The New World of Publishing: E-Book Pricing


On a number of different email lists over the last four or five months there have been discussions on ebook pricing. Joe Konrath is a defender of the $2.99 novel price, while traditional publishers are keeping their prices in the $7.99 to $15.99 range depending on how new the book is.

And on these lists what we all read over and over is personal examples of how it worked for that person, or that person’s sister, or mother.

So I thought I would try to just lay out some facts and where we stand on this subject right now in the fall of 2010.

FACTS

1) We have no real sales facts over any length of time with any price structure. EVERYONE is just guessing, including the fine folks who set the prices of traditionally published ebooks.

2) Even though Konrath and other self-published authors get all the press, the vast, vast majority of all ebooks published are done by major traditional publishers under contracts signed by the authors. No actual number, however.

3) This new world is changing so fast, nothing that I say here could be valid by this time in 2011.

That’s it for the actual facts. In other words, no one yet knows where this is going or where it will land.

SETTING PRICES

In print publishing, the price of the book was (and still is) set by the real costs involved. Even for smaller publishers using the POD system, the costs are set by shipping, paper costs, percentages taken along the way, and so on.  And for traditional publishers, part of the costs of each book are overhead, meaning property costs, employees, and so on.

Referred to by different names in different accounting programs, these “overhead” costs are figured in this basic way.

1) Add up all your set business costs for a monthly book list, including editor and publisher and sales and art department salaries, utilities, land and building costs, and so on. This is very, very basic, but you end up with a number per month that it takes to keep the doors open, lights on, and the employees paid.

2) Take how many titles you publish through that list per month and divide that number into the overhead costs per month and each title must carry that cost. (Of course I am being frighteningly simplistic, since larger titles carry more of the overhead than smaller and so on, and every house includes some items other houses don’t include, And many houses just approach the number as a percentage of projected sales instead of an actually cost calculation, but you get the idea.) Every title carries overhead. Every copy of every book carries overhead.

So, I hate to burst a lot of writer’s balloons on the myth that producing an e-book is cheaper, but the truth is that every novel leaves the traditional publishing house these days the same way: Electronically.

That’s right, every novel done by a traditional publisher has the exact same cost until it leaves the publisher’s office. Same overhead, same author costs, everything.

The publisher either ships the book to an electronic distributor such as Kindle, or the publisher ships the book electronically to a web press publisher to print the book.  So the costs of every book a traditional publisher does (up to the point it leaves the offices of the publisher) are the same. (Maybe slightly more for electronic since it takes more office time of an employee to do all the uploading and servicing of various electronic sales sights.)

And no, you cannot put all the overhead costs on the paper editions and just figure the electronic editions are free. Business and accounting does not work that way, no matter how much someone who doesn’t know business wants it to. A book has a projected sales figure and the electronic sales are figured right into the projected numbers.

Then add in author percentages, interest on the money spent on the project, and other factors including how much each electronic distributor (such as Kindle) takes and traditional publishers have a bottom line in pricing e-books they have to stay above. It is just flat economics, folks, and no matter how much Joe Konrath and other self-publishers shout, the economics are just there for traditional publishers and e-book pricing has a floor for them they just cannot go below.

Self-Publishers and Small-Publishers Have Different Rules

Those of us who only have to worry about small overhead costs in getting a novel up electronically are very lucky. We have the freedom economically to price our books at any level we see fit. We only have used our own time, maybe a little money for cover art, maybe some minor money to have someone proof the book, but the costs are minor compared to the overhead of a traditional fiction publisher. We can set the prices anywhere from free to the same as traditional publisher’s prices.

And that’s where the real confusion comes in. Thousands of authors with backlists are starting to put up their fiction on their own or through a small company. And the authors have control over setting the pricing.

But what to set the price at? Is Joe Konrath right about the $2.99 price for a full novel? But I heard another author got great sales on a full novel at 99 cents. And yet another getting great sales at over $6.00 prices. Authors are confused because up until this time in history, setting a book price was never a question they had to face.

And the two questions authors logically ask are:

How much can I make at that price?

How many copies can I sell at that price?

