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    • CommentAuthorEmperor
    • CommentTimeMar 2nd 2011
    I stumbled across an interesting article on Amanda Hocking who is selling bucketloads of eBooks despite never having had a publishing deal, From the Business Insider:

    Hocking sells her books for $3, and some $.99. But that's the point: by lowering the prices, she can make more on volume, especially impulse buys. Meanwhile e-books cost nothing to print, you don't have to worry about print volumes, shelf space, inventory, etc. And did we mention the writer keeps 70%?

    Previously one of the best selling Kindle writers was J.A. Konrath, but it was assumed he was popular because he previously had a publishing deal and so already had notoriety. That's not the case with Hocking, who published stories on her blog before turning to Kindle. In fact, out of the top 25 best-selling indie Kindle writers, only 6 were previously affiliated with a publishing house.

    Back of the envelope math suggests that selling 100,000 copies a month at $1 to $3 a pop and keeping 70%, Hocking can make millions per year, straight to her pocket.

    In the comments over there was one from Jon F. Merz who has been making a trickle of cash from eBooks but turned it all around last month, as described on his blog:

    So, I decided to try to remedy that. At the end of January, I put my entire Lawson backlist – four novels, a novella, and four short stories – out on both the Kindle and the Nook platforms. In February, I also debuted a new novella, SLAVE TO LOVE, and then in late February, I reworked the cover of Parallax, dropped its price to 99 cents, and put an excerpt from THE FIXER in the back of it. The goal was to use Parallax as something of a gateway drug to my Lawson series.

    The results have been amazing.

    Thanks to a series of incredible covers, the Lawson backlist is selling very well, indeed. As of this moment, THE FIXER alone has sold 450 copies on the US Kindle store alone. Priced at $2.99, the novel has earned me $900 and change this month. That’s 100% gorgeous passive income – and it’s 9 times what I made in total for the previous 9 months.

    Ah, but I’ve got more than one Lawson novel. I’ve got four. The other three are all selling triple digits. The novellas are closing in on 3 digits and the short stories are selling very well.

    So, by itself, the Lawson backlist was generating very strong sales during the shortest month of the year.

    Then I dropped the price on Parallax. Until I reworked the cover, I’d sold 4 copies all month. After I dropped the price to 99 cents, I sold many more copies. As of last Friday, I’d sold just over 150 on the Kindle and perhaps 50 on the Nook.

    Now I'd have thought price would have been a factor but it is interesting to see sales go up exponentially when price drops into impulse buying territory. However, there are other good ideas in there - good covers and putting a sample of the next book in a cheap one.

    Anyone spotted anything else?

    Would this work for comics?
  1.  (9604.2)
    impulse buying territory

    Impulse buying isn't generated by low price point. It's generated by correct price point. I've impulse-bought more things have a high relative price than a low one, which is to say some people find cheap annoying as Scott McCloud found out. Depends on specific product, and buyer expectations and perceived intangibles. People impulse-buy Bentleys. In the case of a self-published e-book though, a low price is high relative to free, and probably a correct price for impulse-buying. You just aren't going to sell several thousand of something at over $4 I would think ever.
    Would this work for comics?

    I think this would work ok for comics, if it could be tried*. If two creators sold a traditional 6-issue or even 12-issue bundle of their work for $4, a year of work, it wouldn't take a crazy amount of sales to hit not-starving.

    But with self-marketing, only a couple creators each year or whatever would reach whatever the critical mass is for carving a niche out of one title. Creators who already have a following, I won't venture to guess how their followers would respond to direct-marketed low price transactions except that it would probably go well sometimes but not a lot of the times.

