Do ‘special deals’ on books really work?

I’ve just put the ebook of ‘A Good Liar’ on GoodLiar_COVER.indda Kindle store special deal for a week, starting April 1st. I have mixed special deal -stock-photo-limited-time-offer-price-tagfeelings about doing so, but it’s just for a week, and we’ll see how it goes. If it encourages people to read the whole trilogy, as ebooks or paperbacks, it’ll be worth the angst about reducing the price to less than a cup of coffee.

My ambivalence about this stems from knowing how much time and effort any author puts into writing and publishing their work : setting a very low price seems to under-value all that. But, on the other hand, if you want people to read and enjoy your stuff, making the price temporarily very attractive is a way to achieve that. One of the joys of self-publishing is that you can make those choices yourself.

It was recording the audio book of ‘A Good Liar’ that reminded me what a good story it is. The engineer who helped me – Tom Tyson, at the Music Farm in Egremont, Cumbria – is not a great fiction reader, but he was so hooked after the second recording session that he had to read the rest of the story for himself to see what happens.

Jessie Whelan is not an easy character to deal with: she’s self-centred, impulsive, and sometimes insensitive, but she’s had to battle all her adult life, and it shows. She’s also – despite years of abstinence – very interested in sex, which pulls her into a relationship that she could, and probably should, have avoided. Some scenes were really hard to read while I was doing the recording, not just because they portray sexual assault but because Jessie doesn’t really know whether to blame the perpetrator or herself. It’s not in her nature to feel like a victim, although the reader can see that’s what she was. How did Tom react while he was listening to it, I wonder? I didn’t ask him, but I will.

In the meantime, before the next trip to the studio to finish off the edits, I’ll put the ebook version on special offer for a week and see if I can introduce new readers to the trilogy. Maybe some of the millions of Lake District and Cumbria visitors will enjoy the story, and deepen their interest in this wonderful region. I hope so.

 

 

Can you make money self-publishing?

There was some very interesting discussion of this question at a workshop on self-publishing I led recently. Sixteen or so people round the table all had different goals, starting points, skills, strategies and experiences. Some did everything themselves, and used time and perseverance rather than money for the project. Others – me included -needed professional help with all or part of the process, and were able and prepared to pay for it. Others spent all their money on producing the book, but then found themselves with nothing left over to use for promotion, without which their beautiful books were still in their boxes cluttering up the house. Some just about covered their costs; some were nowhere near doing so; one or two had lost more than they could afford. I’d expected at least some stories of financial success, but heard none. Maybe the quiet ones at the table were doing better than they wanted to share.

There’s no question that almost all self-publishing projects will cost you something, either money or time, and probably both. There’s also no doubt that producing an ebook is much easier and cheaper than any other format, and you can sell heaps if you put a ludicrously low price on it, but the effect on sales is ephemeral. Publishing a paperback is a more difficult, but carries with it many more opportunities for promotion and direct sales.

I’m often surprised that many aspiring self-publishers don’t appear to have thought the process through, although that’s understandable given its complexity. If you truly understood the whole process it might be so daunting that you would never even start. One of the more unfortunate of the workshop participants regretted that she hadn’t attended a workshop like this two years before, and we realised why when she recounted – very bravely I thought – the series of mistakes she had made and the loss she’d incurred.

I may have had some advantage in this ‘business project’ game having been self-employed for many years, and having some idea of how to think ahead financially. Before I took the decision to self-publish I knew enough to calculate how many books I would need to sell, at what price, to retrieve the money I had shelled out at the start on the costs of ensuring a high quality paperback. The costs were for critique, editing, design and printing, and came to around £5000 for a 1500 print run. I also knew that bulk printing is cheaper than ‘print on demand’ (POD), and that unit costs are a function of quantity. How did I know that? I did enough initial research to think through some of the details and their implications. I was then able to work out how long it might take to recoup the money, and an approximate ‘rate of sale’. I reckoned it might take two years to recoup the outlay on the 1500 print run, and that turned out to be about right, although the necessary promotion strategy developed very slowly. I should have thought longer and harder about ‘How will people know about your book and why should they want to buy it?’

