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Screwing yourself by charging too little?

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by joshua mcdermott, Nov 17, 2020.

  1. joshua mcdermott

    joshua mcdermott Minstrel

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    "Because you're screwing yourself if you charge less, but that's a conversation for another time and place. If you want to talk pricing strategies, start a new thread. I've got plenty to say about it." - Malik
    MalikMalik
    I am interested to hear more-
     
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  2. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    The long and short of it is, I raised my ebook prices to $9.99 and my sales shot through the roof as soon as I did. They've gone down since, but (gestures vaguely at everything).

    There is a much larger audience for ebooks at $9.99 than there is for ebooks at $0.99.

    The $0.99 crowd buys more books in a week than the $9.99 crowd buys in a year, but there are many, many more readers for high-dollar ebooks, and many of these are readers who will not, under any circumstances, read an "indie fantasy" novel priced at a couple of bucks. They just won't. You might as well market Big Macs to vegans who shop at Whole Foods. We'll talk about how to get to them in the next post.

    For this readership, it's not about the money as much as it is about the use of their time. For these readers, $10 is not a big spend. These are the people who don't have to check their bank balance before they go to the grocery store. For them, $10 for 4-5 hours of entertainment is a fantastic deal. It's a pool of readers with tremendous buying power.

    When I raised my price, my paperback and hardcover sales went up. Way, way up. And I sell paperbacks at $16.99 and hardcovers at $29.99. I think what's happening here is, potential buyers see one of my books on the shelves in, say, B&N, and Google it, and then see the ebook at $9.99. The paperback isn't much more, and if I say so myself, it's gorgeous, and I think they buy it right then and there. I think the higher price is a push point. This is just conjecture.

    I average $7 per sale. That's my margin on ebook sales at $9.99. My margin on paperbacks is a little less, and on hardcovers a little more, depending on the distributor and the retailer and other factors. Let's just call it $7 a sale. 5 sales a day is $35 a day, which is a thousand dollars a month, net. 3 sales a day is $600. Net. I'm not getting rich off this, but nobody is. Stick with me, here.

    At $0.99, I would have to sell 20 ebooks ($0.35 per copy) to make that same $7. To make $35, I'd have to sell 100. The Amazon ad cost to sell 100 epic fantasy or YA fantasy books a day is going to be in the thousands, monthly. You will go broke in a hurry trying this.

    Selling your books for 99 cents doesn't work unless you have a huge back catalog of books and you're offering, say, the first book in your 9-book series at a 99 cent loss leader; or unless you're writing erotica shorts with a specific kink at the rate of a couple a week (which, BTW, is what some authors on other writing boards mean when they say they write "indie fantasy"--they're often talking about 10,000-word Navy SEAL BBW Alpha Billionaire Biker Shifter Romances). 99c is financial suicide if you're writing 100,000-word, professionally produced epic fantasy and turning out a book every year or two.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2020
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  3. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    The trick is targeting the $9.99-and-up crowd.

    This is where you have to spend the money up front.

    You need a professional cover. You need professional editing: developmental, line, copyediting, multiple proofreading passes. You need a layout artist. You need a graphic designer for your paperback and hardcover.

    It's not just spending the money; it took me several novels that died in slushpiles and about 30 years of writing to really get my chops together. But without all of the above, it still would have flopped. It would be buried under 10,000 other 99c novels that come out every week. This part, I really can't help you with. You have to write good. For whatever that means.

    You have to trick the high-dollar readers at first. For this crowd, it really is "fake it till you make it" if you're an indie. Your book has to look, and read, like the book next to it at Barnes and Noble. The Look Inside on Amazon has to look, and read, like a trade-pub novel. So do your reviews, so does your cover copy, so does your author bio, and so on.

