Every business major knows the four P's of marketing: Product, Price, Placement and Promotion, but how do they apply to your profitable indie novel? I say profitable because I've seen self-pubs sell a lot of books but make no money. I've also seen them pay so much upfront for premium services that they are never able to earn it back in sales. At So, Write, all of my articles are based on helping you reign in your break-even point because once your novel is making you money, you'll have a better idea of where you should invest those profits to extend your reach.
Lets face it, when it comes to paperbacks, legacy publishing has the advantage on price, placement and probably promotion too. There's just something about seeing a book in a bookstore that is enticing to shoppers. Plus the higher costs associated with indie paperbacks and shipping costs are a deterrent for some buyers. But indies have plenty of control over all of these marketing elements in the ebook universe.
Product: You have to write a brilliant book. Even at 99 cents, poor writing and/or storytelling doesn't sell (or won't sell for long). To get your book in the best possible shape, I recommend having it read by a minimum of three different people. You can pay people to do this for you but it will cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars. A much better idea is to find other writers you trust to swap manuscripts with. The first person, treat as a developmental editor. You want this person to tell you if there are flaws in your character or plot development, as well as the overall arc of your story. When you get their feedback, make all of the changes necessary before sending it to your second person. The second person is your copy-editor. Tell them you want a strict, line-item look at punctuation, spelling, grammar, etc. When you get back that feedback, make all of the changes you agree with. Then read through the entire manuscript yourself one more time before sending it to person three. This third person is your proof-reader. They should be able to read through your entire manuscript without noticing many errors at all. They are your last line of defense against typos and missing words. Many writers have beta readers read their novel at the same time, but this isn't as effective because when you make needed changes, those changes won't be edited again, and may introduce new errors into the work.
Your cover and formatting is also part of your product. You want a cover that looks professional without costing so much that it impacts your ability to become profitable in a reasonable amount of time. Createspace advertises illustrated cover art for $1500. I pity the Indie that starts life in that hole-o-debt. It shouldn't be too difficult to find a professional graphic designer to do the ebook and paperback covers for you for around $200, if you do your homework. And as for formatting, the going rate is around $75. But you can do it yourself if you give it some time. Would you rather spend $75 on something you can do yourself or on promoting your book once it's published?
Price: More than any other factor, indies have the advantage when it comes to pricing below their legacy competition. I agree with the overwhelming opinion that $2.99-4.99 is the optimal price for new authors. Pricing above this dissuades buyers from taking a chance on a new author where pricing too low off the bat, gives the impression that a book is of inferior quality. I've never understood those indies that choose to charge $8.99 and up for their ebooks. I think, in theory, this price point is an attempt to camouflage a self-pub as a traditionally published work but I think it undercuts the one real advantage indies have and ultimately limits the number of copies sold and overall revenue.
Placement: Placement refers to sales channel. In the ebook world, I think having your book available on Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble will cover you. If you've taken care of product, it is difficult for a customer to tell a traditionally published book from a self-published one in this placement.
Promotion: More than any other element, I see unscrupulous people try to take advantage of self-pubs in this area. Certain review agencies will review your book for a phenomenal price but then the results of your review are not mixed in with the traditionally published reviews but rather listed separately...where the majority of reader traffic doesn't go. I fail to see the benefit of paying for a professional review that isn't treated equally to the legacy competition.
Personally, I think grassroots promotion is an indie's best bet in the beginning. The trifecta of Facebook, blog, and twitter accounts are essential. Giveaways, interviews, guest posts, and book blogger reviews, are all inexpensive ways to get your book in front of a progressively larger audience. I'm sure paid advertising works for some people but, in my opinion, word of mouth and personal selling are just as effective and again promote quick profitability when you are first starting out.
What's your opinion of the four P's for indies? If you have a book published, did you consider your break-even point before you launched? How important is it to you to have a profitable novel and how do you balance this with promotional opportunities?