Tag Archives: Amanda Hocking

The Decision to Self-publish: A Terrifying Leap

The blogosphere is rife with essays about the war between traditional and self-publishers and the internecine feud among self-publishers, who belittle other writers and publishers alike. Everybody is mad at someone. Public venting may make some people feel better, but it demeans us all.

I left a comment on one of these posts stating those who say self-published writers have a choice is a little like saying I chose the over-40 basketball league at the local gym over the NBA. The NBA wasn’t offering a contract, even when I was 21-years-old and in peak physical condition. Upon further reflection, this comment missed the mark.

Most self-published authors have four basic choices:

Option 1: Keep pitching your book to agents, knowing each rejection chips away at your self-confidence.

Option 2: Work hard to improve your manuscript and then renew your efforts to pitch your work to agents.

Option 3: Consider self-publishing on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or the other popular e-book platforms.

Option 4: Abandon your novel and move on to a new project.

Most writers pursue Options 1 and 2 with vigor, but as time stretches from months to years without success, they move from Option 2 to Option 3. Having been through that thought process, I found the self-publishing option terrifying to me. It’s like the feeling I got the first time I dove off the high diving board. Don’t look down. Take a deep breath and just do it. The idea that my work would be out there for anyone to criticize was scary enough. The stigma associated with self-publishing (though that is changing) also gave me pause. The lack of a strong platform was an equally daunting thought.

I agonized over my decision. If you are facing a similar decision, here are some considerations:

Age. For an older writer, the self-publishing option may be appealing because time is not on your side. If I was 20 years younger (or even 10 years younger), I would be willing to wait up to 10 years to secure an agent and a publishing contract. As a writer in my mid-50’s, I don’t have time to wait. I want to write more novels. I may decide to shop these novels to an agent, depending on the marketability of the story and the quality of the writing. Or I may self-publish.

Genre. If you are writing Young Adult, Science Fiction, Romance, or Mystery, and you have a strong manuscript, you have a shot at publication. It’s a long shot, but an agent is going to pay attention to a strong pitch followed by an engaging sample. If you write family sagas like me, the odds are really against you.

Skill level. Some writers are ready for prime time, but maybe their book is the wrong vehicle or it doesn’t showcase their talents. These writers should keep at it and try to get published. Novice writers shouldn’t pursue traditional or self-publishing until they have honed their craft.

Tolerance for rejection. Writers must have a thick skin. Simply put, if you have no tolerance for rejection, traditional publishing may not be for you. However, that doesn’t mean you can take short-cuts in your desire to self-publish your book. Self-published books require the same level of editing, proofreading, outside review and due diligence as traditionally published books, if not more.

Marketing platform. Some self-published authors are not great writers, but they sell tons of books because they are expert marketers. Social media guru Jane Friedman has cautioned self-published writers not to publish their books until they have built a substantial platform. This calls to mind the axiom, “If a tree falls in the woods and there’s nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound?” A writer with a strong platform and lots of followers on social media is in a good position to self-publish.

Productivity/staying power. Are you a one-trick pony or do you have many novels in you? A lot of people wonder how Amanda Hocking achieved her astounding success at self-publishing. She worked extremely hard, pumping out novel after novel. She was prolific at writing and platform-building. Writers must ask: am I in this for the long haul? Am I willing to put my heart and soul into this? (Sorry, I must have turned off the cliche-checker today).

Self-publishing is a choice, but it is far from an easy one.

What considerations do you weigh when you are thinking about self-publishing?

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Pricing Your E-Book: What’s the Sweet Spot?

Authors who self-publish their work must weigh a number of considerations when determining a price for their book. Among these are:

  • Perception of quality
  • Consumer appeal
  • Author royalties
  • Marketing
  • Time spent

Let’s examine these considerations:

