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Kat Heckenbach on “The Power of Pricing”

Kat Heckenbach on “The Power of Pricing”

by Mike Duran · 38 comments

“Ebooks should be cheap because they cost so much less to kat-heckenbach-1produce. No paper, no printing or storage costs. No shipping, no returns.”

“But you still have to pay for editing, cover art, and marketing. And there needs to be some buffer because of pirating.”

“Still, you can sell so many more copies if you price ebooks lower!”

“But you should charge what something is worth, not cheapen it to get sales!”

Those were the main arguments I found over and over when researching ebook pricing back when first signing with my publisher, Splashdown Books, in 2011. It was a lot to consider, especially since for the longest time I was reluctant to accept ebooks as “real” books, and didn’t think they’d end up as massively popular as they are…until I laid eyes and hands on a Kindle.

Now, ebooks have gained even more respect, but the price debate is still raging.

At least for indies.

The big presses seem to be able to charge pretty much what they want. Usually a smidge less than print, although there have been times I’ve bought paperback versions of big-press novels because they were cheaper on Amazon than they were in ebook format on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And the more popular the book, the more big presses can get away with charging. When J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy released, the ebook was priced at $19.99. (BTW, the imperious curse wielded by Dumbledore himself would not have been strong enough to make me spend 20 bucks on an ebook. I won’t even pay that for hard cover.)

Indies, however, don’t have “name” and “money” and “marketing power” behind them most often. Indie presses and indie authors are often scrabbling to get noticed, and charging too much for an ebook is going to turn off readers. Who would risk $9.99 on an author they’ve never heard of? For their first book or otherwise—a book that likely doesn’t have hundreds of reviews as evidence of its brilliance?

But, it’s a double-edged sword. If you price too low, in hopes of snagging readers just on the cheap factor, you can be sending the wrong message. And there are scores and scores of indie authors out there now offering free and cheap books—yours will likely get lost in the masses.

During a Facebook discussion about this very thing, blogger and writer Katherine Coble said,

“I (and most others I’ve talked to/read) will pretty much … just grab any free or cheap thing as a ‘maybe/just in case’. Then it sits there. I’ve got a JIC folder for freebies that has 813 items in it. That’s 6 years’ worth of reading for me.”

So, maybe you get lots of downloads, but you’re not really gaining readers. You might be making a sliver of royalty on each, but you’re making no impact. And if you’re giving away books for free…

A few months agquote-1o I ran a free promotion on my first novel, Finding Angel, and I’m not sure it did anything but add data to the nearly 9,000 Kindles it was downloaded to. Who will actually read them? What percentage will buy the second book based on a file that’s never been opened?

Back when ebooks were on the cusp of popularity, that strategy was a golden ticket. Authors like Amanda Hocking and Colleen Houck put their early novels out there in ebook format for uber-cheap and gained a slew of readers, pushing their books into the best-seller categories and starting them off on amazing writing careers. But these days it’s not just the brave few self-publishing ebooks. These days the market is flooded with indie authors, particularly in the ebook realm.

So how do you compete? If everyone’s books are either free or cheap, then price can’t be your hook, especially if you’re not getting actual readers regardless of download numbers.

And if you price higher?

Well, that ellipsis in the quote from Katherine above contained this:

“I (and most others I’ve talked to/read) will pretty much make it a priority to read anything that costs more than $3.”

I agree with that. Very much. People value what they’ve paid good money for. There is a point at which it’s not money easily parted with, or something you’re willing to give up without getting something in return. But how much more can you charge without turning away readers by pricing too high as an unknown author?

Katherine’s answer to that was quite logical:

“I’m almost to the point of telling all my selfpub friends to put their book @4.99. You’ll get fewer downloads…but the downloads are FAR more likely to get read.”

Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, seems to agree. In an article on The Savvy Book Marketer, Coker says,

“A $.99 ebook will usually sell more copies than a $2.99 or $4.99 ebook, yet the higher priced ebook is likely to earn the author more income.”

It’s got that less than $5 appeal, but doesn’t strike one as sell-out cheap either. It’s less than most large-press ebooks as well, with those generally being in the $7.99 to $9.99 range. It’s a lovely solution.

But.

Now the big guys are getting wind that cheaper sells more. At least for the YA market, which happens to hit rather close to home for me. HarperCollins recently launched a YA imprint, HarperCollins Impulse, which will be selling ebooks in the 99-cent to $2.99 range.

There is a part of me that is still screaming nonononononononononono… ever since reading about that. Price is the one thing we indies have got, the one place we’ve been willing to give, because we had to, because we don’t have the power of a big press behind us. Lower prices on ebooks are—were—the place we felt safe even knowing we ‘re surrounded by so many others. Because good writing supposedly rises like cream, and readers willing to read indie books will sort through them and find us, right?

Maybe that’s true. But if we’re going to compete against big-press books on any level we need to have an advantage somewhere.

