A lot of people enjoy when I talk honestly about what a midlister like me is doing with his hybrid career. Here’s another such entry.
About two weeks ago I noticed that my collection, Mitigated Futures ([Amazon Kindle] or [B&N Nook] or [Kobo Books] or [directly from this page), had been popping onto the very low edge of the Cyberpunk bestsellers list at Amazon. Considering that I’d neglected the collection (not sent out much in the way of review copies, or pushed it meaningfully) I thought that was interesting.
So I dropped the price to $2.99 for fun and games and watched it climb up to #1, which entertained me much:
It stayed there for a few days then dropped.
There was a fun moment where it sat near two of my favorite novels, so I had to take a snapshot for my 15 year old self:
I twittered about it, for fun. But sometimes I have to remember I can see the raw numbers and don’t take this that seriously, because a few people emailed me a message that went a bit like “Dude! Congratulations, holy shit, you’re an Amazon bestseller!”
I’ve done this a few times, dropping prices to add data on sales numbers vs profit to my spreadsheet, to try and figure out the right price for a title I have up for sale. Tides from the New Worlds, my other short story collection, has made it up to the top 10 or so of Collections and Short Stories.
When you drop the price suddenly, it usually finds you a surge of people who otherwise wouldn’t have paid at the higher price. In retail, it’s not an uncommon strategy to launch with a higher price, and over time bring it down to capture more and more people.
But just spiking up there doesn’t mean all that much, other than the fun of it. Often the title comes sliding back down. It’s competing with hundreds (nay thousands of other titles) and it’s competing with the limited pool of your potential readers.
Look, readers give two valuable things to you, a writer:
Their Money (usually what we’re always focused on)
Time is harder to part with than money. Readers have shows, movies, video games, dinner, family, their job, and real life that competes with your work. It’s getting them to give you their time that’s tougher than their money in many cases (I still remember a dear friend being shocked at releasing a novel for free, and getting so few downloads it was comparable to how many had been paying for it. I pointed out there is no guarantee just making something free gets over the people who invest time in you barrier. Keep it free, I love the first book in a series as cheap as possible or free stories as lead ins and loss leaders, but it isn’t a simple growth curve you can automatically kick off).
That’s why we often have a limited pool of potential readers. People who can be convinced (based on formula, which none of us know of reading our past work, buzz and word of mouth, cover design, description of the project, time they have at hand) are potentially infinite, if a work gets escape velocity through buzz, but if you aren’t on that path, you’re actually depending on your existing pool. Yes, we’d all like to hope we’ve written something that has achieved escape velocity, or is maybe close, but more often than not we’re in a position of slowly growing the pool. And when you lower the price, what is happening is that the people who have already committed time are now going ‘the price is right.’ Maybe you’re also slightly growing the pool for the next round!
At least, that’s one metaphor I use to visualize this process (is escape velocity the point where the pool floods and spills over and joins a larger body of water and gets momentum from a burst dam? Not sure, it’s not happened to me yet, so I’ll report if that ever happens).
So the brief spike isn’t surprising, it’s just a fun piece of the roller coaster ride. I will not be putting ‘Amazon bestseller’ on my card.
Cyberpunk is a sub-category. And though it climbed up it, here is what that means in terms of sales.
I made $100.
Now, that’s not bad. Tides from the New Worlds seems to consistently bounce between $30-50 in sales (some months it gets above $50. To forestall instant advice, I’ve tried three different covers, the latest one seems to have bumped the sales up a little, as does keeping the price at $2.99 for new reader pick up, but it actually makes roughly the same at $4.99 as $2.99, in fact, a year or so ago it would make consistently more at $4.99 than it did at $2.99, but it seems to have shifted this year and it’s an older book, so I am happy with the lower price), so it doubled the usual amount I expect for a collection. Short story collections don’t appeal much to readers, it seems (my novella and my novel make way more than the collections), so seeing this makes me happy.
I’ve left the price at $2.99, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see it still continuing to sit in the top 40 of Cyberpunk, occasionally popping on and off the Short Stories list.
Being on a list like that is pretty important to finding casual readers. I’ve seen a couple twitter mentions by people joining my reader pool for the first time, which is nice, and why I think I’ll leave it at $2.99 as long its bouncing around that list. It’s discoverable, and I think the amazing cover by Jenn Reese makes it stand out.
But it still won’t make as much as my novella and the novel are making (which sit on no lists, by the way). And at some point, after another couple months in sales, I will talk about The Apocalypse Ocean and how its doing to be as open as I can for you all. But with Mitigated Futures, I’m not in the gold plated rims just yet.
But neither am I sniffing at $100. It’s more than most will make on any kind of book a month, and I live very lean in order to be able to write more or less full time (I make more off fiction than I did off the day job I had in 2000), the $100 goes toward paying down debt incurred in 2008 as a result of my heart defect.
That being said, this is one reason I’m more interested in Crowdfunding, in some ways. I was able to raise $4,290 to publish Mitigated Futures via that method. After the costs of the limited edition hardcover came out and shipping and what not, I was left with a bit under $3,000 in profit (thank you all, I love you, most short story collections don’t get any interest from publishers). In order for direct eBook sales to match the Kickstarter, it’s going to take some two and a half years of being a top Cyberpunk seller to match the Kickstarter (you can read about the impact Kickstarter had on my books and writing career here).
Which is not me being ungrateful. If Mitigated Futures sticks around the list for the next couple years, I’ll a) acquire new readers who might b) feed into the other work and c) Mitigated Futures will add $100/mth or so to my bottom line. It’s part of a portfolio of direct stuff that I’m building up, slowly and surely, to make sure I don’t have all my eggs in one basket and have a well diversified publishing portfolio: (contracts with big publishers, YA publishing, medium sized publishers, direct sales, crowd funding, and direct sales from my website).
But to answer the slightly over-excited email:
Dude, it’s an honor to see people trying it out and seeing copies move, but still not sipping cocktails on the beach just yet.
And that’s okay, too. The book is being read. I’m happy.