Thursday, March 24, 2011

.99 is not a magic wand, guest post: Amy Rose Davis

I've been listening to alot of buzz about price points - and if you're an indie author right now, I'm sure you've heard it, too. The differing opinions about pricing, what works, can you be a bestseller on Amazon with anything other than .99, yadda yadda. There's no clearcut answer so, you've gotta figure out what works for you. Personally, I love Amy Rose Davis' opinion about price, so I asked her to share:

99 Cents is Not a Magic Wand...

When Heather asked me to share my thoughts on the e-book pricing debate, I got a little nervous. I mean, who am I to say? I’ve only been doing this for about three months, and Amanda Hocking and J. A. Konrath and Zoe Winters certainly have more track record and experience in pricing and selling books.


Winters first published Kept in 2008, before the big “gold rush” mentality of the e-book revolution took over. Hocking published last spring (2010), while it was all fresh and new and even Konrath wasn’t convinced it was the way to go. And Konrath—as much as he likes to say it doesn’t make a difference—had a following before he started self-publishing. He and Hocking both had backlists, too, so they could regularly feed their fans new or new-to-them stuff.

Why does that all make a difference? Because the publishing world tilted sideways sometime in the last year, and now all bets are off and things that may have worked before may not work now.

I first published my novella, Silver Thaw, in December 2010 and put it on sale for $1.99. On January 29, 2011, my full-length novel, Ravenmarked, went live. That’s it. I have no massive backlist. I’m new to the game. Yes, I write a lot—I don’t have a “real day job” aside from being a mom and an occasional freelance copywriter—but it’s still going to take me some time to build up that backlist.

This is a very different environment for me than it was for Winters or Hocking or Konrath. And in pricing, I have to take that into consideration.

So here are some general thoughts:

1) A novel is worth more than 99 cents. It just is. I don’t care if it’s a short novel or a long one, a YA title or a gripping mystery, an unedited manuscript or one that’s been validated by a New York Sanctified Honest-to-Goodness Publishing House Editor—it’s worth more than 99 cents. This post sums up my thoughts about the value of the writing art beautifully, so I see no need to repeat what she has already said.

2) Most readers don’t think of pricing the way indie authors do. Time and again, I mentioned my $5 novel to readers, and they said, “is that all?” A co-worker of my husband’s considers a $10 e-book an impulse buy. And when I poke around online, it seems that the biggest complaint I see from readers is when an e-book is MORE expensive than the paperback or even hardback version. Otherwise, they tend not to say much.

3) Furthermore, most readers don’t even think of publishing the way we do. When I mention my book in the circles I run in, the questions of “who’s publishing you,” “who’s your agent,” and “what kind of advance did you get” never come up. The questions I get? “When does your book come out? Where can I buy it?” The average reader doesn’t seem to give a hoot who published a book. They just want a good story.

4) Low prices scream “Indie! Self-published!” And really, as indies, don’t we keep saying that we want to legitimize this? Don’t we want to be indistinguishable from traditionally published book? With ultra-low price points, we only highlight our indie status.

5) Low prices don’t make that much difference in the long haul. Oh sure, it’s great to look at Hocking and say, “well, her 99 cent to $2.99 price points make a big difference for her! I wish I had her millions of sales!” But know what? I wish I had J. K. Rowling, Dan Patterson, Stephen King, Terry Goodkind, or George R. R. Martin’s sales, too. And for every Hocking, there are hundreds of e-book novelists sitting in the 99-cent bin waiting for their millions to roll in. Did they write good books? Possibly. But the truth is Hocking tells good stories that connect with readers. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t have sold books no matter how she priced them. It’s entirely likely that she would have had some level of success at much higher price points.

Because on the flip side of the Hocking/Konrath examples are the Michael Sullivans and Brian S. Pratts. They defied the conventional wisdom and priced their books between $4 and $6. And both are making very healthy livings, and Sullivan just signed a six-book deal with Orbit. Again, good stories that connected with readers—not overnight, but ultimately, and that’s what counts.

Which leads me to my big point:

6) The biggest thing you can do to ensure success as an indie author is write, write, write. I’m beginning to think it’s far less about pricing, luck, or Amazon rankings than it is about good old fashioned hard work and persistence. And you know what? You’d have to do that anyway as a traditionally published author. You don’t just sell one book and sit back to let the millions roll in. The authors who make a living do this over and over and over again. 99 cents is not a magic wand.

So, here’s what I’ve decided when it comes to e-books: A short story is like reading a feature in a magazine. I’ll charge 99 cents for those and occasionally give them away for free. A novella is like reading a whole magazine in an evening. I’ll charge $2.99 or more for those, depending on length. And a novel is… Well, a novel. It’s worth $7 to $10, most likely. I’ll charge at least $4.99 for my novels, possibly more.

It’s not about rankings for me. It’s about the long haul—being indistinguishable from a traditionally published book, making long-term sales, and building a long-term audience that loves me and shares my work with other people. It may take longer my way—it may not. That’s fine. I can wait. In ten years, maybe I’ll be an overnight success.

