Category Archives: attitudes to self-publishing

A matter of Price and Death

What you charge for your ebook is a hot topic, a hot potato and a headache all in one.

And its a matter that I don’t take lightly. Throughout the last 6 months, I’ve read many authors’ and bloggers’ thoughts as I’ve gone through the process of making William’s work available in ebook form.

Pegasus Falling has been available at several price points since its launch in March. I launched it at a fairly respectable (in my then opinion) £1.49 / $1.99. Although this didn’t qualify it for the 70% royalty on the US price, it did represent (again, in my opinion), a good introductory price for those who would be interested in reading it.

However, as I read more into it, it looked like I might have been too eager, and evidence was pointing towards new authors having to price their work at rock bottom to start sales going. On the back of a story published in the Guardian back in February, I dropped the price to the minimum permissible on KDP – £0.75 / $0.99.

Sales started to pick up. This is without doubt partly down to us receiving some very positive reviews from early readers on Amazon and the intrepid and generous bloggers who have taken a punt on an unknown author. But it did appear that if people were seeking the book out, the low price was leading to an on-the-spot sale. After all, it’s less than a quid – where could you go wrong?

Then, as sales started to go slowly but surely upwards,  I started reading around again, and was worried that I was doing the novel an injustice by charging the bare minimum…

This interesting post from Catherine Ryan Howard helped seal my decision. Her argument seemed to ring true with what others were saying around the net – that you should try and price your work at a point where it is simultaneously a bargain and expensive enough not to look suspect. I could see the logic behind thinking that readers would be put off by a price that was too low – after all, you tend to get what you pay for, don’t you? And with me thinking it would be nice to earn 70% of £1.79 (£1.21) rather than 30% of £0.75 (£0.26) with each sale, and confident that sales figures would continue to rise and rise on the back of more and more positive reviews, so I made the changes.

I upped the price to £1.79 and $2.99 on all platforms. And, to be fair, sales continued for a week – albeit with Amazon discounting the book to start with, because they had been quicker to apply the new price, so were still price matching the dawdling Smashwords and Kobo.

But then, the worst thing possible happened. Sales slowed to a barely noticeable trickle. Despite the fact that more positive reviews continued to be posted, with each one, the anticipated flurry of sales failed to materialise. It was more like an occasional drip than a flurry – a lone snow flake blowing in the wind, not the blizzard I had been sure would happen.

So what went wrong? I had priced the book at a reasonable, yet still bargain basement price. But sales made for the opposite direction to where I’d hoped.

It took a while for it to sink in, but after arguably our best and most widely read review yet lead to one of the most lacklustre sales weeks we’ve had so far, I had to come to the conclusion that something was wrong with the price.

Promoting your book is all about making people care about it – they have to want to pick it up and read it. Reviews are one way of getting it seen, and Pegasus Falling has had universally good or excellent reviews. But, as I’ve discovered, that’s not enough to get people to reach into their virtual pockets and pay good money to read it.

The fact is that many people must have had a good look at Pegasus Falling online, but decided that $2.99 is still too much to fork out, seeing as they’ve never heard of the book before and besides, there are other books by other unknown writers out there which are being given away for free, or close to free. That barrier that goes up in a large proportion (whether its a majority or not, I still don’t know) of the reading population when they see a self-published book (or suspect it is) stops a lot of potential buyers from clicking “Add to cart”.

And after all, The Bridge aside, there are no other works of William’s available…for now. Until It Never Was You is released later in the year, he will remain a completely unknown author of only one major work, and people are wary of trying out anything new. 

Although the argument that a higher price will give your book more kudos amongst the reading public might be a very attractive one, I think it is flawed – certainly for the little or unknown author just starting out. Yes, I believe that Pegasus Falling is well worth the $2.99 price tag, but I can’t get passed the fact that at that price, it has sold nowhere near the numbers it has at $0.99.

