Goblin Tales

Who Controls Your Amazon E-book Price?

2/27/12 Update: I’ve gotten a final response from KDP Executive Customer Relations, which states that the price on my book was reduced because another retailer (Kobo) was selling it for $.99 at some point, “over the last couple  months.” That would, I assume, be the issue referenced in the 6th paragraph below.

Take from this what you will.

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As most of you know, I’ve self-published a few e-books. The most popular has been Goblin Tales [Amazon | B&N], a collection of five goblin-related short stories. I priced it at $2.99, which seemed fair, and means I receive Amazon’s 70% royalty rate, earning roughly $2/copy sold.

From a strategic standpoint, Amazon’s decision to offer 70% royalties to self-published authors was brilliant. A lot of authors who might not have otherwise self-published started putting both backlist and new titles up for sale. Over the course of several years, Amazon has become (in my opinion) the major player in self-publishing and e-books.

A certain champion of self-publishing recently decried all of the “whiny bitches” complaining about Amazon, and argued how Amazon treats authors so much better than commercial publishers.

While there are certainly advantages to Amazon’s program, anyone who thinks Amazon is in this to help authors is a fool. Amazon, like pretty much any other business, is in this to make money. As for how they treat authors, let me share what I’ve experienced over the past week and a half.

Amazon can and will adjust your price as they see fit.

On Saturday (2/11), I noticed that Amazon had marked Goblin Tales down to $.99. I don’t know why, and I don’t know when exactly this change was made.

This wasn’t the first time I’d had trouble controlling the price of my own e-book. I put Goblin Tales on sale over the holidays, then returned it to $2.99 in early January. Rather, I tried to do so. Only Kobo was slow to raise their price, and since Amazon’s Terms of Service allow them to match any competing price, Goblin Tales stayed at $.99 with its reduced royalty rate for several more weeks, earning me about 1/6 of what I normally made for each sale (35% royalties based on the $.99 price-matched price).

So when I saw that Amazon had dropped the price again, my first step was to check other listings. Everywhere else, the book was on sale for its list price of $2.99. I saw no external reason for Amazon to drop the price.

I also heard from another author that several of their books had also been cut to $.99 without warning or explanation, making me suspect this was either a database glitch or an arbitrary price cut.

I’ll give Amazon credit – the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) team responded to me fairly quickly, and restored the price to $2.99 by Valentine’s Day. But they also pointed to section 5.3.2 of the current Amazon/KDP Terms and Conditions, which gives them:

…sole and complete discretion to set the retail price at which your Digital Books are sold through the Program.

So what’s the big deal? Don’t retailers put things on sale all the time? Well, sure … which leads me to my second lesson.

Amazon can calculate royalties based on the sale price, not your list price.

With my DAW books, if a bookstore offers a sale, I still get my royalties based on the cover price. Amazon is selling Libriomancer for pre-order at almost half-off, but I’ll get paid my full amount for every copy sold. Not so with self-published titles. Looking at my reports for last week, my royalties were slashed by 2/3 for every copy sold, because Amazon paid me 70% of the $.99 sale price, not my list price.

According to the KDP Pricing Page, royalties should be based on the list price ($2.99) unless the price adjustment was due to a price-matching situation (dropping the price to match a competitor’s price) … but my royalties report still shows a 67% cut.

When I followed up with the DTP team, they responded thusly:

The price at which we sell your book may not be the same as your list price.  This may occur, for example, if we sell your book at a lower price to match a third party’s price for a digital or physical edition of the book… In this case, if you have chosen the 70% option for your book, your 70% royalty will be calculated based on our price for the book (less delivery costs and taxes).

Of course, this wasn’t actually the case, as there was no lower third-party price. I asked them again to show me where their Pricing Page or Terms of Service allow Amazon to arbitrarily cut your book’s offer price and reduce your royalties based on that change. I haven’t heard back from them.

Sometimes going it alone sucks.

If a retailer pulled a stunt like this with one of my commercially published books, DAW/Penguin would stomp them. If DAW tried something funny in my royalty statements, my agent would be all over that crap. Given that my agent represents a number of authors, including folks like Brandon Sanderson, Charlaine Harris, Tanya Huff, etc., he’s got some pull.