I know, it sounds like I’m saying there’s some magic bullet. That price is the only thing readers look at. Of course that’s not true. In a recent post here, Mike talked about the importance of paying for good cover art (if you’ve not got the talent to do it yourself). And obviously, you need good back cover copy, and good writing inside the book itself! (I would talk about platform here, too, but as I said before, the more people know and trust you as a writer, the more willing they are to pay higher ebook prices—and pretty soon you’re on the other side of the wall.)

But a great, professional cover and blurb won’t necessarily justify a higher purchase price for many readers if they’ve never heard of the author. Price is an attention-getter. And with the other factors all in place, the right price has the power to tilt the scale. In the same article on The Savvy Book Marketer, Coker calls price “the final lever under the author’s control.”  And he talks about gaining reader trust through the things I mentioned in the above paragraph:

“At each step of the process, the reader makes a decision to continue forward or give up.  With each worthwhile sentence, paragraph and chapter, reader trust builds.”

Still, the question remains: What IS the right price?

That depends. Coker says,

“When selecting a price, an author should ask themselves what their objective is.  Is it to harvest maximum income now, or is it to build platform, or is a combination of both?”

He also talks about the importance of multiple price points if you have more than one work out there:

“Free or low cost books act like chum in the water for marketing and platform building.  Authors can price other books higher to harvest income.”

So there is your answer: There is no one right price. The right price varies. You need cheap and/or free books to tilt the lever, and you need higher-priced books to gain profit. You can’t make either work without putting the best into your writing, cover, and marketing material, though. Also, for each author, price point is a personal decision based on their goals.

And don’t forget readers—it’s what they’re willing to pay.

So, as a writer, where would you price your ebooks? And what, as a reader, are you willing to pay?toch island chronicles

Kat Heckenbach‘s writing spans the gamut from inspirational personal essays to dark and disturbing fantasy and horror, with over forty short fiction and nonfiction credits to her name. Kat’s most recent novel is Seeking Unseen, Book Two in her Toch Island Chronicles. To learn more about Kat Heckenbach, you can visit her website

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Rebecca P Minor January 7, 2013 at 7:50 AM

All of my ebooks are currently in a low price bracket, since I consider myself in the exposure stage, just trying to get readers to take a chance on my work. But if people download and never read, I’m not exactly accomplishing that, am I? And when it comes to profit, because of royalty structure, it takes 6 purchases of an uber cheap book to equal the profit of a slightly cheap one. The trick there is that I probably sell 5 to 6 times the copies of the cheap book as I do the pricier one. So what I’m left with is completely inconclusive data. And people wonder why the marketing end of the author job description makes most of us batty!

Good thoughts here, Kat. Thanks for sharing your conclusions.

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Kat Heckenbach January 7, 2013 at 10:38 AM

Thanks, Becky. It’s so hard to judge between cheap-sells-more and a using a little higher price to make more profit on each. Especially when you don’t know how many of those sales are actually being READ. With “word of mouth” being the biggest marketing tool ever, you need those books to be read so the readers can tell each other, eh?

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Mike Duran January 7, 2013 at 8:29 AM

Great article, Kat. And I still find myself firmly… in the middle. The two ebooks that I’ve independently published were both approached differently, rather experimentally. Winterland is 99 cents, distributed through multiple outlets, and has continued to sell well. The Subterranea anthology was published exclusively through Kindle at 2.99 (which is near the threshold you mention). With the royalty structure, I make 35 cents from each sale of Winterland as opposed to $2.06 for every copy of Subterranea. I recently used the KDP option and offered Subterranea free for 3 days. I’ve yet to see any substantial bump, whether in sales or additional reviews, from the offer. Which leads me to conclude, like you, that the freebies were negligible. All this to say, my final conclusion is… I love this self-publishing stuff. Having control of my product is cool. Perhaps it works for me because I’ve got two books traditionally published. I don’t know. But I think the fact that we’re having this conversation is itself evidence of a good thing. Thanks for the great post!

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Jessica Thomas January 7, 2013 at 9:11 AM

I wrote up a Goodreads review after I read my free copy of Subterranea. I’m happy to post it elsewhere… And, I should know this, but where? Amazon?

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Kat Heckenbach January 7, 2013 at 10:39 AM

Thanks for letting me post, Mike!

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Christian Jaeschke January 8, 2013 at 6:37 PM

Mike, I’ve yet to read Subterranea, (I have to finish Jeremy McNabb’s City Sidewalks first, then I’ll get into it (and The Telling) and write a review on both. I’ll do my bit!

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Kessie January 7, 2013 at 9:11 AM

This is of huge interest to me, since I’m looking into the indiepub circle. I download free ebooks all the time, and once in a while I sit down and subject them to the 50-page test. If I don’t like them after 50 pages, out they go.

