Don’t Break the Chain

It’s T-minus 6 days until I turn 30.

Age is but a number and all that, but 30 comes with an annoying alarm sound, because my goal has always been to get a book deal before I reached the big three-oh. This isn’t because seven days from now, should an editor come knocking on my door, I’ll say, “Thanks, but you’re grand. [Meaning no in Irish-speak.] I’m 30 and a day now so the moment’s gone.” I presume I’d be just as excited getting a book deal at sixty as I would be today. It was just a goal, a self-imposed deadline intended to motivate, and one that I thought gave me plenty of time.

But there’s only six days left, and I don’t have a book deal. I’ve done all the other big things on the Before I’m 30 List—live in the U.S., see a Space Shuttle launch, see the Grand Canyon—but I’m still waiting for some Fairy God-Publishing Type to descend with a sheaf of contracts in one hand and a pen in the other.

But there’s a very good reason why I’m still waiting.

(At least one; I may also not be good enough. But let’s not dwell on that happy thought and just assume, for the purposes of this blog post and my continued mental health, that I am.)

I don’t have a book deal because I don’t deserve one.

I don’t deserve it because I don’t do the work.

I don’t know what it looks like from the outside, but I’m not very productive when it comes to writing. I wrote Mousetrapped over the summer of 2008, and Results Not Typical between September of that year and May 2009, including re-drafting and editing. I wrote the first edition of Self-Printed in a month in April 2010—I swear, my fingerprints were starting to disappear after that session!—and although I probably shouldn’t admit this publicly, after procrastinating for weeks on Backpacked, I ended up writing the whole thing in just a fortnight. (A fortnight in which there was only sleep, coffee and Backpacked, I might add.) I don’t like to talk about the work I do that’s intended for submission to agents and editors on here, but suffice to say that although there has been plenty of partials and chapter outlines and synopses and sample chapters and extravagant and superfluous visual plotting devices consisting of expensive and unnecessary stationery in complicated color schemes, I haven’t finished writing a whole novel since Results. Therefore, I have only ever written one novel, start to finish, and I ended up self-publishing that.

Therefore, I don’t deserve to get published.

(And anyway, what would they publish? My to-do list?)

But it’s okay. It’s okay because I’ve realized this—that I don’t do the work—and I’m all geared up to do something about it. And that something is my summer project, Not Breaking the Chain.

(I’m just back from a trip, and there’s another one planned for October. That makes a nice stretch of time in between: July, August and September. I know that’s not “summer” but just go with it, okay?)

Shortly after my realization, I came across three things on the internet that I really needed to see. The first was this post about training your brain to write on demand. The second was this dangerously useful post about how one author went from writing 2,000 words a day to 10,000. And the third was a post about Jerry Seinfeld.

Yes, Jerry Seinfeld.

Maybe I was the only person with an internet connection who hadn’t read it about yet (the date on the post is 2007), but according to Seinfeld the secret to his success was productivity, and the secret to his productivity was a method he called “don’t break the chain.”

Essentially, it’s this: get a large wall planner, the kind that has a box for every day, and hang it somewhere prominent. Arm yourself with a thick red marker. For every day you complete your writing task—another chapter, another page, a thousand words—put a ‘X’ in the box for that day. Do it a few days in a row and you’ll have a nice chain of red ‘X’s. Now, your only goal is don’t break the chain. As you can imagine once you have a week’s unbroken chain, you’ll want to keep it going and because you’ll probably see the planner several times a day, any break will be staring at you accusingly forever more. (Or at least until the end of the year.) You can read the full post here.

Just before I went to LA I visited The Writers’ Store website to get their address (I wanted to stop by when in LA but never got around to it) and lo and behold, weren’t they giving away a free download of a “Don’t Break the Chain” wall planner

I’m totally taking it a sign.

