Supporting Indie Authors

Image of rock climbersGenerally speaking, many mainstream published authors dislike Indie authors and self-publishing. They are inclined to believe that traditional publishing is the only viable means through which the best and brightest authors get represented, published, and get their books sold.

A candid quote from mainstream author Sue Grafton during an unguarded moment in an interview with Leslea Tash for LouisvilleKY.com is one example of that view. For those who may not be familiar with Sue Grafton she is a contemporary best-selling American author of detective novels perhaps best known for her “’alphabet series” novels (“C” Is for Corpse, etc.) featuring private investigator Kinsey Millhone. Here is what she has to say about Indie authors and self-publishing:

“The self-published books I’ve read are often amateurish. I’ve got one sitting on my desk right now and I’ve received hundreds of them over the years. Sorry about that, but it’s the truth. The hard work is taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time. I see way too many writers who complete one novel and start looking for the fame and fortune they’re sure they’re entitled to. To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research.”

It isn’t my intent to take Sue Grafton to task here for her unflattering comments towards Indie authors and publishing. There is no argument that she did the hard work she spoke about―suffered early rejections of her manuscripts, learned lessons the hard way, and worked hard to master the writing craft before earning fame and fortune. It’s quite easy to understand why she has the views she expressed. The fact remains however that her views expose not only a serious lack of understanding about Indie publishing but perhaps the current state of traditional publishing as well.

It may have not been easy to break out as in author in the 1960s when Sue Grafton first got into the business, but it’s imminently more difficult today. Along with the growth of the Internet and Amazon came plummeting profit margins and declining sales for legacy book publishers along with a decline of the primary drivers for those profit margins and sales, brick and mortar bookstores. In response publishers cut staff and marketing support to lesser known authors.

The days of generous advances and book tours are over for all but a select few. Publishers are less willing and financially less able to make bets on new, unproven authors. It takes more than a great manuscript to get a book deal these days. Many publishers won’t even look at a new author without an established audience, social media savvy, and the willingness to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to marketing their own book. Then along came viable self-publishing in the form of print on demand and eBook publishing platforms that permit virtually anyone to economically publish and offer for sale his or her own book. The Indie author/publishing movement was born. It filled the void, the growing gap between the huge number of writers who wanted to publish books and the relatively small number of writers that legacy publishers were willing to acquire.

The phenomenal growth and success of self-publishing has put even more pressure on traditional publisher’s sales and on their outmoded pricing models. Indie authors have become real competition for the legacy publishers. Not only has self-publishing attracted aspiring authors but many mainstream authors who haven’t reached star status but who have an established fan base are choosing to migrate to Indie publishing due the favorable economics and better royalties. That has resulted in a good bit of chaos in the publishing industry that has already yielded significant benefits not only for budding authors but for readers as well. From a reader’s viewpoint, what’s not to like about being able to pick from an almost infinite number of good novels in your favorite genres that are available at a fraction of the cover prices demanded by traditional publishers?

As Sue Grafton observed, some self-published novels are amateurish. Some are definitely bad. But not all, not even in my opinion most. In fact there are self-published books every bit as good as their traditionally published counterparts as the sales numbers prove. Indie author John Locke sold over two million copies of his books before signing a limited book deal with Simon & Schuster to gain wider distribution for some of his novels. Hugh Howey, an Indie science fiction author sold more than 200,000 copies of his dystopian novella Wool in the U.S. alone. He has since sold overseas rights to the novel in fifteen countries and the novella has been optioned by Ridley Scott for a movie. Many Indie authors these days regularly make best seller lists.

While economical self-publishing opportunities abound today and literally anyone could publish a book and get it listed for sale on Amazon or one of the many other eBook retail sites, it certainly isn’t easy to become a break out novelist as an Indie publisher. Anyone who believes that he can simply write a great book, publish it, and then sit back and watch the royalties roll in is in for a shock. It is after the book is published that the real work begins. To sell books an author regardless of whether a book is traditionally or self-published must find an audience. To be successful he must grow that audience.

While there is a plethora of book promotion companies that promise to help Indie authors grow an audience and sell books, for a price of course, the truth is advertising is not really what drives book sales. Primarily book sales are driven by personal recommendations from satisfied readers. This may be a simple as one person recommending a book she liked to a friend. But today, thanks to social media―Twitter, Facebooks, Pinterest, Goodreads, etc. a person can recommend a book to lots of friends all at the same time.

All of us self-published independent writers need your help and support to grow an audience. For most of us, success is not defined as much by royalties earned as by the number of people who read and enjoy the stories we tell in the books we write. Certainly buying and reading our books is one means of help and support, and we all deeply appreciate that. But there are some other ways that you as a reader can help and support your favorite independent authors that don’t cost anything beyond a few minutes of your time. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Post a book review on Amazon or Goodreads.