But self-publishing puts you in charge of every aspect of your career. Meaning when Amazon messed with one of my books, it was on me to challenge them and get it fixed. They did restore the price, as I said, but what exactly would I do if they said “Deal with it.” Sue them? That’s theoretically an option, sure … but I still remember how much it cost, in time and money and energy, the last time I had to fight a court battle.

I’ve now sent four e-mails to their KDP team, and they have yet to get back to me with a straight answer as to why or how this happened. At this point, I figure getting the price restored is probably the best I’m going to get.

Diversification is a good thing.

Fortunately, in the end, this incident had little real impact on my finances. Goblin Tales sold sixteen copies at the reduced rate, meaning I was underpaid by a whopping $21 or so. Barely even worth a blog post, right? But the impact was minimal because:

  • Most of my titles are not self-published, so if Amazon messes with those titles, the bulk of my income stream is unaffected.
  • I discovered the problem fairly quickly and took steps to get it fixed.

I certainly intend to keep my e-book collections up on Amazon. I’m even planning to publish another one. I’m not telling people not to publish through Amazon; I am telling you to go in with your eyes open, and to understand that despite what the cheerleaders might suggest, Amazon is not pro-author. They’re pro-Amazon.

One final note.

According to Section 2 of their Terms and Conditions, Amazon “reserve[s] the right to change the terms of this Agreement at any time in our sole discretion.” On February 9 — just two days before the Goblin Tales glitch — they added the following:

KDP RELIES ON COMPLEX SYSTEMS AND PROCESSES.  WE STRIVE TO MAKE OUR SYSTEMS AND PROCESSES ERROR-FREE AND EFFICIENT, BUT WE CANNOT GUARANTEE THAT THEY WILL BE, AND WE WILL HAVE NO LIABILITY ARISING FROM SYSTEM OR PROCESS FAILURES, INTERRUPTIONS, INACCURACIES, ERRORS OR LATENCIES.

Bottom line? They make the rules, they can change the rules whenever they feel like it, and they aren’t liable when they break the rules.

99 Cent Goblins

I’ve dropped the price on both of my e-book collections at Amazon and B&N. (The price at iBooks and Kobo should be following shortly.)

Kitemaster and Other Stories [Amazon | B&N], which collects six of my lighter short stories and includes a preview of Libriomancer, is now $2.99.

And for the next two weeks, Goblin Tales [Amazon | B&N] is only ninety-nine cents.

  

From a business perspective, I’ll be fascinated to see how this plays out. I submitted the price change over the weekend. What fascinates me is that after Goblin Tales dropped to $.99, sales quickly jumped, despite the fact that I hadn’t yet announced the change. I had only sold 7 copies on Amazon this month. In the past 24 hours, that’s doubled to 14 copies. Not a huge number, I know, but interesting…

My bookstore page includes purchase links to various sites. I know that readers outside of the U.S. probably won’t see the same pricing, due to VAT and other issues. If the books are overpriced or unavailable in your area, please contact me directly and we can work something out via PayPal.

Holiday Bookplates, Books, Etc.

Bookplates!

ETA: And we’re done. This post was picked up by some of the “Get Free Stuff Online!” sites. (My favorite being the “samplesexpress” Twitter account, which I’m sure is supposed to be Samples Express, but I’m amused.) Anyway, I’m now getting flooded with e-mail from folks who have never heard of me or my books, aren’t bothering to read the post, and expect me to just send them their free bookplate. I don’t have the time to deal with this, and as far as I can tell, the actual fans and readers who wanted bookplates have had time to contact me. So the offer is now done.

In previous years, I’ve offered bookplates to anyone who plans on giving my books as gifts. I still have some left, so I figured I’d do it again. If you’ll be giving any of the goblin or princess books away for the holidays this year and would like an autographed bookplate to go with them, please let me know. This is a U.S.-only offer, I’m afraid. Be sure to include:

  • Your address
  • Which book(s) you’re giving
  • The name of the recipient

I can send up to three bookplates, but let me know this week if you want ’em by Christmas.