Okay, both valid questions. And a third area that you hear lots of talk on lists and blogs about is “personal resistance price points.”  “My brother has a kindle and he won’t buy anything over $5.00.”  Or… “My sister thinks that anything priced at 99 cents must be bad.”

I’m not going to talk about that third point because to put it simply, it’s not valid. There are always going to be certain people who have issues with prices in one fashion or another and if an author or small-publisher worries too much about a few hearsay reports and switches prices all the time, they will be in trouble.

The problem with the first two very logical business questions is that there are no real answers at this point. No facts, no real data. I have a hunch how much money Kris and I will make every year if we get up all 500 of our sold short stories at 99 cents each. But it is just a hunch. And I have no idea how many copies will sell at any price because first off, no one does.

A quick moment on sampling. Readers when buying a book in a store sample the book before carrying it to the check-out counter. In electronic publishing, readers also sample. And that seems to be the one point that so many writers just forget when thinking about this pricing problem.

A book WILL NOT SELL at $2.99 or even 99 cents if it sucks. Readers have taste that won’t be overpowered by simple low prices.

And if a book is great and the reader likes and wants it and other readers are telling him about it, the book WILL SELL at $5.99 or $10.99 or up because it is great.

So let me give my opinion of a pricing structure for small publishers for electronic publishing. Then over the next few years as things settle and we get real data, it will be interesting to look back at this and see how well my pricing structure held up.

I think electronic fiction pricing for small publishers and authors should be like this:

Short stories. 99 cents. Author gets about 35 cents per sale.

Short novels and short collections (Anything from 15,000 words to 45,000 words)  $2.99. Author gets around 65% or about $1.95 per sale.

Novels or long collections (45,000 words and up)  $4.99-$5.99 range. Author gets around 65% or about $3.25-$4.50 per sale.

My Basic Reasons at this Moment in Time for this Pricing Structure:

1) Short stories at 99 cents are great for phone reading and when someone only has a short time to read. Also short stories will allow a reader to sample your writing cheaply.

2) Short collections and short novels at $2.99 are deals and still into the impulse buy range these days.

3) Novels at $4.99-$5.99 allow the writer to make more per copy than selling it to a traditional publisher and also keeps the price way under anything a traditional publisher with overhead can match. And around that $5.00 price is still impulse for most readers.

Three simple prices: 99 cents, $2.99, and $4.99-$5.99.

Now, I have floated my suggestions out on the world so we can have a discussion here in the comments section about this and I can look back at this in a few years and shake my head at my own silliness. As fast as things are changing in publishing, I might look back at this in six months and delete all this. Or who knows, I might end up hitting the right points now.  Time will answer that question.

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175 Responses to The New World of Publishing: E-Book Pricing

  1. It’s just about testing and finding out whatever price makes you the most money over time. If pricing your novel at 1 cent would net you a million a year, of course you’d do it.

    I’m thinking of Aaron Patterson, who used to have his first ebook at around $15 or so. It rarely sold at that price, for months. He changed that price down and down until he settled it at $2.99 and it eventually took off at that price. Last I talked to him, it was selling 1500 copies a month at $2.99 (that’s $3,135 a month).

    Interestingly, he still has another Kindle novel at $8.99. Last time I talked to him, it sold 250-300 a month. The $2.99 one does considerably better in terms of dollars and far better in overall sales.

    I think it makes sense to have different works at different prices, too.

  2. Mark says:

    “I’m thinking of Aaron Patterson, who used to have his first ebook at around $15 or so. It rarely sold at that price, for months. He changed that price down and down until he settled it at $2.99 and it eventually took off at that price. Last I talked to him, it was selling 1500 copies a month at $2.99 (that’s $3,135 a month).”

    When you put “Patterson” in the search field on Amazon’s page, Aaron’s books pop up in the middle of a list of James Patterson’s books. Not to sell Aaron’s work short, but this happy accident probably helps him sell some books. Even his book covers feature his last name in huge letters and his first name in smaller letters.

  3. Mark says:

    So what are small publishers supposed to do? Let’s say you write a good book, invest in a professional cover, and buy an ISBN number so you can set up POD. What is the next step to generate sales?

    It seems to me the biggest challenge, besides authoring a worthy book, is to get the book noticed. In many ways a new book is just a feather in the canyon. There must be hundreds of new books published every day.

