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.

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Promotion – a problematic puzzle

‘What’s your budget for promotion of your new book?’ There’s a question I didn’t know how to answer. I was enquiring about getting help with a video, but quickly realised I would have to plan, film and edit it myself or do without. And if I do without, what achievable strategies do I have for promoting the new book ‘Fallout’, the last in the Jessie Whelan trilogy that has the overarching title ‘Between the Mountains and the Sea’? For the second in the series – ‘Forgiven’ – which was published in June 2013 I arranged a ‘launch’ on the first day of a local festival, thinking that the regional media who would be in town anyway for the festival might be tempted to make an appearance. Wrong! Family, friends and neighbours turned up and we had a jolly time, but as a press launch it was a dismal (and quite expensive) failure. I admit I was disappointed, and decided that I probably wouldn’t do it again.

So here we are with the new book due out in about a month and no clear idea about a ‘promotion strategy’. One difference from last year is that I now have over 400 Twitter followers, and through Twitter’s exponential reach I can get the book details to people who might want them. Word of mouth will count for something too: the success of the first two parts of the trilogy means that there’s a fair head of steam around the publication of the final part. It’s hard to guess how many readers, many of them Cumbria locals, will beat a path to the bookshop door or my website to snatch their copy hot off the press, but it could be quite a few. Most of the paperback sales over the past two years have been in Cumbria bookshops, supplied through Hills of Workington who sell to almost every bookshop and tourist centre in the county. And sales have been seasonal too, with summer visitors looking for something to read which features the people, places and history of this great place where I live.

Once the paperback is out we’ll focus on the conversion to ebook and Kindle. My book designer John Aldridge will make sure the ebook looks as good as the hard copy – which is by no means automatic – and I hope I remember what to do after that. I’ve made it work twice already so that should be OK. Ebook sales have been steady but unspectacular. I know I could shift more if I dropped the price, but I do have a problem with selling something of merit, that took me a year to produce, for less than the price of a latte.

In the meantime, the height of my promotional activity today has been to design a poster¬†for some of the local bookshops, which has taxed my Word skills to the uttermost. Once it was done, I took a photo and posted it on Twitter. I’m not expecting as many RTS as a selfie at a funeral, but who knows?