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E-book Sale!

I’m planning to drop e-book prices starting next week and lasting through the end of the year. (Translation: I want to shamelessly cash in on everyone getting e-book readers and gift cards!)

 

I’ll be dropping Kitemaster and Other Stories [Amazon | B&N] to $2.99, and will be reducing Goblin Tales [Amazon | B&N] to a mere $.99 at both stores. (I can’t directly adjust the prices at Kobo and iBooks, but if I have time, I’ll try to set up direct sales at the reduced prices so that nobody feels excluded.)

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Free books!

Mark Terry is offering his thriller The Fallen as a free Kindle download.

Martha Wells’ fantasy novel The Cloud Roads is also available for free on Kindle.

Catherine Shaffer has posted two short stories for free on Smashwords. I haven’t read Long Winter’s Nap, but I read Improving Slay Times in the Common Dragon a while back, and it was a fun read.

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Promote Your Stuff!

Following John Scalzi’s lead, please consider this post your chance to promote your own stuff. A lot of my friends are authors – what books do you have that people should check out? I’ve seen some of the great jewelry folks on my LJ list make – give us a link to your store and tell us a little bit about it.

Whatever you do, this is your chance to share and maybe pick up a few holiday sales.

I’ll start with a link to the Magick 4 Terri auction to support Terri Windling. I bet you could find awesome gifts for everyone you know just by scrolling through the listings…

One Year of Self-Publishing

I’ve self-published three e-books in the past twelve months. Goldfish Dreams [B&N | Amazon] is a mainstream novel about rape and recovery. Goblin Tales [Amazon | B&N] includes five goblin-related short stories. And Kitemaster & Other Stories [B&N | Amazon] collects six of my lighter fantasy tales.

  

It’s been an educational year. Goblin Tales has been the most popular book by far, selling more than 500 copies. Kitemaster comes in second, with just over 100 sales since it came out in mid-August. And then there’s Goldfish Dreams, with 80 sales over the course of an entire year.

Most of my sales have come through Amazon, with B&N in second place. There are a handful from Kobo and iBooks, as well as a few Lulu print sales for Goblin Tales, but Amazon and B&N are the big ones. Here’s what those Amazon (A) and B&N (BN) sales look like broken down by month.

I think the strongest lesson here is that a direct connection to an existing, moderately popular series makes a big difference. Goblin Tales has been and continues to be my strongest seller.

The other thing I’m seeing is a clear dropoff over time, much like my commercially published books.

With Kitemaster, I raised the price from $2.99 to $3.99. I honestly don’t know how much of a difference that made, or whether the increased royalties per sale offset any potential lost sales.

I suspect I could boost the sales numbers a bit by spending more time, energy, and money on promotion, but I’m not sure how much I’d be able to increase sales. What I am sure of is that I don’t have the time or the desire to shift more of my work into promotion.

All total, after expenses, these three self-published titles have brought in a bit over $1000 in royalties.

I’m curious how I’d do self-publishing my backlist titles electronically. I suspect novels would sell significantly better than short fiction collections. But that experiment will have to wait. All of my DAW books are still in print, and with DAW doing the goblin omnibus next year, I don’t expect to see any rights revert back to me any time soon. Which is fine — the books are available and continue to sell, and that’s what counts.

Instead, I’ll be starting work on one more collection: Sister of the Hedge & Other Stories, which will collect some of my more serious stories — including my first rewrite of the Sleeping Beauty tale. I think I’ll price this one at $2.99 again to see what happens. I’m already talking to someone awesome about cover art, and I look forward to sharing what she comes up with. My goal is to have it available by Christmas, when everyone rushes out to buy books for their new Flaming Kindles, or whatever Amazon is calling ’em.

Goblins vs. Goldfish (Another E-book Update)

Spoiler: the goblins win.

Author John Locke recently became the first self-published author to sell more than one million e-books via Amazon. With most of his books at the impulse-buy price of $.99, this means he’s earned probably around $400,000 by my estimation through Amazon. Impressive. Most impressive.

(Is it worth pointing out that this is less than a “traditionally” published author would have earned for the same number of sales, or will that just stir things up?)

