Adventures In Self-Publishing Part 3: So, Can We Talk About Some Stuff?

It's an oft-repeated piece of advice in the realm of self-publishing: you get out what you put in. The harder you work, the more copies you sell; nothing sells in a vacuum, and you can't expect to climb the ranks by sitting around and doing nothing. 

That's true! I know because I've been extremely busy this month, and haven't been able to dedicate much time to convincing people to buy my novella, and as you can see from the numbers below, my lack of effort shows. 

This isn't to say I don't want to sell it. It's just hard to find the time. As with all artistic pursuits, real life gets in the way. 

So, unfortunately, this won't be a terribly long column this month. But that's fine. There's some things I'd like to discuss. I need some help to do that. I'm hoping to hear from people who've read the novella (I'm sure a few of you out there have), and those who haven't. 


So, as I've said, this is an experiment in self-publishing. I've introduced a new variable, to see if it'll affect sales: Lower pricing. 

When you sell though Amazon, you get a 70 percent return on anything priced $2.99 or above. Below that, you get a 35 percent return (that's an oversimplification--find more information from Amazon here... and also, the other sales sites have similar numbers). I initially priced the novella at $2.99, in part because I thought the work I put into it was worth three bucks, but also because I wanted that 70 percent return--who wouldn't?

A week ago I dropped the price to 99 cents, to see what would happen. It hasn't moved the needle a whole lot, but again, I haven't been doing much to sell it. (Oh, and if you are really upset that you bought it at the higher price before the discount, let me know and one day I will buy you a drink).

The novella is estimated at 62 pages on Amazon. I spent a whole ton of time writing it. I feel like it's worth $2.99--but it's the customer who matters, right? 

What do you make of this whole pricing thing? People say that the rush to the bottom on eBook pricing devalues writers and their work. Others feel that, due to the nature of eBooks (no storage, printing or shipping costs), they should be priced cheaply.

So here's a point of discussion, and I could use some help here: Do you think the initial price of $2.99 is too steep? Is 99 cents too low, or just right?

Would you buy it for $2.99? Would anyone begrudge me charging that price point? Are you more encouraged to buy it at 99 cents? 

Panhandlin' for reviews

Here's another thing I'm having a tough time with: reviews. I want to ask people to review the novella, but I don't. I feel weird about it. On one hand, I hope they'll give it an honest assessment. On the other hand, I figure people I know and love will probably be kind. And good reviews are important on sites like Amazon--the more good reviews you have, the higher you rank, the more people see you, the more people are convinced to buy. 

Some authors, like RJ Ellory, game the system in the worst way possible--creating fake accounts to leave praise for their own work and deride the work of their "competitors." I don't think asking for reviews is the same thing--but it sort of feels like cheating. 

I feel very lucky to have five 5-star reviews on the novella right now at Amazon. (Full disclosure: One is my mom.) I'd love to get some more but I find myself not wanting to ask for it, so I was hoping maybe we could talk this through. So you know me. I write this column and I wrote a novella and I write other goofy things on this site. If I asked you to review the book, how would you react? 

Would you feel imposed upon? Does it bother you when writers ask for reviews? Or do you think it's par for the course in the age of self-publishing? 

Other updates

One thing that happened this month, that's causing me quite a bit of consternation: someone returned a copy of the novella to Amazon! It bums me out, because Amazon doesn't tell you why the novella was returned. Did the person buy it by accident? Did they buy it and not like it? Did someone accidently buy two copies and return one? I have no idea! And it's tearing me up inside!

Also, I mentioned last month that I had applied for the Kindle Singles program, which would have resulted in very nice marketing boost. I got rejected. Not entirely surprising, as it's a tough program for self-pubbed authors to crack. Nook has a similar program. I'm going to give that a shot. 

And I know I mentioned that I'd be looking into making the book available in some more places--Smashwords, at least. Still need to look into that. But soon! Promise. 

Discussion time!

So that's it. Check out my updated numbers below, and let's get to the discussion period. I'm sorry it's been a slow month--I've been completely slammed at work--but I'm planning to put some more effort into selling this thing, so we have some more actual stuff to talk about next month. 

Sales tally:

  • Amazon: 45 (up 20 from last month)
  • Barnes & Noble: 14 (up 10 from last month)
  • Kobo: 0
  • Total eBooks sold: 59
  • Total copies returned: 1

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ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig October 16, 2012 - 11:25am

I think if you give a general call "If you've read the novella please review it," you're fine. 

