Home » Dean Wesley Smith, Pricing » No One Buys New Writers

No One Buys New Writers

9 May 2014

From Dean Wesley Smith:

Myths ignore facts. Myths are often beliefs built from fear or past actions.

In this series, and in the previous series of Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Publishing, I call the myths that control writers “Sacred Cows.”

Writers hold onto myths like lifelines that are keeping them from drowning in a raging river of information. Sometimes sane people in the normal world will follow a publishing myth that makes no sense at all because it has something to do with the publishing business. And they follow the myth without thought.

So this new series is an attempt to help the new world of indie publishing with the growing list of myths that plague it.

And the third biggest myth to hit indie writers is this:

No One Will Pay Good Money for an Unknown Writer’s Work. (So a new writer should make his or her work cheaper because it’s worth less.)

. . . .

Fact: Every writer started off as a new writer. (I know, shock.)

Fact: Every new writer who sold to traditional publishing for the first time in the last hundred years was paid decent, good, or fantastic money. Why? Because the gatekeepers thought they could sell a lot of copies of (you guessed it) an Unknown Writer.

Fact: A 100,000 word mystery from an Unknown Writer, when traditional publishing sells it, is priced EXACTLY at the same price as similar-sized novel from a bestselling writer. Price in old traditional publishing was based on printing and shipping costs and the size of the book and how many would fit in a sales and a bunch of other factors, including shipping cartons.

Fact:  Not once in the last one hundred years did any traditional publisher price a new writer’s book lower because the writer was unknown. (Nope, they priced it because of printing costs.)

Fact: All writers are insecure.

. . . .

While traditional publishers were fighting and breaking laws to not allow Amazon to lower e-book prices to $9.99 because it was shockingly too low, new indie writers were pricing their brand new novels at 99 cents because it couldn’t be any good since they were new writers.

And thus this myth got started.

A bunch of us were fighting the trend and getting kicked for it by shouting to indie publishing writers to not cheapen their own books, just price slightly less than traditional.

And since a lot of us saw electronic books replacing mass market paperbacks, our suggestions were to price novels and collections in the same price range as mass market paperbacks. $4.99 to $7.99.  Far under what New York traditional publishers thought was too low (back then and still in most cases).

But insecure writers (given price control) just won’t believe that anyone will pay a decent amount of money for their book. So the novels they spent a long time writing go into the 99 cent discount bin, the perma-free bin, or the $2.99 price.

. . . .

Since my wife has some open pen names, I’m going to mention her name here. She writes romance under the names Kristine Grayson and Kris DeLake. She writes mystery under Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Kris Rusch, and Kris Nelscott. All her science fiction is under Kristine Kathryn Rusch. With me, she wrote five media novels under Sandy Schofield. With me, she did a bunch of movie tie-in novels under the name Kathryn Wesley. And there are others.

All of those pen names won or were nominated for awards and sold thousands and thousands of copies per book.

So she was a new writer with all those names at one point or another.


She sold all those books and started all those brand new names because she’s a great storyteller and liked to write across genres.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith and thanks to Eric for the tip.

Dean Wesley Smith, Pricing

62 Comments to “No One Buys New Writers”

  1. All of my sales on my first novel have been at full price. None were made when the book was discounted or free.


  2. you price your widget according to the market. Price is a tool of marketing, nothing more nothing less. The advantage indies have is we get to play around with price to see what works best for us at any given time. I tend to think my books are “worth” more than I sell them for, but I still like to sell them, you know. So I find a price that people are willing to pay.

  3. This is one of the very few things I disagree with Dean on.

    The market is what it is. What do you call a myth that works? I did well selling my first book at $2.99. It never made any charts on Amazon and the also-boughts were few, but it did well. The next two books in the series sold accordingly.

    It did several times the total sales when I lowered the price to $.99 with the occasional free run. Sales went through the roof in a matter of days and now the rest of the series, priced much higher, sells enough to keep it on three charts consistently.

    Most of us don’t really wish to (or can afford to) wait for five years for a series to gain traction and sell enough to get where we want it to be. I know I’m far from being the only one to find success using this method. The numbers speak for themselves.

    So I’m not really sure I’d call this one a myth. A myth that works is looking for a new label.

    • In the experiments I’ve tried, I’ve never seen any difference in sales from changing price, so long as it’s in a reasonable range (e.g. $0.99 to $2.99 for a short story, $0.99 to $5.99 for a novel).

      The problem with saying ‘I cut the price to $0.99 and sales suddenly took off’ is that we really have no way of knowing whether sales would have suddenly taken off at a higher price. Maybe the price caused the increase in sales, or maybe someone put up a blog post saying ‘this book is great, buy it!’ and all their readers bought it. Or maybe it was December 26th and the new Kindle owners were suddenly loading up on ebooks.

      • Not sure how others measure it, but I see it in the number of reviews as well as the timing and sell-through rate of the other books in the series.

