Friday, September 21, 2012

How to Keep Your Book in a Top 100 Category

A fellow writer recently asked about my pricing strategies. This is something I don't talk about much because I wrote a chapter on Floatation Pricing ™ in The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe and didn't want to give away the farm. So as one might expect, I kept quiet. But since I still get plenty of questions from authors about price-point solutions, I thought I'd go ahead and share my thoughts on ebook pricing.

But before I do that I want to point out the big blue book image to the right. That is the audio edition of The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe. It was produced by an amazing Voice Pro, Philip Andrew Hodges. His voice is pleasant and enjoyable to listen to, so if you are considering creating an audio book at, look him up. And if you drive a lot or listen to audio books, consider grabbing an audio version of "The Guide". You'll be glad you did.

Now back to my thoughts on pricing…

My writer friend was curious why I use the 99¢ price point and sent me an email asking about my choice. I'm assuming he was asking me because my books are in the 3,000 to 11,000 Amazon ranking at the moment, and he probably thought I was doing something right. So here's what I said...

First of all, pricing has nothing to do with quality. Writers want to bring up the devaluing of books argument, but in truth, the price of a book has nothing to do with the  quality of the literature. Just look at Amazon's Top-100 bestselling books, where prices range from 99¢ to $9.99 and up. You see, the true value of any book is in the demand of the author. 

Authors are products. We are brands. 

Authors rarely think in terms of economics because we can be overly delusional at times, and narcissistic in terms of the world's perception of our work. If you don't believe me, ask any author who is on their third or fourth book. They'll tell you that they thought the world was going to wait in line for their first book as soon as it was released - it was that good! I know, I thought that way, too.

The point is, our books will abide by the laws of supply and demand and there isn't anything we can do about it. If you are in high demand as an author, you can raise the price of your book. If you are in low demand - in other words, if no one knows who you are, you should offer your book at a discount. Don't take it personal, that's just the reality of economics.

I price my books anywhere from 99¢ to $3.99 at different times. But I don't price them that way because I have placed a specific value on my work. 

I price my books to sell, but more importantly, to remain in my category Top-100 list. 

Staying in a category list is my #1 priority in regards to marketing. I don't think about sales (although I get excited when things are going well), and I don't think about whether I'm targeting the right audience either. All I care about is staying in that top 100 list.

"Now wait a minute, Jeff," you say. "Don't you realize the people buying your books on the cheap may never read them? Or worse yet, may write a bad review?"

Yes. And I don't care. If someone buys my books on an impulse, they are giving me more sales, but more importantly, they are keeping me in that category list. And that is the best place to be because that is where my true audience is shopping. 

"But don't you think readers see your 99¢ price as a sign of poor quality?"

No. But again, I don't care. If my book is priced at $3.99 or higher and I'm not in demand, they aren't going to buy my book just because I priced it higher. As the founder of The Kindle Book Review, I see award winning, well reviewed books with a $3.99 price point sitting on a 300,000+ ranking all too often. Remember, the longer I'm in my category list, I'm more likely to find the right buyers - outside of the list, I'm less likely.

I wrote a chapter about Floatation Pricing ™ in The Indie Author's Guide, and I get into the nuts and bolts about this strategy, but the basic idea is to be flexible with your pricing and change it as the tide rises and falls.

I never suggest using one price point. Not only is it important to set your price according to the demand of your products, it is important to be willing to change your price. Sitting on a $3.99 or $4.99 price point because of pride is just stupid. No offense if you're stupid.

If you're selling your books at $2.99 or higher, and they're selling like hot cakes, I'm not talking about you. And if you're trapped by a publisher's inflated pricing system, I'm sorry. I'm not calling either of these groups stupid - just the folks who are sitting there with their arms crossed, pouting about their sales, and blaming it on the guys and gals selling their books for 99¢!

What my friend didn't realize is that I price my books at $3.99, $2.99 and 99¢, always changing the numbers. Every author platform is different based on numerous factors. My audience, ghost/supernatural/occult, is not as large as the thriller audience, but it probably isn't as competitive either. And since I'm still a relatively new voice in the book world, I have chosen to set my price at 99¢ when necessary.

And when is it necessary? Simple. It is necessary for me to lower my price from $2.99 when I'm on the crux of breaking out of the Top-100 ghost category. So when one of my titles is teetering around the 15,000 to 20,000 overall ranking, I'm probably nearing #89 to #90 in my category. But I do not want to wait until I hit #101 because I'll be out of site and start free falling. Therefore, I re-set my price to 99¢ before it drops out of my list.

What I have discovered is that some readers are willing to try my work at $2.99, but not as many as those willing to try my work at 99¢. So when I've tapped out the readers at the $2.99 level, I drop my price, and the discount shoppers take over from there, boosting my ranking once again. Sometimes they'll take me from 20K to 8K or as low as 5K. The audience is always different. And it is always fun watching how the market changes from one week to the next.

"But what about book rentals via KDP Select? Wouldn't you rent more if your book was priced higher?"

No. I do not. My top selling book is always priced at 99¢, and has a ridiculously higher rental rate every month. I don't really know why; it's my shortest length book. Strange. 