    I have sampled quite a few well-written chapters from writers who are selling in the low double digits every month according to their own admission. It takes some several months (or longer) to get to a hundred total sales. I understand the necessity of being patient, but surely there must be a way to get good books to sell better.

    Any ideas?

    • dwsmith says:

      Mark, first off, you just need to have a publisher name. Doesn’t have to be a corporation or any silliness like that, just a name. You don’t need to invest in professional covers, you can learn how to do that yourself with either free artwork or cheap artwork. And you sure don’t need an ISBN, since everywhere one is needed, it is supplied, including CreateSpace. And by using CreateSpace ISBN, you get into their library distribution. Even larger publishers use CreateSpace ISBNs for their library distribution editions.

      How to promote? Well, have a decent and active web site that is focused on positive things. Do recommended readings, all positive, never negative. Avoid blogs like this one on your own site because you want to draw people who are readers, not writers. Keep the site active in the sense of a couple things a week. Announce your new book there. And have links to where people can buy it. Do not mention ever that the publisher name on the book is your publishing name.

      Be active on Twitter and Facebook and announce the book there.

      Get the book off to a traditional publisher so that an editor can buy it.

      Then get up everything else you feel is good enough. If you only have one novel, don’t expect any sales. That’s like opening a store with only one product. Or a bakery with only type of pie. Not going to sell much.
      So write more and get it up. And then repeat, letting the books alone, talking about them every month or so, and letting them just do their thing on their own. (Yeah, I know, every young writer in a hurry is screaming right now. (grin)) But nothing in publishing moves fast and this new world is no exception.

      Finish another book or short story and repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Your goal is to build inventory. ALL RIGHT, THIS IS MY NEXT POST…. stay tuned….sigh….

      The best things to promote your work is this:
      1) Build a decent inventory. Again a store with only one or two products won’t last.
      2) Become a better writer with everything you write.
      3) Sell to a traditional publisher a few things, either short stories to major magazines or novels to major publishers. The best promotion is letting thousand see your work through a traditional publisher.
      4) Have your own web site so readers can find your work easily after they read something else.
      5) Don’t devalue your work. Act like a real publisher with your publishing company. And don’t get in a hurry. Have a ten year plan.

  4. Moses, I just scanned that top fifty in a lot more detail. This is the top 50 bestselling fantasy books released in the last 90 days to Kindle Books.

    OK, I’m pretty well read and spend a fair amount of time in the bookstore. Of the top 50 books, 27 were by authors whose names I did not recognize.

    Nine were first novels.

    Eight more were second novels.

    One of the first and one of the second novels were priced at $3.89; these two books (same author) incidentally were NOT self-published (Angry Robot Publishing). They were also the only first or second novels priced below $6.99 – all other books below $6.99 were either by “name” authors or were short story compilations.

    What does this mean? Well, I don’t think it means $2.99 is a BAD price. We’re certainly seeing $2.99 work for some people. But there are a bucketload of books on that list (much, much lower down) selling for $2.99. Also quite a few for 89 cents, 99 cents, 1.99, or even a few for free. The free-$2.99 bracket was simply being outsold by the $6.99-9.99 bracket with great consistency.

    This makes me think we may already be seeing readers avoiding the bottom priced books in some genres as newbie authors bring their work in and publish them at that level.

  5. Mark says:

    Kevin, I think a lot of readers simply never see the self-pubbed books because they don’t know they exist. I’d love to know how many of the $6.99-9.99 bracket books you saw are self-published.

    Visibility boosts sales. Books from traditional publishers are much more visible, even if the publishers aren’t spending much on promotion. They are in the chains. They are in the email newsletters from the publishers. They are on the publishers website. They get reviewed by reputable publications. And they get a lot more word of mouth as a result. It doesn’t surprise me that they get more sales.

  6. Steve Lewis says:

    Just wanted to say that some of this conversation is kind of confusing me.

    First off, Dean I get to make this post because I just wrote 2500 words (grin). Second, I don’t understand the fixation with name recognition for a first time author. If you needed name recognition, no first time author would ever go big. Since fantasy was brought up, neither Terry, Goodkind or Brooks, would’ve gone big if you needed name recognition. Or Patrick Rothfuss. Or Stephanie Meyer. And we can easily jump to other genres: Michael Chabon, Nick Hornby, Audrey Niffenegger, etc, etc. So this doesn’t add up for me.