If a book comes highly recommended for 3 bucks, I’ll pick it up. 5 bucks, it’d better be REALLY good. Any higher than that and I’m looking for library options. Fortunately, indie books rarely go that high–it’s usually tradpub that try to gouge you. But I’m also a cheapskate with a very limited budget. :-p

There’s this one guy I just found on Twitter. He has five or six ebooks for sale and the first two are free. I’m going to pick up the first one and see if it’s any good. I imagine he makes a lot of sales that way. (His are all 2.99, I believe, but I”d have to look again.)

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Mike Duran January 7, 2013 at 9:30 AM

Kessie, Merrie Destefano was telling me about an author who successfully uses this approach to her epub novels: She offers them for 99 cents at their release for a limited time, after which they revert to their regular price of 5 bucks or something. Apparently, that system has really worked for this author. It’s an interesting approach because most authors do this the other way around: start with the higher price and revert to the lower price.

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Kat Heckenbach January 7, 2013 at 10:44 AM

I tend to put freebies in the “maybe someday” file on my Nook. I’ve always been wary of them, and have really only downloaded them when I knew they were books I really wanted to read, books I’ve heard good things about. Which is one reason it took so long for me to offer Finding Angel for free.

For the record, I’ve now lowered the price of that to $3.99 and Seeking Unseen to $4.99.

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ladysaotome January 7, 2013 at 10:51 AM

I know an author who has a similar approach (unless it’s the same guy!). He has three different series, I believe, and offers the first of each for free. It seems to be working pretty well for him, too, according to his blog.

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Jill January 7, 2013 at 9:17 AM

Most frequently, I’ll buy and read books in the $2.99-$5.99 range. The $.99ers have tended to be of lower quality. I was leaning toward $3.99 for my book that I’ll be e-publishing in the next few months, but at this point, I’m not that concerned with whether it sells or not.

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Kat Heckenbach January 7, 2013 at 10:46 AM

I agree–I think the $2.99-5.99 range is the most reasonable.

And congrats on the coming epub! :)

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ladysaotome January 7, 2013 at 9:41 AM

I agree with Jill. The $0.99 books tend to get flagged as probably lower-quality in my mind. I buy some of those and a lot of the free ones – but they do tend to get out on the bottom of the list for reading. I hadn’t ever thought about it before but I’m going to read the ones I paid good money for first, as I expect those to be enjoyable while the free ones may be duds. Fair or not, that’s the filter they go through in my head. Frankly, $3.99 or $4.99 will get me to take a chance on an unknown book or author. I’d happily pay $7.99-$9.99 on books for an author I already know I love. But any more pricey than that and I’ll just wait, knowing the price should eventually lower.

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Kat Heckenbach January 7, 2013 at 11:22 AM

Do you actually find that the prices lower? Are you talking about more popular, published with big houses authors?

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ladysaotome January 7, 2013 at 11:40 AM

Well, the big house authors definitely tend to lower eventually, in my experience. Or else I add the title to my wishlist and monitor it (daily) and snap it up if it ever goes on sale for cheap or free. Otherwise, if I’m really curious about the book and the price is still too high, I’ll order it through the library.

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J.S. Clark January 7, 2013 at 10:50 AM

I’ve been kind of sporadic on my marketing. I started at I think $1.99, but no one was buying. So I went down .99 with coupons that I disseminated through my FB following (also called my real friends). On Smashwords anyways, it did not seem to make a dent and it has been since buried under the glut of new uploads. It seems I only get viewings now for it, when someone finds something else I published.

However, on Amazon, I’ve had New Arbor Day at .99, and without any help its continued to sell about 1.5 copies a month. After reading this I thought . . . if someone will pay .99, they’ll probably pay a little more. So I upped to $2.99 (I’ve got a couple of reviews by now so it’s not completely bare), and I’ll see how it goes.

For myself as a reader, I’m pretty much broke, so I read freebies. I’ll admit probably 80% go to the back of the line, but the ones I do read I review. Sadly, for myself I find the same is not true. Freebies do move, but I can’t see any real gain other than keeping your name near the surface so someone can find you for sale stuff.

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Caprice Hokstad January 7, 2013 at 10:51 AM

I currently have nine eBooks under my control (the tenth is with Splashdown).

As a starting point, I generally go with half of the paperback cost or $4.99, whichever is cheaper. My two children’s books are priced at $2.99. The amount of work that goes into them is vastly lower than the amount of work I put into a novel. But then I do play around with making the first book of a series cheaper and offering free days to hook new readers.

One thing that wasn’t mentioned in the article, which I find significant in my own sales is: while the vast numbers of free downloads may end up being read only 2% of the time, and thus garnering new fans who write rave reviews (hopefully) and buy your other books, there IS a bump in the Amazon search engine which results in better EXPOSURE when the free period is over.

I know for a fact (because customers have told me) that my books are now showing up in their “also bought” feeds. Evidently (and of course I can’t prove this) a free download is counted as a “bought” book for purposes of popularity ranking which figures into how Amazon decides who gets free advertising. Do not discount this because free advertsing on Amazon is very, very powerful.

