Tag Archives: marketing

Soliloquy on book prices (or How I Learned To Love eBooks)

Picture of full book shelfYou know how sometimes things you’ve been reading/talking about kind of merge? That happened to me this morning. Somewhere I read about author earnings and the cost of books. Somewhere else I wrote an article about the power of the franchise in writing and that led me to the Thrawn trilogy and mention of a book where Grand Admiral Thrawn is an important, though rarely visible, character and that led me to dig out that very same book. Troy Denning’s Tatooine Ghost, to see if I still thought it was as good as I remembered.

I’ve also been re-reading one of my favourite books, McDevitt’s Slow Lightning. It’s face down on the desk beside me as I write. And the sticker with the price is waving at me.

I bought the book (a 5×8 paperback) in about 2003. It cost AU$19.95 from Readers Feast in Melbourne. Same for Tatooine Ghost.

Wow, I thought, glancing along a row of paperbacks on a shelf (just one row). There’s over $400 worth of books there. At least, that’s what I paid for them. They’re worth squat now. And as for that glass—fronted cabinet behind me, the one full of hardbacks… Then I thought some more and wondered if these prices were from before the Big Row about book prices. I don’t recall the details, but it was all about the excessive cost of books in Australia. So I thought I’d check the current price of some of those books.

I used Dymocks online store. It’s a well-known chain of Australian book stores. I shopped at the bricks-and-mortar stores in several of Australia’s capital cities. Here is the listing for McDevitt’s A Talent for War. It’s one of his earliest titles, from 1989. I bought it for $17.95 around 2002-3.

ATfW

And here’s Tatooine Ghost, copyright 2003.

TG

So then I had a look on Amazon to see what the prices were there.

A Talent for War and Tatooine Ghost, mass market paperback on Amazon is US$7.99 – allowing for the exchange rate, that’s still less than AU$10. Slow Lightning (sold for who knows what reason in the US as Infinity Beach) is reduced from $7.99 to $5.87.

Okay, the next obvious question is what’s the price of the ebook? Answer: there isn’t one. Not for any of those titles. McDevitt’s other books are there for kindle. I can buy them on Amazon Australia for $11.99 (ouch). Oh. Except for the latest release, Coming Home. That’s $16.99, thanks very much.

There are two things you can take from this Sunday morning limited investigation:

  • we pay a helluva lot for books (and every other thing that’s imported) in Australia.
  • $4.99, which is what I charge for my 100k+ word ebooks, isn’t a bad price.

I might not have the market power of Jack McDevitt or EL James, but I like to think I write an entertaining story with proper grammar and spelling. I’m not saying you won’t find a typo. But I promise nobody ever says, “oh my”.

Are you wondering why you don’t get every book you ask for on NetGalley?

Picture of glasses on a bookI’m a member of the Broad Universe group, a collective of  authors who support each other in this writing business. BU offers a range of ways of helping authors and one of these is a cost-effective way to get onto NetGalley.

NetGalley is the digital era’s improvement on publishers sending out galley proofs of new books to people in the know, in the hope of encouraging people to buy the book, garner some feedback, and rake in some reviews. In other words, marketing. Back in the day it happened when the publisher had just about finished the production process. It’s important to note that NetGalley doesn’t just accept new publications. You can list a book first published years ago if you feel it could use a boost.

Mind you, NetGalley isn’t cheap. And that’s where collectives like Broad Universe come in. Members can get a book on NetGalley for US$30 per month. We’ve now expanded the service so non-members can list a book on NetGalley for $45 per month. You can find more information here.

If you’re a reader you can sign up with NetGalley for free. Every month a new list of books comes out and you can ask to download as many as you like. Your request might be approved automatically, or you may have to wait for your request to be approved. Or declined.

As it happens, I’m one of the people in Broad Universe who vets review requests. We do this because as far as we’re concerned, the aim is not to give a free book to the world and his wife. It’s about advertising, networking, spreading the word. For example, I think I’d refuse a request for a book from me.

Why?

Because I’m not on Goodreads. I don’t have a review blog. I’m not a member of a book club. I rarely review on Amazon. I’m not a librarian. I’m not a bookseller. Based on all that, I’d just be giving me a free book. (Mind you, not everyone on NetGalley works like that. Even I may well be given a bunch of free books just for showing up.)

So let’s assume you’d like me to approve a request for a book. What should you do?

Give me something to go on

Profile

A profile that reads something like, “I love reading” is a well duh. If you add that you like talking to your cat, that’s sweet but who cares? I also don’t care if your ambition is to find the cure for cancer, or that you’ve written three books yourself. If you’re a librarian tell me where the library is. If you’re a book seller, tell me where. If you run a review blog, say so.

Links

If you have a review blog, give me a link. Same with Goodreads and Amazon. Please bear in mind, I do check. If you claimed two years ago to be setting up to read and review $0.99 titles, and send me to a link where that’s all it says – no reviews – then I remain unconvinced. If you send me to a review site where the last entry was dated a year ago, I’m doubtful. If you send me to Amazon where I find exactly one review, I raise an eyebrow (yes, that happened). If I click a link and I get a 404…

Getting the idea?

