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How To Price Your eBook

how much money should I charge for my bookColumn by David Biddle

At the beginning of December, I reduced the online price of my novel and a story collection. I wanted my books to be part of the holiday sales craze, so I took the ebook versions from $4.99 to 99¢. My royalties at those prices? About 30¢ a sale.

I smiled when I told my wife that I’d done this–a crooked, sad, maniacal smile. She gave me her best “WTF!” expression. And as it’s turned out, I should have paid attention.

It’s way too easy for us indie authors to devalue what we’re selling. Way too easy. If we don’t rack up downloads right away, we go into pricechopper mode, as if our work is the equivalent of a can of stewed tomatoes that hasn’t moved.

What’s the best price for an indie ebook? Shoot, what’s the best price for a book in general? Publishers struggled with this issue immensely when everything was paper based. A first-run print job was a sizable risk, even with good marketing. According to bestselling author Kathryn Rusch, who writes the blog The Business Rusch:

“By the middle of the previous decade, it cost at least $250,000 to publish a mid-list novel with a nice cover and an author advance of $10,000.”

But with ebooks, supply is limitless. There’s no cost difference between one or a million digital downloads. The only thing any ebook author needs to worry about is demand.

That’s a big worry, though. Building demand for a book is hard as hell for individual authors. You have to account both for what customers expect and what they value. The latter often comes down to subjectively defined qualities like skilled editing, effective plotting, character development, and use of language.

In the early days of ebook distribution, it was all about attracting readers. The best price back in 2009, when the Kindle was introduced? Free.

Many of the initial successful indies–like romance novelist Judy Powell and humorist/blogger Rachel Thompson–built big audiences by using what was then an open-ended system at Amazon that allowed them to offer at least some of their work for nothing.

In an interview with Forbes last fall, Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, says of a company study about ebook price points:

“At the Apple iBook store, free books are downloaded about 100 times more than paid books. The lesson for authors who want to rapidly build their platform is that free books are a very powerful tool.”

Yet, even if you opt for this tried-and-true route, there’s really no more “free” on Amazon–or Barnes and Noble, for that matter.

Last year, Amazon introduced its Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) system, which has many fabulous features. As one example, in an industry notorious for inaccurate and incomplete reporting to authors and agents, its real-time online reporting system is a big fat raspberry at traditional publishers.

But the most prominent feature of KDP is a pricing system that allows the author to set his or her book between $2.99 and $9.99 in exchange for getting 70 percent of the take. KDP also allows authors a more flexible price range of 99¢ to $200 if they’re willing to accept royalties of 35 percent.

At Amazon, the lowest you can go with price is a penny off the dollar –with one exception. KDP members are allowed five “free days” in each 90-day period if they’re willing to sign a deal where they sell their digital title only through Amazon’s Kindle Store.

In 2012, many indie writers gave the “free day” concept a shot (or two or three). I did a three-day August run that resulted in 10,100 downloads of my novel. Some other indies have reported getting as many as 50,000 downloads when their books were free.

If you’re an unknown author, that’s absolutely amazing. It matches Coker’s findings in the Smashwords study.

But you burn through those days quickly, get drunk on the idea that so many people have your book, and then must reenter the real world of charging for your writing. In my case, after my free days, I priced my book at $2.99. I got two downloads the day after and then nothing for several weeks, no matter what marketing I did. By the end of September, I’d had enough. I’d written a great story that was professionally edited and formatted. If it could sit at $2.99 with no purchases, why not have at least a little pride and make it $4.99?

In fact, while Coker points out that, logically, 99¢ books sell better than $1.99 books and $1.99 books sell better than those priced at $2.99, here’s his key observation:

“As price increased there were fewer sales. But what price yields the greatest income? And that was really interesting: We found that the $2.99 to $5.99 price band appears to be the sweet spot for indie authors, those prices over-performed the average in terms of income for the author. But 99¢ and $1.99 under-performed.”