I also believe there is a major boost given to ALL Kindle Select books, whether you use the free promo or not, because even books I have never offered for free actually sell better when they are in registered in Select. They are “pushed” by Amazon because they’re part of the Prime membership perk, the Kindle Owners Lending Library. Prime members can borrow Select books for free, BUT they only get one per month, so they can’t just go filling up a JIC folder. A customer must return the borrowed book before he can get a new one.

This, my author friends, is a very good thing. First of all, unlike the 5 free days you get out of every 90, when books are borrowed in KOLL, you get PAID. That’s right. And the current “rental” fee is actually more than a royalty unless your book is somewhere over 7 bucks. I get FIVE bucks every time someone borrows my mermaid book that costs only $2.99 to buy and would only net me two bucks if purchased. However, that customer didn’t have to pay anything (except the Prime membership, which she probably bought primarily for movies or free shipping) so it wasn’t such a risk. If she (or, more likely, her 7-year-old daughter) loved the book, she now will feel very good about plunking down 3 bucks to keep it permanently. So I earn SEVEN bucks on this one customer (yet she paid only 3) and I have likely hooked her (and her daughter) well enough to buy the NEXT book too! EPIC WIN!!

No, don’t go by the number of downloads on free days. Yes, they’re probably Amazon trolls filling up JIC folders. But DO pay attention to your borrows and your overall sales and see if those are affected.

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Kat Heckenbach January 7, 2013 at 12:39 PM

Awesome points, Caprice! I didn’t take all that into consideration, but yes, freebies in this sense ends up free advertising. Thanks for sharing your experience! Good stuff :).

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R. L. Copple January 7, 2013 at 1:05 PM

Good numbers, Kat. I tend to price my ebook novels under my control around $4.99, though I put my How to Make an Ebook, ebook, lower, $2.49, for many of the reasons you listed.

I also had the first in my series, Reality’s Dawn, on Kindle Select last year, and on the five free days, garnered over 8000 downloads. I think I saw a slight bump in sales of the series after that, but no new reviews. So I suspect you are right. The vast majority of those books are sitting in people’s Kindle archive, maybe never to be read. Those that did read it, maybe those are the ones who bought the next in the series.

One thing people fail to realize, however, is that the one person who reads your book doesn’t represent just one person who reads your book. If they like it, they will likely talk about it and recommend it to people. So it looks more like a branch of a tree, and how profitable that one contact is depends on how well that branch grows before it “dies” off. One person who really likes your book can represent tens, hundreds or more of potential readers hearing about you.

That tends to be a mistake many have in looking at marketing. They see only a small number, and don’t think beyond that one contact as representing “success” in marketing to see the many other contacts it potentially represents.

Which, btw, Reality’s Dawn is going on a free sale 8th through the 12th this week. So one more shot at the free thing to see what impact it will have.

Also…I wrote another article not too long ago that went up on Grasping for the Wind concerning the cost of creating ebooks, which dove-tails into this discussion nicely. Some might find it interesting in relation to traditional and indie pricing when focused on cost.
http://www.graspingforthewind.com/2012/12/15/how-much-do-ebooks-cost/

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D.M. Dutcher January 7, 2013 at 3:20 PM

Going as a reader, usually $2.99 is my sweet spot. By this I mean I’m willing to try a book on premise alone if its $2.99 or less. Up to $4.99 and the premise needs to be something I’d be interested in (Christian SF or F, giant robots, etc.) I’m usually less likely to go outside of my comfort zone at that-like I won’t crack open a mystery or a literary book. Higher than $4.99 and I usually need to want the book specifically (sequel to something I’ve read, recommended to me, something I see on a blog.)

I do this up to $6.99. Usually above $7.00 there are strong factors why I’d get the book. Either I can’t get the print version easily, (can only find it on Amazon, or it’s vastly more expensive due to being out of print) it’s a favorite author, or its an omnibus version of works. $9.99 is usually what stops me from buying, as it’s close enough to the price of a trade paperback to create buyer’s hesitation.

I download free books rarely, as personally I want to pay the author for his work. Free and 99 cents works pretty well as the first book of a series, but I disagree with 99 cents equals low quality. There’s been some pretty good books at that price, and they could price higher with no sweat. Andrew Mayne’s “The Chronological Man” series, and “The Wanderer’s Daughter” by Justyn Tanner are both great. However, I tend to read all the books I download or pay for, and don’t squirrel as much, so I’m atypical.

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xdpaul January 8, 2013 at 1:53 PM

Every reader (who is not a frequenter of writing discussions – i.e. the typical reader) who prefers e-reading that I have talked to commonly spends between $6 and $12 per book. They prefer ebooks to print. They are buying the content, not the packaging. They think of everything below $5 as a bargain – but not likely to move a needle – either they wanted it ahead of time or came across the subject through searching, and are happy to find it for less than they expect, or they assume it is either a magazine, a short, or a non-professional longer work.

