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Ebook Pricing: What You Think Your Book Is Worth vs. The Point at Which It Will Make the Most Money

| Posted in E-publishing |

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In the indie author world, there are few topics as hotly debated as that of ebook pricing. You don’t have to spend long on a self-publishing forum to hear all sorts of advice:

  • Don’t price too low or it shows you don’t value your work — if you don’t value your work, how can you expect anyone else to?
  • Don’t price too high because people won’t spend that much on an unknown author.
  • 99 cents is dead — don’t bother with 99 cents because you only get a 35% royalty.
  • Never ever price your ebook at $1.99 — it’s the Bermuda Triangle of pricing!
  • Price the first book in your series for free to draw in readers who might end up liking the book and buying the rest in the series.
  • For crying out loud, don’t give anything away for free — people just download free books and never read them, and if they do read them, they’ll probably give you a crappy rating.

So… confused yet?

Long-time followers of my blog (or people who look me up on Amazon), will see that I take a middle-of-the-road approach. I have the first ebook in my Emperor’s Edge series permanently free, and most of the rest of the novels in the series are $4.95 (I do have Book 2 at $2.99 at the moment, which may or may not stay that way). For short stories, I either go with free or 99 cents (if it’s free it’s because it’s something I posted on my blog for free first, such as my recent holiday story, which was a thank you to readers). For novellas and short novels, I’ll price somewhere in between (these days, I try to write things that are long enough that I feel justified pricing them at $2.99, for the 70% royalty, or I’ll put the shorter things together in a collection).

Does that mean you should do the same thing? Nope. You should either do what makes you content (allowing that you might be leaving money on the table, because you’re pricing based on your own opinions rather than experimentation) or you should experiment to see what earns you the most money per month.

That last bit sounds kind of obvious, doesn’t it? Yet a lot of authors balk at the idea of trying different prices and seeing what the market says. They price based on their own hunches and prejudices.

They think, “Oh, I wouldn’t value a 99-cent book, so I’m sure others won’t either.” Or maybe they think, “I put XXX hours into writing and preparing this novel, and there’s no way I’m selling it for less than $X.XX.” Or perhaps it’s, “Nobody’s heard of me, and I doubt they’re going to pay much for an unknown author, so I’m going with 99 cents.” The argument I’ve seen most often and which is, quite frankly, one of the more short-sighted ones, is: “If I don’t sell my book for at least such-and-such, I’m not going to have a chance of making minimum wage for the work I put into it.”

I want to address the last argument, because I see variations of it so often. First off, before we jump into numbers, I want to point out that very few authors make any significant money on their first book — nobody owes us minimum wage or any other amount of cash. This whole process is like building a business, and for most of us the income grows over time as we get more books out, especially when we’re talking about e-publishing, where titles can remain out there and can continue to sell indefinitely.

The second thing I want to point out is that the price of the book is only half of the earnings equation. The other half is how many copies you sell.

Price * Units Sold = Total Earnings.

We’ll keep it simple and not worry about royalties and what the store makes vs. what you make. My point is that it’s possible to become a millionaire on a 99-cent title, just as it’s possible to make absolutely nothing. You may make more money selling your books at less than your ideal price (i.e. what you feel the book is worth). That’s just how it is.

But anyway, let’s talk numbers and kick around a couple of scenarios (AKA how do we get to minimum wage, anyway?). Let’s say you go bargain basement and make your first novel 99 cents. Because it’s at the 35% royalty, you’re only making about 35 cents on each sale. Let’s say you bust your bum on marketing and sell 100 copies in your first month. That earns you… $35. Yeah, cringe, right? Not even close to minimum wage. If you keep that up for the whole year, you get $420. Still not that impressive. Latte money, maybe.

But — and here’s where so many people get tripped up — you really have to consider earnings over the life of a book, not over a month or even a year. Over ten years, that title could bring in $4,200 if nothing else changes. There’s always the possibility that it will start selling better as you get more titles out and gain more of a following as an author, but let’s assume it stays the same.

