Let’s face it, Macmillan isn’t known for its love of e-books. From the moment Jim Baen and, later, Amazon showed the viability of the new technology, Macmillan and others did their best to torpedo the new market. The Big 5 (remember when it was the Big 6) engaged in price collusion, ongoing attempts to undermine not only the market but Amazon and more. But now these same publishers, with Macmillan leading the charge, have targeted our libraries, blaming them for their problems making money on ebooks instead of taking a hard look in the mirror. Read more
Posts tagged ‘ebooks’
I bought a frozen lasagna for dinner for the family. I love to make lasagna, and have a great recipe a fellow author gave me, but… There was friction. In other words, it was Friday night, had been a very long week, and I was so tired it hurt. So I did something to reduce the friction, and bought the darn lasagna.
So what does this have to do with writing? Well, it relates both to the writing, but more importantly, to the marketing and sales of our work. We want to reduce friction for our readers, but not too much. Frictionless is also a bad thing… But I digress. I’ll come back to that in due time. Friction in the context I’m using it is anything that makes the reader work harder to overcome. We’re going to say our readers have worked a long day and just want a book to curl up and relax with – literary fiction is the very definition of added friction to a book, which is why those are the books people love to say they have read but don’t actually ever finish reading. So how do you reduce friction in a book? Like sanding a piece of wood – you start out with the obvious of removing typos and poor grammar, then you switch to the finer grit of making sure you’re historically accurate, or consistent through the book with a character’s development, or… you get my drift. At the end you have a smooth, polished work.
But not too smooth. Here’s the thing. People remember ‘sticky data’ that doesn’t just drop through the colander of their brains. We all have colanders for brains, this isn’t an insult. We have to: we’re constantly bombarded by input, and if we didn’t learn how to filter all – well, ok, most – of that out, we’d be gibbering in the corner with our hands over our ears and our eyes squeezed shut. So the input pours through the colander, but sometimes something is too big or too sticky to just fall through, and that we pay attention to and remember. You don’t want your book to be so frictionless it falls through and is instantly forgettable. We want, to return to my wood carving metaphor, the grain of the wood to show through and give it some character, some unique qualities. Your book should still reveal your voice, the unique way that you write. If – and really, this should be when – you hire an editor, keep this in mind. They need to be helping you polish, not taking a belt sander to it and obliterating the interesting features that are your style.
Friction is, if anything, even more important when it comes to sales and marketing. Let’s look at two ways: in-person bookstores, and online bookstores, to begin with. When was the last time you went to an in-person bookstore, a brick and mortar? How far did you have to drive? That was a lot of friction, wasn’t it, before you got to the books. Now that you’re in the store, how easy is it to find the book you want? Or the section you’d like to browse to find a book, at least? Last time I was in a bookstore they didn’t have the fiction sorted by genre and it was a little annoying to say the least. Fortunately I wasn’t there for fiction, I wanted comic books, and I browsed the antique section of the store while I was there because I love beautiful books. But those aren’t organized at all, just ‘this looks old’ and shelved. So it adds a lot of friction to my shopping experience. Why do I go back? Because this store offers a ‘free book’ coupon and that reduces the friction on my bank account. Note: I’m talking a used book store, here. Their books are mostly $3 and comic books are a buck. My kids adore them, and frankly, so do I. Now, the last time I was in a ‘new’ bookstore was the local Barnes $ Nobles, which is a fifteen minute drive from the house (good) in a very congested shopping area (bad) and we only bought one book, from the bargain rack, because I refuse to pay full price when I can hop on Amazon and get the discounted rate. But the authors!! you’re saying They need to be paid!
No. Here’s the thing. As a businesswoman, I like supporting fellow small businesses. I’ll buy books at full price from fellow Indie Authors. Heck, if it’s an option I’ll read the book through KU and then buy it, so they get paid twice (if I really like the book, this is a nice way to say thanks to a creator). As a budgeting wife whose whole goal is to live frugally and not get into debt, I’m out to spend money wisely and plunking down twenty bucks on a (paper) book that may get read once is not a wise decision. I have a monthly book budget, by the way, one for fiction and one for research because I am a writer. So, back to friction. I don’t give a flip about supporting the big fiver publishers. So them? I buy discounted or even used.