I love a good motivation idea, and I adore ones that involve the purchasing of stationery products. So starting next week, I’m going to try to not break the chain. I’m going to combine it with what I learned from James Chartrand’s post about training your brain to click into writing mode with a regular routine, and Rachel Aaron’s lesson that trying to simultaneously make stuff up and write it down is not good for your word count. I’m going to give it approximately 90 days—until the end of September—and see what I manage to achieve in this time. I’d like to manage 1,000 words a day, every day. If I did that—IF—I’d have a completed first draft  by the end of it.

I’m telling you this because I only ever seem to achieve things when other people are aware that I’m doing them. (And, let’s be honest, because I’ll get a few blog posts out of it.) I’ll keep you abreast of my progress. But for now I’m wondering…

Who’s with me?

Why It’s A Bad Idea to Overload Your Kindle Book

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This week I read a rather disturbing but highly illuminating post about something I rarely think about and have never mentioned before: the fact that Amazon takes “delivery charges” out of our Kindle book profits.

Utterly irrelevant, but a nice pic from my recent trip to the States. This is a view of Lake Meade from the Hoover Dam, first thing on a sunny June morning. 

You can read the whole post by Andrew Hyde here—and you should; I’ll wait—but the problem he’s highlighting (among others) is that the size of your Kindle book affects your earnings from the sale of it.

Take my book Mousetrapped, for example. It’s $2.99 to purchase and I’m on the 70% royalty rate. Therefore Amazon’s cut is 30%, and I take home $2.09 from each sale.

Except that I don’t.

The average delivery cost, according to the detailed spreadsheet KDP presents me with once a month, is between 6c and 8c. (I have no idea why it changes; presumably it’s to do with geography.) And that comes out, surprise surprise, of my 70%.

Results Not Typical, my longest e-book when you take into consideration the length of the actual book and the word count of the previews included, has a higher delivery charge again, at 9c.

(If you’re on the 35% royalty rate, you’re all in. Amazon doesn’t take any extras—you make 35% off the sale price off every sale. This delivery charges thing only applies to the 70% option.)

Yes, these are miniscule amounts we’re talking about, but only because my books are relatively small (file size-wise). In his post, Andrew Hyde describes how he discovered that on the 70% rate for his $9.99, 18.1MB book, Amazon was taking $2.58 for delivery charges.

$2.58!

And that $2.58 was not covered by Amazon’s existing 30% cut, but coming out of his “70%” royalty.

Now this post isn’t about whether or not this is just, although I will say that I do understand that it costs Amazon more to deliver 300,000 words with a picture on every other page to your Kindle than it does to deliver my illustration-free 90,000, and you can’t calculate flat-rate royalties when every book is a different size. As you know, I’m the last person you’ll find bashing Amazon, because I’m able to earn a living as a writer purely because of them. This post is about why Andrew’s post has changed the way I’ll design my e-books in the future. 

Andrew’s post and a review of Mousetrapped in which the reviewer bemoaned the fact that the book actually ended at 65% on her Kindle, because the remaining 35% was previews of my other books.

And you know what? I totally understand where she’s coming from.

Will I ever forget the trauma I experienced watching the very last episode of LOST? I’d stayed up all night, first to, ahem, watch as much as I could of the US broadcast on the magical interweb before it got found out and cut off, and then to watch Sky’s early morning “simulcast”. According to the channel guide, it was due to end at 7.20 a.m. So as I sat there, watching Jack watching the plane fly overhead, I seriously thought I had another 15 minutes of LOST in my life. Turns out, the guide was wrong and it was more like 30 seconds. So when I was left with the end titles at 7.05 a.m., it was quite the shock. I hadn’t had time to prepare for the end. I was devastated. Extra devastated.

Now I’m sure the ending of Mousetrapped is nowhere near as upsetting—some people, I’m sure, were glad when it came to its conclusion—and I’m also sure the Amazon reviewer is nowhere near as over-emotional as me (who is?!), but I totally get what she means.

Up until now, I always thought that the length of your e-book didn’t matter. (Note: I’m talking about the length of your e-book. Not the book itself.) I have three books now excluding Self-Printed and The Best of Catherine, Caffeinated, so theoretically I can put previews of two books at the end of each one. I think the longer the preview the better—the more time a reader spends on them, the more likely they are to go on to buy the book—so right now I’ve something like four or five chapters of each book at the end of my others. With a chapter being 2,000-3,000 words, that’s something like an extra 20,000 words at the end of the book.

