By Jon F. Merz
So, it’s the summer (y’know, in case the scorching heat waves hadn’t made that obvious enough) and this is typically the time when the entire NYC traditional publishing beast slows waaaaaaay down. Summer hours mean most NYC publishing professionals leave work at about 3pm to start the weekend, traditional sales slow down as more editors and agents are off on vacations, and in general it’s a dead time. In the old days, if you were a writer, the summer could be a very frustrating time because you weren’t getting any sort of feedback from your agent or potential editors. It used to drive me nuts that months would pass without a peep.
Then along came the ebook revolution. No longer were you forced to bide your time while everyone jetted off to the Hamptons for a luxurious vacation or a weekend party at Diddy’s. Now, with the writers in control, you could sell your work year round. It was a great time of revelation.
But there’s something curious about the summer that still affects publishing: less sales.
See, not only does traditional publishing go off on vacation, but so do readers. Kids are out of school and people aren’t necessarily thinking about buying books during these months. They’re outside (as they should be) enjoying the weather and frolicking and getting their collective groove on. From one perspective, that’s awesome. Happy people is always a good thing, I think.
But from the perspective of a “company” engaged in selling product (namely, my ebooks) any sort of sales drop-off is bad for my business. Last year, my sales dropped in the summer and stayed depressed through the Autumn months. I was still selling well, but not nearly at the volume as last Spring. And it’s not just me this happens to. Ask most indie authors how their sales are right now and you’ll find that the majority of them report that sales have slowed – sometimes dramatically. The question then becomes: what can we do about a sales slowdown?
The popular tactic right now seems to be this idea that writers need to lower their prices. I know of a LOT of indie authors right now who have dropped their prices into the 99 cent cesspool in an attempt to gain exposure with increased sales that will position them on certain bestseller lists. Once that happens, they switch the price back to a higher point and hope to reap some extra sales that way.
I happen to think that’s rather dumb.
First of all, the price you set for your work tells potential customers a lot. There’s been significant talk in the indie author circles that readers equate lower prices with lower quality work. “99 cents for a novel? It can’t be that good.” Now, obviously, that’s not a fair assumption to make. There are plenty of great reads out there for 99 cents. But there are also awful books as well. Dropping your work into that swamp of 99 cent books could tarnish it instead of elevate it.
Second, I don’t like jerking price points around like marionette strings. Consumers aren’t stupid. If I bought something at $4.99 and the next day it dropped to 99 cents, I’d be pissed off. And I probably wouldn’t buy from that author again. I’m not looking to make a quick buck off of people; I’m looking to turn them into lifelong fans of mine. That means treating them with the respect they deserve. I set my prices at a point that I feel is fair to me – as the creator – and fair to them as the consumer.
So rather than going with the flow this summer, I’ve decided to be a bit of a contrarian. My price points will stay where they are right now and we’ll see how sales do. So far, this summer has been very good to me. And next week, I launch my brand new episodic series ZOMBIE RYU, about an 18-year-old girl in feudal Japan who teams up with a grizzled band of warriors to stop a zombie invasion unleashed by an evil sorcerer. A brand new 25,000-word episode debuts each month. It’s a big experiment for me, so it’s going to be very interesting to see how it pans out.
If you’re an indie author, my advice this summer is not to do what everyone else is doing. Be different; set yourself apart. Launch a new project at a time when most people aren’t. Keep your prices where they are. Do things no one else is doing and see what you can do to ensure this summer isn’t about slow sales, but rather about even greater success.
Best of luck!