I have actively sought a non-writer’s-world-plugged-in reader who commonly makes novel purchases of less than $5. My non-scientific poll indicates that none of the people whose e-reading that I have asked about, is terribly interested in feasting on novels at $4.99 and below. Not one.

I’ve been asking around 5 people per month since January. Take it for what it is worth.

Interestingly, I’ll gladly seek out bargain books between $2.99 and $4.99. But I’m a tiny demographic: I’m a writer interested in the publishing business. I like to invest as little as possible to see how different books turn out.

I don’t price my own books based on my buying habits, however. I price them on my best business guess of the market for my particular books, and minimum costs to make a profit.

For example, if it takes me 10 hours to write a short story on Jan. 1, I pay myself $75/hour for the labor. That’s $750. So, in order for my short to turn a reasonable 4% profit by the end of 12 months, I need it to make $750 + 4% or a total of $780 by the end of December.

So, I’d like the book to clear an average of $65/month for the effort to reach the desired profitability. Let’s say that I take in, on average, about 65% of the cover price per book. If I only charge $0.99 for that book (as if you could consistently get that royalty at such a low price) – even at 65% ($0.64 cents per book), I’d have to sell 101 books per month on average to hit my target! That 12,000 books in a year, for a short story!

That’s nuts. Instead, I’ll charge a reasonable $2.49 (the price of a comic book, for pity’s sake), pick up 65% on that ($1.62) and only have to sell 40 copies/month to hit the annual target. After a year, profitability explodes as the debt of the book vanishes, and labor and maintenance drop to nearly zero.

And that’s how I determine price. Plunk it up there, and then forget about it.

I’ve obviously simplified a few things. I actually have a goal of 3-year profitability, not one. I also don’t expect my stand alone shorts to be profitable as singles, as they also contribute to anthology sales. My hourly rate is a tad low.

Under the 3-year goal, sales of $2.49 shorts need only clear about a dozen sales a month. $6.99 novels are even easier once you get past the start-up costs. $4.99 novellas are something I’m going to be experimenting with.

But Kat is dead on. Figure it out yourself, because your books are yours and your market is unique.

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Kat Heckenbach January 8, 2013 at 3:23 PM

This really hits on the point about what your goals are. If it’s a particular profit margin, then definitely a higher price per item when it’s looked at the way you have it all laid out here. It could be totally different, though, if you’re talking about numbers of readers reached.

One thing you said is that the ebook readers you know are willing to pay higher prices because they *prefer* ebooks. And I can understand that. It’s a convenience thing, rather than a getting physical stuff for your money thing. BUT, I would like to know if those readers are talking about already trusted authors. Would they be willing to spend $9.99 or even $7.99 on an author they’ve never heard of?

Much of this, I think, has to do with the stigma of self-publishing and small press. You have to prove yourself worthy of a higher price, and a lot of readers equate the backing of a large traditional press as “proof” to a certain degree. Maybe they admit not all trad-pubbed books are awesome, but they’d likely say there’s less junk to sort through at that level and it’s worth the extra price knowing you’re going to get a dud now and then rather than wasting a 99 cent here and $2.99 there over and over in hopes of finding a few decent indie reads.

Playing devil’s advocate here, of course, since I’m small press and therefore suffer that stigma often–but the irony is I find myself placing that stigma on others myself.

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xdpaul January 9, 2013 at 10:23 AM

Would they be willing to spend $9.99 or even $7.99 on an author they’ve never heard of?

Yep. Majority of the books purchased, that I know of, were by authors new to them that they heard about through reviews at the purchase site or through other avenues.

All keeping in mind that this is only with the 60 or so kindle/kobo/apple/nook users I’ve talked with. Nothing empirical about it.

Oh – they sample even more than that, and reject books based on the sample (kinda like flipping through new stuff at the bookstore) – and I don’t recall talking to one in this market who does not liberally use sampling to determine purchase.

I guess my takeaway was to make sure that my samples “prove themselves worthy of being a higher price,” then price them at the price I want. But that’s merely because I don’t see price as a barrier for a reader: if he wants it and my price covers my costs, he’s going to buy it or not. Fiddling too much with pricing is innovation time investment that is better spent (for me) on creative content.

Everyone’s different, though.

I would say that absolutely none (and I’ve asked them specifically) of the readers I surveyed had any clue whether an ebook was published by a traditional publisher, a small publisher or a self-publisher, and only a few even recognized the difference. They like pretty covers and good content, and they simply assume that their 6 to 12 bucks buys them quality. They are repeat buyers of the stuff/authors they like and never-again buyers of the things they don’t like, but cover price doesn’t factor in.

Once you put a price tag on a book, even at a penny, you have begun to disqualify readers (i.e. all readers in the world who are unwilling to pay for your content), so as soon as you price it at anything, the reason for setting price has to be something other than getting as many readers/downloaders as possible.