    A big part of this is the pricing. Cruise some fantasy reader forums, not "indie fantasy" forums and groups, but groups for people who read-and may only read--Wheel of Time, Malazan, LOTR, etc. Something I saw a few years back was that these readers, when looking for new books, will sort their Kindle books by price. They don't go down into the $5 books unless they're on sale. They certainly don't go down into the 99c books. They don't "waste their time" down there because they believe--rightly or wrongly--that they're not going to find a book for 99 cents that's worth their 4-5 hours. They don't even want to spend the time looking. Again: they don't care about the money. They care about the time. They have money. They only have a limited amount of time, and they want it well-spent.

    Price next to the big kids, and people with money to spend will have a better chance of seeing it.

    What really got me in with them was getting killer mainstream reviews at sites that don't--or didn't at the time--review indies. Or, if they did, they sometimes took great joy in trashing them. Major fantasy websites, Publishers Weekly, and so on.

    I had no control over how that happened; a lot of things went right to get me on their radar. I stumbled backwards into my core readership at a fantasy con where I was demonstrating swordsmanship, and sales from the con and the ensuing reviews helped it land a couple of BookBub Featured Deals that did spectacularly. That put me into the Kindle Top 100 in four countries, and I also sold enough Nook copies that Barnes and Noble added my book to their in-store catalog, so their staff buyers could stock it. I got noticed. Big time. Being selected for those deals happened in no small part because of the cover, which got it in the door; and the editing, which got it its first strong reviews.

    When my book got to the Big Reviewers, buoyed by a "#1 Sword and Sorcery Bestseller" tag and some buzz--radio, podcasts--they thought it was pretty good. Again, the money I'd put into editing helped when it got there. The money I'd put into the cover helped get it on their desks in the first place.

    About the time I had those reviews in the bag and that Bestseller tag beside it, I released a second book (we're two years in, now), sent it to the same reviewers and websites, and it got mentions on "Best Of" and "Most Anticipated" lists next to household names--the B&N SF/F Newsletter, i09, a few others. At that point, I bumped both books up to $9.99, and they blew up again.

    I'm now at a point where A.) Amazon lists my book next to other books at $9.99, because that's how Amazon works; B.) enough people who buy fantasy novels by household-name authors have bought one or both of my books that they still pop on Also Bought lists next to those "real" authors; and C.) my books are on the shelves in indie bookstores and B&N and as it happens, "Joseph Malik" fits right next to "George RR Martin," and it's the only reason I'm glad I didn't choose a pen name.

    This all means I don't have to spend any ad money, because those readers have still never heard of me, but they see my book, the reviews, the cover, and the Also Boughts, and they buy it. This has now landed me enough name recognition that I'm invited to cons for panels and autograph signings, and it's the same principle; it all pretty much snowballs from there.

    The TLDR on this is that producing and selling cheap novels and selling them cheaply is a dated construct that only ever really worked for a definition of "fantasy novel" that took considerable artistic license with the term, and even then only worked for authors who wanted to spend 10 hours a day beating their brains in at a keyboard turning out a book every month or a short fic every week. To me, that's worse than work. I'd rather work.

    If you want to be treated like a professional, treat your writing professionally. Study your craft, write hard, write true, and invest in your product.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2020
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  4. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    Reading back through this, this morning.

    I'm not saying you should charge $9.99 right off the bat. Certainly not with your first novel, and certainly not with the first draft of your first novel. (Your first draft should never see the light of day, but that's yet another discussion.) What I'm saying is, you should be striving to write and produce the caliber of novel that will command a higher price point. You should be shooting for writing that will land positive major-league reviews and get back-cover blurbs from household names. This is not something to be undertaken lightly, not at the professional level. You're going head to head with people who have done this for decades. Writing exercises, classes, novel attempts, short stories that never sell. You need it all. Writing one book is not enough writing to write a good book.

    Anyway. There's no money to be made at 99 cents. There's practically no money to be made at $2.99 or even $3.99. A career isn't sustainable selling on the cheap, unless you're writing in the genres I mentioned in the post, above. However, once you get into higher prices, the difference is drastic. There is a ridiculous amount of money to be made for an indie--far, far more than a traditional author with the same sales--if you can command a higher price point.

    There needs to be a push in the indie community to blur the lines between indie and trade-pub books, both quality-wise and price-wise. It can be done. A few of us have already done it.