Thinking that the length of my e-book didn’t matter—and knowing how important it was to use existing books to sell my other ones—I chucked everything in there but the kitchen sink. Lengthy previews of my other books? Sure! Book cover images of them too? Let’s do it! Superfluous reminders about my blog, Twitter page, etc.? Why not?! It wasn’t like I had to pay for the pages like I did in my POD paperbacks, right?

Well, now I’m seeing the error of my ways. When you chuck a load of extra stuff into your e-book after the book itself, you are:

  • Eating into your profits because the larger the file, the higher the delivery charges
  • Annoying your readers because your actual book might end at 65%.

So from now on, I’m going to be more economical with my e-books. I’m still going to include previews and ads for my other books, but they’re not going to be 20,000 words long. Far from it.

What do you think? Is this all news to you, or something you’ve already taken into consideration? 

Back and Back to Work

So… I’m back!

From Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, San Diego and every major beach town within a couple of hour’s drive of LA—and, needless to say, countless Starbucks. It might well be the best trip the Swan & Dolphin girls have ever taken, and we’ve taken some trips.

I was afraid there’d be nothing to do in Las Vegas except drink; it turned out to be one of the most fun places I’ve ever been, a Disney World for adults, complete with Monorail. And we saw a Cirque de Soleil show, which blew my tiny mind. I was afraid the Grand Canyon would underwhelm when I’d be dreaming of seeing it since before I could (probably) spell it; it was bigger and more impressive than I could ever have imagined.

And I was afraid LA would be all wannabes and eating disorders, but the beaches were beautiful and it was heaven for a movie fan like me, with familiar landmarks and street names at every turn. (I also want to go back and re-read all of Michael Connelly’s Bosch novels, now that I know the streets he’s talking about.) I also want to move to Westwood, where I saw the hunky Tony Goldwyn waiting at a crosswalk—I’ve had a crush on him ever since he played an abtastic Neil Armstrong in From the Earth to the Moon. (But not just because of him, I should add…!) Also we hung out a bit with my friend’s friend who won a Green Card the very first time she entered the Green Card Lottery so maybe there’s hope yet.

One thing I have to say about being in LA is that it’s really uplifting to be among people who are so open about having what would be considered fanciful and unlikely dreams on this side of the Atlantic. Our waiter at The Cheesecake Factory was proud to tell us he was really an actor; walking along Hollywood Boulevard you hear plenty of snippets of conversations about “current projects” and sentences like “I really think this is the best thing I’ve ever written”; the table inside the door of Barnes and Noble at The Grove is not reserved for new releases but books about acting and writing screenplays; the shopping plaza at the Dolby Theatre has a “Road to Hollywood” with quotes from countless dreamers who just packed up their car and drove west.

I think that’s one of the biggest differences between Ireland, where I live, and the US, where I want to live: limits. Here, we see them everywhere. Over there, there’s never any that can’t be pushed through. I’m going to try and keep that attitude with me. It can’t hurt.

As the saying goes, what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

Leaving (for) Las Vegas

Depending on where in the world you are, as you read these words I will either be:

  • Drinking bad coffee at Dublin Airport
  • Drinking terrible coffee in a plane over the Atlantic
  • Not thinking at all about coffee because I’ve just arrived in Las Vegas and now it’s cocktail hour around the clock.

I turn 30 soon—DEAR GOD what a truly terrifying idea. After today, let’s never speak of this again— and there’s only one thing left on my Things To Do Before I Turn 30 list that I can control, and that’s visit the Grand Canyon.

(If you’re wondering, there’s only one left on there that I can’t control, and that’s get a book deal. But I’ve extended that deadline to 31, I’ve decided.)

There seemed little point in flying a few thousand miles just to hop out, see the Grand Canyon, hop back in and fly home, so we’re spending a few days in Las Vegas and then making LA our home for a few nights while we explore Southern California as well.