Anyway, I figured this was a good time to check in and see how I’ve been doing with my own self-published e-books. Let’s just say I’m not quite ready to join Locke in the million-sales club.

Goldfish Dreams [B&N | Amazon] came out in October of 2010. Goblin Tales [Amazon | B&N | Lulu] was released in March of this year. Both are priced at $2.99, and are DRM-free. Both are available at Amazon and B&N. Goblin Tales is also up at iBooks, Kobo, Wizard’s Tower, and Lulu.

 

As of yesterday, I’ve sold a total of ~430 self-published books. 72 of those (17%) were Goldfish Dreams, and the rest were Goblin Tales. Here’s the breakdown through May, the last full month I have sales figures for. (A refers to Amazon, BN is Barnes and Noble.)

Lulu sales aren’t included on the graph, ’cause I don’t have a nice month-to-month breakdown. To date, I’ve sold 3 PDF downloads and 28 print copies through Lulu, for a grand total of $19.95. By comparison, the ~400 books sold through other venues come to roughly $800 in royalties.

Some thoughts:

  • Amazon and B&N are the two big sellers. E-book sales through other venues have been minuscule.
  • Amazon sold almost four times as many copies of Goldfish Dreams as B&N did, and 2-3 times as many copies of Goblin Tales.
  • Months ago, I was told there’s no reason sales should decrease over time, since it’s not like books are being taken off the shelves, right? But while sales of Goldfish Dreams are too low to draw any real conclusions, sales of Goblin Tales seem to follow a very similar dropping-off curve to sales of my print books. (The June numbers look like they’ll continue in this pattern.)
  • I have no idea whether releasing Kitemaster & Other Stories will have any effect on sales of my other e-books, but I look forward to finding out!
  • Goldfish Dreams is a mainstream novel. Goblin Tales is fantasy. I’ve built a name as a fantasy author, not mainstream. This matters.

Would I have sold better at $.99 like Locke? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe they’d sell better at $4.99. It’s impossible to say. I’m satisfied enough that I’m continuing to move forward with Kitemaster.

Comments and discussion are welcome, as always.

E-book Updates

Congratulations to bookblather, who won my last ARC of The Snow Queen’s Shadow [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy]. I went with random.org to pick a winner, because there were way too many clever, funny, and touching entries. My thanks to everyone who entered the giveaway.

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In two months, Goblin Tales [Amazon | B&N | Lulu] has sold 193 copies on Amazon, 80 on Barnes & Noble, 30 through Lulu, and a handful on iBooks, Kobo, and Wizard’s Tower Press. So we’re looking at a total of between 300 and 400 books sold.

The commission on the print edition at Lulu is tiny, but even so, that means probably close to $700 for the book. At this point, it’s selling about one copy a day. Not huge, but that means $50-$60 each month if sales continue at that rate.

So as I mentioned yesterday, I’m planning to do two more collections. I’m thinking about doing six stories instead of five, and moving the price to $3.99. (Sixty-seven cents a story doesn’t seem unreasonable to me…) I don’t know that these will do quite as well as the goblin-themed collection, which tied directly into my published novels, but we’ll see.

The first collection is tentatively titled Kitemaster and Other Stories, and would include:

  • Kitemaster
  • Blade of the Bunny
  • Untrained Melody
  • Spell of the Sparrow
  • Over the Hill
  • The Creature in Your Neighborhood

The second is currently nameless, but would probably follow the same _____ and Other Stories pattern. For this one, I’m looking at:

  • Ours to Fight For
  • Sister of the Hedge
  • Deliverance
  • Heart of Ash
  • Bloodlines (Maybe)
  • Gift of the Kites (Maybe)

I’ve e-mailed an artist about cover art for Kitemaster, but haven’t heard back yet. (This happened with Goblin Tales, too — I contacted one artist and never got an answer. Very frustrating, though I’m delighted with what I got.) Ignoring my own advice, I may take a stab at cover layout myself, but if I can’t pull it off, I’ll hire a pro to do that for me. I’ll probably post cover drafts again so folks can offer feedback too, because that was incredibly helpful last time.

