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Indie Thoughts: Enticing with price

Posted in Uncategorized  by John Brown on May 13th, 2014
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The top two factors driving book sales both stem from having a loyal customer base. Building that base is the goal as it is in any business that depends on repeat customers. In a previous post I outlined these parts to building that base.

  1. Create a product (a book in this case) that’s likely to delight a certain set of consumers (readers).
  2. Let those consumers (readers) know about it.
  3. Make it enticing for them to give it a try.
  4. Make it easy for those who liked it to know when they can get another; and make it easy to get.
  5. Get more product (another book that’s similar to the last) out the door so your repeat customers can come back for more.

In this post I’m going to share some thoughts on #3.

So how do you entice someone new to give you a try? There are a lot of things I see that play into that:  a great cover, description, sample chapters, and reviews that all say quality and scream genre. But there’s another huge factor to making something enticing. And that is price. Or rather price vs. perceived value.

I’m looking at Mark Corkers reports from Smashwords.

I’m looking at slides 65-69. I know many of us have seen them.

If the patterns are similar at Amazon, which sells more ebooks than anyone else, then a price of $3.99 on average will sell more than double the copies of $6.99.

$3.99 means MORE readers who might develop some level of loyalty, MORE word of mouth, and it means MORE revenue than at other price levels.

It means more than double the chances of getting your stuff in front on an influencer.

More than double the chances for luck to come into play.

And those odds grow exponentially.

And, again, all along the way that price earns you more than if you were pricing at $6.99 or $9.99 because you sell more books.

Of course, these are averages, which means folks are winning at prices above and below this. Furthermore, it’s not the same across genres. For example, it appears romance tends to sell better towards the lower end of the range Corker shows.  But it clearly shows that price is an important part of enticing a reader to give you a try.

And when I look at the indies who are selling huge numbers and have built their customer base, the vast majority of them seem to have gotten there by tapping into the market forces Corker shows on these slides.

That doesn’t mean they price all their books the same. Some are doing very well using a loss-leader/sample strategy where they offer the first book in a series for 99 cents or free. This also doesn’t mean they set their price and forget. it. They seem to do just the opposite, experimenting with different prices.  I noticed the Joe Konrath, who became a mega-seller at $2.99, raised his prices to $5.99 recently. He’s dropped them back down to $2.99 and $3.99. But he was clearly testing something. In an interview earlier this year with Simon Duringer, Russell Blake who is doing very well in the thriller category recently said this.

Probably the most effective thing I did over the last two years other than Select, which came and went in terms of usefulness, was making the first book in my JET and my Assassin series free. That lowered the barrier to giving my work a whirl to nil, and my readership exploded from there. About a month and a half ago I stopped doing that because I saw my conversion rates were averaging about 12-13% from the first to the second book, and I questioned whether, with, say, 500 downloads a day, and seeing 60 sales of book two, it might not be more desirable to get 70 paid sales of book one, and seeing that same 60 on the conversion (because if someone pays for your first book, they’re probably going to read it, and soon, whereas if they get it free, it could take years, or more likely, never happen). So far so good.

Clearly the folks who are doing well with this are experimenting with price to see which levels maximize revenue and loyal customers. And I think that’s the key. They are looking at what seems to be working for others, experimenting, and basing decisions on results.




Generating Story 7: Creative Q&A

Posted in Uncategorized  by John Brown on May 20th, 2012
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Filling up your mind with wonderful things by hunting zing is a writer’s bread and butter.  But guess what?  You can’t develop a killer story by waiting to stumble across great story ideas.  So while you must deploy your drag net and hunt with a purpose, you must also learn how to develop your own zing.  And I haven’t found anything more productive for helping me do that than the process of creative question and answer.

If you refer back to the Story Development Framework download, you’ll see that Creative Q&A is one of the key tools used to develop every part of story.  So how does it work? 

Do you remember my first and second posts where I talked about Ed Smiley and the folks at NASA who helped save Apollo 13?  They used this technique.  Here’s how it went down.

They had a problem: the astronauts were running out of oxygen because the CO2 scrubbers weren’t working in the module they were in. 

The problem led to an objective: figure out a way to get the CO2 scrubbers working. 

The objective led to a question: what are some options for getting those CO2 scrubbers working?

Then they began to generate possible answers.  Two days later they had one that would work.  Ed and his team saved the three astronauts aboard.

This same thing happens over and over again in any situation that requires some new solution.  Do you remember all those redneck solutions I shared in the first post?  They were practicing creative Q&A.

You know all those accountants generating various ways to do your taxes?  They’re practicing creative Q&A.  Mine did that this year; he figured out one legal way do our taxes that saved us some money, then figured out another legal way to do our taxes that saved us more than $1,500.  I’m so glad he looked for that second, actually third, right answer.