Most Indies have already figured out that a great way to reduce friction and get more sales is to lower the prices of their books. Not having ritzy Manhattan offices to keep up appearances, they can afford to set their trade paperback prices around $15 and their ebooks around $5 for a novel. Now here’s where we get to the inverse effect of friction: if you reduce the price too much, or make the book free, you remove so much friction the buyer mentally discounts the book in their head as being less worthy. Free ebooks have a very, very low read rate. You might give away thousands of them, and maybe hundreds will get read (if you have a good cover, but that’s another post). Ebooks, in case you haven’t already realized it, are perhaps the ultimate in friction reduction for not only book reading, but book buying. Above I asked about the last time you drove to a bookstore, and the time and hassle involved in that. For online shopping? Pull up Amazon or your favorite ebook site, and click, you’re done and reading two minutes later. I was doing this last weekend when I was stuck in bed with a pinched nerve, trying to keep my mind off the pain. Binge reading, what a drug. You don’t have to get dressed – not even into jammies, if you don’t want to – to shop online. You don’t have to risk your life in mall traffic (suck it, B&N, I’m never coming back again). You don’t have to (Shudder) put up with people to make a purchase.
Friction, by the way, is why you shouldn’t limit your sales outlets too far. I’ve seen anti-Amazon advocates calling for selling books just through personal websites. That adds so much friction that I’d be surprised to hear of them making sales. Any sales. There are reasons why aggregator sites work, just like big department stores. Personally, I’ve chosen to add friction by not having my books available through Nook or Kobo and it wasn’t just that I saw the writing on the wall for the Nook years ago when I first compared a nook and a Kindle side-by-side. I’ve added that friction in order to reduce friction by having my books available through Kindle Unlimited. It’s not perfect, but you have to admit it’s very darn close to being frictionless for the reader, which means that if they are enjoying the story, there’s nothing to break them out of the reading trance as they march through an entire series. KU lowers the entrance hurdle for new readers to your work, and that reduces the friction, too.
Speaking of which! The anthology I have a story in, the one I was snippeting last week, is available for you now, and you can get it in paper, ebook, and read through KU. Just click here and you’re there! How’s that for frictionless?
I don’t know a single indie author who doesn’t wish there was a handbook out there that was constantly kept up-to-date with information about formatting, blurbs, promotion, when to release your books and pricing. The best we can do is watch trends and be ready to adapt not only when necessary but as quickly as possible. It also means making hard decisions sometimes as well as taking the long view. That is especially true when it comes to pricing.
Last night, I finished setting Battle Wounds up on Amazon so it would be live this morning. For those of you not familiar with it, BW is a short story set in the Honor and Duty universe. I started writing the short stories a little more than a year ago when there was a glitch, to put it nicely, in the upload process of Honor from Ashes. Somehow, the wrong text file was attached to the product page and, well, let’s just say the next week was an exercise in frustration to get it corrected. The short stories were my way of thanking my fans for hanging with me as things got straightened out.
When I made the decision to write a series of short stories in the universe, I had several things I needed to consider. The first, of course, was where in the timeline they would fall. Since the books in the series follow very closely on one another, I couldn’t see an easy way to slip short stories in. Besides, I had folks who wanted to know how Ashlyn Shaw became the character first introduced in Vengeance from Ashes. So, that’s where I decided to begin — at the beginning. With three shorts stories now out, I am closing in on the events that directly led to the events that kick off the series.
Anyway. . . .
Last night I uploaded the files and checked to make sure they converted properly — and, yes, were the correct file with the correct cover — and then continued on through the publication process. Part of that is choosing when to release the story. If you ask a dozen indie authors, you’ll probably get a dozen answers about when they think the best times are to time your releases. I’ve tried any number of different times and days. I’ve studied what other indies and small presses, as well as trad publishers, do. It seems there is a growing trend to release new titles on the first and third Tuesday of the month.
I’ll admit to pondering and wavering on deciding to follow this trend. After all, if I followed it, I would be one of who knew how many authors releasing a new title at the same time. But, let’s face it, that’s something we have to deal with no matter what day we choose to release our titles on. That’s the downside. The upside on releasing on either the first or third Tuesday is that there are a large number of readers who check for new titles on those days because they have learned to expect new releases then.