Feedback

When you do receive a book from NetGalley the hope is that you will provide feedback. If you do that the links and the profile will be less important. NetGalley gives a feedback quotient on your profile. It provides the number of titles you’ve downloaded against the number of times you’ve provided feedback. If you’ve downloaded one thousand books and given feedback on six, it doesn’t look too good. I’d suggest you choose your downloads with care. Do you really, really want to clutter up your ereader with every book on offer, many of which you’ll never read? If you download six books and provide feedback on all six, your feedback quotient will be 100%. Mind you, you’re not on a timetable, you can provide feedback at any time, months after you’ve downloaded the book. But bear in mind that’s why NetGalley is there. It’s a two-way process. You play the game and you’ll get approvals – even invitations.

The feedback element is less important for booksellers and librarians who provide a different kind of feedback in the form of book recommendations to clients. Nothing beats word-of-mouth recommendations.

So if you’re not getting every book you ask for on NetGalley, maybe it’s time to check your profile, make sure your links work, and that you really are providing the feedback you promised. Do those things and I might even put you on auto-approval.

The value of making a book free

Writing the book, I’ve found – however difficult it might be – is the easy part. Marketing it is way, way harder. There has been a plethora of posts about why it’s so much harder now to keep your author head above the flood of new books being published every day. And there’s Kindle Unlimited and BookBub and blog tours and NetGalley and a million other ways that aspiring hopefuls can jump up and down shouting, “pick me, pick me” – all for a price, of course.

I’m no different to all the other small voices out there. My sales have been declining for months, despite having fourteen titles. One of those is a novella, three are longer short stories and the rest are novels. I could just ignore the sales and carry on doing what I do, but I don’t write for myself. I want other people to enjoy my books – and I know some do. So what to do to increase discoverability. (Don’t you love that word? Makes you sound like an exotic holiday location.)

For a start, I put my two paranormal novels and my space opera novella, each of which sold less than five a month, into Kindle Select. None of those titles were selling anywhere else – Smashwords, Kobo, Apple, B&N or Omnilit – so it didn’t cost me to take them down from those sites. I saw results after a few days, with the number of borrows quickly outstripping sales. Mind you, that simply means I could buy three cups of coffee each month instead of one.

Sales had also dwindled to almost nothing for my science fiction romance titles. I’d written a new book for my Ptorix Empire series, and that was released on 15 January. No, I didn’t do a blog tour. I’ve never felt they did much for me. But the book is on the list for NetGalley in February, and I’ve touted it on a few blogs as well as my own. A few fans purchased the book, but it certainly wasn’t walking off the virtual shelves. Sales in January amounted to six. Wow.

There are four books in the Ptorix Empire series. The first, The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy (IA:C), has been around since 2010 and is part of a $0.99, 11-book boxed set, Nebula Nights. (you’ll find purchase links if you’re interested.) So I Cover of The Iron Admiral: Conspiracydecided to make it free. For good measure, I made Supertech, a short story that introduces Morgan Selwood who stars in the Morgan Selwood series, free as well. The idea, of course, is try one, buy the rest.

ST cover smlSupertech has been free before and it’s a short story. I didn’t expect a mad rush for it and although there have been downloads, the number to date is around 350.

The story for IA:C is quite different. I have found that I make more sales on Amazon US than anywhere else, by a very long way – well over 90%. So what I’m showing here is only Amazon US.

I made the book free at all outlets except Amazon (where you can’t offer a free book – I set it to $0.99) on 18 January. I did not advertise, beyond one Twitter post. The graph below shows what happened after Amazon price matched.

Free graph

The first peak was simply from being in Amazon’s free books section. Then the initial excitement died away. The second peak is as a result of buying a US$15 ad on eReader News Today. The book raced up the Amazon lists and was soon #1 free in store for Galactic Empires and #1 Space Opera and #1 Romance Science Fiction. The big goal is top 100 free in store. It didn’t quite get there, but it reached 110 which is pretty good for a novel in a niche market like SF romance. To date, there have been over 4,000 downloads.

Of course, we all know free downloads don’t necessarily mean readers, let alone fans. Many a free book languishes on a reading device, ignored and forgotten. But some people certainly did read the book. I’ve seen a substantial (in relative terms) increase in sales of the second Iron Admiral book – in fact all three titles in the series. And sales of my Morgan Selwood series have also improved.

Although I make most of my sales on Amazon, I will always make my books available elsewhere. Readers like choices and not everyone wants to use the Kindle interface on whichever reading device they own. I’ll take the novella out of Kindle Select when the three months is up, but leave the other two, which hardly sold anyway.

One thing I learned from this exercise is you don’t have to be in the Kindle Select program, where your book is exclusive to Amazon, to get the benefit of a short period where your novel is free. I reduced the price of IA:C to $0.99 on Amazon, and free everywhere else. Amazon soon price matched. In fact, the campaign was so successful, Amazon put the price back. I had to ask them to price match, which they did. Mind you, I’ve heard people complain they can’t get Amazon to stop offering their book free, even when the free offer period finishes at other vendors. That’s a risk to take into account.

