Thursday, April 27, 2017

Are we shooting ourselves in the foot?



(c)izakowski Deposit Photos
It is becoming increasingly difficult for most writers to earn money from writing – and I think it's our own fault.

Back when I started this journey my books earned me a few thousand dollars a year. Not a fortune, but better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick. The rate of return has been declining steadily ever since, even though the number of titles has increased. Last year, with twenty titles, I made a thousand bucks. That's one thousand gross, folks, leaving out costs for covers, editing, and a little bit of marketing.

There are so many authors out there, so many new titles being published on Amazon and Smashwords every single day. You've all seen the figures. As a result, there are thousands, hundreds of thousands of authors jumping up and down shouting, "Pick me! Pick me!"

Granted quite a few of the books in the pile are not well written and not edited. But this post isn't about those issues. The only real judge of readability is a reader. I know myself that I've read and re-read a fan fiction desperately in need of editing. The grammar and punctuation was incorrect, typos such as 'hanger' which should have been 'hangar' were common. But I liked the story, so I forced myself to ignore the mistakes. For this purpose, though, let's assume the author has done all the right things. The book has been edited, it has a professional cover. The author might even have a few titles already out there. Even that doesn't seem to be enough. You have to market. I'm not the only author with not much in my budget for marketing. So what's the answer? It seems to be freebies.

I have one title, first of a series of six full-length books, which is perma-free in the hope that buyers will like that one and purchase the next books. It works pretty well. I put that book (The IronAdmiral: Conspiracy) up at eNews Reader Today a few weeks ago, and readers have picked up some of the following titles. I've done the same thing myself – read a free book and picked up the rest. And ENT is affordable.

It's interesting that the Holy Grail for book marketing is Bookbub. The most 'cost effective' form of getting on Bookbub's mailing list is to make your book free – but even then, you're up for several hundred dollars. List a science fiction book for free at US$315. List at $0.99 and you'll pay US$630. Here's the website. That means if you sell through Amazon, which pays 35% for a sale at $0.99 you'll need to sell 1,800 books to break even. If you put your book up for free, you'd better have other titles to make the money back. I know Bookbub works – but I suspect it works best if you don't really need it. Management is fussy about which books it lists, favouring those with many reviews, and/or awards.

Then there's the latest band wagon, Instafreebie. You give away a book in exchange for a new email address on your mailing list. I don't have a mailing list, don't want one. But if you sign up with Instafreebie, you're sure to get access to dozens of free books every week. You might be doing a lot of unsubscribing, though – as my husband has found.

Other ways to give away your books are regular free or $0.99 specials in particular genres. And then there's anthologies. The latest one I've seen offers 22 complete, full novels for $0.99. Again, the idea is the sacrifice leads to future sales. I've done it myself, included my perma-free book with ten others in one anthology. I didn't notice much in the way of further sales. 

Which leads me to the point. If you're a reader taking advantage of these offers, you'd never have to pay for a book for the rest of your life.

What's my prediction for the future?

  • More writers will cut corners to reduce costs.
  • Writing books is hard work. It takes time, and commitment – and money. How many people can afford to work at something and not make enough to cover the costs?
  • Many, many writers will give away their books because they can't sell them.
  • Many, many writers will give up.

What's the answer? You tell me…


17 comments:

  1. Simple - stop giving books away for free or 99 cents. But no author is going to give that up if they believe it gives them an advantage, and it'll be too late when no one gets paid for their books any more.

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  2. God, Greta, I SO agree with what you're saying. I've been saying this for years. Giving your writing away only degrades the value of your work. I only do it for short stories and for brief periods--get it now or you miss out.The problem is the avalanche of free stuff makes readers think all writers should give their books away for nothing. They get mad if you want to charge a reasonable price. I'm sorry, you'll pay 8 bucks for a cup of coffee at Starbucks, but you won't give me $2.99 for 8 hours worth of reading pleasure? So much for the freakin' digital revolution.