And at the end of the day, it’s sales that matter at this stage. The more people read the book, the better. We have to make some money from the venture – bills need paying, after all, and yes, the royalties are far lower per unit at this price point – it takes almost five sales at $0.99 to make the same royalty as it does one sale at $2.99. But if your sales increase 10-fold, you win in two ways…you make more money, and more people read your books. 

So, the decision has been made to reduce the price back down to its minimum and the ebook is available on all platforms for £0.79 / £0.99. Whether it’ll be permanent or not, I don’t know, but it will be interesting to see if sales pick up and grow again.

One thing I’d say to other novice self-publishers is this. Although you know your book is amazing and people will love it when they read it, the general public don’t know that yet, and even if it tickles their fancy, they may not want to pay good money on an unknown quantity. Don’t run before you can walk. Although you know in your heart that your book is worth more, price it at a point which makes the most sales. Experiment, by all means – you may be luckier, and find that you can get away with a higher price – but don’t be scared to bring the price down again.

I’d be interested to hear what other authors / publishers experiences have been.


EDIT (4th September 2012): Well, since first writing this post, we’ve had another lacklustre month of sales. Perhaps it was the small matter of the world being distracted by elite sportsmen and women doing what they do best, or the fact that people just don’t buy books over the summer because they’re on the beach reading the ones they’ve already bought, but reducing the price to £0.99 made no difference at all.

And in the mean time, I’ve been talking to other indie authors about the subject. It seems there is no easy answer, but the $0.99 price point is no longer the silver bullet it once was. It’s too low for the book for serious readers to be take it seriously, and too high for those readers only after freebies to consider.

So once again, the price has changed. It’s back at $2.99 / £1.79. With Saturday’s exciting news that Pegasus Falling has been named a finalist in the Kindle Book Review’s Best Indie Books of 2012 contest, the accolades are starting to roll in, and I have to set the price at a point that matches the excellent response its getting from those who do read it.

Pegasus Falling is a serious book for serious readers and I feel that I have to stand by its quality. Others are, so why shouldn’t I?

Pegasus Falling is available now from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Kobo & Smashwords

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Is the indie stigma shifting?

One reviewer recently signed off her blog post about Pegasus Falling thus: “If you think self published books are never going to be any good then try this one – you may just change your mind.” I was chuffed to read that – but it made me think – despite the huge upsurge in self-publishing, there is still, quite obviously, a big stigma attached to it. But it is changing. And has the balance tipped?

I’ve been amazed at just how many bloggers I’ve approached have been open to the idea of reading a book by someone they’ve never heard of before and with no previous pedigree. Indeed, it’s heartwarming to see so many bloggers welcoming submissions from indie authors and publishers with open arms. These people obviously feel that they have found a deep and rich vein of talent which they consider untapped and worthy of discovery. Of course, by offering reviews, in return they get the ultimate prize – an unending supply of books to read! But it’s a win-win situation. All indie authors/publishers should be thankful for these intrepid bloggers’ efforts, and I for one am extremely grateful. 
Another aspect which has surprised me is that the local press have run with the story and I was invited to appear on the local radio station. Although it’s probably more to do with the human aspect of our own little backstory than anything else, even so, it’s quite an achievement to garner such widespread acknowledgement from the establishment given the circumstances.

Even the local branch of Waterstones in Milton Keynes, a shop which William frequented almost on a daily basis before his illness struck, now stock Pegasus Falling. (*SHAMELESS PLUG: it is for sale in the Midsummer Place branch at the bargain price of £5.99, so go forth and buy it before they run out!*) 

All this for a book written by a pensioner 20 years ago and published by his grandson. Not a bad reaction so far…

And on a bigger scale, there is evidence to suggest that wider opinions of self-publishing are changing. Three years ago when we published the hardback of The Cypress Branches, things were quite different. Although the local newspapers ran with the story then too, in my research into various marketing opportunities, there was a feeling that self-published books just weren’t up to anything and there was very little interest. Self-publishing was referred to disparagingly as the “vanity press” – a term still with us today, but used much less frequently now, I find.

