Search:
 
 

Thomas DePrima: Over 140,000 Indie Books Sold At A Price That Might Surprise You!

Today I want to welcome Thomas DePrima, an Indie author I met on the Kindle boards. I’ve been on the Kindle boards exactly two times, and this was the first time (which was a much better experience than the second time, but that’s another story). I had gotten my first Kindle Direct Publishing newsletter as an Indie author and saw an interesting link about pricing your book higher and clicked, and I ended up on the board. The things Thomas posted were fascinating and were going against the growing conventional wisdom that less is best—I ain’t talking about editing this time. I’m talking about pricing your Indie book. At the time 99 cents and FREE were all the rage, but I didn’t join the 99 cent bandwagon because it meant I’d only earn roughly 35 cents (rounded up) on each book I sold. And thinking of the decades that I’ve put in on my writing, that idea just didn’t set well with me–not for a permanent price. An occasional freebie or 99 cent special  is one thing but as a permanent price? Although the strategy has worked well and launched several authors onto big lists, I couldn’t talk myself into the 99 cent pricing strategy. So I was delighted to discover Thomas DePrima, whose pricing strategy is even more bold than mine. His posts were so fascinating, I tracked him down and asked if I could interview him for the Rubies. For those of you who are Indie pubbing or interested in Indie pubbing, especially if you’ve kept up with the current pricing debates, I think you’ll find him as interesting as I have, especially considering he’s sold over 140,000 of his books! So, welcome to the Rubies, Thomas!

1. How long have you been writing?

I’ve always been a voracious reader. When I was growing up, I would pick up old paperbacks at yard sales and thrift stores for a nickel and deplete an armload every week. It didn’t matter that the pages were yellow and creased or the cover missing, I couldn’t get enough of them. I went through several genres during periods that lasted as long as a decade. The first was sci-fi, then mystery, and lastly I immersed myself in suspense, crime-drama, and adventure books.

The writing bug didn’t bite me until later in life. Like most people, I’d always felt there was a book in me, but I didn’t begin writing until 1997. My life was just too busy. My first completed works went to free fiction sites where readers were encouraged to critique the stories as a form of payment for the stories. The comments were sometimes brutal, but always valuable. From the first I was told I was a good storyteller, but that my grammar skills were weak. Everyone always encouraged me to keep writing, and the honest critiques were of immense help as I worked to develop my writing skills.

The stories I prepared for the free fiction sites were always geared towards whatever genre was dominant on that website, but when it came time to pick a genre for my initial for-pay novel, I selected my first love, scifi. I’d outlined a story on a pile of American Airlines paper napkins while on a flight from L.A. to New York in 1999, and I began work on A GALAXY UNKNOWN the next day. I tried to instill the excitement of the scifi pulp fiction of the fifties with the fun of the Saturday matinee movies that my parents said they’d enjoyed so much when they were young. The book was fashioned after the wonderful Horatio Hornblower series written by C.S. Forester in the 1940s and 50s, but I selected a distaff protagonist and used outer space for my canvas. My goal was to produce a scifi story that would appeal to both male and female readers. I never intended it as series, but being new to writing, I got carried away. The book grew so large that I eventually cut it in half to make it acceptable to publishers who preferred 90,000 word novels from new authors. The first book was still over 130,000 words when complete. Although none of the scifi publishers in the US or Canada expressed the slightest interest in the books, the few friends that I allowed to read them couldn’t get enough and kept begging me to write additional episodes and expand it to a series.

2. What made you decide to go the Indie route?

In 2001 I began searching for a publisher. I’d read in several ‘how to’ books on writing that it was almost impossible for a new writer to land an agent, but that if you interested a publisher in a manuscript, you’d have no difficulty finding an agent who would then only have to perform the contract negotiations to collect their 15%. Unfortunately, none of publishers whom I contacted, some more than once, were interested in AGU. In 2006 I started seeking an agent without having publisher interest. The how-to books were right. I couldn’t get an agent to give me the time of day.

3. When did you first Indie publish?

In 2007 I made a decision to give up my dream of becoming an author and rededicate myself to earning a living with a 9 to 5. But there was still a part of me that wouldn’t quit. I learned of a POD company named Lulu where I could get a book published without the up-front money required by a vanity press, and worked to make two of my books available there. I never promoted them other than through word-of-mouth but I sold a few copies now and then. In 2008 I learned about the Amazon Kindle program. There were a lot of websites back then where you could sell your books on-line and pay just a small fee to the site for handling the sale, but attracting people to your book’s page was a problem. Amazon was only paying 35% royalty at the time, so a $9.99 book earned you $3.49 and Amazon kept $6.50. With one of the small sites, you got to keep $8.99 from each sale.

Being an IT person, I knew the value of having a book on Amazon. Search engines love to spyder Amazon, and then there are all those great affiliate sites where your books are offered. So if anyone performed a search on your name, they’d get thousands of hits. I uploaded the two books I’d put on Lulu to Amazon’s KDP, which was called DTP back then. I intended to also make my books available on several small websites with low fees, but I became busy just trying to make a living and never got it done. I’d had a website set up since 2004, and it helped me sell a few copies every month through Amazon. In April of 2010, Steve Jobs of Apple announced that the iTunes store was going to pay authors 70% royalty for every eBook sale. Amazon was forced to match Apple or see their authors desert the ship. At the same time, the place where I was working began downsizing as they shifted the workforce to another state where they could pay lower salaries.

When I was laid off in June 2010, I had eight completed but unsold books in my computer, and a dozen partials. I decided to see if I could pick up a few extra dollars to supplement my unemployment, so in between searches for a job on the internet and sending out resumes, I uploaded my books to Amazon. In answer to your question, my first steps toward Indie publishing were in 2007, but it wasn’t until 2010 that I made a serious effort to sell books.

4. When we were talking about pricing books on Amazon, you said you priced all your books at 5.99. Since then, I see you’ve lowered the price in the first book of the Unknown Galaxy series to 3.99. Is this because the series is finished now and you’re pricing the first one as a loss leader?