I did read it, and I enjoyed it, but I will admit to being shocked at the length vs. the price point. Novella is kind of a weird word, since your books definitely fits into that, but so does a 100pager.

Anyway, now that you've reminded me, I'll go review it.

jennydecki's picture
jennydecki from Chicagoland is reading The Foreigners October 16, 2012 - 11:30am

I wish (for your sake) there was a reason given for the return! I don't think that $2.99 is too much for a 65-page novella, but then I look at books in terms of albums and a novella is like an EP. Sure, it's not a full-blown 13-song album but it's more than a single, so I think $2.99 really sits in there nicely.

Tommy Lombardozzi's picture
Tommy Lombardozzi October 16, 2012 - 11:32am

Seems like selling a book online is just as difficult as selling music! Alas, I still have not read the novella (I have no eReading device)... so I can't review it.... though I don't think asking readers for a review is a bad thing. They're not obligated, but, if they'd like to give their feedback/two-cents, what's wrong with that? It helps a young up-and-comer and it helps possibel readers know what they're getting into.


I don't think $2.99 is a high price for a nice read. .99 is way too little a fee for an hour of reading enjoyment. And liek you said, you've put in a lot of work... and if you've turned out a quality piece, then you deserve what you deserve. $2.99 is still so much more reasonable than a thirty dollar hardcover!


Good luck, Rob!



Renee Miller's picture
Renee Miller from Tweed, Ontario is reading The Wolf Gift October 16, 2012 - 11:37am

I think pricing a novella of 62 pages at $2.99 is not unrealistic. I'm really cheap and I'd happily pay that for a novella. 62 pages doesn't seem like a lot to someone who's never written anything, but as a writer I know the work involved in a single page. Then again, the 99 cent "sale" seems to be a great tool to get sales started. (I don't know how true that is, I've just heard it works from several indie authors) Basically I'm saying I don't know what to tell you about price. Do what feels right?

On the reviews, secretly, every reader likes to have their moment to gush over or rip apart a book. I get review requests from both traditional and indie authors. I'm never offended and don't feel I have to give a good review just because I "know" them. I find the minute I say "I will be brutally honest," they never contact me again or they ask me to run the review by them first so they can decide if they want me to post it. When they ask me to do that, I just don't read the book. If they want to proof my review, then they're not looking for honest reviews.

ETA: Sorry, there's a third option when I say I'll be brutally honest. More than you'd expect say "That's great. Thanks." and I go ahead and read the book.

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this October 16, 2012 - 11:39am

@SparrowStark--what exactly shocked you about the length v. price point? Did you think $2.99 was too expensive, or too low? And, thanks for offering to review!

@Tommy, I'm looking into doing some kind of print edition, since a lot of people have expressed interest but don't have eReading devices. I'll let you know about that. 

@Renee and jenny, thanks for the input. This is all very helpful to hear. 

Tom1960's picture
Tom1960 from Athens, Georgia is reading Blindness by Jose Saramago October 16, 2012 - 11:40am

Go back to 2.99.  Stand your ground.  I haven't read your story but I'm sure it's worth the price of a beer.  Good luck and hang in there.

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this October 16, 2012 - 11:42am

@Tom, I'll probably leave it at 99 cents for another week or so just to see what happens, but yea, I feel like I'll boost it back up soon. Sort of curious to see if the low price point alone is enough to spur sales. Thanks for the support!

Mickerdoo's picture
Mickerdoo from Brooklyn via the Center of The Universe October 16, 2012 - 12:02pm

$2.99 is less than half the price of a pint of domestic beer in Manhattan. It's less than a gallon of gas. It's about the same as what my deli guy charges for a dozen eggs. $2.99 is not high. Put the price back up so I can give you more of the profit, and I'll review it once I'm done!

ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig October 16, 2012 - 1:05pm

Rob--I guess that to me, it felt like a Kindle Single (which sorry to hear they rejected you--they rejected me recently, too) which are usually .99. I don't feel cheated or upset that I paid $3 or anything, but since you made a point of discussing the price I felt like maybe my moment of :It's over already?" was worth mentioning.

On the flip side of that, if it wasn't a worthwhile book, I wouldn't have been bothered it was over. I don't know anything about ebook pricing, but I figured I would let you know how I felt in relation to the price point, as maybe it could help.

ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig October 16, 2012 - 1:06pm

I feel like I am doing a crappy job of explaining...haha.

I mean it was worth $2.99, but because of how Kindle markets other things of a similar length, for a moment, when I realized it was under 100 pages, I had a moment of "sticker shock". As in, it's not you--it's your competetion.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated October 16, 2012 - 1:57pm

Have you considered giving it away free for a while, or trying making it Amazon exclusive so you can get a bit of that Prime library money?

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this October 16, 2012 - 2:01pm

@Dwayne, I'm not sure I want to alienate people who may have other reading devices, which is why I didn't go with Prime. As for free, apparently Amazon judges free copies with a different metric now, so giving it away for free doesn't give you the same benefits.

Taylor's picture
Taylor from Durango, Colorado but living in Portland, Oregon is reading The Paradox Hotel by Rob Hart October 16, 2012 - 3:20pm

Hi Rob,

I don't think you should think twice about asking for reviews. I do know what you mean, but look at almost every physical book you have, the "reviews" on the dust jacket are usually a bunch of the writer's friends who just happen to be writers or people in the the publishing industry. Case-in-point, I looked at the back of Lidia's new book that I bought at Wordstock, and many of the reviews are offered by Portland writers in Chuck's writing group. Not that the book didn't deserve it (I heard Lidia's new book is awesome, and I'm psyched to read it). I had a writing professor once tell me that the publishing world is so inbred, that it's totally standard to have the reviews on your dust jacket be a list of your friends. I wouldn't hesitate to ask your friends and fellow writers for a review.  Just ask for an honest review, and you can sleep at night. :)

It was great to meet you this weekend. Best of luck on your novella!

By the way, 2.99 seems like a totally fine price point. There is some logic to not pricing it too cheaply because people will assume it's not good just based on price alone. I wish I could remember where I heard it, but maybe look up how smartphone app developers price their apps. They don't want them to appear too cheap because users will pass over it assuming it's no good. Take pride in your work. 2.99 is less than a latte, and your novella is probably more satisfying!

Cameron Lawrence Merker's picture
Cameron Lawrenc... from Twin Cities is reading Watership Down October 16, 2012 - 5:39pm

Last week I bought your novella at the $.99 price. Price wasn't really a factor in the purchase. I would have paid $2.99 as well. I just really wanted to read it. I really enjoy your columns here on Litreactor. I've read the novella and I must say it moves quickly in a good suspenseful way, I love the story and I will write a review on Amazon for you soon. It inspired me to get to work on some of my zombie ideas in short story form. I've been hesitant to start because I haven't got a chance to read much zombie lit, mostly I've only read graffic novels. It's nice to see that the same detail and suspense can translate well into literature. Good work on it, I hope to see a follow up on Sarge's future or lack there of. My suggestion on the price, bring it back up to 2.99 and when you have other work to promote, reduce the price if you want to get new people into your new work, kinda of like a promotion or something, but make it clear that it's a promotion. 

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated October 17, 2012 - 4:59am

For the free stuff I was thinking more later on if you had more ebooks up, or did something else with these characters/world. Get people in on the ground floor so they'll go up to the higher floors kind of thing.

I finally got around to downloading/reading it (because you put up the article that reminded me, less then because of a price drop), and it was good work.

You could raise it past the $2.99 mark, which is sort of only a bit better then $0.99. Lots of folks know it is the lowest price to still get the 70%, so you might get more traction at $3.99 or such.

HollyWorton's picture
HollyWorton October 17, 2012 - 5:16am

Everyone will have a different opinion about pricing. I'd pay up to $3.99 for a full-length novel, but I'm not sure if I'd pay $2.99 for a novella. If I already love the author's work, probably. If I'm giving them a try for the first time, probably not. And I'm annoyed by the publishers charging as much for an ebook as they charge for a paperback. Even though the contents are the same, many people perceive that an ebook has less value than a printed book. It's just not tangible. 

The good thing is that you can play around with the price. I wouldn't over-think it too much. I'd try different price points and see what works. Yes, you get 70% at $2.99 or higher...but what if you sell so many copies at a lower price that the 35% doesn't matter?

As far as reviews thing is purchasing reviews, which most people consider to be unacceptable. Another thing is defaming the competition. I think that's pretty much universally considered to be unacceptable and just downright disgusting. 

