Thursday, August 12, 2010

Stats and the Author Ego

Yesterday's talk about supporting others, hit counters, and the author ego led me to today's post. (And thanks for all the comments).

A note – it's not a particularly 'fun' post today, although I don't mean it to come across as whining, but if you'd rather go off and play, here's a book cover challenge someone posted on Twitter. Enjoy (and if you play, feel free to post your results in the comments.)

Author egos tend to be fragile things. Every time we release something to the public, we fear it's going to crash and burn. So, here are some ego-wrinklers.

Author J.A. Konrath swears that giving books or short stories away, including via piracy, is still good for the author. He cites his Kindle sales figures, saying he's now making more money than he ever did via his traditional publisher's advances and royalties.

However, he had a strong-selling series of mass market books, and a hefty list of offerings. He's also the consummate promoter. I don't think he can generalize and say his route is the one to follow, because there are too many variables in the mix.

For example, I was looking at my Smashwords stats. I have three offerings there. Two are free, one costs 99 cents, which is the lowest possible price they permit. What surprised me was not that the number of free downloads far outweighed the ones for the 99 cent story, but that the number of people who actually downloaded the free sample of the 99 cent story was so low, even when I offered a contest prize for doing so (more on that later).

And I'm talking significant differences. Over 500 downloads of Words, and over 100 of A Winter's Day (which has only been up for a few days). Compare those numbers to those who viewed a FREE sample of Coping Mechanisms. 38. Now, I don't expect everyone who looks at the sample to pay for the whole thing (and trust me, most don't) but I was surprised that it's only about 7%.

Ego wrinkler: Either they thought my other writing sucked, so didn't want to click over, or they'd come into the game already deciding they were only interested in the free stuff. (My ego hopes the latter is the case). Or that I have to spend more time and find more avenues for promotion. That's not something I care to deal with. It's enough of an ego wrinkle to know that if I don't mention my blog on the various Yahoo groups I belong to, my hits here are vastly reduced.

I'll be curious to see whether adding A Winter's Day, which is a prologue to Finding Sarah does anything to sales for that one. I won't get those stats for some time, though, because publisher royalty statements lag well behind the actual sales.

I have books of mine that I sell at a discount. New copies. One I sell at under half price through Amazon, but I know when people order them because the orders come to me to mail.

Ego-wrinkler: when even a hefty discount doesn't motivate someone to buy the book. A related issue—I get emails from people who say they want to order my book. I send them the ordering information and never hear from them again.

Contest stats. I run contests about once a month. (Note tab above). This month, there are two running side by side; author Cleo Coyle who was a guest here, was having a big release party and she invited anyone with a blog to share her contest. So I did. In order to enter her contest, you have to read through my contest first.

Ego wrinkler: She has a lot more entries. To my logic, as long as you're on the page, why not enter both? Is it because my prizes aren't a cool as hers? (true enough). Or because I require entrants to answer a question, which means a little more work? Your thoughts? What entices you to enter a drawing? Because I'm getting ready for my next contest, and would like to know whether it's worth the trouble.

Do any of the above stop me from writing? Nope. I just iron the creases out of my ego and plunge on.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I sometimes think there's no rhyme or reason to contest entries, sales, etc. I get surprised so many times as to what works and what doesn't--and it never seems to follow a pattern.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Okay, I just entered BOTH contests.

My favorite contest prizes (not counting those rare ones involving a query/pages critique) are books. Not only because I spend a fortune on books but because it leads me to authors I might not have read otherwise. In fact, older books (new or used) would work fine for this. Just a thought.

Katie Reus said...

I agree with Elizabeth. Sometimes contests are a big success and some just, aren't, for whatever reason. Sometimes it has to do with where you're hosted for a contest. As a reader, I like books as prizes. Other stuff is fine but I'm more apt to enter if the book really catches my attention. If I don't win, I'm still very likely to buy it.

Terry Odell said...

Linda - Good Luck! My ego thanks you.

Katie, my limited experiences says that if I give away a new release as a contest prize, people will hold off buying until they see if they win. That's fine for a one-day contest, but I'm reluctant to stifle possible sales on my monthly ones.