All of my books were priced at $5.99 until two days ago. The only other time I’d listed any of my scifi books for less was when I was trying to make some inroads in the UK market. I lowered the first book’s price to the GBP equivalent of $3.99 for 45 days. Amazon’s distribution of tens of millions of free books since December has had a significant impact on the system. As you would expect, sales are down across the board. It’s difficult to compete with free. The authors who are still using free promo days to give their work away are saying that very few people are taking the free books now, and when the free days are over they’re seeing little or no paid sales. Kindles are bloated with free books. The AGU series is not finished, but I won’t have another new book out for a couple of months, so I decided to lower the first book’s price as a test to see if it spurs some sales. Once people read one of my books, they’re usually hooked, but I need them to buy that first book. A couple of weeks ago I offered this suggested strategy in a post on the KDP General Questions forum.

By the time this appears in your blog, the special might be over and the price restored to $5.99. Like most people, I’m playing it one day at a time right now as we try to determine what’s going to happen in this industry. I’m also working to expand my distribution channels. Amazon has struck a serious blow to Kindle fiction book sales for the immediate future and beyond, so I have to find other outlets for my books.

5. I see you have a lot of reviews on Amazon, what is your secret to get the reviews?

Most people must either love a book, or hate it, to take the time to write a review. I know that some authors pad their reviews, but every single one of the hundreds I have are genuine. When I began writing, I never told family members or friends what I was doing. By the time the word got out, I had completed about four or five books, but I hadn’t had any success getting published so everyone assumed that it was just a hobby and would say things like, “You’re writing? Oh, that’s nice.” I didn’t even tell anyone in the family that I was selling on Amazon until my sales passed 10,000 books because I didn’t want well meaning relatives to plant reviews. When my sales passed 100,000 books last year, family members finally acknowledged that I was a legitimate author. My secret for getting reviews is simple. At the back of every book I ask readers to please leave a review if they enjoyed the book. The ones who hate the book will leave one without having to be asked. Fortunately, they’re in the minority, and my books have an average rating of 4.1 stars or better.

6. Speaking of reviews, do you send any copies out to “reviewers”? How successful have you been at getting those sort of reviews?

I don’t pay attention to reviews from the websites where they prepare reviews for money, so I’ve never felt the urge to buy a favorable review for my books. I do have a few fans from my free fiction days who have become pen pals and I’ve sent them copies. Although I don’t ask them to review the books, I think that one or two from my free fiction days have posted a review.

7. Tell me about your marketing—what have you found is most effective?

My first marketing attempt was to join reader discussion threads on Amazon in June 2010. Once accepted into the conversation I would let it slip that I was an author. If someone asked what I had written, I would provide a link to my books or my website. If no one asked, I never pushed it. No one could complain that I was spamming the thread if someone asked me to provide a link. But too many authors on Amazon abused the system by spamming every thread they could. Amazon finally prohibited authors from even joining the reader threads. I had already moved on by then because I only promoted in that way for a month. That was sufficient to get the talk about my books started. My main marketing strategy was to release one of my seven books every six weeks rather than just dumping them on Amazon all at once. Just as the buzz died down on the most recent book, I’d release a new one and everything would start up again, but louder than ever. The week after I released Book 7, all seven books were on Amazon’s Best Seller list for SciFi. Six were in the top twenty, and one was #24. That wasn’t too shabby for a series that every scifi publisher in North America turned down. I’ve always wondered if other authors resented my taking up so many of the top spots at once, but it was evidence that my marketing strategy had worked, and that the reading public liked my books despite how editors at the Big 6 felt.

Beyond that, I’ve always encouraged interaction with fans. The Amazon Author Central forums are great. Every author has his or her own personal forums where fans can leave messages or engage in discussions, and Amazon will instantly send the author an email copy. The author can then respond via the forum and if the fan is tracking the discussion, they get a copy emailed to them. This is perfect for people who fear sending fan emails because they leave a trail, but I also encourage fans to email any questions they might have to the address I’ve posted on my website (www.deprima.com), and I always do my best to respond. My only other marketing is to send an announcement email to my mail list when I have something significant to report. I’ve never paid for a single ad, never sent review copies, and never done a signing or performed a reading.

8. At the time I met you on Kindle boards, you were not a fan of free or cheap books.  (And there’s a debate raging on the Internet whether free books via Amazon’s Select program are hurting authors.) Have you changed your opinion? Is so or if not, why?

From a reader standpoint, cheap and free is great. Who doesn’t want something for nothing? The only better deal is if the author pays you to read their book. Ask any paid reviewing service.

From the serious author’s standpoint, cheap books are a disaster. You practically sweat blood when you write your story. You pour your heart and soul into your work, and then you have to compete with cheap books, many of which are written by people who have never worked to develop author skills and are only trying to cash in on a get-rich-quick idea. That most of the cheap books are awful doesn’t make it hurt any less when you can’t sell your stories for a decent price.

A few authors made a big splash with throwaways, but mostly because their books were decently written and could easily have sold for more. They scored big because they got in early with a novel idea for volume sales. (I call them throwaways because before free books most people didn’t mind throwing away 99 cents when taking a chance on a book that looked interesting.) The story that you rarely hear is how the top 99 cent sellers owe their success mainly to promotional efforts. I read in an interview that Amanda Hocking practically lived on Facebook when she was starting. While John Locke was busy writing his books, one of his sons was spending all his days promoting his father’s work everywhere possible. Darcie Chan posted in the Amazon forum recently about how her success is owed to her incessant on-line promotional work. A lot of authors think that the price tag was solely responsible for the success of the 99 centers. It wasn’t.

Free books are a disaster because many people won’t need to buy books for a long time. New authors think that free is a way to gain name recognition, but by the time the author has a second book ready, the reader will have forgotten the author’s name unless they’ve had their socks knocked off by brilliant writing. AND the thousands of free books the author gave away have helped insure that less people will need to buy books over the next few years. The free book authors have helped diminish their own future prospects. No author should even consider using the ‘free’ gimmick unless they have at least three books to offer readers. If they must use the free book gimmick, they should let it work as a loss-leader for other immediate sales. But if a book is good, you don’t need to give it away. People will beat a path to your door and pay a decent price for a good book. And let us not forget the immortal words of Thomas Paine, a self-pubber who wrote in 1776, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only which gives everything its value.”

