The Price is Slight!

Writer’s diary: stardate: 28.02.2014

In January of this year I aligned the prices of my books to £1.99 each. A brave step? An arrogant leap? A hopeful bound? A foolish jump (to be quickly followed by a plunge into oblivion)?

When I first introduced my brood to the world I went into the market place like 633 Squadron (look what happened to them: crashed and burned, shot to bits, disappeared without trace, forgotten, bright young lives cut short. Ok, perhaps, the implied comparison is a little…dramatic? But I had to wonder: would that be me? Anyone craving a shot of classic British war film, nostalgic, iconic, movie soundtrack, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRVu18h2mfA – give it twenty seconds). Where was I? Oh yeah, low and fast all guns blazing, and screaming manically (one of the neighbours called the police). In equal measure, I was brimming with confidence at my invincibility, mumbling to a god I can’t believe in, shitting in my flying pants in case I’d got my approach all wrong, it went tits up, and I was spread all over the ebook battlefield like the contents of a jar of Robertson’s finest conserve.

I am a keen observer of the charts (every morning I spring out of my basket beside the bed [the bed I have been displaced from; the bed I used to get half a good night’s sleep in before the Halfling decided he’d outgrown his crib and wanted to move up the wooden hill and Bedfordshire’s property ladder to something a little ‘roomier’] skip to the computer while the house slumbers on, and with heart thumping like a hopeful Lotto ticket holder checking last week’s numbers after having been shit on by a bird in the street [that’s supposed to be good luck. The world is full of loonies.] I check my position in the only chart that really matters – Books>Kindle Books>Fiction>Crime, Mystery, Thrillers>British>England>Kent>Romney Marsh>Police Procedural>Contemporary>Silly Detectives’ Names. In short, I like to see how the books are doing.

When my books first went onto Amazon I priced them as cheaply as I could, as cheaply as Amazon would allow. For those of you who don’t know, the cheapest that Amazon will allow one to list a book is the British pound equivalent of $0.99, which back then was £0.77. The only way I know of that one can get one’s book’s price lower than that is to have one’s books listed as cheaper to purchase through other recognised ebook outlets and then for Amazon to be informed of such and then for Amazon to feel like matching that price.

In my initial desperation to get my books read, I gave them away for free through Smashwords. All three of the R&M Files could be had for nothing. Like I said, and I do think it’s worth repeating, I was desperate just to be read, to get some reaction.

In time Amazon price matched Rope Enough to £0.00 and that was my wake-up call to form a marketing strategy. I’d had some positive feedback, some helpful criticism and some encouraging comments. I dropped the second and third books from Smashwords (living outside the UK and the US and without a credit card I was unable to set up a payment system) and as I was giving away my first I then took a leaf out of other self-publishers books (sorry) and introduced an incremental purchase price scheme – first book free, second book, £1.50, third book £2.

Next out were my two Acer Sansom novels. Again I thought that the best chance I had of getting these read, getting some feedback and getting them into those all important charts was to make them available to download for the cheapest price I could: £0.77 again. That worked. I had a good number of downloads and the books were visible in a couple of obscure charts.

Then I brought out Bad Sons and I felt it was time for change.

I’ve been self-publishing for a little over a year and my opinion on pricing has changed (I want to say matured but I’m not sure that’s quite right). When I was new and unknown, I felt I had to do something special to attract readers to my books. And it’s my belief that the best way to do that is good covers and cheap prices. If I had to choose between the two, I’d say cheap price is the single most important factor in encouraging a prospective reader to click download.

A year on and I don’t feel quite so unknown (I’m still not remotely well-known but I do have a foot [OK maybe a pointed-winkle-picker-toe-cap] in the door that opens out onto the promised land of ebook  world. I don’t feel so desperate. I no longer feel the need to (yes, it’s time for something rude) offer myself to the customer like some backstreet harlot, spread on her filthy, stained mattress under a plastic awning while people line up round the block to exploit my talent. To continue the analogy, I’ve not decided to install myself in a suite of rooms in The Ritz either: there are some ebooks being touted for over a tenner (for a computer file hahahaha) and they’re in the charts. That’s high class hooking.

When I think of myself as a prostitute (not something I often do, I hasten to add, but I seem to have caught my stiletto in the fishnet stocking of this extended metaphor) I prefer to think of myself as having my own room in a quiet and respectable part of the neighbourhood. I think I’m charging a fair price for a fair service/product. I like to think I’ve gone up in the world. Gone are the days of £0.77 knee-tremblers in darkened recesses at kicking out time. I’ve made myself a little more dignified. Perhaps, I’ve also given myself a few airs and graces.