* * *

Amy Rose Davis is an independent epic fantasy author. She lives in Oregon with her husband, Bryce, and their four children. Bryce provides comic relief, editing, and inspiration, and regularly talks her off the various ledges she climbs onto.

She is the author of: RavenMarked and Silver Thaw. Amy’s books are available in all major e-bookstores.

For one with the ravenmark, there is no balance.

Connor Mac Niall has everything he wants. As the best freelance man-at-arms in the known world, his reputation brings him jobs that provide adventure, women, and money in abundance.
But Connor has a secret: He’s ravenmarked. The avenging spirit of the earth, known as the Morrag, has chosen him to be her angel of death–to kill those she wants killed. Connor has run from her call half his life, and working as a freelance helps him keep the need to kill quelled.

When Connor reluctantly agrees to escort a fleeing royal heir to safety, he has no idea that the journey will bring him face to face with the Morrag–and require that he choose between destiny and freedom. He finds himself confronted with old regrets and new choices. On one side pursued by a sorcerer who wants him dead and on the other side tempted by the Morrag to submit his will to hers, Connor unwittingly escorts his charge right into the path of greatest danger for them both. He faces a choice: Submit his will to the Morrag’s control or let the royal heir die.

Set against a backdrop of romance, political instability, and magic, Ravenmarked is the first in a five-book epic fantasy series titled The Taurin Chronicles.

Amy's contact information:


Book trailers on YouTube:


Buy Links:

Amazon UK:
Barnes & Noble:


  1. Thanks for having me, Heather! :)


  2. Good post and I can relate, having tried all kinds of pricing to figure out that sweet spot. In saying that, I disagree a bit with some of your conclusions.

    Bottom-line, I sell more books at lower prices. I just do. The difference has been dramatic. Maybe because my books aren't that good--who knows? But price does matter and Konrath has demonstrated that with his pricing experiments as well.

    Can indie ebooks sell at higher prices? Definitely. But the readers must be willing, for whatever reason, to spend the money. They definitely aren't willing to spend that kind of money on just any book. When you start inching up into the 4, 5 and 6 dollar territory you definitely become less of an impulse buy so you need to really be drawing readers in to make that sale.

    Can it be done? Yes.

    But there's a reason Amanda and John Locke and others price under 4 dollars. There's a reason a lot of 99 cent books are at the top of the kindle lists.

    Again, I'm not saying readers won't bite. It's just harder to make the sale and it means you have to be at the absolute top of your game as far as cover, content, description, etc etc.

    This ultimately is about what the market will bear any every book commands a different price, regardless of how you or I as authors might feel about it. Doesn't matter if you slaved 10 years and the book is over 100k words. It just. Doesn't. Matter.

    What matters is what readers end up being willing to pay for the book, and sometimes in my experience that can be a bitter pill to swallow as an author. But I take my medicine the best I can.

  3. gniz, I hear you, and you're not saying anything I haven't said to myself. :) But I tend to think there are a lot of other factors in Konrath, Locke, and Hocking's successes. For one thing, Locke and Hocking uploaded several titles very quickly and closely together. I think that has a lot to do with their success--the number of titles and the frequency, I think, probably helps drive them up in the search engines. And Locke has that great name... I mean, what "Lostie" isn't going to at least check him out, right?

    And Konrath, as much as he hates to admit it, did have an audience before he started self-publishing. I tend to think that his pricing experiments aren't exactly "clean" for several reasons--none of them to do with him or the way he conducts them. I just think with his presence, it's hard to say his results are going to be common for everyone. And he's done pricing experiments that haven't resulted in increased sales, too, so even with him, there's no guarantee.

    I guess all I'm saying is, price whatever you want, because I really don't think in the long term it's going to make that much difference. I think there are too many factors to make pricing into the magic wand for indie success. Does that make sense?

    Thanks for your comment!

  4. Great advice!

    There was a published fantasy writer, Kay Kenyon, that had her Entire & the Rose series out. But her publisher made the first book FREE on Amazon.

    Sales of books 2, 3, and finally 4 took off! She more than tripled her readership.
    I think if you have a nice backlast, you can afford to go down to 99 cents or even FREE.

    The one thing I will add is EDITING. I've read about ten "indie" books that were either free or 99 cents. And more than half of them needed some massive revisions. Not typos. I'm talking pretty significant errors in plot and consistency.

    But the reader can be more forgiving of such mistakes if the book was free or 99 cents. One author even put out a second edition with all the revisions, and gave it out FREE to those who bought the original ed.

  5. Very interesting post, and I largely agree with you (and, incidentally, with Jay's remark about editing, but that's beside the point). I think that both sides have valid arguments, but one thing that I like to keep in mind is what Konrath has said on his blog: the value of a book is not the price you're asking, but rather the income it generates.

  6. @James and... everybody. I think this is alot like all the buzz right now with Barry Eisler and Amanda Hocking. Eisler just walked away from 500,000 to self-pub and Amanda is trying to land a print deal probably worth a million. Two completely different authors going in completely different directions.
    In the end, as a self-pubbed author, we're basically running the business of ourselves. And we're all going to make the business decision that best serves our own goals, which are always going to look a little different than the next guy's. And I think it's great, all the differing opinions we bring to the table.
    Lovin the discussion!