    To normalize returns enough that a lot of creators were attracted to the new market, you would need an auto-marketing mechanism. A unified storefront and GUI that gets users to glimpse at cover images with minimum effort. Something that alot of consumers agreed to use as a portal to finding new content, so that creators who aren't brilliant or lucky at getting their product out there would still see grazers. It would need to be analogous to the iOS App Store. There have already been storefront templates that could have fit the bill I guess maybe? The little service that Achewood transitioned to and still uses called Assetbar sort of filled that premise. It hasn't had a great impact. Part of that may be that the early-adopters of Assetbar all set high price-points, viewing it as just a cart manager for their existing financial support instead of a tool for low-cost-barrier dissemination in a shared marketplace.

    I wouldn't guess how likely it is for such a storefront to actually get a foothold in comics. Right now e-comics interfaces by established publishers aren't delivering that, so maybe there is a space for an open marketplace of self-publishers to step in. But again I don't think low-price actually works as a purchase motivator for most comics consumers (see $3.99 singles that take 10 minutes to read) like it does for video game consumers (see iOS).

    *In addition to that, comics have basic self-publishing limits that this wouldn't overcome. That is the restriction that affects multi-creator works which is that artists need to eat. In actual practice, whether you find an artist through a personal recommendation or a pro forum, it is very hard to get them to draw six pages and you haven't paid them yet. Of course, we are on the discussion board of the title that got around that. Still, I don't foresee many other people getting over that hurdle, and a new way to self-market comics that only works for lone creators isn't going to change the medium much overall. To overcome the starvation limit requires bridging the length of time between the artist agreeing to do the work and getting paid, and right now traditional publishers bridge that gap. e-publishing wouldn't bridge it.
    • CommentAuthorFlabyo
    • CommentTimeMar 3rd 2011
    I think people underestimate the value of a good cover for eBooks, particularly with the Kindle store.

    There are probably lots of awesome eBooks out there that I just skip over when flicking through the Kindle store cause they either have no cover image, or have one that looks like it was knocked up by a GCSE art student on his lunch break.

    The cover in the Kindle store is just as important when selling your book to people as it ever was sitting on the shelves at Waterstones...

    For example, this is just an edited collection of blog posts (albiet a really good one), but it looks professional so you notice it.

    Compared with, say, this (no idea if this is any good, not picking on the author or anything, was just one of the first examples I spotted this morning)
      CommentAuthorEd Sludden
    • CommentTimeMar 3rd 2011
    One issue I take with the article is, at no point is the content itself discussed as a success factor, the
    focus is entirely on the distribution method. Theres nothing really wrong with that, its a business website,
    but it might be a mistake to look at the reasons behind the popularity of one author in isolation.

    The books are teenage paranormal romance, which I think is a very popular sub genre right now. But
    whats interesting is that she couldn't get a print publishing deal so went a different way, took her online
    audience with her (possibly), and found the same audience through the kindle store, an audience that she
    already knew was out there.
  2.  (9604.5)
    What's more fascinating to me is that her social network presence appears minimal. Small followings on Twitter and Facebook. Word of mouth must've happened somewhere, but where?
    • CommentAuthorOddcult
    • CommentTimeMar 3rd 2011
    Look at the sheer number of interviews she's done and things she's commented on. That's some impressive link-building for someone who doesn't look like she's thinking commercially.

    It doesn't look like she's working the social networks like a pro, she's actually out there being social and really being part of the grass roots.

    And... just... just have a look at this:

    That youtube vid. Simple, but pure teenage-girl bait. I've got to admire it.
    • CommentAuthorkaregon
    • CommentTimeMar 3rd 2011
    "word of mouth" could come from the Amazons system of recommendations? .... "hey you bought the twilight ebook, you might also like/other people also bought Generic Vampire Romance"
    • CommentAuthorEmperor
    • CommentTimeMar 3rd 2011
    I asked about comics as eBooks and I knew something was in the back of my mind on this - according to Publisher's Weekly, Amazon are introducing a fee to charge you by megabyte for wireless delivery of the eBook, which is buttons for a text novel but quite a bit for comics. I don't know if you can opt out of this but it could make comics quite a bit more expensive, which might force you into a different fee bracket so you only get 35% back.
    • CommentAuthorEmperor
    • CommentTimeMar 3rd 2011
    What's more fascinating to me is that her social network presence appears minimal. Small followings on Twitter and Facebook. Word of mouth must've happened somewhere, but where?