Things I’m looking forward to:

  • Not being in Cork
  • Cocktails
  • Vitamin D
  • Seeing my faraway friends
  • Seeing the Grand Canyon
  • Potentially seeing the Hoover Dam
  • Visiting places like Venice Beach, Laguna Beach, San Diego, etc.

Things I’m not looking forward to:

  • Turning 30
  • 8+ hours in economy
  • The desert in June
  • The temptation of Barnes and Noble
  • Not being a size 0 in the city of The Great Underweight
  • Staying in a LA hotel that’s so painfully trendy it may hurt itself
  • My inbox when I get back.

I’ll let you know how it goes. I may post the occasional jealous-making pic on Twitter, but other than that—if even that—I’ll be offline.

I’ll be back on Monday 26th June.

See ya! 

The Writer’s Guide to Making Google Your Friend

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If you have a blog, chances are you’ve heard of SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. You might have read one of the 83,321,023 articles or posts about why you have to do it right now or else, or maybe some kindly person from an SEO company sent you an e-mail expressing their concern over the fact that your SEO efforts are a pile of poo but fear not, because they’d lurve to help you improve them.

If you’ve got to this point without finding out what SEO actually means, I’m proud of you. And it’s basically making your blog or website more visible to Google. According to Wikipedia:

“As an Internet marketing strategy, SEO considers how search engines work, what people search for, the actual search terms or keywords typed into search engines and which search engines are preferred by their targeted audience. Optimizing a website may involve editing its content and HTML and associated coding to both increase its relevance to specific keywords and to remove barriers to the indexing activities of search engines. Promoting a site to increase the number of backlinks, or inbound links, is another SEO tactic.”

Thrilling stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.

It sounds like something important, but I think it’s too much like hard work. I can honestly say that in 2+ years of blogging—and on a blog that got over 50,000 hits last month—I have never spent any significant amount of time worrying about my SEO, and I haven’t spent as much as a nanosecond doing anything about it.

(Sometimes I don’t even bother to tag my posts. My laziness knows no bounds.)

Now if you were, say, selling used cars in Dublin, I completely understand why you’d need to make sure that your website is the first that pops up on Google should someone enter “used cars Dublin” in the search box. If your business was primarily based online, SEO might make or break your business. But for a writer with books, a Twitter feed and a blog, I don’t see the point.

Time Spent in Better Ways

First of all, Google probably isn’t your main path of discovery. People probably find out about you and your blog through reading your books, links or tweets on Twitter and word of mouth recommendations, more than any other methods. Also, people can’t search for something if they don’t know what they’re looking for. If you’re a writer with a few books and a blog and you want to use SEO to help people find you, what kind of keywords are you going to focus on? How are you going to get people to land on you by way of an internet search when they don’t actually know you exist yet? Think about it. And don’t think about writing, because there’s a few million writers in the world people have actually heard of that they’d have to wade through before they got to you.

Maybe you have an angle, like blogging about self-publishing. In that case, wouldn’t it make sense to optimize your blog so that if someone Googles “self-publishing advice”, they land on you? I think it makes more sense to spend what little time you have producing quality content that will bring people to your blog without you having to worry about SEO and which will, over time, ensure the organic growth of your audience. All the blogs I read I started reading because someone recommended them to me or because I followed a link to one of their posts that I saw on Twitter, and when I got there, I liked what I saw. No SEO effort is going to make that happen if the posts on the site it’s optimizing are boring the arse off me—or worse, a waste of my blog-reading time.

I’m not saying that spending time working on your blog or website’s SEO won’t bring new people to your online platform. It probably will. What I’m saying is that your time would be better spent on other things, such as writing the kind of posts that bring people to your blog or website anyway.

What’s in a Name?

Having said all that, I do think writers need to make Google their friend. But this is nothing to do with SEO, indexing activities or inbound linking. It’s something far more simple and straightforward than that. It’s just common sense.

It’s about your name.