9. Any recommends for pricing a book?

That’s the most asked question in the industry, and yields advice that most new authors will never listen to. Newbies simply nod their head and smile, then go do whatever it was they planned on doing before they asked. They not looking for information, they’re looking for support that their inclination is the one they should follow.

Most new authors take a good look at the average price other books in their genre are selling for and price their books accordingly. People have asked why my books aren’t priced that way since most of the Indie novels in the scifi genre are $2.99. The answer is simple. My books are worth $5.99. Other authors may choose to undervalue their books but that does not make it incumbent on me to follow suit. I’ve never been a lemming. I’ve tried to restore some sense of reason to the pricing structure in the Indie community but I’ve failed completely. Most Indie authors seem to be more concerned with sales rank than royalties. Just keep in mind that if you’re selling your book at $2.99 and someone else is getting 99 cents for their book, they must sell six times as many as you to make the same money. They might outsell you three to one and have a better sales rank, but you’ll do better in the long run and can laugh all the way to the bank while they get up and go to their day job at Wal-Mart. Most authors don’t make enough money to work at it full time. I can’t understand why they put up roadblocks to success by continuing to price their books at 99 cents.

10. Any additional recommends for new Indie authors?

Always remember that QUALITY is the most important ingredient in any book. Do everything you can to give the buyer an enjoyable read and they’ll keep coming back to buy your new books.
Every new author thinks that their first book is great. It isn’t. Nobody writes a great book right out of the gate. It might have seemed that way at times with a favorite author, but that’s only because you never saw the first books that author wrote. By about the fifth book, you’re ready to begin thinking about publishing. If you publish a bad book because you’re too eager, people will remember and many will never give you another chance until you appear on Oprah.
Don’t expect overnight success. It doesn’t work that way. It takes time to build a following. Work hard, but be patient. Ignore the gimmicks such as free books. They don’t work over the long term, and if you want to become a respected author you have to be in it for the long haul. People recommending your book to relatives and friends is what sells books and builds your fan base. Don’t price yourself out of the market, but don’t undervalue your work. Readers have begun to associate cheap books with shoddy writing. People are always willing to pay a decent price for a good read.

Thank you, Thomas, for your fascinating, inspiring, and thought-provoking answers. Okay, Ruby readers, now it’s your turn. As readers, as authors: aspiring, indie and trad-what’s your opinion on pricing and how to sell books?

You can find more about Thomas on his website. Presently, his sci-fi books are only available at Amazon and OffTheBookshelf.com, but he has a paranormal book that’s available on Lulu, Amazon, and OTB.com. As a result of the reduced selling opportunities on Amazon, he’s expanding his distribution channels and just inked a non-exclusivity contract with Kobo and will begin uploading his books there soon. His new book: Citizen X  will be available in a few months at all of his sales locations.

113 responses to “Thomas DePrima: Over 140,000 Indie Books Sold At A Price That Might Surprise You!”

  1. What a FANTASTIC interview! Thanks for being here, Thomas. Your story is fascinating. Super congrats! ~D~

    0

    • Diana Layne says:

      I agree-it is quite fascinating.

      0

    • Thank you, Darynda. It’s been a wild and crazy two years, made all the more so in that it follows a decade of depressing effort to attract the eye of an agent or traditional publishing house. Without the Indie opportunities that abound today, my books might never have reached readers.

      0

  2. Liz Talley says:

    Very interesting, and thanks for joining us, Thomas. I’m sure we’ll have several indie authors popping by to talk pricing. I’ve not entered those waters, but love learning about the processs, including the debate over pricing.

    Enjoy your continued success!

    0

  3. Tamara Ward says:

    Thanks for such an informative and thorough post.

    0

  4. Thomas, it was great to hear the story about your road to success. Although you took a different route than some, the key is the same for everyone–quality writing and multiple books.
    I like the notion of pricing the book according to quality–and word count.
    Your numbers are VERY impressive–so when you say you sold 140,000 books and the price is $5.99 that’s absurdly more money than someone who sells twice as much at $.99. How can we argue with that??

    Great interview!
    Stephanie Queen

    0

    • Diana Layne says:

      I added a comment about that right below yours. :)Thanks for coming by, Stephanie!

      0

    • Thank you, Stephanie. Yes, for each dollar an author makes selling their books at 99 cents, I make almost twelve dollars. For someone who only sells at 99 cents, they will have to sell 1,680,000 books to net the same as I have during the past two years. The depressing part is that there’s no proof that cheap prices improve sales. The authors that made so much money with 99 cent books, by their own statements in interviews, owe their success to their promotions, not their prices.

      0

  5. Diana Layne says:

    I wanted to add in the comments that Thomas is otherwise engaged today but plans to pop in as often as he can; however, on the current sales slump that many are experiencing–I asked and it’s affecting him as well. Here is what he said: “The sales slump has affected me just like everyone else, but having my books priced at $5.99 helps me attract the attention of more discriminating buyers and my sales are fairly steady. I haven’t released a new book since December, and I do almost no promotion, but I still sell a couple of thousand books every month. Since I earn $4.00 on each book, I’m doing much better than authors who outsell me dramatically with their 99 cent books. When I upload a new book every six months, my existing books get a big boost and I can pretty much count on selling 10,000+ copies of the new book within the first 60 – 90 days with diminished but steady sales afterward as it joins the others.” This seems to follow the reasoning of yesterdays WG2E report on the Taleist Indie Survey. Writing the next book is your best promo. http://thewritersguidetoepublishing.com/the-taleist-self-publishing-survey-results-are-in

    0

  6. Amanda Brice says:

    Doing the math in my head. Wow!

    Congrats on your success, Thomas. I’m not brave enough to go $5.99, but then again my books are a lot shorter than yours. I write what I refer to as “younger YA” chicklitty mysteries, which end up just under 50K including excerpts, so I wouldn’t feel right charging $5.99.

    But I did just up my prices to $3.94 in time for the release of my second book. I was chosen to be part of B&N’s NOOK First program, and took Gemma Halliday’s advice to charge $3.99. Except that I decided to use an “odd” ending digit since I read an article that showed that prices ending in something other than 99 cents tend to be noticed more.

    I *did* have a MASSIVE increase in sales (at the end of my 30-day B&N exclusive I’ll have come VERY close to earning as much as I’d earned all last year for my writing), but I’m certain that had much more to do with B&N’s marketing prowess than my unusual price. But I’m going to stick with th2 $3.94.

