There’s never been so many opportunities for authors to have their voices heard. With the advent of electronic publishing, came the opportunity for talented individuals to create their own publishing companies and writers who didn’t want to go that route could publish their own work. For several years, I enjoyed quite a lot of success being published by small press. The market was filling with unique perspectives and topics “the Big Six”, those massive publishers mostly headquartered in New York, would never touch. Gay romance authors burst into the market with their books like a firestorm, and I’ve enjoyed being part of that.
What changed? With so many new people writing romances, came a tremendous focus on self-promotion using electronic tools that went from email to virtual chats to blog talk radio in what seemed like overnight. Promotion strategies switched up as quickly as the tools we used. The sales opportunity pie got increasingly smaller.
Why? The free market – and I mean free.
Pirates are still happily stealing from us and there are authors who think having their book on a pirate site is a good thing…if someone steals one book but they like it, the reader will come back and and buy a different book. I’ve always wondered what thief would think this way? Authors and publishers have not banded together like the music industry has to catch the people siphoning off all these books for a “donation” and punish them. There’s no recourse for us except to complain. The DCMA (a stop and desist order) is laughable. The pirate takes the book down, today and puts it back up sometime in the future when you’ve forgotten to bird dog the website.
Amazon has a stranglehold on the market. Any author who wants to sell is pretty much forced to go there. Myself included. They have all the marketing and sales tools you need (many are free), they are honest about your sales reports and prompt with payments. But, how categories on Amazon has so many free items offered? Authors offer their books for free. Then the author is thrilled to announce they are #1 in free downloads. So they’re the best at giving away something for nothing. Okay. I’m in it to earn a little coin. I feel like our romance books are loss leaders for Amazon and we’re letting it happen.
At the same time, Amazon cuts your profit opportunity. If you don’t participate in their Kindle Direct program you can earn a 70% royalty, which sounds good until you realize your book won’t be distributed as widely as when you do participate. So, you sigh and sign up and get 30% profit. About the same as many publishers offer, I might add.
On our way to being noticed and bought, many of us, myself included, have worked on some really creative marketing strategies. Initially, we did things like offer our books for free for a limited time, or mark them down to $0.99 for a weekend, or bundle them into anthologies with other authors, all with the idea of getting the reader to try something we’d written for a low investment. If they liked the book, they’d come back for more – something that wasn’t sale priced.
What I think we ended up doing is conditioning American readers to believe that electronic romances aren’t worth more than $0.99. If I’m trying to sell a book at a higher price point, it’s going to be tough. There’re just too many that are free or under a buck. Why should a reader bother spending more when they don’t have to? For some reason, the convenience of buying and reading electronically has devalued, in the minds of the reader, the work we and our publishers put into the book. I haven’t questioned whether I want to intentionally, permanently devalue my work, too. I don’t.
To be fair, readers have always been fickle. They might love one book you wrote and hate the next even if it’s in the same genre. It’s always been a tough business, but I never thought it was only about money. I thought, foolishly perhaps, it was about the quality of the story and that like anything else you buy, the consumer would see the value and be willing to pay a reasonable price. It’s hard to believe that’s true today.
Here’s another case in point. I invested in a blog tour for my newest romance. It’s eight stops over seven weeks. I am really happy with the blog organizer and the various hosts – I’m appearing at blogs in the U.S. and the UK. I get a handful of comments at each post, which I genuinely appreciate. In this tour, readers have an opportunity to win a $15 Amazon or B&N gift card. At this moment, I’ve gotten at least 1,242 entries into this contest. Amazing, isn’t it?! And I’ve sold no books.
I averaged a 2-hour investment into each blog, and I spend time visiting at each location, responding to guests and promoting the event. I am contractually obliged to do these things and I’ll continue to do so, but I’m not the only one scratching their head and wondering what is it going to take to change this free or dirt-cheap mentality. We all don’t buy only at second-hand shops, and I’m quite certain we’re not all thieves, so why won’t readers buy electronic romances that cost more than a buck?
Anyone else thinking about this, too? And so you know, any perspective is welcomed here as long as it’s respectful. I don’t tolerate that at any level and I’d love to start a conversation.