Things I’m thinking about doing differently this time around:

  • I may not do a print version. I know that will disappoint some people, but it was a lot of work to prepare Goblin Tales for print, and resulted in relatively few sales. I like print myself, and may eventually get to this, but it will not be a priority.
  • Possibly going through an aggregator instead of uploading to each site individually. But maybe not, since I’m a control freak.

I don’t have a schedule yet. Snow Queen comes out in exactly seven weeks, and I’ll be putting most of my energy into promoting that. So the collections may be closer to the end of the year. (On the other hand, knowing me, I might say they heck with it, dive in and obsess for a week or two, and get it done sooner…)

So that’s the plan. Any thoughts or advice? Love the idea? Hate the $3.99 price point? Are there stories you’d like to see reprinted that I didn’t include, or anything you’re particularly looking forward to?

E-book Updates

Yeah, I know. Jim never posts twice in one day. But I had a lot to babble about, and I’m going to be gone this weekend for Constellation, so figured I’d get the latest e-book data up now.

Let’s start with an update on Goblin Tales [Amazon | B&N | Lulu]. The book came out on March 15, and the March sales were pretty darn good, in my opinion.

Amazon: 130
B&N: 55
Lulu: 20 (18 print and 2 PDF downloads)

The book is also up on iBooks, Kobo, and Wizard’s Tower Bookstore (which will hopefully help international readers). However, I don’t have sales data for these sites yet.

Overall, that’s close to $400 in sixteen days. Nice, eh? Especially for short fiction. So the short term results are looking nice indeed.

The long term? That’s harder to say. April sales for the first week show 20 copies sold at Amazon, 12 at B&N, and 5 at Lulu (4 print, 1 download). Not bad, but a definite dropoff. I’m not going to make any confident predictions here, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the same sales curve I get with my print books, where there’s an initial spike in sales followed by a dropoff to a lower long-term rate.

Moving on to overall e-book sales, I received my royalty statement from DAW, which had some interesting data. I graphed e-book sales of the goblin trilogy and the first two princess books below. (Red Hood hasn’t been out long enough to generate multiple data points.)

E-book sales jumped in July – December of 2010 for all five books. Even for Goblin Quest, which is a four-year-old book. Not as dramatic an increase for the goblins, but a noticeable one. A number of people have commented on a spike in e-book sales around the end of last year and the start of this one. I’m guessing some of that is due to the holidays, and all of the people who received e-readers and gift cards to spend.

I have no idea if this trend will continue. It would be rather silly to base predictions on a single-period jump. But it’s interesting.

All total, e-book sales make up about 4.3% of total goblin sales and 6.8% of princess sales, but those percentages appear to be increasing over time. For Red Hood’s Revenge [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], which came out in July of 2010, e-books represented 6.7% of total sales.

So there you go. I’m happy to say I’m continuing to earn royalties on all of the goblin books and the first two princess books, and Red Hood should start paying out as well once the reserve against returns goes away.

OTW Blog & LEGO M.A.S.K.

Goblin Tales [Amazon | B&N | Lulu] picked up reviews at SciFiChick (“This must-read collection…”) and Romantic Times (“…a fabulous introduction to Hines’ writing, his world of goblins, and his world of Libriomancy all in one — who can pass up a 3-fer?”)

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A month or so back, I was invited to write a guest blog post for the Organization for Transformative Works. Here’s a sneak peek:

I’ve seen the whole spectrum of opinions, from “Fanfiction is the Devil’s Prose!” to “Fanfiction is so much better than that commercial dreck.” I don’t buy either view. Fanfiction is fanfiction. Some is brilliant. Some is abysmal. Fanfic authors sometimes get criticized for not writing commercially, but that makes as little sense as criticizing a fantasy author for not writing fortune cookies. For most of us, we write what we love, and we do it because we love it.

Full post is here.

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Finally, does anyone else remember M.A.S.K., an 80s cartoon and toy line about vehicles and buildings with hidden weapons, concealed mini-vehicles, and also lots of masks? Orion Pax (the same individual who built a transforming Optimus Prime from LEGO) has been working on LEGO M.A.S.K., including a working version of Boulder Hill, the good guys’ HQ.