So, guess what. I chose to try a third Tuesday release. It’s going to be interesting to see if there is more traction for this release than for the other short stories.
The next thing I had to determine was pricing for Battle Wounds. There’s been a lot of discussion since Amazon first opened up to indies on how much we should price our work for. If you ask indies, you’ll get a wide range of answers. Some look at pricing and take the long view on it all. Others look at the amount of money they earn per sale. Both sides have pros and cons. The problem with both, however, is that we are looking at it from the viewpoint of the author. Instead, we need to look at it from the point of view of the reader. After all, they are the ones making the decision to buy the short story or title.
And, like it or not, as indies, we operate in a world where our readers understand, on the whole, that we don’t have the overhead trad published titles have. Therefore, they aren’t going to pay as much for our work as they will for Nora Roberts or Stephen King or David Weber.
So how do we figure out the best price for our work?
The first thing we do is listen to our readers and to readers of our genre in general. We can do that by checking blogs and other social media platforms. We can also do it by checking the best sellers lists on Amazon. Look not only at what indie titles are on it but at their prices as well. Compare the price of the work and its length to what you are about to publish. Then there is the beta pricing tool you can use once you are setting up the title on Amazon.
There is something else we have to take into account when we are setting prices. Sarah, Dave and Brad can get away with charging more for short stories than I can. Why? Because they have a following of readers who have known them not as just indie authors but as trad published authors as well. They’ve earned their bones in the eyes of those readers. They have more published than I do as well. So, because they have the reputation and the experience, they can charge more for their work. Readers even expect them to.
But for me, even though I have 16 novels, 2 (?) novellas and a handful of short stories published, all but one of the shorts have been indie. I can charge more now than I used to — and I should — for novels, not so much for short stories. There are two reasons for that. First, and most obvious, I’m not a “name” that people are willing to pay additional money to read. Second, I look at short stories as loss leaders, which they are. They are promos in many ways to keep people interested in my work until the next novel comes out.
But there is something else. I know what I’m willing to pay. I can’t think of a single indie-only author I will pay more than $0.99 for a short story (for the purposes of pricing, I’m including anything under 20k words). I’ll pay $1.99 for work between 20k and 50k words or so. After that, I’ll pay $2.99 up to $4.99. There are a few indies I’ll pay $5.99 for a long novel but those are very few and far between. So I keep that in mind as I start thinking about pricing.
I also realize there are many, many, many readers who feel the same way I do about how much they are willing to pay for a title. Yes, readers to look at the price and, if they think you are pricing a work too low, they wonder if you aren’t convinced your work is any good. However, for a short story, you can quickly price readers out. So it comes down to deciding if you would rather sell more copies at a lower price and royalty or fewer copies at a higher royalty. For me, because I don’t look at my short stories as a major income generator in the short term, I price them on the low end, where most other short stories are priced. What I’ve discovered by doing so is I tend to sell more over time, more than making up for the difference in royalties.
But the decision is yours. Just remember, you need to look at more than how much are you going to make per sale. You need to take into account what the going rate for stories in your genre with a similar length. If you price yourself out of the market, you are not only cutting your own royalty throat, so to speak, but you are denying your readers the opportunity to read your work.
I really wish there was an easy to use manual that told me the best way to promote my work, the best price point, the best day for release, etc. Instead, I get to watch my hair turn even whiter as I try to figure it out for myself when all I really want to do is write.
Oh, go buy Battle Wounds. My kitties need kibble. 😉
I don’t wind up with con crud after every con, but it seems like it sometimes. The First Reader, on the other hand, has had it once. The current theory is that some people are most susceptible to it, like me. It could also be because I’m a hugger and he isn’t. For whatever reason, I got it this year after LibertyCon. Took me down for two days, and messed up my planned schedule. Which is why I’m writing this post instead of something a bit more planned.
Steps for dealing with con crud:
- try not to over-schedule during the con and actually get some sleep
- Eat and drink regularly during the con. Drink some more, and no, I don’t mean alcohol.
- After the con, get rest.
- When the tickle at the back of the throat starts, gargle with warm salt water.
