2012: The Peak of Independent Authors?

Back in October, when my sales weren’t really strong, I simply figured everyone was waiting until mid-November to get their early Holiday shopping in. Once December hit, I’d be off to the races. 

Looking at my December 2011 sales, I had high hopes. While I couldn’t reach mythical figures like when JA Konrath made $100k in three weeks thanks to Amazon, I still had a great month. Little did I know, when those big sales continued into January, February, March and April, it would be my peak. 

This December sales? Not so great. OK, they are utter shit. There, I said it. And it’s not just me, it is many many of my indie author friends who are struggling. Why? Because, in part, we let it get this way. We lowered our books to 99 cents to get better spots in the intricate Amazon algorithms, getting high on Top 100 lists at the cost of profit. If enough people saw your book, they’d buy it… and it would trickle down to your backlist, and we’d all be rich someday. 

Only, it never really happened. Amazon tweaked it and made it harder for us to succeed. Why? Simple, really. That new Stephen King eBook that is currently priced well over ten bucks sells a hell of a lot more copies than I do. Even if it is 5-6 times what my eBook costs. They make their money off of the Big Boys and we’re just a few extra pennies in the coffers. And I don’t blame them one bit for being savvy businessmen. You can cry about your Art and them as being this big Evil Empire, but they are doing what we’d all do in their spot: make money intelligently. 

The sweet spot for sales used to be $2.99 for longer fiction and 99 cents for short stories. With the new way Amazon does things, I think we priced ourselves out of the game. Will raising my prices on novellas and short stories do me any good, or will it just kill the few sales I could have made? Is there something we’re all missing?

I can moan and cry about bad sales and plummeting ranks and a million other things. The bar has been not only reset but moved away from the independent author, and we’ll look back on 2012 with fondness for the good old days of book selling. What I need to do is suck it up and get into the game, or bail out and get that overnight stock job in Walmart I keep having nightmares about. 

For now, I will look back with fondness at 2012 and hope 2013 and beyond turns it around for me and all my brethren. I will keep putting out the best work I can without rushing, I will try to come up with some unique ideas to get me noticed and my books sold, and I will refuse to start stocking cans of corn at 2 am for a different Evil Empire. 

Armand Rosamilia

38 Responses to “2012: The Peak of Independent Authors?”

  1. Great article, Armand. I can’t wait to see what other authors say.

    I, personally, will always believe we hurt ourselves by playing the Kindle Select game, and giving away our books for free. There is a huge glut of free books out there, so why should consumers buy when everyday there are additional books out there for free?

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    • I agree, although when it started I worked the freebies and Kindle Select for some sweet sales. I’m hoping more authors will chime in here and let me know their honest thoughts!

      Armand

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      • I did, too, on my first book.

        I think the other thing is price. I’ve studied the top 100 lists and there aren’t many $.99 books on it. I think readers are willing to pay for a good book, so I’m done pricing at $.99 ever.

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  2. I’ve also been wondering how 2013 is gonna shape up. My debut novel is seeing a nice increase, probably on its way to its second best month ever. My other titles…well, they’re in a holding pattern. No better, no worse.

    I left my debut novel priced at $2.99, but increased my other novel to $3.99. All future novels from me will be at least $3.99 (or higher). With King and other heavy-hitters at $9.99 and up I’m still a bargain at four or five bucks. The only thing I’m pricing below $3.99 now will be short stories and novellas.

    I think you’re right. Pricing too low makes us look cheap. Remember those old cassette tapes in the bargain bin at the record store? If we price our books at clearance prices then we shouldn’t be surprised when folks think it’s crap.

    By now most of us who have been self-publishing for a couple of years should know what we’re doing. Nothing but high quality releases from here on out; edited, polished, with good covers and priced accordingly. More time spent reading and learning the craft of good writing. We have big machines to compete with in New York, so we need to bring out all we have. It can’t just be about low prices anymore.

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    • All very true, Brian! I think we need to start getting our heads in the competing game, even if it is just a bump in pricing to begin.

      Armand

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      • Or maybe the only competition we have is with ourselves. Push ourselves with each new release to be better than we were before. Focus on the art and joy of storytelling rather than the bottom line. Build an audience, one reader at a time. Cater to the niche readers, the readers New York ignores with each new “Twilight” release for the masses. Write what we love.

        By doing this we can offer a different and maybe even better product than NY. Something unique and compelling. Maybe that’s how we compete, by changing the way the game is played.