    I also reduced the price of my second book to 99 cents as a loss leader. That will be going back to either $2.99 or $3.94 (haven’t decided which) in July.

    Anyway, congrats again!

    0

    • Thanks, Amanda. Congratulations on your sales and I wish you much continued success.

      0

    • Cheryl Bolen says:

      What a fascinating post! I wish I were brave enough to up the prices of my idie books. This week marks my first anniversary, and I’ve sold 180,000 ebooks, but I’ve got 16 available (that I own rights to — former and present publisher have others).

      I disagree about the $.99, though. I know I’m not making much money, but I’ve had between one and eight in the Top 20 Regency romance since last August, and that’s because most of them are $.99. My bestseller has sold 40,000 copies, but I’ve only earned about $14,000 on it. However, I feel those books in the Top 20 attract readers to my more expensive books.

      Still, I cringe at the thought of offering a full-length novel (one of which was previously published in mass market paperback) for only $.99. It does sting. I’ve been telling myself that when my two full-length $.99 novels drop out of the Top 100, I will raise the price.

      For novellas, I think $.99 is the way to go.

      0

      • Diana Layne says:

        Do you think so for novellas? I’ve got one I plan to release in a couple of months and I was debating. I have a novella through The Wild Rose Press which is priced at $2.25 and even with about the same amt of promo, my full length novel is doing better in sales at $4.99. So the indie novella, I was thinking might do better around 99 cents. But another question, Cheryl, have you tried to raise the price on just one of those 99 cents top sellers to see how it affects it?

        0

        • Cheryl Bolen says:

          Good question, Diana. I have been too chicken. I am afraid they will drop out of the Top 30 into obscurity. So, no, I’ve never upped the prices on them.

          My only consolation(s) is that I have sold 40,000 of one title in 9 months and 30,000 of the other novel — and I believe those two very well reviewed books have driven sales of my more expensive ones.

          I feel strongly about the $.99 price point, though, for novellas. Kindle and Nook readers want value. Even though I think my novellas are quite good, they have the lowest (star) reviews, with most readers lamenting that they weren’t longer. I can only imagine how castigated they would be at two or three times more money.

          0

          • Diana Layne says:

            You could always lower the price again if it starts tanking badly. 🙂 I know a couple of indies though, who did release novellas tied to their series at 99 cents and they aren’t selling nearly as well as their longer books. Makes you wonder…maybe you being a known, successful author, readers snatch up your 99 cent books, knowing they’re getting a bargain, while with an unknown Indie, they might be more leery? Wow, I could think on this stuff all day!

            0

  7. Thomas, Welcome to the Rubies and thank you for sharing your story. A few months ago, I jumped into the indie world. Last week, I entered KDPS in order to reach prime readers (still get paid for their downloads) but I’m not sure I’ll use the five free days. Giving away my books by the thousands just goes against my grain. Offering a book for a contest or at a lower price for a sale is in my opinion, is a much better promo. JMO

    0

    • Amanda Brice says:

      I wrote a short story specifically to give it away for free. It’s part of a group anthology and it just went free on Kindle yesterday. The hope is that the 13 of us will all share our existing readers with one another and also we’ll reach new readers because it’s free.

      My story ties into my existing series.

      But I’m not sure I’ll go free on my novels. If I do, it will only be the first book in the series and for a period of about a month (not the 5 free days from Select, since I’m not in Select), but probably not until I have at least 3 books out in my series.

      Still undecided about that route.

      0

      • Diana Layne says:

        Autumn did very well with her 99 cent sale so I’m not sure a “free” promo is necessary for a novel. As for the free short story anthology, that was a deliberate marketing tactic that I hope works well for you!

        0

        • Amanda Brice says:

          Yes, very deliberate. I think sale pricing or freebies can be excellent marketing techniques as long as they’re done as PART of an overall strategy rather than AS the strategy itself, you know?

          0

          • I totally agree with you, Amanda. The anthology was your marketing tool. And if I had the opportunity to be included a suspense anthology to be used souly as marketing for my other stories, I’d jump on it.

            0

          • Amanda Brice says:

            You could totally put one together, Autumn. You know enough suspense authors that I’m sure you could find several who would also jump on it!

            0

        • Thanks for the plug, di. I did do get over the weekend. Didn’t get into the triple digits as far as rankings, but rankings aren’t the Holy Grial. I reached readers, some of of whom have already read HIS WITNESS TO EVIL and have emailed me. ***I have fan mail*** GRIN Hopefully, they tell others. Word of mouth is still the best promo.

          BTW the sale is today yet, tomorrow it’s back to regular price.

          0

    • Thanks, Autumn. I’ve been very vocal in my opposition to the free days. If Amazon had treated the free promotion as a 30 day lend, instead of a sale, it would have been better for everyone on our side of the book world. It would have been better for Amazon and authors because at the end of 30 days, the book would disappear from the Kindles instead of being there until the reader deleted it. Kindles would not be bloated with free books. It would have been better for the author promoting their book because the reader would be forced to read and finish it within the 30 days, thereby achieving the intended purpose of getting the books read, not simply archived. And if the reader absolutely loved it, they would have to buy it to keep it in their archive.

      0

  8. Great interview and lots to think about! My question is how does selling less books at a higher price, which results in a poorer sales ranking, affect the visibility of your book on Amazon. A popularity search is the default search on Amazon, and if your book is number 1,000 when a shopper is browsing, what’s the likelihood that reader will ever get to the page your book is listed on to even consider it?

    0

    • Amanda Brice says:

      If the recent articles about the algorithm change are to be believed, actually pricing higher (despite selling less copies) could result in a better popularity ranking. It seems the algo was recently changed to place emphasis on sales revenue as opposed to simply the number of units sold.

      FWIW, I’ve never searched on Amazon based on popularity.

      0

      • Is that is what is going on, $$$ are in the mix. I wondered because if you search by reviews you have 3stars mixed in with 5 stars or 4.3 stares in with fives. Seemed whacky. Amazon I’m sure has there reasons for throwing $$$ into that mix. DUH, to keep the 1 5star reviews from crowding out the 4.7 stars who are selling many more books, etc. etc.