$4,200 in ten years still isn’t that impressive (and it’s why I’m not a big proponent of the 99-cent novel unless it’s part of a sale or on-going strategy to get readers into a series). Let’s say you had priced that novel at $2.99 instead. It would earn (at a 70% royalty) $2.05 a sale. Maybe you’re only able to sell 50 copies a month, instead of 100, because of the higher price point. That brings your earnings up to $102.50 per month and $1,230 a year. A little better. At $5 it gets better still, though you may or may not sell as well at the higher price point. This is where the experimenting comes in. Try a month with it at one price, and then try a month with it at another price.

Some authors actually sell better (more books) when they raise their prices, though most of us find it easier to move more copies as the price lowers. If we want to maximize our monthly income, we have to play around and find the point of diminishing returns. I want to emphasize again that for those of us who can take emotion and pride out of the equation, the focus should be on monthly income and not on the price of the book at all.

*This is the point where I admit that I might be leaving money on the table because I don’t experiment all that much. I’ve sold them for less, but I’ve never tried selling my ebooks for more than $5. Remember up above where I said some people prefer to do what makes them content, even if it’s possible they’re not making as much as they could? That’s me. I’m comfortable with what I make, and I like the idea of keeping my ebooks a good value for readers. I’m not sharing my earnings with an agent or publisher, so this just seems fair to me. But if you’re not content right now, and you want to be earning more… I urge experimentation.

The more books, the more potential you have to earn

Here’s another one that seems obvious but which again gets overlooked, especially by those who bring the “But I want to at least make minimum wage” mindset to the table. Remember that $1,230 a year we’re earning from our $2.99 ebook that’s selling 50 copies a month? Let’s jump forward to the point where we have 10 novels, some novellas, and a few short stories out (that’s me right now, after three years of self-publishing). If all of your novels are selling 50 copies a month at $2.99 (for the record, I’m a mid-list author at best, and my worst selling novels sell quite a bit better than that), you’re now making $12,300 a year from your novels and probably a couple of thousand extra from your shorter works. So, yay, we’ve reached minimum wage.

That’s a pretty conservative estimate of what you could make with that much work out. If, in the process of publishing these novels, you’re able to gain some true fans, the types of people who tell their friends about your work, you might find that 50 sales a month per novel is very beatable (with a little spent on advertising here and there, my EE novels are still selling 300+ a month, though I’ve completed the series and moved on to other things).

You might also find that you have a break-out novel or two in the bunch. A couple of years ago, JA Konrath published his stats for his $140,000-month and we saw that a handful of his 40+ titles were responsible for the majority of his income. I talked about the Pareto Principle in that article, also known as the 80-20 rule. In our cases, it may very well end up that 20% of our work results in 80% of our income. My distribution isn’t quite so lopsided, but my EE series does account for the majority of my earnings. Back when I built websites and wrote content for a living, two of my 10-15 sites brought in the majority of my income. This kind of distribution happens all over the place. For most of us, the only way to have those breakout books is to publish a lot of books. It’s very hard to predict what will become a winner, but the more titles you have out there, the better your odds.

But I’ve drifted off topic a bit here. It never hurts to point out that for the majority of authors it’s going to take a lot of novels to build a full-time income, but my ultimate message here is to try and maximize your overall monthly income rather than getting hung up on the price of a particular book. Try free. Try 99 cents. Try 2.99. Heck, try 7.99 or 9.99 if you want. Experiment. Keep track of what works, and if you find that you make the most money pricing your ebooks at $0.99 or $4.32, then by all means, do so.

 

Ebooks, Word Count, and Marketing the Stand-Alone Novel (or should one book become two?)

| Posted in E-publishing |

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I’ve always preferred to read and write novel-length fiction, but the ebook has brought back the short story, the novella, and the serial (among other things), story formats that were never that practical outside of magazines (and even then, it had been a while since you saw many novellas and serials). Space was always a consideration, with certain page counts being more feasible (financially speaking) than others.

