Monday, January 30, 2012

An Author's Greatest Desire: To Be READ

Today we have a guest post from a friend of ours Daron D. Fraley
There are a lot of opinions out there about ebook pricing. Everyone in the publishing industry has an opinion. Some say you have to price your books above $2.99, or you are devaluing the artistic value of the book. Some insist that 99 cents is the price to drive sales. Others think that free is OK. And the big publishers seem to think that $9.99 is the way to go.
So what price do you use? I am still undecided. Here's why:
Let's consider downloads of THE THORN and WATER, my two ebooks. They started out at prices of 2.99 and 99 cents respectively.
Total downloads in 2010, prior to making both of the books free: 9
Yeah. NINE. Granted, it wasn't a full year. The ebooks were first available in August, 2010. But if you extrapolate a yearly number out of that 4 month trend, you still only get 36.
I wasn't very happy about that. And nothing I did to try to change that number seemed to work. I asked for reviews. I posted on facebook. I tweeted. I sent emails to friends and family. I gave out discount codes for a free-download for those who participated in contests. I talked to people on planes. I talked to people at work. I advertised so much online that I felt like I was hurting my relationships with people. Who wants to hear a friend constantly hawking their wares?
I became very self conscious about it. I decided that I had to stop. I would never become a household name, and nobody would ever read my books, and I was OK with that. I knew that ebooks were my last hope because the print edition was only in a few indie stores around the country.
But I am a fighter. I still wanted to change that. But how? If I didn't tell people about them, then how would people discover the books?  I decided to try a bold move. I would make my books free.
My plan: Build readership. Get people interested in my writing, and build a following. Then, sometime in the future, release the second book in my series and another novel as regularly priced novels. Whatever regularly priced means... as I said before, I am still undecided.
Total number of downloads in 2011, from all major sites:  21,446
And that was really only 1/2 a year, because the Amazon Kindle Store didn't pick them up as free until mid-year. Before June, the download numbers were still in the low hundreds.
Amazon made all the difference. How that happened is a long story. Simply put, they saw the books being offered for free on competing sites, and matched the price. Authors can't normally price their books free otherwise.
Besides the number of downloads, here are some interesting stats:
Both of my titles, WATER and THE THORN have been in the top 10 for their genres (Fiction/Genre Fiction/Anthologies, and Fiction/Religious Fiction/Science Fiction & Fantasy) for the last two months straight. And on January 10th, they hit #1 and #2 respectively on the Fiction/Religious Fiction/Science Fiction & Fantasy chart.
Not too shabby with nearly zero advertising. In fact, I have no idea how it happened because I had stopped tweeting and posting about the books months before. I didn't even know the books were being offered for free on Amazon until late summer, and that was two months after Amazon matched the price.
What does it all mean? Is their no easy answer? I submit to you that there IS an answer, even if it isn't easy.
Here are the ingredients for being a successful indie author:
1. Work on your craft. Go to conferences. Read writers blogs and learn about technique, style, voice, etc.
2. READ. Read a lot of books.
3. Write your best book.
4. Get that book professionally edited. PAY to have your book edited!
5. Get help with typesetting and formatting so that the book is a comfortable read.
6. Get a good cover designer to help you create a simple, eye-catching cover. Yeah, you'll probably have to pay for that too.
7. Get the book out there. At what price? I have no idea. Experiment. I don't think there's a silver bullet.
Are you still with me? Except for step 7, which is mostly my opinion, every single one of those steps is touted by those who know what it takes. In fact, we keep quoting each other on those points. Do you think I came up with those? Hah! Nope. I read them somewhere. On the internet. So, they must be true, right?
Don't stop yet, there's one more step:
8. Hang up the horseshoe, rub the rabbit's foot, or whatever else you wish to do for good luck.
Because that is exactly what it is. LUCK. Right place, right time, the right readers downloading your book and getting excited about it and tweeting about it and then they have hundreds or thousands of followers on twitter or facebook who retweet the clever tweet or repost the clever status because it catches their eye and then some of their friends do the same thing and then the book climbs the ranks and it hits the charts and it garners more downloads, and then Amazon sees that trend and marks it as a mover-and-shaker and that brings about even more downloads, and pretty soon you are totally blown away that there are that many people out there reading your book.
What about those who claim free doesn't mean squat? You know what? I have no idea if anyone is actually READING my books. I have no proof. After all, they are FREE, and people forget about free stuff because it has no perceived value. Or so everyone says. It may be true. Probably is.
But here's the rub: I have had some really nice reviews. I know for a fact that I have had at least 50 people read the books. And many of those readers really liked them.
And that is all I really wanted in the first place. To write. And to have someone read my work, and like it. So even if the number is now only TEN, I am no worse off than I was before.
That's how I see it.
Check back with me at the end of the year. After I get my next two books out there.
Question: Will free loss-leaders bring in downloads for the paid novels? I have no idea. Your guess is as good as mine. Now, where did I put that horseshoe?
Thanks Daron


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