Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Hidden Cost of Higher Book Prices

One of the hardest decisions to make as a self-published author is what price to put on your completed work. As quickly as possible, you want to pay for the editing, cover, and three months of electricity and health insurance you just incurred. However, you also know that lower prices can mean higher volume. With the advent of KDP Select, this decision got much easier. Earning 30 percent of 99 cents per book outside the program pales in comparison to the 70 percent of 2.99 inside the program. Sales go down by less than a factor of two and you earnings go up by a factor of seven! Given user psychology about the desirability of cheap books, you may actually see a slight increase in demand for a higher price point.

Now Amazon is sharing some of its incredible sales data with the author in a beta program. They offer this service at the touch of a button as step 9 of publishing your e-book.

9. Set Your Pricing and Royalty

KDP Pricing Support (Beta)

See the relationship between price and past sales and author earnings for KDP books like yours.
This sounds amazing. It shows you for books like yours (length, genre, your popularity as an author)  how much increasing the price should affect the demand for the produce. This is know as "elasticity of demand." Then they multiply the sales by volume for each price point to find the best spot on the profit curve. In terms of ECON 101, the example where adding more fertilizer on the field stops being profitable is called the point of diminishing returns. I can't show you the curve for one of my books because Amazon may view this as a breach of sales data, and for books that have a low sales history, the curve recommendation changes every hour. But the upshot is clear: for a strong book, you can take a hit of 30-45 percent on the volume, raise the price to 5 to 8 dollars a book, and make a lot more money. On my highest seller, if I sell 100 books a month today at $3 each, I earn $300. If I bumped the price to $8 and sold only 55, I could make $440. Why wouldn't I?

In my genres and experience, a series tends to attract ten times the readers of a stand-alone.  I like series because 70 percent of the buyers of book one spring for book two, and those loyal readers generally purchase all the books I have out in the series. I refer to this as "follow" or drag. That's a huge incentive for an author. However, the graph results from Amazon comes with an explicit warning that "You indicated this is the first book in a series. This case may be different." Because if you constrict the volume on book one by even a little, you hurt every book in your series.

While ever case is different, here is an illustration where doubling the price and profit of book one restricts volume of sales by x percent. Note that I've never seen a restriction of less than 30 percent on a recommended price increase. You can see by the chart that any decrease in volume costs you more as the length of the series increases. Even for a typical fantasy trilogy, the net effect is money out of your pocket if you follow the recommendation for book one. This drag effect is why some authors with a long series are willing to give away the first novel for 99 cents or free to hook people (the heroin model of marketing). For a short series, you can locate the acceptable audience loss level on their curve and try a partial increase. Be conservative, though. This is still a dark art, not an exact science.

% volume % earnings % follow Books in series
lost book one lost 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
5 190 3.5 186.5 183 179.5 176 172.5 169 165.5
10 180 7 173 166 159 152 145 138 131
15 170 10.5 159.5 149 138.5 128 117.5 107 96.5
20 160 14 146 132 118 104 90 76 62
25 150 17.5 132.5 115 97.5 80 62.5 45 27.5
30 140 21 119 98 77 56 35 14 -7
35 130 24.5 105.5 81 56.5 32 7.5 -17 -41.5
40 120 28 92 64 36 8 -20 -48 -76
45 110 31.5 78.5 47 15.5 -16 -47.5 -79 -110.5
50 100 35 65 30 -5 -40 -75 -110 -145

In conclusion, while an excellent resource for an author with a long, stable sales history and a stand-alone book, Indies who want to attract as many new customers as possible will have to modify Amazon's suggestions to balance our needs.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Release of the Jezebel Series Finale

Senescence is the final stage of life, where cells can no longer regenerate--the fate that awaits us all when we stop growing and changing. The starship Sanctuary has returned home after twenty years to a strange and hostile world. Stewart is sent as an ambassador to see if Earth still has the capacity to change or whether the crew will let the world suffer the consequences of corporate policies. Billionaire geneticist Laura Zeiss holds his fate in her hands ... and thereby the planet's. Will she choose to become one of the rulers of a decaying world or risk everything to save a naive young man? When Stewart finds out her secrets, will he still want her help?

