Thursday, 29 March 2012

Marketing Basics Part 4: Price

How much should your paperback or ebook cost? If you are accepted for publication by a trade publisher, then they will set the recommended retail price for your book. The actual retailer may discount that price, but a good contract will ensure that royalties are based on the RRP, not the actual selling price.

Looking at the Christian novels on my bookshelf, most are priced at $12.99 (all prices in this post are quoted in US dollars unless stated otherwise), with prices ranging from $11.99 to $15.99.  Category romances are less expensive - paperback Love Inspired titles and Barbour novella collections are $7.99.

Now, obviously, I’m based in New Zealand, so the retail price I pay for books includes shipping from the US. Most full-price novels are NZD 24.99, NZD 27.99 or NZD 29.99, with some small-press books priced slightly higher than this – which means they might miss out on my purchasing dollar because I perceive a NZD 33.95 book as ‘too expensive’ – especially when I consider the price of e-books.

Ebook Pricing
I own both a Kindle and a Kobo, so can purchase and read e-books from all the major online sellers. New release Christian fiction generally retails for $8.99 to $9.99 on Amazon – or less than half the price of the ‘dead tree book’ at my local Christian bookshop, even with Agency pricing (a current debate which I will cover in another post).

Older Christian ebooks by established authors are even cheaper –  $3.99 and $4.99 are common prices, and the author may be getting a bigger royalty from that than from the full-price dead tree version. Joe Konrath (who reportedly makes $50,000 each month from Kindle sales) believes that the ebook pricing sweet spot is just $2.99. He makes $2.04 off each sale, compared to $2.50 off the sale of a trade-published $25 hardcover or $0.75 off a trade paperback.

If you are published through a small press, subsidy publisher or choose to take the self-published route, you need to understand what the market price is. You also need to understand that you have to charge less than this. Why? Because these tight economic times mean readers have less to spend, so they are more likely to spend their money on a known author – why pay $17.99 for a published or Print-on-Demand book from an unknown author, when you can buy a paperback from a well-known Christian author for less? Or an ebook for $2.99?

This is where the economies of scale and marketing presence of the trade publishers can have a positive effect. I might not know who Camy Tang is, but I can see that Protection for Hire is published by Zondervan, who also publish a lot of excellent Christian fiction as well as the New International Version of the Bible. On that basis, I might be prepared to spend money on a Zondervan book by Camy Tang, where I probably wouldn’t spend money on an unknown author from an unknown publisher without having had the book or the author recommended to me. Which brings me nicely to the subject of the next post… Promotion.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Five People You Shouldn’t Ask to Review Your Book

It is a truth universally acknowledged that good reviews sell books. And with online bookstores such as Amazon, everyone can be a reviewer. So who do you get to review your book to influence sales? Firstly, we are going to look at who not to ask for a review:


It’s almost universally considered bad form to review your own books. After all, how could your review possibly be unbiased? Having lurked in various online book review discussions, it seems that the only group of people who don’t mind authors reviewing their own books are… authors who review their own books. It also is specifically not permitted in Amazon’s Conditions of Use and Reviewing Guidelines.

And don’t use the excuse that the reviewer is from Australia and therefore couldn’t post a review on Amazon. I have seen that one used. Seriously. The internet is global. Anyone with an Amazon account can post a review, whether or not they have bought something. The same applies at Goodreads, Christian Book, Koorong, Smashwords

Also, don’t think of getting clever and creating a fake account so that you can post a review under a made-up name. This is also against Amazon’s Conditions of Use. It’s been done before, most notably by the author of The Hacker Hunter, who posted 350 (count them!) five-star reviews of his own book on Amazon. They were all removed, proving that Amazon can track URLs to identify these fake accounts (often referred to online as ‘shills’).

Your Agent, Publisher, Editor or Proofreader

Again, no one who might benefit financially from the sale of your book should post a review.  Your Publisher can update the information in the Product Description and About the Author sections of your book page to add reviews and information about awards.

Paid-for Reviews

Again, these are against Amazon’s Conditions of Use. The only payment a reviewer can receive is a free copy of the book or product being reviewed, and this needs to be disclosed in the review under US FTC regulations.

