Monday, December 19, 2011

How to Become a Famous Author and Make Lots of Money Part 2

This is the second-part of an occasional series on Independent Publishing.  The first part can be found here.  

Kindle Select Program

Amazon has recently made its Kindle Select Program available to authors and publishers, and much has been written on the subject weighing the pros and cons.  Several authors I know are hesitant to delve into the program because of Amazon’s exclusivity clause.
Let me put it this way: If you are making money on the Nook or via Smashwords, then more power to you.  I’m not.  Amazon is by far the leader in supporting my books, and I am happy to be with them exclusively. 
Earlier this month my sci-fi western Guns of Seneca 6 was selling approximately twenty-five copies a month and the Whitechapel: The FinalStand of Sherlock Holmes (Gentlemen’s Edition) even less.  I put both of them up for free for two days, and when I moved them back into the paid category, both reached Number One of their respective categories.  Thousands of people downloaded free editions of both, and hundreds of people bought them after that. 
I’m chalking it up as a success. 
It will be interesting to see how their whole Prime Lending Program shapes up with authors splitting a pot of money based on how many times their books are borrowed.   Based on the formula I’ve seen on Amazon’s page, it is based on Amount of Money in the Pot, Amount of Books in the Program, and how many times your book was borrowed.  I’ve had about 100 books borrowed so far. 

Search Engine Optimization
SEO is a highly-complicated piece of internet witchcraft that you need to at least have a rough idea of how to use.  There are numerous books on the issue, ranging from what look like space shuttle engineering manuals to do-it-yourself guides. 
I recently bought three on the subject: 
Out of all of them, GET ON GOOGLE FRONT PAGE by Jason Matthews was the most concise and well-written.  I also highly suggest his other book, which is positively jammed with information about publishing. 

Pricing Your Books

I’m going to be real blunt about this.  Pricing your book at .99 doesn’t make sense.  Period.
Now, this is being said by a man who has two books for sale on Kindle right this second for .99, so do not think me mean-spirited by saying that.  I have very specific reasons for using the .99 price point on my short-story collection WOMEN AND OTHER MONSTERSand the non-fiction essay, WAY OF THE WARRIOR. 
I’ll start with WAY OF THE WARRIOR first, because it is the easiest to explain. 
It is an essay, only about 16 pages in length.  I made the cover myself, and did not pay for any formatting.  It is about a subject that is important to me personally, and I would hope that everyone in law enforcement had an opportunity to read it.  I would give it away free to them all if I could, but Amazon dictates that we must charge something for it.  Therefore, I sell it for .99 and hope people find it meaningful.
The answer to why I sell WOMEN AND OTHER MONSTERS for .99 is infinitely more complicated, but can be boiled down to twelve simple words if I really try.  They are: I Didn't Know WHAT I Was Doing and I Got Bad Advice.
At the outset of my foray into independent publishing, I really had no clue how to go about it.  I made friends with an author who had spent a year in the game, and at the time had four books for sale on Amazon.  Each was priced at .99. 
He sold me on the possibilities of independent publishing, and inspired me to give it a shot.  I decided to put together a short-story collection just as a way to test the waters.  WAOM was born.  I paid to have a cover made, and professional formatting, because as I began reading eBooks, I saw how much they improved the experience.  The cost was roughly $300. 
Amazon offers a 35% royalty option and a 70% royalty option to authors, but books priced under $2.99 only qualify for the lower one.  If your book is priced at .99, you make .35 per book. 
Let’s do some quick comparisons:
Low Budget’s .99 book sells a whopping 500 copies in one month.  He makes $175.
Quality Independent’s $2.99 book sells only 100 copies in one month.  He makes $209.
We all clear now? 
Selling 500 copies of a book on Amazon is an INCREDIBLE achievement.  Personally, if I’d written a book capable of doing that, but priced it at .99 per book, I’d be incredibly grateful to every person who bought it while feeling like a complete idiot.
John Locke (Who is quickly becoming this blog’s favorite whipping boy) received a huge amount of publicity when he sold his one millionth eBook. 
John’s books are all priced at .99.  He only made $350,000 on that.  For all his much-vaunted business acumen, I simply cannot respect that.  I respect his achievement, certainly, but I also think he’s a bit of a dummy.  An author selling his books for just $2.99 would only have to sell less than 170,000 books to make the same amount of money. 
An author selling his book for $4.99 would have to sell just 100,000 books. 
My advice would be to take the time and effort to create a substantial work, have it properly edited, formatted and designed.  After that, select a fair price that will give substantial value to the reader but also allow you to remain competitive. 
Quick story:
Last summer, Whitechapel (Original Version) sales had stalled out at its initial $2.99 price point.  I decided to give the ol’ .99 price a try.  Not only did sales not improve, it invited readers in that were not carefully reading the reviews or description.  They just saw a Sherlock Holmes book for .99 and bought it.  Little did they know what awaited them.
Several bad reviews later, I’d had enough, and decided to raise the price to $4.99.  I figured if they were going to leave bad reviews after only reading forty pages, they could at least pay me for it.
Guess what?  Sales tripled.  Not only that, but good reviews began to come back in, because people were paying more money for the book, so they were taking the time to read it all the way through. 
I don't think I can be any more blunt than this: There is a place for Dollar Stores in this world.  They attract all sorts of people, but nobody really goes into them looking for quality.  If you are that kind of author, creating that type of product, than by all means, have at it.  It has served John (somewhat) well being on the same shelves as the Chinese manufactured toothpaste and no-name brand baby shampoo.  
PS: If you are a first-time author or relative newbie who is reading this thinking your work is the equivalent of a bespoke boutique on Saville Row, I've got news for you sweetie: You ain't.  Price your oh-so precious work of art at $2.99 and make sure its actually worth $24.99 and you'll be just fine.  
Also, I just want to be clear about something: I have NO regrets about WOMEN AND OTHER MONSTERS other than I wish I'd made it slightly longer by including several stories that were cut.  I would rather have a fuller volume that was priced appropriately.  But I am eternally grateful that people are interested in it and truly do love every story within it.  (One of the cut stories can be read for free here.)    

Editing Services and Post-Release Support

Forgive me for doing a little self-promotion here, but I wanted to add that the Kindle All-Stars are now offering editing and post-release support services.  Not for free, obviously, but there is a payment plan option that seems affordable.  If you are looking for the most thorough, capable editing and proofreading services in the industry as well as fine-tuned, customized marketing, look no further than here

Access The Apiary Society (Bernard J. Schaffer's website)
For a list of books available on Amazon, click this link
To dominate Twitter like a Kindle Author Sex God, You Only Need THIS.  

1 comment:

  1. A very helpful article, Bernard. I've tried different prices and couldn't see much difference in sales. I'm sure you're right about drawing a line at $2.99 for a novel. 99c feels about right for a short.

    My stuff is available on Smashwords as well as Amazon, and my smashwords sales are tiny compared to Amazon's. But I believe indie authors should support Smashwords. We need a strong alternative to the gargantuan monopolistic Amazon. And besides, when I sell one of my short stories for 99c on Amazon, I get 35c; I get 82c for the same sale on Smashwords.