News and Notices from the Writing Trenches #41…

#232: Follow-up about Amazon reviews.  For more evidence that Amazon reviews in general represent meaningless information for potential book buyers (for more, see my three-part series a few weeks ago), consider the treatment Randall Sullivan’s Untouchable, a bio of Michael Jackson, recently received.  According to the NY Times, a group called Michael Jackson’s Response Team to Media Attacks wrote enough one-star reviews to knock the book off Amazon.  Whether you call this free speech or bullying, this is reprehensible action by this group.

Equally reprehensible, though, is that Amazon allows it to happen.  I recognize, of course, that this is hard to police, but if they’re killing reviews by family and friends (how do they know they’re family or friends, by the way?), they should kill these negative reviews too!  Clearly, the whole Amazon review process has become chaotic.  Readers should turn elsewhere if they use reviews to determine whether they buy a book.  And writers should focus on online review services other than Amazon for their reviews!

#233: WD rushes towards irrelevance?  WD stands for Writer’s Digest.  Their 2013 self-published book contest still doesn’t accept ebooks!  (They don’t understand “digital,” apparently.  Their electronic edition is a PDF file.)  Moreover, this contest still is costly for any indie author or publisher to enter.  Do the math.  At $100 per entry, WD needs only 120 participants to cover the $3000 grand prize and $9000 individual first prizes (there’s only one grand prize, but 9 categories, each with a $1000 first prize).  You can forget about the rest of the prizes; they probably cost WD next to nothing (many of them are WD products anyway).

In other words, this is just another money-making scheme.  Most contests are.  Moreover, even if you still release trade paperbacks along with your ebooks, you are probably sending your book to the same people who put your MS on the slush-pile when you tried the legacy-publishing route, or dissed your book for being self-pubbed.  Sour grapes?  You bet.  I prefer to have other writers, whom I respect and don’t have a long history with mainstream publishers, judge my book via a good review.  There’s more chance they will be objective.

I feel sorry for WD.  They are trying to straddle both worlds by attending to both legacy-published and self-published authors.  They have a few articles that are useful to all writers, particularly those about necessary skills any fiction or non-fiction writer should know.  But their pandering to the legacy publishers and their aristocratic gauntlet always seems like an admonishment to the indie writer that he, like the musicians of old, should come around to the servants’ door to the castle.  I’m not Beethoven, either as a musician or a writer, but like that scowling revolutionary of music, I want to go in through the front door.  Moreover, it’s time to tear down the castle!

#234: Chaotic ebook prices.  It’s better than it was.  Legacy publishers are starting to realize that readers will not (1) wait for less expensive trade paperbacks and ebooks or (2) pay almost as much for an ebook as a trade paperback or hard bound.  Because their royalty structures are different (they have to pay for all that infrastructure), their authors continue to get shafted on a per item basis.

Indie authors do better on a per item basis.  However, because we generally set their own prices, I’m afraid we’re not valuing our work enough.  Because Amazon changed its algorithm, there is no reason to give away an ebook!  I recently downloaded some $0 ebooks and concluded that I would have paid $2.99 for each one of them.  The problem is, of course, I had nothing to lose at $0.  At $2.99, I would have probably read the book description in more detail and peeked inside at a few pages.  I would have had to see it on some review site too (they were on Author Marketing Club, which emphasizes the $0 ebooks) if I wanted an honest review (see above).

While I might try a $0-priced book, nowadays I tend to assume either the author undervalues his hard work (often the case), or he’s not put a great deal of effort into making it a good product (and that hurts all of us).  If you, as an author, want to promote your book or use it to promote the rest of your opus (my $0.99 short story collection has that characteristic), choose an appropriate price—I still think at least $2.99 is a good price for any reasonable length novel.  ($2.99 is a bit steep for a novella like From the Mother World.)

I have now adopted a policy of charging somewhere in the price range of $2.99 to $5.99, depending on the length of the novel, the work I put into it, and whether it’s appeared serially (e.g. Evil Agenda, even though the ebook is a full revision).  (My two ebooks with Infinity are priced as that company suggested—if I did it over again, I’d price them lower, but like legacy publishers, their royalty structure is not as generous as Amazon’s.)  We can debate these prices all we want, but please, don’t give your books away, except to people who will review them.  I value my writing—you should too!

In libris libertas…

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2 Responses to “News and Notices from the Writing Trenches #41…”

  1. Scott Says:

    I found your comments on pricing to be timely for me. But I didn’t understand one part – did you mean you would NOT have paid 2.99 for those e-books or (as written) that you WOULD have paid that much? Because in the next paragraph you make some assumptions about the value of the work – that it either hasn’t had enough work put into it or that the author undervalues his work. I guess what I’m trying to clarify is whether you found something of reasonable quality for free?

    I’ve downloaded some free stuff (not talking about those limited time giveaways that many authors seem to do to get a book out there, especially a series book) and found some decent stories. What I’ve occasionally found wanting was the editing process. In other words, the part that costs the author out-of-pocket, real money. If the story is strong enough, sometimes I can look past the flaws. If not, or if the flaws are too overwhelming, then it goes on the (far) back burner.

    OTOH, speaking of those limited time giveaways, I found Steve Umstead, Derrick Canyon, and Mark Terry through them. (You might like Mark Terry’s Derrick Stillwater series…) And I’d gladly pay for their work now.

  2. steve Says:

    Hi Scott,
    Yep, that needs some explaining. What I’m saying is that if the author doesn’t believe his stuff is crap, any price below $2.99 means he’s undervaluing his own work. It used to be that Amazon’s algorithms counted give-aways just as much in the rankings–not anymore. I never fully participated in that KDP Select give-away idea…maybe for The Secret Lab, Evil Agenda, and Pop Two Antacids? The first was to introduce myself as a YA author, the second was because a shortened version already appeared as a freebie on my website, and the third was because the short stories had also been freebies. Now The Secret Lab and Pop Two Antacids are $0.99 for the same reasons.
    Bottom line: $2.99-$5.99 is the sweet spot and you should adjust prices in that window according to the criteria I give. As for getting a good read from a freebie ebook nowadays, what do you have to lose if you download it? I’ve downloaded some real trash, by the way, but generally my eagle eye at least catches what looks like a good story–I might have to get by editing and formatting errors.
    Of course, for each writer you ask, you’ll probably receive a different answer on pricing. I have yet to see a scientific study. The penny differences, btw, are ubiquitous psychological tricks, as you know–the person sees $2.99 and thinks $2 instead of $3. Those tricks are as old as I am, at least.