Authors have always needed to be part artist, part entrepreneur, and part seducer. Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle all gave the world unforgettable characters and literature that continues to stand the test of time. But these greats were also entrepreneurs, fully invested in the publishing and marketing of their books. Each of them also mastered the art of seducing a reader not only into a first date, but into a sordid, long-term affair.
Twain crisscrossed the country giving hundreds of lectures in sold-out halls where he carefully counted ticket revenue, book sales, and even tracked proceeds from the concession booth. He pressed the flesh and delivered his charm firsthand. He wasn’t just selling a single book; he sold himself and thus sold every book he had written and would ever write, seducing readers to become lifelong fans.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle left his original publisher, Ward Lock & Co, who he felt exploited him as a new author. He slowly raised his price for Sherlock Holmes stories over time until he became one of the most highly paid writers of his age. He publicly disdained his Sherlock Holmes character, threatening to kill him off. But even when he did so in The Final Problem, he brought him back from the dead in The Hound of the Baskervilles. In sales, just as in seduction, people want what they can’t have. Conan Doyle played this game masterfully.
At the other end of the spectrum, Charles Dickens led the charge of low-priced entry to novels with the serialization of The Pickwick Papers, teasing his audience with a slow drip-drip of story, tantalizing them with the skill of a burlesque performer. This tease was so successful it set off a wave of serialization in both Europe and America.
These masters understood that they were in the book business, a business in constant flux then as it is now. Each found a unique way to reach readers in the shifting marketplace — all the while maintaining the integrity of his art.
Authors, publishers, and agents today suffer the fulfillment of the ancient curse: May you live in interesting times. One of the conversations during this time of upheaval in the publishing world is whether regularly discounting books is somehow leading to their devaluation.
The reasoning (fear) goes that consumers fed a diet of steeply discounted or free books might balk when later asked to pay a “reasonable” price for not just those previously discounted books, but any books. The debate is whether we are permanently changing the consumer attitude toward the price of books. I think we are … and I’m fine with it.
The book-buying ecosystem responds to market forces as much as any other good or service. This has become even truer with the rise of the independent author. (Author Earnings, a site by indie bestseller Hugh Howey, does an excellent job showing just how much the independent author has risen to prominence in today’s landscape.)
Pricing flexibility in ebooks has given independent authors the ability to experiment and innovate to find an audience. Once they capture that audience, the same flexibility allows them to raise prices just as easily as they lowered them. It remains true that readers will pay for an author they love. I preordered Stephen King’s Revival for $12.74 the day it was available and considered it a bargain.
Consumers set prices based on demand, and sellers who refuse to listen to pricing feedback are likely to fail. Entrepreneurial authors and publishing houses adapting to the new realities have responded with creative pricing to attract a readership that will gladly pay a higher price on future books. The smartest are thinking just as Twain, Conan Doyle, and Dickens did; they are valuing a reader not by the purchase of a single book but by the lifetime value of a customer. In Stephen King’s case, I estimate I’ve spent well over a thousand dollars on his books over time. If he had acquired me as a fan through a low-price promotion, think of the return on that investment.
For those who snoozed through economics class in school, another useful way to think of a low-price promotion is that it’s like asking someone out to coffee for a first date. It’s a low-risk proposition for the person being invited. There’s no huge upfront commitment. Everyone understands it’s a trial run to see if there’s a connection. And if it doesn’t go well, there’s always the fake emergency text message move to get out early.
A book purchased for $0.99 or $1.99 is a low-cost entry point for a new reader to sample an author’s work. If it goes well, if the author is charming, insightful and entertaining, then that reader will come back for more. And more. And more. At a market-based price.
So, how can authors ensure they get a second date?
1. Be someone awesome to date and write a great book.
It’s cliché but still valid. The masters listed above still focused on their art, not just their marketing prowess. Good looks (a great cover) may get you a lot of first dates, but if you’re dull and self-absorbed, you’re going to be a first-date specialist. An incredible social media platform may convince people to buy one book, but not become a lifetime fan.
2. Show up to your date looking good.
As Jon Fine from Amazon said, “The good news is that today anyone can publish a book. The bad news is that today anyone can publish a book.” Independent authors need to invest in their own art and have everything they put into the world meticulously edited and proofread. Typos and grammatical errors are like showing up to a date with stains on your shirt and salad stuck in your teeth.
3. First impressions are everything.
Front matter matters. Getting a reader to press the Buy Now button for your low-price promotion is like getting someone to say yes to a coffee date. But agreeing to the date isn’t the same thing as showing up just as buying your book isn’t the same thing as reading your book. If your date doesn’t show up, you don’t have a chance to work your magic. Only a percentage of purchased low-price promotion books actually get read, so your job is to use your front matter wisely to increase that conversion. Include a letter to readers telling your personal story as an author. Start with a teaser that hooks readers and propels them into the book. Make your first chapter a call to dive deeper into the story. This is good writing advice regardless of your marketing goals. As an author I know some books I write open big and others are a slow burn. It’s essential to choose the right book for your low-price promotion.
4. Get lucky at the end of the date.
A great book will make a reader want another date. Effective back matter will help ensure you get one. Whether an ebook or print, the space immediately after the last sentence of your book is the most valuable real estate you have. I choose to use this space for a heartfelt letter to my readers letting them know how much I appreciate their time and support for my passion to write fiction. I make an appeal for a review of the book and for them to join me in the journey I’m on as a writer by joining my mailing list. I get a lot of positive feedback from this letter … and I get a lot of second and third dates.
5. Build your black book.
The essential tool in your bid to create lifelong readers is the email database. Not Facebook. Not Twitter. An email database gives you direct contact with your new fans. Consider the value of this contact over an entire writing career when you decide what you’re willing to do for that contact information. If you’re willing to do a $0.99 price promotion for the first book of a series, are you willing to give it for free to a reader who signs up for your newsletter? Is that contact information worth $0.99? I’d argue it is.
Bottom line, low-price promotions can be an effective tool in your bid to expand your reach and start the slow dance to seduce readers into becoming lifelong fans. Quoting Hugh Howey, “As writers, we value having our works read. Reasonable pricing not only facilitates that, it shows the reader that we are appreciative of their choice and that we hope to be accommodating. It doesn’t have to be about not believing in the work or devaluing it.”
I couldn’t agree more. The low-price promotion is just asking for a lot of first dates. It’s up to you whether these dates show up (actually read the book), have a great time (love your book), and become fans (promote your book through word of mouth and buy your next book). Are price drops devaluing books? Smarter people than I will continue to debate that issue. More important is for writers and publishers to place the right value on our readers. If an invitation to a new reader to join you on a low-risk first date holds the potential of turning into a deep, lifelong relationship, then it seems like a simple choice to me.
Want to share this post? Here are ready-made tweets:
Click to tweet: Price Promotion As Seduction: 5 Tips to Ensure You Get a Second Date – http://bit.ly/1BX4sjH by @Jeffgunhus via @BookBubPartners
Click to tweet: A book purchased for $0.99 or $1.99 is a low-cost entry point for a new reader to sample an author’s work. http://bit.ly/1BX4sjH #pubtip