Your Mum

No reviews from Mum, Dad, Granny, spouse, child or anyone related to you. If they post an unsolicited review, it might be best to add a comment saying ‘Thanks for your support, Mum. I love you!’ to make it completely clear that there is just the slightest possibility that the review might be biased. These are not specifically forbidden (unless there is a financial relationship), but they can damage an author’s credibility if people buy a book based on a glowing review, don’t like the book and then realise the review was from a relative or enthusiastic friend (such reviews are often referred to as ‘sock puppets’).

Harriet Klausner

Harriet was Amazon’s top reviewer under the old ranking system, which was based purely on the number of reviews posted (new rankings are based on a complex algorithms that take number of reviews, posting date and helpfulness). Just think about it: Harriet posts an average of 6-8 reviews each day, almost all of which are rated five stars. That’s more books each day than most people read in a month (and almost as many as my husband reads in a decade). I have no idea how you get a review from HK, but it doesn’t matter. They have no credibility.

So, that’s how not to get reviews. Next week’s post will be a little more positive – five places you can get reviews.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Marketing Basics Part 3: Product

First, and most important is the product: your book.

The single most important thing anyone can do to succeed in any job, in any profession, is to do the job to the best of their ability. Before you release your product, your book, onto the market, it needs to be the best you are able to produce. No excuses.

Keep working at it until you get it right. This means revising, editing, getting assessments and critiques from people you trust, more revising, more editing, getting more feedback from readers, still more editing, proofreading, editing those changes, then proofreading again to make sure the editing and proofreading hasn’t added any more errors. When you are 99% sure that this is the best you can do - that’s when you seek publication, either directly or through a literary agent

As I said in the post on Trade Publishing, if you are fortunate enough sign with an agent or get published with a traditional royalty-paying publisher, much of this will not apply to you. But if you decide to self-publish, you are going to be responsible for everything.

Once you have made the decision to self-publish, you then have to decide on the format: hardback, paperback or ebook. There is a view that you are not a “real” author if your book is not published in hardback. Virtually no Christian novels are published in hardback any more – the exceptions are large-print books and reprinted anthologies.

Your initial set-up costs (editing, cover design, book design) are the same as for hardcover, paperback or ebooks. If you decide to publish ‘real’ books, you have several choices:
  • Subsidy publishing, which I don’t recommend without serious investigation into the publisher;
  • Traditional offset printing, which has a lower per-unit cost but requires an initial print run of 1000 books or more, and you have to pay for them whether you sell them or not. Only recommended for those who know they can sell that number of books, e.g. publishing a non-fiction book that is a compulsory textbook for a university course so you can guarantee the sales;
  • Print-on-Demand (POD), from a company such as Amazon CreateSpace or Ingram LightningSource, which has a higher cost per book but no minimum print run.
Click here for a handy graphic that explains the economics of POD vs. offset. On that basis, the best piece of advice I can give you is: sell e-books. The more you know, the less likely you are to get burned.  Author Joanna Penn is firmly in favour of ebooks and POD (click here to see mistake 4 on her list).

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Book Review: Writing to a Post-Christian World

There are a lot of views around what is or is not 'Christian fiction'. The only consistent definition is that Christian fiction 'promotes a Christian world view'. If you have ever wondered exactly what that statement means, Ann Tatlock answers the question in this book.

I have to admit that I find Ann Tatlock's fiction a bit hard going. She doesn't do frothy romance or spine-chilling thrillers or romantic suspense that is a combination of the two. She writes fiction that makes you think - think about God, yourself and how the two relate. She brings this same style into the non-fiction realm, but I find it easier to deal with here, because this is what I am expecting. And this book is certainly worth reading.

Despite the long title, Writing to a Post-Christian World: Top Ways to Battle Revisionism, Relativism and the Muddled Thinking of Postmodernism with the Written Word is not a long book. It explains both what postmodernism is and why it is vital that Christian authors should not follow the literary trend towards postmodernism.

