Thursday, July 28, 2011

Congratulations, Independent Authors

Congratulations, independent authors, because you're about to start making more money.

When indie publishing took off, indie writers took advantage of being able to sell their books for cheap--much cheaper than any traditional publisher can afford. They priced their books at $0.99, or $2.99, or somewhere in-between. They attracted readers that, for the most part, didn't buy books based on quality, but on price.

And some of them became successful. John Locke and Amanda Hocking have sold millions of self published books. However, many other indie writers struggled--and still do--to earn a living. Like the successes, they priced their books at $0.99. (At that rate, you make only $0.35 per sale.) But lacked great marketing expertise or luck to promote their novels. Even by selling a thousand copies a month, they made only $350 dollars.

And now, they are raising their prices. Because they have to, in order to earn a living. Because otherwise, they'd have to stop writing. 

There are other reasons as well:

Authors don't want readers to buy their work because it's the cheapest. They want readers who enjoy their work and would pay good money for it.

The $0.99 price doesn't attract the audience they want. Often, it attracts people who take books for granted and believe that every novel should be tailored to their expectations. That equals bad reviews.

And, in many cases, it attracts people who don't even read the books they buy. And above all, writers want their books to be read.

In a traditionally published series, in which most books are priced equally, the sales grow as more books are released. Harry Potter novels constantly outsold each other. The last book sold far more than the first.

Independent authors have not had the same success. Ronnell D. Porter released the first book in his Trinity Saga, "Pocket Watch", for free on kindle. He priced book two, "The Memory Keeper", and book three, "The White Knight", for $2.99. These were his sales (credited to E-book Endeavors) between June 25th and June 30th.

325 sales for THE MEMORY KEEPER
409 sales for THE WHITE KNIGHT
And 32,826 free sales for THE POCKET WATCH.

Mr. Porter's sales went down as the series progressed. Some may think this is because his novels weren't that good. But come on, if 409 people bought book two... he's a great writer. This means, almost certainly, that over 26,000 people didn't read the first book, though they had downloaded it, because they are buying books based on price alone.

That is unfortunate. No, more like tragic. And that is why independent writers are raising their prices. Not all of them. Not yet. But soon enough, self published books will cost just as much as traditionally published ones. 

Some may argue that that's unfair. Publisher's have marketing costs. They need to pay editors and artists. They can't afford to sell books for cheap, while independent authors can.

But is that really true? Self published books have covers. They've received edits. Either the author put in time and did all that work him or herself, or they paid someone--just like the publishers.

So how can they afford to sell their books for less? They have expenses. They have families. They need money.

No doubt, many readers will react negatively. They've become accustomed to spending no more than $0.99 per book. They may refuse to buy anything for more.

But then writers will stop writing, and those people will come to their senses. A few dozen best selling authors can't sustain the industry. Books are read much faster than they are written.

So bless you independent authors. I love you. You're the future of writing, and you can make money doing it.

If you have a book out, post a link and some information in the comments. Give readers a chance to buy it :)


  1. Good thoughts, Dmytry, but I'd say there are nine times as many writers willing to give away their books for free (to "build audience," even if that doesn't exactly work) than are realistically interested in having a career.Sure, many dump their slush out there and hope it hits the jackpot, and why not? They should.

    Indies aren't the future of writing. The future of writing is the writers who stick with it no matter what, who outlast the fads, who endure and even overcome the limitations of any particular era. This digital fad (and yes, it's a fad, because it's already evolving away from the golden goose of Christmas 2010) will weed out all the half-hearted, the ones who really didn't want to be writers but just thought it was a way to get rich.

    The simple truth is writers are NOT driving the market. Amazon set the pricing bar that most indies and competitors followed--it wasn't mutually agreed upon by the market. Readers are increasingly shaping it by the prices they are willing to pay. If readers decide 99 cents is a fair price, it doesn't matter what the writers think their work is "worth."

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. This is a great article!!! Gives everyone a lot to think about! I know the whole pricing thing has given me lots of headaches. While I understand the whole quality thing, I do know a fair amount of avid readers who simply can't afford to buy $9.99 ebooks and the like (whether they are traditional or indie) and have enjoyed the opportunity to read quality books at a cheaper price. The economy has certainly not helped any industry out, either.

    I know this pricing war has caused hardship for those indies who are writers full-time, which I can appreciate. I commend anyone who can make their passion their full-time career. Unfortunately, for me, while I hope to continue marketing as a career, writing will always be a passionate hobby, as opposed to a means to survive.

    So, for me, I think it smart to try to maybe find a median. I personally plan on selling my first ebook for $2.99 (or $4.99 - I just can't decide) and price additional books slightly higher and see where that takes me. I certainly don't have the answers and am still struggling with finding the perfect price point, so I enjoy hearing from others.