    I suppose the Business Insider is always going to focus on the financial aspects but that isn't going to nail down what she is doing right. From USA Today:

    Hocking credits her success to aggressive self-promotion on her blog, Facebook and Twitter, word of mouth and writing in a popular genre — her books star trolls, vampires and zombies.

    And on the Huffington Post she makes the self-promotion sound... less aggressive:

    TP: What has been your strategy for marketing and publicizing your books?

    AH: I didn't really have a strategy. I think one of the advantages I have is that stuff considered marketing is stuff that I do a lot anyway. I've been active on social networks and blogs for years.
    I also send ARCs [advance review copies] out to book bloggers. Book bloggers are a really amazing community, and they've been tremendously supportive. They've definitely been a major force that got my books on the map.

    When I first published, I did do a bit of promoting on the Amazon forums, but they're not really open to that, so I haven't really interacted there much at all in months. I hang out Goodreads, Kindleboards, Facebook, Twitter, and I blog. And that's about it.

    In the comments there a "marketing coach" points out that although she might not have planned it, she is still doing it right:

    Although Amanda didn't have a marketing strategy, she is completely correct that "stuff considered marketing is stuff that I do a lot anyway". In fact, she is a very accomplish­ed marketer.

    First, she wrote a book that appeals to a specific target market. Second, she understand­s her target market and how her book can benefit them. Finally, she participat­es in her market using the modern book marketer's standard tool box: social media, blogging and book recommenda­tion sites like GoodReads, Kindleboar­ds and LibraryThi­ng.

    Hocking also talks about price with USA Today:

    "To me, that was a price point that made sense for what I would be willing to spend on an e-book," says Hocking, who sets her own prices. "I use iTunes a lot, and it's 99 cents and $1.29 a song."

    For every $2.99 book she sells, she keeps 70%, with the rest going to the online bookseller. For every 99-cent book she sells, she keeps 30%.

    The pricing is interesting - $2.99 is the lower limit of the 70% bracket at Amazon and an author can't give their work away for free so 99 cents seem a solid lower limit and at that price it'd be worth a punt.

    However, it can be as cheap as you like but if it is rubbish no one is going to waste there time on it. I see she also took it seriously enough to spend money up-front, from the Austin Daily Herald:

    It took about three or four months before she started publishing her own novels, first by hiring a freelance editor who edits her books as well as finding a core group of Beta readers, or readers that peer edit her work for grammar and clarity before she finally decides to send the novel off.

    On the Huffington Post she talks about all the work she has put in on the craft:

    AH: I've taken every writing class I've had available. I took classes in high school, and I took English and writing classes in community college, but I dropped out of college. I also attended a local writing workshop two years ago.

    From some of the news reports you'd think the key was just to hammer out some Twilight-lite novels (because if you were going to exploit a trend it'd be young adult paranormal romance) and sit back waiting for the cash to roll in but she has clearly taken time and care to ensure all the problems are ironed out first, which has to contribute to good word of mouth and readers returning for the next book.

    That USA Today article also lists others doing OK out of it:

    H.P. Mallory, another self-published paranormal e-novelist, has sold 70,000 copies of her e-books since July. Her success caught the attention of traditional publisher Random House, with whom she just signed a three-book contract. "Selling e-books on Kindle and basically changed my life," Mallory says. "I never would have gotten where I am today if I hadn't."

    Others are profiting, too:

    • The No. 4-selling Kindle book (it has been as high as No. 1) is The Hangman's Daughter by German novelist Oliver Potzsch. It's part of AmazonCrossing, a program offering translations of foreign-language titles. More than 100,000 copies have been sold.

    • Novelist J.A. Konrath, who has sold more than 100,000 self-published e-books, gets more than 1 million hits a year on his blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing ( His novel, Shaken, hit No. 9 on the Kindle list last year.

    As the name of his blog suggests Konrath does seem to be trying to break down the stages and seeing what works. Again the $2.99 and $.99 price points crop up - he is selling short stories for 99 cents and then has a collection of a number of them at £2.99. It seems to work nicely for giving people a taster of your work and then gives them a "discount" for buying the stories in a set. I suppose you could also lead with new titles at $2.99 then making the first in the series 99 cents after a while to hook newer readers in to the series.

    Of course, those examples all have first mover advantage, which has helped generate extra press (so their success has generated more success) which is going to be difficult for the second and third waves to take advantage of. Unless you came up with a new use for the technology - I wonder if you could create a visual novel (or choose-your-own-adventure) within an eBook?
    • CommentTimeMar 3rd 2011
    Another thing to keep in mind about Amanda Hocking is that, between the ages of 17 or so and her current 26, she wrote something like 19 novels. While either attending school or working a day job. She didn't sell 19 novels, she didn't self-publish 19 novels... she wrote them. (This is all info she's written about on her blog)

    She writes all the time. She is always writing.

    Also, she seems to have a casual grasp of writing to a market. When trying to sell novels to publishers, she walked the aisles of book retailers to see what was selling, and chose her genre based on a market that both seemed to have energy behind it, and that she herself enjoyed.

    (This is almost the exact same thing that John Scalzi describes doing when he chose to write what became his breakout novel Old Man's War. He walked the science fiction aisles in book retailers and noticed there seemed to be a strong market for military science fiction. It was also a genre he liked, so that's what he chose to write a consciously marketable novel in.

    Scalzi also writes all the time. He is always writing.)

    So, after having submitted some of those novels to publishers and having been rejected for years, when Amanda Hocking decided to self publish via the Kindle store, she had an unpublished back catalog that amounted to a trilogy and some other novels which she was able to feed into the store as she began to draw attention.

    I think having several novels ready to feed the need of new fans must have played a strong part in the momentum she has generated around her work.
      CommentAuthorEd Sludden
    • CommentTimeMar 4th 2011
    I wonder if you could create a visual novel (or choose-your-own-adventure) within an eBook?

    This is a really nice idea. I think I'd like to do one of these, but being a graphics tart, I'd probably try to
    get someone to code an ePub-like version, so that I could have colour graphics, interactive page buttons
    and save game features and so on. And it would have to be iPad or Web based.

    Tried to find the Book Blogger Army online, still no luck..
    • CommentAuthorFlabyo
    • CommentTimeMar 4th 2011
    The Kindle mobi format does hyperlinks, so the 'choose your own adventure' style is doable.
  3.  (9604.13)
    According to Ed Sludden:
    This is a really nice idea. I think I'd like to do one of these, but being a graphics tart, I'd probably try to
    get someone to code an ePub-like version, so that I could have colour graphics, interactive page buttons
    and save game features and so on. And it would have to be iPad or Web based.

    That's pretty much where I live. :)

    I've thought about an iPad version, but it seems redundant unless it were somehow different from the web version (which at 1024x768 works on the iPad already). There's the Nook Color, too, of course. Kindle books are pretty limited layout-wise, and then there's the greyscale thing, too.
    • CommentAuthorEmperor
    • CommentTimeMar 4th 2011 edited
    This is a really nice idea. I think I'd like to do one of these, but being a graphics tart, I'd probably try to
    get someone to code an ePub-like version, so that I could have colour graphics, interactive page buttons
    and save game features and so on. And it would have to be iPad or Web based.

    Strikes me the easiest thing is to make it one long web page with internal links for the navigation. You could then run it through Calibre to put out ePub or Mobi. The bonus is that on the Kindle, it'd automatically save the last page you were on.

