Friday, February 10, 2012

Guest post: Successful author says be prepared for change

Here’s another guest post from another author, Ty Johnson. He’s a step up from the likes of aspiring authors like me: he’s actually earning enough to work full-time as a novelist! Congrats, Ty! I’m guessing all my readers are looking forward to that day. I know I am.

Fantasy author Ty Johnston is touring the blogosphere this month to promote his new e-book novel, DemonChains. His novels include City of Rogues, Bayne’s Climb and Ghosts of the Asylum, all of which are available for the Kindle, the Nook and online at Smashwords. To learn more about Ty and his writing, follow him at his blog

I’ve been writing fiction for more than two decades and I’ve been an indie writer for going on three years, which is a longer time than some. None of that makes me an expert or a guru, nor does it mean I’m rich and famous. You won’t see my name listed among the stars of indie publishing. But this is how I make my living nowadays, which makes the wife happy because the bills are paid and I get to stay home instead of going to an office somewhere.

Still, I’ve been around long enough and feel I’m experienced enough, that I can offer some little advice to fellow indie authors.

One piece of advice I feel today’s fiction writers need to hear is, “Always stay on your toes.”

What does that mean? That writers need to be prepared for change.

There has long been a tradition that fiction writers can write and that that’s all they have to do. That tradition is a lie. Even before digital publishing, writers had lots of work besides simply writing. There were editing and formatting, then query letters to be written, contracts to be considered, literary agents and publishers and editors and sometimes intellectual property attorneys who needed attention. There were conventions to attend, anthologies to edit for editor pals, communications with fans, slush to read for a friend’s magazine. It could go on and on. And again, all that was before digital publishing came along.

Today, indie writers are just as busy as traditionally-published writers, maybe even more so. I won’t go into the lengthy laundry list of things that can legitimately take up an indie author’s time, but let’s just say there is a lot to do other than writing.

Which brings me back to my point: Writers need to be prepared for anything. Part of this means writers can’t stick their head in the sand and ignore the rest of the world, especially the publishing world.

Everything is in flux in this business, especially in this day and age.

Writers who think they are immune are fooling themselves. Digital technology combined with today’s economy are bringing about daily changes in book publishing, both in the traditional business and for indie publishers.

An independent who ignores those changes will soon find him- or herself not only behind the times, but backpedaling to retain their readers, to be published, to be noticed.

I’ve been vague so far, but what kind of changes am I talking about?

Well, for instance, there’s the new KDP Select program that allows Amazon Kindle authors to give away their e-books for free up to five days during a three-month period. To some this might not seem like that big a deal, but KDP Select is already bringing about change in the publishing industry. If nothing else, all those free e-books have brought some upheaval to the Amazon rankings, not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Another thing KDP Select has done is it has caused many authors to pull their books from other digital publishing sites because Amazon demands exclusivity for the months an e-book is enrolled in the program. That means thousands upon thousands of e-books are temporarily not available for e-reading devices other than the Kindle. There are both good and bad arguments for all this, and here I’m not voicing an opinion, but let it be said this is the kind of change I’m talking about.

KDP Select is just one example, and the most noticeable recently, of developments that can affect indie authors. Technology, legislation, the market, all can have an effect. If we don’t keep up, we risk losing out. We could lose sales, readers, fans ... and possibly a career.

I don’t mean to scare anyone. I don’t mean to sound all doom and gloom. But indie authors need to pay attention nowadays. We are not just artists, but also entrepreneurs. We need to watch our world as it spins, or it will spin away from us.

Derek: Thanks a lot, Ty! And good luck with the latest book!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Is 99 cents the best price for your ebook?

Over the past year I’ve been doing some experiments with pricing for my ebooks. I’ve collected about 15 months of data on it and I thought I’d share it with you.

I have priced my cyberpunk novel, Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance at 99 cents, $2.99, and $3.99 (that's about 35 cents, $2.00, and $2.70 in royalties, respectively). The chart below shows the daily royalties at each price since the 11/23/2010 publish date.

As you can see there is some significant fluctuation.

I priced the book out of the gate at $2.99 (about a $2.00 royalty), and it slowly built up sales to 9 copies a day, or $18.

After a few weeks of that peak, I decided to experiment with dropping the price and see if I could improve my Amazon sales rank. I dropped the price to 99 cents in late February 2011. You can see the significant drop off in royalties.

However, the lower price did result in a stead and steep increase in number of units sold. On April 25, I hit a record daily sales of 126 units, earning $44. At this point, Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance hit #333 in the Amazon Best Sellers rankings, and I was in the top #10 of a couple genre lists.

I decided it was time to raise the price and see if I could benefit from that good rank. I raised the price back to $2.99 and you can see the stratospheric increase in royalties on May 27 to $140! Excellent! My plan was working.

The increased sales continued through May (I earned $2,289 for Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance in May).

However, the Amazon Sales genre rankings worsened, and the book dropped out of the top 20 lists. I decided to lower my price again to try to stay in the genre top 20 lists.

I dropped the price back down to 99 cents on June 9. You can see the deep decrease in royalties.

Unfortunately, my plan did not work. The novel continued to decline in sales. I was at a loss to explain this. Was it a Summer slump, altered Amazon ranking algorithms, the Amazon $2.99 sales? Whatever the cause, my sales never recovered.

I kept the 99 cent price for the rest of 2011, hoping to see a resurgence. But that was to no avail. Even Christmas sales didn’t help much.

So, I decided to raise the price up to $3.99 in January 2012. As you can see in the chart, royalties jumped up quite a bit. For the 33 days before the price increase, I made an average of $2.12 per day. For the 33 days after the price increase, I've made an average of $6.07 per day.

So, what’s the best price?

I think 99 cents might sometimes be a good price to help you improve your sales rank so that when you subsequently increase your price you can sell more units.

But I don’t think 99 cents is always the best price. You have to play around with it. If it’s helping your rankings, it might be a good idea. But if not, raise that price!

You should also go over to Lindsay Buroker's blog and read her recent post on this exact same issue: Ebook pricing: Why 99 cents might be a mistake for you.

Monday, February 6, 2012

January 2012 sales report

January was my 16th month selling ebooks.

I sold 484 copies of 8 different titles. Without counting the freebies, my sales volume decreased by about 17% from December.

On the other hand, my royalties increased by 28% from $721 to $925. This is mostly due to a 168% royalty increase for Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance. I raised the price from 99 cents to $3.99 and I’m making a lot more money. I’ll talk about that later this week.

Average sales per day decreased from 18.3 (not counting freebies) to 15.6. Average daily royalties went from $23 to $30.


I also have some data on the KDP Select program. I put Format Your eBook for Kindle in One Hour in the program and I’ll report on it later.