The Myth of the Instant 99-Cent Bestseller

With the advent of Amanda Hocking and other authors’ successes in selling oodles and oodles of digital books on Amazon at the low, low price of 99 cents, there’s come to be a sort of common wisdom that pricing your book at 99 cents is the most reliable road to (almost) instant success and bestsellerdom. Of course, there are plenty of people who don’t agree with this strategy and complain that it devalues all digital books. I think both Courtney Milan and Tessa Dare have done a nice job of explaining why this is probably not true–people buy digital books all the time for more than 99 cents, even when there are plenty of 99 centers out there (and even in the face of the relative ease of getting the book for free from a torrent site). So I’m not here to argue about that. What I am here to point out is that 99 cents (or less than 99 cents) probably isn’t as much of a draw as some folks think.

As you know, I made my short story, The Reiver;, available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords back in mid-January for the low, low price of 99 cents. I’ve said before that my sales of this digital short have exceeded my expectations (my sole goal being the earn back the amount I’d invested in the purchase of the cover art, which I did within a month), but that is not to suggest that the 99 cent price was an instant draw that garnered lots of sales. To the contrary, sales were pretty steadily around 5-6 per day between Amazon and B&N, with Smashwords to this day reporting only one sale. So much for 99 cents bringing on the buyers, eh?

Partly as an experiment and partly because I decided the 99-cent price point wasn’t exactly getting readers to knock down my door, I went ahead and raised the price of the story a few weeks ago to $1.29 on Amazon and B&N. I didn’t bother raising it at Smashwords, since it’s not selling there anyway. I figured anyone who was actually truly interested in the story based on the blurb and perhaps based on knowing something about me or having read the sample would buy it whether it was 99 cents or 30 cents more. Either one is less than the price of a medium soda at most fast food chains, and I figure I’m worth it.

What happened? Well, my sales did tail off, from 5-6 per day to about 2-4 per day. In other words, my higher pricing definitely drove some people away. But it didn’t drive them <i>all</i> away and even though I’m not earning as much overall, I’m getting a better payment per copy and I’d like to think there’s a better chance that those who are buying it will actually read it.

Fast forward to yesterday, when I hopped on Amazon to look at my current numbers/ranking and discovered, to my bemusement, that Amazon had discounted my book from $1.29 to 89 cents. I really scratched my head over this, as I couldn’t imagine what had possessed them to lower the price on my book (and I had never, ever seen a self-published book discounted by Amazon before, so it came as a real surprise). After posting to the Kindle Boards, I discovered that this is probably a case of Amazon matching the price on Kobo, which must be getting the file through Smashwords. (Since I didn’t even know Smashwords distributed to Kobo, this came as something of a surprise as well.)

So, what happened? Well, my sales did increase dramatically yesterday–so much that got into the top 10,000 in the Kindle store overall and actually hit the top 100 in the Anthologies sub-category. And today, sales are still brisker than they were–I believe I’m up to 6 copies on the day–but my ranking has dropped back to sub-10k levels and I’m no longer hitting that subcategory list.

Of course, there’s a possibility that the discounted price could eventually launch The Reiver into stardom. But my guess is, probably not. And let’s face it, if an 89 cent price isn’t enough to get people to buy your book in droves (because, let’s face it, everyone loves what they perceive to be a bargain and 89 cents is a rather unusual price for Amazon), then 99 cents probably isn’t going to do it, either. At least not in and of itself.

In the final analysis, what makes bestsellers ISN’T price–it’s the right combination of concept, price, and execution. In other words, to quote The Talking Heads, same as it ever was.

14 Days, 14 Sentences

I looked at the calendar this morning and, to my shock, realized it’s just 14 days until the release of Grace Under Fire. I’ve had a year to ramp up to this, but somehow, impending releases always manage to take me by surprise.

Anyway, in honor of the two-week pre-release milestone, I hereby bring you 14 sentences of historical, menage-y goodness. Enjoy!

“If it please your lady, I am Mr. Atticus Stilwell, and this,” he continued, standing and gesturing in Sir Blue Eyes’ direction, “is Viscount Colin Fitzgerald.”

Momentarily dumbfounded by this abrupt shift in the tension pervading the small room, Grace could only nod and marvel that, somehow, she had correctly intuited which of them held the title and which did not.

“Colin wishes to ask for your hand in marriage.”

“What?” Her gaze snapped abruptly from Mr. Stilwell to Lord Fitzgerald, and she swayed dizzily when the gentleman nodded his dark head in confirmation. She was so taken aback by this turn of events, she blurted out the first words that came to her mind. “So, I am not about to be ravished, then?”

Mr. Stilwell laughed, a hearty, rolling sound like water at full boil. “Now, now, I never said that.” Grasping her upper arm, he guided her onto the settee, sitting so close beside her that the warmth of his body radiated through the layers of her dress and petticoat right to her skin.