You see all those mothers and fathers generating ways to make ends meet?  They’re practicing creative Q&A. 

It happens all the time.  It’s a key tool when trying to develop a story, and I’ve found a couple of guidelines when using this technique that seem to help quite a bit:

  1. Clearly identify the objective.
  2. Turn the objective into a “what” question.  For example, “I need a more interesting character” becomes “What are some things that would make my character more interesting?”  Likewise, “This scene is stupid, nobody would do that” becomes  “What would make this scene more believable?” When I’m stuck with plot, “My character isn’t facing any real problems” becomes “What are some killer troubles the character can run into?”
  3. Generate a list of good, dumb, and wacky options.  It seems the more ideas I generate, the better chance I have to come up with something really good, especially if I cherish the dumb and wacky ones by writing them down.
  4. Don’t hesitate to steal other ideas I’ve seen and modify them to make them my own.  Or to go search for how others dealt with issue.
  5. Try to generate more than one good or right answer.


I use creative Q&A to help me develop my key objectives all the time.  I state a question and use the principles to guide me in the options I generate.  For example, in the thriller I’m writing I started with a character, an ex-con trying to go straight.  I asked myself “What are some threats to his happiness?” and “What could go wrong?”  I started to generate options.  Some were mildly interesting; some were dumb.  One was that “some old associates come back, old prison buddies, and try to drag him back into the life he’s trying to escape.”  That one tingled my zing meter, and I started to generate more information about that.  “What would they drag him back into?”  “What kinds of crimes?”  “Who are they?” (Okay, not every objective can be turned into a “what” question.)

There are also ad hoc objectives, i.e. objectives that arise only in a particular situation that I can’t plan for.  I can use this with them as well.  For example, in Servant of a Dark God I wanted a henchman to have a cool weapon, something that I hadn’t seen before.  My question for that was “what are some cool new weapons for this henchman?”  I listed out some that were stupid and had been done before like “a big knife” and others that were wacky like “a chain.”  I generated a big old list.  As I generated options I suddenly generated the idea of “spikes.”  And then “spikes that were alive.”  That tickled my zing meter, and I followed that path and came up with the Ravelers, which I think are just awesome.

For more information about creative Q&A, I recommend you read Creative Problem Solving: An Introduction, Fourth Edition by Donald Treffinger.  It’s one of the most practical books on creativity around. 

While you’re waiting for that to come in the mail or to get it from your library, I want you to watch something.  Dewitt Jones, a photographer for National Geographic, uses creative Q&A.  He made an incredible twenty-minute video explaining the principles of generating options.  Please watch Everyday Creativity .  It says “Preview,” but it’s the whole wonderful video.  Then go here and watch that same last bit plus some material not on the other one.  These are two versions of the same presentation.  Everyday Creativity is the commercial version used for training.  Clear Vision is the personal use one that includes some extra material.  Let me recommend you purchase the Clear Vision version. You will not regret the $45 dollars.  I promise you. 

All of what he says applies to generating answers for our writing. 


Note what he says about these principles about generating options:

  1. Try different perspectives for stating a problem.
  2. Follow your zing, what you care about; figure out what’s exciting you about the thing.
  3. Look for more than one right answer.  Believe there IS more than one right answer.
  4. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes—you often must make them to get the good stuff!
  5. Try breaking a pattern, do something different.
  6. Train your technique.
  7. Put yourself in the place of most potential.
  8. Be patient, persevere.
  9. Relax and goof around.

One last thought on creative Q&A.  There are certain questions that seem to be more productive than others.  I find that those focused on the key objectives are usually very productive for me.  So give those a try, but there are others.  Furthermore, what might work for me might not work so well for you.  Don’t get stuck on using a specific question because someone else does.  The goal is not to use a specific tool, which in this case is a specific question.  The goal is to make the different parts of the story come to life in your mind.  Whatever question helps YOU do that best is the one to use. 

Because creative Q&A is such a powerful tool, I want to make sure you see plenty of examples of authors using it in their writing.  To start, read chapter 2 of Orson Card’s Characters & Viewpoint and see what questions he finds useful and an example of  how he uses them.  Then come back here.  I’ve asked some other published authors to share how they use questions to help them generate story.  I’m going to start with Ian Creasey whose short fiction has appeared in magazines such as Asimov’s, Realms of Fantasy and Weird Tales, and has been reprinted in several Year’s Best SF anthologies.  He’s written a wonderful essay that I’ll use for the next post in the series.

For more in this series, see How to Get and Develop Story Ideas