As the final book, this was the hardest to write. It took twice as many revisions as any book I've done before. I did a lot of research on the coming "singularity" in 2045. What impressed me most was not the new technology, which I include, but the projected increase in human suffering. Worse, most of that suffering seemed destined for women and children. Every time I'd listen to a news cast or pundit, or research another topic, I would become more appalled and angry at what women are enduring today. A lot of that anger made its way in to the story. I focused on the world's richest woman and what she tries to do within the system for decades, including a reality TV show called Ballbusters that brainstorms creative solutions to raise awareness. Then I bring in a man, from another world, who sees the injustices and objects. Because he's a man, it makes news. Science fiction, right?

Friday, October 10, 2014

New Space Opera Outline

In September, I began the outline for a new series, a space opera, So far I am up to 32 single-spaced typed pages. I'm almost ready to begin book one. I carry a small school composition notebook with me everywhere. After 6 weeks, it's only half full. Everything--how stars are distributed in this galaxy, size, grouping, habitable planets, and even the gaps between stars--leads to plot points and characterization. Form follows function in my universe. The way FTL travel works affects everything from the banking system to how races expand.

Although I have three or four specific books I want to write, the back ground material would support a dozen. Set 400 years in the the future of the Jezebel universe, I planned out a very detailed timeline of Earth's colonization of the stars, construction of ships, trade, interaction with other species, and eventually war, I could even go back later and write about any period in between like Modesitt did with the imager series. Stewart Llewellyn, the hero from the Jez finale, founds the Anodyne colony and plays a big role leading humanity until the war. Our new hero, Max Culp takes over from there. As a twist from last book, I thought I would make him part !Kung, one of the click speak tribes of Africa, which makes him skilled on low tech world survival and immune to remote sensing by people with mental abilities--both assets to special forces. He is a combination of mankind at its most primitive and advanced. A medic present at two of the most horrific battles in the war, Max struggles to find a new path in the chaotic peacetime Union worlds. First, he hunts the race responsible. When those are gone, he faces a crisis. He has guilt for things he's done, especially failures, grinding his teeth at night. He copes by saving one person. Eventually, with the help of the talented people who collect around him like driftwood, Max becomes a leader at the forefront of Union decisions for the next era.

However, I need to paint a detailed picture for myself of each of the major colonies, Earth itself, the megacorportations/oligarchs, and technologies. Not all of this will appear explicitly in the work, but the structure is necessary for depth and texture. Below is a sample page of notes:


A sketch of the first human colony in space. The very name means healing and freeing from pain. Initial population 77 living astronauts and about 1000 embryos. Smaller than Earth, lower g. The hardest part to learn after landing was working with the ecosystem. Residents tend to pacifists, but not gullible. Leaders have lofty morals. Ivory towers are literally synthetic bone. Citizens get treatments to live 150 years. Stu lived over 200 years. They have eliminated dementia, cancer, and arthritis, almost as much through lifestyles and industrial rules as treatment.
Two hops from Earth along the Ceti route (24LY, end to end about 68.4 days + 91 for each end and turns conserving fuel ballpark = 160 days trip time) They have refueling stations in every direction to protect them. The colony projects influence. Renown for philosophy, design, ethics, hospitals, terraforming, planning, art, and university. Considered by the Sentient Union to be the capital of the Human commonwealth, which is a point of resentment among other humans. Very proud of their enlightened history. Each building and statue is a testament to some achievement. Trade began here, although more volume goes through other places. The seat of the current Llewellyn. Since YR 15, the captain of Sanctuary has always been one of the lineage. Laura froze about 20 embryos and after her death, Stu raises a new child every 16 years to keep him from dying from the pair-bond.
When his mother in-law Mira dies in YR 20, they promise her they will try to save Earth from itself. YR 30, Stu’s third child, Dominic develops theory of why 128 engines are needed to breach subspace. Around YR 65 they build the orbital shipyard and test, but never developed the population and industrial base to build their own starship. By then the original Sanctuary crew is dead. When they threaten to voyage on their own, blind, Mercy shows them the Magi star charts.
YR 70 Stu contacts the Sentient Union directly. Anodyne buys an ansible to communicate faster than light. They trade the basic laws/safety regulations for starships with Mnamnabonians for human entertainment. They trade the secret of Joan to the Magi for principles of Terraforming. She becomes the planet’s memory.
In YR 80, they return to earth to teach the basics of starships. Anodyne population is only about 770. Trying to be sustainable. Link to Sanctuary is still their umbilical. Only one city. Learn that building codes for space port must last over 500 years. Forced to start another—University. This remains the biggest single metropolitan area.
In 105 at the next Union convocation, humans are named the mentor race for the pandas.
With the migration and building/trade boom, by YR 110, the population is up to 9000. About 1000 more every decade, handpicked from best earth scientists.
In 115, they take over the colony Overlook near Oblivion, with a mahdra crystal plantation, a battery that charges with radiation or sunlight and has over 90 percent retention, the foundation of portable Magi technology. Upper limit population of 5k, this is a research station with amazing wealth.