    I've not given it a spin but I'd imagine with a bit of tweaking you could come up with a set of sub-pages that'd replicate something like a Fighting Fantasy book (right down to its tasty B&W images)*. In fact looking at Wikipedia I see the Warlock of Firetop Mountain is already available on the Kindle, US-only or I'd be tempted buy it just to see what they have done. Looking at that page it seems to use Kindle Active Content, which sounds like a very interesting idea (US-only at the moment) - you can create all sorts of little games, as well as crosswords and sudoku> So you can, presumably (looking at the screen caps), track health and items someone has, plus you can roll the dice in the story itself. It seems to be a new, but growing, area for the Kindle, with the Kindle Development Kit designed to help you put everything together. So it could potentially grow like the app store has, plus it opens up all sorts of possibilities for interactive fiction. Anyway, I've signed up to be considered as a beta tester for the KDK and we'll see what happens.

    * I was a BIG fan when they first cam out and even bought Warlock magazine and their guidebook to the fictional world a lot of the stories were set in.
    • CommentTimeMar 5th 2011 edited
    As someone who currently works on social media and marketing, I have to second the opinion that this woman is doing things exactly right on that perspective, plus she has just the right kind of product for the market. It's painful and hilarious how horribly wrong many companies, artists and so on get it when they try and promote something online nowadays.

    If I could imagine for a moment that my English was good enough to write longer fiction, I'd try self publishing on Kindle. I would imagine that if what you wrote was at least halfway decent genre fiction, or something made to blatantly appeal to the Twilight crowd, and you know what you were doing online, you could drum up a following. For more literary fiction, can't see it happening for a while.

    I have to say that I'm a bit torn about the idea of self publishing online getting easier. The obvious upside is that there's really kick ass fiction out there that just hasn't found a publisher for one reason or another. In the long run, publishing niche fiction in niche languages (say, scifi in Finnish...) gets a whole lot easier. Then there's the other side of the equation, the quality of the stuff. I'm massively grateful that I didn't have an easy channel to publish the novels I wrote when I was 17-19 myself, but had to eat some crow from the publishers and realize that I have a fuckton of learning to do. Some writers' circles or online communities seem to be more of a big circle jerk where criticism equals insult. People produce huge amounts of text, but the bar for the quality is set really low, and nobody really gets any better in the end.

    I'm not advocating literary elitism here in any way, but it's just a shame that writers that have potential to become really good in their craft avoid the hard part of improving their skill by going through the easy and non heartbreaky rejection letter avoiding route, self-publishing non-polished stuff. Publishers have editors for a very very good reason.

    I've been discussing this Kindle self publishing option with a couple of people lately, and I think the most interesting idea was to buy editor's services from a professional and then self publish. I have no idea if there are such things as "freelance literature editors" or if the publishers offer such services, but that's something I'm going to find out.
    • CommentTimeMar 5th 2011
    There are freelance editors. Amanda Hocking uses one herself, according to her blog.

    It seems analogous to an Indie band sort of thing:

    Freelance editor is to self published author as freelance producer is to Indie band.

    Agent is to self published author as manager is to Indie band.
    • CommentAuthorEmperor
    • CommentTimeMar 5th 2011
    Also on the success stories front is Stephen Leather (great surname), he is a published author but his publisher wasn't interested in his other novels so he put them out on the Kindle and is shifting crazy numbers according to this Guardian article:

    Not only does Stephen Leather, Britain's leading "independent" writer, estimate he has occupied the number one spot on's Kindle ebook bestseller lists for "90% of the last three months", he is also selling "somewhere in the region" of 2,000 ebooks a day – and making big profits in the process.

    Leather, who celebrated his seventh consecutive week at the top of the Amazon chart with his novella The Basement, about a serial killer in New York, also occupies fourth place with Hard Landing, another thriller, and 11th place with Once Bitten, a vampire novel.


