"Roundheads and Ramblings"
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My Love-Hate Relationship with NaNoWriMo
Let's Take the Survey One Step Further
A Question about a New Book -- or Two
My Favorite March Column
Scammers and Trolls Are Alive and Well Today

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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

e-book pricing

A Reminder for Black Friday

It's Black Friday, and the Black Cat of Katzenhaus Books would like to remind you that we have two bargains on Kindle today. 

The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese is on sale today for $.99, but time is running out on that Countdown deal. The price will increase to $1.99 soon. Order it for someone you know who wants to write a book. http://www.amazon.com/Second-Mouse-Gets-Cheese-ebook/dp/B0076B1TE2/






Better yet, Teddy Takes a Road Trip
is available today for FREE! Order it now for someone you love, or add it to go along with that new Christmas bear


Jumpier Than a Long-Tailed Cat in A Room Full of Rocking Chairs

That's one of those sayings my mother used when I was growing up.  The imagery was very effective in settling me down when I was trying to do too many things at once.  And for that reason, if no other, it applies to me today.

It's also a term borrowed from the world of traditional publishing.  It refers to a book that starts off with slow sales but then begins to get some notice in odd places and eventually becomes a perennial best seller.  In the traditional publishing world, a new book generally gets a grace period of about six months to hit it big.  Publishers all try to get bookstores to give their newest volumes front and center space -- a shelf or display all to themselves -- cover facing outward -- signs in the window -- ads in the newspapers.  But if it doesn't work, the book disappears into the back of the store, stored spine-out on a shelf with several hundred other  wonderful books that just didn't quite make it.  A Long-Tailed Cat is a book that customers keep asking for, even after the publicity hype is over.  Most books hit the remainder table outside within a year, and after that are either returned to the company or sold off in bulk to fates better not even thought of.  Long-Tailed Cats survive.

In the world of electronic publishing, however, there are no storefronts to dominate, no bookshelves to fill with the covers facing outward, and no need to move out to make room for the newcomers.  Remainders are a thing of the past.  Electronic books  (at least theoretically) can live forever.  And that means that we can have lots more long-tailed cats!  

My first one appeared almost exactly a year after publication.  Beyond All Price hung around on social media sites until I had sold a copy to everyone I knew.  But when I had exhausted the list of friends and relatives who were willing to cough up the price of a book, it appeared doomed. I had been conditioned by that traditional publishing world to expect a run of no longer than a year.  So by the summer of 2010, I "remaindered " it, at least in my own mind.  I offered it for free on Smashwords and prepared to forget all about it. Then the long-tailed magic happened.  Amazon price-matched the book and featured it on one of their website lists (what made them choose that book, I have no idea).  And without my turning a hand on its behalf, Nellie Chase's story began to grow its own tail of some 47,000 copies..That was some three years ago, and Beyond All Price still sells well.  Today, I even had an inquiry from someone who would like to do narrate the book in audio format, so it looks like the tail continues to stretch.

The best news today, however, is that I'm beginning to detect another long tail.  The Road to Frogmore has been published since November, 2012. Sales have been steady but slow.  There just hasn't been a "buzz" about the book -- until now.  When things happen in threes, I am superstitious enough to take notice, and Frogmore has had its three already this week.  A couple of days ago I mentioned the quarterly online magazine of Military Writers Society of America, which revealed that The Road to Frogmore had been chosen as Book of the Month for last November.  And then a second commendation included it on the Author of the Year's recommended reading list for Winter 2014.  

And then, today, I woke to an announcement that the Association of Independent Authors had decided to feature the trailer for Frogmore on its front page for the month of January. (You can view it here).  Already there has been a small flurry of new sales, as word of the book begins to spread out.  This true story of  a strong and determined woman, who almost single-handedly established successful schools for newly freed slaves in South Carolina during the Civil War, is not fluffy reading, but it tells an inspiring story.  Those looking for both entertainment and enlightenment will find them here.

