bookbub. My website is going to be as interactive as I can make it. I want to build my brand around my blog, using it as a slogan on my front covers. I have no problem giving away free arcs of my next book to my email list. I also make jewelry as a hobby, so I plan to do contests giving away pieces I’ve made to people who have read my books or excerpts on my website. The goal is to get people to sample my books.
I don’t plan on writing a series for now. I will probably discount book 1 for a period of time when book 2 comes out, but again, selectively, not across the board. The reason I’m sharing my marketing plan–although only a part of it–is to show that we have other tools we can use, not just price. I don’t know what will work, yet, but I’ll keep adjusting as I learn.
Free and perm-free has worked for a number of writers. I think that’s great, but the utility of any marketing tool loses effectiveness with mass usage. Within your target market, you want to differentiate your books. Pricing, distribution, reader demographics, branding, promotion, all of these matter. To only focus on one or two may diminish your potential sales, which is what Kris has been telling us all along. Thanks, Kris.
Your plans sound great, Sandra. And thanks for the nice words. 🙂 I’ll be discussing BookBub and sites like it upcoming…
Can you clarify the bookstore section? Are you saying that you must price your books with at least a $2 royalty in expanded distribution in order to make it onto the virtual shelves of stores like Mysterious Galaxy?
Yep. The price has to be high enough that your POD service, the distributor (Ingrams/Baker & Taylor), and the bookstore can make a profit when they list the book. If you short discount your book (underprice), you’re preventing that. So your book has to make money for all involved. The easiest way to do that is set your personal profit at $2. (There are more complex ways to do that, but stick with the easy method.)
Thanks for the reply Kris.
At least in the case of Mysterious Galaxy, they list my books even though my profit for expanded distro is mere pennies. They seem to have simply marked them up.
Good to know. Not every bookstore would be willing to do that, however. So do keep that in mind.
Interesting. Three of mine are on there, including one that I didn’t think was in expanded distribution :). Maybe my brain is going and I forgot I enabled it on that one.
But, yes, the novelette that only makes $0.64 in expanded distribution is priced higher there than Createspace.
I even found my books at Mysterious Galaxy. 0_0 I was amazed. They marked them up, and I thought I priced them right at $15.99. Don’t think I’ve sold a one through them, though. Wouldn’t the sales show up thru CreateSpace? Or am I confused?
They’d show up in your extended distribution report two months (or more) after the sale. So they’d be lumped in with all the extended distribution orders that show up at the end of every month. (100 copies sold in extended distribution, for example. No bookstores listed.)
Update: Mysterious Galaxy just listed the first in the Q.V. Hunter series. The publishing industry should applaud this kind of speed, access and flexibility on the part of the indie bookstore world instead of focussing nonstop on the loss of the big chain bookstores.
Kris, I love this series and am about to donate…
…but your advice about not paying for a free advertisement is misguided. As long as the campaign is very broad — BookBub, Pixel of Ink, etc — and as long as you have a series, it can be very effective.
Last month I gave away 40,000 copies during a free promotion, and since then, there have been 400 sales of all series titles. I’ve earned five times the cost of the ads. I know I’m not alone here.
As you predicted, though, the book has taken a light beating in the reviews, but if one is prolific, it shouldn’t matter too much in the long run.
Thanks for this series.
I’m glad it worked for you, Jason. My point is that “free” is a gamble. The gamble paid off for you. And, it sounds like you did it right (with a series, and lots of books). I see so many people who do “free” with one or two books and then see no payoff. So, it’s a business decision. If you have the money to risk, then it’s worthwhile. But–everyone–realize it’s a risk, like putting money on a gambling table. You need to be willing to lose the money completely.
Free with Bookbub is not like releasing something into the void. It is releasing it to people who have voluntarily subscribed to a specific genre in a newsletter.
It’s still a gamble, but what I would call an accurate gamble.
Yes, agreed. There is zero point in going free if you only have one, two, or even three titles in a series. I waited until number five, and even then felt a little queasy about it (“Is this really enough backlist?” was my worry). And despite the success, I won’t be going free again, at least not for another year or so.
Great information in this column. Much obliged.
You gave away 40,000 free copies? This blows my mind. Does that mean you get at least 40,000 copies sold of all your other books too? A number of sales I can only dream of! Well done you. 🙂
I’ve been fascinated by this series, even though I’m not a writer. I would like to echo what you said about libraries, because it’s spot on. The thing to remember is that when you factor in staff time and resources, it most often costs a library less to order a book outright than to accept donations.