Here are my MTD rental stats as of Sept. 21st:

.99¢ Book   -  64 rentals 
$2.99 Book -  11 "   "
$2.99 Book -    5 "   "
$2.99 Book -    2 "   "

Why do you think Carolyn McCray and the 99¢ do a promo featuring 99¢ books? Because they know that books (in general) will drop in ranking and rise in visibility.

Does that bother me that some people refuse to buy my work for more than 99¢? No. Well, not any more. I like readers with low and high book budgets. They are equally cool and just as loyal. Besides, why should I insist on selling at higher prices, when readers can choose from other new writers all day long at the lower prices? What makes me so special? Sure, I write books, but that does not entitle me to anything, including an audience.

Honestly I'm grateful for every reader, no matter what price they pay. And what the hell, I give away tens of thousands of copies every 90 days anyway. 

It's all about staying on the list, making use of Amazon's algorithms, getting noticed, and floating my prices to stay in my Top-100 category at all times.

All my books are currently 99¢, and when you read "The Guide" or chapter on pricing, you'll know why. I'm also using my Layered Marketing approach to the freebie promo I'm running this weekend (9/23-9/25). And if all goes as planned, Twisted Vengeance should hit the top 20 in Amazon's Top 100 FREE list. I actually plan for that because of the resources I use, but you never know. However, I'm 4/4 in my last 4 freebie runs.

In conclusion, there is no single rule to pricing - get locked into an idea and you'll slowly watch your ranking drop from obscure to pathetic in a few months (unless you are in high demand). There are far too many factors for anyone to say, "This is a guaranteed result". But if you've tried to price your book at all levels and you're still having trouble selling, it may be time to look at the other factors like cover, product description, writing quality, and sample.

Publishing is a business in motion, so it's better to learn how to sail rather than learn how to build a boat.

 ~ Jeff Bennington

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How to be Successful at Anything

If there is anything we all need, no matter what we do, what our goals are, or how lofty our ambitions, we need a path. We need a road map to guide us. And we need motivation. The trouble with these points is that we are all human; we fail often and miserably. But should our  vulnerabilities stop us?


I heard a story recently that made a huge impact in the way I look at success.

The story is about a young man who wanted to be the best athlete in his sport. He wanted to be famous and he wanted to make a lot of money. So the young man called up an old pro, a man who was considered a guru in the sport. He asked the guru if he could teach him the secret of his success. He asked if he could coach him and tell him what he had to do to be successful. Being the helpful man that he was, he agreed, and he asked the young man to meet him at the beach early the following morning.

The eager young athlete showed up a few minutes late, but the guru overlooked his immaturity and began his instruction immediately. He asked if the young man was willing to do whatever it takes to be successful, and the guy shook his head enthusiastically. The guru then walked through the sandy beach and into the crashing waves and signaled for the youngster to follow. The young athlete looked at him quizzically, but went ahead and did as the man asked.

The guru said, "Very good. Now keep moving."

The young man continued into the water until it rose above his knees. He wasn't much of a swimmer so he started to feel a little bit nervous and asked, "How deep are we going to go?"

The guru replied, "A little more." He waved his hand, commanding the athlete to continue, and he walked until the water rose over his chest. Naturally, the young man followed, but stood close to the guru, fear written all over his face.

The guru said, "Now take one more step."

The young man did so reluctantly.

"Now take another."

The young man took another step and lifted his chin so he could breathe and shouted, "I can't go any deeper without going under."

The guru smiled and said, "I know." He then griped the athletes shoulders and shoved him into the water and held him down. The athlete struggled, and kicked, and although he was as strong as a lion, the guru was stronger. He held him down until the young man almost passed out.

When the weary athlete came out of the water gasping for air, he coughed and spit out the salt water, shuffling through the waves until he returned to the sandy beach and plopped down, exhausted and lightheaded. The guru followed. And when the young man had caught his breath, he asked with a hint of hostility, "Why did you do that? You almost killed me!"

The guru bent down and looked at the youngster eye to eye and said, "If you want to be successful at anything, you have to want it as much as you wanted to breathe when I was holding you under."

The athlete just stared at the guru, stunned.

"If you want to be successful, you have to crave success more than your next meal. You have to want it as much as you want to sleep. You have to give up video games. You have to give up a few meals. You have to give up the things that everyday people are doing in their everyday lives, because success doesn't just come from wading through life. Success doesn't grow. Success doesn't appear. Success is what happens when you eat sleep and breath your dreams, not because you can, but because you cannot survive without it."

The guru stood up and left the young man on the beach.

This story is so applicable to writers. Publishing success is all about investing into a life-long dream, not a one-time achievement. And the same is true for any career, sport, talent, or hobby. Success is earned by putting much more time in than everybody else who is doing the same thing you are doing. We can't all be successful. But the ones who are, have been shoved under the waves and appreciate every gulp of oxygen they take.

Don't ever give up! But when you feel like quiting, you know what to do -- Dunk. Push. And hold your breath. A good drowning never hurt anyone swimming in success.

What do you think? What lessons have you learned about success?

Jeff Bennington  is the best-selling author of Reunion, Twisted Vengeance, and The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe.