Let’s Step Beyond the Curtain

I am going to take a moment to attempt to be a bit educational or at the very least informative here. This isn’t my typical style, so please bear with me.

Indie authors, self published authors, whatever you want to call us, we are in a unique position from our traditionally published brothers and sisters. We have more pricing control, more creative control, and ultimately, a larger percent of the profits stay with us. This post is going to be two fold because I am going to talk first about how pricing and royalty models work and then secondly I am going to elaborate on how you can help support both your favorite authors (indie and traditional alike) without any monetary investment.

First, lets tackle the big one. Price. I never realized how much of an issue price was within the indie community until I had to decide how to price my own books. Sure, I knew that our low prices made traditional publishers nervous. I know of the dream stories like Amanda Hocking. I’ve heard all the 99 cent kindle millionaires hype. But, being realistic, I also know that is unlikely to happen for most of us. But what I didn’t realize before I had to delve further into pricing, is that there is a royalty inconsistency not just between traditionally published authors, (who make a pittance per book, but often though not always sell in a larger volume) but between indie authors themselves.

No, our royalty scale is not decided by sales volume and bargaining power. It is dictated by price.

Allow me to back up for a moment here. How does this apply to you, as a reader? I’ve heard it floated around that some readers don’t understand why all indie books aren’t at 99 cents. While many readers may not be familiar with the ins and outs of pricing and royalties, they too have heard the headlines about 99 cent kindle millionaires, and they quietly wonder if maybe indies are getting greedy by pricing higher. 1.99, 2.99, gasp 3.99.

How much do you think an indie author makes on a 99 cent book?

Did you make your guess? All right, I’ll tell you. On a 99 cent book, I make 35 cents.

But wait. Wait you say. Your book is at Amazon, and I’m more informed than the average reader. One of the reasons Indies claim Amazon has been so good to them is because Amazon pays 70%. They were one of the first of the online retailers to do so. We praise them for it, for keeping the money in the author’s pocket instead of in the publisher’s pocket. So what gives, 70% of 99 cents is  70 cents (ish).

While that math is correct(ish), the scenario is not. Amazon pays 70% royalties in some markets on books priced $2.99 or higher. So under that math, an indie has to sell 7 copies at 99 cents to equal one sale at $3.99.

When you take into account that the Amazon algorithms generally favor books priced higher, that generally doesn’t happen. Additionally, because not all self published books are created (or edited) equal, consumer perception has begun to be that 99 cent works are inferior. That alone makes 99 cents a tough bracket to sell at. I’ve found, believe it or not, that I sell more at $3.99 than I do when I put it on sale for 99 cents. Crazy? Yup. I agree. But the stigma is there and all we can do is try and change it.

So, the next time you see an Indie book priced $2.99 and up, don’t wonder if maybe they are getting a bit greedy. They are just following good business sense.

Now that we have that uncomfortable money talk out of the way, let’s look at more fun topics. Readers are generous people. Many of us, myself included, want to help support authors and books we like. Most of us aren’t millionaires, so we can’t always buy every book we want. The good news is, there are other ways that we can help and most of them involve helping other readers too.

I’m going to focus on Amazon, because I am more versed in how things work there, but I imagine this works at other retailers as well.

The first thing you can do – If you’ve read a book – leave a review somewhere. It can be your blog, amazon, GoodReads, wherever you are comfortable. Reviews matter. They matter to readers, because they help point out why you may or may not like a book, but they also matter for elligibility requirements. Many advertising sites and promo sites (Including the ones that focus on free books) will not accept a book for advertising until it has met a minimum number of reviews with a minimum average rating. While it is good that they want to focus on quality, it can be a never ending circle. Readers need to find your book in order to review it and you can’t advertise it to readers until you have reviews.

Next, while you are on the book page, if you like the book “like” it.  (You can “like” author pages too.) These things help, because these are the types of features that make Amazon’s internal algorithms take note that people are interested in a product. That of course plays into what and who  Amazon recommends products to.  Interest drives interest.

Next, and this is  a big one folks. Tag products. If you scroll down the product page past the reviews, you will see tags on most product pages. You can either “up vote” existing tags, or add tags that YOU feel fit the book. To use them, simply check the box next to the tags you want to agree with. You can also note any that you feel are not appropriate for a boo. For example, if someone had tagged Outlander as Murder Mystery, I’d probably downvote that tag. If you look on Cornerstone, you can see the tags are:

  , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Now, why do these matter? Think of them as search form key words. To give you an example, when I searched for my name on Amazon, I wasn’t even the first result until my book was tagged with my name. Same with title, etc. By having the tag there, for example if someone searches “fantasy romance” my book will come up in the results. How high in the results I come up, the best I can tell, is partially based on sales rank and partially based on how many people have used a specific ‘tag’. So are you beginning to see the importance of tagging books? Not only do you help an author gain visibility, you help other readers who are searching for books get more specific search results. And this is something you can do for ANY books you read, not just Indies. If you hit the T button twice it brings up the tag window from any scrolled part of the Amazon product page.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. It’s been one I’ve wanted to write for a while because it spells out things I wish I’d known sooner. I hope it helps someone else as well.