    Thanks for this awesome article. Can't wait to hear from others too!

  3. Great ideas Scott Nicholson. I agree that the future of writing, in the long run, are the writers who stick with it no matter what. This includes both traditional and indie, of course. And yes, this era is a fad.

    However, though Amazon had a part to play in the pricing, writers are responsible for the $0.99 trend.

    Amazon offers 70% royalties to authors who price their books in-between $2.99 to $9.99. Originally,they created this structure in order to sell more ebooks and earn more money. (Some say this was also a response to other ereaders hitting the market.)

    Amazon chose that range of prices based on their own research of the market. ebooks priced at $2.99 to $9.99 were the most successful. This includes books that would now be considered highly priced by some at $4.99 or $5.99.

    Amazon did not encourage the $0.99 price. In fact, if a writer charges under $2.99 for a book, they only get 35% royalties. So, clearly, that was not a price that would have generated great wealth for Amazon unless they took a high percentage of the sales.

    However, some independent authors, like John Locke, found success at selling their books for as low as possible. Many others didn't. That's not good for them, and its not good for Amazon.

    Though it's true that the economy is hard right now, if writers hadn't gone lower than the $2.99 price... or even, if they hadn't gone lower than $4.99... readers would still be buying books. They always have been.

    So, in a partial way, writers are driving the market. When they could have chosen anywhere between $2.99 and $9.99, they chose the lowest price and sometimes even lower. This was successful... for some, and many authors began to think that these low prices were necessary in order to have a career. But they're not.

    And writers are now realizing that.

    If readers still think that $0.99 is fair for a self published book, while $15.99 is fair for a traditionally published one, they will soon change their minds, as indie authors achieve the same success and reputation as traditionally published ones.

    Already, writers like John Locke and Amanda Hocking are considering raising their prices, since they have an established audience that will buy their books. And they have every right to do so.

    Authors, both traditional and indie, who price their books at enough to make a living and sell, will, for a very long time, be the future.

  4. The pricing issue is always a hotly debated one, and I suppose it's up to individual authors to play around and decide what works best for them.

    My comments are all over the board here, so feel free to read or ignore at will:

    Firstly, I don't see how the latter books in the Harry Potter series could have cumulative sales that are higher than those of the first books (readers will almost always start with Book 1 in a series and not everybody is going to go on to read the rest of the books--I certainly didn't with HP.). If you mean that each successive book had a greater number of sales on release day than the last, that I could see, but that's not the same thing. I'll wager there are tons of people who tried Book 1 out of curiosity but weren't enamored enough to go on and buy the others.

    Personally, I don't see anything tragic about Ronnell's story. He went from making a couple hundred dollars a month to making nearly $2,000 over a 5-day period. Because, by giving away an ebook for free, he gave people a no-risk chance to try his work. If that's tragedy, sign me up!

    *Lots* of authors give away free work as part of a marketing strategy. Nathan Lowell's entire body of work is out there for free in its podcast version. The popular (traditionally published) Ilona Andrews has free short stories up on Smashwords. I earned my first fans (who went on to buy my books) by getting a free short story into Smashwords and B&N.

    I think where people fail is by making their books free (or 99 cents) without having a marketing plan. IMO, a low-priced offering should be a lead-in into higher priced work. No, you don't *have* to sell your first book at 99 cents (I sold the first 1,000 copies of my Book 1 at $2.99, though when I dropped it to $0.99, I sold so many more copies of it and everything else that my earnings tripled within two months), but it is a valid strategy that will be right for some authors.

    I certainly wouldn't assume that people who buy 99-cent ebooks are some kind of less desirable audience who won't go on to purchase books at higher prices. Based on my July sales numbers, about 65% of the people who buy my Book 1 at 99 cents go on to buy Book 2 at 3.99. And, hey, I'm no JK Rowling. ;)

    I hear a lot of authors say that they have to charge such-and-such because writers deserve to make a living. To me, that smacks of entitlement. Most authors who make a living have a large body of work out there, not one or two ebooks, and they've proven themselves to their fans over and over again by writing stories that entertain.

    Anyway, apologies if I'm being too argumentative. Maybe this is like the self-publishing vs. traditional publishing debate where the two sides are just too polarizing for many authors to see eye to eye.

  5. Hey Lindsay, I appreciate the comments :) No need to apologize.

    Actually, I believe that Ronnell's strategy was genius. What was tragic for me--sorry that this wasn't clear enough--is that, in my opinion, a small percentage of people who downloaded book 1 read it. I wish more had. And I wish they had bought book 2 and book 3.

    I commemorate Ronnell on his work.