    Every time a new author comes out with a book with a homemade cover and no editing and no time put into tradecraft and for all intensive purposes I mean when the rider dozen no your not supposed to change you're point of you and eccetera it effects the reader so they loose interest and if you're reading this and you didn't flinch just now, I'm talking specifically to you--and then puts it out for cheap, it pushes that readership with the money away from indie authors and reinforces their beliefs that indie writers are hobbyists and our work is worth less.

    I still don't think anyone, even a fledgling author with a first finished novel, should sell at 99 cents. I don't even think it should be an option. I think the absolute basement price for a full-length fantasy or SF novel should be $3.99 for an ebook. $5.99 once you've got some reviews.

    Your paper and ink prices are going to vary depending on your production costs and the vagaries of your distribution contracts, but you should be in the black with every sale, and you need to build in a little extra to guard against returns. If your books don't sell, you'll be hit with the return costs.

    To put paperbacks on shelves across the country, $14-15 is the absolute minimum. For hardcovers, that jumps to well over $20. That's not being greedy; that's what a professionally produced book costs. No Kindle printing, either. Printed at Ingram Spark or equivalent, on high-quality bond with expensive ink and the same coverstock trade publishers use, and distributed through a professional wholesaler. (You're not going to get picked up by a wholesaler with Kindle printing. Or with a crap cover, or reviews kvetching about the lack of editing, and . . . well, you get the idea. This all comes down to your production values.) Yes, it's more expensive to have it printed professionally, but Kindle vs. Ingram is Toyota vs. Lexus. You owe your readers an interactive work of art.

    Write to smash barriers. Price accordingly.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2020
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Just to follow on
    >that they're not going to find a book for 99 cents that's worth their 4-5 hours
    As a reader, it's not so much that I think this, it's more a matter of odds. The odds of finding a genuinely good book hiding behind bargain pricing (or sloppy cover or bad editing) are so much lower, *that's* what isn't worth my time. I have enough classic, known-to-be-good, books sitting in my TBR pile, I'll never catch up. So if a new book is going to break in, it has to meet the markers Malik laid out.

    With my first book, I couldn't afford anything (I never tried the trad pub route, save for a couple of short stories). I made my own cover, did my own editing, and could afford zero advertising. The cover is pretty awful. The editing and writing are decent. But it's also short, about 15k. So, after letting it sit motionless on Amazon for a year or so, while I wrote a fer-real novel, I took it down and made it my giveaway for newsletter subscriptions. It's simply not commercially viable.

    I learned from that, though. For Goblins at the Gates I hired a cover artist. I ran ads. I still did my own editing because I still can't afford to invest thousands in it. The next two novels, though, have been professionally edited. Over time, I gradually learned I needed to raise the prices on the books. Blurbs and author bio still need work. The marketing side of self-publishing is without end or relent.

    I dunno, MalikMalik, and others. If an author is at the point where they can't afford editor+artist+proof+ads, still have to roll their own, what's the advice?

    My stab at it: write toward the shorter end. Accept it that your first couple of books will not sell much, but will be good learning experiences. Pay the best you can for the cover art. If you have the skills, do your own editing, but be prepared to invest *way* more time in that phase than you are currently even dreaming will be needed. You're trying to bootstrap your way into at least a break-even income stream. And, as soon as you can, hire the professionals. Meanwhile, learn all you can about marketing. Learn the deep and distressing ways of advertising.

    I don't count that as recommendation, only fodder for discussion.
     
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  6. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    This is when (big sigh), yes, you put it out there for 99c and just admit that it's not going to do anything for you. Forget about it, and write the next one. And the next. And the next, until one sells. It's a terrible plan, but it's a plan.

    I personally think this is more damaging to a writer's career in the long run. I believe you were right to take yours down.

    When you finally do have that big hit, you don't want people going back and finding stuff that sucks. They won't care that it was your early work. Most people who aren't writers--and even many who fancy themselves writers--conflate writing with typing. They don't understand how hard this is and what a steep learning curve it is. Nobody wants to buy the macaroni art that a famous artist's parents hung on the fridge when he was four, much less the stick figures with boobs he drew in his notebook in junior high. You don't want your early, experimental work out there. (At least, not yet.)

