Sunday, January 30, 2011

Why are there no mainstream articles about Amanda Hocking?

Do you know who Amanda Hocking is? If you're an independent author and you don't, you should. If you've come to this blog and you've never heard the name before, tell me - I'm curious to know.

Amanda is a phenomenon of the indie publishing world. She is a young Minnesota native who was working at a less than satisfying day job dreaming saving pennies to buy even the simplest of pleasures (A $14 replacement of pink earphones that her dog chewed up). She lived with a roommate (presumably because she could not afford her own place) and dreamed of one day being able to make a living writing books for a living.

Her first book went on sale in April 2010. In November, she had some very nice sales (over 20,000) which is substantial, but considering she had multiple books and they were priced at $0.99 to $2.99 she still had to keep her day job.

Then December came.

It was a good month for every indie author I talked to, but Amanda...she hit the all out of the park. She sold more than 109,000 copies in a single month and her copies sold to date was quickly approaching 200,000.

Since then she's gone quiet about her numbers, I think she is afraid of looking too boastful, but in December she was "ranked" well. But throughout January she has had MULTIPLE books on the top 100 and today I just looked to find this:

#2 - Switched, $0.99
#4 - Ascend, $2.99
#8 - Torn, $2.99

Three books in the top 10? That's just crazy talk. Which is amazing to begin with but I also know her other books:

My Blood Approves

Are also in the top 100...that's 7 books!

I have no idea how many books sell at #2 - though I would love Amanda to come here and tell us just so we know. But if she sold 109,000 in December I'm guessing she sold around 300,000 in January. That means she's probably over the 1/2 million mark by now.

Recently I read that there are only 4 authors that have sold more than 1 million ebooks they are: James Paterson, Stig Larson, Nora Roberts (also writing as JD Robb), and I'm sorry to say I forgot the fourth. I venture to say Amanda will hit this level in less than six-months and no one in mainstream publishing knows (or maybe they know and are just not saying anything.

So the big question is...why are there no NYT article on this girl? Why is not every blog in publishing discussing her right now?

Amanda, I' so happy for your success. You are inspiration to everyone who has a dream of "making it big" in publishing. Even if the mainstream is not recognizing your accomplishments, rest assured there are many "in the know" who do.

2/3/2011 UPDATE: For those that don't read comments Amanda has now past 500,000 ebooks and she was recently interviewed by USA Today. I'm anxious to read the article. Go Amanda!

2/4/2011 UPDATE: An NBC News affiliate did a report on Amanda!

2/09/2011 UPDATE: The USA Today article went live

2/10/2011UPDATE: Amanda becomes the first author to make the USA Today Bestseller's List. This should propell her sales even farther.

From the 2/6/2011 Best Seller's List
#24 - Ascend
#31 - Torn
#81 - My Blood Approves
#133 - Fate
#146 - Flutter

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Crunching Some Numbers

As some of you (especially those from Kindle Boards) may be aware I've recently tried a few promotional pricing tests. Today I'll share my results with you.

First let me start out by telling you about the books in the test. I used Michael Sullivan's Riyria Revelations (5 books released, first four normally $4.95 and the last one $6.95). Before the test I had a post holiday steady sales state of 270 per day.

Below is a graph showing my sales during the promotion:

Through a fluke of a promotion I did in November Avempartha became unexpectedly free in January for a period of time. This "moved" a lot of books (866 per day). But produced a pretty substantial hit to monthly income.

After Avempartha was returned to its normal level I found sales had reached a new base level of 314 books. I then took the first book Crown Conspiracy to $0.99 to make it a loss leader to the series. My intention was to try and see if I could get this book into the Amazon Top 100.

My hope was that the people who actively look for $0.99 would buy in droves and I felt a 200% increase in sales could drive it into the Top 100. To my surprise the sales increased only 10% !Far from the 200% increased I needed to become firmly planted in the Top 100. Rank did improve (from 600 to 300) and the "other boats" did rise as well - but even so another substantial hit to the monthly income.

The above tables shows the price and sales volume during each of the tests. To see the impact into the bottom line monthly income please refer to this table:


  • Adding a $0.99 loss leader results in approximately 10% increase in number of books sold but a loss of income of $9,665 a month!! Okay, probably not a worth doing for an extended period to try and get to the Top 100.