With ebooks, it doesn’t cost any more to deliver a 200,000-word epic novel than it does a 10,000-word short story. Oh, sure, editing will be pricier on the bigger tale, assuming you hire outside eyes for that task, but that’s a one-time cost. Authors now have the ability to write in whatever story format they prefer and even get creative with how novels are crafted and delivered.

And more than writing preferences may come into play. As independent authors, we’re responsible for our own marketing and for figuring out the best ways to satisfy the reader and make a fair wage from our work (a living wage, if we’re lucky).

For example, the single novel can be a hard sell. My experience with multi-book formats suggests it’s easier to market and sell a series because you can play around with free or 99-cent “loss leaders” while leaving later tomes at full price. Right now, there are a lot of venues that like to advertise bargain books, which works perfectly for those of us with a series and an inexpensive Book 1.

If all you have is a single novel, you can put it on sale and try to gain traction with advertising, but even if a reader enjoys it, there’s nowhere to go from there. Oh, you might have other unrelated ebooks out, but jumping to a new world and/or new characters isn’t, for most readers, as automatic as buying the second book in a series.

So, what do you do with that single stand-alone novel? If the stars align right and the tides are favorable (AKA if it’s a big enough book), should it perhaps become two?

This is what I’m mulling over with my current project (working title: Republic). For those who have followed along with my Emperor’s Edge novels, this idea might sound familiar. Last summer, the sixth and final book in my six-book series turned into Forged in Blood I & Forged in Blood II (making it a seven book series, I suppose). Even being broken apart, those books were as long or longer than the rest of the novels in the series, so I thought it made sense.

Now I’m working on a transition novel that can either provide more closure for the EE series or work as a launching point into a new series (we’ll see how the reception is). From the beginning, I had only envisioned it as one book, but at the same time, I knew it was going to be a big one, because it has six point-of-view characters. I guessed it would be around 150,000 words when I got started. Well, I’m at 160,000 now and I have the big end battle yet to write, along with a long (and I hope fun) epilogue that I’ve had in mind from the beginning. I’m beginning to think Republic will be 200,000 words by the time I’m done.

For comparison, a new fantasy novelist is encouraged to submit novels between 80,000-100,000 words to agents. The first Emperor’s Edge book is around 105,000 words.

There’s this thing about epic fantasy though… it likes to be big. I’m not sure what the word counts are on those Jordan or Martin books, but they call them Chihuahua killers for a reason (fortunately with ebooks, you don’t need to worry about dropping super thick tomes on small dogs). Many fantasy readers enjoy these big meaty books, so I’m hoping I won’t get too many complaints about length. (People might not dig the new storyline or the departure from two POV characters to six, but that’s a different concern.)

So, what’s the problem?

There’s not really, aside from the fact that I’ll be spending a lot more time on a novel I can’t necessarily charge a lot more for, but I am wondering if turning this into two books might offer some opportunities from a marketing perspective. I never bother advertising Books 2-7 in the EE series, because I assume nobody’s going to jump into the middle without having read the first book. That means EE1 has been through BookBub and many of the other big sites that offer sponsorships multiple times already. In short, it’s old news.

With Republic, even though it has most of the characters from the EE series (along with Tikaya and Rias from the Encrypted/Decrypted books), it’s a spot where someone new might be able to jump in without being lost. Or at least not so lost that they couldn’t enjoy the story (maybe new readers would even want to later pick up the earlier books to catch up and get all the inside jokes).

I’m already planning to do something completely different with the cover art (illustrated), so it’ll feel like the start of something new. And I think the blurb might sound appealing to those who specifically seek out epic fantasy (I’ve never described my stuff as epic fantasy, but with the political emphasis in this one and the multiple story lines, it feels closer to it than many of my others). Also, the first chapter, which people might download as a sample, starts off with Amaranthe and Sicarius getting out of a little trouble on a tropical island before being called back home by the president, is on the fun and entertaining side, and I could see it drawing new folks in.