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  3. Neither of my Bookbubs were for free books and Out of Time only had 18 reviews when it got accepted. I think it's also about the pitch you make. Do you subscribe to BB in your genre (with SFR that's paranormal romance, sadly, but my recent BB did great in that genre...) so you can see what kind of books they are featuring, then make the case why their readers would like YOUR book. I did OOT at 1.99 and The Key at .99. I booked some other ads (didn't get an ENT), and made all the money for all the ads back by the end of the first day. I also watched a webinar about how to make books sticky. Now he does recommend a newsletter, but not as the primary promotion. I thought his stuff on categories and keywords was very interesting.

    You're a good writer, so you have that part of the equation down. :-)

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    1. Thanks for commenting. I know you did really well on Bookbub, and your experience is well worth considering.

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  4. I won't give my books away either. I have a short story available on Instafreebie, and it's responsible for 2K of my mailing list, so it's doing its job. I may consider giveaways when I have more titles, but right now it's just too painful. The pirate sites do enough of that for me!

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    1. Oh yes, the pirate sites. But that's another issue.

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  5. I could be incorrect, but I think the last few decades have been an economic aberration in terms of midlist authors being able to make a living? That could be a bubble that's popping.
    My impression is that all but very few writers were supported by other revenues (inherited, day job, or patronage) until the mid-twentieth century. Like you, I think many writers will give up because they can't afford to publish. We're seeing a race to the bottom in book pricing, and I'm not sure that benefits anyone (even the purchasers).

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    1. Now that I think of it, this is similar to what's happening with a lot of indie video games- developers have to do a pay-what-you-want or free to get noticed, and often games are available in huge discounted bundles with little to no ROI.

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  6. Lee, we hope that bubble will pop one day. We've been waiting for an industry "adjustment" to happen for quite awhile now.

    I so agree with the above comments. We (the authors) are devaluing our own work by offering consta-freebies and 99 centers (other than shorter works) and multi-novel box sets at .99 or nothing JUST to get our toe in the door with readers.

    Yet, R. Lee Smith had a huge self-pub seller in Last Hour of Gann (and others) despite a hefty price, no giveaways and no promo that I'm aware of, other than word-of-mouth. (If I'm wrong about that please correct me.) And Gann could have used some major editing to reduce a lot of the 400K or so word count. It took forevvvvvvvvvver to get to the hook. But once readers got there, her characters and her story were so profound, it dazzled. She was also strongly criticized for the "rape fantasy" elements (which IMHO was total BS...there was no fantasy to it at all, it was a story element) but that only sold tons more books. And yes, that was a bonafide SFR.

    So it can be done. It's just that the chances are about like winning the lottery. Not sure how long I'll be willing to keep shelling out to buy my "lottery tickets," but I plan to at least finish my series. And I'll see what happens along the way.

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  7. I rarely run a free event at Kindle Select and I can't afford doing BookBub. I'm content that my books sell out at my local indie bookstore and I'm invited to book clubs. I can't live on what I make, but the books are doing well, on out 5 years and still on that indie shelf. The bookstore is one of the top 5 in USA and two weeks ago, my novel was their book club pick. it's very humbling when the bookseller say that I'm a top seller at their store. There ARE so many books out there for sure. See what you can do in your local area.

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    1. That's a great tip, historywriter. Thank you. I know I've been guilty of overlooking local venues.

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  8. Seriously considering the "giving up" option. I have put in so much work over the course of the past few years. When I looked at how little I've earned I wanted to vomit. When I worked in television I made more in a day than I've made with my writing over the past several years. Putting it into another perspective, when I was a full-time freelance journalist, I made more from a single article's FNASR (First North American Serial Rights -- not even talking reprints or syndication) than I've made from four works of fiction in five years. It's just not enough return on investment. It's not fiscally sound. At this point, I hate to disappoint my small but loyal cadre of fans, but I am not even sure the last book in my series will see the light of day.

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    1. You're certainly not the only one.

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  9. A Sad blog, but accurate, which is why it's so sad.

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  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

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