To celebrate and encourage Frogmore to become another Long-Tailed Cat, I am cutting the price of the Kindle edition.  Starting tomorrow and for the rest of the month, the electronic version will cost just $1.99 instead of $3.99. And if you bought the paper version from Amazon, (or if you plan to do so now, ) you can claim your matching Kindle edition for just $.99.  Let's keep the tail growing!

















Another Viewpoint

I'm swamped today -- checking the final proof pages of "The Road to Frogmore." So here's a post from another blogger about the current state of KDP Select. To see the whole post and comments, click here.

    1.    One of the basic elements in an author’s decision is whether he/she is selling a lot of ebooks outside of Amazon. If you’re selling 40% of your ebooks on Nook, you definitely don’t want to turn those royalties off to sell exclusively on Amazon.

    2.    The free pricing promotion used to be the best part of Select because it could goose sales rank and push a book into the top 100 in a genre or higher for much better visibility. Lately, free pricing has lost its luster in spurring “sales” because a lot of authors are doing it. Authors suspect many readers download free books that they never read, so authors don’t get many flow-over sales from free books into paid books. Additionally, some authors and analysts believe Amazon has modified its sales rank algorithm to give less weight to free “sales” than it does to paid sales.

    3.    Some people generate quite a few borrows from the Prime Lending program and regard those as the equivalent of sales. This seems to be the biggest draw at the moment, but its success varies a lot from author to author. Borrows do seem to be treated similarly to paid sales for Amazon sales rank purposes.

    4.    Nobody seems to be selling much in India, so the higher level of royalties there doesn’t mean much.

    5.    Fewer authors are putting all their books into Select. Typically, they’ll list one book to see what happens with borrows during the 90 day period, then take it out of Select to see if there is any increase in sales.

If you still want to try it, here are some tips I'm trying to follow this week.

1. Use your free days carefully - never on a weekend, and never around a holiday. Free promotions that occur in mid-week, particularly Wednesday and Thursday, are most successful.    

2. Publicize heavily. Send notifications to designated twitter sites such as free kindle, kindleebooks, KindleUpdates, etc. Use hash marks, like #free, #free ebook, or #freebies.  Contact websites that publicize such offers.  GoodReads will publicize your offer as an event, for example. Let your friends know -- especially members of online writers' groups, and ask them to retweet. 

3. Don't expect miracles, but recognize that any new reader you pick up may come back to purchase your other books. Without readers, our books can't communicate, and this is one way to increase your readership.

Two Things You Need to Understand about Amazon Pricing and Royalties

Live and Learn!

Recently I was unpleasantly surprised to see that Amazon was selling my major books on Kindle at $0.99 while I had listed them at $2.99. So far as I could find out, they were not price-matching any other source for those books. So I wrote to them to find out why and how long they intended to keep this discounted price going. They answered that they were matching a discounted price on Kobo.  That is now apparently so, although I have never had a sale on Kobo. They are getting their books from Smashwords, and Smashwords has no record of a sale.

Well, who started what is beyond my ability to figure out, but the real shocker came when Amazon went on to explain how a discounted price affects royalties.  Now, I always understood that if you offer a book for FREE, they don't pay royalties.  Fair enough! But this was what I did NOT know.  Here's their explanation:

"The price at which we sell your book may not be the same as your list price.  This may occur, for example, if we sell your book at a lower price to match a third party's price for a digital or physical edition of the book, or
Amazon's price for a physical edition of the book.  In this case, if you have chosen the 70% option for your book, your 70% royalty will be calculated based on our price for the book (less delivery costs and taxes)." That means I get less than $0.66 for a book priced at $0.99.

They go on to say, "If you have selected the 35% royalty option, your royalty will be calculated off your list price, regardless of the price at which we sell your book, ( unless we are matching a free promotion for your book on another sales channel, in which case your royalty will be zero.) That means that if I have chosen the 35% royalty option, I will receive $1.05 for each book sold, even if Amazon sells it for $0.99.