    Leather enjoys a successful parallel career writing "big international thrillers" for Hodder & Stoughton. But last August, when opened its Kindle store, he saw an opportunity: "I was lucky, in that I had three novellas Hodder had turned down because they were in a different genre from my other books and too short to work as conventional paperbacks. But I realised they might work for the Kindle."

    Leather realised the Kindle was going to be "pretty much the most popular Christmas present ever. It occurred to me that on Christmas morning, when people got their Kindle, the first thing they would do would be to buy the books they'd always wanted – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the new Grisham. But they're relatively expensive. After that, people would start looking for cheaper books. I figured that if I could get several of my books in the top 10 or top 20, then when people started looking around for bargains I'd be perfectly placed."

    To maximise sales, he priced his books at Amazon's minimum for independent writers – about 70p (the equivalent of 99 cents). At this level, authors receive a cut of only 35% of the price; under Amazon's pricing structure, this rises to 70% if they price their books above the equivalent of $2.99. He then went on various forums to drum up awareness. Within a couple of weeks, all three titles were in the top 20 and "by November I'd knocked Stieg Larsson off the top spot".

    Again price seems a critical factor but there is some concern over price erosion, although this Cnet article on that also has some other details worth throwing in, like the "price pumping" you can use to get your work in the top of the charts, then switch from $0.99 to $2.99 to reap the rewards of the better sales from being at the top of the charts (because at $0.99 you are only getting 35% of the money, compared to 70% at $2.99):

    Christopher Smith, who wrote the novel "Fifth Avenue," priced his novel at $2.99 when he launched it last October. He says that with some social media outreach--he did an iPad and a Kindle giveaway for those who tweeted about the book--and little else, the book quickly reached the Amazon Top 100 and peaked at No. 4. After the initial rise, Smith then decided to drop the price of the book to 99 cents to maintain his ranking in the top 100, which is key to generating sales.


    "When I went to 99 cents, I was going for longevity," Smith says. Later, when he was firmly planted in the Top 100, he started playing with pricing and listed the book back at $2.99. For every $2.99 book he sold on the Kindle, he needed to sell six books at 99 cents to make the same amount of money. While he drifted downward on the best-seller list, if he priced at $2.99, he says he was making significantly more money.

    "To keep the book on the list as long as possible, I'd just switch it back to 99 cents and it would quickly climb the list again," Smith says. "Rinse and repeat. This went on for months."
    • CommentAuthorEmperor
    • CommentTimeMar 5th 2011
    In the long run, publishing niche fiction in niche languages (say, scifi in Finnish...) gets a whole lot easier.

    Even better than that it also makes publishing translations easier and more economically viable (especially in the niche of something like Finnish sci-fi), as the example above from Oliver Potzsch suggests. As an example I have been looking for translations of Hanns Heinz Ewers but he fell out of favour due to his later Nazi associations but his work is still worth reading. Recently someone has put in a lot of effort to start working through his back catalogue and putting the books out on the Kindle and in print through Lulu (once I've broken my Kindle in I'll be scooping those books up).

    I was already considering translating a French novel (it is in the public domain but there is no easy available English translation) and sticking it out there to see what happens - I did some spadework last month but all this has convinced me it'd be worth doing just as an experiment, so I'll be returning to it soon.
    • CommentAuthorEmperor
    • CommentTimeMar 29th 2011
    And a less successful story, or is it? The reviewer points out typos and painful grammar, then the writer kicks off in the comments, the story goes viral and... sales zoom up. The moral of this story: There is no such thing as bad publicity (or online meltdowns). However, there isn't much I think you can take away from the story, unless you make deliberate mistakes just to trap a reviewer who you can then abuse... too much trouble. Just get a proofreader.
  4.  (9604.20)
    Emperor, I waded through all of that but nowhere do I see that her sales went up; everybody just piled on to tell her she was an idiot, and many swore they'd never buy a book from her.