Today’s guest post continues the 12-part series I’ve launched in this new year: asking self-published authors what are the top 5 things they’ve learned in the last year. Last year I featured numerous guest posts from indie authors who’d been successful, and I noted the diversity of reasons for their success—some completely in contradiction to another’s—so I thought it would be helpful to have more authors give their insights into the most valuable lessons they’ve learned. Hopefully it will help you navigate the convoluted and confusing maze of indie publishing and give you ideas on how best to spend your time so that it produces the results you desire in your writing career.
Today’s guest post is from Michael Drakich, and although he shares only 3 things, they’re detailed and insightful:
I’ve been asked to describe some things I’ve learned in the past year as a self-published author. The truth of them is they all involve the school of hard knocks. There is no easy path to success. Here are three major things with a number of other tidbits of advice mingled in.
1. Amazon is the 900-pound gorilla. Everyone knows the joke: Where does a 900-pound gorilla sit? Anywhere he wants to.
The Gorilla in the Room
When it comes to the indie publishing world, Amazon is the 900-pound gorilla. Self published authors have no choice but to accede to the whims of this monster. Because most self-pubs rely on ebook sales only and Amazon has the giant share of that market, they are forced to compete within that marketplace.
What does this mean? On Kindle Select the number of free novels every single day of the week (over 5,000 the day of this post) makes trying to sell your product a challenge. I mean, why should a book buyer look at your reasonably priced product, most ranging from $.99 to $4.99, when they can get a competitor for $0.00!
But it doesn’t end there. Let’s say a buyer decides to actually shop because he wants to search for quality. So they search a category and the default search is by popularity. Well, unless you can generate a lot of sales quickly, your book will be so many pages in, the buyer will never look that far.
Let’s say they change the search to average customer review. Again, unless you have had any luck garnering reviews in a massive amount, your book will be buried deep. What is purportedly happening is authors are buying five-star reviews by the hundreds to give them a high rating. Amazon’s algorithm’s kick in and, voila, a top-rated book. No effective system is in place to stop such abuse.
So how do self-published authors get their books found on Amazon? The simple answer is—they don’t. As long as Amazon is happy with the current system, they will have no motivation to change it. After all, buyers want to find the most popular or the highest rated. Why would they introduce anything that would be counterproductive to that?
The 900-pound gorilla is sitting and you can’t move him.
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions . . .
2. What price do I set for my ebook? One of the more difficult decisions I needed to make was what price to set my ebook at. Looking at the market, prices were all over the place. From a vast quantity at $.99 up to paperback prices of $11.00 or $12.00.
The major player, Amazon, with its pricing policy, urges the writer to consider $2.99. But their rating policy pushes you higher because higher priced books, when sold, move you up the rating list faster.
So what is a writer to do? I considered making a dartboard with prices on it but realized that was a bad idea. It came down to asking what am I worth? I opted for $4.99. Not the highest price, but definitely far above the average. It was probably pretty close to the median.
So am I saying my writing is only median? Not exactly. When examining those prices above $4.99, they belonged to writers with a greater established record than mine. Allotting a variance for just such a reason seemed only fair. So when comparing against other first-time self-pubs, I’m right near the top price. After all, I think I’m worth it.
Honestly . . .
3. Is honesty really the best policy? My marketing plan is one of seeking out bloggers to give me honest reviews for my latest novel. Hopes, of course, are to get all five-star reviews. Reality is a bit of a mix. To date I’ve received a combination of five-, four-, and three-star reviews. I think there was one in there that featured an extra half star, but I digress. Now, three stars is still not a bad review, and those reviews did include positives about my book. So, all in all, I’m not too disappointed.
My only disappointment arrives when I stop to examine the reviews and ratings of my fellow authors. Many feature scads of five stars and little else. When one takes the time to examine where those reviews came from, almost exclusively the review is the only one ever posted by that particular individual.
Now I may have been born at night, but I can assure you, it wasn’t last night. Either all these authors are exceedingly lucky that people reading their work post a raving review for their work and no one else’s or it’s fixed. I’m going out on a limb here and will side with the latter. If I’m to guess at what is going on, these authors are convincing friends and family to write glowing reviews. What you usually see is this trend continues for the first ten to twenty and then dies off. It’s the later reviews that tell the true story, whether a five star was deserved.
In the meantime, what has happened? The author, possibly by false pretext, manages to mislead the shopper that the work is quality based on reviews. They garner sales, which improves their ranking, which garners more sales, and so on. So why am I taking the high road? In hindsight, damned if I know. Well, I do, but I’m wondering whether I did the right thing. Does the average consumer out there question the reviews they read? Do they bother to follow a modicum of investigation? Probably not.
Still, I intend to soldier through. There is so much more to bloggers than the review. It’s the word-of-mouth campaign they run for you. I read once somewhere (I can’t recall) that new authors need to be heard of six to ten times before a buyer thinks, hey, I’ve heard of that guy before, so maybe I’ll buy his book.
I hope these stories give an idea of the challenges facing a new writer. To all who try, I wish them the best of success.
Michael Drakich is a writer of speculative fiction. To date, he has two novels released. One is an epic fantasy entitled The Brotherhood of Piaxia. The second is an adventure science fiction entitled Grave Is the Day. He will be releasing an adventure thriller very shortly entitled Lest The Dew Rust Them and is planning a spring release of another science fiction novel entitled The Infinite Within. Michael states that he has always adhered to the motto of the character Captain Taggert from the movie Galaxy Quest: “Never give up! Never surrender!”