        My head hurts. I’m going back to writing.

        0

      • Elisa Beatty says:

        I’ve heard that, too, Amanda. I don’t have the link to the article I read, but it made a good circumstantial case that Amazon is doing exactly that: giving priority to higher-priced books.

        0

    • Diana Layne says:

      The algorithm change is why I raised my price on The Good Daughter-it hasn’t hurt it on Amazon, still selling about the same. On BN now (which Thomas is not on) my sales have tanked. I did go to Amazon and type in sci-fi in the Kindle Store and Thomas’s first book came up on the third page.

      0

    • Thanks Laurie. IMHO people should rely on their promo efforts to sell books, not the sales rankings. The book must first be a good read, and if it is, the word spread via relatives and friends will make it popular. I’m sure that most of us have said on more than one occasion to a relative or friend, “You have to read this great book I just found.” Self promotion and having the word spread by readers is how books become good and even great sellers. Think of it like the ripples from a pebble tossed into a pond. And when I receive an email from an excited fan, I’m not ashamed to ask the fan to tell everyone they know about the book they’ve enjoyed.

      Tell me this, do you believe that selling your book at a lower price enhances its visibility when there are hundreds of thousands of other books selling at the same low price on Amazon? Price does not dictate sales if the price is a fair one. I’ve never objected to spending a few dollars for a good read. In fact, I don’t even look at 99 cent novels anymore.

      0

  9. kelly fitzpatrick says:

    Interesting info. We should all value our writing and hopefully readers will follow.

    0

  10. Thanks for sharing all this, Thomas, and congratulations on your success. You’re very inspiring!

    0

  11. Great interview full of facts and figures, very inspirational and gives hope for us all, well done Thomas.

    My first ebook out on the 1st June, a true story, my blog if anyone is interested to check out and follow is http://thewrongplaceatthewrongtime.blogspot.co.uk/

    Once again, great interview,

    Thank you.

    0

  12. Willa Blair says:

    Thanks so much for this fascinating blog. It’s great information for anyone debating jumping into the indie world, whether just dipping a toe (with a short story to complement an existing published backlist) or with both feet (full book, full backlist). I now know more about pricing. Thanks again for that.

    You’re absolutely right that things gained too cheaply are not valued. But once the story has captured me, the price I paid is forgotten. We have to keep that in mind and continue to write great stories that people want to read.

    0

    • You’re very welcome Willa. And you’re correct, if a book grabs you, the cost becomes irrelevant. It’s important to make your book look attractive to the target audience. That’s what pulls them to your book’s page if you’re still unknown. Then you need a good sales blurb to make them want to read the sample. Once they open the sample, your first page must hook them and draw them in. If it does, you’ve got a sale, and perhaps a fan for life.

      0

  13. I have to agree with everything he said, though I am one of those authors who has one of their books, THE SWORDS OF GREGARA-JENALA, in the Amazon Select program, trying to garner readers for the series. I’ve offered it free for two days and didn’t get a lot of downloads but it did jump start the sales for the second book which has in turn helped the sales of the first book. I know it’s confusing. I’ve priced my books at 2.99 even though they are fairly short because they are worth 2.99. So many of us are discounting our work when we should be doing just the opposite. Readers don’t mind paying for quality writing. We as authors need to remember that and not get in too much of a hurry to make a sale (I’m guilty of this myself). Promo is a lot of work and yes some authors don’t have to do any, their books hit the ground running but that is the rare exception. Most of us that are writing full time spend most of our days doing promo not actually writing. Anyway, I’m sorry I’m rambling. I think this was a great, thought provoking article.

    0

    • Diana Layne says:

      My book never did well in the free trial with Select–they had just started the program and I thought hey, why not try it? But it didn’t really work. The Good Daughter has held pretty steady either way. Not great, but if I had 10 books up selling steadily like TGD, I’d be happy. Must write more. Must write faster. Although at the moment, feeding lunch to the masses is next up on my schedule for today.

      0

    • Hi Cynthia. As authors with decent books move back behind the $2.99 threshold, 99 cent books are getting even more of a rep for poor quality because so many of them are books that won’t sell any other way but by cheap price.

      0

  14. Mona Risk says:

    What a great interview, Thomas. I downloaded more than two hundred books at 99cents in the last six months. While some are not worth reading more than a few pages, others were really enjoyable, and a few were USA bestsellers. So I am still not sure which way to go. My ebooks are priced at 99 cents and did great on KDP Select. Since my first goal is to reach as many readers as possible, I prefer to keep them at this low price until I can reach a large audience.

    0

    • Kelly Fitzpatrick says:

      I think exposure to readers is a good thing. I wrote a free short story for my publisher and have had almost 100,000 downloaded. It’s like a sample or a coupon offer. Try me, hopefully you’ll like me. Big business does it. Why not writers? I think ebooks should be priced below print books because they cost less to produce and that should be passed on to the consumer who purchased an ereader. On the other hand, I’d probably cry if I realized how much I make per hour of writing. Not enough. Not minimum wage.

      0

    • Hi Mona. I wish you success with your eBooks, but IMHO (and with a few words borrowed from a song by the Mama’s and Papa’s) low prices ‘won’t get you where you want to go.’ People will remember your books better if they have to pay a few dollars for them, and being remembered is half the formula to success in writing.

      0

  15. Calisa Rhose says:

    Word of mouth is key no matter who you are. Even the big six authors need word of mouth to sell. For instance- I will be forwarding this blog post to my loops with self pubbed authors, some of whom are scifi fans. I never understood why people will sell their books for so little when it takes more than that price to get the book on Amazon if, like me, a writer doesn’t know the first thing about pubbing your own books. If you pay a cover artist $45, a formatter another $125… for a self pubbed book and then sell that book at .99–minus amazon’s percentage–it will take forever just to get that overhead back and make any kind of profit. I work too hard on my books to cheapen myself that way. No, I have not self pubbed yet, but have been researching in preparation to this year.

    Great post. Thank you Thomas and Rubies.

    0

    • Mona Risk says:

      Hi Calisa, I used to think like you, that 99 cents is nothing especially when you receive only 35 cents out of it. But No More Lies received 50,000 free downloads, and then remained on the Amazon best seller list for four months, selling 25,000 books I felt adequately compensated for my hard work. I enjoy creating my own book cover and I have fabulous critique partner with a sharp eye for editing. So it is worth the try.