Once printed, and before sale, the books have to be stored somewhere. I ended up paying for dry secure storage, although I could at a pinch have saved that money by persuading friends and family to store a few boxes each for me. When the first print run was all sold, at a profit of about £4 per book, and I could reprint, then the the unit production cost would go down by about 50% while the price would remain the same, which makes for more profit. I priced the ebooks so that they too would generate about £3-4 each, as the up front costs are minimal. I have used Kindle Direct Publishing, which seemed very complicated to start with and required patience to reach any level of confidence. It’s paying off though: ebooks sales are steadily increasing, and £80-£100 per month is quite a healthy return, in my terms at least. The more books you have to sell, the better, but the outlay of time and investment to produce one book each year, as I currently do, is very demanding for someone with a job or a family, or both.

None of this is rocket science. But listening to people’s experiences the other day I realised what a struggle some self-publishers have. One person had sent off their precious manuscript to an outfit who promised to publish and make her rich. She has not seen any money, as the company she’d trusted went bankrupt, having sold her work on to another bunch of charlatans who also went down. What a mess. Now she has no money left to find out what she may be entitled to, and is lost the commercial maze that she tried unsuccessfully to avoid in the first place.

There’s lots more to say about the financial aspects of self-publishing, and I’ll hold some of it for future posts. I hope my recent two-hour workshop was helpful, although it could have been longer, and pressure of time didn’t enable me to get detailed feedback. There are so many writers out there considering self-publishing, and so many unscrupulous people keen to exploit that interest, that I find myself wanting to help with the basic practical details. Will running workshops on self-publishing generate greater sales of my books? I doubt it, but it feels like something that needs doing.

How much does price matter?

This week I designed a poster to promote the new book ‘Cruel Tide’ in bookshops around Cumbria. I used a template provided by an on-line printing company, which was generic and didn’t prompt you to include a price. I uploaded the cover image and some text and the ISBN number and sent it off for printing without including the price of the book.

In the middle of the night I woke up, realising what I’d done, or not done, and cursing my own carelessness, as I often do. In the more rational light of day I reconsidered, and wondered whether the lack of a price on the poster would seriously affect anyone’s willingness to order it. I’m not sure it would.

For a start, there have been three previous books, all at the same price of £8.99, and a potential buyer might correctly assume that the price will stay the same, which it will. Second, if readers who tell me that are waiting for the new book are really keen to buy it, the price is not as important as the publication date. Some people have been pestering me for the next one since about two weeks after the last one came out. I’m not sure they understand how much work goes into writing and producing a book. Some of my readers may wait to buy it from me direct at one of the many meetings or events I do, and I usually offer a discount for direct sales.

Amazon offer a cheaper price, as usual, but the shortfall is consumed by the cost of postage and packing, so there’s no advantage of cost or even of time, as we fufil our own orders, which normally takes a day or two longer than Amazon’s immediate turn-round. The Kindle version is slightly cheaper than the paperback, but the pleasure of a well-produced book is still a factor for many people.

If you don’t want to pay for a book at all, there’s always the library. If you do want to buy one, it will cost in this case the same as fish and chips for two or four cups of coffee. For the pleasure they can give, I reckon books are still a relatively good deal.

So instead of price being the key factor I have decided to use the cover image as the come-on. After all the agonising I did about this image, I’m really pleased with it now. It’s mysterious, arresting, relevant, and adds in a quite extraordinary way to the pathos of what lies between the covers. By next week the posters will be printed and arriving in the many bookshops served by my distributors, Hills of Workington. And as soon as I get home I’ll be taking them round to outlets where my books have sold before. It’s been nearly 18 months since the last book, and I hope previous readers haven’t forgotten about me. I also hope that I can pull in new readers too. I want this book to be widely read, because it makes a contribution to the current media storm about historical child abuse and is a timely reminder of how things were only a few decades ago.

When I can work out how to include the cover as part of a blog post, I’ll share it, so you can see what you think. Watch this space. Maybe I could offer a deal for the first five pre-orders, or something. I’m new to all these ‘sales techniques’ but I might be able to work out how to manage them, before I get back home from my trip and launch into thinking about the next book. That should keep me busy through the winter months.