  7. Jenn just posted the link to an article that talks about Amanda Hocking closing the deal. It is a 4 book deal worth over 2 million. First book will come out 2012 sometime.

    I agree with what Amy is saying. (*waves* "Hi Amy!") Readers are not really privy to the whole indy vs trad publishing thing.

    I was a reader before I was a writer. Sure, I would buy books for $.99, but I made sure that I read the books I bought that were $5 or more. And I thought $5 was a pretty good price too.

    I also think that the genre I plan to publish in, YA Paranormal Romance, is saturated with $.99 books. To be competitive, I might have to price at $.99, or if I feel lucky $2.99.

    I think you just have to do what is right for you, your market, and your book.

    Angeline Kace

  8. Hey all, sorry it took me so long to respond—been out all day!

    @Jay, I think that for temporary sales or marketing, 99 cents or free can be a good enticement to read future books. I think Robin Sullivan was able to do that for Michael’s books last fall, right before the holidays—she was able to get Amazon to offer the first one for free around the same time his new book in the series came out. That’s from memory, so I hope I’m right. As far as I know, you can’t offer books for free on Amazon or B&N as an indie author—only as a publisher—unless you have some real clout. Still, it’s very likely that when I publish my second novel, Bloodbonded, I’ll offer the first at a greatly reduced price to get people interested.

    But I think sales, temporary promos, and introductory prices are different than a long-term marketing strategy built around 99 cents and $2.99. I honestly can’t see that long-term strategy being sustainable for most indies. Most are not going to have the success of Amanda Hocking even at the low price point.

    Re: editing, I agree with you, and I feel really grateful that no one has given me a review that says my novel was poorly edited or inconsistent or had major plot holes! But I tend to think negative reviewers are negative reviewers at any price point. I mean, Hocking and Konrath and all of those people have many 1-star reviews. I don’t know if people really are more forgiving at lower price points. Maybe that’s my natural cynicism…

    Thanks for commenting!

  9. @James, I’ve seen Konrath and others say that, and I honestly don’t know how I feel about that. I get the argument from a business or marketing standpoint, but at the bottom of it lies a value judgment about art that bothers me like fingernails on a blackboard. There’s a lot of art that doesn’t generate income, but we don’t consider it less valuable. And you can download Austen, Twain, Dickens, and others for free from Amazon—does that make the work less valuable because it’s not generating an income?

    Like I said above, I don’t think most indies will have the success of Amanda Hocking just simply by pricing their works at 99 cents (or other low price points). I’d have to sell a lot more books at 99 cents to generate the same income as selling one book at $4.99. Even Konrath has seen that some of his low price experiments failed to generate the same income as when the book was priced higher.

    Really, my whole point is that 99 cents is not the magic wand that indies seem to think it is. If indies feel comfortable pricing their work at 99 cents, and they have great sales numbers and make a good living, then I certainly have nothing against them. The whole point of being indie is doing it your own way! I just don’t want people to think that pricing at 99 cents or $2.99 is going to automatically translate to sales, because I really don’t think it matters as much as we think it does.

    Thanks for your comment!

  10. @Heather, yes, I agree—this is a business decision based on long-term goals. My real concern for indies is that too many think this whole game is one big “easy button.” Hocking and Konrath and others make it look easy, so they think it’s easy for everyone. But the market has changed a lot since Hocking started, and Konrath *did* have a following before he went independent, so it’s not going to be the same for most of us.

    Thanks again for letting me yammer here!

  11. @Angeline, I agree that YA Paranormal Romance is saturated with 99 cent books, but again, I’m just not convinced that going with that price (or even the $2.99 price) automatically makes you competitive. Again, you have to look at the WHOLE market—not just indie. There are a lot of YA Paranormal Romances on the traditional side that are a lot more than 99 cents or $2.99, and those ones are selling just as fast or faster than the 99 cent books. Not saying you *shouldn’t* price on the low end—just saying it might not mean automatic sales.

    Really, that’s my whole point. This is an internal debate. Even the traditional publishing world probably doesn’t care that much what we do over here (except Nathan Bransford, and he’s not even an agent anymore!). I just really don’t think price matters as much as we think it does, especially if we look at this from the long-term perspective, and I don’t think the 99 cent price point is an “easy button.”

    Thanks for stopping by!

  12. LOL, everytime you say "easy button" I think of that Office Max commercial. Great post and great comments. If nothing else, its making us all think, and that is the whole point.

  13. This all sounds logical to me. I think you have a balanced look at the issue. Time will tell what works and what doesn't.

  14. @Heather, that's the image I kept thinking of, too. I knew everyone would think of it. I'm sneaky that way... ;-)

    @Lisa, truly, I don't think there are any magic wands to this whole thing. I'm not willing to say it's "luck," because I truly don't believe in "luck," but I just think all of these theories about what kind of pricing, marketing, etc. work are just that--theories. I'm trying to be all zen about it. Not sure it works, but it makes me less crazy... ;-)