You can switch to the 35% royalty option at any time. Well, obviously it pays for me to switch from 70% to 35% right now, but I'll have to keep an eye on it every day.  If they return to the original list price, I'll have to go in and change my royalty settings again.  Does it make sense? No, of course no -- not at our level.  Maybe for Amazon, the benefits of paying some lower royalties overall outweighs the pennies they lose on my discounted royalties temporarily. But for me, it seems annoying and petty.

For more details on pricing for the 35% and 70% royalty options, please visit the following link:

In Hindsight: What I Learned from Three Free Days on Kindle Select

My new little book, Left by the Side of the Road: Characters without a Novel, appeared as a free offer on Kindle for three days last week.  I put it there deliberately to test some of the theories that are currently floating around the internet.  Here's what I found out:

Q: Is it true that publishing a "book-a-year" is no longer enough? Are our readers demanding extra books, even if they are nothing more than long short stories?

A: The importance of this practice may have been exaggerated.  From what I could tell, the people who downloaded my free book of short stories were those who had already read Beyond All Price.  For them, perhaps the small offering between the publication of major books was welcome. But I do not see that it attracted many new readers.  Readers who did not already know me and my work yawned and went elsewhere. Would I do it again? Probably not, unless, as this time, I already had a body of work that needed a chance at publication. I would not write something new just to fill up a couple of months between publications.

Q: Does offering free copies of e-books for a few days really spark sales and boost the book's rankings?

A: No and Yes.  Unlike the viral fever that hit Beyond All Price a year ago and kept copies selling for a month after the free offer expired, this offer ended and so did sales. And while the rankings went up during the course of the free offer, they too plummeted when the freebies ended.

Suspiciously so.  During the second day, downloads drove the book up the rankings until it reach #16 in Historical Fiction.  When the sale ended, it was no longer even on the chart. As for the overall ranking number, it was something like 1,187 during the sale and around 265,000 within three hours of the end of the sale. That would suggest that during the wee hours of the night, 265,000 other books sold more than the several hundred downloads that Left by the Side of the Road had accumulated. That's pretty unlikely.

So what was going on? I see this as strong confirmation of a rumor that has been circulating--Amazon used to count free downloads the same as sales.  Now they do so only during the sale period.  Then they discount downloads at a high ratio.  I've heard 1 to 10 and 1 to 100.

If the sale had any effect at all, it was not on the ranking of the new book, but rather on increased sales of my older books.  Those numbers doubled and tripled for a few days.

Q: What about the relatively new Kindle Select program? Will people really "borrow" books that they could buy for a couple of bucks?

A: Not that I can see.  This is my second test of that theory, both times using small book titles that I regarded as extras.  None of them got a single borrow.  And why should they?  Amazon Prime customers can borrow only one book a month for free.  If I were in their position I'd save that borrowing privilege for the most expensive books on their list, not one I could buy for a few dollars. And if I ever decided to offer another book as a Kindle Select, I'd make sure that it's original price was high enough to make borrowing financially beneficial.

Q: And finally,  what are the consequences of giving Amazon exclusive sales rights over a new book?

A: Coincidentally,  just yesterday, I received my quarterly royalty payment from Smashwords. It includes purchases made on all the other platforms -- Apple, Nook, Kobo, Sony, etc.  I was shocked to see how many e-books had sold over on Barnes and Nobles Nook -- many more than I sold in the same period on Amazon.

If you list a book on Kindle Select, you can not sell it anywhere else for 90 days, and in my case, ninety days of sales on Nook could amount to several hundred dollars lost.  Is it worth it? Not that I can see.  I'm committed, I'm afraid, to leave Left by the Side of the Road on Kindle Select for another two months, but after than, I will not be using it again.

These are not definitive statements, and my testing method was pretty unscientific. However it confirmed something I've been suspicious of for some time.  It may no longer be possible to "game" Amazon into making your book an instant best-seller.  Nothing succeeds better than good old-fashioned time and effort.