Wednesday, November 30, 2011

One Year Anniversary

It was one year ago today that I uploaded my first novel, No Cure for the Broken Hearted, onto Amazon.  I wasn't sure what to expect at that point, but if someone had told me that the book would go on to be a number one bestselling romance on Amazon UK, I would have been mightily surprised.  Perhaps even more surprised that it would crack the top 10 overall on that site, spending time as the #9 most downloaded book there.  I might have been equally surprised that my second book, Sweet Ophelia, would go though a six-week stretch with only one sale per week. Or that four days free on would result in 38,000 downloads.

I suppose that more than anything, this year has been quite a learning experience for me.  My goal at the start was to maybe, somehow, get to 10,000 downloads.  I figured that if I could do that, then I'd have something worth mentioning the next time I sent query letters to agents or editors.  It ends up that in the course of the year I've managed about 76,000 downloads overall.  Roughly 45,000 of those were free on Amazon and Amazon UK.  The other 31,000 were paid, mostly at .99 cents.  Despite very positive reviews and word of mouth, I've still found it extremely difficult to raise the price above that level.  Each time I do, sales go down the tubes.

So what does all of this mean?  Well, I suppose it means that I'm moving back to my original plan.  When my first book took off, I started to think I might make a decent living as an Indie author.  I still think it is quite possible, but I'm not ready to give up on the traditional model just yet.  This morning I finally broke down and started sending out those query letters.  After some consideration, I decided to skip the agents on this round and go straight to the publishing companies.  So far I've heard back from editors at at three of the "Big Six" publishers, requesting copies of Sweet Ophelia.  Fingers crossed.  If they do accept it, no doubt the ebook price will go up (perhaps to $9.99) once they put it out, but with the marketing muscle to hopefully make it work.  I'll keep a running commentary on here regarding how things go.

Of course, it is always the waiting that is the hardest part...  In the meantime, though, it's great to have my books out there being read.  This whole ebook revolution has definitely been a life changing experience for me.  It used to be that an author without a publishing contract would throw his or her manuscript in a drawer, never again to see the light of day.  Now whether I get a publishing contract or not, I know that if I write a book, I'll get it out there.  One year in and there's no looking back.  This is definitely an exciting time to be a writer!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sweet Ophelia paperback

Three and a half months after Sweet Ophelia went live as an ebook, I finally got the paperback version up on Amazon!  I received my proof in the mail a few days ago, and there is something about holding a physical copy of your book in hand that is hard to beat.  Just feeling the weight of it, and flipping through all of those pages of text, somehow make the accomplishment seem that much more real.  I love ebooks, and the whole digital publishing revolution, but I still hope that paper books never completely go away.  The smell of the paper, the smooth feel of the cover, and the presence of the book on my shelf are true reminders that I really did it after all.  I finished this book that I worked on for so long!  No matter how many copies it sells, or doesn't sell, that sense of satisfaction is one thing that nobody can ever take away...  :-)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Some Thoughts on E-book Pricing

It is now one week shy of a year since I got into this e-book racket, and lately I’ve been thinking a little bit about my journey so far.  It was the last week in November 2010 that I uploaded my first book, No Cure for the Broken Hearted, with an initial price of just .99 cents.

I’ve learned a lot in the past year, and seen plenty of online debates on what the “sweet spot” for Indie book pricing might be.   When I originally put my book for sale, it seemed that most independent authors were charging 2.99 for their books.  Amazon encourages this as a price minimum by doubling the royalty rate at that price.  Any book below $2.99 earns a 35 percent royalty.  Anything above earns 70 percent.

It seemed to me, from reading the online forums, that a surprising number of independent authors were making a decent living, mostly at that $2.99 price, and after a few weeks I raised mine as well.  In the meantime I saw authors bemoaning the “race to the bottom” on e-book pricing.  More and more authors, it seemed, were choosing the .99 cent price and sticking to it as a long-term strategy.  Fierce competition among authors was driving prices lower.  After my own sales stalled out, I too ended up going back to the lower price.  Only then did my sales recover, and I ended up selling over 25,000 copies.

When my second book, Sweet Ophelia, came out, I tried $2.99 right out of the gate.  Surely people who bought my first book and liked it would buy my second, right?  Well, not necessarily.  After an initial burst from friends and family, sales completely dried up.  Even after lowering the book to .99 cents I was only selling about one copy per week!  This went on for nearly two excruciating months.

For independent authors like myself, Amazon makes .99 cents the minimum price point.  Some writers, however, figured out how to game the system.  If you price your book for free on a competing site, Amazon reserves the right to “price match.”  So put your book free on iTunes, then have a few friends write to Amazon to tell them about the lower price, and “bingo,” your price goes to free on Amazon.

This has become the latest rage among independent authors.  The “race to the bottom” on e-book pricing has gone from $2.99 to .99 cents, all the way to free.  I, too, went this route with Sweet Ophelia when it wasn’t selling, and the strategy did work wonders for me.  Suddenly your book starts showing up on bestseller lists, and “also bought” lists, and in a little over a week I had about 45,000 free downloads.  When I went back to paid I sold about 1,500 copies in the first week.