    Also, I agree that many people who buy 99-cent books are not a less desirable audience and would pay more. (I buy 99 cent books.) So when book prices go up, people will still buy them.

    I have not yet found a good source to clarify the issue with sales in a series.

    I do know, after doing research, that film sequels often make more money than originals. People often borrow the first film or see it on tv, and then pay to watch the sequel. Of course, books are different. However, I only bought the last harry potter book. I borrowed the others.

    If charging a certain amount smacks of entitlement, then both traditional publishers and independent authors are smacking it.

    Many traditionally published writers are complaining about the small royalties they are now getting on ebooks. Traditional publishers say they can't lower prices because artists, writers, and editors have to make a living.

    Of course, these may be bad reasons. But they are out there, and people on both sides of the argument are using them.

  6. Let me weigh in on the series idea.

    I have a six book series out in podcast format (for free) and am in the process of rolling out the print/ebook versions. Those books are being handled by Ridan Publishing and are priced at $4.95 each. There are some marketing things coming down in the next few months where Ridan is entering some new marketplaces and I'm going to be watching to see what happens going forward.

    As for the past performance, about 80% of the people who got through book one, continue on. In the print/ebook version, I don't have complete numbers yet (it's all still too new), but the buy through appears to be similar. Book four comes out next month and if past experience is any indicator, I expect that what will happen is that we'll rocket onto the charts (perhaps break into the #100s in sales rank over all for a few days before slowly sliding down. In those first two months, I'll sell to about 80% of the fans (something like 10,000 to 12,000 units over two months).

    I'll also get a bump on the earlier works and should pick up another 20-30 units per day.

    This pattern is similar to what happens when I release a new book in audio. Book nine is in production now, but when I released book eight, every book in the series up to that point got a nice little boost. Quarter Share, the first book in the set, was stable at about 50 downloads a day when I released book five. Now, after book eight, it's stable at about 150 downloads day. (Remember these are free audio downloads so price isn't an issue.)

    The fanbase for audio has grown from 10,000 to over 20,000 since Jan 2010. The fanbase for print/ebook has grown from zero to something around 10,000 since April, 2010. (FWIW, I started in Jan, 2007.)

    That platform of audio fans feeds the print sales, particularly in the early days of release and gives my books a leg up out of the sea of obscurity that most indies face.

  7. Thank you for the information Nathan Lowell. It looks like you're doing well. Congratulations!

  8. Hi Dmytry, Hi Lindsay, Hi everyone...

    In my view the distinction between indie and traditional authors is going to disappear. Readers won't be able to tell the difference. What will matter is the quality of the product. Right now there are ebooks produced by print publishers that are full of formatting errors and they cost as much as or more than the paperback. This is not acceptable and these products will lose market share. Many ebook authors are getting the formats right. They understand the medium much better than the print publishers and their products will thrive.

    The blossoming of novellas is wonderful to see. It is terrific for readers and a blow to print publishers for whom this length has never been attractive. For ebook authors and the readers discovering them it makes perfect economic sense.

    The price on all ebooks is a matter of negotiation between readers and writers and will always remain fluid. If a reader really can't afford $2.99 or whatever the price point is, there are many ways to contact the author and ask for a discount.


  9. One, I do not think it's arrogant or entitled to want to make a professional living as a professional writer. I've been making a living on my writing in various forms for many years, and been paid well to write. Why shouldn't I charge a fair price for a book I spend months on? A book that, as an indie author, I also hire designers and professional editors for?

    I don't know that indie books will rise to the price bracket of traditionally published books, nor do I think they should. But, as Zoe Winters puts it, we don't need to live in the ghettos either!

    I agree with L.M. Stull that economy does play a part, but I also see an over-inundation of 99cent books that might make it hard to distinguish yourself in that price bracket. Especially with the Amazon spam problem. (Many 99cent books turning out to be spam!)

    Some authors have made a living on this platform, others are making a living in another, slightly higher bracket. It's not about whether it's on paper or on an ereader. You're no longer buying a physical product, even with a paper book. You're buying the story, the adventure the author sends you on! That is harder to put a price tag on.

    I'm not interested in selling my work short. I have spent over half my life at what I do, and I have worked hard to be taken seriously as a professional and support my family on this. Not all writers have those ambitions, and that's ok too! But just like "vanity press" as a term to paint the scarlet S on self-published authors is becoming outdated, so too must the idea that we are greedy for wanting to be paid as professionals. Only in this arena would that be even a thought! And yet we love those authors who do make millions and billions on stories.