How many times have you been listening to the radio or watching something on TV and just about caught either an author name or a book title that you want to find out more about? It’s lots of times, for me. So I open up my computer or go to my phone, and do a Google search.

Keeping in mind that I have never spent any time worrying about the headache that is SEO, when you Google “Catherine Ryan Howard”, the entire first page of results is me. (And then some, but the first page is all we’re worrying about, really.) Even if you Google “Mousetrapped”, I’m not every result on the first page, but I’m there, and I’m first.

Now try Googling “Catherine Howard.” If you’re on Google Ireland I still get a look in, but on Google.com and it’s all about the fifth wife of Henry VIII of England.

The thing is, my name is Catherine Howard. “Ryan” is my mother’s maiden name, and “Catherine Ryan Howard” is completely made up. I made it up because thanks to countless History teachers, I knew about the other, infinitely more famous Catherine Howard, and so I knew that if someone was trying to find me by way of Google, she’d have something to say about it. So I changed my name, and in doing so made Google my friend.

This is why I despair when I see authors—traditionally published authors, I may add, whose publishing houses should know better—recycling titles, using titles already used for movies or even other books. This is a bit silly in the Google Age, but it’s downright stupid when the movie or book they’re borrowing from is infinitely more famous than theirs, and has been around for a long, long time, thus allowing years and years of Google friendliness (links, pathways, etc.) to build up.

Take Some Like it Hot, for instance. On Amazon.co.uk, the top result is a special edition of the DVD of the movie that’s so well-known and so popular and has been around for so long that it should never have been used as a title for anything else, but there’s also other editions of the movie, a companion book to the movie, another companion book to the movie, a memoir by Tony Curtis about making the movie, (at least) two erotic novels and then there’s Some Like it Hot by Amanda Brobyn*, which was released by Poolberg here in Ireland late last year. Now Some Like it Hot happens to be a great title for the book, but I went through five pages on Google Ireland and got no mention of it. If I’d heard her interviewed on the radio or something but didn’t catch her name and went looking for the book afterwards, I might well give up on page five. Or even before it.

For traditionally published authors, this isn’t that big of a deal. They’re also in bookstores. There’ll be plenty of other chances for us to find out about their books. But for self-published authors, we’re only online. If someone only has the title of our book and Google doesn’t help them find us, there may never encounter a mention of us again.

Just something to think about before you name your book—and yourself.

Have a good weekend! 

*I don’t mean to pick on anybody in particular; it’s just a good example. But there are countless others—feel free to mention any you know about in the comments. 

Where I Write: A Retrospective

A few weeks back I wrote a post for Writing.ie about where I write, which at the time was a cubicle I’d just moved into in a shared office in Cork City centre. This was the fourth different place I’d worked in since I started taking this scribbling thing seriously back in autumn 2009 and, I thought, going to be the most successful by far. But would you believe, I have moved yet again. Having to have just the perfect place to write is like coal in the steam engine of my procrastination, so I swear, this is it. No, really. It is. No more moves, just words. Lots of them. Thousands per day, if possible. In the meantime, I thought I’d take you on a quick tour of all the places I’ve been writing…

By the Seaside

When I first quit working full-time to concentrate on writing—without even a smell of publishing success in any form and so, not recommended!—I promptly relocated myself to a holiday cottage near the sea in East Cork. It was October/November 2009, low season and utterly freezing, and so I got a gorgeous little home for a steal. The idea wasn’t my own: I’d read in an interview that crime writer Alex Barclay had done the same thing (i.e. take advantage of holiday homes in the off season) while she was writing her first novel. I’d come downstairs every morning around nine-thirty, turn on the coffee machine and then sit at the dining table to write, uninterrupted, until seven or eight o’clock at night. And it really was uninterrupted; the TV had only 3 or 4 non-static-filled channels, and there was no internet. Bliss. The bad news: I’ve never been quite as productive since.