  • Using a free book results in a significant number of books getting into the hands of the reading public 275% and results in an income loss of $7,072 per month. Not as drastic as the $0.99 but still leaving a lot of money on the table.

  • The current pricing model $4.95/$6.95 is working well and seems to be producing the best income ratio.

  • Sales levels rebounded to almost identical steady state income levels although the distributions of books shifted to provide a nigher number of the first book.
Please keep in mind that this is the results of my test and your mileage may vary substantially. A lot has to do with how you have positioned your books, what the volume of sales are. How long from the last book's release and whether people are looking forward to the next release etc.

So...I'm not sure you will come to the same results with your book(s). Each book has its own sweet spot and the $4.95/$6.95 may not work for you. That being said I encourage you to do your own testing (change only 1 variable - price (don't change promotion etc)) to help you determine what pricing technique will provide you the best results.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pricing - What to do...what to do.


Here it is—my long awaited post on book pricing. Considering how much time and effort I’ve put into the research required to make this post, I’d love this to be the definitive dissertation on the subject, but unfortunately markets shift and a good marketer tracks trends and adjusts, so much of what I say here will be obsolete in six-months (maybe sooner) but here is what I’ve concluded for now. Hopefully I’ll have time to update as new information becomes available.

The three rules of real estate are “location, location, location” and for books (and all consumer purchased products) nothing is more important than the right price.

First off, let’s talk about control. Especially since I’m sure there are authors here in various varieties of publishing situations (self, subsidiary, small press, traditional). Some of the decisions you make in regards to your path to publishing allow you to control the price and some choices will mean you have no say. That fact alone could be a “deal breaker”. Let’s cover the ones where you have no choice first, because that is the easiest.

If you go with a large traditional press or even small press – they set the price. Period. No they are not interested in your past experience or your ideas – they pay a lot of people to “know the market” and right or wrong they are going to believe they will be better than you at picking the right price. For a large traditional press you can be pretty sure that they have data to back up their decisions. You may not agree with their choices, but at least they have people who they pay a lot to study and determine this on yours (and all other authors they represent) behalf. The contract you’ll receive won’t say what price they’ll price your book at. Nor will it tell you what the print run will be. But if you look at similar works they’ve put out you can get a good idea of what to expect.

For small presses the most important thing to be wary of is inflated price. Michael was very fortunate with regards to the small presses he was first published through. It was a company called AMI (Aspirations Media Inc) and they “competitively priced” their books to those standard in the market (i.e. bookstores and Amazon). They sold his first book (a 300 page traditional paperback for $11.99).

Ridan routinely prices our authors print books from $9.95 - $14.95 depending on length. Again this is competitive in the marketplace. But I know of many small presses that price their books at $18.95. Personally, I wouldn’t even submit to a small press with this pricing model because it is outside of “what the market will bare.” Before submitting to a small press check to see what their other works are selling for…if they compare with similar works (same genre, format and page count) then you are good to go.

If you are self-publishing it is ESSENTIAL that you can dictate your own price. Some subsidiary companies let you do this, others set the price for you (many times based on page count as that relates to their price). Others will put provide you with a “range” or “floor” and you are free to price higher at your discretion. In most of these cases even the “minimum” you can charge is above that marketplace price – if this is the case you can’t consider using them.

In general, if you are self-published you can’t beat the Pro-Plan of CreateSpace (many will argue for Lightning Source but CreateSpace beats them hands down. I’ll do a post some day about the differences and why I say this but for now just trust me on this fact). With their prices you can easily produce a work and get a good return. I’ll use one of my author’s as an example. Nathan’s Lowell’s Quarter Share costs me $3.82 to print. I sell it on Amazon for $9.95 and after they take their 40% Ridan receives: $2.15 which may not sound like a lot but compared to the $0.99 of traditional publishing it’s a good deal.

Now to the juicy part…ebooks. First let me start off by talking about the various tiers.