    We as indie authors do have a lot of power to shape the economy of the new publishing world. To charge fair prices because people are already paying $9.99 for an ebook from their favorite authors! Why wouldn't they spend $4.99 for a new favorite? With the right marketing, many authors are finding that their book sells better at a slightly higher price. I'm not suggesting we gouge the public and become greedy bastards. But that we honor the hard work and professionalism that goes into the stories we craft, and enjoy the rewards of our careers.

    Well done Dmytry, on a great post! Love you! And as our 8 yo daughter said "People should pay more than 99cents for a book. It's not like they're just giving you their money for free! Plus a lot of authors have kids they need to spend money on." LOL Indeed we do!

  10. Great Post, Dmytry. You can tell by the high quality of the comments that this has got intelligent people thinking.

    My view is that with such a flood of 99cent ebooks, this price point is no longer the attraction it once was. Free is the new 99 cents! Through my Greyhart Press imprint I’m selling short stories and novelettes at 99c, though I’ve got a Read Review Repeat promotion to let readers pay with a review and a tweet. I’ve got novellas in preparation and I’ve already decided to price them a little higher. They will be 99p Novellas in the UK. Probable $1.45 or thereabouts in the US. I’ll be paying $100 per novella just for the artwork, so they don’t feel cheap to produce and I will price accordingly.

    Give it 12 months and I guess that 99c novels will start to seem suspicious to some readers (as in why do they have to price so cheaply...)


  11. Interesting post. I wondered how many people actually read the books bought so cheaply.

    My action/adventure thriller SAY GOODBYE is still available for 99 cents on Amazon at but that price will be going up soon!

  12. I've got my book for 99c but I only decided on that price because I'm a first time author. I plan to write many more books and I will probably price them higher over time, but I consider my first book to be 'trial and error'. Even though I've had it professionally edited I look at the book as a learning curve and will use it as inspiration for future books.

  13. The ebook of my novel "The Proper Order of Things" is currently priced at $4.99 on Amazon: If you like Neil Diamond, Miriam Toews, or Cracker Jacks, give it a go.

  14. Thank you Robert Capko, LK Watts, and Tara Benwell for your comments. I'll make sure to check out the links :)

  15. I've tried both the .99 price point and the 4.99 price point and my books have all sold best at the latter price point. One of the great things about being an indie author is you can change that price point as the market changes.

  16. Well Said Dmytry & Kimberly...

  17. Thank you jenniferlaunrens and CoffeeJitters for your comments. And for taking the time to read.

  18. Hi Dmytry,

    This is an exceptional post. I want to thank you for writing it. I agree with Kimberly on every point she's made. I think writers are selling themselves short with the whole .99 cent deal. We work hard, and ought to be paid accordingly.

    I will never be comfortable selling anything I write for so little money, that it wouldn't cover one cup of coffee among thousands I drink while writing my books.

    This concept is comparable to the desecration of American wages that is happening everywhere thanks to foreigners who are willing to work for next to nothing and employers outsourcing jobs to other countries, which has robbed our economy in more ways than one.

    We all deserve better.

  19. Thanks for commenting Go-Go Rach. I agree that hard work should equal good pay.

  20. Too many authors are their own worst enemy. People make snap judgments about value, fair or not, based on price. The more an author gives away his books now, the more he'll have to give them away in the future.

    A short-term promotion is one thing, and wholly justifiable, IF - and that's a BIG IF - buyers know the true value of that promotion.

    One man's opinion.

  21. I agree with the BIG IF :) Thank you for taking the time to read and comment Lane Diamond.

  22. Got here through a link from Twitter. Interesting post. As a speculative fiction book blogger with a focus on small-press and indie books, I have my own opinion on the pricing thing: authors are making way too much of a big deal out of it. I'm pretty happy to not pay attention to it much these days (as my inbox is filled with offers of free review copies, not complaining), but really, price says nothing about the quality of the work or of the author.

    *No one* is pressuring indie authors to sell only at $0.99 cents. $0.99 cents doesn't mean that the author is going to paid less, they may actually get paid more if that $0.99 book reaches a wider audience versus if it was priced at $9.99. Again, it depends on the author's overall promotion strategy and the target audience. Readers want quality books over anything else. A free book or $0.99 cent book is not worth my time if it's crap.

    The only ceiling I'd advice is $9.99 for an ebook. 99% of the readers I know who purchase ebooks scoff at anything over $9.99, only folks like George R. R. Martin with a new release can get away with an ebook price like that. Small-press/POD paperbacks are understandably more expensive than paperbacks from trad pubs, but ebook price should be at the same level as trad pub or lower. So anything below that is up to the author. Authors can always change pricing on indie ebooks depending on what's working for them at the moment.

    TLDR?: $9.99 and lower for an ebook is adviced. No one is forcing indie authors to underprice themselves, it's all about whatever price point works for that book. Readers value quality books first and foremost.