      0

      • Now imagine if you had only sold half that number, but that they were priced at $2.99, which would yield a royalty per book of about $2.00. If a book isn’t good, it won’t sell 25,000 copies at 99 cents. And if it’s good, it doesn’t have to be priced at 99 cents.

        0

    • Hi Calisa. Promotion can be a pain in the backside when you’re anxious to begin writing your next book, but it’s a necessary evil, and is far more beneficial than a cheap price. Good luck with your book.

      0

  16. Thank you for such an informative post! I’ve hesitated to price my books higher because I’m a complete unknown and I’m trying to get my name out…but I can see how it hasn’t hurt your sales at all!

    Currently I have two books (books 1 and 2 in a series) with one priced at $2.99 and the other at $3.99. I have a novella that I priced at $0.99 to use as a loss leader, but it barely sells, even at that price, so there’s something to be said for the higher price point. I’m now considering raising my prices later this summer.

    0

    • Hi Cynthia. I was a complete unknown when I first published. I think that having your books offered at a higher priced is actually a better sales technique these days because with everyone else at the other end of the pool, your books really stand out. If you go to my books and look at the ‘People who bought this book also bought’ area, my other books fit in with the books offered by the major publishers, and stand out from the lower priced books. Being distinctive is not a bad thing.

      0

  17. Thomas, I agree completely with what you said about the free books–I’ve been thinking the same thing for months. The freebies affect the rankings, too, so I feel that all of it is skewed now and no longer reflects real sales statistics. Thanks for such a candid interview.

    0

  18. I price my books according to length. Shorter stories=.99, shorter novellas=1.99, longer novellas=2.99, shorter novels(50-70k)=3.99, and my 70-100k+ novels=5.99. Boxed sets are priced to give the reader a 25% discount by buying the set instead of the stories individually (basically one free), but then I make 70% at Amazon so I make the same royalty whether they buy them singually, or the set. I state right in the front of the description that readers save 25% with the box set, and yet I still don’t outsell with the box set over my individual titles.

    I started with the mindset of cheap would equal more readers and more sales. Then I started to come around to the other side of the fence and raised my prices to what they are now, and did not notice a significant decrease in sales (though I see the sales slump everyone else has seen recently). I did do the Select Free days for my long novel priced at $5.99 simply to get some visibility and both promo periods I did gave me an increase in sales afterward. The first one in March lasted about 3 weeks, the second one I’m 4 days after and enjoying increased sales yet.

    That said, I have no plans to enter anything else in Select or do the free promo like that again anytime soon. Thomas, it surprises me you’re not on BN–during this sales slump at Amazon, I’ve seen my numbers double at BN the last 2 months. I’m anxious to get my Select title back up there in two days and see how it does.

    Anyway, after all that, thank you for sharing all your info and experiences, and Ruby Slippers for getting this great discussion going. I’ve enjoyed reading the comments and adding my experience, too.

    0

    • You’re welcome, Stacey. It sounds like you have a solid pricing structure in place.

      As to your comment about B&N – I joined the PubIt program when it first opened, after having entered my email address months earlier when they announced its inception. I uploaded a test book and the page opened fine, but there was no free sample available. I waited for a few days and it never showed, so I wrote to the service people. They wrote back after a few days and told me to read the TOS, or post a note on the PubIt Board. Having an IT background, I couldn’t see how posting a note on a community bulletin board could affect the file info in the B&N computers, but I did as I was told. There was nothing in the TOS that addressed the problem of no free sample, so I posted a note on the PubIt board. The people who responded all said that they’d had no such problem, and that I should contact the service people because only they could resolve that issue.

      So after a couple of weeks I wrote to the service people and informed them that I had done as instructed but that I still didn’t have a free sample associated with my test book. To this day, they have never responded. After a month or so I took my book down. Since they wouldn’t help me, OR EVEN RESPOND TO MY NOTE, I decided they didn’t want my books on B&N. Since then, when people write to me and ask how they can get my books from B&N, I send them to OffTheBookshelf.com for an ePub version. And soon, I’ll be able to offer them the option of getting them from Kobo as well. I’m sure the other resellers welcome the sales that B&N would have received. Perhaps after I sell a million eBooks, B&N will finally decide to reply to my note and invite me back. I’d go, if they promise that a sample will be offered with my books.
      🙂

      0

      • I offer an excerpt in my description box at BN for each book, where I believe you’re allowed up to 4000 characters. Is that what you mean by ‘sample’? Or are you thinking more like the sample that Amazon offers of the first chapter or so, depending on the length of the book? (which I don’t think BN offers)

        I think you could try (if you’d be willing) uploading to BN again, but if OffTheBookShelf is working just as well, don’t fix what ain’t broken. 🙂 As someone said earlier, there’s no wrong or right answer, just what works for you.

        Thanks for the reply!

        0

        • Hi Stacey. I just popped in over at B&N and looked at two eBook pages. Both books have a free sample link associated with the books. I clicked on one and B&N sent me a free sample just as Amazon does. That’s all I wanted, but B&N wouldn’t do it for my book and wouldn’t tell me why not.

          Perhaps I’ll try B&N again one day. Right now I’ve just signed on with Kobo and they have some rather stringent requirements for formatting so I’ll be busy with that, and then I plan to upload to Apple. I have also promised fans that I’ll have two new books out by Christmas, so I’m pretty busy. Now that the Nook Books are partnered with Microsoft, maybe their service department will get an overhaul to make them a little more responsive and author friendly.

          0

    • Diana Layne says:

      Stacey, I love this pricing strategy!

      0

  19. Anthea Sharp says:

    Great interview! Thanks, Thomas and Diana.

    I think genre makes a difference, when you’re looking at pricing. Romance readers love their bargains. That said, I know a number of indie romance authors now shooting for the 2.99-4.99 price point for their novels.

    I have a friend who is selling fantastically well at .99 cents (YA paranormal romance) — she’s been in the top 500-800 in the Kindle store for a couple months now (Anne Violet’s title Enchant Me). So for her, the sales to price ratio is worth it. She was selling her title at 2.99, and doing so-so – but when she dropped the price, things exploded for her. That said, hers is an atypical success.