Elena said...

I am finding it really interesting following your journey from 'what is social networking' to very active participation. This is a very different world from my days when publishers promoted and writers except for the occasional appearance, sat home and wrote. What bothers me is that if anything, the money is about the same, or less. And the work has increased tremendously.

Have you kept any track of how much time you put into networking, both in person and on the computer?

Terry Odell said...

Elena - I'm blessed with not having a full time "non-writing" day job, and the blessings are mixed on not having to work under deadline, so I enjoy the time I spend on the social network aspects of writing. However, it's not really that much. I check my Facebook page a few times a day. Likewise for Twitter. I figure I spend an hour or so blog-crawling. That leaves a lot of time for writing, much of which is spent doing other stuff!

Hart Johnson said...

Terry, I'm SURE the free stuff is going faster because FREE is all people are looking for. In this economy a lot of people just can't do more (though if they have a reader, they had SOMETHING) but the perception is just 'I can't now'. I used to buy a fair number of books and I just can't anymore (when my advance finally comes, I have plans)

And I am guilty of entering Cleo's and not yours... the reason was indeed the 'work' and my swamped week AT work. I just didn't have time to look for the info at the moment... there is an intention to come back when I have time to look... but I know myself well enough to give that about 30% odds.

(My contests nearly never work)


I may be missing the topic here, but I can remember when I was first E-published, a lot of the authors who had been BOOK published, said "welll I don't really like reading on a PC" when your book comes out in print I will buy it. when it did they never did.
Then there were people who reciprocated, because they knew I always supported them.
It's just a crap shoot..unless of course you are James patterson, Stephen King, or Nora Roberts... And I am not whining either.. just seeing my books out there is a good thing.

Terry Odell said...

Hart, I know free will always win out. I was just surprised that so few bothered with the free sample--guess they didn't want to risk liking it and having to pay the 99 cents to read the rest. I can accept if they download the free pages and then don't buy (ego notwithstanding), but it came as a surprise. Won't be my last, I'm sure.

And no worries about the swag contest. What seems obvious to me as far as a simple click to find an answer might appear more time-consuming to a reader who doesn't know where the answer is the way I do. Again, my ego assumes everyone's been following my blog and knows my characters!

Another consideration is whether people have e-readers--I know I don't read books on my computer, and they have to be formatted in a way my old reader can translate before I'll consider buying them.

---this is turning into another post! Thanks for stopping by!

Terry Odell said...

Storidiva-my first full-length novel was an e-book. People would say, "Oh, well, when you write a REAL book, let me know and I'll buy it."
Of course, they rarely do. I'm thinking that as the digital world expands, so do our horizons.

Elaine Baskin said...

1. I rarely download free books (although I did download all three of yours on Smashwords, then bought Coping Mechanisms). I don't like reading on the computer, don't have a kindle or other e-reader. I read two out of three because they were about characters I already "knew".

2. I don't enter contests much either.

You could be well served to get a different measure by which to gratify your ego. (How about loyal friends from high school who buy your books?!!!)

Terry Odell said...

Elaine - you're definitely one of my ego-boosters! And I do thank you for your support.

I agree about reading on the computer--that's my "job" and I prefer to read in a comfy chair. But I do have an e-reader, dinosaur though it may be. I love having a choice of formats.

Anonymous said...

I read Konrath's blog and he has a lot of interesting, insightful things to write about the industry, the changes its going through, and what authors can expect. I'm promoting my eBook for the first time. We'll see what happend in the next few months as I also start doing book signings again.

Stephen Tremp

Terry Odell said...

Stephen, yes Konrath's had a lot of experience with the industry, and isn't afraid to speak out. I'll be waiting to see how your eBook promotion goes. There are so many variables, and every case is different. Good luck!

Terry Stonecrop said...

So much of this promotion stuff is Greek to me, Terry.