But, if I keep this as one big book, I’m not going to be particularly interested in bargain pricing it (hey, this puppy represents a lot of hours!), so I wouldn’t be able to advertise it on the big book sites, and I don’t know how many new people would try it at full price. (Since I usually price based on word count, I expect I would go around $6.95 for the ebook on this one.)

If I turn it into a duology, I can have more room to play around with pricing. I can essentially charge the same amount but make the first book less expensive, maybe $2.99 for the first part and $3.99 for the second, with a launch/sale price of 99-cent sales on the first. The downside is I would doubtlessly get new readers who didn’t like part 1 enough to buy part 2, but those are people who probably wouldn’t have plunked down $7 for an ebook from an author they hadn’t tried anyway. As far as regular readers, they might find the lower prices more appealing as well. Even if it’s technically the same $7 either way, folks are used to paying $5 from me, not $7, so that might be a bit of a balk. This way they could pick up the first part now and grab the second later. Like FiB1 & 2, it would end up feeling more like two books rather than one big expensive book.

At this point, I’m just tossing ideas around. I haven’t finished the novel, and I haven’t gone back to see if/where there might be a logical breaking point if I were to divide it. If you, as a reader or author, have an opinion on all this mulling, I would love to hear it.

3 Years of Self-Publishing, 2 Years of Writing Full Time, and Lessons from 2013

| Posted in E-publishing |

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It’s the beginning of a new year and I just had my three-year self-publishing anniversary, so it seems like the appropriate time for a summing-up/what-I’ve-learned post.

When I started in December of 2010, I published my first novel, The Emperor’s Edge, and a collection of short stories for children, The Goblin Brothers Adventures. I was originally only going to self-publish the children’s stories and look for an agent for EE and Encrypted, the other novel I had finished at the time. But I had stumbled across the blogs of some authors doing well with e-publishing and decided to try the novels too (also, I was dreading the Agent Query Game). I’m glad I decided to publish more than the Goblin Brothers, because I’ve sold fewer copies of those children’s stories than anything else I’ve published, even though the ebook is only 99 cents. Meanwhile, I’ve been making a living from the sales of my other works (the collection has greatly expanded) for the last two years.

Lesson #1: Fiction for middle-grade and younger remains a tough sell in the e-book world.

Nice reviews and early interest in The Emperor’s Edge led me to focus on those characters, creating a series that ended up being seven novels long and which I completed last summer (though I’m working on a new novel with many of the same characters). Having a series that people were invested in is what allowed me to eventually turn this into a full-time job. I published other things in the meantime (my Flash Gold novellas, a sequel to Encrypted, and a handful of short stories), but the EE books were my breadwinners.

Lesson #2: A series with dedicated readers is what leads to reliable income.

Over time, the numbers tell you how many people go on to buy subsequent books after trying the first, so you’ve got a good idea how many buyers you’re going to have each month if you can get X number of new people to pick up the first book. You also get an idea of how many people will buy the next installment before you even start writing it. With unrelated works, things are more hit-and-miss. You might get lucky and attract an all-new audience, but you might also find that fewer of your dedicated readers will try the new characters/new world.

Since I finished my core series this summer, I’ve tried a couple of “pilots,” stories that could be developed into a new series (Torrent, a contemporary fantasy, the Swords & Salt tales, prequels for an epic fantasy trilogy I want to do, and a contemporary mystery/love story that’s coming out later this month). It’s a little scary when your money-making series ends, but you don’t necessarily want to commit to something new until you see if there’s potential. Will people like it? Will they buy it? Will they want to see more from the characters? The nice thing about e-publishing is that you can get this feedback quickly. That said…

Lesson #3: You should give a book time on the market before giving up on it or making hasty decisions regarding series-potential.

Based off early reviews, I almost scrapped Torrent and the notion of doing a subsequent series. At one point, I was going to take it down from the store altogether. The only reason I didn’t was because it was clearly set up as a Book 1 and I felt compelled to write more in the series at some point, so people wouldn’t be left hanging. Because of those early reviews, I did rearrange my writing plans, and instead of immediately going into writing Book 2, I jumped into a new novel in my old world, using most of the characters from the EE series (along with the Encrypted folks).