Also, with funding cuts and space shortages, most libraries want to be as sure as possible that someone will read the book if they order it. So, author donations carry very little weight. However, if a reader requests they order the book, as long as the library has the money they will most likely bend over backward to get it for them. I can’t stress enough that the best way to get into libraries to suggest readers who want it free to request it through their library.
Great point, Beth. Thank you for reporting this. I hadn’t thought about shelf space and cost in libraries. Shows you how bookstore focused I’ve been. Libraries are going to be a focus for me in late 2014, so this is great information.
A question – if you are operating across genres (rather than mixing them) as with your sci-fi, romance, and mystery example, would you expect any cross-over from the buyers? I would think that most of the people ‘purchasing’ the free copy would stay only in the single genre.
And, at a guess, I would think that the potential is much greater for someone with a series where you use the loss-leader at the beginning of the series to boost the flow through on the rest of the books. How much of a drop off would (guesstimate) would you suggest would apply to writers that publish standalone work?
Thanks for a great post!
It’s always better to have a loss leader in a series or in the same genre. I know I have more cross-over than traditional publishing reported for me, but it’s not as high as the readership in my series. (If that makes sense.) Some people do cross-over, but not all.
Maybe it varies from system to system or state to state, but when I worked at a public library, we did put some donated books on the shelves. They had to be in superb condition and meet our library’s criteria, but I was instructed to add them to our catalogue.
We also weeded the library regularly. If something wasn’t being checked out, it went to the sell shelf. Discoverability in a library is an issue as well.
Love your points on free. I hadn’t thought of it in terms of book two and threes sells having to make up the loss of money from book one being free. I’m assuming that’s another reason to wait before putting that first book on sale. You need to know how much you typically sell on books two and three for you to see a change in sell numbers.
iPhone post. Please ignore typos.
Thanks, Sandy. I’ve been in touch with librarians in Washington State, Oregon, Texas, and a few other states, and that’s what they tell me. Good to know it’s not the same everywhere. So–folks–ask your librarians!
I’ve donated new books to my library before here in California. They’re usually happy to get them, as long as they look professional and are in an area that the library would like more of. I see bookplates or notes saying said book was donated by an organization, family, or individual fairly often. Say, a book on German history donated by the local German Club, or a nice new mid-list romance donated by Mrs. XYZ. I decline the honor, it’s enough knowing I’ve added good stuff.
My husband once swapped the library the 4th edition of a tech book for their 2nd edition, as the 2E had sentimental value for him. They were happy to get the update at no cost, esp, as tech books are used so much but date so quickly.
Sorry for the typos, I should have reread more carefully.
There’s one factor that should not be forgotten: we authors we want to be read. The free-fiction Monday of this blog is one example among many many more.
So, if an author, having tried different level of prices, see no sales, have even tried to put it free for a limited period, and did not obtain any comments, I would not criticize her to make her ebook permafree. Maybe she hasn’t got any sales because her novel sucks. But she won’t know unless she obtain comments. There’s a good chance at least some comments will be negative, as you said. Nevertheless, she might learn from some of the comments.
Yes, the chances of a free ebook to be read once in a Kindle (or other device) are thin. Thin chances are better, still, than no chance at all.
The point of this entire series is to show writers their options, so that they can make informed choices about the things they do [to] make sure their books get discovered.
This is what the writers who bug you should remember. Making informed choices. You’re giving your take on pricing or whatever, based on your knowledge of the publishing industry – which is considerable.
And the thing is, you don’t HAVE TO put this info out there, but you choose to do so, for which I’m very grateful. 🙂
Thanks. 🙂 And I do put it out there for free, so I do get those one-star reviews. Only they come in the comments, usually on Saturday. 🙂
Thanks for the posts on pricing. Very helpful. I adjusted my prices, although scheming out long-term strategy is probably more than I am capable of *right now*.
I totally agree that trying to become ‘the next big bestseller’ is pointless, in fact it’s impossible to do. That’s because out books will be completely different, we are different people and have different fan-bases.
What I really need is to survive, to bring in some revenue, and write a pile of books. My goal is to continuously improve the product–writing, blurbs, covers, and hopefully enjoy another twenty or thirty years of writing and publishing.
Sounds good, Louis. Great point on different people/books/fan bases.
Hi Kris, great article as usual!
You wrote: “So many of you believe that I’m obligated to tell my readers “the truth” and that truth is your truth, which is the only way things should be done.”
This is SO true, and applies to a lot more than pricing. I wonder if this is particular to writers because our pedagogy and business models are so ill-defined. Seems nearly every book on writing theory I’ve read takes the “This is the proper and ONLY way to do things” approach. Pick up one book and it tells you you MUST outline. Pick up another and it says NEVER outline. Worse, these absolutes get perpetuated by would-be writers to other, less-informed would-be writers through critiques, amateur blogs, etc.