- When the sore throat erupts, an equal blend of lemon juice and honey, taken in teaspoonfuls, is soothing
- When the fever hits, recognize that it is a regulatory function of your immune system and don’t try to knock it down with NSAIDs right away.
- Try to sleep, or at least get in bed and stay there.
- Drink lots of water.
- When the fever breaks, don’t immediately get up and go back to normal routines. Stay in bed a little longer.
- Drink more water…
If you’re me, you’ll skip some of these steps (like the first three!). I also supplement with reading, if I’m in too much pain to sleep or have other reasons to stay awake. Reading while I’m sick is… interesting.
For one thing, I need to be able to easily immerse into the world. Some writers make this very easy, others I have to work at a bit, and some are just impossible. I tend to avoid new books/authors when I’m sick, returning to old friends and reliable reads. On the other hand, really complex reads are just not fun when you are all foggy with a fever. Yesterday I had some old familiar books in the form of several Margery Allingham’s that have been re-released and which are available through KU (yay!) and a Dorothy Sayers. I did manage a couple of new books for review, too. I also discovered that I had stuff on my Kindle app I don’t remember putting on there: Zombie Fallout? Really?
I have discovered that it is so much better to read on the kindle app while sick than to attempt paper. I have in the past found myself wound ’round stacks of books on my bed… this at least means I can push it to my nightstand and roll over without fear of damage to me or books. Reading ebooks has the advantage of allowing me to pick through hundreds of choices to find the one thing that suits my mood without getting up from bed and prowling through the shelves. It’s got the unfortunate side effect of allowing me to easily binge-read and buy more books in a series with a single click: dangerous when one is in a lowered mental state that can’t do the math on one’s book budget!
Reading while I’m ill, I discovered a long time ago, makes me a bit more porous. I’m not sure how best to describe this, so I will approach it in a roundabout sort of fashion. Those who meet and speak with me will sometimes comment on my accent. Especially when I have been talking to someone only on the phone, I get asked if I am from Britain. I am not, and have spent only six weeks over there, but I have a theory. Well, two of them, really. The First Reader and I were talking on this topic recently: my voice is affected by my reading habits. Whether it is my word choices, or my pronunciation, my voice, he tells me, can be a bit ‘posh’ to the American ear. He was more aware of it than I, as he went though a period of time where he deliberately removed his speaking vocabulary from broad to narrow, as he was being harassed when he first went into the military. Earlier than that, he took the trouble to lose his Kentucky accent, although to my delight he can put it back on when he wants. I like the drawl.
I never had that particular crab-bucket experience, where others mocked me for my vocabulary. I have noticed that if I am reading a lot of a particular style, I will start to use and think in words that aren’t my normal ones. Right now, that’s because I’ve been heavily immersed in British mysteries. In high school, when I was most certainly not allowed to swear, I picked up the habit of ‘oh bother’ and ‘Bloody!’ which stay with me to this day. I knew what I was doing, but I could get away with it!
I’m looking at this rambling and thinking I may need to go back to bed for a while. I’m still not myself. I wonder which book I shall take with me this time?
Seriously, people. As we see the usually flurry of post-Christmas articles about sales, and what is, or isn’t moving as fast as was predicted, I’m seeing more of the same. Ereaders didn’t sell as well as they did in 2013. Ergo, ebooks are a passing fad, and we can all return to our traditionally published print books now. Nothing to see here, move along, move along…
I’ve got two words for that. One I won’t say, I’m a lady. But as a kid on a farm, I stepped in it a few times.
The other word? Tablets. Well, and phones, but really it’s the same thing. How many people do you know who now carry a smart phone? Of the two of us in this room, I have one, he doesn’t (He does have a Kindle he carries almost all the time). Now, that’s a small sample. Let’s go a little bigger. According to Pew, almost 60% of Americans have a smartphone. You know what you can do with your phone? You can read a book. Lots of books, in fact. I have dozens on my phone. I have even more on my tablet. You know what I don’t have? A Kindle.