One of the cool things about writing full-time is that OMG, you get to do this for your day job! But one of the trade-offs is that you have to continue to write things people want to buy, because it doesn’t take long for sales on older novels to drop off.

So what eventually happened with Torrent? I left it up there while I went on to my other stuff, and it’s actually sold well, quite well when you consider that I haven’t mentioned it anywhere since launch weekend back in September. Even for launch, I didn’t do more than announce it to my newsletter, and throw up a post on Facebook and Twitter. I haven’t spent a penny on advertising (I always figured I would wait until I had more books out in the series). I’ve also had some nice emails and comments from readers who enjoyed it and want to see more. In addition, I got an email from someone at Amazon last month, and they may include it in some kind of featured sale in a couple of months (no guarantees, but, hey, they’ve never emailed me about any of my other books). So that brings me to…

Lesson #4: Glowing reviews don’t always make for a best-seller and the book that gets hammered hardest might just sell well.

I should note that I agree with some of the critiques for the book, and I’ll try to address certain points and improve on things as I go forward in the series. However, it’s also worth pointing out that…

Lesson #5: If you publish something in a different genre, you risk displeasing people who prefer the old.

As authors, we sometimes like to jump around and explore new genres and different styles of writing. (Why of course it’s time to try something in first person!) There’s nothing wrong with that, but we have to realize that those people who really liked our old genre and old style of writing may not be excited about the new. I think the next time I jump to a different genre (there’s going to be a space-age SF series eventually, so look out!), I’ll mention it to the mailing list but won’t do the big discount to try and encourage them to try it. If they do and they like it, great, but I’ll go to the book blogs and genre-specific advertisers and try to first put it in front of those who really dig that type of book.

Income, Number of Books out, and International Sales

I used to do reports about how much I was earning from self-publishing and how many books I had sold. Long-time followers of the blog (yes, all three of you) might have noticed that it’s been a while since I did something like that. I don’t mind when others do it, but for myself, I feel there’s a point where it becomes a little weird to talk about money (probably the point where you stop earning less than the average income in your country and start making more than it). That said, in 2013 I earned more than I ever did from my old day job, so I’m enjoying the self-publishing gig and hope to be able to continue.

Interestingly, I sold fewer copies of each title on average in 2013 than in 2012. The increased income is more a result of having more books out than in becoming some huge blockbuster author.

I found that sales and big promos for my Book 1 were less effective in 2013 than they had been in the past. I sold/gave away fewer books in most of these promos and there was less sell-through into the rest of the series. I think part of this is a result of more competition — more books out there in the marketplaces — and also because many of the people on certain lists had already seen and/or tried my Book 1 if they were going to.

Even with fewer new people trying the series each month, as I reached the end, I had some great launches of those final books (IIRC, FiB1 & 2 both debuted in the Top 200 overall in the Kindle Store — not bad for epic fantasy). As I said, there’s a lot of power in a series, and even a slow build-up of readers over months and years can bring notable success in the end. (As some of you may remember, Forged in Blood 1 also made it to the finals for a Goodreads Choice Award in 2013.)

Launches aside, I’m relieved to have reached the point where selling a couple hundred copies a month of Title X, Y, and Z results in a good income. I have quite a bit of work out now. (For those who don’t want to count, I’ve published 10 novels and about that many novellas and short stories as well.) It all adds up, and even though I haven’t had a huge release since this summer (the “pilots” naturally don’t sell as well as the books in the proven series), my income has been fairly solid these last few months. So let’s make that…

Lesson #6: A mid-list author with enough titles out can make a nice income from writing.

There’s a lot of talk about how there’s more competition in the Kindle Store and elsewhere these days — more independent authors publishing and also more Big 6 backlist books being put out in ebook form, but if you can cultivate a fan base that enjoys your work and will try a lot of what you write, then you can do this for a living, providing you’re able to publish regularly and keep getting more stuff out there for readers to consume.