        Even if they hoard the copy they bought for $.99 that sale still affects the also-bots and the charts, which generates even more sales, which produces more reviews, which adds more also-boughts, which generates more sales….

        But hey, don’t do what I do because it works for me, find what works for you. Just don’t call what I do a myth if its working for me ( and a ton of others ).

    • As someone who’s about to release his first book next month (or so), I’ve been trying to dig up as much as I can on full price vs. discounts for my one and only release (for now). I’ve heard Darren Wearmouth on two podcasts talking about the success he had by pushing his first book for $.99 in order to get it ranking and gain strength with the algorithms. Makes sense to me, but I’m curious about how others approached it. Did you launch at $2.99 and then discount from there after a certain window, Randall?

      • If anything, I would think you’d want to release cheap and then increase the price, rather than releasing expensive and cutting the price. You only have a month or two with Amazon pushing your book as a new release to get established in the also-bought lists before the book has to sink or swim on its own.

      • I’ve been hearing that $.99 is not “the thing” anymore. It was when ebooks were new, but not now.

        In the print realm, I almost passed up an anthology because Baen priced it at $1.99. I wondered how terrible a writer had to be before a publisher would make such a price as part of the cover art. I was a broke college student with a 5-hour train ride ahead of me, but the *only* reason I finally bought the book was because this Lois McMaster Bujold person had other books on the shelves. I had never heard of her, and my money was too tight and my time too valuable for me to want to risk a writer whose publisher priced her works at $1.99.

        If your writing is good, and your production values are good — proper formatting, non-sucky covers, why *not* blend in with everyone else?

      • Michael,

        I launched books 1 and 2 at 2.99-3.99 and let them sit until I had book three out. As soon as I had that 3rd book out book 1 went to $.99 (occasionally free) and the others went to $4.99. Very rarely will I lower the price on books two and three (ironically right now). Promoting book 1 seems to boost the sales of the other two well enough to build a nice readership and garner reviews.

        I plan to promote book 1 every time I release a new book in the series as well. (I have another series out under a pen name and its worked well for that one.)

        There’s a lot of variables. I write political/military/medical thrillers and that market is diffirent from say Si-Fi/Fantasy, but I can’t complain about my numbers.

        • Thanks, Randall. I always try to keep in mind that the method that worked for one person may not work for another due to differences in timing, the market, genre, writing style, you name it. But it’s helpful to hear about real-world results all the same.

      • I launched my first book at $5.99,dropped down to $4.99 and $3.99. Stayed at $3.99 until recently, when I dropped it to $2.99 because I thought I’d have book 2 out by now. 🙂

        I tried a free Kindle Select promotion. You know what happens when nobody has yet discovered you? Nobody downloads your free book.

        I’m planning on putting book 2 at $5.99 and leaving it there, with book one staying at $2.99. Subsequent books in the series will also be at $5.99. We’ll see what happens.

    • That is a complicated calculus.

      Series sell. Series with cheap first books sell. I could totally see (having done it myself) somebody saying, “Hey, this looks like a good series and the first one’s only 99 cents. If I buy it and it sucks, I’ll skip the rest, if I like it I’ll buy them all.” Hell, the first TWO Destroyer books are free and so far they’ve gotten like thirty bucks out of me. Had the first one not been free I would not have bought any.

  4. And there’s the fact that even the established writers are new to someone. I would read mystery anthologies to discover mystery novelists. I would often find that a writer whose story I liked had dozens of novels out already, but I had never heard of them. Established writers the reader has never heard of is in the same boat as a new writer the reader has never heard of.

  5. Aleksandr Voinov

    I think a low-priced book benefits from the “impulse” buy much more. The question is, how much of those are actually being read rather than hoarded? (Basing this on my own behaviour. I used to gorge on cheap books, now I’m even ignoring “free” reads – my scarce resource really is time to read much more than money.)

    That said, I have a number of very cheap books out there (not my decision – the publisher priced a 96k novel at about $3-4) as entry points. Hopefully, somebody who wants to check me out but is price sensitive will check them out and come back to buy the rest, which is priced higher.

    • Suburbanbanshee

      I’m perfectly okay with somebody paying me money. It’s not my business whether they never read my book, so long as I get my sweet sweet money. 🙂

      Unread ebooks must result in e-tsundoku. And if you have unread books about Japanese prints and the transitory nature of life and art, I guess it might even be ukiyo-e-tsundoku.

      • The problem with unread books is that readers who didn’t read your book don’t say ‘that was great!’ and buy your next book.

        I remember someone posting a while back about pricing being based in part on whether you want sales or fans. A hundred sales of unread books at $0.99 make a few bucks, but are worth far less than one sale at $5.99 that results in a fan who buys all your other books at $5.99 afterwards.

        • Aleksandr Voinov

          Exactly. I’m in the “readership-building” phase. I do think there’s a higher personal investment to read the more expensive book – again, judging by my own behaviour. If I’ve recently bought, IDK, 5 books, I’ll prioritise the one that has the biggest investment attached to it. The only exception is if I’ve already read the book and really want to re-read it (I bought Dune while it was on a .99 sale. It’s my fall-back if I “can’t find anything to read” on my e-reader).

          But then, I do have an extensive backlist at this stage and it’s only getting bigger.

  6. I also disagree with DWS and KKR when it comes to pricing strategies. My novels have sold steadier and made more money at $3.99 than at $5.99. Granted, none of my books are huge bestsellers, but they do sell. And yes, $.99 does help to build an audience if you can leverage it correctly.

    Regarding the all-caps part of his post, perhaps he should read about the Israeli court ruling that PG posted earlier today.

  7. I’ve always agreed with the sentiment. For the first six months of self-publishing, I priced my book the same as a mass market paperback, which was significantly higher than how other indies were pricing back then. I had no trouble selling.

    Now, once I’d established myself in my genre, I experimented with pricing quite a lot to try to achieve velocity and/or sticking power on the charts. But a higher price was not an impediment to sales when I was brand new and totally unknown.

  8. I also disagree with Dean on this. I see putting the book at a lower price at the beginning of your career (or doing free/99 cent promotions on any book) as the way you lower the threshold where a reader will take a risk on buying the book. As a consumer this works for me for any book-traditional or self published when the author is unknown. There is a reason why traditional publishers and book stores (including Amazon) discount books. They know the volume of purchases go up. No on says about a discounted book on Amazon or in the front table at a store–these poor authors–so insecure they had to lower their prices.

    In addition, that greater volume means greater visibility in the Kindle, Nook, etc stores. This is our equivalent of paying co-op as the trad publishers do to get their books placed at the front of the store. Again, publishers don’t say–wow, this is a great book, let’s let it fight for sales on the shelf alphabetically with all the other fiction books! No they say this is the book we will spend money on getting in front of the consumer because we believe once they see the book–they will buy it. I see doing promotions as having faith in my book that when they see it–they will buy it–and when they read it–they will go on and buy additional ones. Now that I am no longer as unknown, I can raise my prices and do fewer free promotions, but that is because I now get sales through word of mouth, and reader loyalty has kicked in so the next book I publish has a built in market.

    This is what Dean has and he seems to have forgotten how long it took for him to achieve that–and how it was done back in the day when he was getting advances. With no advances, most indie authors do have to make some money in the near future.

    Also it is easy to be content with selling only a few copies a day of any book (by word of mouth) if you have 30 or more books. But again, if you have just started out. This isn’t true. And if your one book isn’t visible, and it never sells more than a few copies a month, it will stay invisible, there is little chance it will garner enough reviews to make it look attractive to even those who stumble on it by chance, and the word of mouth will be minimal.

    It is hard to write the next book when you don’t have a clue if anyone actually liked your last one (or a clue what they liked about it and what they didn’t.) One of the great benefits of being an indie is that we actually can have a relationship with our readers that help us improve our writing. But you can’t do this with a book that isn’t selling and isn’t getting reviewed.

    End of rant. 🙂

  9. In my comment on the post, I suggested that a first-time writer from one of the Big 5 has an advantage because of the publishing house on the spine. An unknown writer from Random House could be perceived to offer a better read than Joe Blow from Joe Blow Press.

    Not that all new books from Random House or any other Big 5 firm will be good. I’ve reviewed books from them; they’re not. But given the sheer number of indy books out there, the odds of finding one that could have been published by New York would be high.

    Howey had talked about this some in his research: Indy authors who were first professionally published earn more profit from an indy author who was not.

  10. I tend to disagree with this, not because of my experience (or lack thereof) as a writer/publisher, but because of my experience (fairly extensive) as a reader. I know that if my readers are anything like I am as a reader, they’d rather get more good stuff for their money than less. I can buy one of DWS’s books at 7 or 8 bucks, or I can buy 2 or 3 indie works for something in that range. DWS doesn’t need me as a reader, but some of the indies whose work I buy as it comes out DO need me and those like me.

    Plus, 2 bucks a book at $2.99 isn’t terrible if you’re selling. (All of mine are short stories priced at $0.99, except for the collection of 14 of them…)

  11. Well, trad. publishers probably pay a smaller advance to a new author. They also do other unfair things, like not spending any money promoting the title, and having small print runs. A new author is an experiment to them.

    I am now self-published. I agree with Dean and Kristine on pricing: a little below the publisher’s price. I am not giving away my books. They deserve better. Yes, I take a beating from those many freebies or cheap (99 c. to 3.99) novels, but I have a name to protect and I want the sort of reader who will come back because the books are good — as good as publishers’ editions or better than these. At no time do I want to give the impression that my work is easy come, easy go.

    I do few promotions and no longer free ones. I have never had carry-over sales from them. And the crowd that buys the cheap books tends to leave more nasty reviews than others. It will take me longer, but I’m building a fan base that keeps begging for the next book and I’m willing to wait.

    • I totally agree. I don’t want bargain buyers, I want quality readers, people who buy my book because they want to read it, not because it’s cheap. I want the kind of readers that think like me.

      $5.99 and $6.99 are my price points for full-length novels, and I have no intention of deviating from those. Unless I’m discounting for promotion, in which case I can go to $4.99 without losing too much money.

      At the end of the day, if a blurb and sample grab me I’ll buy the book regardless of price. Which is how it has always been. Self-publishing has improved many things, but attitudes towards books’ worth sadly isn’t one of them.

      • So, the quality of a reader (not sure what that attribute even is) is directly related to their book buying budget?

        How does that work?

        • Well, it’s a little harsh, but yes, one reader with disposable income and poor impulse control is worth way more than several readers with low budgets and fiscal discipline.

          I have, I think, a small number of True Fans, who will buy literally ANYTHING I publish as soon as they find out it’s up. Their early purchases, aside from the sweet, sweet money, give me a little boost in sales rankings, which is worth way more. If I knew who they were I would buy them cake.

  12. I lowered my prices and nothing has happened. I only have one sale and that was at the old price. So, when I finally get my next novella out I’m going to put it at the original price and will eventually price the other ones the same. For me it has made no difference.

  13. Not to keep poking the subject here but there’s something else in this post I feel the need to highlight.

    Dean says this;

    “These will be the hardest two things you ever have to do in this business.
    #1… Believe in your own art.
    #2… Be patient with sales.”

    I think it was Dan Poynter who said it, but I would replace Dean’s statement with this;

    “The two secrets to book sales are:
    1-to produce a good book that has a market
    2-to let people know about it”

    • I don’t really see them as interchangeable, though. I’d number all four of them 1a, 1b, 1c, and 1d. They’re all important.

      And I’d quibble with ‘produce a good book that has a market’. Perhaps more important to produce a good book, full stop. If a writer is writing something sufficiently different that it doesn’t readily fit a current market, they should forge ahead and carve out their own market.

      • I agree, Jim. You could combine the two lists and just make them both better.

        I’d also add that “market” doesn’t necessarily have to be a monetized one. Market can also refer to a readership or established fan base.

      • I found that kind of discussion in, of all things, a manga about comic book artists (“Bakuman” a 20-issue series that I love).

        The editor talking to the writer-artist duo observed that there were two types of creator capable of making a long-lasting work.

        There’s the true artist type who follows his own star and creates something so compelling that readers are drawn to it.

        And then there’s the engineer-type who examines the market, breaks down storytelling, and figures out a way to make a more efficient engine.

        Of the two, he thought that the engineer-type had a better shot at succeeding.

      • You’d have to be a special snowflake indeed to write a good book that you like in which there aren’t also thousands or tens of thousands of others who would also like it. The issue is finding those people, and the name for that “issue” is marketing.

  14. I think Dean speaks from the old school of doing business, books are sold by the pound. And that was an easy way to agree on the prices of books among the trad-pubs without being accused of price fixing. Besides where else would a reader buy a book in the past, but a book store, which was a cartel-regulated outlet.
    But now come the e-Books which requires zero pounds of paper and are sold on the virtual shelves. How to price those? The trad-pubs and Apple conspired to fix the e-Books prices and failed. The e-Book is a free market and not a controlled market, as it used to be. Everything goes.
    What are we Indie Authors to do? We want to sell our books, whichever way. In spite of what many say, including me one time or another, a trad-published first time author seems to have some advantage over the Indie Author (this is my opinion, which may be wrong.) For Indie Authors the price is just about the only advantage. Yes there is the stigma of cheapness, but 100 books sold at $1.99 are better than 10 books sold at $9.99. About the same profit, but a new Indie Author needs market penetration. Also if your book doesn’t sell, what do you do? As an independent entrepreneur you must use one of the only tools at hand, price. There is also another aspect of higher priced books that sells a few and lower priced books that sell a lot: the Ranking on Amazon. The higher the price, the lower the sells, the lower the ranking. It is a downward spiral.
    Yes, the Indie Authors tend to push the prices lower for e-Books, but every author needs to make their own decision for the pricing.

  15. Chris Armstrong

    My basic observations about how my book-buying goes with new authors:

    If the description is really hooking me and it’s <= $2, then I'll buy it.

    If it's more like $5, I'll probably download the sample.

    Of course, authors I know and love get an auto-buy.

  16. As a reader, I’ll simply say this: make the first book or story free and hook me there, then I will buy the rest for whatever you charge and without even waiting to be sure I can afford it if it’s less than $7. Less than $12 and I might wait for the next paycheck, but I’ll buy it.

    I believe in loss leaders, not the bargain bin. Unless you really just want to market to the bargain shoppers (usually low income, voracious readers), then go for it.

    • This makes sense to me – as also reported by others, you don’t have to use the loss leaders 100% of the time – it can be an on-off thing. Sometimes free and sometimes not. I’m waiting until I get all five books in my series up and then I’m going to start playing with these kinds of schemes.

  17. A couple observations. Like Liana, above, I’ll pick up an interesting book if the price is low, or even better, if the book is free. (After I read a sample, of course.) If a book– even a book I covet– costs more than $5.99 I won’t buy it. Unless the book is an absolute must-read I’ll save my money. And that goes for both trade and Indie books.

    My nonfiction book is priced at $.99 for a reason. I want it read by as many people as possible. So far so good. I’m getting some excellent reviews and it’s stayed up in the rankings. For several months my book went back and forth with a big trad pub book- moving between #1 and #2 in its category. Then for nearly two months my book was ranked #1 in its category. The big trad pub book dropped to #2 and stayed there. Its price? $11.49. Two weeks ago the trad pub dropped the price of the ebook to $2.99. Sales for that book took off and I’m back in the #2 slot. Is that sudden significant price cut a fluke? I don’t think so, not when the book was selling so well at $11.49. Maybe I should be flattered.

    Price does matter. I’ve moved my prices around and I will continue to do so. And sometimes I’ll give my work away regardless of what anybody advises.

    • “Price does matter. I’ve moved my prices around and I will continue to do so.”

      Moving prices can work in several ways.

      I remember when I put the hardcover versions of Hugh Howey’s Shift and Dust in my Amazon cart for my Christmas list. They stayed there a long time. I would get a notice every week or so that the price of “the items in my cart” had changed. When I’d look it would be the books, the price had changed by a few cents, sometimes up, sometimes down, but never far from the original.

      Was somebody being clever and using the Amazon bots to keep a book in front of my face? Maybe.

  18. If someone believes no one will buy a new writer’s work because that writer is new then that someone most definitely believes in a myth. I priced my books at 6.99 right out of the gate with a new pen name, no promo, and nothing but a one page website for that pen name. I sold books to complete strangers. I now make a living off that pen name, and have been for the last year. I haven’t changed my prices, and I haven’t discounted or given away free books. I’m not a known author for the vast majority of readers, but strangers keep buying my books.

    There are many paths to sales, but saying no one will buy a book from a new author unless it’s cheap just isn’t true. Some people won’t but some most definitely will.

    • Pity you didn’t link to your site. Anyone who can make a living from $7 ebooks not named King, Patterson, or Roberts gets my attention.

      • Sorry, Bill. I do my best to keep my pen name private. No facebook, no goodreads account, nothing but a website I keep updated with information about my books.

        I just don’t want my personal opinions about writing, or anything else for that matter, chasing my pen name around the internet.

  19. I agree with you TLE. That is why I am putting my prices back to what I had them and leave them alone. Price is an issue for some but not other readers and there are a lot of readers out there.

  20. I love DWS and KKR. I respect them both a lot.

    If any writers out there should be making bank, it’s them. They’re good writers and have a bazillion titles published. They have lots of good covers. Have you seen the covers for Rusch’s Retrieval Artist series? KKR gets lots of critical acclaim.

    But they don’t sell very well.

    Go look at their ebook rankings. What does a ranking of 300k or 500k sell? One per week?

    I can’t imagine it’s the quality of the writing. So what is it?

    Well, the books are all priced at $6.99. Could that be the issue?

    There is no guarantee in the business that if you do everything right, you’ll succeed. None at all. The odds are long for all of us. But could the price be a factor?

    DWS will say no, there are lots of big-name traditional authors selling ebooks at those prices and higher. And some big-name indies have higher prices and are still selling really well. Konrath has increased his prices. Russell Blake has increased his.

    But they’re folks who have sold hundreds of thousands of copies. They have a base loyal to their brand.

    And guess what. Those indie authors with the big bases: the whole time they were building that base they were selling at $2.99, 99 cents, and free.


    Go look at those best-seller lists. Look at the indie authors on them. Look at their prices.

    I don’t want to leave money on the table. But I want to build a base. When I look around, most of the indie authors who are building a base are doing similar things.

    Why wouldn’t I follow the lead of the majority of those who seem to be having success at this?

    Again, there’s no guarantee of success, but wouldn’t you want to do what the majority of those who are having success are doing?

    My guess is that if KKR ever got traction, she’d go nuclear.

    And maybe her current performance has nothing to do with hers or DWS’s ideas on pricing and marketing.

    But, boy, if most of the indies making the lists and building huge bases are selling for half of what you are, doesn’t that make you wonder about your strategy?

    • John, it also depends on your idea of what “success” is.