All this brings me nicely onto that time worn topic of conversation: what is a fair price for an ebook? Think of everything that goes into an ebook, the promise behind that thumbnail image stuck on the screen in front of readers like some obscure stamp in a philately catalogue. Hard work: months of time, effort, consternation, desperation, late nights, early mornings, sacrifices (I’ve gone through a number white chickens), intellectual property sharing, blood, sweat and tears. Money: the price of a good cover, editorial services, maybe the services of a publicist, a website and a website designer.

What does an ebook offer a reader? Escapism, entertainment, an opportunity to get in touch with their emotions, a laugh, a cry, some learning, some diversion, something to do.

What else will £1.99 buy you? Half a pint of lager in a pub; a cheap coffee in Starbucks, a BLT sandwich from a high street name; a pack of three own brand condoms; half a dozen free range eggs; a King of the Day Burger (T&C apply); 6 pints of semi-skimmed milk or a 200g tin of corned beef, for examples.

And then there’s the lasting effect dynamic of whatever one is spending one’s hard-earned two quid on to factor in to the equation. The memory of a good book will stay with a reader long after he or she has pissed out the beverage, pooped out the sarny, beaten the eggs or choked on the bully beef. Granted a pack of three can also provide escapism, entertainment, an opportunity to get in touch with one’s emotions, a laugh, a cry, some learning, some diversion, something to do, but you’ve got to put some effort in, you can’t just lie back and enjoy it like you can an ebook…actually…anyway, where was I? And in my experience it costs a lot more than the price of a condom to get to the position in a relationship where it can fulfil its intended purpose and then there’s often a hell of a price to pay afterwards: hidden costs. Those cut price condoms have cost me two houses already! I should have just bought a couple of ebooks. (Sorry. It is a bit funny.)

An ebook that sells for £0.77 on Amazon nets the author @ £0.27 – four downloads to make a pound. That no longer seems right to me. I think we’re all entitled to look for something a bit ‘fairer’ than that for what we do, for what we’ve put in. Time will tell whether that decision has been the right one for my books. Initial evidence shows that what shoving the price up has done is push me to the arse end of those all important download charts. Still at least I only have to sell one book to make a pound these days instead of four. Swings and roundabouts.

So, what do you think? Will you come on down(load) ‘cos the price is right! (Did anyone groan at that?)

You’re so vain…

 

It has become my habit on a Thursday night, after my two-year-old son has climbed the wooden hill to Bedfordshire, to sit down and write my Friday morning blog-post. I leave it to simmer/fester overnight and then take another look at it in the cold light of day before titivating; correcting what I can see needs correcting, and posting. That’s how seriously I’m taking my blog-posts these days. Am I a dick for it, I wonder?

I do enjoy the writing of it. Word limits and deadlines are self-imposed. I please myself; I answer to no-one over the content, style, length or language. I can write fuck whenever I like. Fuck. And I can pick my own topic – something that is pertinent to where I happen to be in that particular week in this stumbling about of mine to become an author.

And it is this need to feel like a real author that is a large part of the driving force behind my significant effort, engagement and dedication of time and energy on all fronts: writing, editing, proof-reading, formatting, interacting with readers (hugely enjoyable), social-networking, building an internet presence – a ‘platform’ (vomit). (Not querying agents. I gave that up like I gave up putting teeth under my pillow and for much the same reasons.) But more and more I find myself wondering, what is an ‘author’? How should I be defining the word ‘author’? What should be my criteria for ‘making it as an author’? (My blog tag-line is and has been from day one: ‘on trying to make it as an author’.)

I’ve written three books. I have self-published them. They have been downloaded. The first is free, but a decent number of decent people have gone on to pay for the second and third (if you are one of those decent people, because I have complete editorial control over my blog – another plus of the medium – I am interrupting myself to offer you my sincerest thanks for your continued support and encouragement). They have been read. They have been generally fairly well received. Am I not an author already? If you want to answer yes, as I do, can someone tell me why I don’t yet feel like one? Am I like some flawed character that Aesop may have written about who spends his life looking for something only to find that he has it already? Did I already make the transformation from ugly-duckling to swan? Someone pass me a mirror. (Shit I look tired.)

I do want to see my books in print. I want to hold hard-backed, dust-jacketed, first impressions of the first edition of each of the three Romney and Marsh Files. I want to inhale their reality. I want to line them up on a bookshelf, arrange a chair opposite and stare at them. I want to be courted by an agent. I want to be fought over by publishers. I want to be someone on Twatter (thanks M) who other authors are following (anyone else noticed their cliquey little name-dropping groups – wankers; someone who aspiring authors tweet on the tweets of in the hope of a crumb of recognition falling from their high-table. I make myself feel a little bit ill with my shallowness sometimes.