Something else that happened in 2013 for me is that my international sales grew. I started to gain some ground in the Kobo and Apple stores in 2012 (thanks, in large part, to having a perma-free Book 1 out there), and 2013 was the year that my international sales went from pocket-change to hey-that’s-some-nice-money. I just got paid by Amazon for October’s sales, and the earnings from the UK and DE stores each could have paid my rent. A year ago, it was pretty good if I earned more than a couple hundred dollars in each of those spots.

What’s changed? I haven’t done any extra marketing to those stores, so I’ll assume it’s again a matter of having more titles out (people who enjoy my first book have six more they can grab in the series, plus related works) and also of having a perma-free title there (though EE1 has been free in those stores for almost as long as it has been in the U.S.). Interestingly, Torrent has done well in those stores, especially in Germany.

You never know when one of your titles with okay sales in the U.S. might take off in another country. And, even as ebook growth is tapering off in the U.S., it’s just now ramping up in other parts of the world, so that income could become significant.

Lesson #7: Pay attention to foreign markets.

I haven’t yet taken the bite to have any of my works translated into another language (mostly because I’m busy writing new stuff, and that sounds like a lot of extra work!), but even English-language sales in other countries can be big, so I’ll be looking for more opportunities to promote my work in international markets.

I think I’ve rambled on for long enough today, so I’ll stop with that lesson. If you have any wisdom you would like to share, please let us know in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

 

Pen Names for Different Genres, Yea or Nay?

| Posted in E-publishing |

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Let’s talk about pen names today. Not the type of pen name you adopt because you need to hide your writing career from employers, stalkers, mob bosses, or grannies who don’t approve of your “active romance” novels (all valid reasons to write under a pseudonym), but the type you feel you have to create because you’re going to publish something in a different genre.

It used to be accepted wisdom that you took a pen name (or two or three) if you were delving into new areas, such as from non-fiction to fiction, or from historical romance to space opera. Of course, it also used to be that publisher forced you to use a pen name if you wanted to publish more than a book a year, regardless of genre. Apparently the market would simply be too flooded with titles by the same author that it would self-implode (or maybe it had something to do with bookshelf space in physical stores — perhaps those of you who have been publishing longer than I have can  enlighten us). And of course your historical romance fans not only won’t touch your Farscape-inspired romp amongst the stars but that they’ll be terribly offended that you wrote such a thing to start with (and vice versa).

The e-publishing/digital marketing era has brought some changes. These days we’re realizing that authors who publish frequently… tend to make more money. Not only do they have more books out for readers to discover, but it’s easier for them to collect fans and build momentum when they have new books appearing in the Amazon category lists every few months (or for the truly prolific — I just listened to an interview with Elle Casey over at the Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast, and she publishes a book every month). As far as publishing in multiple genres with the same? If we can use Ms. Casey as an example again, it just doesn’t seem to matter.

Ella Casey uses her name for everything she writes, and she’s published everything from YA dystopian to contemporary romance. In that interview, she points out that she doesn’t get as much crossover from readers as she’d hoped (though, from my own experiences, I’d wager she gets at least some), but she’s had bestsellers and been quite successful overall (especially since she started publishing less than two years ago), while doing no more promotion than your average dedicated-to-succeeding indie author. In short, using a single name for multiple genres isn’t hurting her.

In fact, I’m going to argue that in today’s competitive and fast-changing digital environment, experimenting with multiple author names will seriously hinder your ability to increase your overall readership and sell more books.

Three reasons to pick a name (or pen name) and stick to it…

“Building a platform” and maintaining a social media presence is enough work for one person

As an author these days, you’re expected to be on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Google+. You’re expecting to have a newsletter and a blog, and to guest post or participate in interviews for other people’s blogs. This is true whether you’re self-published or traditionally published (actually traditionally published authors seem to get pressured to do all this to an extent that’s out of proportion with the amount of books one truly sells because of this stuff). Some authors enjoy this sort of work, but others lament that it takes away from book-writing time. Either way, it’d become tedious for most if they had to juggle and try to maintain multiple online personae. In addition, it’s hard to gain momentum if one’s activities on these sites are infrequent (blogs, in particular, take a while to gain critical mass and start receiving traffic from the search engines).