    My advice? This is going to make a lot of people mad, but . . .

    Don't put it up for sale. If you're still rolling your own, give it away to friends and family, shoot it out to writing groups, offer it to your peers in the writing community for advice and critique, even send it to people you want as mentors. Give it away as Christmas gifts. Hell, save it and use it as source material, or rewrite it in five years when you've learned more and release it then.

    Or just print it out and put it in a box and start the next one. That's what a lot of us did before Kindle. It's how we got to the point where we could write sellable books. Keep giving it out to people in the industry and other writers, build a support network, and eventually, someone will say, "Hey, this is really good. You know, you should consider going pro."

    The positive part of having done it this way is, only a handful of people have ever had to suffer through the pedestrian bullshit that came out of my word processor for the better part of thirty years. I have nightmares about having my old hard drives stolen and those books being released, and my readers and fans seeing how awful I was. Hell, I had nightmares about even the final unedited draft of Dragon's Trail getting loose in the wild, and people seeing how much I suck without professional assistance.

    The last piece of this is, the expense of launching a book professionally is a fraction of the startup cost of a small business in the U.S. The average startup cost right now is $25,000, and small businesses are expected to subsist on loans and lose money for the first few years. Getting a book out the door for a few grand, which you can reasonably save up in the years/likely decades it will take you to learn to write well enough to write a book that will sell, is a steal by comparison and a much smaller gamble.
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2020
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  7. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    MalikMalik, I like it.

    It's disheartening, though. Because few of us want to think we aren't going to try to publish anything for years while we save up enough to hire pros. But I agree with your point that Joe Reader isn't going to come to my work chronologically. He's going to look at a book or books and that one (or two or five) with the crappy cover and the weak blurb is going to create negative waves. And Oddball says we don't want negative waves. Better, as you say, to leave the lesser efforts modestly hidden.

    And get busy writing the next one.
     
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  8. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    Writing is hard. That sucks to hear. Someone has to say it.

    Kindle has done a massive disservice to everyone by perpetuating the ridiculous idea that you can type 50,000 words, put THE END on it, and be the next GRRM.

    GRRM was writing fantasy professionally in the 1970's. He sold his first short in 1971, at the age of 23. (Many of you know this, but some people reading this don't.) I saw him at my university bookstore in 1996 or 1997, doing a signing, sitting alone at a table. I talked to him for a bit and thumbed through the book he was hawking, a doorstopper half the size of a car battery written entirely in close third called A GAME OF THRONES. He was almost 50, the age I am now. And it was, what, 10 more years before it landed a TV series and almost 15 total before the series aired?

    This is not an overnight thing, and we need to quit pretending that's how it works. Putting your initial work out in public is the equivalent of taking a year of piano lessons and booking a recital hall. There needs to be expectation management.

    And that sounds discouraging, but it's really not. Because the awesome part of this isn't finally being a successful author someday (for whatever that means). It's the life you live getting there. A writer's life is an amazing life; it's learning a craft that becomes a lens for everything that happens to you. I look back on my life as a writer, and holy shit, what a ride! That's the reason to do this.

    And that whole part of this is skipped over by a society seeking a SUCCESS button they can push. The belief in that button is why we have half a million crappy 99 cent novels out there right now, and ten thousand more a week added to the pile.

    There is no fast way to get good at writing. If there was, we'd have teenagers winning the Man Booker Prize and locking up six-figure deals. There's a reason successful, venerated authors are in their 50's, 60's, even 70's, and a stellar, hotshot young SFF author is in their 30's.

    This is hard. But I mentioned that, already.
     