That’s because books aren’t commodities. They aren’t even really consumer items in the conventional sense. Each book is a unique world that readers step into and keep safe on a shelf or in their Kindles when they’re done.

Customers may love discounts on bestsellers, but they don’t buy any old book just because it’s cheap. Try imagining the equivalent of a supermarket sale sign, and you’ll see the problem:

While Supplies Last!
Prices Slashed on Sexy Literary Thriller!
Less Than a Can of Tomatoes!

You can’t replace one book with another. For instance, I just bought the paperback version of Haruki Murakami’s mammoth 2011 novel 1Q84 for about $20. It’s fabulous. I also have roughly 20 books that I’ve downloaded for free this year from indie authors I know and another 50-plus that I’ve purchased for anywhere from $1 to $3.

But I’ve read very few of those downloaded ebooks. I regularly attempt to, but things keep getting in the way–yet I am reading Murakami, an established literary author, in paper.

So: Are we trying to sell books? Or to get people to read them–to enter the worlds we’ve created?

That’s not a rhetorical question.

Experienced authors like thriller writer Wesley Dean Smith regularly offer suggestions to indies about pricing. Here are his latest recommendations for 2013:

  • Novels: $6.99 – $7.99
  • Short Books: $3.99
  • Short Stories: $2.99
  • Short Story Collections: $4.99 – $7.99 (depending on the number of stories)

For Smith, indies are competing with traditionally published books. He also astutely points not only to the digital/paper divide but also to the psychology of buying books in either form. “If you have a $16.99 trade paper and a $7.99 electronic novel, it looks right to buyers,” he says.

The thing is, most indie authors don’t pay attention to this advice. The majority of indie ebooks are priced from 99¢ to $2.99. That’s a lot of “WTF!” spousal faces.

But if Kindle and iPad owners liked an author’s 99¢ mystery or romance novel last year, maybe they’ll be willing to pay $4.99 or $5.99 for another book by the same author this year. Maybe they’ll pay $6.99 and $7.99 for other titles the following year.

Which brings me back to that beautiful face my wife made in December. She was right–and I’m paying attention.

In early January, I raised my prices to be more in line with what Dean Wesley Smith advises. As I move forward, I’m hoping that my potential readers will see value when they look at the price tag–rather than a deal.

I have a new novel coming out this spring. I assure you, it will not be sitting on the floor somewhere with a 99¢ sticker on it. But even at $6.99, it will be less than any traditionally published novel out there.


First published on talking writing


Publishing Information


David BiddleDavid Biddle David Biddle is a contributing writer at TW. His Talking Indie column recounts the ups and downs of being an independent publisher.

You’ll find information about his novel “Beyond the Will of God” and other digital fiction on davidbiddle.net.

“I felt sleazy and pathetic. I’d been reduced to begging my family and friends to buy my book.” — “Sorry, Your Buddies Won’t Buy Your Book”


How to Find Your Themes

Writing fiction is about telling stories . . . but what is telling stories about?

When you tell someone a story, why are you doing this? What compels you to create lies that have about them the ring of truth; what drives you to invent people and places and events and create a context that pulls them all together and makes them seem real?

When you are creating fiction, at heart you are searching for ways to create order in the universe.

You are digging into your core beliefs on how the world works, and running imaginary people through a trial universe built on these beliefs to see how both the people and the beliefs stand up under pressure. People who write fiction tend not to accept the world at face value — in general, they are the people who always got in trouble when they were little for asking “Why?” one time too many about something that, to everyone else, seemed pretty obvious.

When you started writing fiction, you probably did so at about the same time that you discovered that not only did your parents not have all the answers to the universe, but neither did anybody else. You discovered that, if you wanted an answer to that still-nagging “Why?” you were going to have to find the answer yourself.

Writing fiction is the act of questioning the silent, unanswering infinite and demanding that the infinite cough up a reply . . . and hurry up about it, too.