In The Bedroom

Returning home from time abroad, quitting your only source of income and dedicating yourself to making your unlikely dreams come true required, in my case, moving back in with my parents. They were delighted (!), as you can imagine—but not as delighted as I was to go from the sizeable apartment in Orlando I shared with Andrea (with pool access and a patio that overlooked the Seaworld fireworks) back to the box room I’d grown up in, made even smaller now by possessions and a few more inches of me.  But the rent was a steal…

There was far too much of this… 

Somewhere Nice

The bedroom was fine for a while, but by the end of summer 2011 I was really starting to feel like the walls were closing in one me. I’d finished Mousetrapped, written Backpacked and Self-Printed, built an online platform and self-published all my books from one corner of my tiny room, but now I was feeling a bit cabin feverish, as if the walls were closing in. I needed a change of scenery for a while. Back to the little cottage by the seaside, perhaps? Maybe, but with the typical Irish autumn of wind, rain and grey, it might not make me feel any better. What I really needed was some sunshine… and that’s how I hit upon the idea of renting a holiday home abroad.

... and not nearly enough of this. (This being working, not blogging—and not staring longingly out at the sun, either!)

October/November was low season in Nice, France, too, and I got the most beautiful apartment only a ten minute walk from Nice’s famed promenade and picturesque Old Town. This time I was writing at a dining table in a sunny room, the smell of basil drifting in the French doors from the balcony. Utter bliss.

Sadly, the beach, the coffee shops and the free wi-fi proved a bit of a distraction and I wasn’t exactly working ten to eight like I’d done back in East Cork… Still, though, it was totally worth it. I mean, come on. The Cote D’Azur for six weeks? Yes, please!

Office Space

My Nice memories held me over for a while, but a couple of months back I started feeling really cabin feverish again. More so, I missed having somewhere to go. Being able to fall out of bed and work in your sweats all day was fun for a while, but now I actually started to miss having somewhere to go where I got up in the morning. I also wanted to start taking this writing thing very seriously, which meant doing it in an office instead of a place where re-runs of Oprah are never too far away. I did some research, and discovered that in recession-hit Ireland, office space is pretty cheap. I ended up renting a “hot desk”, i.e. a serviced desk in a shared office, and fell in love with the set-up on Day 1—especially after I discovered there was free coffee on tap all day long…

Home Again

But only five weeks after I moved into my new cubicle, my circumstances changed: an opportunity arose to take a part-time job a few evenings a week. Since I figured the only thing it’d be cutting into was my TV-watching time and it would help with my next goal—the purchase of a shiny new computer as this one is on its last legs—I took it. But now it was harder to find time to get into the office and if I did have a few hours to write, did I really want to waste at least an hour and a half of that time making myself look presentable enough to leave the house and sitting on a bus once I did? No, not really. So I decided to move back into my room, but with a twist.

Or two twists, rather. The first thing I did is rent a storage unit and put as much of my stuff as I could into it, including practically all my books. This left my room pretty empty, and not as claustrophobia-inducing as it might once have been. I put back in some nice things I got in IKEA, moved some other stuff around and ended up with a really nice space I can write in.

All it’s missing now is a coffee machine…

How Much Should I Charge for My E-Book?

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I’ve experimented with my e-book prices at lot over the past couple of years. For a week—its first—Mousetrapped was $4.99. I soon learned my lesson there, and dropped it to $2.99. Just before Backpacked came out (at $2.99), I dropped Mousetrapped to $1.99 hoping it would lead to more sales, thus leading to more sales of its sequel. When sales of Mousetrapped inexplicably tanked for a month or two, I dropped it to 99c to get them going again. Half-way through its life, I increased the price of Self-Printed from $2.99 to $4.99. I’ve run four of my titles through KDP Select. And recently, I increased the price of my only fiction title, Results Not Typical, from 99c to $2.99, and now it’s selling better than ever.

How much should I charge for my book? is one of the biggest questions facing the soon-to-be-self-published author. But I think self-published authors a year, two or three years in should also be asking themselves how much should I be charging for my books now? The answer is as much as you can, i.e. the highest price at which your books continue to sell consistently well. Lower than that, and you’re doing yourself—and possibly your work—a disservice. You might also be sending out subconscious messages about your book that are turning off prospective readers. Higher than that, and your sales might slow to a trickle. Yes, it’s nice to earn seven or eight dollars off each sale (!!), but not if you’re only making two or three sales a month.