    Also, and I don’t mean to be harsh, but why is it that when ever someone starts a new business (and publishing your own works is a business) they think that the only way that they can compete is based on price? Um, no. Sorry, folks that just don’t work. Not in the long run. Price is not the only tool in the marketing arsenal not by far. Look at the work of Jay Abraham (the highest paid and most sought after marketing consultant in the world), Al Ries and Jack Trout, Jay Conrad Levinson (the guy who invented the Marlboro Man but we won’t hold that against him) and Dan Kennedy ( a fellow Arizonan). They’ll all tell you that unless you have a good reason (and a lot of the time you want to explain that reason to the customer it’s called Reason Why advertising) for lowering your price then it’s almost always a bad way to go. It makes what you sell look inferior or second class. Also, an increase in price can cause an upswing in sales a lot of the time (See Influence by Robert Cialdini).

    And, finally, having said all of that about marketing, it’s almost universally agreed among big time marketers that while you can use traditional direct marketing methods to market how to books and information products, using them to market fiction is almost always a waste of time. Why? Because fiction is so subjective. And a lot of marketing is based on features and benefits, so what are the features and benefits of your new fantasy novel?

    Ted Nichols, known as the 100 million dollar man because he’d sold 100 million dollars worth of how to books, said years ago that he couldn’t for the life of him sell fiction the same way that he sold non-fiction. Now that may have changed, it’s been awhile since I’ve read anything by these guys since I don’t have to do it for my job anymore (I haven’t had a sales job in years) but that was the reasoning not that long ago.

    Basically, all you can do that isn’t a time sink and a possible waste of time is what Dean lists here.

    Okay, rant is over. I’ve been storing that one up for awhile (grin). Back to the word mines.

    • dwsmith says:

      Thank you, Steve. Well said. Now go back to writing, the best thing you can do to help sell your books down the road. (grin)

  7. Here’s that list that Kevin is talking about.

    Yeah, Kevin, the common elements among those top new releases for Kindle is that they are not self-published and overwhelmingly most of them are $6.99 or higher.

    It shows me that a publisher helps promote and sell these books, by whatever means. For example, Rob Kroese is on that list with ‘Mercury Falls.’ If I’m not mistaken, this book used to be self-published and less expensive, but now it’s with AmazonEncore and it’s $7.99.

    I still think that if you want to come out of the gate as a new author at prices of $7 and up, it’s a risky proposition if you’re an indie. Down the road, sell at whatever price you can. But right off the bat, I do think a lower price can help you build momentum. But you don’t want to go too low either.

  8. Mark says:

    I think books can be commodities at times, and brands at other times.

    Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Dean Koontz are all brands. Horror novels can be a commodity.

    The classic example of a commodity is milk. When you have the only cow around, you have a lot of flexibility in pricing. When your fifty neighbors all have cows and all sell milk, the market sets your price.

    The self-publishing revolution underway is creating a lot of writers with milk to sell. It will be interesting to see where it all goes.

    • dwsmith says:

      Mark, my point is that if you have one cow and your neighbor has two hundred cows, who makes the most money? You can lower the price of your milk all you want, but because the neighbor has more cows, they make more and have more customers finding their milk. Kind of shooting yourself in your own argument there. (grin)

  9. “Books from traditional publishers are much more visible, even if the publishers aren’t spending much on promotion.”

    Mark, the only difference between the small press you found yourself, and the small presses that put out at a third or so of that list

    …is in *your* mind.

    When you found a small press, you are a small press. You have the same opportunities as every other small press. Do you have as much money? Maybe not. But very, VERY few first novels get any marketing money thrown at them anyway.

    Guys, readers don’t go to publishers’ websites (even highly interactive publisher sites like Baen only see a tiny fraction of their readers visit). They don’t get email newsletters from publishers (with even fewer exceptions). Only slim margins of people get contact from publishers – and you can reach that same number easily yourself.