Now I’m not sure what to make of all of this, except that the competition is indeed fierce, and growing.  More and more authors are uploading more and more books all the time, and it is getting harder and harder to stand out.  Low price (or no price) is one way to go, but in the end I’d like to think that quality will win out.  Positive word of mouth and good reviews are what matter most at the end of the day, in terms of both sales and also the satisfaction that comes from creating something one can feel proud of.

It has been an interesting year, and an exciting time to be a writer.  Whatever happens with pricing and competition is really beyond my control.  What I can do is create the best books that I’m capable of, and right now I can’t wait to get my next one out there, just to see what people think!

Update on Nov. 26:
Well, after I finished writing this last post I raised my price from .99 cents to $1.99.  I'd been selling 50-60 copies per day lately and figured that the higher price might not dent these numbers too much...  This turned out to be wishful thinking.  The day before I raised the price I sold 67 copies.  In the days after that I sold 36, then 26, then 13 and now I seem to be stuck around the 13-15 level, despite some excellent blog reviews this week.  Any momentum I'd previously had is gone...  Indeed the competition is quite fierce, but I'm not complaining.  I am still happy that my books are out there!

Thursday, November 17, 2011


I never expected to fly all the way around the world, but that's how it worked out in the end.  After flight delays on the first leg of my journey, I missed my connection in Munich, so I turned around and went the other way instead!  Yes, they re-routed me through Japan.  So a one and a half hour flight was followed by a 12-hour flight, then a quick change in Tokyo and another nine-hour flight back to LA.  Talk about jet lag, I'm definitely feeling it!  Nearly 23 hours in the air, plus six hours in airports, but at last I'm back in good old California.  No sun and no surf at the moment, but still, it's good to be home. :-)

Monday, November 14, 2011

So long Budapest!

Well, nearly six months ago I came to Europe to spend some time soaking up the ambiance and writing in cafes.  I also came to visit friends, since I've spent a fair bit of time here before.  I wasn't sure how long I'd stay on this trip, but finally, alas, I am heading home!  Actually, I'm sitting in the airport in Budapest waiting for my flight (delayed an hour...). I figured I'd write a few quick thoughts about my trip.  I spent the first month in Tallinn, Estonia, where I reconnected with some friends I hadn't seen in nine long years.  Somehow it felt almost as though I'd never left.  Thanks to Aivar and Peeter for that!  After that it was four days in Finland, where I stayed with my exchange student sister and her family.  Riikka took me along to their midsummer celebration at a cottage by a big lake in the wilderness.  It was a weekend I'll never forget, with a great group of extended friends and family.  And then off to Budapest, where I lived for the summer in 2009.  Being back here felt a lot like coming home.  Somehow I've developed a real connection to this place, and all of the friends I've made here.  I also got a fair bit of writing done, and my next novel is coming along.  Now it is time to head back to California to finish the novel and figure out my next step in life. 

Ok off to my gate.  I hope I still make my connection! ;-)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Some guest posts

Thanks to my friend Janice Horton for pointing out that I should add the links here when I have guest posts in other places!  In my previous post I mentioned the Ex Libris blog and Book Lover's Inc., where I was given the opportunity to post a few things earlier this year.  Better late than never I suppose, here are the links if anyone wants to check them out!

On the Ex Libris blog, I had these two posts:

On Unrequited Love
A Man Writing Romance

On Book Lover's Inc. I wrote about:

An American Abroad
Why Book Blogs Matter

Thanks, Janice! :-)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Finally got to meet Stella!

Earlier this year, after I finished No Cure for the Broken Hearted, I contacted some book blogs to see if they might help me spread the word.  One blogger who really helped me out was Stella from the Ex Libris blog.  She let me put a guest post on her blog, as well as the Book Lover's Inc. blog.  When I came out with Sweet Ophelia, she graciously helped me out again with two more guest posts.  Somewhere along the way I mentioned to her that I was living and writing in Budapest for a while.  Well, it ended up that Stella lives in Budapest as well.  I had no idea!  For some reason I thought she lived in the U.S., but she was actually born and raised here in Budapest.  Of course, we decided that we must get together for some cake and coffee.

Well, busy schedules intervened, and after four months we still hadn't met.  Now I am planning to head back home to California next week, so we redoubled our efforts and today we finally got together!

It was really great to finally meet Stella.  Since I became involved in this e-book revolution last year I've made a lot of good friends online, but to meet one of them in person added a whole new dimension to this grand experiment.  Thanks Stella, and I hope our paths cross again before too long!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Quite a Boost

Well it has now been three days since Sweet Ophelia went back to .99 cents on  (Though as of yet it is still free on Amazon UK).  In the six weeks before going free, I sold about five copies at that price.  The book was just hiding there amongst the multitudes and nobody seemed to be finding it.  During the week or so that it was free, I had about 45,000 downloads (and counting on Amazon UK).  The book climbed to #3 on the free bestsellers list.  Now, in the three days since the price went back on I've managed to sell about 900 copies.  Not half bad!  I would definitely say that this experiment was a success.  From 1 book sold per week to 300 sold per day is quite extraordinary.  Now I figure I'll keep the price at .99 cents for another week to ride the momentum before raising it up a bit more.  Thanks to everyone who downloaded the book and helped give it some exposure, and to everyone who is willing to pay a bit for it, too.  Your support is much appreciated!