By 120 Anodyne has 3rd city and 50k.
In 321, the last Llewellyn child raised by Stu is killed on a diplomatic mission,
beginning the Gigaparsec War. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Loro Parque: Zoo Extraordinaire

This summer, my family and I went on a 14 night, transatlantic Disney cruise. Gaining an hour's sleep a night as we changed time zones was cool, but the highlight of our cruise was the Loro Parque zoo. Warning: this is more photos than I've ever put in a blog entry, but we took hundreds.
There was no premade excursion for this, so we had to roll our own. The taxi ride to the park costs about 100 euros round trip (you have to bargain), but takes you over volcanic peaks so close to the clouds you can touch them. Over the half hour drive, you get to see a city nestled into the mountainside, black beaches, and banana plantations. Loro Parque has more birds that any zoo in the world, dolphins, jellyfish, orcas, a white tiger, and more penguins than anywhere outside Antarctica. Plan to spend at least three hours.


 The killer whales make a point of splashing the first dozen or so rows. The zoo sells ponchos for 6 euros a piece, but they don't help. When that wave hits, you get soaked, and everybody else laughs.

But the major attraction, the one that awed everyone, was the penguin habitat. My son's first movie was March of the Penguins, and apart from a recent fondness for dragons, it is still his favorite animal.

Picture a horseshoe-shaped moving sidewalk. In the center, is a two-story, glassed in habitat the size of a football field.

They have what seemed like a dozen species of penguin on rocks, surrounded by imitation ice floes and water teeming with fish. The temperature is kept at zero and lights are dimmed to match the cycles of Antarctica.

As we entered to the strains of Vangelis' instrumental Antarctica, we were stunned to see snow coming out of the holes in the ceiling. Pierce's smile couldn't have been any wider. (He took many of these photos.) The penguins napped and played on the rocks, but rocketed through the water like torpedoes, leaping like dolphins. We went through for a second pass and sat in the bleachers, still amazed. As we stared, they came up to stare back at us.

As they say in the credit card commercial: Having your son's childhood idol come up to him nose-to-nose to say hi: priceless.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Twelve Thousand Books

I am reminded of an episode of The Simpsons where Bart is forced to write "I will not celebrate meaningless benchmarks" one hundred times on a blackboard. I reached 250 Goodreads ratings and 150 Amazon reviews. This month, I also hit sale number twelve thousand for e-books, for which I am extremely grateful. This was roughly distributed as:

  • 7300 for the Jezebel's Ladder hard sci-fi series.
  • 4100 for the Doors to Eternity epic fantasy series.
  • 400 for the Ryoku series and spinoff in the contemporary/urban magic world.
  • 200 for the other five books I wrote combined.

Since I just finished the last book if the Jezebel series (Senescence), I'm planning a big event for the release in early October, but I'm treading water while I wait for editing feedback. This is a good time for reflection.What did I learn in the last three years, and how will it change me as a writer going forward?

