Wednesday, December 14, 2011

#ROW80 - Price Experiment

Sales were pretty "blah" again last month.  Yesterday I wrote about being patient, and I'm terrible at taking my own advice.  Like I said in that post, I believe my monthly average of sales is just fine, and probably will be for another six months (even if I sell nothing).  The real next step, then, is to simply get another book out.  There have been a lot of experiments out there, but one general rule of thumb has held: the best promotion for a new writer is to get more books up.  Unless you hit it really lucky, one book is not going to carry you.  I think a good goal is to aim for five or six before you really contemplate any effects on your day job.

Speaking of goals, let's take a quick look at mine before I detail my experiment...
  • Lesson Learned - Average sales of ~12 books per month for the first 5 months of a career, doing minimal promotion, and having only one book up... is really not bad at all (though it feels like it some days).  It can be hard to be patient at times, since obviously I wish I had the sales to support leaving a day job behind, but the thing that separates "real" writers from fad chasers is going to be what you do in the long haul.  It's pretty simple for writers: writers write. Five years from now, I'll still be writing. I enjoy sharing stories too much to quit.  Maybe I'll always have a day job, but I'll also always be writing in one way or another. It's not a matter of "if" I'll succeed.  In sharing my first story, I already have.  It's just a matter of when the rest of the cosmic balance wants to acknowledge that.
  • WIP Editing - I knocked off 8/10 chapters this week. I only have two left to finish by the end of the week, so I'm in good shape.  Everything runs slow (including me) around the holidays, so I've already decided to give myself a bit of a pass.  The book will likely be launched shortly after the first of the year. Not a bad time to be launching.  I'm missing Christmas, but it'll take people a few weeks to figure out where the power button their new Kindles are anyway, right? :-)
  • Blogging - Since I'm in editing mode (and thus not writing new fiction), it's more important than ever to keep up with the blogging goal.  After all, this is my only writing practice each day now.  I was 4/3 on the gaming blog, and this will make 4/3 here.  I also have a personal post ready to go (I just need to throw it up)... so this has been the bright spot.  Most of my writing has been a bit "writer-centric," but I'm not sure I can help it while wearing my editing hat.  I'll get back to fiction and character close-ups once I can don the creative cap again, though I may start with the close-ups sooner.
Okay, so I'm good on the goals.  Short on some, ahead on others, but generally still progressing to where I want to be.  Patience, Matt, Patience.

Which brings us back to the pricing experiment.  I recently read an article regarding pricing on JA Konrath's blog.  The gist of it was that there may perhaps be a bit of a stigma at both the 99 cent price mark, and the $2.99 price mark.  Basically, some jokers with poor quality have ruined it for the rest of us.  Readers, when they get burned, generally don't put their hand back on the stove, it seems.  Can't blame them for that (though different tolerances for heat abound).

Point being, some people have reported seeing sales increases by raising prices.  Yes, raising.  Seems counter-intuitive, but to a psychology hobbyist, it makes sense.  I completely understand the "Starbucks theory" as laid out in the article.  As such, it seemed a good idea for me to raise the price on my book from $2.99 to $4.99.

Sounds crazy, and maybe it is, but I had this rationalization in mind: I've spent $5 (or more) on a couple of candy bars in order to support things before.  And I can promise you, those candy bars brought me a whole lot less entertainment and enjoyment than a novel.  Perhaps I'm biased, because I love books (plus they're better for me than candy bars), but I don't think $5 is a ridiculous price.  The writing may be from a learning author, but the formatting and copy-editing is on par with any professional book out there right now, even the >$10 ones (some of which I've found a plethora of errors in).  In other words, this is still a steal, as I see it, and I certainly didn't want to give the impression of a low quality book.  You can say what you want about the writing, but I'm supremely confident about the formatting.  These tools are right up my engineering alley.

Also, a big part of my marketing plan is to offer a lot of ways to get the book for free.  I'm all for giveaways and partnerships.  I'm not concerned at all about piracy.  I see the "pay" feature more as a way of a reader being able to say "yes, I want this guy to keep writing, and here's my $5 vote."  If you're unsure, or didn't think it was worth $5... well I believe Amazon lets you return books for a full refund.  Also, all you really need to do is send me an email and I'll basically give you a book for free to try.  I detail several ways under that Special Offers page linked up there, and one of them is simply: free e-book for an honest review on Amazon/Goodreads/Whatever.  Anyone can take advantage of that.  And it doesn't even have to be particularly insightful (though I'm enormously thankful for those that take the time).

So I don't see the increase as a hurdle or an attempt to gouge anyone (and I hope no one sees it that way, either).  Instead, I see it as a vote of confidence by me in the quality of the offering.  And trust me, that confidence is hard won.  Confidence isn't something that comes naturally to a writer.  

At the end of the day, this is just an experiment.  I'll let you guys know how it goes.  If there are complaints, if sales dry up further (I'm not sure how they can), I can always move it back.  It's yet another perk of Indie Publishing (this flexibility of pricing).  Why not exercise it?  Especially when I plan to offer deals and freebies for just about any reason.