So how do we decide how much to charge for our e-books? I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is almost always $2.99. At $2.99 you earn 70% off most Kindle sales and you say my book is worth something. (For those of you who doubt that $2.99 is a high enough price to say that, you may be in the wrong business.) I’ve decided that going forward, $2.99 is going to be my default price for full-length books. Here’s why.

99c is SO Last Year

Once upon a time, 99c was the go-to price for self-published authors—especially authors of fiction—but the tide appears to be turning against such low-priced books. Setting your book to such a low price no longer guarantees sales, if it ever did. Whether or not it’s true, having the lowest price-tag possible attached to your work sends a message to potential readers that it may only be worth a sum they could make up in change found beneath their sofa cushions.

I know it’s extremely difficult for us self-published authors to get perspective when we are surrounded by other self-published authors all the live long internet day, but you have to remember that the vast majority of readers do not read self-published books. You’re kidding yourself if you think they do. Yes, they might read them by accident, but they’d never choose to. Many avoid them, as a rule. So our next task, as self-publishers, is to show this group that our books can be as good as the ones they’re used to. We must show them that our books are worth their attention. And I don’t think 99c is the way to do that.

Now I know the other end of this argument is that if we’re supposed to think like that, we should be charging $9.99 for our e-books, because that’s what traditional publishing charges (as a sweeping generalization). But we have other factors in play—no track record, editorial approval, credibility, etc. being one giant one—and when we take that into consideration, I think we land on $2.99.

Sometimes we also have to consider the other books in our category. This happened to me with Self-Printed. I was charging $2.99 for it until I went looking for a reference guide myself about another subject, and noticed that the #1 bestseller was $9.99, while the #2 was only $1.99. I thought two things: the #1 must be a fantastic book if it’s so expensive and it’s still #1, and the #2 must be pretty rubbish if it’s so cheap and still can’t manage to overtake the #1. When a book promises to contain valuable information, the price has to go some way to conveying that.

A Discount On Sofa Change? So What?

As a newly self-published author, you need to build a readership. It’s your main priority. At the beginning, this is far more important that earning money. So you do whatever you can to entice people to “try” your book. Right now, a free promotion period with KDP Select seems like a good option for any self-published author just joining the party. If I was about to release my first ever self-published book, I’d definitely give it five days free as part of its launch. Readers, reviews and potentially even some Amazon algorithms looking our way: what’s not to like?

A discount on 99c is what’s not to like. Free isn’t all that attractive if the book is normally 99c. And remember that in other currencies, it’s even less. In Euro cent, it’s about 77c. In British pence, I think it’s 59p…? So if you charge 99c for your book, neither free downloads nor Prime borrows sounds like a good deal. But $2.99 to free? Now that sounds like something I can get on board with.

The first time I KDP Selected Results, it was 99c. It was downloaded just over 3,500 times. The second time, the price of it was $2.99, and it was downloaded over 20,000 times. Coincidence? I think not.

The same goes for review copies, or giveways on your blog. Why would I bother entering a competition for a free copy of something if I can just have it for 99c?

The Discerning Reader

I personally believe that the less you charge for a book, the less time people spend humming and haahing over their decision whether or not to click “Buy”. Therefore if your price-tag is 99c, you’re likely to experience what I call the “I’ll Give It a Go, I Suppose—And Then Hate It and Shred Your Insides With a Spiteful Amazon Review” factor.

Those of you who live in Ireland will be familiar with the phenomenon that is Pennys. (Primark, in the UK). It’s like a cheaper, high-fashion version of Target, except without all the non-clothing departments. In Pennys, you can get the latest trends for less than the cost of the magazine you had to read to find out what they were. The clothes are so cheap they’re practically disposable. Combined with the fact that the stores also tend to have the longest fitting room queues on the planet, you’re more likely to walk out with something you hope will fit rather than something you know will. If it doesn’t work out, so what? It was practically for nothing. If you don’t like it, you can bring it back or, at worst, be down a few euro. No big deal.