I’m not a great believer in giving away my hard work. Writing IA:C took literally years of effort through a number of iterations. But I’ve earned some money from the book and I made a strategic decision to use it as an introduction to my work. I do not think the free option is feasible if you don’t have a swag of other titles. In both cases, I set the first of a series of a number of books free. Time will tell how long this initial boost will last. Meanwhile, I’d better get back to writing that next book.

So – if you’re reading this and you’d like to take advantage of the free offer, you’ll find all the ‘buy links for IA:C here . Enjoy.

UPDATE: They’re no onger free. But $0.99 ain’t bad.

 

I just un-liked your author page on Facebook

smiley_thumbs_downThis morning I logged onto a group I belong to on Facebook and read a post from an author bemoaning the fact that a friend had stopped ‘liking’ their author page. It’s not something Facebook notifies a page owner. This person simply noticed the number of people liking the page had gone down. In fact, it happened twice. Yep, hand up. One of those was me. And I’m going to be doing a bit more of that in the future.

It’s not meant to be hurtful or spiteful. It’s simply a reaction to Facebook’s new, bigger and better, privatised structure. I don’t have an author page anymore. Pages only work if you can get a LOT of fans – by that I mean in the thousands, not the several hundred I managed to muster, and that was in the days when FB shared everything to everybody. Now, a handful of people see what a page posts – unless you pay for the privilege. Boost your post. Buy advertising. Get more likes for just a small outlay. Want to know what buying FB likes really gets you? Check out this video.

And the advertising? You can find lots of positive spin in a Google search. But maybe read this one, too. Mind you, a simple google search will bring up pages of tips and tricks for attracting ‘real’ page likes and real interaction. I’ll admit I didn’t try terribly hard to get followers. Even before the Big Buyout I had to wonder how much fresh, new stuff you can post about your author persona. And herein lies the reason for my defection from a friend’s page. This person pretty much duplicated the posts on the author page to their profile page, which means I got most of it twice. These days it’s hard enough to keep up with what really matters to me on FB, as opposed to what FB thinks I ought to see.

Why do I stay on Facebook? Because I interact with friends there, mainly in focussed groups. And the emphasis is very definitely on FRIENDS, not potential customers. Anyone who likes what I write is welcome to follow my FB account, or ‘friend’ me. Here I am. https://www.facebook.com/Greta.J.vanderrol Most of my posts are public. I share my photos and discuss my writing with like-minded individuals. Sometimes I’ll post about my books, do a bit of promo. Hey, it’s what I do, it’s a part of who I am. But I’m not very sociable, even on-line. There’s only so much time I’ll spend on ‘marketing’. I’ve found it works much better if I just go write the next book.

Do we really need all this segmentation?

I was idly scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed this morning and came across an interesting promo for a book. So I had a look at the blurb and the cover and noticed a reference to “a great new NA book”. (Or words to that effect.) I frowned. NA? Not applicable? New Age? And then I twigged.

‘New Adult’. I’d seen a reference to it somewhere before. It’s a market segment. Hey, segmentation is a perfectly legitimate approach and it’s why Facebook keeps asking questions like where do you live? In my case, they’d know not to bother trying to push ads for American restaurants at me.

So how is NA different to YA – young adult? Mind you, I’ve always had a bit of a problem with YA, too. What’s a ‘young adult’? If you’re still at school, do you qualify? If you’re fifteen and an apprentice does that qualify? To my mind, a ‘young adult’ might be somebody who has left school, turned 18 so they can legally drink, have sex, get married. Or is that 16? Or 21? Having a thing called ‘New Adult’ just makes it worse. Do you graduate from YA to NA when you turn 21? When you leave school? And when do you move from NA to… whatever’s next? GU (grown up)? MWK (married with kids)? AD (adult divorced)?

One author explained to me that the NA category gives the buying public an idea of what to expect. A young person newly arrived at adulthood but without experience, somebody in the eighteen to twenty-five age group. It’s a bit like saying YA is for readers in their teens, and this is likely to be a coming-of-age story.

So now, if I want to get a list of books to satisfy my reading needs I guess I have to say ‘science fiction but not dystopian, no zombies or werewolves or vampires, romance ok but not erotic, not GLBT, not childrens, not YA…’ But isn’t that why we have genres, blurbs and covers, and why (if we have an ounce of sense) we read the first few pages before we buy? And why wouldn’t I buy an NA book? Just about every war story involves young people in that 18-25 demographic facing horrible situations. That’s just one example.

As far as I’m concerned, if it’s not for kids it’s for grown-ups. I was reading ‘grown up’ books at quite a young age and now, at quite an old age, I’ll still read books labeled as YA (or younger) such as Harry Potter. It’s hard enough sifting through the myriad micro-slices of genre without adding to the confusion.

Rant over. We will now return to normal programming. Feel free to hit me with your opinions.