It is the ultimate defiance of that stock parental response, “Because I said so.” Writing fiction is standing on the edge of the abyss of ignorance, looking across at the cliffs on the other side, and saying, “With nothing but words, I am going to build myself a bridge that takes me from here to there . . . and when I’m done, other people will be able to cross over that same bridge.” It’s an act of ultimate hubris, but of ultimate courage, too, because the abyss can eat you, and will if you slip.

So which bridges are worth building?

You can’t cover the whole abyss. You can run a thousand lines from one side to the other if you live long enough, and you won’t even cast a shadow on the voracious ignorance that lies beneath. All you can do is span the darkness with your slender threads, and build them strong enough that people can traverse them, and make them interesting enough that people will take the risk.

Which bridges are worth risking life and limb and hope and soul to create? Only those that take you to someplace you have not yet been.

And how do you decide which bridges those might be? You ask yourself the following question: To what questions in life have I not yet found a satisfactory answer?

These are some of my answers to that question:

Why do good things happen to bad people? Have you figured that one out yet? I haven’t. Why do bad things happen to good people? I’ve struggled with that one through a couple of books, and I have a couple of angles on it now, but certainly not the definitive one.

Why do we get old and die? Would living in these bodies forever be better? I’ve run with that one a couple of times now, too.

Why do we fall in love? Why do we fall out of love? Why do we hunger for the place that is just beyond the next horizon?

What is evil, and why do some people choose evil? What is good, and why do some people choose good? How are the first group of people different from the second group? How are they the same?

Is there a God, and if there is, does he or she know I’m here? And if he or she does . . . what is going on with my life?

Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? Is there anything that lies beyond the realm of this moment, this breath, this place and time? Do we have souls, and if so, what does that mean? Do we have a purpose for being here? What do we mean to each other? What constitutes living a meaningful life? What is love, and why does it matter?

These have all been my themes. Perhaps they are the same questions you have wondered about. Perhaps your curiosity and doubt run in completely different directions. In either case, your themes will define the power of your work, and its meaning not only to you but to everyone who reads it.

If you choose to work with safe themes — with questions to which you already know the answer — you’ll write safe books.

You can have a very successful career writing safe books; after all, you won’t drive too hard into the core of anyone’s comfort zone, you won’t force your readers to question the meaning of their own lives, you won’t upset yourself or anyone else by reaching conclusions you don’t like or find frightening.

But you won’t grow as a writer, either, and you’ll risk becoming bored with your characters and your stories and your work.

You can have a successful career writing about the questions you haven’t answered, too. Mark Twain, my favorite writer, is also my favorite example of a man whose themes challenged the pat answers and asked the scary questions. He was a marvelous entertainer and a brilliant raconteur . . . but he also dared to look even God in the eye and say, “This doesn’t make sense to me. Explain yourself.”

In books and short stories and articles and essays and letters, again and again he held a mirror up to the world of his day and said, “Your actions belie your words, people. Your beliefs don’t fit the facts. And your hypocrisy shames you . . . you deserve better of yourselves than to act the way you do.” He wrote with everything he had. He dared the tough themes. And now, long after his death, when his colleagues who chose to write safely are nothing but footnotes in unread texts, Mark Twain continues to talk to us. His bridges across the abyss are still strong, still in use, still vital to those who want and need to get to the places he explored.

Every writer has something to say, but those writers whose works endure have dared to say something about the things that frighten them, confuse them, challenge them, and occasionally delight them.

They have not gone across the bridges built by others. They have dared to build their own.

You can find your own themes, and add power and depth to your work by daring to explore them through fiction. You can leave a worthwhile series of bridges into unknown territory, a solid series of roads away from ignorance and into knowledge that your readers can continue to use long after you are dust. In a world that cannot offer you physical immortality, you can leave something of your spirit, your courage, your hope and your integrity behind.

Find your themes — your REAL themes — and write them. I dare you.