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  9. I'm going to both agree and disagree with what's been said so far. MalikMalik has some great points in regards to sustainability and longlevity of a work. And also that selling high quality books as an indie makes you indistinguishable from a traditionally published book and you can charge the same for that. Publishers don't matter to readers (well, most readers). After all, how many publishers can you name and of how many books on your shelves do you know the publisher. You pick up a Tolkien book because it was written by Tolkien, not because it was published by Harper Collins (and yes, I had to look that up).

    However, there is also a carreer to be had selling low priced, high volume novels. .99ct books work if there is a reason for it. There are plenty of people who make 6+figures per year writing those kinds of books, even in fantasy (the real fantasy). They pay reasonable prices for covers and little to nothing for editing. They aren't going to win awards, but they don't want to. They spend $1000 or less to get their books published. And it works for them. Their readers are reading multiple books a month and care more about the story and less about how many rounds of edits you had.

    The thing is that it's a very different business model. You can sell Fiats and you can sell Feraris. Both are viable. They are also just very different. If you write a 50k - 70k words novel every month or 2 months and you write in a serries then it is very viable to sell the first for free or 99ct and the rest for somewhere between 2.99 and 4.99. You get 10-20 books out there and sell 3-5 per day of each book, with perhaps a bump when you release something andyou have a viable business. If you have a 1000 fans who buy your books as they come out and publish one every month for $4.99 then you will make a pretty decent living.

    If you write "epic" epic fantasy 200k+ words novels and publish one a year or less, then that is not the way forward.

    There is one thing about edits that I feel people forget and that is the feedback part. An edit is not just trying to make your book better (though that is the goal of course). But it is also a learning opportunity as a writer. You need professional feedback if you want to improve above a certain level. It's why professional athletes still have coaches. And it is something you see with almost all professional writers. They get feedback and learn from it. If you don't have an editor, you will need other places to get this feedback. And many indie authors who don't get professional edits do get a lot of beta-reader feedback.
     
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  10. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    I see where you're going with this and you're not technically wrong.

    A few years ago, this was viable. Some of the authors who are doing this and killing it have been doing this since the early part of the last decade. They're entrenched. They made their names when they didn't have to compete with 10,000 new books per week, and perhaps more importantly, when the self-published Kindle ebook phenomenon was just that: a phenomenon. It was new, it was fresh, it was exciting. People took chances on it. Now, 99c ebooks are everywhere, which means standing out among them is almost impossible. You will not have a career like theirs today doing the stuff they did five or even ten years ago.

    You're also talking about $4.99 for an ebook, which isn't a bad price point. That's just under $3.50 per sale net, which is not bad. As I said above, a loss leader for 99 cents, if you're writing a book a month and pushing it out at a decent price point, is workable. It's primarily for romance, which has a lot in common with erotica IN THAT (caps for that) you have to find a niche that no one else is writing, and write to that niche, and only that niche. "Farmboy and lonely widow see a storm coming and have to hide out in the cellar overnight where there's only one bed." It's basically a kink. And then you write one of these a month, with the same plot. My mother did this for one of the big romance houses back in the 80's. I saw what it did to her. I'd rather be shot in each testicle. That's just me, YMMV. I don't even know how you'd do this for fantasy. The workload would be insane. Again, I'd rather go to my job. It's less stressful, and I study potential wars.
     
  11. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    The other piece of this is the pricing of Amazon ads. This is what a lot of the gurus pushing this model don't bring up.

    I haven't bought an Amazon ad in over a year, but I just looked at the keyword prices and they're just as bad as they ever were. (I noticed the value of my name as a keyword has fallen by over a dollar, but that's about to change; hold my beer.)

    Let's suppose for a moment you pre-wrote a couple of fantasy series for a year or two--say, ten books--and you're planning to release them in succession to give yourself a head start on writing the next series. Viable strategy.

    To make that hundred thousand dollars a year, you'd have to sell 800 books a DAY at 99 cents.

    The current CPC for premium Amazon keywords ("epic fantasy," "Game of Thrones," at one time "Joseph Malik") is well over $1.50, and the bid structure means you can be as high as $3 per click. Supposing you sell at $4.99, your net for a sale from a $3 click is now 50 cents. If you're priced at $3.99, congratulations, you're going to lose money on every sale. There may be people out there with ad campaigns getting 100% conversion rates, but if they've cracked that code, they're not talking.