    Try this for a minute as a mental game. Instead of saying “I am an indie/self-publisher”, say “I am setting out to start a new business – to found my own small publishing house.” See where the mental vision takes you.

    Tear down the wall.

  10. What’s ironic for me is that when I’m at J.A. Konrath’s blog I’m the guy arguing for higher prices. Here at Dean’s blog, I’m now one of the guys arguing for somewhat lower prices. I like to think I’m right in the middle :-)

    Steve, I’ve spent a lot of times hanging around indie author blogs and forums, and I’ve formed my opinions that way. The idea that you can raise prices and sell more is true in some cases, but in general that’s more true for an expensive item rather than a book. In general, it’s not true for ebooks. If there’s a general rule, it’s that cheaper sells more, however that isn’t true in every case. But it does seem to be the rule of thumb.

    As for those big fantasy names, those names also had the benefit of massive help from large publishers. Brooks, Rothfuss, et al. didn’t succeed because of their names with their first books, but they succeeded in large part because of push from their publishers (as well as, obviously, their own hard work and talent). And that’s what indie writers don’t have. The fact is that in the majority of cases new indie authors ought to use some lower priced works to generate momentum. The one thing you do have that the big pubs don’t is that they don’t want to start off with an ebook at low prices, but you can use that to get your career going.

    Again, my opinions on this are based on observing, listening to, and learning from lots of successful indie writers. And I don’t know any of them whose careers have taken off by pricing all their works at $6-7 and up. If anything, the ones who have done well tend to use the $0.99 and $2.99 prices to their advantage.

    And I didn’t want to get into this argument, and I don’t intend to either, but the really successful indie authors also tend to do a lot of self-promotion in addition to writing lots of works. I know a guy who hangs out at forums and has used his very simple, humble presence in those places to sell 100 ebooks a day at $2.99 of a science fiction novel. And once you get your Amazon ball rolling, it can keep rolling on its own. I intend to do a fair amount of promotion because that’s what seems to work for the really successful indie writers I’ve observed.

    • dwsmith says:

      Moses, those “big names” you talk about didn’t succeed because their publisher turned them into gods, they succeeded because they wrote damn fine books that millions of people wanted to read. Wow, if I was one of them, I would be insulted.

  11. “Moses, those “big names” you talk about didn’t succeed because their publisher turned them into gods, they succeeded because they wrote damn fine books that millions of people wanted to read. Wow, if I was one of them, I would be insulted.”

    Well Dean, here’s what I said. Frankly, I think you’re putting words in my mouth:

    “As for those big fantasy names, those names also had the benefit of massive help from large publishers. Brooks, Rothfuss, et al. didn’t succeed because of their names with their first books, but they succeeded in large part because of push from their publishers (as well as, obviously, their own hard work and talent).”

    I don’t really see that I’ve insulted anyone or suggested that they didn’t write damn fine books that millions wanted to read. But as we’ve talked about before, Brooks himself says that he was in exactly the right place at the right time (he says he was very lucky in that respect) and that his publisher had actually *decided* to try to launch a big fantasy novel to show that there was a market for it. And he was the guy who happened to submit the right novel at the right time, and the rest is history.

    Before you suggest that I’m saying otherwise, that does not mean that he might not have done extremely well eventually anyway. But it is true that his publisher helped make him into a star. If you’re an independent writer, you don’t have that sort of support giving you the push you need to reach the stratosphere.

    Of course, “name” isn’t the main issue if no one knows your name. But if no one knows your name, then you need something else to help you sell books. For traditionally published authors that publishers really want to support, they have that support going for them. For an independent writer today, a lower introductory price is the main ingredient that’s a part of all of the success stories I’m aware of (not that I know all of those stories, but I know of a good number of them).

    • dwsmith says:

      Moses, you said, “Before you suggest that I’m saying otherwise, that does not mean that he might not have done extremely well eventually anyway. But it is true that his publisher helped make him into a star. If you’re an independent writer, you don’t have that sort of support giving you the push you need to reach the stratosphere. Of course, “name” isn’t the main issue if no one knows your name. But if no one knows your name, then you need something else to help you sell books. For traditionally published authors that publishers really want to support, they have that support going for them. For an independent writer today, a lower introductory price is the main ingredient that’s a part of all of the success stories I’m aware of (not that I know all of those stories, but I know of a good number of them).”