I have this theory that traditional publishing is the new vanity publishing. I’ve detailed above what I’ve achieved on my own, for myself. To a fair degree, I have what I set out to achieve: books and readers and satisfaction, but I want more. It’s not about the money – I’ve got a day job. I want industry recognition – affirmation and confirmation from those who run things. And that is simple vanity because I don’t need it.

A couple of days ago I reblogged a post by another aspiring author. It makes quite sobering reading for people like me. Tin’s experiences of trying to land an agent – he did get an agent, but it  hasn’t yet amounted to anything. The agent advised him to self-publish! – and subsequent book-deal have served to reinforce how I’m feeling about it all – not horribly negative just realistically resigned and more determined to accept what I am and where I am and probably where I will be in a year’s time. For that I am grateful to him for sharing.

I like to ghost about the web looking at author sites seeing how they view things. I have noticed that there are an increasing number of successful ebook authors who are positively encouraging others to forget about chasing the rainbow of traditional publishing deals, to self-publish, self-promote, take control, enjoy the profits and the feeling and if you should be fortunate enough, or good enough (actually, let’s stick with fortunate enough. There are plenty of good writers out there who won’t be found by the traditional publishing industry because they are simply unfortunate.) to garner attention of agents looking for an author who has proven the market for themselves in every sense of the expression dictate your own terms. Here are mine: (1) a small, hard-back print run of each title (2) you need to hook me up with someone in the music business who can help me produce my music (3) buy me lunch somewhere nice (4) a Shetland pony. OK, three of them are negotiable. My vanity is really quite a powerful thing. I’m such a slut. I could be my own worst enemy.

A reblog from Tin Larrick’s blog

DEVIL'S CHIMNEY COVER[C]
This is my first reblog of a fellow self-publishing author’s post. I’ve had some communication with Tin after I noticed that he was also writing police-procedurals set in the south-east of England. Eastbourne to be precise – next county along from Kent where the Romney and Marsh books are set. I think that Peter James is his closest geographical competition. Yikes!
Anyway, Tin sent me a link to this post of his during conversation and I felt that it would make interesting reading for anyone in the same position i.e. trying to make it as an author. (Incidentally, that’s been my tag-line on this blog since day one and the longer things go on the less I understand what I continue to mean by that phrase. Could be a blog-post in that one day when I can work it out.)
Of course, my first reblog wasn’t going got be easy was it? We blog on different sites and after a little research I understand that the only way that I can reblog his blog is to copy and paste it to mine. How amateurish of me. The original post can be found here: http://tinlarrick.blogspot.com/2012/02/devils-chimney-ebook-launch-or-why-jaws.html The rest of his blog is worth reading too in my humble opinion.
Finally, for anyone who is interested in these things, I have sought Tin’s permission before copying his words and the image above. He might also like me to let you know that his books are going to be free to download at Amazon this coming weekend. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tin-Larrick/e/B007S9VWW6/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1 The reviews are very encouraging. I shall be downloading them myself.
The post: With trembling hand and churning gut flora I click SAVE AND PUBLISH, and DEVIL’S CHIMNEY the eBook becomes a cold hard (well, virtual) reality available for purchase on Amazon’s Kindle store. Almost, anyway. It has to be approved by Amazon’s Kindle Operations Team to make sure it isn’t breaching the Obscene Publications Act, the Public Order Act or the Official Secrets Act (or something). 2 out of 3 ain’t bad, I suppose.
I was hoping for a curiously existential experience as I clicked the button, and it was – sort of. From all the highly illogical variables, high hopes and dashed dreams of the print publishing world to becoming master of my own destiny made me feel like all the little bits of me that have been propping up slush piles throughout London have come home to roost.
So, why the eBook route? To some the answer is probably patently obvious, but, let’s be honest, we’ve all read those rags-to-riches vignettes in the Writers’ Yearbook and similar, and have all dreamed of the letter from the publisher or the phone call from the agent that signifies that we might be one step closer to the dream.
I got halfway down that road. In 2010 three agents made some very enthusiastic noises about DEVIL’S CHIMNEY. Two of them offered to represent me, and I really believed my ship had come in. I signed with one of said agents (and Gawd bless her she still has faith in me – I think). In most of the aforementioned vignettes, signing with an agent was followed some weeks later by a multi-book contract and stick-in-your-throat advance from a major publisher. It was, I used to think, the natural progression of things.
However, 18 months and a LOT of rewrites later, the feelings about DEVIL’S CHIMNEY were rather more tepid. It won’t sell, they said. The market for police procedurals has cooled off, they said. The print world is changing, they said. The global economy has crushed all the little and not-so-little bookshops (Borders, Barnes & Noble) under the weight of its collapse, and if you can’t get stocked by a supermarket (who only stock big, minimum sales-return-guaranteed authors) then forget it. Ten years ago, a publisher would have picked up and run with DEVIL’S CHIMNEY, nurtured my career or something, but not today. Chalk DEVIL’S CHIMNEY up to experience, they said.
I was crushed, the words of one commissioning editor reverberating around my brain. (I couldn’t focus on the GOOD things that were said, naturally, only the BAD). This bit is wooden, this character doesn’t work, this bit is far-fetched. Also, THIS, THIS and THIS would not happen in real life. (I had hoped that my 15 years as a cop would lend some realism to the procedural aspects of the novel, but it seemed to pale into insignificance where this particular commissioning editor was concerned – there’s procedure, and then there’s procedure that sells. Ah well, being an ex-cop is still kudos for the CV, I guess, and maybe something to wax poncy about at [publishing] parties – maybe one day).
Why not publish it as an eBook, my agent said. Ebooks are 20% of the market and climbing. I didn’t want to, really. Like many, I wanted that magical phone call, that won-the-jackpot feeling of elation. And I wanted the tangible, real THING of a book in my hand with my name on it.
So I had to be scientific about it:
CONS:
  • It’s not a ‘real’ book.
  • As a consequence I don’t feel QUITE the same feeling of arrival I would have were I holding a book in my hand with my name on it. To frame this slightly nebulous notion, let me say that I WOULD rush to show friends and family a ‘real’ book; with an eBook, I might just drop it into conversation.
  • Similarly, I don’t feel like a professional. I wouldn’t put ‘author’ in the ‘occupation’ field of an application form just because I’ve published an eBook. I might if it had been a ‘real’ book, just to try it out.
  • It is, after all, self-publishing, which doesn’t have quite the same kudos as being offered a real deal.
  • I won’t be giving up work any time soon.
  • I don’t get to use my real name (Tin Larrick, in case you hadn’t guessed, is a pseudonym). This was on the strong advice of my agent – I’m still not sure why.