Lord Fitzgerald crossed the floor in two long strides and seated himself on the other side of her. He, too, was hot as a loaf of bread fresh from the oven. “Atticus is right,” he murmured, placing his hand on her thigh. “If you wish to be ravished, we can certainly oblige you.”

Knowing Too Little Vs Knowing Too Much

One of the perennial frustrations of being published by one of the traditional print publishers is that it takes forever to get any hard data on how your books are selling. The typical print publishers put out royalty statements twice a year–one in May covering the previous July to December’s sales and another in December covering January to June. True, you can look at your ranking numbers on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and now that Amazon is giving authors Bookscan data, you can see how many print copies of your book are selling each week. What Amazon won’t do, however, is tell you how many DIGITAL copies you’re selling, either on their website or anyone else’s. This means that if a sizable percentage of your sales are digital, you don’t have any real idea of how many copies have sold until a year after the fact.

Most digital publishers have improved significantly on print publishers by disclosing sales figures and pay royalties on a monthly basis. This means you usually know by the end of February how your book sold in January and by the end of March how it sold in February and so on. You’re still about a month behind the curve, but at least you have data soon enough to have some sense of how things are going.

But now we have self-publishing through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. If you are selling a book through THESE channels, you can find out EVERY SINGLE DAY how many copies of your book have sold. And let me tell you, checking your sales data can become an obsession.

When I put out the digital version of The Reiver back in January, I didn’t just look at my data once a day; I swear I looked at it every three hours. I’ve managed to control myself a little better in the past few weeks, and some days, I don’t even look at all. Still, it’s kind of amazing that I can say exactly how many copies of the book have sold at any given minute of any given day (as of this moment, it’s 319) when I have no clue how many total copies of anything else I’ve sold.

But there is a downside to all this knowledge. Aside from the fact that you can waste a LOT of time refreshing the page view to find out how many copies you’ve sold, there’s also the neverending need to compare yourself to other people. In the self-publishing world, there are a lot of authors reporting sales of hundreds of copies per month, if not hundreds per day. When you’re only selling 100 copies or so per month, it’s hard not to wonder WHY. Why are others selling so many books at 99 cents (or 2.99 or 3.99 or whatever), while I’m selling so few? What am I doing wrong? Why don’t people LOOOOOOOVE me more?

I’m not saying this happens to everyone who self-publishes. I do think it’s hard not to feel a little “jilted” as a writer when you aren’t selling as well as someone else. In fact, it’s pretty much exactly the same as the feeling of a writer who’s been passed over by New York time and again while watching all their friends/acquaintances get contract after contract. It’s just that now, instead of trying to get editors to buy your work, you’re trying to get readers to buy it and wondering where you’re going wrong.

For me, 319 sales in less than two months of a short story that is also published in a print anthology seems like THE BOMB. I never expected or even hoped to sell enough copies to hit a bestseller list or make thousands of dollars. I just wanted to give people who might like my writing another opportunity to discover me at a lower price point than they could otherwise. Given this, I’m not freaking out or trying to figure out what I’ve “done wrong.”

But I do worry about what will happen should I decide to self-publish something I have higher hopes for. I’m currently writing a category-length novel. It’s something I might end up self-publishing. And it’s a book I dearly love and want to see do well. Will having too much information drive me crazy? Will I be happy with a few hundred sales a month when I’m more invested? I really don’t know.

But I do know that it’s sometimes possible to know too much.

I’m Number One (for now)

The lovely Maisey Yates pointed out to me on Twitter this morning that GRACE UNDER FIRE was #18 on the Coming Soon list on Amazon Kindle for All Books. After a little digging, I discovered the book is at #10 in Fiction and #1 (you read that right, #1!) in Erotica.

I’m stunned. Stunned and thrilled. And I’m sure it won’t last. So, for the sake of posterity, here’s the screen shot:

To everyone who’s preordered, thank you SO SO much. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your willingness to spend your hard-eaned money to read my work.

Do Unto Others…(On Authors Writing Reviews)

It seems lately that there’s a growing list of things that authors should either do or not do. Sometimes, there is contradictory advice on the same subject.

That’s pretty much the way I feel about the whole YAMafia brouhaha and the question of whether authors should/should not be reviewers. To me, it honestly seems as if someone is going to be offended no matter what advice is preached on this subject.

I want to state categorically that I don’t have any objection to authors or aspiring authors reviewing books. Writers are readers, too, and as readers, they’re 100% entitled to have their opinions of books and to share them.

Personally, I have no objection to an author I consider a friend reviewing any of my books, whether positively or negatively. If someone writes a negative review of my book, I am not going to refuse to do that author a favor in the future nor am I going to give him/her the cold shoulder if we meet at a conference.