I shouldn’t lump that subset and set together, really. They are two very different things. Some authors want a high number of downloaders. Some want the highest number of readers. Some want the most profits. Three very different goals.

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xdpaul January 9, 2013 at 10:27 AM

Oh one last thing: if you are worried that your stuff is going to get lost in the “indie-junk” at $2.99, then price your books at the traditional published rate (or a dollar less – your readers will think it is a member discount or something!).

No one’s ever going to know the difference…

Because there shouldn’t be any.

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Kat Heckenbach January 9, 2013 at 10:39 AM

Awesome points on all of this!

I hadn’t even thought to discuss the use of samples on here. That is something I do with EVERY book I consider buying. Something that will actually stop me from buying a book if it is not available, I don’t care how good the reviews are. I figure if an author won’t let you read a sample, there’s a real problem.

And maybe the whole “indie stigma” is something more common among writers? I have asked a lot of readers whether or not they pay attention to who publishes the books they read, and most say they don’t. But big-press books do have the advantage of marketing *dollars*, which get them on “recommended” lists and such. I guess I figure I’m going to be listed among the indie slush simply because I can’t pay to have my novels in the same ranks on Amazon.

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xdpaul January 9, 2013 at 12:16 PM

Yeah, but Indies have distinct market advantage over legacy publishers. Speed is a major one. I know a legacy published author whose 3rd book became her 6th or 7th one, because, after all the contracts, hired agents, fired agents, bought-back contracts, re-sold contracts and delayed (and delayed and delayed) publishing schedule, it didn’t come out for years.

Even an author on the fast track sees his book, from completion of final to publication, take a year or 18 months if all goes well. In the meantime, an indie can lay down six books fairly easily. Suddenly, instead of wishing for marketing dollars, the indie finds his or her own books marketing for one another.

When I was a kid, I bought every Stephen King book I could find, and it wasn’t because of ads they ran in TV Guide or whatever. It was because of the marketing the last book gave me. If it was good, I wanted the next one. End of marketing.

Finally, when you talk about legacy marketing dollars, they are spending those dollars on that month’s 40-odd books and that’s it. Some of the bigger books will get a bigger slice of the marketing pie, but basically, legacy treats their book stream like that exactly – a stream of inventory. New month? New marketing.

So, while one month of marketing is a nice to have, it isn’t really that much of an advantage over the long-term. And that still depends on the publisher a) actually marketing your book and b) doing it properly.

All that to say that the legacy cost of doing business is way higher than the indie way. By the time legacy has finally come around to the latest ways of getting books to people, the sensible indie is off setting another trend.

…and death to the indie stigma. It is one that has been self-imposed by doubtful, nervous writerly types, not bold voracious readers who don’t give a tinker’s dam whether the rich and delicious words pour forth from the greasy, chugging presses of Random House or the greasy, chugging presses in your basement.

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D.M. Dutcher January 9, 2013 at 1:33 PM

I’ve seen authors who work according to that timetable, and usually they put out a lot of average to middling genre work. Yeah, trad publishing has unrealistic timetables when it comes to acceptance, but you cannot rush editing or pre-planning without making a body of work that sticks to single templates and makes for disposable genre reads. Essentially, we’ve recreated the pulp magazine and dime-store novel era, and most of those books really are worth the 99 cents or 2.99 they charge.

If that’s your niche, god speed man. There’s always a need for that, as there is harlequin romance novels and series westerns. But I think it’s not a one-size-fits-all model, and usually quality shows through if on that strict of a timetable.

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xdpaul January 9, 2013 at 5:31 PM

Thanks, D.M. Average to middling quality is exactly what I’m shooting for. ;-)

We’ll have to disagree. Max Brand was an outstanding novelist – one of the best with language. He put out a book a month.

You don’t understand – the legacy publishers aren’t adding a lick of quality during their slow timetables for publication. Outside of a good writer, a good editor (if they even employ one) and a good copyeditor, legacy’s delays are completely unrelated to the content of a book.

A good book is a good book regardless of how long or how little an author spends at the keyboard. Indy publishing simply allows the author to publish as soon as books are ready. Six books a year, full time, is a mere 360,000 words a year. That’s a very doable 1000 a day – what most published authors claim is their minimum.

Pulps outsold the slicks for a reason: their best stories were better than the slicks. H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch and all the giants of science fiction and pre-war fantasy were pulp writers.

Strict timetables make better work. I guarantee it. The worst thing an author can do to his work is overthink and overedit it.

I know this from experience. My most maudlin, drawn out, and flat stories ever are the ones I flogged into submission for the sake of literary quality. My most literary works are the ones I hacked at like a savage.

My niche is not the niche you think it is.

As to pulps, I would note that a mint-condition Weird Tales sells at auction for 100 times what a mint-condition New Yorker sells for.