For me, I follow two simple rules:
1) Something (be it craft of business related) has to work, and
2) I must know WHY it works, else I’m either guessing or fooling myself.
Me, too, AJ. Love your points. Thanks for this.
I don’t completely understand this one – yet – which means I will be re-reading it several times, and it’s bookmarked meanwhile.
But I know good advice when I see it – and sent my donation to keep them coming.
I don’t even think of arguing with someone who has the publishing history you do – even if your advice were completely wrong for me (which I doubt).
You’re right – I’m not a business person. But I’m aiming to become one by whatever means are necessary, as a requirement for being in charge of my own publishing.
Thanks for plowing through the difficult stuff so intelligently – there’s a mindset change I’m going to acquire from all of it.
Please don’t stop writing!
Thanks, Alicia. I’ll continue. I’m learning things too. 🙂
Poor you! Having to list so many get out clauses on your own blog, just so you won’t get cussed out by writers. I mean, what is up with that? If people don’t like your FREE advice, then why don’t they just ignore it, rather than sending you angry emails?
Well, those of us who do appreciate your advice donate when we can. And I REALLY appreciate your advice. If it wasn’t for yours and Dean’s blogs I’d have given up on writing and publishing by now.
Just some European info for you…
I was in Worcester (UK) this morning reading this blog post on my phone. After a meeting I attended I went to the nearest WH Smith and asked if they could order in books by Suz Korb. The cashier lady said, “oh that’s a strange author name, isn’t it?” I laughed and said, “yes it is.” Never told her it was MY name.
Anyway, my books couldn’t be ordered in because the woman said they get stocks from their warehouse. She said I should try the WH Smith online website instead and then I could get the book sent to my local store.
So off I went after purchasing a new Kobo eReader for just £29.99. Bargain!
My next stop was Waterstones. They couldn’t find my author name until they looked at a website in America. The guy said he could order it in for me from the US, but that he wouldn’t know how much it would cost and he couldn’t guarantee a very good shipping time frame.
Createspace does have POD books here in Europe. I guess getting your books stocked at stores and libraries through Createspace’s extended distribution, is only available in the US. So if anyone in America wants to go into a bookstore and order one of my books it would be much appreciated! Haha.
I’m home now. My books aren’t available online at the WH Smith website either. Bummer.
Interesting info on giving your book away for free. I do hate one star reviews, but I know for a fact they don’t matter, because the only rating and review I have on the whole of B&N website is a 1 star. All the rest of my books have no ratings and yet they still sell, a few copies. Even the book with 1 star sells on there! Which I find hilarious.
Thanks for the report, Suz. The UK is about 2 years behind the US. Apparently on the books into stores as well. I know in other countries (like Australia) the books have hit virtual catalogs. So it does seem country-specific at the moment. I’m pretty sure all of this will change. I can’t believe how quickly everything is shifting. Much appreciated.
You’re right. I check all sorts of updates with Createspace and KDP daily, because that’s how quickly they change things. Amazon is huge here in the UK already. I think they will offer extended distribution here by the end of this year, at the latest. They really are innovative.
Suz, have you tried Lightning Source? They have extended distribution with Ingram.
One of the tricky thing is the ISBN, not the same in the US (not the same barcode). The ISBN has to be paid in the US (not with Createspace, but I’m not talking about Createspace, for it’s more difficult to have one’s book ordered by a bookstore with Createspace), I believe.
No, Alan, it’s not harder with Createspace. It’s easier, in fact. It used to be harder, but things change, almost daily.
If independent bookstores are now open to order Createspace’s books, that’s great news indeed! Until a recent time, they regarded Amazon as the Great Evil, and wouldn’t order a Createspace book.
Thanks for the update, Kris.
With extended distribution now free with Createspace, we could hope a bookstore employee, scanning the bestseller ranks at the Kindle Store, could order a self-published book with a good cover and good presentation. Or am I wrong?
It happens all the time. The only way the indie bookstores know the book was produced by Createspace is if you don’t buy your own ISBN. If the book says (on the listing) published by Createspace, some stores won’t take it. I do notice that on some of my oldest POD titles, it does say that, and still the book is listed in the Mysterious Galaxy catalog. If a customer wants a book, then the smart bookstore owner gets that book no matter who produces it.
I’m fdinding the same probles as Suz. Createspace extended distribution doesn’t work in the UK and both Waterstones (the main book chain) and Gardners (one of the two wholesalers) are reluctant to take books that are only available POD. To solve the problem, I’ve had a very short print run done by a small authors services company that also provides distribution and the improved availability has made it much easier to get reviews. The cost per copy works out much less than Lightning Source so I can match traditional publishers pricing and most of the sales are continuing to go through Amazon/Createspace.