So perhaps, just maybe, the decline in ereaders is not the same as a dip in ebooks. I’d hazard a guess to say that most who were going to take the plunge into a dedicated ereader have done so. But there are a lot more who carry a tablet, or a phone, and you can do more than just read with those. I’ve seen it myself, a quiet moment, waiting. Standing in line, at the bank, the mechanic’s… and out comes the phone or tablet. Sure, sometimes that is to text (which is reading, just not (usually) fiction) or play a game, but many times it is to read. I know it is for me. Not only fiction, either, this is often when I read blogs, or comments on the few blogs I find safe spaces to read under.
Something that not many have been paying attention to is the younger generation. According to PlayCollective, 93% of children ages 2-13 now read an ebook a week. Most of that is being done on tablets, where color illustrations for the younger set are appealing. So kids are comfortable with this technology. Are they going to suddenly lay it down and pick up a hardcover? Have you ever held a tablet, and then grabbed a big book? Feel the difference? And you can’t do anything with that book, except read.
I had the pleasure of introducing my sister to my android tablet this winter when I traveled out to Oregon. Juniper is a wonderful sister, and mentally, she’s about able to handle pre-school-level work. I wondered if she might like my tablet, with the touch screen and interactive apps. I don’t have a lot of games on my tablet, and the first thing I showed her, she wasn’t interested in. Then I put a drawing app on, and showed her how to fingerpaint. Oh! Her eyes lit up, and she had a blast learning how to change colors (brush sizes will wait) and doodling on the screen with no mess (she’s not a fan of messes). For the rest of my trip, she wanted to know if she could have a ‘gadget’ for her birthday. Mom and I talked about parental controls (there are many, I know, and if anyone has suggestions, please share!) and apps that she could handle. She’s not quite learned to read, but we think that apps for tracing letters and doing colors, shapes, that sort of thing will be good for her. I am planning on sending her a ‘gadget’ for her birthday, with a pink case (shh! It’s a secret 🙂 )
I digressed into that not only because I wanted to talk about my sister, but to point out that we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to computing, tablets, and phones. The world, it is changing. Kids know what they like, and they seem to like these ‘gadgets.’ They also seem to like ebooks, as we are seeing what one news site calls ” a vibrancy and quickness around publishing that can be directly linked to the arrival of the ebook.” Other articles praise the expediency and convenience of the ebook, and point out it doesn’t have to be one or the other. You can have both ebook and print book.
That trip I took ? I flew from Dayton to Chicago to Seattle to Redmond (OR) and then back through Seattle to New Jersey to Manchester (NH) to Philadelphia to Dayton (and home, thank goodness!) in a ten-day span, with my laptop, camera and all lenses, pentablet, and the tablet. The only reason I carried most of that was delicate, expensive equipment I wanted to have my hands on at all times. What did I use? The tablet. The batteries last darn near eight hours, it’s easier to handle during a layover or on a plane in cramped seating than the laptop, and with it, I could read, surf the web (during layovers) and even play games (I have cool ones for learning Spanish and Physics).
I’m not saying you should run out and get a tablet. I am saying that before we predict that ebooks are dead, we’ve got to look reality squarely in the eye. Publishing is not what it was ten years ago. It isn’t what it was five years ago. Readers find books differently, read differently, and frankly, they don’t care who published that book they are enjoying. They’d just like to find more like it.
Can we predict what’s coming? Maybe. Maybe not… we can thumb our noses at those who would have us believe the numbers traditional publishing is flashing before our eyes, though. Kristine Kathryn Rusch, always a voice worth listening to on publishing, wrote something I highly recommend the authors take a look at. She says, “In other words, all of traditional publishing from the introduction of the returns system in the 1930s to the early part of this century was based on educated guesses by the sales department in consultation with editorial. Not based on actual numbers. Not based on real sales figures. Not based on any kind of fact-based system at all.”
Tomorrow, I’ll be writing. Part of the day, I’ll be out of the house. But you know what? When you all comment, I’ll be able to reply with my trusty smartphone. And have little flashbacks to the kids being small, and a certain handy-dandy notebook. Speaking of commenting, when I get Juniper’s ‘gadget’ does anyone have recommendations for apps that would be good? We also need to be able to lock her out of settings so she can’t get in and change stuff, she wouldn’t know what she was doing. As my mother said with fond exasperation, she’d pay good money for a DVD player with childproof settings!