Monday, April 25, 2011

Marketing Your Masterpiece

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?


  1. Great article, Genevieve. Very informative.
    Regarding pricing, what is your opinion of a $.99 price point? I recently read an article in the L.A. Times featuring indie writer John Locke, who has built his empire on the backs of his $.99 books. According to his website, every 7 seconds of every day, one of his books is downloaded somewhere in the world. It's easy to do the math on that one. Clearly he's doing something right.

  2. I think it's risky to start out at 99 cents as an unknown. If you want to promote your book with a sale, it's hard to come down from 99 cents unless you offer it for free. What I see a lot of people do is start at 2.99 and when the second in their series comes out, drop the first to 99 cents. That makes sense to me. As does 99 cents for a novella. But The Soulkeepers is selling pretty well at $2.99... You have to sell 6 books at 99 cents to equal the profits of one at $2.99. With price, you can always go down. It's hard to go back up.

    I don't know much about John Locke because I don't read his genre, so it's hard for me to address his specific situation. But, I would guess he has put out a series of many different titles over time. I wonder if he had the same strategy on his very first book?

    All that said, I'm not against it. I'm releasing a novella soon that I will list at 99 cents but much less work went into it than The Soulkeepers. It's a much shorter work.

  3. That's very insightful and helpful to new writers, Genevieve. It's a blessing that indie authors, like pioneers in the original colonies, teach one another the ins and outs of the trade. A true kinship.

    I, too, have read the article about John Locke, and I have never read one of this books, but I believe the article stated that he entered the indie e-pub world in March 2010, and here one year later, in March 2011, he made (his take) something like $120k in a month! But, as you state, he had a backlist of something like 11 titles, of which two or three are serials, and he has an agent now solely for international print rights and movie rights.

    How he can earn that off the 35 cents per 99 cent titles (all of his books are, indeed, 99 cents) is remarkable. Hard to know if it will continue, and still small potatoes compared to, for instance, Kathryn Stockett, who's debut 2008 novel The Help, has sold 2 million copies in hardcover alone, not including soft cover, and the movie rights (I think the movie comes out this summer). Unique topic, well-written, and she scored.

    The tides may change, now traditional is wavering, like a staggering prizefighter grasping the top rope. It's an interesting tide of change now, certainly. How it will play out, especially as Amazon has such a gorilla's grip on the entire e-book model (the other e-publishers are thus far merely baby chimps), is left to be seen.

  4. Here's the link to the Locke article, for anyone interested:

  5. Great post, and great information to think about. Too many indie authors are too excited and rush into decisions they later regret.

  6. Getting multiple points of criticism is vital. I'm in the middle of composing a Fantasy novel and have five people who have offered to "beta" read. My hope is to get eight in all. I'll complete a second draft and give it to four of them. I'll revise and polish in regard to their aggregate criticisms, then share that third draft with the four other readers, and possibly some of the original readers. We ought to be striving for the best possible fiction anyway, but the market also demands it.

  7. Thanks for stopping by everyone. John, I think you have the right idea and I think it is much more affordable than hiring a professional editor.

    I was just reading the article that Cool posted on John Locke. It says he spends $1,000 on editing, cover and formatting on each of his ebooks. That means he has to sell almost 3,000 copies to break even. I think it is awesome that his sales support that but if you read the statistics, the majority of self-pubs don't sell that in an entire year - even at 99 cents. So if you are new, you are taking a big risk spending that kind of money up front.

  8. Genevieve:
    I am planning my first novel, and in addition to the writing, I put my publisher hat on regularly. I am investing $200 into my cover, $100 in various fees (like Createspace's $39 pro fee, ISBN charges) and probably $100-$150 in my initial advertising (places like Kindle Nation). I plan to price my eBook at $3.25 (yes, partly so it stands out), and I will need to sell 225 books to break even if I spend $500. I think that's an obtainable goal as I have another book behind it that will be published in spring of next year. I am shooting for a 6 month cycle.

    But I agree, marketing is important. I wrote a blog post about tracking marketing channels for indie/self pubbed authors so they can track how well their individual marketing efforts do in comparison to other channels (both in time costs and money). This will especially help indie authors from spinning their wheels and wasting valuable time commenting on random blogs if it isn't getting results.

  9. I agree Elizabeth! totally attainable goal and kudos to you for having a strategy. I am really curious as to how your $3.25 pricing works out. Maybe you can do a guest blog in the future- come back and tell us if that price point was a success.

  10. Elizabeth--I'm not an e-author, so I'll defer the pricing to you, but as a reader and Amazon Kindle owner, the only thing that stands out about 3.25 is that it's higher than 2.99. That 26 cents just makes it "feel" like it's high, since most books, I'd say, are either 99 cents or 2.99.

    I could be wrong, though. Just sayin'

  11. Right, I know it is a little high but here's why. I know when I see a book that is a different ending than .99, it makes me do a double take on the title. The curious cat in me wants to see if there is justification for the different price. I don't know IF it will work out, but I know $3.99 and $4.99 hasn't stopped me from buying a book I really want to read, right now.

    Plus, part of my marketing is going to be printing up cheap business cards with a coupon code for $1 off (Not sure this works for Amazon, but I know it works on Smashwords...which gives all formats) etc. Like Genevieve says, it's pretty hard to come down from $.99, but I can easily swallow bringing my price down to $2.25 for a promotion and compared to other forms of entertainment, it's a steal!

    Also, there are ideas I have surrounding the $3.25 price. First, it's my birthday. Cheesy, I know, but a gimmick is a gimmick. Even if I'm only remembered as that author who publishes books on her and her family's birthdays, it gets me remembered.... But most importantly, I took a look at the latest Kindle Nation survey about purchase habits and was very surprised to see the divisions. Readers are equally divided in the free to $.99, $1.00 to $3.99 camps. $3.99 was where people got turned off by price, significantly. It looks like people stay in certain price ranges (it went by frequency) and only leave if there is a bigger motivator than price (like word-of-mouth, etc.) The biggest complaint was anything over $9.99, and $3.99 was a detractor from purchasing. Here's the link:

    It is fascinating data, and from this winter, so it includes people who received Kindles for the holidays.

    I know there are readers out there who will see $3.25 and perhaps balk at the price. But they will feel like they are getting a deal when it goes on sale because my second book has released. I have 3 books currently planned, the third is a sequel to the first. My second novel is just a similar type of story (train-wreck romance I'm calling it) but different characters. Novel #1 will be $3.25, and go down to $2.23 (my daughter is second kid, born on 23rd) when my second novel comes out. When the sequel comes out (my third book) it will go down to $1.74 (my stepson, the oldest, born on the Fourth of July).

    No idea if this will work or blow up in my face. Will be happy to give a guest post in the autumn, or at least talk about it on my blog and maybe Genevieve can link or something. :)


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