Every time I go through tons of rigmarole to get going with Lightning Source, Createspace innovates and offers what I need as a self-published author. It’s just easier to go through Createspace. I’m lazy like that. Not lazy when it comes to my book covers and writing though! Amazon just gives me freedom to concentrate my time on my writing, which I desperately need as I’m still an amateur. Some people like my novice novels, and I love my readers! But I’ll probably get more readers as my writing improves.
If I’ve learned anything over the years in self-publishing, it’s to NOT give my books out for free. I’m not a good enough writer for that yet and some nasty reviewers are quick to let me know so.
The problem is twofold. First, as far as I know, if you distribute with CS and use your own ISBNs, then you cannot use the expanded distribution (maybe that’s changed- but it was still the case as of last quarter 2013). Second, if you are outside the U.S., you can’t use Bowker, and not all countries have a lot of transparency/ease-of-use with getting ISBNs – Germany in particular wants you to jump through some hoops to get them.
Maybe others have different experiences with this.
Um, Sharon, we use our own ISBNs with Createspace, and have for years. We have no trouble with extended distribution. I don’t know where you got this information, but it’s wrong. (You can’t go into their library distribution, in theory, but as far as I can tell, their library distribution doesn’t really exist yet.)
As for different countries, yes, they have different ways to identify books. Yet Createspace distributes overseas. Since WMG paper books sell in rather large numbers overseas, I don’t think the ID numbers are a huge problem either.
Createspace only distributes overseas through Amazon sites. There’s no extended distribution to other bookstores.
Well, Diana, then I’m not sure how the books WMG produces through Createspace get into outside non-US bookstores, and yet…they do.
I wouldn’t worry about the one-star B&N review, Suz. It’s marked as helpful by zero people, and it’s so illiterate nobody’s going to put any stock in it. When I come across reviews like that, I think “So if this idiot hates it, it’s probably good”. I suspect that’s why it hasn’t affected your other sales. Also, I adore the pricing of $6.66!
(You have good covers as well — the “shorts” one made me smile)
I’m terribly short on money right now so I can’t go into a store and order for you, sorry! Looks like you need to implore a friend to order it from WH Smith.
Thanks, Sally! I don’t really need my books ordered in the USA. I’m just being silly. I’ll get there eventually with book sales, living in the UK just means it might take a couple years longer.
I’m finding this fascinating reading (I know this is going to be controversial, so I wanted to say the above).
It’s curious the image “free” has. People think they’re providing a great deal. I read about two of the three of the free books I got, and it wasn’t such a great deal. The books weren’t that good, and free turned the message into something I saw in the early days of the internet, “I can’t get my book published, so I’m going to give it away.”
Great post again, Kristine! I just wanted to add my experiences with free, in case anyone find them a useful data point.
Fully agree limited-time free promotions are best. I’ve tried permafree, and it didn’t have any noticeable effect after one month. I have, however, found that free promotions over 24 – 36 hours CAN work amazingly well (still) if you can get into the top #10 overall free charts.
Right now, only Bookbub can offer that. For me, their $180 charge for a freebie advertisement has more than paid for itself. As you note, this may not be the case in six months, but it’s still a good option for me right now.
It appears that, if you time things right, you can hit the top #500 in the paid charts after a successful (short) free promotion. This tends to have a tail of about 2 weeks before the book drops back to normal.
Again, my experiences only, and, as you requested, here’s a link to my blog where I go through everything in more detail:
There are a few posts that cover this (as well as the permafree experience) which I hope your readers will find useful.
Thanks again for the wonderful articles!
Thanks, Nick. I appreciate it. And honestly, you did the math for your business, and an ad for the free book worked for you. That’s what everyone needs to do when they try something. I appreciate the links as well.
A pleasure – it’s always tricky to generalise with promotions, but so long as people are applying the main principles you outline in this series (Eg having an actual business strategy and paying attention to margins and sales) you can’t go far wrong.
I think the above points are all very well if you already have some sort of audience. If you’ve never been published by a tradepub house (or, like me, only in magazines), or if you don’t have a long career in self-publishing, you lose absolutely nothing by permafree. Anyway, I wrote a blog post, as you asked
Link didn’t come through?
I agree. When there’s no other choice, and the other ones don’t or haven’t worked, perma free can work. I use it for the first in my series. Are a lot given away and not read? Sure. But it’s better than 0. or 10. I get 2-5% buying the next book. So that’s simply better.