The same thing happens on Amazon with 99c cent books. Except if you don’t like it, you get to tell everyone else by way of an Amazon Customer Review. Horrible, acidic, ego-blasting reviews written by people who got something they weren’t expecting because they didn’t know what to expect. They didn’t take the time to read the synopsis, or even the other reviews, because what’s the worst that could happen? They’re only down 99c. It drives me mad to read one-star reviews that complain about things that either a) have been covered in the product description or b) already highlighted by another reviewer. Why didn’t they read that before they bought it?! Because we were charging so little for our work that we encouraged them not to.

99c Leaves No Room for Manoeuvre

My absolutely favorite thing about self-publishing e-books is the flexibility it offers. Whether you’re a self-published or traditionally published author, whether writing is your business or your hobby—or even if writing isn’t anything to do with your career at all—you can use this e-book business to your advantage. In other words, not every published e-book has to be a full-length book.

I’ve just released an e-book of all my “self-printing” themed posts, The Best of Catherine, Caffeinated. (Which is FREE to download for Kindle until Tuesday.) I’m charging $1.99 for it. This is partly to compensate me for the money I spent on the cover and the hours I spent, first of all, writing those posts and then the far more headachy hours I spent compiling and formatting them, and partly because that’s where it “fits in” in the scheme of all my other books.

We’ve established that Self-Printed is $4.99 because it’s 110,000+ words of valuable information that I believe will help other authors sell books. Next, my full-length books—Mousetrapped, Backpacked and Results Not Typical—are $2.99 each. Then, The Best of Catherine, Caffeinated, coming in at $1.99. Why didn’t I charge 99c for it? Because next month I’ll be releasing a smaller, shorter book—More Mousetrapped: A Little Bit More From That Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida—which, it being only 35,000 words and intended to be bonus material to the main book, is only going to cost 99c.

So:

  • Self-Printed, reference, 110,000 words+ @$4.99
  • Mousetrapped, memoir, 70k words @$2.99
  • Backpacked, memoir, 70k words @$2.99
  • Results Not Typical, novel, 95k words @$2.99
  • The Best of Catherine, Caffeinated, blog material, 120k+ words @$1.99
  • More Mousetrapped, bonus material, 35k words @99c (not out yet).

Two things are at play here: fairness and expectation. It’s simply not fair to charge $4.99 for a book that, if it were printed, would only have 10-15 pages. I don’t care if it contains the meaning of life; it’s just hoodwinking people. It’s fiddling the mileage on a used car. Similarly, if I was still charging 99c for Results, readers would expect More Mousetrapped to be the same length, since it’s being offered at the same price.

And if you think that people would in fact be thinking, Wow, I got a great deal on Results!, tell me: how are the sparkly unicorns in Delusional Meadow? I admire your faith in humanity, but PEOPLE DON’T THINK LIKE THAT.

(While we’re on the subject, I think if you’re offering a shorter-than-normal e-book, you should specify the word count on the Amazon product description.)

Selling Less Makes More

Obvious, but worth stating nonetheless.

At 99c, you make a 35% royalty, or about 35c. That means you’d have to sell around 286 copies to make $100.

At $2.99, you make a 70% royalty, or about $2.09. That means you’d have to sell around 48 copies to make $100.

Big difference, eh? I think in the first year of your self-published career, readers have to be the priority. If that means charging 99c for your books—or some of your books—so be it. I also think if you have a number of titles, charging 99c for just one of them (the first in a series, for example) is a great promotional tool. But once you’ve established yourself, you should move away from 99c, using it only for shorter books.

The answer to the question how much should I charge for my book? is as much as you can and still sell copies of it. For the average self-publisher, I believe that’s now $2.99.

Want a FREE book? Well, today’s your lucky day! Especially if you also like things that are pink.

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