      One thing you left out is which retail store(s) you’re distributing to. When you mention KKR’s rankings, are you only looking at Amazon US rankings?

      I bring it up because I’m one of those oddball indies that sells much in other stores than Amazon US. In fact, last month I had twice as many sales in Amazon UK than I did in Amazon US.

      Also, one thing Dean has always emphasized is the long-tail. You mention KKR’s rankings means she sells roughly 1 copy of 1 title per week on (I assume) Amazon US. So that’s 4 copies a month of roughly 300 titles she has under various names. Even if she prices all titles (shorts, novels, collections) at $2.99, she’ll make roughly $2 per sale, give or take a few cents.

      So that comes to roughly:

      4 X 300 X 2 X 12 = $28,800 per year

      That’s only on Amazon US. Add in the other Amazon stores, Apple, Kobo, B&N (for now), ARe, GooglePlay, etc., it’s starts to add up in a hurry. At this point, all of her older work is passive income. In the meantime, she’s still producing new stuff.

      Sure you can goose your sales through various marketing techniques, but eventually sales will level off. Which is exactly what happened to Kris when her Spy To Die For (published by Sourcebooks BTW)was made a Kindle Daily Deal two months ago.

      You’re right; build a base. Write some damn good stories that people want to buy 30 years later. Just remember that the things John Locke and Amanda Hocking did five years ago may not work now. It’s easy to look at what other people did. Now extrapolate how you can tweak things to make it work for you. “Wear the Bezos, be the Bezos, you are the Bezos.” (With all due respect to Michael Caine. 😀 )

      • Suzan,

        You’re absolutely right. I totally agree that what you define as success is the starting point.

        And you’re right the Amazon rankings don’t show the whole sales picture. I don’t know how they’re doing in other venues. But all the data I have suggests that the lion’s share of ebooks are sold via Amazon. So while it’s not completely accurate, I do think it’s a good barometer.

        I think I understand Kris’s and Dean’s strategy (Dean’s reply to my comment on his site was helpful). And your numbers lay that strategy out as well.

        I did misread the intent of his post. He wasn’t suggesting certain prices, even if it seemed he was. See my comment below. But let’s just look at this business model.

        Let’s look at the numbers again if my goal is to make a median income of $50k.

        $2.09 royalty per sale
        52 sold per year per title (1/week)
        $108 per year per title
        459 titles required

        $4.89 royalty per sale
        52 sold per year per title (1/week)
        $254 per year per title
        196 titles required

        Let’s say they sell on average more than 1/week. Let’s double it. That’s still a lot of titles. Even if you quadruple it we’re still looking at 49 novels and 115 shorts.

        If it works for them, then it works. End of story.

        But producing hundreds and hundreds of titles isn’t going to be feasible for a huge number of us.

        Here’s what I believe the key indicators are for this business.

        – Reader base
        – Word of mouth
        – Profit

        I want to make a living. I’ve got to hit a specific income target. That’s my definition of success. And I’ve got to do it with a much smaller set of assets. That’s my reality.

        The easiest way to do that is to maximize all three of these factors. And I need ALL three. I don’t want a gazillion readers if that means no profit.

        I’m looking at Mark Corkers reports from Smashwords (I posted this bit on Dean’s site as well): http://blog.smashwords.com/2013/05/new-smashwords-survey-helps-authors.html.

        I’m looking at slides 65-69. I know we’ve all seen them.

        If the patterns are similar at Amazon, then a price of $3.99 on average will sell more than double the copies of $6.99.

        $3.99 means MORE readers, MORE word of mouth, and it means MORE revenue.

        It means more than double the chances of getting your stuff in front on an influencer.

        More than double the chances for luck to come into play.

        If I can make more profit at a certain price AND increase my reader numbers, which also increases word of mouth, then doing that is a no-brainer.

        But I do agree with you that what works for others and what worked in the past might not work for me now. The is no guarantee of success. No sure-fire way to make a lot of sales. Not even if Corker puts it in a PowerPoint. I have to look at the data, test, and find a way to make it work for me. And keep adapting.

        And get great product out the door 🙂

        • I was just trying to keep the math simple, John, considering the lateness of the hour. 😆 Best wishes on your books!

        • John, (or anyone) I hear the term tossed about all the time and wondering what it means. So could you please tell me what you mean by “reader numbers?” I’m starting to think there is a myth involved with that term, but can’t put my finger on it.

          Now, this (might be stupid) question is coming from a person who has over 17 million copies of all my books in print. Does that mean I have 17 million reader numbers?

          Or is a reader number attached to only one product?

          If so many indie writers are working hard to increase their “reader numbers” by low pricing or discounting, what exactly does that mean? Thanks for the help on this. Because if I have 17 million reader numbers, something is not connecting dots for me.

          • Dean,

            Yeah, I probably should have used a better term. I’m talking about customers loyal to the author’s brand.