    I’ve priced my YA series at 4.99 a book. I only have to sell 1/10th of what Anne is selling to make the same income. I’m not there yet, however. 🙂

    I do sell regency-set romance short stories for .99 cents (as Anthea Lawson), and have had good success with that length and price point.

    I think there’s no one right answer – every book and every author will find the approach that works for them. But I *do* completely agree with Thomas that authors are tending to undervalue their work!

    0

  20. Thank you for the interesting article. I have recently upped the price on two of my books, but sales have stalled. How long to people leave the books at higher prices in order to get the feel of what the market will bear?

    0

    • Hi Barbara. It’s a difficult time for all authors because of the free books glutting the market. Most of the authors with whom I’ve talked recently have said that revising their prices upward made almost no difference in sales so they were leaving the prices at the higher level. It’s far more profitable to sell books at $4.99 or $5.99 than at 99 cents. I think that the issue of no sales is more often tied to the promo effort. Promo work is a pain when all you want to do is write, but it’s necessary. The minute we upload a book to a reseller site, we temporarily cease to be creative people and become business people. Promo is part of the business.
      Good luck with your books.

      0

  21. Elisa Beatty says:

    Thanks for this smart and timely article, Thomas and Diane!!

    We really are standing on shifting terrain these days….it’s fascinating watching people try to work it all out and second-guess what’s coming.

    Congratulations on your success, Thomas! I think you’re right that people undervalue what they get too cheaply. And remember–we pay $10 for a movie ticket these days, so even $5.99 for several hours of reading pleasure is a total bargain. As a reader, I don’t even blink at paying $10 for a book. And I admit, I’m slow to buy 99 cent books because I tend to wonder about the quality.

    0

  22. Hope Ramsay says:

    Thomas, thanks for coming and sharing your success story. I’m still traditionally published, and doing fine in that model. Still, I’m so amazed by stories like this. You have so much control over the process and I do envy the indie approach for that reason.

    Also, while I know zero about pricing strategies in bookselling. My day job involves a small business where we make product pricing decisions all the time. I have felt for a long time, based on my business experience, that books priced at $.99 may be a good advertising model but not a sustainable business model for anyone who wants to make writing their sole source of income. Thanks for confirming my opinion on that score.

    0

    • Hello Hope. Control over the process is just one of the advantages to Indie publishing. A major aspect is the royalty rate available (if you are willing to take control of the process). Last year Random House asked me to write a trilogy for them. I was interested, and the six-figure advance they were offering didn’t hurt their case, but the negotiations fell down when they told me I’d only earn 25% of net. That meant that I’d only be receiving 17.5% or less on eBook list (assuming I didn’t have an agent who would take 15% my share). I offered to split 50-50, but they were adamant that they keep most of the sales royalties. I saw that as being just a little unfair since I was the one expected to actually write the books that would bring in all the money. I thanked them for their interest and returned to Indie publishing where I get to keep 70% of eBook list. Perhaps if you went Indie, and didn’t have a publisher who kept most of the royalties, you’d be able to quit your day job.

      0

  23. Thank you for validating something I have thought for some time. Feeling like a voice in the wilderness, I confined these discussions to my Hubble but centered on the concept of devaluing, not only an individual work, but ALL the work. I mean, why buy a book when you know, if you wait long enough, it will be free or marked down? This is how I’ve purchased many books, primarily in brick & mortar stores, most of my life, so the “Duh” factor seemed obvious. Still, not my call, although I have been keeping a close eye on thing indie since I am considering it myself.

    0

    • Hi Gwynlyn. As you can imagine, the free versus no-free debates have gotten heated at times. The free proponents insist that free books are not harming sales at all. They insist that it brings more book buyers into the eBook sector. I insist that it only brings in more book-takers. If you visit a lot of sites where people talk about eBooks, you’ll see numerous posts proclaiming that the poster has so many free eBooks that he/she may never have to buy another book. That CAN’T be good for authors who look to their sales for their incomes or supplemental income. I have no idea where this is all headed, but I intend to continue writing my books and maintaining my price structure, with perhaps a small promo discount once in a while on just the lead book in any series to introduce my books to a new customer.

      0

      • Diana Layne says:

        I know I have over 200 books on my Kindle and well over half of them have been free books–all this year. And I’ve been discriminating! I like to help out friends, but I only get the books I think I’ll read (eventually) and that have good reviews–and still–my 2nd generation is packed!

        0

        • Assuming you read all of them, and you don’t buy another book until you do, when would that next purchase occur?

          Posters on the KDP forums have told me that I’m crazy for believing that the free book will impact sales.

          0

          • Sadly, today, readers will buy or download the next thing that catches their eye and what they had will be forgotten. Eventually deleted. If readers pay for the book, the author atleast has a chance of being read. This is just my opinion of course.

            0

          • Diana Layne says:

            Well, yours is one I bought, lol (even tho my Kindle broke yesterday, sob-but they’re sending a replacement). And I do still buy books. Again I try to buy my friends books that I know I’ll read but as for the other authors who used to be must-buys, not so much anymore. I think that’s mainly because I don’t have time to read and books keep collecting. If I were still “just a reader” it might be different. I do wish the Kindles had a way to organize the books, maybe the newer ones do, but my 2nd generation I have to scroll through pages to find a book and yes, I’m forgetting about a lot of them.

            0

          • Diana Layne says:

            PS. I DO think that free books impact sales though-especially for us newbies to publishing. Why buy a book on an unknown when you can get so many free?

            0

        • Hope Ramsay says:

          I guess I’m old-fashioned, even though I am an early adopter of the Kindle. Aside from Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, both of which are in the public domain, I don’t have one free book on my device.

          My thinking is has always been that a self-published book that the author is giving away can’t be worth very much. I know that makes me a terrible snob but I am what I am.

          Now, a short story priced at $.99 may find its way on to my device. Books at $3.99 or $4.99 will find their way on my Kindle, but only if the book sounds likes something I want to read or has been written by someone I know.

          I used to have this endless argument with my daughter over Napster. And she never really understood how that site devalued songwriters and musicians — until she became a writer herself.