What is postmodernism? What does it mean that we’re living in a postmodern culture? In simplest terms, it means we no longer believe in absolutes. There’s no such thing as absolute truth. Everything is relative…In postmodern literature, the author isn’t saying anything. More accurately, the author can’t say anything… You, the reader, have to decide what the text is saying to you.

Based on this book I would say that if you are a Christian, your writing should proclaim a Christian world view whether you are writing for the Christian (CBA) market or the general (ABA) market. If it does not, then you are deceiving your readers and possibly yourself.  C S Lewis credits Phantastes by George MaDonald as opening his eyes to the possibility of holiness. American atheist William Murray credits Taylor Caldwell and her Dear and Glorious Physician. Fiction can change lives, so never be ashamed of writing it. You have no idea what seed you may be sowing, watering or reaping.

A must-read for Christian authors, and currently only USD 2.99 on Kindle.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Marketing Basics Part 2: Subsidy and Self Publishing

Subsidy Publishing
Subsidy publishing is also referred to as vanity publishing. Under this model, you pay all the costs of publication (including marketing), but the publisher may pay you a ‘royalty’ – but it would be unusual if you actually managed to earn back the amount you invested. Subsidy publishers should be approached with caution, as they frequently feature at well-known blogs such as Writer Beware and Predators and Editors (or just Google 'Publish America Scam', and think about the possibly apocryphal story that Publish America accepted a compilation of shopping lists for publication, despite claiming that their Acquisitions Editors will "determine whether or not your work has what it takes to be a PublishAmerica book").

If you choose to publish through a subsidy publisher, they will determine the price of your book, and will arrange for your book to be listed on the major online stores (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords), and in industry catalogues. But the responsibility for promotion will remain with the person who has the most vested in the success of the book – you, the author.

Those who choose to self-publish will be responsible for everything. You will either have to do it yourself, or pay (or bribe or beg) someone else to do it for you. This involves a lot of decisions, and you would be wise to get advice from someone who has been through the process before (and recently – things can change very quickly, particularly when it comes to e-books).

In terms of the product, you will be responsible for decisions around whether to publish a paperback, an e-book or both, and for arranging external editing and/or proofreading, then formatting, preparing cover graphics and the back cover blurb, and getting an ISBN number, either yourself or with external assistance. You will need to arrange the e-book conversion, printing and distribution.

You will then need to consider Place: where you are going to sell (online or through shops), Price, and then get on with the hard work of building your platform and promoting your book at the same time as trying to manage your personal life and write your next book.  This can be a lot of work, but the rewards can be huge.

So, over the next few weeks, I will be looking at the basics of marketing books so that you understand just what it entails, and can begin to work towards your aim.

Monday, 12 March 2012

15 Grammar Goofs

Thanks to copyblogger for this reminder:

15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly
Like this infographic? Get more copywriting tips from Copyblogger.

(And, obviously, it's 'grammar', not 'grammer'.)

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Marketing Basics Part 1: Trade Publishing

I imagine that anyone who has ever done a course in marketing will have heard of The Four P’s that form the basis of marketing strategies – Product, Price, Promotion and Place. But how does that apply to publishing? This series will look at what you need to know about the Four P’s and what you can do to successfully market your book.

But before we get into the Four P’s, we need to look at the different ways to get published, because the publishing route you choose will dictate how much input you have into the marketing process. There are three main ways of getting your book published: trade publishing, subsidy publishing and self-publishing.

Trade Publishing
Trade Publishing is the accepted term for the traditional royalty-paying publisher (also referred to as a legacy publisher). You may receive an advance (particularly for second and subsequent books), and you will be paid a defined amount for each copy of the book sold. Actual terms will be outlined in a detailed contract, and for your own protection, you should have this reviewed by a professional before signing.

The Big Six publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, Random House and Simon & Schuster, along with all their associated imprints) will almost always only accept manuscripts from a recognised literary agent. Unsolicited submissions are likely to be returned unread (or, worse, trashed unacknowledged and unread).

There are many small press publishers that still accept direct author submissions, particularly in Australia and New Zealand. However, while they do accept unagented submissions, they may well request that all manuscripts have been professionally edited prior to submission.