PROS:

  • I have complete control, I say when, I say where, I say how. I decide the price, the layout, everything. No longer do I have to await the rejection letters with dread, the ones that may (or may not) be sent out on a whim. I’ve even made up a publishing company for the purpose of e-publishing – The Obscure Cranny Press. Annual turnover – about 37p.
  • It seems strange, but people are more likely to take a chance on a book that costs one pound rather than seven (provided you can get it out there).
  • Similarly, people are more likely to take a punt on a book they can access instantly, without having to wait for mail order or drive to the shops.
  • I’m rolling with the times. I don’t subscribe to the school of thought that says print books will one day become extinct, but the eBook industry can only grow.
  • The thing is out there. It’s not languishing with what’s left of my optimism in a bottom drawer. (I could be wrong, but I do honestly believe DEVIL’S CHIMNEY is now as good as it can be – one of the cardinal rules.) It’s out there, and the readers can decide for themselves. You never know, you just never know.
But the thing that swung it for me? JAWS: THE REVENGE. It was on telly a few weeks ago. It’s a few years since I’ve had the misfortune of watching it, and it hasn’t got any better since then (even Lance Guest can’t save it). The plot is non-existent, the characters two-dimensional, and the effects cringeworthy. (The shark roars like a T-Rex, for Gawd’s sake – even my titchy son knows sharks don’t have vocal cords.)
So why make it at all? Because it was wringing the last drop of out of the cash cow that was the original JAWS. Because the box office receipts superseded the need for quality control (or the ‘art’ side of it, if you will). Despite all its flaws, someone in the biz thought it was ok to release it, because it might make them some money.
Which made me think again – who, in the entertainment business, really knows 100% what will work and what won’t? Who has the integrity to put something back on the shelf that needs further work, even though as it stands it will make a few quid?
It brought me back to the words of the commissioning editor – 10% of what the CE said was right, 10% was wrong (but I could never articulate it, however reasonable, because it would only ever sound like sour grapes), and 80% was entirely subjective.
So I took the plunge. I sorted out a cover, I uploaded it to KDP and I clicked SAVE AND PUBLISH. Easy – if you’ve done the graft. But I shouldn’t have worried so long about whether or not it was a good thing – ten years ago such a thing could not have happened.
Now just got to get out and market the damn thing.
That’s it. If anyone wants to take issue with anything in that please contact Tin directly. I have enough trouble in my life.