    At 99 cents for your loss leader, which is the one you want to promote--we're getting in the weeds on this, and I'm just going to assume that if you're reading this you understand what Amazon keywords are and how Amazon Kindle ads work--you can lose up to $2.65 with every sale, and that's on a $1.50 keyword; there were $10 keywords last year.

    You will need to sell around a hundred books per day per title to get your numbers up to the point where you're getting organic traffic because you're now in the Top 50 in a major category like Epic Fantasy; we're not even talking about six-figure income, yet. Suppose you get a 10% clickthrough rate, which is amazing on KDP, BTW. Every one of those hundred books per day will cost you nearly thirty bucks on a $1.50 keyword with dynamic bidding, because you're now paying up to $3 for each of 9 of those clicks.

    It's much more realistic to get a 1% clickthrough rate. Each sale could then cost you nearly $300. No joke, you can lose a thousand dollars an hour, easily, competing in adwords until you're on your feet. I lost over a thousand dollars in a day once with an accidental click on a keyword. One click.

    The reason this is important is that, if you're to do it this way, you'll need have a HELL of a lot more money bankrolled to capitalize your first few months of Amazon ads to get your series visible than you would ever spend producing a boutique-caliber novel. Ten times as much, no joke. If I was to do this, I'd want a fifty-thousand-dollar ad budget.

    Another piece that doesn't get mentioned a lot by the write-a-book-a-month crowd is that, when a lot of these big names in indie fantasy were getting their start, Amazon keywords were pennies apiece. Comparatively, at one point, during the last season of GOT, I believe, "The Winds of Winter" was $23 per click, if memory serves. The market that created the opportunities that allowed entry at 99 cents no longer exists.

    Now, if that first 99-cent novel is the first novel you've ever written, or a badly-edited first draft, or even just mediocre? You're screwed. You won't get the sell-through rate to support the rest of the series. They won't read your next book at a higher price point. They'll move on to another 99c book. Now, you have to drop your second book to 99c and your first to free to bring them back. And if your second book is just meh--because it's only your second book--rinse and repeat. And so on.

    The line about a thousand people who will buy every book is a myth that's been going on for a long time. It doesn't exist. Sell-through rates are 50% if you're very, very lucky and very, very good. To get a thousand people still reading you at the end of a five-book series means you would have had to have sold 16,000 copies of your first book, and every book in between had to have been just as good.

    You can do it cheaper, with less stress, and turn out a much better book, by taking your time and investing in your craft.

    No one talks about this, because there's nothing to sell, here. There's no money to be made in promoting this method or teaching it; no webinars at $300 a head. This is the "how to lose weight through clean eating and exercise" version of how to be an indie author. It's not sexy, it's not instant, there's no button you can push or "One Weird Trick!" to master.

    Lifelong commitment to craft and relentless forward motion are omnipotent.
     
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2020
  12. I think the main thing to take away is that as an author you need to be concious of your pricing and you need a pricing strategy. Just throwing it out there and hoping people buy it because its cheap is definitely not a viable strategy. And I think that you need a very good reason before you go outside the 2.99 - 9.99 range on amazon where you get 70% royalties. Loss leaders or specific promotions are the only reasons I can think of that make sense.

    This is always the case. If you want to traditionally publish now, your route will be very different from 5 or 10 years ago. And even, two people starting today will have a very different path to succes. Which is why you should always be careful about copying other peoples success. I agree that simply putting out decent books at a low price is not the viable strategy it was 10 years ago.
    I agree. It's a dangerous path to go down. And if you frequent some indie forums / groups you'll find a lot of them suffering from burn-out or similar. It's a high stress path where you have to keep moving otherwise you'll fall behind and see it in your income immediately.

    As for doing it for fantasy. Two options. Either go for a formulaic world and plot and throw a new set of characters at it with a slightly different problem. Or create a world and have a cast of characters have adventures in it. After all, all Dirk Pitt novels (though they're not fantasy) are roughly the same. That can work for fantasy too (though I do believe a decent amount of research actually went into them).