      Well, don’t agree. And I wish someone would detail out all this “support” traditional publishers give writers. Beyond getting their books on shelves (which I can do with any small publisher) and putting the author’s name on a fancy cover and in a catalog (which I can also do with any small publisher), and sending review copies to reviewers, which is something I can do, what is this mythical “support from traditional publishers” you all talk about???? Would someone please detail that out for me because in a hundred novels now, I sure haven’t seen it and no clue what you are talking about. And I’ve been on every major bestseller list.

      So that is an honest question, Moses and Mark and everyone. Someone please tell this old fuddy what support exactly you are talking about. That way I know what I have been missing all these years.

      • dwsmith says:

        Ahh, crap, I now have two Sacred Cows chapters going. One is the myth of support from a traditional publisher. I just got fed up hearing that spouted here. Sigh…. hold on, I’ll start this new discussion in a day or so. (grin) But in the mean time, someone please tell me what you think “support from a traditional publisher” is exactly, beyond getting your books in stores, sending out review copies, and putting a nice cover and blurbs on the book. Someone, anyone????

  12. Annie Bellet says:

    Well…technically an advance is part of “support” right? I dunno. I am pursuing both trad publishing and e-publishing because I think that both still have advantages to offer me that aren’t in conflict. I mean, in the end, isn’t it just about getting my work to people who can pay me for it?

    I think a lot of factors going into becoming a best-selling writer. Timing and luck are one, but not one that a writer has any control over. I think that Dean’s right, the current biggest authors on the shelves have all written more than one or two books. That’s why when I decided to get my feet wet and experiment with e-publishing, I decided that a) I needed a big, exciting idea and b) I was going to make sure it was a series. Notice that pricing was nowhere in that consideration. I haven’t even entirely decided where to price things, I’m still researching and thinking about it. Writing a good book that will (hopefully) appeal to a range of people and then writing five or six more seems to be more important than something so variable as pricing. Pricing I can change later once I have more data. The amount of work available and the quality of it are, in my opinion, better things to truly focus on for attracting and *keeping* readers.

    • dwsmith says:

      Annie, yup, you got one. The advance is a support.

      (And folks, I do know the answer to this and there is an answer. I was just being snide and I’m sorry about that.)

      For those of you trying to figure out an answer to what mythical support a large traditional publisher gives that a small publisher can’t get easily on their own, think of the word “platform.”

      It’s why beginning writers can’t look at Konrath’s prices and say, “Hey, it worked for him.” Because not only does he have a bunch of quality inventory feeding readers, but he has a “platform” that puts him at a different launching place than a beginning writer. And his former publisher had a “platform” to launch him from as well.

      I stand by my assertion that the best, the absolute best promotion a newer writer can do is sell some stuff to a large traditional publisher. It’s like climbing on an elevator and going to the top of a new platform with a much better view.

      I will explain more in the Sacred Cows post. Honest. (grin)

      Sorry to have been so snide. But alas, coming here you get that at times.

  13. Dean,

    At the risk of stepping into the ring, since you asked, I do have one good example of a recent new author whose house shot the moon for them.

    When Gail Carriger sold Soulless to Orbit, she mentioned to them (expecting no result) that she had a stable of artists and marketers that she’s worked with for years on other projects. Orbit listened, giving her input on the cover (down to picking her recommendation for the model and photo), commissioning me to produce an audio play of the first chapter of the book (a few tens of thousands of downloads and counting) for release three months in advance of the book, and then getting their marketing department in on the act with a fair few viral videos, games, and other online events that helped goose a stone that was (by that time) already rolling at a good clip. They also did an ARC run of several thousand, and flooded the universe with them.

    Of course, they did this for some very smart business reasons:
    1) By the time Gail sold the book, she’d already programmed the world’s first steampunk convention (she got the contract a couple weeks prior to the con), and the folks she brought to Orbit to help with the marketing were the same folks (including yours truly) that planned, ran, and designed the convention. Her involvment in this con was the result of several years of established expertise in the culture and aesthetic of her genre, and she (in what seems to me a very rare circumstance) was an expert in the market while her publisher, by his own admission, wasn’t.