While all authors love getting positive reviews, I’m not suggesting you write and post a glowing review of a book you didn’t like. If someone doesn’t like a book I’ve written I want to know that too and why. I appreciate the opportunity to learn what others believe I’m not doing well as much as I appreciate hearing about what they think I got right. Experts say that other readers give more credence to book reviews written by their peers than to those written by professional reviewers. That’s why reader reviews are so helpful to independent authors.

2. Recommend books you enjoyed to your friends.

As mentioned that can be as simple as a recommendation from one friend to another but recommending a great read on your Twitter feed, Facebook timeline, or Pinterest board will go much further towards helping and supporting your favorite Indie author. Social media is sort of a two-edged sword for authors. Tweeting a “buy my book” advertisement, no matter how tastefully done by an author runs the risk of alienating potential readers. Tweet too infrequently and your book may not even be noticed in the noise of all the other tweets in competition for people’s attention. Tweet too often and people can actually become annoyed. We would all rather see a satisfied reader of one of our books tweeting about it than to tweet about it ourselves. That goes for all the other social media platforms too.

3. Visit, follow, and subscribe to author websites.

These days nearly every author maintains a web presence in the form of a website or blog. Authors love to connect with their readers and that is one reason these websites and blogs exist. Visit the sites, follow them, post comments where you can, and subscribe to author newsletters. It helps to build visibility for your favorite authors and really helps him or her build an audience.

If you really enjoy reading a particular independent author, it is really just as much in your interest as their interest to help and support him or her. Most everyone longs to be successful in something they are passionate about and for authors that means gaining readers. The failure to attract an audience can make a writer feel that all the hard work that goes into crafting an entertaining novel is just not worth it if no one is going to read it. So if you enjoyed your favorite author’s last book and you would like to make certain there is a next book, why not take a few minutes of your time to lend them your support? You can be sure he or she will be grateful for your help and support.

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Have you visited my official author website, www.larrydarter.com? If not, I hope you will take a look and I’d love it if you sign up for my newsletter.

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On Book Pricing

Image of a kindle readerAssume that you are considering purchasing a novel in a genre you already really like but written by a new author you’ve never read. How much of a factor in your final decision would the cover price be?

Frankly one thing I dislike about self-publishing is having to set the cover prices of my books. For my upcoming detective novel, Come What May, I had to face that earlier than with my previous books.

For the first time ever I have made a book available for preorders. My primary book distributor recommended it and sold me on the idea on the basis that preorders enable more effective advance book marketing.

The eBook version of Come What May is now available for preorder at Barnes & Noble.com and Kobo. It will also be available for preorder at Apple iBooks. Because the time frame for preorders differs at Amazon from the other outlets mentioned, it will likely be sometime in July before the book can be preordered there.

For the curious, you can see the listing for Come What May at Barnes & Noble here and at Kobo here.

If you have read this far and have assumed this post is going to be a pitch for you to preorder my book, you can relax now. I only mentioned the book being available for preorder as an introduction to the topic I actually want to discuss today, pricing an eBook. Who knows? You might find it interesting.

Setting the cover price for a book isn’t as simple or straightforward a decision as someone might assume who has never self-published a book. It’s isn’t just about price but value, two very different things. A great many books have been written on how to price an eBook. In fact if you Google a phrase like “how to price your eBook novel” the search will return about 192 million results.

Authors have different goals when they set out to write and publish a book. For the purposes of this post I’ll focus on just the two most common goals:

  1. To maximize income from book sales.
  2. To maximize the number of people who read the book.

Candidly, writing is one of those things I’d do whether I ever made any money from it or not. While I like money as much as the next person and making a little extra is always quite nice, I don’t for example depend on book royalties to put a roof over my head or food on the table. Suffice to say that earning royalties from book sales, while of course always welcome, is not my primary objective.

I’m definitely in the “to maximize the number of people who read the book” camp as far as my primary goal for this book. An author’s goal behind writing and publishing a book is one of the factors to be considered in pricing the book. Someone who hopes to derive substantial income from book sales, all other things being equal, is going to set a higher price for a book than someone like me who is seeking to build an audience, not just for this book but the ones that will come after since Come What May is the debut novel in a new series I have planned.

A self-published author can conceivably set a price for his or her eBook at anywhere between zero and infinity. I’ve seen eBooks with cover prices set as low as ninety-nine cents and as high as $75. Truthfully, I’ve never purchased an eBook with a price at either of those extremes. I suppose the reason is I’ve doubted that a quality book worth reading could be had as less than a dollar and can’t really imagine any eBook being worth $75.