Sticking to one pen name needs you only have to worry about doing the work of one person instead of two or three.

More books out under your name equals more ways for readers to discover you

A while back (before I was in a similar camp), I looked at three indie fantasy authors making thousands of dollars a month from their work. I’m come across many, many more self-published authors who are able to do that now. The common thread? Most of us have 10+ books out. Some sell well and others don’t. The more you have, though, the more chances you have of seeing one book or series take off.

For most of us, it takes a while to write a novel (more than a month, anyway!), but ten might be achievable in the not-so-distant future (you start to get a lot more enthused once you’re making a little money and getting fan mail). However… if you’re spreading those books across multiple pen names, the odds are that it’ll take longer to hit critical mass. As far as the world knows, you’ll be three different people with three books out, no relation. Sure, you can tell folks on your mailing list about your alternate names, but authors always have a lot more people who buy and read her books than who actually sign up for a newsletter.

Even a small amount of readership crossover can help launch your new book/series

Will someone who loves your mysteries also enjoy your YA paranormal romance? Maybe, maybe not. But let’s assume you have a few faithful readers who will try anything you write, or who just happen to enjoy both of those genres. We’ll say, thanks to the success of your earlier works, you have 3,000 readers who bought and adored the novels in the first genre you tried. You’re hopping over to a new genre, and only 10% are willing to buy the new book. That doesn’t sound like many, but 300 book sales in the first few days of a release will get you onto some category Top 100 charts on Amazon, where your book has a chance of being seen by new readers, readers who adore that particular genre. They may not recognize your name, but if you have a good cover, blurb, and sample, they may give you a shot. And if they see that you’ve written another series that has garnered lots of positive reviews, that could be enough to sway them to try this new novel. From there… well, one never knows when a book given a head start like that can take off and sell well.

On the other hand, if you’d decided that writing in a new genre meant you had to use a different pen name, then you’d be starting at ground zero with this new novel. With more and more ebooks in the marketplace and more and more authors competing for promotion “resources” (i.e. Bookbub ads), it’s harder and harder to get noticed as a new author. And if you’re splitting your time between pen names and not able to publish often enough to improve your books’ visibility… Well, it’s hard enough to establish yourself as it is. Why make it tougher?

What are your thoughts? Given today’s publishing and selling environment, would you still use pen names for different genres? Or do you agree that one name is the way to go in most circumstances?

Pricing for Launch: Book 1 in a New Series, Go High or Low?

| Posted in E-publishing |

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If you’ve been following my blog for a while (or since last Thursday), you know I’m releasing the first book in a new series next week. As an independent author, you get to choose your own price for your ebooks, and it’s no surprise that “how much is right?” is hotly debated.

Should you price low (i.e. free or 99 cents) so more people will give your work a chance (and perhaps be willing to pay more for subsequent books in a series)? Or should you price your book higher, perhaps as much as a traditionally published novel, so people might think your work is of a higher quality? Or maybe you should try something in the middle such as the $2.99 price point, which earns you a 70% royalty at Amazon (with similar setups at most other stores) and is still a deal for the reader?

I’ll tell you what I’m planning for my new book and why, but first I’d like to point out that I’ve interviewed two brand new self-published authors this year who had wonderful book launches with very different pricing strategies.

  • Last May, Sue London launched her historical romance, Trials of Artemis, and hit the Amazon Top 100 (that’s 100 overall, not just in a specific category) with a 99-cent price tag and not a ton of marketing (yes, she did some, and you can check out the interview to see what). Amazon invited her to pre-sell her second novel, which she priced at $2.99, and it’s out now and selling very well (#494 overall, several weeks after launch).
  • Last spring, I also interviewed Leeland Artra, who launched his first epic fantasy novel, Thread Slivers, at $5.99 and who also did very well, especially when you consider that fantasy isn’t nearly as popular as romance. He’s since sold many thousands of copies and recently had a great launch for the second book in his series. (I will note that Leeland used “price pulsing” and sometimes dropped his ebook to 99 cents for a short time for advertisements with Bookbub and the like.)