    2) Because of this immersion, she was in the happy position of writing a book “to market” that coincided precisely with her tastes, passions, and quirks. She wrote a series of quite funny books in a genre that has grown to take itself far too seriously, and enjoyed the process.

    3) Most important, she wrote a damn good book and sold it herself over the transom more or less out of frustration, after years of being dicked around by agents who didn’t respond.

    Having been fortunate enough to watch this process up close, I’m fairly confident that her publisher’s muscle (and willingness to co-opt the rolodex of a writer who, in a rare circumstance, had superior expertise in certain segments of the market) helped launch her harder and faster than she’d likely have experienced with a less-enthusiastic publisher or by going it on her own (which wasn’t a realistic option at the time of the sale).

    However, the overwhelming response to the audio play *before* the publisher’s marketing push, the very high blog readership over a year before publication, and her presence in the community to whom she was selling, coupled with the fact that she wrote (and continues to write) some seriously entertaining, hilarious books, all make me very confident that, had she decided to go it on her own from scratch in today’s market, she’d have made out handsomely in comparatively short order.

    For what it might be worth
    -Dan

  14. I don’t think anyone is arguing against the idea that getting a big push from a large publisher is a boon. Even a small push (most first novels get tiny print runs and four digit advances) has to be helpful, because you get the extra visibility.

    I think what bugs me about this is that people think that even small publishers can do something that they can’t do themselves. Which makes no sense to me. The people running the small publishing house are folks just like us, who started a business. They print to ebook and POD, just like folks here have or hope to. They have access to reviewers and such – same as our home grown small press would. There is still a difference between large and small press, I think. But I think the only difference between a small press and an “indie press” is in the mind of the person calling him or herself the latter.

    For what it’s worth, Moses – I am pretty much with you. I think $9.99 is too high and is probably hurting ebook sales for those titles. But the more I think about this, the more I think that $2.99 might already be *too low*; I’m scanning other genres now, and seeing a scattering of $3.49-$5.99 books in there, but almost NOTHING below $3.49. And it’s not for lack of books in the 89 cent to $2.99 range; there are plenty of those. They’re just not cracking the bestseller list, which makes me think we could be seeing reader backlash against a lack of quality in too many books at lower prices.

  15. Mark says:

    “I stand by my assertion that the best, the absolute best promotion a newer writer can do is sell some stuff to a large traditional publisher. It’s like climbing on an elevator and going to the top of a new platform with a much better view.”

    I know there are a lot of anthologies that put out a call for submissions. Obviously, a lot of slots are by invitation only, but some are looking for new writers. Is there a good website somewhere that tracks these? I can see the value in getting published this way.

  16. Mike says:

    Dean said, “For those of you trying to figure out an answer to what mythical support a large traditional publisher gives that a small publisher can’t get easily on their own, think of the word ‘platform.’”

    I’m not so sure that’s automatically true anymore, Dean. Granted, my experience is in nonfiction writing (although I hope to publish some fiction soon). But after reading a lot of blogs by writers around the Web, it’s pretty obvious that many of them are having books turned down because they don’t have a reasonably large platform already set up.

    These days publishers seem to be looking for authors that don’t require much effort on the publisher’s part at all. What I’m reading is that, if your book doesn’t take off in 3 to 6 months, you needn’t expect much more help from them. These bloggers have been advising their readers to start blogs, Twitter accounts, and Facebook accounts to build a platform long before they approach a publisher.

    Dean, if that’s also true in fiction publishing, I’m not so sure the trad publisher gives you that much of an advantage… unless you’re defining “platform” purely in terms of the short-term blanket of ads the publisher can take out or the deals they have with “brick & mortars” for shelf space.

    BTW folks, for those of you who feel inferior because you are a self-publisher, here’s a thought: Start a publishing business (it’s no different than starting any other business, just check your state’s regulations — mine’s a single-person LLC) and then buy a block of 10 ISBN numbers. Last time I checked, that cost around $325 (the numbers are cheaper when you buy a larger block, but when you start out 10 is plenty) and you are assigned your own publisher number. Once you do this, the US Government legally recognizes you as a legitimate publisher, just like any of the big boys in New York.

