Indies: Why I haven’t read your book

The #1 reason is simply that I haven’t found it yet. But since I shop a lot and meet with a lot of buyer frustration, I thought I’d make a list of the most common reasons why I don’t click the buy button. You may have your reasons, and that’s your business. This is one person’s experience and what you do with the info is up to you.

Preface: I’m an avid ebook enthusiast and I DO NOT OWN A KINDLE! Clutch the pearls, I know! You just don’t even know what to do with that one, do you? The fact is that there are a number of people who, for whatever reason, pass on the Kindle in favor of other ebook device brands. These brands include, but are not limited to: Sony, Nook, Kobo, iPad, Cybook… In fact, let me just link you to a list of examples. As far as I know, Kindle is the only dedicated reader device that reads the secure (DRM protected) Amazon format(s).

With ebook sales currently representing such a small percentage of the total book market, I am constantly asking myself why indie authors choose to alienate any part of that population by not offering their books in other formats.

So, we’re already into the list:

#2. You DRM’d your book on Amazon. Amazon has become THE place to shop for indie reads, without question. I go there first. And I try to buy there because I think that buying your book in Kindle format helps your rankings there which will ultimately be more helpful to you than if I buy it elsewhere.

But I can’t buy it there if you DRM it. In the details, it must read “Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited”. That’s the only way I’m going to be able to convert it to a format my reader can use after I buy it. And if I wanted to read it on my PC, I would hardly have dropped a couple hundred bucks on a device, would I? And I’m a reader, not Gadget Girl. I’m not about to run out and tie myself to a cell phone contract, with an extra $15-$30/mo tacked onto it, to get a phone I can’t figure out, so that I can read your book on its dinky display. (Yes, the next shock, I neither have nor want an iPhone.)

#3. You’re not on Smashwords. That’s usually the next place I go to see if you’ve got other formats available someplace else. I search the title first, and then the author. I usually don’t find what I’m looking for.

(If DRM is the deal-breaker for you, if this “protection” is what keeps you from offering your book to ALL ebook device owners, I urge you to do two things: read up on some of what Joe Konrath has to say about ebook piracy on his blog, The Newbies Guide to Publishing [here’s one link, but there are more], and poke around MobileRead forum to see what formats have already been broken [um, all of them?]. Understand that the pirates don’t care about DRM because they’re the ones who CAN and DO break everything. You’re only keeping your books out of the hands of those who wanted to pay you. Do not flame my comments, because I do not want to argue about piracy.)

#4. Rarely, but it does happen, I will do a web search for you and your book, in hopes that you have a website at which you offer your book for free download (ok, I can hope), or offer the various formats through a service like Payloadz.

#5. Your book is too expensive. It’s not about what your work is worth, it’s about my budget. (It’s not you, it’s me.) We’ve gotten past the auto-no part of the list that’s just about availability, but now you’ve priced yourself out the market–the market of me, anyway. What I want to spend on an unknown is $.99. I will spend up to $2.99. I probably won’t spend more.

I rarely spend over $5. If I do, it’s because someone else really liked your book and told me I have to read it, or there was something so incredibly intriguing about the concept that I pretty much had to. But that is sooooo rare. Seriously, if you’re not selling like hotcakes, please don’t count on this. A 70% royalty x no sales = $0. A 35% royalty on $.99 is more than that.

What if you got me to read that first book for $.99? What if I bought your next 3? What if I told my friends?

(Those of you who have given your books over to epublishers who are trying to price you like NY books, while not making you look like NY books…I’m sorry. It’s just too high. If I wanted to pay that, I’d buy from an established name.)

#6. Your blurb/product description didn’t grab me. More than likely, if I take a pass on your book because of the product description, it’s because it actually turned me off. Maybe it wasn’t well-written. Maybe it failed to describe the story or made it seem like you and I wouldn’t be a writer/reader match. Often I see product descriptions that look like the author just didn’t try.

#7. I couldn’t get through the excerpt/sample. Now, I do a lot of impulse buying, but I’m really trying to get in the habit of taking the time to read at least a page or two of the free samples provided. This will save me a lot of pain. I’ll admit that I read and pay attention to the excerpts A LOT more when the price is higher than $.99. Because that purchase is a bigger decision.

