Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Pricing your ebook

The majority of the publishing industry is made of folks who graduated with degrees in English, Journalism, or Literature. I’m sure this is of no surprise and you most likely just mentally said, “duh.”

As publishers and authors talk about what a tough business they’re in, I’m mentally saying, “duh.” It’s a business and their background is in writing. This becomes so apparent when I see the lesser known authors price their ebooks at market levels. This decision generally comes from the publisher not the author unless the author is self published. There are sites that will allow you to compare your book to other similar books and arrive at a market price for yours. This does not mean you should.

When you set your price at what the market can bear, you are setting a price at the maximum the market will pay for your book. This works well if you are well known and/or have a big fan base because demand will drive the market price and sales. But if you are new or unknown to the masses, the market price for you might be much less. Instead of using the market level model for setting your price you should use the Laffer’s Curve.

Rather than bore you with the math and graphs, let me explain with a real life example how this curve works.

Where I live, the art gallery area of town has all their openings on the first Friday of every month. My wife and I like to go there and make a night of it. There are big crowds, wine, music and generally a good time if you like gallery hopping.

Here’s my example: Most of the galleries are not selling very much art even though it is all very good. In one gallery I saw some paintings on the walls that I thought were absolutely fantastic. I really would have loved to have one or several on my walls at home. However, each painting was priced at $10,000. I didn’t like them that much and my art budget said no way. The artist’s name is Ablerto and I overhead a conversation with him and a gallery patron. The patron asked, “Why do you price all your paintings at $10,000?”

Alberto replied, “I used to price them at $25,000 and never sold any. When I lowered the price to $10,000, I started selling one per year. If you look at the other galleries, you will see similar sized paintings priced the same. So this is the market price.”

Ablerto is correct. He has priced his work at the maximum the market will pay for his art.

In another gallery divided by several artists, I entered a room with fantastic paintings on the wall, painted by an artist named Rebecca. Again, I would have loved to have these on my walls at home only Rebecca was not selling the original paintings. Instead she had bins filled with prints of her work already matted and ready for hanging. She priced these prints at $50, well within my art budget and far below the market price. Its clear Rebecca makes much less per unit than Alberto.

I grabbed my favorite print and stood in line to pay for my selection. Let me say that again, I had to stand in line to buy art from Rebecca. As I stood there for ten minutes, I counted the number of prints she sold from the time I entered the line to when I reached the front. She sold $500 in prints just while I waited to give her money and she was working as fast as she could. When I left the room, the line appeared just as long as when I entered the room forty minutes earlier. This leads me to believe Rebecca had a line like this for at least three of the five gallery show hours. Maybe she had a line for more hours but let’s say three.

I promised you no math but I lied. If Rebecca sold $500 every ten minutes, that would be $3,000 an hour. For three hours, that would be $9,000 a night. Working only one Friday night each month Rebecca makes $108,000 a year. Compare that to Alberto’s $10,000. This is the basics of the Laffer’s Curve. You will sell more at a lower price and less at a higher price. This is why Wal-Mart sells more toothpaste per store than the grocery store where you shop.

Because there are variable and fixed costs associated with physical books and that’s a lot more math, let’s stay with ebooks. After conversion costs, you have no variable costs per unit. In the business model world this is the best scenario for your book. You have no costs to cover so you can do like Rebecca and price your product far below the market rate. If similar books by big name authors are selling for $12.99 to $19.99, you should price your ebook at $1.99. If lesser known authors are selling similar books for $7.99 to $9.99, you should price your ebook at $1.99.

Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Here’s an interesting book by someone I’ve never heard of. Hmmm $8.99, I don’t know, I can get an author I’ve heard of for that money. Wait here’s an interesting book from someone I’ve never heard of before. $1.99, what have got to loose?

I know, you make less royalty at $1.99 but don’t forget the Laffer’s Curve. You will sell more at a lower price and that increase in volume should surpass the smaller royalty per book. As your sales numbers grow, you can slowly increase your price until you see the numbers start to fall. At that point, you will have reached the market price for your individual book.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Selecting Titles

We all know that you can't judge a book by its cover but people do it everyday which is why your cover is so important. For me, it's too important to leave to cover generating software or some boilerplate template that publishers use.
On the same subject of judging a book, the title acts in the same way. This is why it is not a good idea to become too attached to your well thought out title.

Here's why: unless someone is in the store specifically looking for just your book your title will have to do all the selling. When a reader, or you, scans the shelves at Borders for something that might interest you, you first notice the title. If the book has been fronted on the shelf, you will notice the cover and title but most books are not displayed this way. If the title is intriguing enough to make you take the book off the shelf you will then look at the cover and either the back or inside jacket for the plot summary. If that keeps your interest you will read the first paragraph. And, if you continue to turn at least three pages, you will probably buy the book.