            I’m assuming most of those 17 million readers come from media tie-in sales. Which means most of them are probably loyal to the franchise, not any of the authors that write in the franchise.

            • Robert Forrester

              John, I really think you might be deluding yourself a little about author brand. The vast majority of authors don’t have a brand, no matter how good their books are. We all have our favourites and you may have a limited number of fans who will remember you, but the vast majority of your readers won’t, no matter how much they liked your book, especially if they are voracious readers or picked up your pick from the bargain bin with half a dozen other writers. Can you remember the author of every great book you’ve read? If I think of the last dozen or so books I’ve read, I can vividly remember the premise, the plot, and even name some of the main characters, yet I can’t recall any of the authors who wrote those books. Not one. And some of those books were really great and some were part of a series. I don’t think I’m alone either.

              If a reader likes your book, they’ll probably read everything else you’ve written, but once they’ve exhausted your back list, they’ll move on to someone else. This is why so many authors try to get people to sign up for newsletters of new releases, because by the time your next book comes out, people will have forgotten who you are. Trad pub knows this, which is why even some relatively big names have ‘By the author of …’ on their front covers. People remember stories but not who wrote them.

              This is why I think Dean is right about pricing. Sure, if you have 30 titles, giving the odd one away or doing price promotions is a great way to bring in new readers but if you give away your first, second or third book or sell it really cheap, and you don’t have substantial back list, by the time your next books come out people won’t remember who you are.

              • Robert,

                I think there are indeed readers like the ones you describe. However, I don’t think most are that way.

                Why do I say that?

                Well, many surveys have been conducted over the years on how readers find books to read. I summarize a number of those surveys here: http://johndbrown.com/2009/05/how-readers-select-books/. KKR responds to one of those surveys here http://kriswrites.com/2011/04/06/the-business-rusch-promotion/.

                What factor sits right at the top on most of those surveys?

                It’s brand. Folks tend to buy books by authors they already like. That is the customer loyalty I’m talking about.

                For more on branding in publishing, KKR has a great write up here http://kriswrites.com/2014/01/08/the-business-rusch-branding-discoverability-part-6-2/

                Any time you please a reader, you are moving them towards the loyal fan category. Your brand may not have the power of a Dean Koontz because you don’t have near the loyal customers as Koontz, but you still have a brand.

                Readers that know your brand won’t all have the same degree of loyalty. Customers fall at all points along a spectrum.

                You have hard-core fans who are totally dedicated to you and make an effort to know what’s happening. You’ve pleased them so much, your brand is gold to them.

                You have others who will buy your book the minute they hear it’s out, but don’t make an active effort to keep up to date on things.

                There are others who will mark it to be read when they hear about it, but don’t make a big effort to get it unless it’s convenient.

                You have others who like your stuff but are still in that period where they like but haven’t yet committed to being a fan. That sometimes may take a few books.

                That’s how it was with me and Lee Child. I read the first and liked it. Some time later I saw another and was predisposed to like it. I read that one and liked it too. I wasn’t a Child fan yet. But then I read the third. And that’s when I became a true fan. I’m not hard-core. But I now read everything he puts out within a few months of the release.

                From all I can see branding matters no less than it does in any business where you’re relying on repeat customers.

                I see the effect of branding all over. It was the force behind the dramatic explosion of sales when it was revealed that Robert Galbraith, the author of The Cuckoo’s Calling, was J.K. Rowling. It was the force behind the midnight book store events when Stephanie Meyer would release a Twilight book (and the Twilight balls). And other similar events with many other authors. It’s the reason why publishers make the names of a lot of authors so prominent on the cover. Good grief, sometimes that’s all you need. Look at some of the Nora Roberts or JD Robb covers. On many of those the name, the brand, takes up 75% of the cover. You can see customer loyalty in reviews on GoodReads and Amazon and elsewhere where readers say in essence, “I loved this author and I will be looking for the next book.”

                The reason to have a newsletter is the same reason why trad publishers put out ads in venues like Drudge Report. These are called awareness ads. You do awareness promo not because the readers don’t care and have forgotten you. It’s just the opposite. The readers DO care. They’re just not the hard-core fans that check the author’s site every month. Those awareness ads are directed at the loyal customers who will be happy to know the book’s out and will look to purchase it.

                Everywhere I look, I see brand. Brand of a franchise, a series, or an author.

                Everywhere I look, the authors that seem to be succeeding are building large bases of loyal customers who come back for repeat business. And those loyal fans are a huge source of the word of mouth about the author, which was the second big factor leading to book purchases.

                The data seems to suggest to me that those who have a brand and build a base of customers loyal to it are the ones who succeed.

            • John, about half of the 17 million come from Trek, Men in Black, Spider-Man, and all the other media I did under this name. The rest are from my own books, mostly under pen names. This name doesn’t have that many yet under original novels for this very reason, everyone thinks I only write media under this name.