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by Holly Lisle

Source: http://hollylisle.com/finding-your-themes/

Cover Reveals: Bold & Exciting

Michelle Rene Goodhew: illustrated book covers designed for author Susan Lattwein.

as released on:

Creative Review


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Arafura – Blood, the Wet and Tears: Nobody said the build-up would be easy. No body …

&
Arafura – Unfinished Business: Love is patient. Love is kind. Sometimes love is explosive.


I started this project with the second novel first and was asked later to redesign the first cover in the series. I began with energy and excitement because I knew I was going to try something different in my way of illustrating. Susan had requested a naval ship on the cover dressed in party lights, and this was a romance novel. How was I going to bring her story forward with these beginning ideas? And then I had a great idea, I would bring attention to the intensity of her novel through a bold play on color and my use of line.

As Susan had put it, “It’s not easy explaining what you want on a cover when you’re not sure yourself, let alone to someone on the other side of the earth, via email and not over a cup of coffee with the advantage of waving your arms around to get your point across …”


Arafura BWT 3

Working on the ‘Arafura’ books has been full of rewards. The sunset was a new venture that I started with a wax base for texture. I have never constructed a painting this way and thought it was vibrant and captured the color I was looking for. Susan responded with a request to give the clouds more definition and I’m so grateful she did. The final result is striking compared to my first draft. This is a great new style for me and I look forward to trying it again.

Arafura UB 1.5

I guess I had a good vision of the ship from nearly the beginning. I had started with a side profile and then Susan recommended the front view of the ship hoping for a more ominous feeling. I ran with that and had a clear Idea of how I wanted the colors to play on the surface of the steel. My intention was to have a bit of an abstract feel in the final piece. I thought it would allow me to really bring those bold colors forward, and I think I managed that in the end. Putting the lights on the ship was tedious but satisfying because each one just seemed to spring to life with a little glow. It was the first time I have ever attempted party lights and my technique proved successful. Joy!

I love the energy I have had while putting this together. Susan has been an amazing author to work with, she has a delightful personality with an edge of humor that really is a great combination to collaborate with. I was hoping to mirror Susan’s wit, the charm she displays in her storytelling, as well as the stories vivid depth. I hope I did it justice.


Here’s what Susan has to say about her books…

“The cover briefs were tricky to explain because I’m still not exactly sure which genre ‘Arafura – Blood, the Wet and Tears’ and the sequel ‘Arafura – Unfinished Business’ belong to. Romantic suspense/comedy/drama/action/?”


Here is her description for the first book in the Arafura series:

“Sensible schoolteacher Kat is planning to marry when her long-term fiancé finds the time. When the mysterious and damaged Adam arrives in town, Kat is jolted well out of her comfort zone. Despite her loyal intentions, a dead body and enough pre-monsoonal weather to strangle a Kat, she must wrestle with an instant attraction that is emotionally risky and absolutely, definitely fraught.”


The storyline of “Arafura – Unfinished Business” will be published by the end of October this year.

If you’re interested, Arafura – Blood, the Wet and Tears can be purchased from Amazon, or Smashwords. It’s also available at Smashwords’ global network of on-line retailers, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Angus and Robertson, Collins, Kobo, FlipKart etc.Arafura will appeal to female and male readers who enjoy quirky, witty suspense with dark edges.

Michelle Rene Goodhew
Illustrator


Character Reveal

Just finished painting the character of ‘Oliver’ for Stuart Harper’s upcoming book “Death on the Empress”

'Oliver' from the book "Death on the Empress" written by Stuart Harper, illustrated by Michelle Rene Goodhew
‘Oliver’ from the book “Death on the Empress” written by Stuart Harper, illustrated by Michelle Rene Goodhew

Elizabet – final character rendering for Ben Brown’s book ‘Tykocin’

Image

This is the final character rendering of ‘Elizabet’ for Ben Brown’s book ‘Tykocin’. I’m really excited about how well she turned out. Had some trouble nailing this character down but finally came to this.

I’m still not sure if she will end up on the cover with the cyborg but I am scheduled to hear back from the publisher on Monday.

I’m working on the cover for a new book in the meantime. Making the most out of my weekend.