So let's go back to what made you want to take the book off the self, the title. This is your front line on the marketing battlefield and it needs to reach out and grab the reader by the hand, shake their hand, slap them in the face, reset the time on their watch, and say, "read me."

This is where my un-scientific market research comes into the picture. No matter how incredible I think my title is, I still put it up to a vote. I do this by sending all my friends in my email address book five to ten different titles that would fit with my manuscript and I tell them this:

Knowing nothing about the book, if you saw these titles on a shelf, which one would make you pick up the book to see what it is about?

Every time I have done this, the title that I thought would be judged as the most spectacular doesn't even get a single vote. Usually, the most favorite title makes me ask the question, "Why did they like that one?" I used to follow up with more emails to find the rationale behind their decision but I have learned it doesn't matter. For whatever reason, and they all have different reasons, they chose the title that interested them the most. This is all that matters. You want a title that will speak to your market.

This process is how one of my manuscripts changed from the title The Last Hunter to Ice Age Paradox. I think you might even agree that the latter is more interesting than the first.

So do not fall in love with your title, let it be a work in progress. Try to stay away from a title that will make more sense after you read the book, and don't loose focus that the title is there to sell the book.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Books – The Original Pirated Media

There has been a lot of uproar about ebooks and all the potential piracy. I’m not saying there will be no pirating of ebooks, it’s already taking place. In fact pirating books has been going on since the year 1440.

If you’re thinking, “They didn’t have itunes back then,” you would be correct. 1440 is the year the printing press was invented and for the first time books became available to the masses. With this came consistency in spelling reform and the general public learning to read.

However, a book was still a luxury item. So, if you had one, you usually shared it with others after you read it. When it made the rounds through your network of friends in the village, you read it again and again and share it again and again.

Unlike music which people listen to over and over, most people will read a book once. After you reach the part that says, “The End,” the book sits on your shelf for all eternity. If it’s an amazing book you might read it twice and let a friend borrow it. If that friend likes it, they will pass it to a friend and so on… A year later you would get back a well loved book that had been purchased once and read by many. Just like those mp3’s that you downloaded. Someone at one point purchased it and shared it with many (the world).

Today when I read a great book and tell my friends they will reply, “Sounds good, let me borrow it.”

I follow up by asking, “Do you have an eReader?”


“Then, you have to buy a copy because my book is an EPUB format.”

Since my friends are afraid of eReaders at this point, it means the author just sold two copies instead of one and the ebook I purchased should have paid a higher royalty than the paperback.

Yes, one day the whole world will own eReaders and Kindle will get a clue and convert to EPUB and we will all share our ebooks just like before. But the same way cassette taps and CD burners and mp3’s brought an end to the music industry… wait there are still musicians making millions. In fact there are more musicians earning a living off their music because more people have access to the industry that is no longer controlled by the giants who want to remain in the past where they control all.

Let me start over. When we all have eReaders, there will be more and more books and combined media available to purchase and share. People will make a living writing and selling ebooks just the same way people still record and sell music today. Ebooks will not kill the industry, it will open it to the masses just like what we saw back in 1440 when we started pirating books.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Red Firefly Premise

It's the story of two guys, a girl, a briefcase full of money, a salad spinner, a time machine and a small red fly. You know, "that old story."

The Red Firefly Synopsis

Bill begins his Saturday morning as usual, when a small explosion and a man in a Hawaiian shirt suddenly appear in his closet. This stranger (Joe) insists they are best friend and has traveled back in time three years to carry out a master plan created by Bill in the future.

Bill agrees to help the man gather provisions needed for the scheme. While gathering items, they stop at a pawnshop where Joe pays off the loan on a large ruby ring, which is a family heirloom belonging to a friend. He knows the pawnshop will burn down later that night and the ring would never be seen again.

From the time spent together, Bill realizes this man knows too much about his personal life to be a random stranger. They run into other friends who also do not know the Hawaiian shirted stranger and Joe observes their lives without his influence to find they are all better off without him except for Bill who is missing a special piece of his life and his heritage.

To prove they are best friends, Joe takes Bill to a fishing spot on the Pine River outside of town. He explains this to be the spot where Bill's Grandpa George caught a state record trout on the day Bill was born. Bill recognizes the spot from an old photograph of his grandfather. Joe also explains that Grandpa George had a special red fly pattern he tied that should have been passed down through the generations. However, Bill's grandfather and father died when he was a baby and he never learned how to fish or had ever seen this red fly.

After spending the morning with Joe, Bill agrees to help him with this master plan. In exchange, Joe offers to help Bill get back the missing piece of his heritage.
He explains how in the future they come to possess a discarded government surplus time machine. After reading a book (The Senator's Deal) about a Senator's botched assassin-for-hire plot three years in the past, Bill (in the future) developed a plan to recover a missing briefcase filled with a million dollars. They enlist the help of Bill's wife Cindy who thinks Joe is a con artist.