From these examples, you can see that it’s possible to go either way, high or low, and do well. A great story, great cover, and appealing blurb can get you a long ways at any reasonable price point if you’re willing to do the marketing to get your book noticed. It seems that the price pulsing concept (and David Gaughran talks more about that in his book Let’s Get Visible) is working well for a lot of people right now, in 2013.

So what am I planning to do for my book launch?

Good question! I’ve gone back and forth on this a bit. My new series is contemporary fantasy instead of my usual secondary-world swords-and-sorcery, and I’m sure some of my current readers will give it a try, but I wouldn’t be surprised if others thought, “Enh, not really my type of fantasy” so I’m treating this as if I’m starting from scratch.

As I’ve mentioned so often before, I love the idea of making a Book 1 free (my first Emperor’s Edge book has been free in many places for almost two years) and letting people try my work at no cost, but that’s generally a strategy people employ after they have a couple more books out in their series (if there’s nothing for people to go on to buy after they finish the free one, they had a tendency to forget about you!). I published the third EE book before I made Book 1 free. Also, as I pointed out during some earlier mulling (Is Using a Free Ebook Still a Viable Strategy for Increasing Overall Sales on Amazon?), Amazon has made it a little harder for folks to find the free ebooks. I’d definitely prefer people to see my book right alongside all the popular contemporary fantasy novels in the paid charts, rather than having to consciously click on the “Top 100 Free” and start browsing there.

So, how about 99 cents for a Book 1? This is what I’ve been contemplating, since it’s the next best thing to free and still an “impulse buy” to many folks, but it’s hard to sell enough at this price (remember, you’re only getting 35 cents per sale because of the lower royalty) to recoup your costs and keep the lights on if you’re not writing in a hot genre. Of course, once you have more books out, it can make sense to have the “loss leader” Book 1.

Something else to consider is if your regular price is 99 cents, you lose the ability to put the book on sale (unless you’re exclusive with Amazon and able to make your book free for a two or three day stint). The problem? A lot of the advertising sites are only interested in plugging “bargain books.” Considering how many copies of a book you can move with a Bookbub ad right now, it’s worth thinking about sites like that as part of your market strategy.

So, start high and run sales?

Not a bad plan, but one thing that always bugs me about starting high and running sales is that the people who support you early on and buy the book right away end up paying more than others who simply see it on sale and grab it. It seems like your loyal readers should be offered the best price from the get go.

In the past, I’ve occasionally put a book up on Amazon for $X and then sent a Smashwords coupon to the folks on my mailing list so they can pick it up at a discount. The problem with this is that it encourages readers to buy from another retailer and doesn’t help with your Amazon sales ranking (more sales and reviews there increase visibility, thus helping new readers find your books),. I have enough folks on my list now that their purchases can really make a different insofar as visibility at Amazon goes.

The final decision…

So, after much debating, I’m planning to launch the book at 99 cents for the first few days, send out word to let everyone know they can grab it at that price so long as they get it soon, then raise the price to $3.99, the price point I’ve decided on for the rest of the books in the series. I’ll keep Book 1 at that price for the first year or so, and experiment with running sales when I have new releases ready, before rethinking 99 cents as a permanent price.

For those wondering why $3.99 is the magic number, it’s based on the word count and prices of my other work. The EE and Encrypted books are $4.95, but they’re all over 100,000 words (most over 120,000). My Peacemaker novella is 45,000 words and is $2.99. The first Rust & Relics novel is 83,000 words, so it’s right in the middle. I like to find the happy middle ground where the books are affordable even to voracious readers but where the royalties can pay the bills. 😀

For those who are wondering if there will ever be a free option, I’ll be running the first book through Wattpad and posting a chapter a week. You can follow me over there if you’re not already.

That’s enough from me for today. Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share on pricing for a series or a launch? Please leave them in the comments section, below!

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