With the Pennsylvania Omnibus Book Bomb less than 10 days away, I've been doing quite a few blog interviews and answering a lot of questions. You'll be seeing these interviews pop up here and there between now and the 29th and I'll post links to them as soon as I know they are up. You should read them. I've been happy with the questions and there are quite a few on the state of publishing and how things might change in publishing going forward.
As the Book Bomb approaches, I'm also getting quite a few private messages and emails asking me marketing questions, and other queries about what I'm doing with the Book Bomb, so I thought I'd write a post highlighting some of the questions I receive most often.
Why the heavy focus on the technical quality of the book instead of the story with the Pennsylvania Omnibus Book Bomb?
I think anyone who gives the book even a cursory look will see that the critical reception of the whole series has been phenomenal. When I was sitting back and looking at themes I wanted to highlight for the book launch, it seemed to me that almost 300 cumulative reviews with a 4.8 star rating average across the board pretty much spoke loudly for the story and whether buyers would like it. And in my interviews with readers (I do a LOT of marketing research on my own) it seems that overall technical quality is STILL the number one reason that some people have for avoiding self-published books. We Indie publishers have done a great job refuting the Tsunami of Crap myth, but tens of millions of readers have never read the refutations of that myth, and they still hold the erroneous opinion that buying any indie book is a huge gamble -- and I think I'd have to agree with them. So how do we destroy that objection?
Sure, the story needs to be great, but once you've proven that you have a stellar book that people love, you still suffer under this prevailing false notion that Indie publishing consists of hacks who desktop publish Word files fraught with typos and errors and formatted poorly with a glued on cover they made with PAINT out of stock images they stole from a Google image search. There is a reason that people think bad things about Indie books, and despite the fact that we've proved that the best Indie books compare favorably with all mainstream pubbed books (even the best of them) there is still that image to overcome.
So I decided to join some other top-notch Indie authors in firing a shot across the bow of the publishing world. I decided that my flagship books are going to be as good or better than anything anyone can buy in a bookstore anywhere. I did that by hiring the best talent available in the world and commissioning the best art that they could produce. I know that some Indies reply by saying "sure, but if you aren't selling a ton of books, you can't afford the best team out there," and that is true. I'll deal with that question/statement in the last part of this blog post.
My point is that whether someone buys the e-book or the print versions of The Pennsylvania Omnibus, they can be assured that they are buying a book that has fantastic reviews and is put together with love and care and respect for the reader. They'll get their money's worth. I have focused on quality because even if Pennsylvania never becomes a runaway bestseller, it will still be a hallmark in the Indie revolution where we can say that the bar has been raised, and I hope other authors will join me in creating a reader-safe purchase environment for top-notch A-list Indie books. Maybe someday we'll come up with some badge of honor, like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval, for Indie books. Something you have to earn with attention to quality and high production values. Something that will tell readers "do your homework and read the reviews and check the ratings, but if you buy this book, technical quality will be high."
Why the focus on pushing the print version in the Book Bomb?
Well, first and foremost because this print version is awesome and everyone will want one in their physical library. But there are other reasons. In the current weird, wild, publishing world -- no one really knows anything for certain, and that's why we authors have to be testing and trying new things. I, for one, love print books. And I know that people who only buy e-books and who don't want print books... well... they are going to buy the e-book no matter what I tell them. If they want the book, and they don't want a paperback copy, they'll buy the e-book. It is there, and it is a steal at $5.99, so those people are going to buy the e-book regardless of what I'm saying.
But I want my readers to get their money's worth. And I understand why authors, especially when they are just getting started, have to price full-length novels at .99. But I'm at a point in my career now where I have to really study and understand the market and plan accordingly. I was more than happy to give away a free copy of the Pennsylvania Omnibus to everyone on my email list who would bother to open their email, get the coupon code, and download the book. I gave away over 100 copies for free in just about 24 hours! But when pricing the book for a launch, I need to price it cheap enough where people will see it as a value, but expensive enough that I can have some leeway and freedom in planning future promotions.
I think the mainstream publishers are completely screwing themselves by pricing new novels at $9.99 or $11.99 or more. And from my research, buyers are willing to pay $6 for an e-book they really want and that they know is of good quality. $6 for a day or so of enjoyable reading time? That's a bargain. And I need to price the book where I can eventually discount it through a Bookbub feature promotion or something.
So why focus on selling the Paperback?
As I said before, because I want to give the readers the best bang for their buck. If they buy the Paperback on launch day, they will not only get the best quality book they can find, but -- through Kindle Matchbook -- they'll be able to download the e-book for only .99! That's the best deal around. So the reader gets the book in both formats for just the list price of the book (Amazon has already discounted the book by almost a dollar.)
I don't think print books are dead. And I know that e-book only readers are going to buy the e-book no matter what - and they should feel free to do so. But I can't help but tell people that this is a book you are going to want to own in print.
Most new authors cannot afford to put together a team like you've used for Pennsylvania!
If I've heard this once, I've heard it a dozen times or more in the last few weeks. And believe me, I understand, even if I mostly disagree. Many authors have pointed out that the reason I am able to afford to use the best cover artist, the best editor, the best illustrator, and the best formatter for the Pennsylvania Omnibus, is because I have the money sitting around to do so.
There are some false assumptions in this statement -- or at least in the misconceptions that inform the statement. I am still a relatively new and unknown writer. Poor in relation to most people who hold "regular" jobs. I am able to write full-time because of our purposefully low cost of living, because we raise a lot of our own food, and because I have friends and neighbors and an awesome family that really help me out. Most of you could not live on what my family of 6 lives on, and I feel comfortable saying that.
However, it is also not like the Pennsylvania Omnibus is being published in a vaccuum. The first Pennsylvania part was published over a year ago, and the individual parts of the PA series have sold over 10k copies in the past year. At about .45 profit (very gross profit) per book, this means that the PA series has brought around $4500 in royalties in the past year. As some of my co-writers can tell you, MOST of the income from my books goes into more marketing, or production costs, or other forms of platform building.
What would it cost to pay up front to produce a 430 page book with the quality of The Pennsylvania Omnibus? Hard to tell. If you actually had to hire all the best talent, you'd be looking at a minimum of $3000 and probably closer to $3500. Cut some corners and you could do it for half that. But remember... I spaced a lot of the work - the most expensive work (editing) - out over a full year. It was edited as each of the parts came out. So, in a very real sense, Pennsylvania has already made money for me. And out of pocket -- for production costs alone -- if you'd already paid for editing, you'd be looking at $1500 for a quality cover suite, top notch illustrator, and exceptional formatting art.
Is all of this necessary to produce a bestseller? NOPE. Hugh Howey, when he first started hitting it big, showed that with home-made covers, inexpensive editing, and self-formatting, a book can be a huge hit and cost nearly nothing. And there is something to be said for that. Most authors are using that route. But you'll notice that as Hugh's success and income have climbed, so has the technical quality of his books. So hopefully all Indie authors will increase the quality as book sales increase.
Just know that I'm not a rich man. I'm very blessed. And I sacrifice a lot of things that most people won't live without in order to pump the money I do make from selling books back into my business.
Alright, that was three of just the most asked questions or comments I've received in the past week or so. If you have questions, feel free to send them along and maybe I'll answer them in a future blog post too!