Heck, I'll even throw a new offer up at the bottom of that page of mine.  Merry Christmas: Free e-book if you simply convince me that you love to read.  Could be a picture or an anecdote, whatever.  I think reading is awesome, and want to support that.  I don't want a price tag turn potential readers away, whether it be too much or too little.


Sonia G Medeiros said...

Congrats on your progress. Thanks so much for sharing the results of your pricing experiments. I'm not published yet, but I love learning as much as I can now.

Matt said...

Thanks! Hopefully it's helpful. I have no idea how it'll go, but I hope the reasoning is sound at least. I think it's one of the hardest thing for new indie writers to decide what to charge for our work. On one hand, we (or at least I) don't feel worthy to charge as much as the authors we revere. On the other, we likely are struggling with confidence to begin with. There's safety in numbers, but you want to be caught with the right crew.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I'll be raising my price that high, but I have priced my last two novellas at 1.99 and am going to price future novels at 2.99. Everything else has always been .99. But a friend of mine started out at .99 and got some bad reviews and some haters. After she raised her prices, it kind of weeded out those people. I know it doesn't make sense, but there are a lot of people who buy up .99 books, seemingly, just to trash them. I hope no one thinks that I mean all people who look for .99 books are like that. I look for .99 books all the time! But those people who ARE buying books just to trash them usually won't fool with anything over a dollar. Weird, huh? That being said, I have a hard time paying TOO much for ebooks because there's no paper and those types of costs involved. I'll pay more for an ebook if it's someone I know and/or really like as an author, but I would never pay $5 for an ebook by someone I wasn't sure about. Luckily, you can get a sample of a book on Amazon and other places, so you can usually tell if it's going to be good or not. I've only gotten burned one time when I read a sample of a book that sounded good, then the rest of the book was bad.

I've had a hard time deciding about pricing. There was a time I would never price over .99. My theory was that a reader would buy more books if they were cheaper. I was trying to make it easier on readers to enjoy my books. But then I realized that I wasn't doing this for charity, I was trying to make a living. I can't do that on .99 a book. So this is my plan. 1.99 for novellas, 2.99 for novels, and .99 for books after they've been out a long time (unless they continue to sell well). Please let us know how your experiment works. It might help me determine how to handle pricing in the future.

Oh, one more thing. You mentioned that your book should be out in January. Last year, I was disappointed in my December sales because I thought people would immediately start loading up their Kindles when they got them. But in January, my latest release really took off on Barnes and Noble. Sales were also good on Amazon. Then, in February it really took off on Amazon. So, apparently, January and February are the best sales months. At least they were last year. :)

I'm so sorry my comment was so long! I think I must have lost my mind for a few minutes....

Anonymous said...

Well thought-out points about pricing in your post and in the comments! I hope the price raise works out for you. Totally agree with your foundation- the best way to sell is to write. :) Keep writing!

Matt said...

@LLE - An important distinction to note is that I only have one work for sale. That's a big reason behind this increase, as well. I have all my eggs in one basket, so to speak, so almost all of my sales are going to come from people evaluating the one book (instead of coming straight off another of my books and just buying the next in a series or something related or whatever). Pricing becomes a lot more complicated then. The question is whether it behooves us to stick to a pricing trend, or have a small amount of variation. The problem with being "trendy" right now is that it may imply something about quality that you don't want. Really, when we're all competing against $10 professional e-books, what is the different between 2.99 and 4.99, psychologically? They're both "bargains." Plus, my first book and my second both are going to be over 100k words. Should a 50k novel be priced the same? Traditionally they have been, but does that make any sense? I don't know... I'm still learning. If I do publish any shorter works, I'll probably go for the $1.99 price tag. I like that one for novellas.

It's all in a constant state of flux, too, so what is good today may stink tomorrow. We'll just have to see.

@CMStewart - I sort of feel like pricing is a bit of "throw a dart at a board" right now, but at least if I feel like I have sound reasoning behind my own choice, I can justify it to readers. My end aim is to do right by them. A fair price point and focusing on writing are both aligned with that.

Anonymous said...

Matt, I only had one book at first, too. I choose to go the .99 route mostly because no one had ever heard of me and I wanted people to feel like they could take a chance on an unknown author. But, at the time, indie publishing was just starting, and a lot of us were pricing at .99. I think the whole market is changing now. It's more common to see indies price higher, so it might be easier to sell at that price now. Thanks have changed so much in the last three years! :) You wrote a good book, so it will sell. It usually takes awhile to get sales to take off, so be patient.

Matt said...

Right, right. Not only do the number of books matter, but also the time frame you're talking about. This is such a quick-changing market right now... likely the real take-home here is two fold:

1. Be willing to be flexible. What works today may or may not work tomorrow.

2. Stick with it. Write, write, write. The pricing, the business model... it will solidify in time. If you get too focused on it now, though, you may forget to make time for the truly important part: the writing.

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