These small presses are a lot more likely to work with the author to develop the product, such as having a say in choosing the title of the book and the cover artwork (which means that your novel with a dark-haired heroine is less likely to appear with a blonde bombshell on the cover). However, they will not have the same level of marketing support, or the in-store brand recognition of Zondervan or other major Christian imprints.

If you receive a contract from a trade publisher, they will make the decisions around product, price and place (and you might even find yourself disagreeing with those decisions). The author will be expected to contribute to the promotion of the book, through a combination of organised promotional efforts, and through leveraging their own contacts. They are unlikely to publish a hardcover edition of a novel, but will almost certainly publish both a paperback and an e-book version.

My next post will look at Subsidy Publishing and Self-publishing.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Who Are The Big Six Publishers?

You will often see references to the 'Big Six' in discussions about publishing. Who are the Big Six, and why are they important?  The Big Six are important because they control around 90% of the books published in the United States, and (through their international imprints) a huge proportion of all publishing worldwide. They are:
  • Hachette;
  • HarperCollins;
  • Macmillan;
  • Penguin;
  • Random House and
  • Simon & Schuster
As The Writers Workshop points out, they are all subsidiaries of much larger media corporations, and each publish books under dozens of imprints. Several major Christian publishing houses are actually Big Six subsidiaries.

Within the US, the major Christian publishers participate in the annual Christy Awards. They are:
Abingdon Press
Baker Publishing Group (which publishes under the names Bethany House Publishers and Revell Publishing)
Hatchette Book Group USA (an imprint of Hatchette, one of the Big Six)
Howard Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster, one of the Big Six)
Journey Forth, a division of BJU Press 
Penguin Group USA (a Big Six publisher)
Tate Publishing & Enterprises (subsidy publishing)
Thomas Nelson (an imprint of HarperCollins, a Big Six publisher). Thomas Nelson also have a subsidy publishing imprint, WestBow Press.
WaterbrookMultnomah Publishing Group (an imprint of Random House, one of the Big Six)
Zondervan (an imprint of HarperCollins, a Big Six publisher)

Harlequin Mills & Boon do not participate in the Christy Awards, but publish over 100 Christian romance novels each year through their Love Inspired, Love Inspired Historical, Love Inspired Suspense and Steeple Hill Women's Fiction lines. They have also recently taken over the HeartQuest imprint, which will add another four genre romances per month.

Faithwords, the inspirational imprint of Big Six publisher Hachette, is also not a Christy Awards participant. Hachette publish several big-name Christian non-fiction authors such as Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen, as well as the world’s most famous Latter Day Saint author, Stephenie Meyer. Faithwords also provide distribution services for titles published by Windblown Media, a little-known company founded to publish The Shack.

This is not to say that Christian books are only published by American companies. There are a number of specialist Australasian Christian publishers, including:
HSM (Heart Soul Mind)

Many of these smaller publishers are also members of the Christian Small Publishers Association, a
network of over 100 small Christian publishers in the US and internationally.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Why Do Authors Need Agents?

Agents seem to be hot topics right now: Alan Rinzler, a veteran editor, has just posted an interview with four agents on why they think agents still have a role to play. Apparently, the bottom line is that agents remain the gatekeepers for the Big 6 trade publishers, so without an agent you will be unable to break into that market.

The article was referenced by The Passive Voice, and commenter Camille LaGuire makes a telling point:
"Barbers don’t go around telling you how important they are to you. They don’t tell you that you need a haircut, they just tell you how good they are cutting hair. Because it’s assumed that you know if you need a haircut or not. As soon as someone starts explaining how much they are needed, that’s a sign the battle is lost. It’s the end game."

The Passive Voice blog also gives a current example of a published author whose new book has been contracted under a nom de plume, in my opinion, solely because of the relationship the agent has with the editor at Doubleday.

But I think agents are less relevant for those seeking publication outside the Big 6 (e.g. publishing through small presses or outside the US). And what does an agent offer a self-publishing author? Do you have an agent? What do you think?