    As for adds and advertising. I don't have experience with adds, so I'll not comment too much on them. I do know that there are authors that make them work (either Amazon, Facebook or book sites like bookbub). The main thing is that it's easier to make them work for a serries, since you can lose $2 per sale on the first book and still come out ahead. It does mean that you have to write books people enjoy reading. Otherwise, they'll never move to book 2.

    For me, this is the main thing. If you want a career as an author, you need to put in the time and practise. And it's the part people leave out. Even those who "had it easy" at the start of the ebook revolution still had to be good authors. Because even with only a 1000 books to chose from you still need to stand out and get people to buy your next book.
     
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  13. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Taking a moment to summarize.

    Look around at your genre. Find a mean or median price point (probably the latter, to filter out the thousands of .99). That's your price point.

    The GRRMs will likely charge a bit more. Uncounted unknowns will charge considerably less, but this is your price point. It took me about three years to crawl my price point up. I'm not great at self-analysis, but I'm pretty sure it was shyness and lack of confidence masquerading as marketing strategy that kept it too low.

    Then, as has been said: the very best cover, editing, proofing, interior illustration (maps, where applicable) you can afford. Stretch on that; it's an investment.

    And learn to write better than you imagined you could. That's the hard one. All the rest of it is easy.

    WRT ads, maybe we need to start a thread. Not resurrect one, precisely because the considerations change constantly.
     
    Prince of Spires, Svrtnsse and Malik like this.
  14. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    This turned into a manifesto, skip.knox. Apologies.

    I'll step away, now, and go back to my bunker for a while.
     
  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Far be it from me to keep a fellow from his bunker, but manifestos are good. It's a clear statement of a particular approach, which makes it much easier for others on this forum to agree, disagree, or pick the bits they like. I have little patience for advice that consists of listing alternatives without offering an opinion.

    There's really room for a thread on each of those steps: pricing, cover, interior, editing, proofing, blurbs. With each there are considerations ranging from where to find resources to cost to evaluating quality. And each is in various stages of flux.
     
  16. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    Absolutely. This is just what worked for me, at the time, with a massive amount of dumb luck involved.

    This may not even be viable in another two years.
     
  17. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    A few rambling thoughts on this.

    I've got a nine book series, where the first one is priced at $1.00 and the rest at $2.99.
    I spent quite a bit on advertising for a while, but eventually realised it wasn't working and stopped. I'm not selling squat, but I'm also not promoting anything.

    My books are novellas and I feel like 2.99 is a fair price for the amount of reading they provide. At least the first handful of books, as they grow longer later on.
    One thing that's on the radar is revisions. The first five or six books in the series aren't up to scratch, and there are a lot of things in them I want to fix. Mostly this is about story content, but I can see myself getting new covers as well.

    Can I see myself raising the price?
    I think so. Perhaps 2.99 for the first and 4.99 for the rest, maybe? I haven't put much thought into it. Optionally, 4.99 for the lot. It's still about the price of a pint, and the books last a good while longer.

    I'm starting a new series, with slightly longer books, and where I'll have an actual editor enlisted. I'm thinking I could charge a bit more for that right off the bat. I'll have a better product, and I have a better idea who my target audience is.

    I also think I'll keep focusing on craft. Marketing isn't my strong side, and it's going to take me a long time wrapping my head around it all. For now, my earliest books are still good enough I don't see a reason to take them down. They're not as god as they could be, but I'm not ashamed of them. If people like my later work and want to check out my first books, I can live with that. :)
    Doesn't mean I won't stop trying to improve though.

    Not sure that's much in the way of contribution to the thread/topic, but it's my perspective, and where I'm at right now.
     