  • > $9.99
  • $6.96 - $9.98
  • $4.95 - $6.95
  • $4.00 - $4.94
  • $2.99 - $3.99
  • $1.99 - $2.98
  • $1.00 - $1.98
  • $0.99
  • Free

I’m going to restrict my comments on ebook pricing to Amazon because that is where I have the most experience (and success). Let me start out by saying a few of my personal beliefs on pricing a book:

  • $9.99 should only be attempted by the most sought after books released by major publishers
  • $6.99 - $9.99 is a pretty standard price that most traditional big-six publishers price at. It “works for them” though some in the self-pub industry will argue that they are overpriced and sales will suffer because of this.
  • $4.95 is, IMO, a great price point for a small press trying to position their books against “the big boys” this puts them “under $5” and about ½ of the big boys higher end and several dollars below their lower end. Not surprising this is the price point for most of Ridan’s books.
  • In general, I think the “top end” for an ebook should be ½ the print list price
  • $2.99 is generally agreed upon by most “indie” authors as the “sweet spot” this is the “minimum” price that you can use at still receive 70% royalty and there are many books priced at this level – Personally I think it is WAY TO LOW. I’ve never put one of my author’s books at this price (except Michael’s, and only as an experiment). I think many new authors who are insecure pressure themselves into believing that they have to price here and I think that is unfortunate.
  • To me the $1.99 price point is a “dead zone”. I don’t think anyone should be there as it still is at the 35% royalty rate which means $0.70 per book but is not too low to be really compelling and twice as high as the lowest so lives in a strange “never world” between two legitimate prices ($0.99 and $2.99).
  • $0.99 is a price I hate. It puts only $0.34 in an authors pockets. It says “I don’t value my work”, and I intellectually can’t justify that a book that takes months or years to produce, provides hours and hours of enjoyment is “worth” less than a candy bar.
  • Authors (especially indie authors) think too much about price in regards to “other authors” and not enough with regard to their “reading audience”. I fear there is a bit of a lemming effect at work here. (I know I’ll take flack for this but if I think it is important for me to be honest with my opinions in the context of this blog)

Now let me give you some opinions on ebook buying habits:

  • Many ebook readers are opposed to > $9.99 and will actively boycott books who price there
  • $7.99 - $9.99 is a pretty “standard price” most ebook buyers expect to pay
  • $5 is generally considered “a bargain”
  • Many people only by low price books ($2.99 and less) and buy many of them – almost like collecting pebbles off a beach. Many of these purchases are impulse buys and will never be read so a purchase at this level does not necessarily equal a reader.
  • Some people look at low price books as not worth their time – and wouldn’t buy them.These people assume a low quality product produced mainly by self-published authors.
  • Everyone likes free books and again will collect them but that does not mean they will read them. (I myself have 20 – 30 free books on my kindle that I have no time to get to)
  • A book that is “higher priced” ($4.95 and above) is generally not an impulse buy and has a higher chance to make it higher on the TBR pile than a low priced or low price read

Now that I’ve given my opinions I can say the following: I believe there are two legitimate pricing models for someone who is self-publishing:

LOW PRICE ($0.99 and $2.99)
As much as I hate to say it (because I don’t think it is good for the indie business) the $0.99/$2.99 price point CAN BE VERY EFFECTIVE at gaining an audience. I’ve done extensive research (much of which I’ll save for the next post) but the data is compelling that this is a model that can work well and provide a nice income into the self-publisher’s pockets.

That being said…I think many of these authors leave their prices there WAY TO LONG. I’ve argued this point many times with several authors but fully respect their right to make what they feel is the best decision for their books. I personally believe that if you adopt this model you should do so to reach a goal (high rankings = following) and once obtained adjust to a more “reasonable price”. This is particularly important for those who have a series of books. You can use first book as a “loss leader” but if your work is good, and the reader wants to read the second books and beyond, they won’t begrudge you a few more $’s to continue enjoying your work.

For those that use this technique and are able to get into the top 100, you’ve already proven you have an audience. Sales in this range are in the tens of thousands per month especially if you have multiple titles there. It only makes sense to raise your prices – at the very least to $2.99 or $3.99.

Even people who use this price point to get to the 100 – 1000 ranking are still selling a substantial number of books a month and again can adjust books higher, and if they are really uncomfortable, leave one as a loss leader.

