Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Self-Publishers: Pricing for Hardbacks

by Stella Atrium


textbooksSo I went to purchase the textbook for a freshman course to write a syllabus for fall term.  I know textbooks are obscenely overpriced, so I was expecting to pay $35.  The university bookstore wanted $65 for the reader and $87 for the handbook.  I was appalled at the greed.  These books were required and guaranteed to sell, so where's the risk to the publisher that justifies a higher retail price?

By comparison, for those of you who only open free ebooks, I bought a handbook for Wordpress online for $35 – but it teaches how to use Wordpress!

Once a friend was moving to another state and giving away whatever he was not willing to drag along.  In the pile was a complete set of hardback copies of Harry Potter, except Book 3 was missing.  I asked him about Book 3 and he said the cat threw up on it. The set has no value if it’s not complete. It’s an artifact of history more than a repository of the living truth. Potter_set

When I was young – in the previous century – I owned Norton editions of university books that we treasured and displayed to show our smarts. I held onto the valuable ones such as Martin Esslin’s Theater of the Absurd.  The price printed on the back (I just looked) is $14, which I’m certain I thought was outrageous at the time.

Book publishers are experiencing hard times, and we should feel bad for them, right?  Just like we should feel bad for Usher and JayZ because new singles are available on iTunes for 99¢.

Book publishers are pricing themselves out of business.  They set the retail price high so Amazon can offer a discount, and so publishers get the investment back from the na├»ve author who buys HIS OWN book for HIS OWN marketing efforts.

smashwordsNo wonder epub is expanding and Smashwords is a global marketplace. My point of view is that publishers get what they deserve.  I know this stance doesn’t make me popular, but I’m not the one who set hardcover copies of my fantasy novel at $32.95.  Not a soul in the world will pay that, especially since the ebook is listed on Amazon at $5.28.

I didn’t want to print hardback copies of the fantasy novel, and argued with the publisher to drop that option, but hardbacks were included in my “package”.

Supposedly, the existence of the hardback version of my novel makes me a legitimate writer.  Raspberries. ePub

I lost the argument, and Amazon is winning the conflict.  The writer waits on the sidelines for sanity to return to the marketplace.  But then, I’m also waiting for my balloon mortgage payments to be ameliorated.

I'm a writer, and I want the publishing industry to succeed. I want the consumer to believe he got a good deal, and to become a fan, and to buy the next book in the series.

But I hang my head these days when I see how each group grabs profits at the expense of the very people who should be partners or colleagues. Is this any way to run a business?

I'm called cynical at the dinner table.  Am I the only one?


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Self-Publishers: The Problems with Statistics

by Stella Atrium


I had a screaming fight one time with my brother about which brought in the most money – Chicago sports franchises or Chicago museums.  My stubborn stance was that museums had long hours and no off-season.  He insisted that one need only look at the stadiums and know sports fans live here.  Soldier_field

Chicago is home to great sport franchises – Chicago Cubs (go Cubs!), White Sox, Chicago Bulls, Chicago Bears, Chicago Blackhawk and more.  Then we have the college teams including DePaul Blue Demons (yeah, Demons!).

Chicago is also home to world-class museums – The Art Institute (of which I am a graduate), The Field Museum, The Shedd Aquarium, The Planetarium, The Museum of Science and Industry – and those are just the ones along Lake Shore Drive. 

So… which brings in the most money? Care to vote?

Art_InstituteOf course, I wouldn’t blog about a fight that I lost – dead giveaway.  The museums bring in half again as much money as sports in Chicago.

Statistics can be surprising.  Before computers were ubiquitous enough to compile cross-platform statistics, information was gathered in a more casual manner.  An urban legend holds that for music lists, compilers called their favorite stores along the East Coast and asked the store owner what was selling.  Of course, the music store owner named his favorite artists as best-selling – in rock, funk, classical, rap, or easy listening genres.  When the real statistics were published for the first time in the late 1980s – Garth Brooks outsold them all.

Here’s a caution for self-publishers.

Statistics that include all ebooks for a quick look at what’s selling are impacted by the fact the romance novels outsell all other genres.  The most successful indie ebook writers/marketers are women, because the biggest fan base is women who read romance.

For non-fiction writers, maybe with a story about the struggles of raising a child with cancer, do you really want to follow the methods used to sell romance? Racy cover, short paragraphs, paced story with few surprises, long backlist for branding.

For fantasy writers, do you really want to follow the methods used for selling Hunger Games?  If you have read the hype, but not the story, it’s about teenagers killing each other for sport.
My publisher tried to sell me a module where my new release HeartStone sits on THEIR website in a colorful page with bells and whistles about searching for favorite characters and tweeting friends for which page you’re currently on.  The sales person – selling me – said more than once: “This is how Hunger Games did it.”

Yes, and Nicole Kidman and I have the same color hair.  So why aren’t I married to a country-western star?

Here’s an alternative method of developing a fan base.  Look at what books are successful in your genre.  Non-fiction is especially treacherous for follow-the-leader because books for marketing that reach out to confused self-publishers sell almost as well as romance.

Fantasy writers should look at the successful marketing strategies of Robin Hobb (Farseer Trilogy and more) and Lois MacMaster Bujold (Curse of Chalion and more), for example.  Brandon Sanderson used this method, in part.  He’s from Australia but joins the conversations on Reddit where Hobb and Bujold are certain to appear.  He piggy-backs on their fan base to promote his similar works.

I like Mistborn by Sanderson. I like Theft of Swords by Sullivan.  I watch them for marketing techniques and to puzzle out what might work for me.

I’m not making my hair black, though, to fit into that group.  It’s me and Nicole Kidman all the way on that score…