Thanks, Patty. I read your post. Good stuff there. As I said, I’m on the fence about this, but it does work in some cases. I wonder if it would work as “free” and not “perma-free” I worry that perma-free gives readers the idea that one of your books is worth nothing. But it’s a brave new world here, and everything changes (even, weirdly, my opinions). So thanks for this, and thanks for providing the link.
I got Patty’s free book (on B&N), but of course she has a whole bunch of work up, so I think giving one out for free (and it’s only a novella, not a novel) is a good strategy for her. Particularly as she doesn’t support monopolies!
There’s free once, perma-free, and the in-between of periodically free, which is when the next book comes out, the first one (or an earlier one) is free for a limited time and then goes back to paid.
I don’t think one day free is helpful. It usually takes a while to find out what’s free, so I’d give it a few days for people to notice, spread the word, check the lists, or read their email. It can backfire and make people angry at you, feeling like you’re taunting them.
“I worry that perma-free gives readers the idea that one of your books is worth nothing. – See more at: https://kriswrites.com/2014/01/22/the-business-rusch-pricing-part-2-or-discoverability-part-7-continued/#sthash.yFYkn647.dpuf”
I hear that, Kris, and I think you might have a point if ALL your books, or a majority of them, were free. But just one, as a teaser (and especially if you make it clear that it is a teaser with a good call to action at the end)? I’m not sure that’s a real problem.
An example from my business I just published the sequel to my book, Glimmer Vale, and I’ve got the third in the series coming out in late March, if all goes well. Now, Glimmer Vale has sold, in about 18 months, 16 copies. Total. So it’s almost literally doing nothing. Given that essentially no one is even looking at it, it actually is worth nothing, in terms of cash flow. Hell, it’s way in the red when you figure my writing time and other publishing expenses. Given that, where’s the loss in making it free as a teaser for the later volumes? I don’t see one. As Patty said in her blog, if it doesn’t work, or I don’t like the results, it’s easy to put back to paid again. So I’m rolling it to permafree, to see what happens.
Thanks for the post, Kris. As always, it’s great to read your take on things. 🙂
Michael, I’ve downloaded it. Just now, so obviously I haven’t read it. I think this is a good plan for you and hope it works. With those numbers, you really do have nothing to lose with permafree, or at least long-term free.
I’ve seen perma-free done well by one science fiction publisher. In that case they typically release the first book as free after a series is up to 3 or more books. They typically also keep the book available for sale. Interesting data point over many years with their best selling author has been that the non free version of the first book sells much better than a 1st book in a long established series normally sells. It look like people will try a series if the first book is free and then if they like the series they go back and often buy the 1st book later to make sure the author gets paid for it.
But I note that is a special variant of perma-free and it does follow your point about pushing series.
Is this another Baen innovation, Tom? If so, I’d love to see where it’s going on. As I said, I’m still learning all this stuff.
Yes I was talking about Baen. They generally put the 1st volume of series in the Free Library on their website while still offering the full book forsale. The author in specific I was talking about is David Weber and his book On Basilisk Station the first of his Honor Harrington series.
They retooled the free library slightly after signing up with Amazon and the Free Library books are now 1st edition while the edition forsale in the store is 2nd or later with usually some added material of some type. This allows them to have a free version and a non free version without Amazon having a fit about pricing.
Thanks, Tom. Fascinating…
Oh! I want to try this! Having a free edition of the book out, as well as a non-free edition. Wow! I’m working on a series this year. Three novellas to follow one of my existing novellas. When it’s complete – at 4 books – I’m going to try this. Thank you!
Weber’s Basilisk is free
Our sales experience completely corroborates your observations on the increasingly limited use of “free.”
Meanwhile, out of casual interest, we checked your link to the Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore online catalogue and discovered all three of D.L. Kung’s “Handover Mysteries” set in Asia were there, and to our knowledge without any effort at this end!
You are right! Things are working backstage without our help.
This is so surprising to us, we sent a thank you email, pointing out our latest Q.V. Hunter spy novels, which have not been listed yet.
Thanks for a useful post.
Thanks, Liz, for letting us know, here and with the follow-up. It truly is a myth that indie books can’t get into bookstores, although as Suz points out elsewhere, it varies by country. Again, thanks.
Holy cats! She’s right! I went to Mysterious Galaxy’s online bookstore, and there I was! I had no idea! Thanks for this info, Kris! I always learn something from your blog posts!
LOL. Great. 🙂 Congrats.
Me, too! Ooooh. Now I’m glad I paid close attention to Dean in the promotions workshop. Thanks for the link – now I can link to them on my website.