Self-Publishing Success 3:
Pricing and what was different

More hard data and partial answers for questions 5-6:

Posted on December 30, 2012 by Jim

In the first installment in this series of blogs, I described my surprise when my 4th eBook, Child of the Sword, spontaneously sold almost 12,000 copies in 3½ months near the end of 2012, which raised a number of questions:

  1. What's the typical sales curve—books/day—and how will it end: by dropping off rapidly or trailing off slowly?
  2. Will I just sell a few hundred, or a few thousand, or tens of thousands of copies?
  3. What effect will it have on my other books?
  4. What does it take to get on the best-seller lists?
  5. Were my books priced right at $2.99, and what is correct pricing?
  6. What was so different about the 4th book that it sold so well and the first 3 didn't?
  7. What is considered success among self-published indie authors, a few hundred, a few thousand, etc.?
  8. What do I do to support the book as it's selling, and encourage additional sales?
  9. What did I do to sell all those books?

In the second installment I provided some data on 1-4. I didn't really provide answers, because I don't have any answers, just some guesswork. Now let's look at questions 5-7.

Pricing:

  1. Were my books priced right at $2.99, and what is correct pricing?

John Locke is, for all intents and purposes, the king of $0.99 eBooks. He set out to be exactly that, and has purportedly sold over 5,000,000 eBooks. There's no way of actually confirming that number, but it is clear he has sold a lot of eBooks. He only gets $0.35 per eBook, but do the math and tell me you wouldn't like to have that kind of track record. There is some controversy surrounding Mr. Locke; according to a number of sources he apparently purchased reviews to help the sales of his eBooks, but no one disputes that he did sell those eBooks.

He strongly advocates the $0.99 price point, and has an entire marketing strategy to support it—for the record, I do not personally know Mr. Locke. I'll cover marketing when we get to questions 8 and 9 in the next post. For now, I'm going to focus on pricing.

I published my first three eBooks between August, 2011 and May, 2012, and priced them at $0.99. They didn't sell well, just a few copies a month, so when I published my 4th eBook, Child of the Sword, I had a what-the-hell attitude about pricing. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I priced it at $2.99 and upped the price on the rest of my eBooks to $2.99. And as reported earlier, Child took off and, to date, has sold over 12,000 copies.

A price point of $2.99 didn't seem to hold it back. And, in fact, from comments made in some of its reviews, it was clear many readers are suspicious of the quality of self-published eBooks priced that low ($2.99) or lower. Let's face it: now that any of us can publish anything we want, there's a lot of crap out there.

A few weeks ago I attended a Science Fiction and Fantasy convention in Los Angeles. There was a session on self-publishing with a panel that included authors who had been successful at:

  • self-publishing,
  • traditional publishing with a traditional book contract, and
  • both self and traditional publishing.

I discussed my recent success with them during and after the session, and they were all of the opinion that my price point of $2.99 was too low.

Mark Cocker, founder of Smashwords, took a core-dump of data from their database, analyzed a number of things regarding sales, and put together a presentation that is quite interesting. One of the things he looked at was number of books sold versus price point. Since there were almost as many books sold at $2.99 as there were at $0.99, he concluded that the $0.99 price point is a non-performer.

$0.99 didn't work for me, and $2.99 did. To make the $0.99 price point work, you have to do all the marketing work behind it. And since even $2.99 may have a certain stigma associated with it in readers minds, it may be that even that is too low. I'm not going to march pell-mell away from $2.99, but slapping a cheap price tag on your eBooks is no longer a no-brainer. And while many believe that the day of the $0.99 eBook is gone, it still works for Mr. Locke because he makes it work.

What was different about Child:

  1. What was so different about the 4th book that it sold so well and the first 3 didn't?

Price was one thing, but that was not the only thing. As a scientist (ya, I've got degrees coming out my ears) I know that to understand the effects of a parameter, change only that one parameter and observe the results. If you change more than one parameter, it's impossible to isolate the effect of any one. But when I published Child that was not possible. Here's a list of the things that were different from the first three books:

  1. I changed the price, as described earlier.
  2. It was my first epic fantasy. The others were contemporary urban fantasy or hard science fiction.
  3. It was the first book with a strong YA (young adult) element.
  4. It was my 4th book.

I've already discussed difference #1. As to #2, perhaps there's a much larger market for epic fantasy than for contemporary urban fantasy or hard science fiction—I don't know. Regarding #3, everyone I talk to in the industry tells me the YA market is enormous. And Bowker reported in September, 2012 that:

“...More than half the consumers of books classified for young adults aren’t all that young. Fully 55% of buyers of works that publishers designate for kids aged 12 to 17 – nicknamed YA books -- are 18 or older, with the largest segment aged 30 to 44...”

I think difference #4 is certainly significant—now here I'm guessing. Everyone agrees that the odds are against being successful with just one book published. I suspect there is a subconscious perception among readers that you're not really a professional if you've written only one book, or just a few. Readers also want to know that, should they enjoy one of your books, they'll be able to go back for more. But is four enough, or five, or six? I've been told by some knowledgeable writers that it's got to be at least eight.

So what happened with Child? My publisher told me I just wrote a good story. I think maybe I wrote something that touched a lot of people in the right way, though I certainly didn't touch this fellow in the right way:

Piece of crap review

Every time I start thinking I'm hot shit, I pull out this review and bring myself back down to earth.

That's enough for this post. Next week I'll continue with questions 8 and 9: marketing your book, though I'm no expert.

Stay tuned for more . . .