This is finally where it gets to the point about your work. It may not be that I think it’s “bad”. Sometimes I just feel that it’s not for me. If your language is the really…flowery or purple, if it feels overwritten to me, or clumsy, or drags… These are things that make me suspect I’m not going to enjoy the book and it’s going to be a pass for me. I do the same thing to paperbacks in the bookstore when I can, so you’re getting equal treatment.

#8. Only after all that do I even get down to the reviews. Seems odd because reviews are something I go to right away for trad published books. And part of that is because trad published books are all pretty much equally available to me through various outlets, priced at about the same rate, generally have more compelling descriptions, and may or may not have excerpt material. I read reviews of trad published books because, again, the price makes the purchase a much more significant buying decision and I need to be careful about it.

To be honest, I’m hardly buying any trad pubbed books since the Agency pricing model for ebooks put the smackdown on discounting and made trad pubbed books in my price range practically extinct. I’m getting a lot more of my reading from the library than I was before Agency pricing. (The library and Adobe DRM support: the reason I don’t own a Kindle, now you know.)

Last word on reviews: by the time I’m looking at reviews, I’m looking for reassurance and a reason not to buy.

Other factors:

Cover art- A lot of people say professional cover art is a big deal. It’s not so much, for me, but I know it is for a lot of people. If your cover is really good, it may have a better shot at grabbing me. I don’t know.

Length- I like to know how long the book is, and I’m more likely to buy if I know the word count and what I’m getting into. The likelihood of me buying an indie novel over 100K words is very small. I prefer shorter novels, between 50K and 100K. I have a hard time believing that novels over 100K won’t be full of tangents, thoughtologue, redundancy, and an overall lack of editing and author attachment to every precious word. Maybe yours is different, but it’s probably not for me. I’ve read too much filler in the realm of “full-length” traditionally published novels.

Paper only!- Again, an availability issue. I understand why indie books cost what they do, and I do not hold that against you. But I won’t take that kind of risk with my money. Plus, I don’t want to read paper anymore. I’m in the process of getting rid of my paper books. The only thing I buy in paper anymore is manga/comics, some non-fiction stuff, and books for my little one. There’s just no way I’m spending $15-$20 on a book. But if you put it up in an eformat, at a reasonable price…

If I like your book, I will tell my friends. I’ll probably leave you a review. Maybe post about it somewhere. If you have other stuff, I’ll probably buy it all up.

If you can refrain from arguing with me about DRM and piracy (understand that I do so rabidly detest DRM, and how I feel it’s being used by the distributors to manipulate me as a consumer, and offers you, the author, no substantial protection against piracy–I actually can’t talk about it without getting worked up, so I won’t), I would love to hear why you’re in print only, or only in Kindle format, or how and why you chose your price point, etc.

And for readers, what makes you pass on books? What’s your price-point? What device are you using?

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4 Comments

Filed under self-publishing, tips, what not to do, writing

4 responses to “Indies: Why I haven’t read your book

  1. BostonFrank

    You asked why indie books are in print format only or Kindle format only and how and why a price-point was chosen. Let me answer those from my experience as a boutique publisher.
    Many authors barely know how to use a word processor much less how to generate the press-ready files many printing companies demand. Those authors usually go to a print on demand (POD) service which charges a formatting fee to wrestle the output of a word processor into the format the POD process needs. Add that fee to the relatively high cost of printing on demand and you get books that cost a lot. Enough about printed books; the rest of this discussion will be about e-books.
    If you want to sell your e-book on Amazon, it is considerably simpler to generate a Kindle e-book than it is to set up a webstore and afflilate program to sell your e-books through them. Also Amazon provides online e-book conversion tools that accept HTML as input and make a Kindle output, which is considerably simpler for a novice author/publisher than the lesser-understood conversion to other formats (ePub, mobi, etc.).
    To the subject of price-point, I’ve already mentioned the cost of professional manuscript conversion. Amazon pays publishers almost 70% of the purchase price of a Kindle e-book as a royalty, but only if the list price is between $2.99 and $9.99 – otherwise they pay 35% of list if the price is above $0.99, and nothing for royalty on e-books under $0.99. Figure the cost of an ISBN ($99), copyright registration ($75), custom cover art ($100-$200) and some marketing cost like Google Adwords and an author needs several thousand $0.99 sales to break even. In comparison Lulu.com charges the publisher $1.75 [plus $0.50 to apply optional DRM] plus 20% of the remaining purchase price for each e-book sold, therefore a Lulu e-book has to cost at least $1.75 for the publisher to make anything and it is virtually impossible for the average customer to browse Lulu’s e-book store in comparison to Amazon.
    In the end, even with an e-book costing $6 or more, the author gets less than a dollar a copy from the publisher. It’s not a way to get rich but few authors can afford to simply give the fruits of their labor away.