I could of course give my book away for free in the hopes of maximizing the number of people who might download and read it. But setting the price at zero might very well gain fewer readers than putting a price on it which of course wouldn’t satisfy my goal. People in our culture often equate price, at least to some degree, with quality and value. Plenty of people might assume that a book being given away free is probably not very good and not worth their time to read. Many people do in fact consider just about anything offered to them free as having no value at all.

A good illustration of the preceding principle is a joke I heard in a comedy routine once. The comedian said he replaced his old refrigerator with a bigger, newer model. He placed his old refrigerator at the curb with a sign on it that read “working refrigerator free for hauling away.” He said the refrigerator remained at the curb for weeks. No one had shown the slightest interest in it.

The comedian said he wasn’t out to make any money on the old refrigerator, he just wanted to get it hauled away, hopefully by someone who could get some use out of it. So he got an idea. He replaced the original sign with one that read “working refrigerator $50.” He said that he woke up the following morning after changing the sign and looked out. The refrigerator was gone! Someone had stolen it during the night! Evidently someone decided the old refrigerator had some value after all.

I’d actually be perfectly happy to sell copies of my book for ninety-nine cents, if I could feel confident that more people would read it than if I set the price higher. That of course would satisfy my primary goal, maximizing the number of readers. But there is of course no way to predict how many people might buy and read the book if it was priced at ninety-nine cents in comparison to how many might buy and read it if I set the cover price a bit higher. As a first novel or at least in this case my first novel in a new genre, there is no historical pricing point data on which to base a decision about the cover price.

With this first detective/mystery novel I haven’t any reputation or credibility with my target audience. I lack a body of work on which readers might form opinions as to my competency as a writer and my skill as story teller. On the opposite end of the spectrum, consider my favorite crime fiction author. He has written 41 novels and in my opinion they are all uniformly good. He has lots of fans who enjoy reading his novels and his books carry the imprint of a well-known and respected publishing house. I think I paid $10.99 each for the electronic versions of his two most recent books and probably an average of $9.99 per eBook over the years I’ve been reading him. Obviously, I’m not going to command a price like that for my first crime fiction novel or even for the next several books in the series I’m beginning.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that there is a significant difference in the price of a hard cover book and the electronic version of the same book. That’s another factor in setting cover prices. Again using my favorite crime fiction author as an example, I paid $10.99 for the eBook version of his most recent novel but the list price for the hard cover edition on the date the book was released was $28.95. Part of that of course is the difference in production costs. There are substantial costs involved in printing and distributing a hard cover book while the costs involved in producing an electronic book are very modest in comparison. That however is only part of the reason behind the price difference.

If you think about, when you purchase an eBook you aren’t really purchasing a book at all because you never own it. Instead you’re purchasing a license that entitles you to download and read a book. You can sell an actual book or even donate it to the library when you’ve finished reading it. But until relatively recently you couldn’t even loan an eBook to a friend once you finished reading it much less resell one. Even though under some conditions you can loan electronic books to friends today, it still isn’t nearly as straightforward a proposition as simply handing your friend the copy of a book. That is the real reason for the significant price difference between physical books and virtual ones and also a factor is setting the cover price for an eBook.

What really keeps a self-published author up at night is hoping he or she won’t miss hitting the sweet spot when it comes to pricing his or her book. Price it too low and many people will assume it must be awful and not work reading. Most people won’t knowingly pay even a $1 for a book they think is bad. Price it too high and many people will be unwilling to buy and read it because they won’t believe the book has enough value to justify the price. A price that is too high might also price some potential readers out of the market simply because they don’t have unlimited disposable income to spend on books. The elusive best price then lies somewhere in between too low and too high.

As you can see now unless you already knew it before reading this post, setting the cover price for a book isn’t as simple as you might think at first blush. There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of factors to consider. Along with selling a book you also must sell a buyer on the idea the book has a value and a value that is commensurate with the price. When reduced to the lowest common denominator, a book like most everything else consumers buy is really worth what someone is willing to pay for it. That’s the real value of the book from a purely economic perspective.

For any of my readers who may be considering reading Come What May, I do hope you will consider visiting my official author’s website, While there you can opt in to receive my free monthly newsletter by email if you wish. It’s not really a great commitment since if you choose to subscribe to the newsletter but change your mind later you can of course cancel at any time. I mention this because in connection with the release of my book in October, my newsletter subscribers will receive an exclusive special offer to purchase the eBook version of my novel at a price substantially below the cover price. There is also a contest in the works where some subscribers will win the chance to receive the eBook absolutely free.