I don't enter contests because they don't appeal to me, any more than gambling does. I went to a casino in the Bahamas and didn't spend a dime. Just watched. I've won stuff accidentally by commenting on blogs and I like it but it's just not a thing for me. OK, Lotto is another story:)

I have so much trouble keeping up with things as they are. Anything extra is like, forget it.

Thoughful post. I've been thinking about this social networking a lot lately and how much is it worth to us? Elena's comment also made me pause.

Terry Stonecrop said...

Oh, and since I'm not published,or even finished yet, that may make a difference in the way I view things.

Sheila Deeth said...

I think I need to go read your last post too. I have to confess, I love "free reads." Then I add the author to my list of people to look out for (and tell my friends). But my bookbuying budget is really small, and being a mathematician really counts against me - cheap is great, but if I buy this one I'll have to buy that one and then... and then I add it all up and can't afford it.

I try to sell my books at local fairs and I'm still looking for the right balance between cheap enough to afford and expensive enough to be worth paying for. If a necklace sells for $20, how much should a book cost?

Meanwhile people look and ask and say they'll be back and disappear, which I guess is the local bazaar version of asking for info, or downloading a free read and not coming back for more.

I think you're right. Everything's different if you're already known. It's that getting known bit... How did they do it? But we still write.

Beth Trissel said...

Hi Terry. Super post. I've noted that hundreds of my free short historical read, NIGHTHAWK, at The Wild Rose Press have 'sold' but those same people are not returning to TWRP and buying oodles of my other 'you have to pay for them works.' Conclusion, people are unbelievably cheap.

Maeve Greyson said...

Great post, Terry. I think my general consensus is: We'll never truly decipher what motivates people to do what they do. Perhaps that's why we "sensitive writers" spend so much time in our make-believe worlds? :)

Terry Odell said...

TerryS - you are SO far ahead of the game with your blog and your character's blog. I had a contract in hand before I started my website OR blog.

Sheila, Beth - I think the economy has something to do with it, but free always wins. However I did have one Big Name author tell me that among the younger set, the perception is based on perceived value--that is, if a book costs $20, it must be better than one that costs $8. I just wish they'd find me!

Maeve - so true, so true. And thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

Ego wrinklers? About ten years ago a major Japanese publisher wanted an updated version of a business correspondence textbook that had run to 4 or 5 printings. I was hoping that the 'new' version I co-authored would enjoy a similar long run, but it was pulled as soon as the last copy of the first edition was sold.

I haven't followed up on the Konrath link, but I agree with his premise. Remember the movie "Man from Earth"? I was one of the thousands of people around the world who downloaded a copy when it was available only in the States. I loved it so much that I gladly donated to the producer's appeal for financial support, then went and bought a regular DVD copy just to boost the sales figures.

Terry Odell said...

Jud - there's no predicting what will happen to a book. At least they sold out the print run. My publisher remaindered one book, and I ended up buying the leftovers.

As for Konrath, I don't deny he's got a viable premise--it's just not going to carry over universally.

Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

You're right, Terry, Konrath's argument fails miserably when you look at the way the iApp Store has divided developers into a tiny percentage of winners and a huge majority of unknown, unnoticed losers.

OTOH, I'm old enough to remember the offshore pirate radio stations in the UK that infuriated the record labels until the same labels realised there was a direct link between radio plays and sales, and started _cooperating_ with the pirates by flying the first copies of new records straight from factory to ship by helicopter.

But, as you say, there's no way to predict what will happen to a book. Too many variables. Just like the advertising industry. A million-dollar campaign flops while a cheap promotion grabs the attention of the consumer. And then there's movies...

Joanna Aislinn said...

Hi Terry,

Interesting, thought-provoking post. Contests: Nothing the promoting author is doing that isn't enticing me; I rarely enter b/c I simply don't have the time to read as much as I used to.

As per people requesting an order: a little chancy at this end but if someone requests a book--especially someone I know personally or professionally--I may send it off and await payment--one way of insuring the sale (but not necessarily payment, lol).

Your topic relates to what I blogged about today: changing my mindset to embrace small efforts that hopefully add up and putting it out there. A good amount of faith gets tossed into the mix, too.

Joanna Aislinn
The Wild Rose Press