There were several reasons why The Cypress Branches failed to sell – for a start it was too big and pricy – a behemoth of a book which intimidated rather than lulled. But throughout my efforts to get the book seen by reviewers and retailers, I was faced with the same brick wall, an attitude that if it’s self-published, it’s bound to be bad. Out of the countless emails I sent out, I received but a handful of replies, all of them a swift but courteous, “thanks but we can’t help you”.

Well, all but one. It was the reaction of a particular bookseller near where I live which finally drove home the final nail back then – this particular reaction had more to do with the man’s ingrained prejudice against self-publishing than the book itself, for he didn’t even entertain the idea of peering inside the front cover before dismissing me with the sneeriest of tones. I ended up leaving the shop, one which I had enjoyed browsing on a few occasions in the past, feeling utterly deflated and angry. I can take rejections, but not sheer bloody-minded nastiness (and yes, I am still bitter, and no, I will not be approaching him again with the paperbacks).

So, to try again three years down the line, it has been refreshing to receive the positive reactions I have so far. Yes, there are still the unanswered requests for reviews and the press releases which inevitably end up being ignored – there always will be, and that is to be expected – but this time, I was quite pleasantly surprised to receive so many replies with a resoundingly positive “yes please”. Of course, many lessons have been learned since my fumbled attempts at marketing the hardback. For a start, Pegasus Falling is a much more inviting product which has benefited greatly from past lessons learned. But I think it is a wider acceptance of self-publication which is helping as well.

Just take a look at the cover article from the Guardian’s g2 magazine a couple of weeks ago. This article (very useful reading if you’re new to self-publishing) is just the latest of a tranche published by the Guardian in recent months extolling the virtues, impact and success stories of authors who go it alone.

Even so, there is still a lot of evidence to show that there is still a stigma attached to self-publishing. I wonder if it’s thanks to the fact it’s very easy indeed to put a book out there. Too easy, perhaps, given the ease with which authors can publish ebooks with the likes of Amazon’s KDP and Kobo’s new offering. There’s a feeling amongst some media professionals that publishing an ebook isn’t real publishing. But I find that very disparaging. It may well be easy peasy to hit the “publish” button on KDP. But there’s still a heck of a lot of hard work involved before that button is pressed.

And it’s not just the mainstream press which views the indie publisher/author negatively. Not all bloggers are open to the idea of reading self-published books. I’ve encountered a large number (probably the majority – just), the authors of which make it quite clear that they will not review self-published books, no matter how well received it has already been, or how interested they may be in the story / subject matter. Their loss, I’d say, as there are obviously some high quality (or at least mass-appeal) indie books out there which are well worth reading.

And this underlying prejudice has a big impact on how self-published authors publicise themselves. I for one feel that it would be a waste of time and energy to approach newspapers and television / radio shows on a national scale – certainly for now. Perhaps one day soon, when the book has garnered more praise, it would be an idea to, but I can’t help but think that as soon as they smell a self-published novel, their opinion would immediately be tainted. After all, how many self-pubbed books have you seen reviewed in the national press lately (discounting the self-pubbers-done-good who have landed themselves a deal with a mainstream publisher)?

But the fact is that indie publishing is here, making an indelible mark on the industry and it’s definitely here to stay.

For decades, independent film makers have been able to make their own films, the best of which have found fame and fortune. Young, independent film makers have strived to be creative away from the mainstream and cut their teeth making wonderful (and not so wonderful) films without major backing. The lucky, talented few have been discovered and been given a leg up – funding and encouragement, in order to make sure that the right talent can be successful.

And now the publishing world has its own equivalent, thanks to ebook manufacturers and the growing online community supporting independent writers. As the latest indie successes have shown, the cream will still rise to the top, but now it is taking a different route than it used to.

Yes attitudes are changing, but possibly too slowly and the stigma attached to self-publishing needs to be lifted. I believe that mainstream publishing will come to rely on the self-published author, just as Hollywood relies on the independent film world for discovering new talent. As self-published authors continue to up their game, it is time for the big publishers to change their attitude, for their own good, as well as that of the wider reading public.