Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My 99c Box Set...

There's a lot of online debate these days about the 99c price point devaluing an author's work, and some derisive statements in general about box sets being sold for 99c. Some people suggest box sets are tawdry and full of sub-standard stories. Tawdry and sub-standard are subjective concepts that I can't speak to, plus it depends on the box set so... *shrugs*

The price is ridiculous. I'm effectively selling a book that it took almost a year to write for 10c--and actually I'm personally selling it for 3c because the retailer keeps the rest. That is ridiculous, except...

At RWA this summer one of the key catchphrases was 'discoverability'. How does one author stand out from another? There are so many books out there right now, how do you get your story in front of a reader? The general consensus from this year's conference was to be prolific (not always possible to pull that bunny out the hat), write quality work (I try), and a certain amount of luck (let's put everything on red shall we?). There are promo strategies that authors can use, but the bottom-line is there are no guarantees, and things that worked a year ago don't always make a bump in sales today.

What can we do?

The most commonly used idea is lowering the price/having a sale for a few days. It has worked in retail for years so why not ebooks? The trouble is now many readers probably expect an ebook to go on sale at some point and therefore wait before buying it. But this isn't unique to ebooks. I often wait for cheaper mass market paperbacks to come out rather than buying the more expensive hardbacks. I also wait for some of the big pubs to drop the ebook prices because, crap, I'm not paying 11.99 for an ebook! Or I'll borrow it from the library. But the problem is that 99c sales no longer make much of an impact for indie authors because everyone is doing it. Making something free only works (sweeping statement) if it's the first book in a series and not always then.

So what is an indie author to do?

I was approached in late September about being part of a box set of Romantic Suspense stories from a group of best-selling writers. Someone else had had to withdraw from the project for personal reasons and they needed another author (I was never the first pick at sports either :)). I jumped at the chance. My ebook would still be on sale as a single title for $3.99 and strangely people are still buying it in the same numbers as before even though it is in the box set for less. But by joining the box set I also had the chance to reach more readers, maybe find a few fans, maybe hit the lists (hello USA Today!) and to learn a hell of a lot about promotion from some really savvy authors.

If you think something sells itself because it is priced at 99c, think again.

I should say that again, louder...

If you think something sells itself because it is priced at 99c, think again!

So why did I believe in this box set? Firstly, we promised readers it would only be on sale for one week at 99c and we kept our promise. It will never be 99c again, nor will it ever be free. It's still a bargain at $4.99 and will only be available until the end of February. So if I'm devaluing myself it's for a short length of time. I have value. My work has value. But having a great book that no one knows exists doesn't get you anywhere, so this box set marketing idea really worked for me. The stories within the set range from traditional RS stories, to CEO billionaire stories with a sprinkling of RS, to military romances (my story is the least traditional I think; it is kind of a military RS/spy thriller). The heat levels range from sweet to scorcher.

I don't think all readers will love all the stories--they are just too spread across the reading spectrum. I do think most readers will enjoy most of the stories and every single book in the collection is worth at least 99c, so they got a bargain. I hope, no, I believe, that most readers will be pleasantly surprised by the collection.

So did the strategy work for me?

Well I can't speak about gaining readers overall yet, but this particular 5-STAR Amazon review gave me hope because it sums up why many of us might purchase a box set at a cheap price. It's a sampler of work. An inexpensive way of perhaps finding an author you'll love (and all readers want to find authors they love)

"I bought this by accident, then read the description.... Ex-military guys embarking into the civilian world. Being raised an Air Force kid, then joining the Coast Guard after high school, thought I'd read a couple novellas before relegating it to cloud storage; however, this is staying accessible. I have not yet read all nine, but the story I'm on now sort of demanded a review from me. He's SAS hunting a Russian spy/terrorist and she's a wildlife biologist trying to save the snow leopard, and when these two meet...? You'll have to read it! Well worth the money. Thank you, authors for sharing your tales with us!!"

So was it worth it for me overall?

Financially I made back my investment and then some, but it hasn't made me rich. However, I've learned a lot. Actually being involved in this box set taught me more than I ever wanted to know about certain things. I experienced the usual outpouring of support from the author community (especially indies), which was lovely. I'll console myself about any negativity with my amazing friends and hopefully a few new readers.

Did I devalue myself and my work by being part of this box set? No. I did not. If the box set was forever at 99c then the answer would be different. As I said earlier, we had specific criteria and I like the timeline we developed. If only a quarter of buyers actually read my story in the box set it will still be a significant number of potential new readers. Will box sets work for other authors? Hard to tell. Again the market is becoming saturated. Plus, you can't live off that kind of royalty unless you are selling millions, and if you are selling millions you probably don't need to find more readers using this strategy. That's all it is, a strategy, to be used like a honed tool rather than an all encompassing blanket when selling your work. There's a lot of exhausting effort involved that many authors would rather use writing. I had no idea it would be such an intense experience. All ten authors spent at least four weeks promoting the hell out of our box set on a daily basis. I sweated for this project; I dreamed about it (I never told anyone that before). That's not even counting the work each author put into getting their own book into shape, organizing the legalities, finances, formatting, dealing with the retailers, banner design, book cover design, blurbs...you get the picture. So much effort. I can hardly believe it when I think of all the steps, all the intricacies. But working so closely with a bunch of great authors forged some wonderful relationships that I hope will last for years.

Okay, writing is what I'm concentrating on right now so I better get on with it. Wish me luck!

(PS. I'm not sure why Blogger is splitting my words at the end of lines. I've tried everything to strip it and fix it but, alas, Blogger has confounded me again. I'll try again tomorrow. That often fixes Blogger!)

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