I think the quality of content is quite easy to expose. After all, the #1 selling “literary” paperbacks traditionally published right now are:

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, by E. L. James
LIFE OF PI, by Yann Martel
FIFTY SHADES DARKER, by E. L. James
FIFTY SHADES FREED, by E. L. James
THE PARIS WIFE, by Paula McLain

I’m pretty sure that “quality” is a spotty, and frankly, unimportant, issue for the legacy publishers as well. Unless you think 50 shades was more dreadful as dashed off fan fiction, and really developed its spirit of quality after going through the rigors of publishing limbo.

I’m a firm believer that good writers write well, and poor ones write poorly – and…as long as the product sells, publishers (indie or legacy) really don’t care that much. The only difference is that indie publishing allows a bad writer to hit that wall of reader rejection a lot faster, and a good one to catch on without the delays.

Don’t take this as a knock on traditional publishing. It isn’t. 3 of my top 5 living writers are traditionally published. But 2 aren’t, and I seriously, as a reader, notice no difference or taint either way. They are just good book writers. That’s all. Makes no difference to me how they got their stuff in front of me.

I will say that my favorites also happen to be prolific. They get better as they continue to write.

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D.M. Dutcher January 9, 2013 at 10:22 PM

I think this is where I’d have to see your books, man. You’re saying this, and I get the rationale. But that kind of production schedule from planning to upload is so incredibly tight that it would eliminate whole genres and types of works, as well as raise flags in my mind about quality. I mean, this is a standard rationale, and I’ve heard it before, but I’ve never seen it pulled off well enough to justify a premium price. Usually the people just put out a tremendous amount of low-priced genre works that you consume like bubblegum; Amanda Hocking, William Mielke, Andrew Mayne, and others.

I won’t pry though. Indie books really do have their own challenges, and I don’t want to say things are impossible or cast aspersions on you at all. It would be a tough trick to do that level of production, even for just writing drafts for consideration.

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xdpaul January 10, 2013 at 4:35 PM

Why? It is slower than the Dickens.

Literally! Good old Chaz was cranking that stuff out faster than a pulp!

It really isn’t that tough. Most full-time writers typically hit 250,000-500,000 words a year, whether they are highbrow or low. Now some folks write on the low end, and six novels would be a trick, but those on the upper end could do ten.

Joyce Carol Oates’ production schedule (certainly during her more prolific peak) was notorious to the point that publishers felt the need to delay publication so as to not “dilute” a market that bought anything she would write. She had a backlog, and I hardly think she could be described as being limited by genre. Quite the opposite.

Now, writers ramping up their chops or past their peak periods of course need to adjust their schedules, and there is the occasional so-called genius who writes one book every five years, and at least one or two of them are good to great.

The myth that great work springs out of a craftman once or twice in his life, and anything faster than that is hackwork, is just that: a myth. Every writer is going to produce his highest quality work by producing his highest quantity of work (possible for him).

Hacking worked for Henry James. It worked for J.R.R. Tolkien (as evidenced by the extensive library of now published material that he did not want to ready for print). It worked for Twain. It worked for Faulkner (for goodness sakes, Sartoris, The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying came out in the same year I think).

Great writers, typically, are the ones who write as fast as they can. It might be 3 books a year. It might be a dozen. It might be one, as long as that writer is spending all available time writing! Different for everyone. But it is the depressed or distracted melancholy artiste genius who remains, despite his abilities, a slave to the archaic production schedule of big time publishing, that is the self-limited one, not the producer.

And, finally, once you’ve written enough books (say 3 or something – again, different for everyone) then that drafting process goes bye-bye for most writers I know, except the terminally insecure ones who still believe that over-polishing the undulating geography out of their voice is the same thing as producing good work.

Write once – review once – fix the errors (not the style) – send it to be proofed – fix the proofs – bam – done – next book. Anything more (aside from a luxury no longer provided by most legacy houses anymore – a dedicated good editor and a solid copy editor) runs the risk of ruining the life out of the book.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, reads worse than an over-edited book. Simply take a gander at any “abridged” work. It just isn’t the same.

I think of the absolutely diverse and insane amounts of writing that Isaac Asimov did (only a portion of it fit your description of genre work) and realize: good work of any sort practically demands consistent schedules.

For the traditionally published writer, the workaround is simple: work ahead of your publishers at a good clip, or publish under pseudonyms so they don’t worry about “saturating” the market with your name (even though I never see any other industry worrying about having too much of a certain brand!). For the indie writer, no workaround is necessary.

D.M. Dutcher January 10, 2013 at 6:50 PM

Yeah, they write a lot, but how much of that was published as opposed to being correspondence, nonfiction, multiple revised drafts, research, or other stuff? We can take Asimov; who even reprints or bothers with his nonfiction now? Can you name his two children’s series without using a wiki? If you went through his work, all of it, and evaluated it for quality, how much would make the cut?