    • I’m actually aware of most of the issues you’ve raised, but I definitely appreciate the time you took to point them out.

      I understand that POD books cost a lot because they have a base cost for what goes into them. I know that formatting a book for print is a huge job (a friend of mine has just gone through the process). I think it’s unfortunate that it a number of those authors seem, as yet, unwilling to try e-versions which certainly have lower associated costs.

      I’ve heard mostly great things about Amazon’s upload system. However, what I’m starting to find is that a lot of indie authors are not very e-format savvy. With “Kindle” now being used as slang to cover all reading devices, I’m getting the feeling, from talking to some people, that maybe some indies don’t realize they are excluding potential customers when they only offer Kindle format.

      Certainly, when you go with a boutique publisher, that publisher has overhead costs that figure into the cost of the book in the same way that a print volume does. That’s understandable. However, there are some of those publishers who don’t seem to me to be serving their clients well by putting out books that don’t appeal on the same level as NY books, but with NY price tags.

      I didn’t mean to imply that I thought authors were gouging the public. I hope I didn’t.

      Your figures are a little bit different from the ones I’ve heard. My understanding is that when publishing in Kindle format through Amazon, no ISBN is required (and Smashwords has a free option for that); I’ve been told copyright registration is about half of the figure you mention; custom cover art, I’ll agree, is expensive and worth it. Smashwords offers and recommends that author/publishers use their style guide which gives plain English instruction that most, though possibly not all, should be able to understand. Since Mobipocket still offers a free download of a program that imports a word document and generates a very nice HTML, it’s difficult to believe that a lot of people would actually need to pay for professional manuscript conversion services. I think a lot of that is more fear of the unknown than actual necessity. Which is fine. I’m all for farming out when you can afford to. But if that drives up prices to the point you’re not selling, what good does it really do you?

      The bias of my opinion is probably due to friends’ experiences. One has been in multiple e-formats for some time with a few titles. She has sold well over 15,000 copies and has only recently raised her prices up to $1.99. Yes, she would have made more selling at a higher rate (though obviously most of those sales were before the 70% rate went into effect), but it’s about exposure and developing a following, which is something all successful authors have to do. She’s probably made about as much from that as she would have from an advance had her work been traditionally published. It’s hard to look at that as “giving it away”. Another friend has reached 1,000 sales in a few months on a single, short title, and has also just recently raised her price to $1.99.

      So what I was really trying to get at with this post was that these are the frustrations that I have as an ebook consumer. If indie authors are unable or unwilling to address them, that’s certainly their right, but I’d like to think that I did my bit to let them know–hey! I can’t even read your Kindle-only book and I actually wanted to.

  2. christel42

    Susan, if it wasn’t for you tweeting about buying Stacey Wallace Beneifel’s new book Glimpse http://staceywallacebenefiel.wordpress.com/glimpse/, it may have been years before we hooked up again. I am still astounded at how that worked out! Thanks to you, I’m finding long-lost college friends. Hell, you’ve started the ball rolling on something that could eventually lead to a reunion type of thing! AWESOME!

    • That whole thing was just so bizarre. I’m so happy that happened for you guys. And happy for me, because Stacey is really 10 kinds of awesome and I’ve done nothing but pester her since I started talking to her. The reunion sounds great. Go, get everyone drunk, and then make them order my book. That will be thanks enough…
      [Later that week…Huh? Teen Paranormal Romance? When did I order this?]

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