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  3. Reblogged this on Return to Writing and commented:
    Right on.

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  4. Jason Darrick | @JasonDarrick Says:

    The other outlets don’t come close to matching my Amazon sales, which makes my decisions fairly one-sided. I do think pricing is too low, but the risk of over-pricing is almost too great.

    If my next novel goes live with a price of $8 or more, I look like I’m trying to compete with people I have “no business” trying to compete with. I might play with pricing a little bit on existing works, but anything new will be a crapshoot.

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  5. Being a self-published author is partially about the story and partially about making sure you can keep delivering the stories that people want to purchase from you.

    The 99c category is useful in a few applications. First one in a series used a loss leader. A super-short that took you a couple hours to scratch out. Or if you release a novelized version of a series of short stories, you could sell the additional material for a buck to basically give it to the people who’ve bought your stories one at a time.

    As a matter of course though, 99c books are just self defeating. You have to sell SIX TIMES as many as you would to make up for just a single sale at 2.99 with the 70% royalty. It just doesn’t make sense (or cents, I guess.)

    Another thing – think about your own purchasing decisions. How many times have you picked something up in a store that looked pretty cool and said “three whole dollars?! nope, back in the bin with you, cap gun or dirty magazine.” I’m guessing not many. Aside from that, I think the above comments are making an important point: as authors, our work is our WORK, and is worth being paid to continue producing.

    I love telling stories. It’s my favorite thing in the world to do, and apparently people agree with me because they buy my stories. And they buy ’em at 2.99. I’ve done my own little experiments with other price points, and those experiments have just shown me over and over again that there’s no reason to rip myself off by giving away a week’s worth of work for a buck. If a book, no matter whether or not there’s some publisher’s name attached, has an engaging story, and is appealing to customers and isn’t a giant mess of formatting and grammar problems, it’s worth three bucks. And if it’s a longer story, it’s worth more because it takes a hell of a lot more time and energy to write, edit, rewrite, re-edit and so on.

    Uh, so I guess the whole point of this is that if you value your OWN work, and produce something that others both want to read and enjoy, readers will happily send you three bucks for your story. And then they’ll email you and ask when the next one’s coming out 🙂

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    • Great thoughts… someone told me I was panicking, but this is the way I feel right now. When you go from a couple thousand sales to less than a hundred, it bothers you… especially when you write full-time.

      Armand

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  6. I price all of my full length novels at $4.99 now and get pretty steady sales. My novella’s are $2.99 and single short stories are $0.99. It’s the novels I make my income on though. Personally, I think the key is making sure your work stands up along side the big boys – that the covers look like a NY publisher has had it created for you, and that your formatting and editing is spot on. If it’s done right, a reader shouldn’t be able to tell whether they’re buying a traditionally published author or an indie.

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  7. I found a fanbase and thank God for that because amazon has made finding anyone without a big publisher a lot more difficult than it used to. From this point forward it becomes difficult to find new readers, because they will have difficulty finding us. We are going to be buried pages down on folks e-readers.What’s the answer? I wish I knew, pricing correctly will play a part. I think upping a non-existent advertising budget is part of it. Amazon played us and we played into it. Fuck why wouldn’t we, they were giving us exposure and we were putting a hurt on a centuries old establishment. Only they weren’t quite down for the count, they came back with a plan and right now it looks like this round will go to them. I’ve seen steady sales on b&n although we are also a red-headed step child in their eyes as well. iBooks has been picking up as has kobo, but when amazon accounts for 75% of all my sales it is a panic worthy event when sales are slipping and rankings are plummeting along with them. There is a place for indies we just need to find it.

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    • Thanks for the words, Mark! And you are one of those authors I follow for not only your insight but because you are a great writer and a great friend! I wish you and all of the independent authors the best of luck, we’re going to need it in 2013.

      Armand

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  8. I hope you’re wrong. I had just begun building some momentum. I had record sales in October and again in November, especially when I released my new novel. Of course, record sales for me isn’t saying too much, but I was taking some heart in the fact that I seemed to be building a following.

    Then December hit, and, like you, my sales have been for shit. Worse, none of them have been for the new book, which is the only one I have priced higher than 99 cents. I’ve got two short stories at 99 cents, and the first book is at 99 cents because it’s the first in a series, and I’m hoping to hook new readers.

    But I’ve been thinking of raising it back to $2.99, its original price, come January.

