‘Worth more than my novel?’
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A year ago, as I was getting ready to publish my first novel, I set myself a target. If I was going to be a real writer, then I had to be able to make a proper living through writing. So how have I done so far?
In English English: ‘Not quite as well as I might have done.”
In any other language: “Total wipeout”.
Smashwords: Sold – 121. Earnings – $65.35
Amazon – US: Sold – 33. Earnings – $29.66
Amazon – UK: Sold – 3. Earnings – £0.78
So that’s 157 copies and around $96 earned for the year. Call me cautious, but somehow I don’t think I’ll be able to give up the day job just yet. I’ll need to do better: about 500 times better. Excluding taxation.
So one solution could be to increase the price by a factor of 500. ‘That will be $495, sir. Thank you.’ You know, I have a funny feeling that might just work. I could make it a limited edition, probably grab a few headlines for the most expensive book in the world, and I bet I’d get a few takers.
But that’s not what I’m going to do. I’m going to leave the price exactly where it has been for most of the year – $0.99 or £0.74 (+VAT). The price of a large potato.
Is that what my novel’s worth? I guess it depends how hungry you are. A potato’s certainly more nutritious. It fills a spot. Even if 157 people seem to have opted for my book instead.
Actually, that’s not quite true. The vast majority of my Smashwords ‘sales’ have come when I’ve offered a free copy as part of a promotion – there were 70 just last week during Read An Ebook Week. So these readers probably didn’t have to sacrifice their daily potato. And I suspect that some – maybe most – will be book-hoarders, accumulating books just in case they need them some rainy day. They’ll probably never read mine.
This is why there’s huge debate about what an ebook price ought to be. My Facebook friend and fellow-Brit-lit-author, Ali M Cooper, fulminated recently against price-cutting:
My UK kindle sales continue to drop as the market is flooded by under £1 ‘bargains’ as authors try to undercut each other … My personal guideline is that if I don’t think a full length novel is worth the price of a pint of beer then I shouldn’t be publishing it.
Several other writers agreed with Ali that price-cutting writers should take account of the ‘long-term perceived value of books’ and encouraged a firm stand on pricing. Selling at a low price implied a lack of confidence in your own book, they said.
But then there was another point of view expressed by Carolyn McCray, founder of the Indie Book Collective, in a post this week on understanding the Amazon book-page. You need to get at least 5 – 10 reviews, she said, and fill the ‘Customers-Who-Bought-This-Item-Also-Bought‘ bar. Her advice is:
Price your book at 99 cents (the lowest allowed by Amazon) and drive as much traffic as you can during your ‘soft’ launch window. Once you have the bar filled you can re-price your book.
There’s my problem. My amazon.com page has fantastic reviews – but only three of them. And the books other people bought with mine? A book on Lebanese cuisine, three books on quantum physics and .. oh yes, this is bound to bring the customers flooding in – The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America. Unfortunately, Amazon doesn’t allow me to re-design my ‘associated books’ bar. I’ll just have to wait until some future customer chooses better bedfellows.
And as for my UK Amazon page. No reviews. No book-links. Nada.
So you see, I’ve got a way to go to establish any kind of credibility. Pricing is just one way I can persuade people to take a peek, maybe download the sample.
Free is probably not the best way – not for novels anyway, although there may be a case for free short stories to introduce people to your work.
But working at the price of least resistance does seem sensible, at least until my reputation begins to grow outside my immediate circle of friends and acquaintances. Perhaps that time will come with The Lebanese Troubles. Perhaps it will be the next novel. Or the third.
If it was just about pricing it would be easy. Unfortunately, it isn’t. A year on, I’m still learning about how to position and present my book, and this week I’ve been busy updating my promotional pages, and even the book content. You may have noticed changes in this blog too – all designed to make it easier for the potential reader to say ‘Yes’, and inspired largely by Carolyn McCray’s article.
There’s another important requirement. Hard work. Talking to your friends and supporters constantly, not necessarily beating your author-drum all the time, but just communicating. Let me return to Ali Cooper. I don’t know how she’d describe her last 12 months, but I’d call it a success.
Ali published her first novel, The Girl on the Swing around 12 months ago, at about the same time as me. It’s a beautifully-controlled, tightly written psycho-drama, the sort of novel I enjoy reading (especially since it follows in the Hardy/Fowles tradition of featuring Lyme Regis). But since Ali’s book is entirely devoid of vampires, cops and wizards … and is not priced at less than a dollar … it’s pretty unlikely to knock Amanda Hocking or J.A.Konrath from their perch at the top of the indie popularity list.
Carefully, steadily, Ali has nurtured her readership, maintaining the writer contacts she built while developing the novel, making new friends (like me) through the various Kindle boards, maintaining a daily presence through Facebook. In all of this, Ali has been much more consistent than me, and now her hard work is really beginning to pay off. Just look at the reviews she’s accumulated. From results she’s mentioned publicly over the past couple of months, I should think that she has a very real chance of achieving my target, self-sufficiency through writing, as she releases her next novel, Cave, at Easter. And from a potato’s-eye view, that’s inspiring!
Carolyn McCray: Best Practices For Amazon Ebook Sales