She tries to get the mystery man to confess as to what he is really trying to do. After a search of his gym bag she finds, a book (The Senator's Deal) with a published date in the future, along with a picture of Joe at a table in a bar with Bill and Cindy. There's another woman (Mary) in the picture that she has never seen before.

During an exchange of conversations and stories of adventure (from the future) Joe shares about the Bill and Cindy, they hear about a life they wish could have been.
Cindy realizes that Joe has some kind of alternate motive. He confirms her suspicions but will not disclose his actual agenda.

The master plan leads them to a bar on the edge of town. Joe describes the events of the night, before they happen. Even though all of his stories of past events involve drinking beer, he only drinks water at the bar. When a biker near the front door leaves, that’s their signal to execute the plan.

Hiding in some bushes, they watch the Senator hand the briefcase full of money to the biker. The police break in after Joe grabs the case and a chase ensues. They find the briefcase never contained any money, elude the police and wind up back in town at sunrise.

Joe explains that he didn't really come back for the money; he only wanted to save the life of the mysterious woman in the picture (Mary). On that same night three years in his past, he drank too much, wrecked his car and killed Mary his fiancée. As they walk through the park Mary passes by and says hello. Joe is then transported back to his time period.

Now back in the present, Joe once again finds the world not as he remembered. Bill and Cindy are his friends, but most everyone he encounters is angry with him including the host of a local children's show (Captain Andy) who tries to kill him. Mary is alive only now she is pregnant with his baby and has a deep hatred for Joe whose memory is fading.

Bill now has a new master plan to help his friend get his life back to the point where it should be at this time. It must all happen before Bill's birthday, which is tomorrow.

He takes Joe and Mary, along with his wife Cindy who is also pregnant, to the top of a mountain to be married by an Indian Chief. Mary, who takes every opportunity she can to physically hurt Joe, thinks the time travel story is just a foolish attempt to evade a commitment to her.

Trying to put an end to the marriage talk, she makes a deal with him. If he can produce an engagement ring within one minute that is so wonderful it'll make her cry, she'll marry him.

Joe pulls out of his pocket her grandmother's ruby ring that he rescued from the pawnshop. She cries at the sight of the ring when she realizes all the stories were true. They are married at the top of the mountain right before Mary and Cindy go into labor.

While holding their newborn sons, Bill explains to Joe how the time machine can only be activated for one more trip that he will use on his birthday. After considering all the possible places in time he could visit, Bill decides to get back that piece of his heritage that Joe said belonged to him.

The story ends with Bill standing in the Pine River receiving fly fishing pointers from an old man named George who shows him a special pattern that he tied. He holds up the fly that he calls a Red Firefly.

If you would like to read the first three chapters of The red Firefly, send me an email to:

Time Pirate Premise

In order to save the earth from an invasion by a superior army, the whiskey loving space pirate John Grant embarks on a quest to keep this enemy force from obtaining a treasure he has guarded for thousands of years.

During his journey through time and the universe, he learns the art of piracy from Blackbeard, drinks mead with Moses, travels with Captain Richard Burton, participates in the War Between the States and battles all kinds of creatures from many planets all while he pursues his nemesis, a man named Dutal.

As Grant and his crew infiltrate the invading force, the fight turns personal. All of his experiences from participating in historic and future events come together at this one point in his life. Grant learns the enemy army is commanded by the man who killed the one woman he loved hundreds of years ago, General Dutal.

If you would like to read the first three chapters of Time Pirate, send me an email to

Time Pirate Synopsis

In the year 2384 the feared space Pirate John Grant accepts a commission to cross enemy lines and confront the leader of an overwhelming hostile force about to invade Earth. The newly appointed King of the invading race is after the treasure of the Knights Templar that Grant has guarded for centuries, which among the riches contains the Arc of the Covenant and the Third Nail of Christ that gives the bearer immortality.

With a stolen ship and a rag-tag crew they embark on a journey chased by bounty hunters and militia. He must use the skills, and wisdom he acquired from thousands of years of time travel forced upon him by a mysterious man known only as a Time Pilot.

His first contact with this time traveler placed Grant in Walachia in the year 1462. At age nineteen he encountered the Impaled Forest and Prince Vlad who thrust the young Grant into a sword battle where he killed his opponent. Dutal, the brother of the dead man, vows revenge and becomes Grant's arch nemesis.

Grant then takes part in the Battle of Bull Run where he discovered the immense treasure his future self hid in a church vault near the battlefield.