  • Perception of quality. Does the 99-cent novel consign our work to that wasteland of low-quality, error-riddled novels? Are you banking on savvy consumers to somehow pick out your high-quality novel among the scores of amateur efforts? I decided to price my first novel, Small Change, at $2.99, which is the lowest price on Amazon for which the 70 percent author royalty applies. Why? Frankly, I thought it was worth at least that, but as a new author, I didn’t feel confident pricing it above that level. My thought on perception is this: if you believe your novel is of a high quality (don’t we all?) and you have put a lot of time and resources into your work, I see no reason not to price it at $2.99 or higher. That’s less than the cost of a latte at your favorite coffee shop.
  • Consumer appeal. The 99-cent novel has great appeal. It is low risk (no risk, really)/high reward for the consumer. If the consumer doesn’t like the book after finishing the first page or chapter, what has he lost? The consumer has paid less than he would for a pack of gum. The price point matters to consumers. Just ask Amanda Hocking or John Locke. I haven’t ruled out dropping my price to 99 cents, but I would like to have a second book out there before I do that.
  • Author royalties. If you are confident your book will sell and are willing to put in the time and effort to market it, you are leaving a lot of money on the table by opting for the 99 cent price. Amazon offers authors a royalty rate of 70 percent for books priced at $2.99 or above through its Kindle Direct Publishing program and 30 percent for books priced below $2.99. The example often cited is John Locke, who sold one million e-books at 99 cents, but would have made a lot more money by setting his price at $2.99. Of course 99 cents is part of a deliberate marketing strategy, which brings me to my next point.
  • Marketing. 99 cents is seductive. An author doesn’t need any descriptors like “only” or “such a bargain.” The price speaks for itself. Put on your marketing hat and ask yourself: is it possible to underprice a book in these times? I don’t think so, especially when authors are offering “free” promotions to get their work in the hands of readers. However, it is possible to over-price your book. If you are a first-time author and you are charging $4.99 for your book (just to pick a number out of the air), why would a consumer want to take a chance on you when he could buy the hot new 99 cent novel? Besides, if you charge 99 cents and sell a ton of books, a publisher will take notice, as was the case with Amanda Hocking, who was signed by St. Martin’s Press.
  • Time spent.  Here’s where things get dicey. You have no problem charging 99 cents, but then you think about all the time you spent on your manuscript. Let’s say you spent 1,000 hours on the first draft. Figure another 1,000 hours on revisions, editing, proofreading, and polishing your work. These are conservative estimates. Throw in 50 hours for marketing and coordinating your cover design. That’s 2,050 hours. I’ve made close to $60 on my book so far. If you calculated an hourly rate for the time spent, I’m making pennies on the hour. And that’s fine with me. This is a passion, not a job. It all comes down to your goals and how to achieve them.

So what’s the bottom line? Authors should experiment with price. Err on the low side. Don’t get caught up thinking your book is the best one ever written and the reader will gladly pay eight or nine dollars. It’s not going to happen, unless you are Jonathan Franzen or Stephen King.

How much would you pay for an e-book by a first-time author? How much would you pay for an e-book by a renowned author?

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Should We Give Away Our Work?

The New York Times published an interview recently with Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, who pirated his own work by giving away free translations of his books until he was caught by his publisher. Radiohead achieved notoriety when they released their 2007 CD, In Rainbows, online and let fans name their own price. Author JA Konrath at one point was reportedly posting PDF copies of his novels on his website for readers to download for free on the theory they would pay the nominal fee for the convenience of reading his books on an e-reading device. What’s going on here?

Why would authors or artists give away their work for free? There are three reasons: to build an audience, to gain feedback for a work-in-progress, or out of a principled belief that artistic works and ideas should be accessible to all.

While this is great for consumers, I’m not a fan of the idea that artists or authors should give away their work. Artistic works are worth something. Although many authors toil for years writing novels with no expectation of being published or making money, we would like to think there is a financial reward for our achievements.

From a consumer’s perspective, it comes down to the “perception of value.” If you give away your work, the public perceives it as worth nothing. Wait a minute, you say. What about Amanda Hocking and John Locke, who amassed huge sales of their 99-cent e-books? They were practically giving them away. Correct, but there’s a big difference between 99 cents and zero.

Hocking and Locke made conscious decisions on pricing. They bet that interesting, well-written books priced ridiculously low would sell, and they were right. First-time authors who publish on Amazon.com generally choose one of two price points: 99 cents (on the theory they can sell
more books, even though the royalty rate is just 35 percent) or $2.99 (the price point at which the higher royalty rate of 70 percent kicks in). It’s a
calculated decision. Self-published authors know they won’t sell many books unless they price them between 99 cents and $2.99.

I plan to publish my first novel, Small Change, through the Kindle Direct Publishing program. I plan to set the price initially at $2.99. Why? I put
three years of my life into writing and editing this book. I believe it’s worth the price of a coffee and a donut, but that will ultimately be up to the reader to decide.

And what about well-known authors who elect to make their work available at little or no cost? According to the Times story, Coelho “continues to give his work away free by linking to Web sites that have posted his books, asking only that if readers like the book, they buy a copy, ‘so we can tell to the industry that sharing contents is not life threatening to the book business,’ as he wrote in one post.”

One could criticize Coelho’s methods, but he must be doing something right. Coelho has sold 140 million copies of his books and he has actively engaged readers through social media. According to media reports, he has more Facebook followers than Madonna.

Should artists give away their work?

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