          We don’t do artists and writers any favors collectively by downloading anything offered for free. I won’t do it. If I like an author or know an author or if the cover copy sounds interesting, I BUY the book. It’s the only way I have as a consumer to support writers and artists that I enjoy. We should all kick the free habit in my opinion. It’s not good for the arts.

          0

  24. Thanks so much, Thomas for the informative post. I haven’t tested the indie waters yet, but I’m considering it for a future project. You’ve given me a lot to think about, in the meantime!

    0

    • You’re welcome, Tina. This is a great time for authors because the market is wide open with opportunities. I wish you the best of luck with your future project.

      0

  25. Thomas, thank you for being here today and sharing your story.

    I’m published with an e-press, so lowering prices is out of my control, but I’ve been proud that my publisher values my work enough to sell it for around $5. Quality deserves to be paid, and it frustrates me to see authors undervaluing their work just to get onto bestseller lists…especially when we don’t even know if it helps sales in the long-term. I love (and totally agree with) what you said about QUALITY. That is the best predictor of future sales.

    What scares me is what you said about free books keeping readers from buying in the coming years. It sounds like offering work for free is going to hurt everyone. Yikes.

    0

    • You’re welcome, Anne. Unfortunately, the things I’ve said about free books keeping readers from buying in the future is not speculation. It’s what readers are saying in the forums around the net. Some claim to have thousands, literally, of free books in their kindle. Yikes is right. :p

      0

  26. Kim Law says:

    Very informative post, Thomas. Thank you so much for spending the day here with us. I haven’t jumped into indie publishing yet, mostly due to lack of time to write, much less everything else, but I’m always listening to what works and doesn’t work as one day I might just find myself there.

    0

  27. Rita Henuber says:

    Thanks for this Thomas. I totaly agree. Free is a great promotion but not a business mode.l

    0

  28. Thank you for the information, Thomas. It reaffirms to me the adage that everyone’s journey will be different.

    0

  29. Thank you, Thomas for the affirmation. If we value our work others will too when we price it accordingly.

    0

  30. I’ve found all of the responses very interesting. There’s no doubt that many people have goals and objectives different from mine, and are following different paths as they work to realize them. My goal has always been to achieve success as a writer of full-length novels. I originally planned to produce work in several genres, but the immense popularity of my space opera novels has sort of pigeonholed me into that genre at present. I’m not complaining. These books are great fun to write and my fans love them. In fact, they keep clamoring for more. But I want to expand my horizons and have planned to release a sort of techno-thriller next year, plus the requisite space opera. Although I once wrote short stories for free story sites, I’ve made no plans to release any in the future. I always thought that were I to release short stories, they would be part of a novel-sized anthology. Yet as I read the comments, I see some authors offering everything from very short stories to novelettes, novellas, novels, and epics. I was wondering if other Indies have established this as part of their master plan, or if they are simply responding to market conditions. Please understand I’m not criticizing in any way. I’ve just never thought about this until this discussion about free books and setting prices. I also wonder how my fans would react if I did this. I get many complaints now that my 100 K word novels are too short.:-)

    0

    • Diana Layne says:

      Interesting question. Maybe it’s genre specific. I think sci fi/fantasy fans expect really long novels. Again, I’m dating myself but I started reading when 150,000 words was standard for historical romances and it wasn’t unusual for the occasional 200,000 thousand word historical romance to be published. I loved them. Then NY did something funky, not sure why–rising paper costs maybe? and DRASTICALLY cut the word counts on historical romances. I hated them. No longer was there a big, juicy story. Apparently so did the readers because the historical market tanked–right when I got my first agent with my 175,000 word historical romance. An editor asked me to cut it–and I did-to 120,000 words but it simply wasn’t the same story, and it didn’t sell.

      As for your genre, I’m not sure that readers would like a novella unless it was maybe a side story from one of your books, but why do that when the novels sell so well? (other than less time writing)An anthology of short stories might work well for readers who love everything you write. Or a novella introducing the techno-thriller series to get the readers eased into the new genre…? Like I told Cheryl up above, I could think on this stuff all day–and still not know, lol.

      Thanks for being here, it was great fun and quite thought-provoking!

      0

      • I think you’re right. Genre makes the difference. Short stories don’t seem to be very welcome in the SciFi space operas, perhaps because the author must create not just a personal environment for the protagonist, but an entire universe for the story. You can’t just describe the personal world of say a constantly inebriated private investigator in Houston, but rather must depict life on a planet in another solar system, aliens, unique cultures, government, technology, etc.

        At one time I had thought about producing some short stories in the AGU universe just to keep readers interested between full novels, but then I decided that some readers would get angry with shorts because they wanted and expected more, while others would be angry that I was ‘wasting my time’ with short stories when I could be producing more episodes in AGU. 🙂

        0

  31. Great interview! Taking risks is what breeds success, and it is refreshing to hear a viewpoint that supports the inherent quality of a book is more than a buck. Thank you for paving the way for so many authors.

    0

  32. […] In an interview with the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood, science-fiction and space opera indie author Thomas dePrima observed that this glut of free ebooks had made it harder for indie publishers to sell their ebooks for profit: From the serious author’s standpoint, cheap books are a disaster. You practically sweat blood when you write your story. You pour your heart and soul into your work, and then you have to compete with cheap books, many of which are written by people who have never worked to develop author skills and are only trying to cash in on a get-rich-quick idea. That most of the cheap books are awful doesn’t make it hurt any less when you can’t sell your stories for a decent price. […]

    0

  33. […] Thomas DePrima – Over 140,000 Indie Books Sold at mostly $5.99 […]

    0

  34. Thank you so much! It is definitely an great
    site!

    0

Subscribe to the Blog

The Latest Comments

  • Tamara Hogan: Kate, I haven’t read the Novik series – sounds intriguing! In some ways, the Vorkosigan...
  • Kay Hudson: I too adore the Vorkosigan series. It’s the first SF universe I would recommend to people who...
  • Tamara Hogan: Ooh, two of my favorites! Both are well-represented on my keeper shelf, and LaVyrle, last I heard, is...
  • Laurie Kellogg: Anything by LaVyrle Spencer or Susan Elizabeth Phillips.
  • Tamara Hogan: Addison, it occurs to me that we don’t have to deprive ourselves. I’d be down for a...

Archives