  1. A good series is your bread and butter. I have no idea what book I will write next, but I should plan for a series. They sell 10 to 14 times what a standalone does. I already have an idea for a Jez spinoff set on the moon. The self-aware computer expanding over the entire lunar surface is likely to be a major backdrop. Over my upcoming vacation, I'll write up some notes and see where it leads.
  2. If I research what I'm passionate about, I'll find something there to write about. Writers make connections in the weirdest places. Learning keeps my brain active and the subject matter alive/realistic. I've written on everything from djinn to space colonies, and it's all fun.
  3. Stick with your target audience. If they don't want something, people get mean, even when it's free. When Jez was number 4 on the free sci-fi list, a lot of people took a chance and downloaded a copy without reading the blurb. Those people weren't my audience or demographic. As a consequence, I got three scathing reviews that week that took months to recover from. On a related note, always watch your tags. Someone with a financial interest added a false BDSM tag to take readers to the top twenty books in that category. One reviewer got a little peeved when my book didn't deliver in that department. Even stranger, after months on the top one hundred sci-fi, Amazon ate Jez's sci-fi category on a routine pitch update. The problem took months for a friend to spot, and the book never achieved its former rank on the chart.
  4. My style changes over time. This is a good thing. It's much easier now for me to strike a note and carry it through a scene. Each time I attempt something more difficult or pick a new editor, I learn more about the craft. A year after I release each book, I go back and polish in order to incorporate what I've learned since. I always like the characters and flow, but I am sometimes embarrassed by word repetition, dialog tags, or some other small mechanics item. Lately, I think that I may be growing more as an editor than as a writer.
  5. Every new book is like betting on a horse race. As a writer, I never know what will sell. My YA books haven't sold squat, despite the fact that my kids loved them. LE Modesitt warned me not to try to be all things to all people, but I wanted to share an adventure with my son, Pierce. I still have a decent hit ratio. My highest rated book ever (4.8/5) and the one that has garnered some of my most loyal and vocal fans is "Foundation for the Lost." However, it just doesn't sell. After devoting time to this issue, I have decided that first, the book belongs in Urban not Epic fantasy. Further, the cover, which brings most people into the parlor to shop, needed help. Renee did exactly what I asked, but I asked for the wrong thing. Since the chess pieces on the cover may have turned people off, I asked her to update the cover. She squeezed me in on her birthday. (thanks!) Here's the before and after for Foundation:

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Cover Reveal: Senescence

I'm on what should be the last three chapters of the finale of the Jezebel series! The characters still keep surprising me with innovative solutions to modern problems. High level edits are done on the first half of the novel. I hope to hand the rest over for edit before Labor Day. Target for release is October 1.

Senescence is the final stage of life, where cells can no longer regenerate--the fate that awaits us all when we stop growing and changing. The starship Sanctuary has returned home after twenty years to a strange and hostile world. Stewart is sent as an ambassador to see if Earth still has the capacity to change or whether the crew will let the world suffer the consequences of corporate policies. Billionaire geneticist Laura Zeiss holds his fate in her hands ... and thereby the planet's. Will she choose to become of the rulers of a decaying world or risk everything to save a naive young man? When Stewart finds out her secrets, will he still want her help?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Global Connections

For the past four weeks, we've had an eleven-year-old girl staying with us from Northern Ireland--Amie.
She'll turn twelve next week, the day we take her to the airport to return home. Tomorrow we're throwing her a birthday party with an Adventure Time theme cake. Amie did a poster board for the fair, in a category called Global Connections, reserved for children who spend time in other countries and share their experiences. She won a reserve champion ribbon. As I supplied the photos and the editing, I'm reproducing some of her essay here.
[ In this photo, she's eating fresh strawberries she picked herself with whipped cream. For the first morning, she was homesick, but after that, she and my daughter Emily were too busy. ]

The family that I am staying with here in America are Tammy and Scott Rhine, their two children Emily, who is ten, Pierce, who is twelve, and their three pets: Angel, Ninja, and Clay. They have been so nice and so welcoming, and it’s great to be staying with them. [ She is standing second from the left in the photo. After several hours of delay in Chicago, she fell asleep about ten minutes into the drive home. ]

I got the opportunity to come here from the Children’s Program of Northern Ireland (CPN). I heard about CPNI from one of my teachers from my primary school, Brooklands. He told the p7s could go so I signed up for it. I have never been to America,  so its been a great experience.

Back home I live in the city, and here I’m in the country. It’s a big change but the country is beautiful. It’s also a lot sunnier here. Some of the things I like about America are: it’s very warm, strawberries, candy, chocolate chip pancakes, swimming in the lakes, horse riding, and tubing. Things I dislike are: long drives, mosquito bites, and all the insects. [ Photo of the girls waiting for fireworks to start on the Fourth of July. ]

[ photo of the girls with the quilt Tammy helped Amie make for her bed--also a reserve champion winner at the fair. Last photo is of the donuts, cinnamon rolls, and caramel rolls Tammy made from scratch with them.]
Mum tells me that my Irish accent is starting to fade.
In America they use different words for some things:

Northern Irish
winding up
you all