But asking readers to share a few words on Amazon and Goodreads isn't a big deal. Just mention it without pressuring. If someone writes you an email to say how much they loved your book, just respond with "Thanks so much. It would be great if you just copied and pasted your comments on Amazon and/or Goodreads. I'd really appreciate that." 

You can also offer complimentary review copies to readers, in exchange for an unbiased review. Ideally, you'd want to do that just before a release. 

You could also target book bloggers who specialize in your genre and offering them a complimentary review copy. Many bloggers will post their same review not just on their blog, but also on Amazon and Goodreads. 

Having all five star reviews sounds great in theory, but it's kind of don't worry about getting four star or lower reviews, unless you get a one star review that's an obvious attack. A variety of reviews makes it look real. 

But're more likely to get great reviews if you target reviewers and bloggers who already love books in your niche. That means that friends and family aren't necessarily the best reviewers for you. Yes, they may be kind enough to do you a favor, but on the other hand they may dislike your book simply because they're just not into the genre. 

However you decide to move forward in promoting your book, the best of luck to you! :)

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this October 17, 2012 - 10:48am

@Taylor, great to meet you this weekend, too! And that's an interesting point about app developers. I'll have to look into that. 

@Cameron, thanks for reading, and for the advice. Price will go back up soon, I think. 

@Dwayne, my ideal writing career would include a mix of self- and traditional-published stuff. And yea, I will leverage the hell out of free stuff once I have some more stuff on my bibliography. And, thanks for reading. 

@Holly, good points, especially on price. Thanks for weighing in. 

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated October 17, 2012 - 12:48pm

I couldn't pass up the chance to make every number in your article out of date. Except the return number, so you've won this one Tribeke. I gave it a 6th review, it's the one with my name on it, but honestly at this point you might need someone who will give you a 3 star to make it look more legit.

1979semifinalist's picture
1979semifinalist from California but living in NYC is reading Joe Hill's NOS4A2 October 18, 2012 - 8:48am

I see nothing wrong with soliciting reviews - but I am extremely biased as I'm doing it for my own book as well.

Price point, ah, price point.

$2.99 does seem a bit high to me for a novella, but that's probably because my massive 370 pager is going for $4.99.  That said, as you know, I bought your novella (without thinking twice) read it, and it was worth every penny. So...I have no idea what that means...maybe just that my book is underpriced?

I am wary of the whole 99cent thing, not just becuase it so severly reduces your profit, but also because I fear you get a different quality of reader - someone that just impulse or horde buys...without being truly excited about the purchase? I don't just want the purchases, I want people actively reading, you know?

Loving this column, can't wait to see the next installment!


Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this October 18, 2012 - 8:52am

@Kelly, thanks for reading and the input. I just bought your book... and at 375 pages, I would have been OK paying more. Looking forward to reading it!

EdVaughn's picture
EdVaughn from Louisville, Ky is reading a whole bunch of different stuff October 18, 2012 - 6:10pm

I don't think 2.99 is asking too much. But because it's a novella you might not want to go over that. You might end up getting a bunch of shitty reviews from people pissed at the length vs price factor or something. And I'd be happy to review it. I'll try to pick it up this weekend especially if it's still 99 cents. Sounds pretty cool.

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this October 19, 2012 - 7:47am

@red, yea, I couldn't justify higher than $2.99 I think. It's a comfortable price point. I have bumped it back up, but Amazon has decided to keep it at 99 cents (they can discount if they want, good news is I still earn profit off the price I set, not their sale price). So, grab it while you can... thanks!

mono ya mono's picture
mono ya mono from UK is reading Julio Cortazar December 3, 2012 - 2:32pm

Hi, my name's Danny Blackwell, and I just self-published my Zombie novella "Dancing Muertos" on Amazon, so we appear to be in a similar boat. I stumbled accross your blog while researching the whole thing, and I'm steadily going throught for tips, advice and so on. I hope it continues to go well for you...

Estamos en contacto!


RichardP's picture
RichardP April 10, 2015 - 9:16am

Great articles Rob, most informative and interesting, thank you.

Out of curiousity, I followed your link above to the Barnes & Noble site and landed on an error page.

Then I used their search for "the last safe place", ordered by "Best match" with "view all" selected.

They produced five books. The title of one (in two versions) was the exact search text, two others had similar titles and one was completely different - but they did not list yours, for no obvious reason. I guess you have taken the book off their site, as a search by author name "Rob Hart" failed also?