Back in space, Grant rescues several of his old crew members in a black market port. A dispute arises over a shot of whiskey which escalates to a fight that destroys the town. Back on his ship, to relax, he plays a musical instrument made of crystal and explains that he's trying to create a perfect note so he can again see the woman that burned in his heart. A lesson learned from time he spent with Frank Zappa.

Once again under attack from several bounty hunters, they are surprised when Queen VyDanna and her powerful military come to their rescue. The eighty-year-old Queen boards his ship but Grant is too embarrassed to face her. Wearing an old wristwatch strung through a chain around her neck, she forces him to look into her crystal blue eyes. With a tear streaming down her cheek, she leaves his ship.

The Caribbean 1718A.D.: A twenty one year old Grant is captured by Edward Teach (Blackbeard) and the master teaches him the art of piracy.

Space current day: After a raid on an asteroid based mining colony guarded by giant cyborgs and robotic tigers, Grant and his crew sell the valuable industrial crystal ore at the next port town. Because of their leader's affection for whiskey, which leads to the destruction of the port, the crew find themselves once again on the run from bounty hunters.

England 1642 A.D.: A twenty three year old Grant meets Maryrose the woman that fills and thrives in his heart for the rest of his existence. They wed and he dedicates his life to her happiness.

The town comes under siege from Cromwell's Royalists and Maryrose is forced into a sword fight with a soldier who turns out to be Dutal. She's murdered before Grant can rescue her and she dies in his arms as the Time Pilot takes him away.

1118 Jerusalem 1118A.D.: Grant chases Dutal across the desert on horseback when he meets up with and befriends the original nine Templar Knights. They disclose to him the vast treasures under their protection.

Space, current day: Grant and his crew are captured by the Captain of the Pandora and brought to trial on a nearby planet. A band of pirates led by a fully-grown Payen (who Grant rescued as a boy and mentored to be a pirate) raids the court and rescue Grant and his crew.

Space, year 2334: Grant, now twenty-five years old accepts a commission to help a young Queen with whom he has fallen in love with which conflicts with his feelings for Maryrose. In order to save her people, the young and beautiful Queen VyDanna with crystal blue eyes has asked Grant to represent her throne in the Corbet challenge.

Grant battles fellow pirates and several hideous creatures before he captures the Corbet Medallion. At the ceremony where he is dubbed a Corbet Knight, Queen VyDanna attempts to abandon her throne just to be with him. Because his heart still belongs to Maryrose, he gives her his wristwatch and leaves believing he will never to see her again.

Egypt, 1340 B.C.: Egypt: Hired as a mercenary, Grant at twenty seven years old, drinks Meade with and reports his findings to the Pharaoh Akhenaten. Because of an uprising led by the ruler's brother, Akhenaten must flee Egypt. Only as a favor to the Pharaoh’s wife (Nefertiti) and son (Tutankhamen), he helps the King escape into the desert along with a few possessions, which include a stone tablet which Akhenaten carved the ten rules of the Book of the Dead.

Space, current day: Grant and his crew arrive on the planet where they expect to find King Enlili of the Banda (the force at war with earth) only to find it devastated with all the inhabitants impaled on wooden poles across thousands of square miles.

Planet Ta, year 2142: Grant is asked to help fend off an invasion by a powerful race. Acting alone, Grant uncovers the enemy's weakness, which he exploits to bring their demise. The Ta honor him with The Mark of Omar awarded to only three times before.

At the ceremony, the Ta sing to him using only perfect notes. The song, which is a gift to his soul, vibrates deep inside him until he sees Maryrose stand before him for the first time in 500 years. He holds her hand and feels her soft skin while smelling the flower fragrances in her hair. They talk as if they have never been apart. As the song ends, she vanishes.

Space current day: Grant and his men find and battle Enlili's soldiers and in order to save his crew Grant allows himself to be captured.

Egypt 1338 B.C.: Grant travels through the desert in pursuit of Dutal, when he comes across the former Egyptian slaves on their exodus from the land. He meets their leader, Moses; unknown to them, he is actually the Pharaoh Akhenaten who had originally enslaved them. They have placed the tablets with the 10 rules of the Book of the Dead in a specially constructed gold trimmed box and refer to them as the Commandments.

Space current day: Grant is brought before King Enlili who turns out to be Price Vlad the Impaler. Vlad offers to spare Earth in exchange for the treasure of the Knights Templar. Grant counters with a challenge of a duel. Grant has the choice to fight Vlad and end the war or fight Dutal and get his revenge for the murder of Maryrose.

Grant battles Vlad and forces a draw, a strategy he learned from a chess match played against Vlad centuries ago. The only way Grant could thrust his sword through the King was to let Vlad do the same. While Grant's eyes begin to close, he sees himself in the crowd next to the Time Pilot. Maryrose walks toward Grant and places the Third Nail of Christ in his hand.

If you would like to read the first three chapters of Time Pirate, send me an email to