This is the model that Ridan has used since day one—and to great success. This price point was selected by analyzing not the “indie/self published market” (that I DO NOT WANT to position Ridan against) but rather the more traditional NY presses. It represents a “bargain” to the reader and provides a substantial profit that makes it possible to make more selling less books. The beauty of this pricing strategy is that as an audience is developed the rewards can mean some striking income numbers to the author that would dwarf those of major traditional publishing.

Currently two of Ridan authors are doing VERY well with this model. Michael is selling 10,000 books a month (over 5 books) and Nathan Lowell is selling 6,000 (over 2 books). Both of these authors have taken a substantial spike since November but even before that they were both routinely selling 1,000 books a month.

There are many that say you can’t achieve “substantive” sales in a price point above the $0.99/$2.99 price point and Ridan’s authors are proving this is not true. I wish more indie authors would get the courage to abandon the $0.99/$2.99 comfort zone and price their books more competitively to the “overall” marketplace instead of lumping themselves in the “self-published/indie” masses. And then I could have more successes to point to. For now, I really only know of a handful of other authors who are showing the courage to try.

I really think there are two distinct markets and one or the other may work for you. There is no doubt that there are substantial number of people who will buy the low-price point books (tens of thousands) but I’m not sure how many of these convert to “lifelong fans”. These people buy many books (and there are many at this price point to choose from) so there is a ready market that will sustain authors at this level.

But the “cheap seats” are not the “only game in town” and you CAN price competitively and both receive a following and enormous financial rewards. I personally think this is a “better” choice on a number of levels.

This post is already getting long, and I’m sure it will provide me with quite a bit of “heat” for some of the things I’ve said, but I’ve done the research, and the testing and I have data to back me up. In my next post I’ll provide that data and further insight.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Publishers Querying Authors

Yes, I know I still owe a post in my series on is too important of a post to rush, and I'm doing an experiment that I want more results on before I post. In the's some late breaking news.

Ridan Publishing has traditionally found its authors by watching for self-published writers who have found an audience. It just seemed to make sense to make good business sense to me. When Amazon started their Encore program - I thought, "Hey, so those in the business are starting to catch on".

Yesterday, I found out that H.P. Mallory has been approached by Random House. She doesn't have an offer yet, but the fact that her ratings on Amazon is getting a big-six to look at her is encouraging to say the least.

For those that don't know H.P. has three books released:

It's nice to see that the "dinosaurs" are starting to learn to adapt to the new world order in publishing. I see more and more evidence that there has never been a better time to be writing then now.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Decison Point #2 - Master of your Domain

This is a continuing series of posts regarding which path to publishing is right for you (self or traditional). There is a lot of polarizing comments right now that claims one is better than another. I contend that it really depends on what you are looking for. In my last post, I discussed time and the dramatic differences between the two choices. Today, I'd like to talk about control.

I lecture once a month to a group of just over 500 writers in the Washington DC area. (No they don't all come to the lectures this is just the size of the group as a whole). Anyway...they are always shocked to hear that the author has no say (or little say in):

  • Published Title
  • Cover Design

Other things they also don't have control over, but are less shocked by are:

  • Price
  • Format
  • Back of the book blurb

In some cases, the author may get a right to refusal, but more often than not they are given some "consultation input". This basically means you get to see it before it goes out and comment. In many cases, they are going to be "pretty far along" and substantial changes will not be possible so you might tweak things here or there.

All the items listed above are the exclusive purview of the publisher (as well they should be), because they are CRITICAL to the financial sucess of the book. How much you are willing to give up control on these issues might be a determining factor in which path is right for you.

If you go traditional, there's good news and bad news. The good news is you'll have a team whose job it is to worry about things like this. The bad news, is you have to live with what they come up with (and be happy with that). A lot will come down to how much you "trust" their opinions. When Michael was with a small press (AMI), we disagreed on several of the points above. Quite frankly, we had more marketing experience then they did. In that case, loosing control was a huge frustration that we had to "live with". When publishing through Ridan, all that vanished. Now that Michael is signing with one of the big-six, that control will be gone again. Will it be a problem? We'll let you know, but a lot has to do with how confident you are in the other's abilities. Michael's publisher has a track record of turning out NYT best sellers. Since they have more experience and a proven track record it should be easier to "go with the flow".

I already talked quite a lot about cover design in my last post. And price, format, and blurb deserve their own posts so today let me focus on book title.