By the same token, however, I don’t review books myself except in a very limited set of circumstances and then only if I can express genuine love for a book. I don’t write negative/highly critical reviews of books, not because I’m afraid I’ll be blackballed in the industry but because I value my relationships with my writer friends (and in the romance community, you’re either already my friend or there’s a good chance you may become my friend) more than I think the world will value my opinion of their books.

Books are important, yes. But people are more important.

So my advice is simply this: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you’re an author/aspiring author and you write reviews, I support your decision 100%. Just ask yourself when posting a negative review–if this were MY book, how would I feel about this review? Would I find it critical but fair or truly hurtful (and yes, I do believe there’s a difference)? If you can’t answer “critical but fair” then consider not posting it or at least revising it until you can.

And that is my final word on the subject (at least until the next time it causes an internet kerfuffle).

Impulse Buying

Today, Avon (the division of HarperCollins, not the makeup distributor) announced the launch of its new digital imprint, Avon Impulse. In addition to digital books, at least some of their titles will be available as print-on-demand.

This move comes as absolutely no surprise to me, as I suspect almost all of the traditional print presses are going to have digital-first imprints in the works, if not up and running, by the end of this year. The digital market is simply growing too quickly for publishers to overlook it as a source of revenue.

I know a lot of writers are very excited by the availability of this new market, particularly since it has Avon’s “brand” associated with it (unlike Carina Press which, though owned and operated by Harlequin, does not have the Harlequin brand in its name). Like most digital publishers, they are not paying an advance, but their website says they are paying 25% royalties on the first 9,999 copies sold, then 50% on every copy over 10,000. That sounds pretty decent (although it’s not very likely that a large percentage of titles will ever sell 10,000+ copies and achieve the 50% rate), but we have already found the catch–to wit, this percentage is on net, not either gross or list price.

In my humble opinion, this is not a good deal. Most of the digital publishers I’ve worked with or my friends have worked with pay their royalty percentages on gross or list price, at least when the book is sold through the epublishers’ own website. When the book is purchased through third party sites (like Amazon or B&N), the royalty rate is either reduced somewhat or the percentage is the same but paid on net. And in most cases, when digital publishers are paying on net, they are paying 30-45% from the first copy sold, not demanding that the author sell a buttload of copies before achieving a higher royalty rate.

My traditional publisher is paying royalties on my novella anthology at 25% of list price. I strongly suspect Avon is paying digital royalties to their traditional print authors on list price, as well, although I don’t know what the current percentages are. So why are they offering to pay LESS to authors who are foregoing an advance? The only way the no-advance digital model can work financially in the author’s favor is if the royalty rate is higher than it would be in the advance-paying print market.

How much of a difference is there going to be between 25% on net versus 25% on gross/list price? I can’t be sure, but my understanding is that most of the etailers take a cut of 30% or so from the list price of the book. (Depending on whether or not agency pricing is involved, they may or may not be taking that full 30%, since if they are discounting the book, they still have to pay the publisher 70% of list.) Then there is the question of what else the publisher will fold into the cost of producing and distributing the book. Net means “how much we made on each copy after paying all the costs associated with creating it,” so they could conceivably take a cut from each sale to cover the cost of the cover art, editing, etc. They might not, but until we see the contracts, we won’t know either way what all is included in the difference between list price and net.

Even assuming the only cost being skimmed from the list price is the 30% for the etailer, the effect of paying on net is that they’re really not paying 25%, but 17.5%. Only after the 10,000th copy do they start matching the typical epublisher royalty rate of around 35%.

All in all, I can’t say I’d recommend Avon Impulse at this point. I don’t have an issue with publishers paying on net, per se, but if they are going to pay on net, they have to pay at a MUCH higher rate (35-50%) and on EVERY copy they sell.

In other words, buyer beware!

Romance Trading Cards for RT Booklovers Convention

An offhand comment on Twitter the other night by the lovely and talented Gwen Hayes (whose fabulous debut YA romance, Falling Under, was released Mar 1) about romance trading cards quickly snowballed into the real thing. The wonderful Jeannie Lin has been spearheading the effort, collecting the names of participating authors for both RT next month and for the RWA National Convention in July. She’s also posted templates that some authors are using for their cards, although I chose to go in a slightly different direction. You can find the templates and other deets on her site and see some examples as well as get the list of participating authors here.

Anyway, I decided to make five different cards, one for each novella in my Kensington anthology, one for The Reiver and one for Grace Under Fire, which is being released just a few days before RT (yay!). So, without further ado, here are my cards:

So, what do you think? I’m pretty happy with them, especially considering that three days ago, I wouldn’t have had a CLUE how to put together an image like this. Ah, the things one learns, being an author!