Same with Henry James, even. Or Dickens, or Wells. Or G.K. Chesterton, for a Christian example; a lot of his works are really sloppy (The Flying Inn comes to mind) and a lot of his nonfiction just repeats the same themes. He’s actually been taken to task on many of his more famous works because he talks more about himself and plays fast and loose with the actual biographical details-his work on Browning for example. I could use Horatio Alger or Mildred Keene’s triad of writers, too. Or many of the other prolific and popular authors lost to time. We’re used to the ten best works of many of these people, and most of their output doesn’t even enter public notice.

Or maybe it’s good, but it’s a different type of work. Journalism or criticism, for example. But this is also done with the full support of independent editors who can say that what they put out isn’t good when they care. Or they don’t care at all because they are on deadlines too, and they take what they can get (i.e. virtually all of pulp fiction.)

I’m not saying you have to sit on books for years, but we aren’t talking one or two books a year here. Even if you write at a blistering speed, quality suffers. Usually the writers don’t really care; they use pen names and write whatever junk pays the bills, quality be damned. I’m surprised you aren’t making this argument, actually; it’s an honorable way for many writers to do so. Mel Odom for example did battletech novels and left behind spin offs; Alan Dean Foster did movie tie-in novels like no tomorrow.

So yeah, a person can write quickly, but you’re kind of overselling the level of quality most writers can deliver, and you also might be doing this without professional editors who can give you strong feedback and if necessary say “this is crap, do better.” So I still have my reservations, precisely because I’ve read those prolific authors. A lot of that output is forgettable stuff that pays the bills.

Good replies though, and even despite that, I wonder if I could crank my own output up that high just for the sheer challenge of it.

(Asimov wrote Lucky Starr, Space Ranger, and Norby the Robot, for two of his kids series.

xdpaul January 11, 2013 at 9:51 AM

Ah. You are missing the point. The point isn’t that writing and publishing as fast as you can produces classic/genius work every time. The point is that a very good way to get to classic/genius (if that is your goal) is to write as fast as possible.

In that volume, (a lot like mining) your gems fall out. After all – A Confederacy of Dunces is an excellent first book as was A Secret History (Donna Tartt). But the author of Confederacy killed himself waiting to be published, instead of starting his next book, which I’m pretty sure would have been better.

Tartt fell of a cliff – coming out with something overwrought and overedited ten years late. I have no idea what she’s written since her first promising book, book she had clearly lost all momentum.

I believe both of those authors would have produced far better later material, exceeding their debuts, had they simply written as fast as they could.

Would all of it been stellar? Nope. But the act of writing is still an art. Overpolishing is a far bigger problem than prolificacy in all genres, is what I am saying, not that prolificacy is a guaranteed GAN engine.

There might be a slight exception for heavily research-reliant fiction, but you still should write (and research) as fast as possible. Pondering is fertile ground for paralysis.

Christian Jaeschke January 8, 2013 at 6:06 PM

I’d probably price my book (the one I’m working on) around the $3.99 mark (AUD). I don’t think I’ve bought an eBooks over that price range and I do plan on reading them all.

Are you sure money is being spent on eBook cover art? Because, if you ask me, the majority of eBook covers are awful design-wise. Who’s designing these covers? Mike Duran’s latest speculative fiction compendium has a great cover but they’re few and far between. (Your covers aren’t bad either).

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Kat Heckenbach January 8, 2013 at 6:23 PM

I agree on the cover art thing–a lot of them look slapped together. I think that’s something that has come along with the “ebook is easy” thing. There’s no start-up fee for uploading an ebook, and a lot of authors want to keep that no-cost factor all the way through.

My book covers are designed for print, btw. The on-screen images here don’t do them justice, I assure you :). They both include original drawings by me, as well–the locket and keyhole on the Finding Angel cover and the hinges and clasp on Seeking Unseen.

Go here to see the full spread for Seeking Unseen: http://katheckenbach.wordpress.com/2012/08/14/seeking-unseen-cover-reveal/

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Christian Jaeschke January 8, 2013 at 6:39 PM

Thanks, Kat, you make a very good point.
Ah, the close-up of your book design is much better! :)

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Kat Heckenbach January 8, 2013 at 6:44 PM

Thanks, Christian!

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Louise January 8, 2013 at 7:56 PM

i haven’t bought any ebooks yet. i always go for the free stuff since i am just a housewife with no extra fees

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xdpaul January 11, 2013 at 10:26 AM

One last thing on pricing, if you go indie and not traditional.

Publisher’s marketplace just announced this little gem from 2012′s figures:

Of the 300 or so six figure deals that were reported to them in 2012, 45 were from books that started off self-published.

So, 15% of $100,000 deals last year in legacy were self-published deals. I don’t see that there should be much difference between professional indie prices and legacy. Keep in mind that legacy has its own $0.99 books, it’s own $4.99 books, its own 8.99 and so on. The difference between legacy and and some indie publishers is that legacy does the pricing for very specific business reasons, and some indie publishers just guess.

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