There are many factors that go into title selection: length, memorability, googleability, names of other books, and referability. You probably "slapped" a title on your book without a lot of thought towards these items and "it stuck" so you got wedded to the idea. If you are self publishing then you SHOULD take a step back and consider the title carefully.

  • Length: shorter is better. Long titles are really hard for people to keep in their minds. One of the worst titles (and this came from a traditional publisher) is "The Gursney Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" even now, to add it to this post I had to do a search to find the correct name. When I bought this book it took me and a clerk 20 minutes to find it because all I could remember is Potato and Pie.

  • Memorability: Victorine Lieske is an indie author that is selling very well right now. I was discussing her success with my husband over lunch, and though I've seen the title of her book hundreds (perhaps even a thousand by now) times I could not for the life of me remember the title. I could vividly see the cover (props to her on that - it is simple and memorable) but the only thing I could remember is that it had the word She and was 4 or 5 words. I kept thinking it was "What she wants". The actual title by the way is "Not What She Seems". She's doing too well now to consider changing the title, but I think she could have come up with something a bit better.

  • Googleability: Yes, I know I made up this word (and probably not the first to do so), but what I'm talking about here is the ability to dominate a search. Type in any of the following into Google: Crown Conspiracy, Avempartha, Nyphron Rising, Emerald Storm - you'll find them completely dominated by Michael's books. This was not an accident. We chose titles that we could dominate. The first title for Crown was "Heir to the Throne" at the time it Googled poorly, and even today it would be a hard title to get significant mind share on. I think we did well with the change. The first author that we brought on at Ridan was Bryce Anderson who wrote something called "Body of Knowledge" it took me FOREVER to convince him that we could not continue to call the book that. (Do some googling and you'll see why). We could not convince him to go with any of the "good google names" and ended up with "Finding Reason" which is better, but not great. Here is a case where I should have pushed harder, and because I did not the book suffers.

  • Names of other books: Before selecting the name of a book, type it into Amazon and see what comes up. I'm working with an author right now whose book was titled by him as "The Fallen" which fits his book like a glove - also the name of another very popular fantasy by Lauren Kate. Not to mention the name of several other "less noted" author's books. Book titles are not copyrightable. There is no controlling body so the same name can show up on virtually dozens of books. Leona Wiosker is a writer friend who recently came out with a book called "Secret of the Sands". As soon as she told me the title I recognized it as the same one as another indie work (by Rai Aren and Tavius E.) I'm sure that promotion efforts that she does is sometimes leading people to buy the wrong book. They are both "indie" and have trouble getting mind share so which one will become dominant? I don't know, but why choose a title that you know you'll have a problem with. Now, that being said...Wintertide is Michael's fifth book and we went into this with eyes wide open that there was already a book entitled this by Linnea Sinclair and another one by Megan Sybil Baker. We decided to go with it anyways. The main reason is neither of these books are really "active" Their Amazon Ranks were consistently over 1 Million which means they sell a book once in a blue moon. I actually tracked them for awhile using Titlez to verify the infrequency of sales. So, dispite the fact that two other books had this name, we kept Wintertide, confident we could dominate this title. Sure enough, type Wintertide into Amazon and Michael's book comes up first. We still don't have "Google dominance" but the book has only been out for 2 months and I've not really worked on pushing it higher yet. Come back after I do and I think you'll find it taking over that spot as well.

  • Referability - is how easy (or difficult) it is for someone to tell someone else to buy your book. All of the above go into this concept - length being the most important here. I've recommended "Gursney" many, many, many, times...and after awhile I just started saying "I highly recommend the Gursney Potato Pie book" - it was easier than typing the 48 (Yes 48!!) characters. Think about how people will tell others about the book. Will they "get close enough" so that the other person will be able to find it? What you are shooting for here is if they type something "close" into google they'll come up with your book.

Let's end by bringing this post back to what it was originally intended to you decide whether you should "go indie" or "traditional". You may "want" control, but are you willing to take on the responsibility that comes with that? If you decide to go self-published then you must think like a publisher (because you will be). Don't base your title on some long held emotional attachment. Determine it with your marketing hat on. You've decided to keep the use that power wisely to give your book the best chance it can at success.

Next post....Price.