We had these toys! I remember playing with this set. This blows my mind. Click here or the thumbnails for the full photo set.

Goblin Tales, Print Edition

A handful of people asked whether they would be able to get a print edition of Goblin Tales [Amazon | B&N]. Had I known at the time how long it would take to get the manuscript properly typeset, to create a full-wrap cover, to get my test proof copy in the mail, to go back and completely redo the typesetting–

Fortunately, I didn’t know! And I’m happy to announce that over the weekend, the USPS delivered the following to my door:

It’s roughly mass market sized (about 2-3 millimeters larger), 132 pages, and is priced at $7.99 through Lulu.

Interesting note: with most commercial publishers, the actual printing/paper doesn’t make up a significant portion of a book’s cost, due in part to the large print runs. But that’s not the case with a print-on-demand service. Despite the higher cover price, I end up making significantly less on the print edition: about $.50 vs. $2 for the e-book.

On the other hand, I admit to being a bit old-school, and I like having a book I can add to my ego shelf 🙂

I also just really like the look of the typeset page.

I’m working on enabling the download feature at Lulu, which would let people purchase a PDF file. That should eventually be available for $2.99, but I don’t know when Lulu will update the product page with the download info.

Lulu also has the PDF file for sale, which can be downloaded for $2.99.

I’m still waiting for Kobo to add the e-book to their site, and I’m continuing to talk to Wizard’s Tower about distribution. But for those who wanted a printed version of the book, it’s all yours. There’s even a coupon code: enter SPRINGREAD at checkout and you should get 20% off if you order by March 31.

My thanks to typesetting guru barbarienne, and everyone else who helped out with suggestions and feedback.

If anyone has questions about the process, I’m happy to share.

Goblin Tales: Day One

Well that was an interesting 24 hours. In the first official day of being on sale, Goblin Tales sold a total of 66 copies.  The breakdown between Amazon and B&N was:

Amazon: 47 (+2 at Amazon.uk)
B&N: 17

That’s over $120 in royalties in one day. I don’t expect the book to maintain that level of course, but it’s not a bad first day at all, and far better than I’ve ever done with Goldfish Dreams. Goldfish Dreams has sold 52 copies on Amazon since it was first released in October of last year. I’m taking this as strong confirmation of the very reasonable assumption that authors will do better with self-publishing if they have a preexisting fan base. (Goblin fans I have; mainstream fans, not so much.)

I’m very curious to see the longer-term sales. And while I doubt there’s any way to figure it out for certain, I’d love to know whether Goblin Tales in turn leads to any extra sales of the other goblin books.

Lessons Learned Thus Far:

1. I checked the box for worldwide distribution at both Amazon and B&N. Despite this, I’ve gotten several reports that non-U.S. readers have to jump through hoops, or are flat-out unable to buy the books. Not cool. I’m looking into why this is happening and what I can do to make the book more accessible. (It sounds like getting the book posted on Kobo may solve some of this.)

2. I asked folks on Twitter how they felt about “Retweet this!” contests, as I was torn about trying it. Lots of strong, if mixed feelings out there. It might work with some people, but it will also piss off and get you blocked by others. (I decided against doing one.)

3. I have truly wonderful friends and readers. Thank you to everyone who blogged, Facebooked, and Tweeted about the book!

4. The immediate reinforcement that comes from being able to instantly track sales is dangerous, and I can understand why some self-published authors go overboard with promotional posts. “I posted a link on Twitter, and look, I sold three more books! I should do more of this!” Dangerous indeed.

5. The best Amazon rank that I saw was about 1700. I’ll have to sell a lot more copies if I ever want to crack the top 100 list for Kindle.

6. Anyone who says an e-book can be quickly and cleanly slapped together and posted for sale … let’s just say this does not match my experience. Quickly or cleanly, yes. (Lou Anders at Pyr blogged about this last week.)

Other Links:

Melanie Nilles interviewed me about the choice to e-publish.

Sherwood Smith posted a nice little review of the book.

And Sean Sweeney posted the first Amazon review. (He likes the libriomancer story 🙂 Yay!)

Jim C. Hines