    It’s hard to say where I’m falling down. One of my short stories is my best seller by far. The first novel is slowly selling more.

    But I expected better sales in December, especially with a new book out and a plethora of 4-star reviews across my line. Clearly, I’ve got some work to do.

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  9. I keep reading about people using KDP Select, special pricing promotions, free giveaways, etc, and it all just seems strange to me. I’ve never used any of that, so I have no frame of reference for how well or poorly it works. Both of my books have always been priced at 2.99, and have maintained fairly consistent sales. And while my December sales from this year aren’t as good as last year, I’ve still noticed a significant bump from where things were toward the end of October. I think Armand’s approach is the right one: don’t worry about what you can’t control, and keep writing. That’s what I do, and so far, it has worked out pretty well.

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  10. […] Back in October, when my sales weren’t really strong, I simply figured everyone was waiting until mid-November to get their early Holiday shopping in. Once December hit, I’d be off to t…  […]

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  11. Reblogged. + Mulled + Cogitated = My prices are going up.

    Thanks for a great post. Sending others to think about strategies, too.

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  12. Thank you for such a great post, and for the useful replies. I’m a new author and my first book is due for release soon. After a lot of soul-searching, I decided to go indie so all this information has been invaluable. If there’s one thing I’m sure of, is that I don’t intend pricing my book below $5.99. It took ten months to write and a year to edit (professionally) and polish. And since I’ve been shortlisted twice in national and international competitions, I know I’ve given the Big Boys a run for their money!

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    • Six months ago I would have told you, as a new author, you’re nuts to price it over $2.99 or $3.99… but the rules have changed, and the higher price might help you. Who knows? Keep in touch so I can see how it works out for you… and good luck!

      Armand

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  13. I think I agree with almost everything written here, which seems to suggest I am in favor of not so much one, as a balance of answers. I’m afraid it is too deep a forest to get lost in – the number of e-books is mushrooming and shows no sign of slowing down. The quality of some submissions should be vetted and considered by Amazon, purely to achieve a standard which gains the confidence of the prospective reader. Select was a bad idea – I think most of us would agree with that, now.

    Eventually these things are self-levelling: only the most dedicated writers will persist, and inevitably the marriage between Kindle and traditional publishing will end in divorce: ultimately, I’m afraid, the hard-cover is dead. Paperbacks may take longer, but….

    Meanwhile there is a gap for something in between: maybe some enterprising new moves on the e-book front. And then, of course, there is Smashwords…..

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  14. I’d be interested to see how everyone is doing now that we’ve started the New Year. I can only use myself as an example, but I saw a fairly significant increase in sales after January got started. Immediately following Christmas, in that supposedly legendary week before the new year, I saw a slight bump in sales. However, sales of my first book (which is free) went insane. Then, come January, people returned to buy other books in the series.

    As an indie author, building an audience is the single most important part of the job – which is tough for a lot of us because authors have a bad habit of being introverts. Selling the first book in a series for $0.99 or for free is a great way to introduce people to what you have to offer and will help build your audience. If any new author was looking to get into the game, I’d still advise going that route – but that means you need to create a series, and some authors don’t want to do that.

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  15. […] Back in October, when my sales weren’t really strong, I simply figured everyone was waiting until mid-November to get their early Holiday shopping in. Once December hit, I’d be off to t…  […]

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  16. It is too early to tell about a comparison between Amazon and other outlets. I work through Smashwords and most of the outlets haven’t reported yet. December was flat on AMazon for me but then I get very few sales there compared to what I get through Amazon. Some months I sell more paperbacks than ebooks on Amazon whereas my Smashwords income is going up over time. Not huge jumps, not wealth, just a steady and manageable build. I like that.

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  17. I appreciate your honesty in blogging about book sales being lower than you imagined. I hope to put out an e-book soon and do look forward to hearing more about your experiences from your posts here.

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  18. December was a decline I had not fully expected. January on the other hand has been a pleasant surprise. Barnes and Noble it seems has finally decided to come out and play. I am seeing numbers from them that are now consistently beating amazon UK which up to now has been extremely infrequent, now if they could start to attain amazon US numbers that would be a boon for us all. I wholeheartedly believe this sweetheart deal with traditional publishers will sour quickly. Amazon’s share of booksales has declined recently, anyone want to guess what the correlation is? Mine would be, them getting in bed with a dying industry. The amazonians are smart, indies buttered their bread last year they won’t turn their back on us for long.

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