    I do my POD through Lightning Source, which does work for those same big publishers, and I have never been treated as if my company was less important to them than anybody else. And my customers don’t seem to care, because I try to give them better service than a big company. I take pride in being a small publisher, even though I’m my only author. ;-)

    If you feel you’re somehow a lower-class publisher than the rest, then maybe you just need to take yourself a little more seriously. You’re never going to make them shiver in their boots but, like Dean said, there’s plenty of room out there in the marketplace. These days, people care more about quality than name; give your readers quality, and they’ll make you a name.

    • dwsmith says:

      Mike, I agree with the thrust of your statement, that writers need to take themselves more seriously as publishers if they are going that way and act like publishers. Spot on.

      Buying ISBNs has nothing to do with that at all. Nothing. Bowker is a private company and no one in either the tax code or in the government has anything to do with recognizing you or your business as a regular publisher. Certainly not buying numbers used in publishing from Bowker. Sorry, really bad advice.

      Now buying ISBNs can be done by anyone, and buying in bulk sure helps in the cost per number. Here is the problem. Every state must have a different ISBN. So sure, ten would work for maybe three or four books, but that’s all. And it makes zero difference in sales or anything other form.

      As for what I said about platform, if recent I clearly meant the advertising side of things. Get your books shoved out in large numbers suddenly by a major publisher will drive readers to your self-published work.

      However, I am leaning now more and more away from traditional publishing because of the 25%/75% split of net ebook money. And the inability of most writers (and their low-level agents) to negotiate any kind of decent reversion clause for when the author will get the book back.

      This is how I stand now: Send a book traditional if you are a very fast writer and have other books up electronic and pod self-published. If you are a slow writer, you are pretty much screwed either direction unless you get lucky. Blunt, but alas, that’s the world we are heading into.

  17. Todd Russell says:

    Hi Dean :)

    Interesting perspective. Since this post was written back in November 2010 and it’s like 10 months later, I’m curious if you still feel the same about pricing? Novels still $4.99+ or have you lowered or raised your recommended prices?

    Thank you.

    • dwsmith says:

      Nope, nothing has changed for me, Todd. In fact, I’m more convinced that $4.99 is a great balance between giving readers value and impulse buy and writers making enough per sale to be of value to the writer as well. $2.99 for short novels or short collections and 99 cents for short stories. Working great for many of us.

  18. Raven says:

    This is late, but there may be others reading now, too, or even later.

    *puts on reader hat*

    I completely agree with Dean on this.

    Moses wrote, “It’s a given that more people will try an unknown author at $2.99 or $3.99 versus $9.99 or $6.99.”

    Perhaps. I just bought a book for $9.99 by an author I didn’t know, and this is fairly common for me. Maybe I should be an editor/publisher, because I LOVE discovering new authors, and if the blurb sounds good, I buy the book.

    I’m not rich. I *am* a reader. I don’t remember where I read it, but I remember learning that some people are readers and others are non-readers. Writers don’t need to worry about non-readers; they will never read anyway. So, the comparisons of different media don’t always work — readers will pay more for good books than non-readers will. Books aren’t really in competition with other media because readers want books, not movies. Or they want books and movies. But they don’t want movies INSTEAD of books. Most readers know that if a movie is made from a book, the book is always better. Non-readers will never get that, and will never read anyway.

    When I look for a book to read, yes, I consider price. But story (i.e. the blurb) will win me over every time. Even today, I found another book that was $8.99. I’m poor, but I picked the $9.99 book because it sounded better. I think most readers will do this.

    Now, onto the part about being an “unknown author”. How do you stop being an “unknown author”? I think the answer is, “when you write more books.” So, perhaps an “unknown author” won’t sell as many books as a “known author” at the $5.99 price point. If that same author writes lots of books and puts them all up, eventually, enough people will try that author that the author won’t be “unknown”. So, should the author start out at $2.99 just to get some initial sales? I think not. I think that if authors know they will become “known” authors, they can price their books accordingly. Maybe they won’t make as much money in the short run, but they will in the long run.

    While there may be some readers who focus on price, I think most readers are like me: they want a good book to read. And they will pay more if the book looks particularly good, even if they don’t know who the author is, and even more so if someone they know recommends the book.

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