Saturday, August 18, 2012

Can You Get Rich On 99 Cents?

On this fine Saturday evening, I thought I'd weigh in with my thoughts on the 99 cent price point. This has been the subject of considerable back-and-forth among the indie author community, but I have, so far, stayed out of it. Well, after having been "in business" for a little over a year and experimented with a wide range of marketing techniques, I'm ready to share my experiences.

When I wrote my first two novels, Weaver and Atticus for the Undead, I initially priced each at 99 cents. Having read that now-famous indie authors like Amanda Hocking and Darcie Chan skyrocketed to stardom after pricing their books at 99 cents, I thought that this might be a good way to encourage people to give my novels a try. I was an indie author, after all, who was launching his career during a recession, when people were going to be naturally hesitant to spend money. 99 cents made sense. So, with a deep breath, I gave it a shot.

It was a failure. A rather miserable failure, actually.

The 99 cent price drew few readers, and, what's more, since Amazon only lets you keep 35% of the royalties for books at that price, my profits on the books I did sell were beyond anemic--they were pathetic. I went months and months without a single royalty check to show for my efforts. So what was I doing wrong that Hocking, Chan, and the rest were doing right?

Of course I can't answer that question with certainty. I have no idea what's in the minds of potential readers, and even the most experienced writers and publishers say that there's simply no predicting which books will take off and which won't. Part of the answer may be that my genre (urban-fantasy novels which tend toward the thriller side of things) is simply less popular than the genres embraced by my more successful counterparts. Or it may simply be that I'm just not a very good writer (though for the sake of my ego, I try not to believe this).

But I believe that part of the answer is that there is actually a stigma associated with 99 cent pricing now, related to the stigma that accompanies indie authorship. I think many readers realize that big publishing houses wouldn't charge such a low price for their books--indeed, many traditionally published e-books are, in my opinion, now badly overpriced. Therefore, when potential buyers see a book at that price, they assume it can only be an indie novel, and the aversion to indies kicks in.

So I changed tactics. I marked Atticus for the Undead up to $2.99 (which is still probably cheaper than traditional publishers would charge, but I hoped the price increase would at least eliminate some of the "you get what you pay for" mentality). When The Void (Book 2 in The Weaver Saga) went live, I made Weaver itself free. The results of this move were dramatic--especially this month, now that Amazon has gotten around to price-matching. Copies of Weaver flew off the e-shelves, and The Void has delivered me my single best month of sales yet. It has even outsold Atticus during the months that Atticus was available on KDP Select. (If you're wondering why the "you get what you pay for" mentality kicks in for a book at 99 cents but not a book that's free, don't ask me.)

The lesson I learned? If you want to use low prices to encourage readers to try out your work, just go ahead and make it free. You don't make much money on 99 cent books anyway, and the heightened potential for exposure more than makes up for any losses you do incur--especially if, like me, you write series. I still hope to one day get rich as an indie author--but I won't be doing it at 99 cents.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Can I Stop The Signal?

Does anyone else find themselves accidentally channeling their favorite fictional characters when they're writing fiction?

For example, I'm sure it will surprise no one who reads this blog to learn that I am a HUGE fan of Firefly. Have been for years. Imagine my surprise when I sat down to write Atticus for the Undead and, quite unintentionally, found that Hunter had become Mal! Now, if you've read the book and watched the show, you'll know that they have little to do with each other. There's no space travel in Atticus, and, though he lives and works in Texas, Hunter is no cowboy. He might own a brown coat, but if so, it's purely coincidental. And yet, every time Hunter said something on the page, it was Mal saying that same thing in my head. (I may or may not have had to stop myself from inserting "gorram" and "shiny" into Hunter's dialogue a few times.)

Similarly, when I was writing Assistant Director Odell Graves, Moira's boss in The Void (Book 2 of The Weaver Saga, Book 1 of which is now free everywhere, by the way), I found that he wanted to sound very much like Agent Broyles from Fringe. (In this case, it probably didn't help that one of my beta readers for the book is a huge Fringe fan and actively pushed me in that direction.) I suppose this one is more understandable since both men are FBI Agents and both are the bosses of the main characters in their respective series'. And I do like the Broyles character quite a lot. But he's not allowed to body-snatch my FBI Agent, dammit!

And then, tonight, as I was working on Identity Theft (sequel to Atticus for the Undead), I was writing an exchange in which Hunter's new client asked him why anyone would ever willingly let themselves be mind-controlled. It took true force of will to stop Hunter from replying, "Some people juggle geese." So not only does Hunter want to channel Firefly, he can't even stick to a single character. Curse him and his zombie-defending ways!

Seriously though, am I the only one with this problem? Do vampire writers ever find their vampire characters talking like Spike or Damon Salvatore? Do space fiction writers ever have Han Solo or Admiral Adama earworming them as they write? This can't be just me--can it?