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  18. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    I think the last thing I want to say here is that very, very few Big-5 SFF authors do this for a living. It's supplementary income and a labor of love. Outside of the ridiculously successful authors--GRRM, JKR, and . . . well, those two, okay--the only household name SFF author I know who doesn't have a day job is John Scalzi. He's insanely prolific. He writes every day, all day, in a shed away from his house. Even Brandon Sanderson has a teaching gig. Myke Cole works in cybersecurity. I think Sam Sykes doesn't have a day job, but his mother (and co-author at one point) is Diana Gabaldon, so . . . I mean, hell, I'd live at home.

    Read the bios in the novels on your shelf. Nearly everyone has a job outside of this.

    This was never something you got into to become rock-star rich and live a life of ease and luxury, which brings us back to the point above about the bill of goods Kindle sells upstart authors: publish your manuscript and become the next JKR. Land of opportunity and all that. It's bullshit.

    Work your ass off ten, twelve hours a day, 50,000 words a month plus managing your own business, and you might make a living. You might.

    I was talking with an agent at a con last year and we got to discussing sales figures. I told him mine, and he blanched. He has clients signed to Big 5's who haven't hit my numbers, yet, and they're making a fraction of the money per sale that I am. Many big authors never earn out, and never see another dollar past their advances. I have a good friend signed to a Big 5 right now who got a $5000 advance for their novel three years ago, which is about the industry average, and still hasn't seen a royalty check. They may, in a year or two.

    A $100,000 advance on a three-book deal, by the time you pay your agent and your taxes, is barely minimum wage for the whole time you'd be writing. About twenty grand a year if you hurry getting them out the door. Realistically, probably 5 years to get all three on the shelves. Sixty grand spread over five years is poverty wages.

    Supplementary income.

    If you studied English or CW in college back before Kindle, and you hung out with other writers who eventually got deals--my girlfriend in college had a pretty big hit a few years after graduation and even landed a TV option at one point, but still never left Microsoft--you knew this going in. This was never a career.

    I make decent money for an author, but I still have my super-dangerous, super-stressful job. I won't be writing full-time until I retire in another few years, and that's only possible because if I manage to make it just a little longer without getting killed, I'll get a pension for my trouble and a little money every month for combat-related injuries.

    On that, I have a book to finish.
     
    Aldarion likes this.
  19. joshua mcdermott

    joshua mcdermott Minstrel

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    Thanks! This was quality reading in itself -

    I am new and really just a hobbiest... not actually thinking I would make any actual money- break even or maybe some fun supplemental at best - but one still wants the work to get read, and what I am hearing: Price it appropriately with the right work put in, and you get more readers. At this point it's more about that than the $ as, as you say, I have a job.

    I also wonder about volume of work, and if having very disperse works is useful or should one.. for example.. use different pen names for different genres/markets?

    For example I have a kid's (picture) book I am working on.. is that a useful thing to have under the same name?
    basically working on 3 projects:

    1. YA adjacent super hero book series (14y+) (2 books written.. )
    2. Kids book (5-9y) (part of a series.. 2 books already written)
    3. Short Graphic Novel/webcomic (14+) (written.. doing art)

    they are all 'fantasy' but aimed at different readership.. but there could also be cross-over...
     
    Malik likes this.
  20. I don't think he does it for the money though, but because he wants to give back to the community. His company has 5-10 people working for him full time. That one course per year won't make a difference for him.

    You raise a good point though. Making a living as an author is hard (though not impossible). And I believe that if you're a mid-list author or lower than you're actually better of indie-publishing than publishing traditionally. The difference in royalty rates is just too big to be overcome. For a 9.99 ebook from a traditional publisher you get 2.50. As an indie you would get 7,50. To make the same amount you can sell your ebook for 3.33. However, it does mean your book has to be of a decent quality.

    One thing which is easier as an indie author is playing around with your price. Especially when it's just supplementary income. Changing your price can be done with the click of a button. Try setting it at 2.99, 4.99 and 9.99 for a week or a month and see if it makes a difference. And calculate what that difference is. Do you sell 4 times the number of books at 2.99 as when the price is 9.99? What's the worst that can happen if you change the price? If everyone stops buying, then simply change it back. It's something traditional publishers are very hesitant to do, but you can do without any issue.
     

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