              Robert, I have tended in watching to agree with you, but not sure if that is changing slightly about author brands. But thanks, just been seeing that term “reader numbers” or “growing my readers” and I just flat not sure what exactly that means, even though those terms are getting tossed around as if everyone knows that they mean.

              And it seems that so many indie writers make decisions based on trying to get “reader numbers” and I’m not sure if that’s good business or strange thinking. Again, just me trying to get a handle on this. Thanks!

  21. Thanks for the great discussion. This was fun to read.

    I want to be clear for those who haven’t read my full article on my site. My novels tend to price around $7.99. But I have zero issue with discounting them for sales and such, especially first books in series, as people said.

    I am not against low pricing in the right time and place for good marketing, I was just trying to point out that writers who believe their books should be cheap because they are new are buying into a myth.

    In fact, in a story bundle right now, I have a novel that can be purchased for about $1.00. It’s the first in a series and the bundle will be active for another couple of weeks. I’ve lowered prices for ebooksoda promotions and so on.

    Also, I sell my Smith’s Monthly Magazine, which has a full novel in every issue plus four short stories, plus novel serials plus other stuff for $6.99 And if you subscribe you get it even cheaper.

    So the point of the blog was to try to point out that if you are thinking you should discount your books right from the start, sell them less, just because you are a new writer, that’s a myth. Discounting books along the way, as you get more inventory is just great sales practice.

  22. I appears I misread Dean’s post. I shared my bafflement about what I thought were his price suggestions in a comment on his site. This is his reply.

    John, I have zero issue with writers deciding to price at $3.99 or whatever. Zero issue.

    What this blog was about was when a writer thinks “I’m a new writer, no one knows me, so I better price my stuff lower.” That’s the myth. But as you have done, a smart, researched way that you think is right for you, done for business reasons, I cheer and hope people report results. That’s the right reason to find a price. Business, not from myth. That’s all I’m trying to say.

    – See more at: http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=12659&cpage=1#comment-141695

    So he’s not suggesting a certain price range (although it’s easy to read that in there with the way he used his numbers). Just that he feels there’s no data to back up the idea that new writers must price lower. And that you should make your pricing decisions based on the best business data you can gather.

    That certainly makes sense to me.

    Of course, the data I’ve been able to gather leads me to a different pricing scheme than he and KKR are using. But you can see his reasons for the different pricing in his full reply to my comment on his site.

  23. Frankly, I think a lot of new writers, back in the day, were relegated to paperback originals, which sold for considerably less than hardcover. So price WAS a factor.

    But rather than use an actual pricing system, it was more like baseball: majors and minors, with the attitude to match.

  24. As a new author, half way through writing my first novel and yet to publish anything, I’m wrestling with whether to go straight for the self-publishing route, or trying the traditional agent-publisher route. I’ve been having lots of discussions about self-publishing pricing recently, and this thread has made me do some more thinking. My view is that a starting price of $2.99 is about right. I do think that good authors as a whole are underselling themselves at $0.99 or free. Personally I think that readers who are happy to pay $3 for a cup of coffee that lasts them 20 minutes will pay $3 for a book which will provide entertainment for days if not weeks. As an avid reader myself, I find the glut of free promotional books available of varying quality makes it a lottery whether you’re going to get a half-decent one or not. I tend not steer clear of these, and pay more attention to the higher priced ones. I think if I go down the self-publishing route I’ll start at $2.99 for a novel, and I may try a few short stories at $0.99.

  25. This is a lot of solid opinion and info from people who’ve written and sold many more books than I have (1 and 0 thus far, for anyone keeping score).

    So here’s my plan:

    1) Come up with a personal definition of success.

    2) Try stuff.

    3) If said stuff is not successful, try something new. If it is, do more of it (but try something new anyway).

    4) Keep writing.

    5) Share my learnings, but remember to stress that they may not apply to others.

    6) Remember to enjoy it whenever possible.

    7) Repeat.

    That ought to keep me busy for a while.

  26. We use perma-free for the first in a series and advertise it on BookBub et al to get the word out. The other books are anywhere from $3.99 to $5.99 depending on length. This strategy has worked well. (In March we made $13k, in April we made $29k and most of the last 12 months we’ve made somewhere between $10-13k. We had a new series launch in April, thus the dramatic increase in royalties.)

    This approach doesn’t work for stand alone novels, but for series novels or serials in a popular genre, it’s quite effective, for us at least. We’ve tried higher prices and lower prices and this is what works. So, we tend to write shorter novels in a series, rather than one really long stand alone novel, to help market and justify keeping the books at $3.99 rather than $6.99.

    I think you just have to find what works for you and that takes experimenting with different types of books, different pricing strategies and different marketing strategies.

  27. That’s not even true. Look at Avon’s price tier system. Look at Harlequin’s for series versus their “breakout” novelists in Superromance.

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