How To Train Your Readers––Part 1

Welcome back to this evolving mindset.

We’re in part one because, well to be honest, this will be an ever-growing knowledge base. As I test and try new things, as well as you, my fellow authors (and readers, if you care to comment to, you’d be most welcome) feedback with your own ideas, I'll put out new posts, that share what we are all learning.

So really this post is about it being time to train our readers.  Because since putting out the first two posts on this––#BooksAreNeverFree and 24 Hours Later––the feedback has been amazing, both from fellow authors (the phrase at last someone is saying what I've been thinking best sums up their response) and from readers, who have responded candidly given my own honest approach.

I received some amazing and insightful emails just this week from readers, and quote them a little further down (the content, not the source) as they greatly help put into words this very thinking; the fear being that free books are now doing us more harm than good. That as authors, we're teaching readers that you don't need to buy books. That, simply, is foolishness.

Movements are not institutions, but can become that way when they stop free thinking and get into the this is how we do it mindset. The Independent scene––I'll focus on books, as that's my world––is a great movement that has now come alongside traditional publishing (these Houses being the institutions that many authors think they are rebelling against).  For me, as an Indie myself, it's not that I'm anti traditional publishing. I've just found a new medium that works for me.

It's got to always be about the book.

And whilst Indie is maybe a current and growing movement, the obsession with free could well see them become an outdated (and unemployed!) institution if something isn't done.

But there is hope––if, as an author, you make the switch from being just a provider of cheap content, to the seller of books, you can build a following of readers that will diligently follow you throughout your writing career.

I'll now share what these readers emailed me this week:

Tim, here's a thought that you probably won't like. I am sick and tired of these multi-author offerings. I find I'm now receiving huge numbers of them, and not infrequently, several authors peddling the same offering. I'm going to guess that the publishers (Amazon?) pressure you guys to do this, so that you are peddling each others' work. It's too f—ing much!
Sorry! But I hope there's a way you guys can get away from this.

This was a reply to my mailing where I was (for the first time) including details to a $0.99 promo I was a part of with 15 other authors. As I pointed out to this man in my friendly response, it wasn't Amazon demanding this but what we as authors feel we need to do to get sales. I said that if folks who had opted in to my list would just buy the books I write, I won't need to do such things. It's interesting to note, that whilst I'd never done a promotion with these authors before (on mass), there is clearly a point where crossover is becoming too much––he'd seen this promotion from many sources (clearly he'd been on the free sign ups too!) and now asking for $0.99 was obviously a dollar too far!

Here's another response, shared in full:

Tim, I feel bad to be a free loader but I must be honest. I am a freeloader. The internet is coming down with free books so why pay? I have noted several authors whose books were sufficiently good that I have put them on a short list for a possible purchase in the future but I feel no pressure to take that plunge just yet.

You are competing not only with other self publishers who have free offers but with the free out of copyright classics of which there are more than a life times reading and though you probably don't know it you are competing with charity shops where hardcopy books can be had for between 50c and 100c. Many of these are top flight books from best-selling authors. Over the years I have been trained by the charity shop experience never to pay more than 100c for a book unless it was a major biography from a top politician when I would go to 200c for a hard back copy – reluctantly. Then I discovered free ebooks. Now the charity shops are feeling the pressure at least from me.

I don't know the solution to the publishing crisis. Ending free new books is one solution but only partial. Charging 50c on promotional offers would eliminate the total freeloaders like me but would merely create a new expectation amongst other readers as the value of a book and there is nothing you can do about charity shops or free classics. There are far more books being written than the market can absorb – that is the basic problem. Publishers acted as a restraint on this when books had to be hardcopy. They regulated the supply to the market but now books are like oil – everyone is drilling and selling and there are more sellers than buyers.

I wish you the best and felt bad when I got your cry of pain, but not bad enough to do more than be honest with you.

The sections in bold are my highlights of key points this man makes. Readers will take what they are given. When we give free, they expect free.  True, he said he added authors he liked to a list for future purchases, but feels no pressure about acting on that––while the free classics keep piling up.

His point about oil was an interesting one––my reply to him was that, whilst a good analogy, I see my books as gold. They have an intrinsic value that I now place on them. It's time we stopped devaluing our work. It's time as Indie authors (especially as Indie, I'd say, as traditional publishing doesn't do this!) we think about the true value of our work, and focus on what kind of reader we want to find.

It's time we train our readers.

We should have started this last year, but don't leave it until next. Do something now. Start where you are, and do what you can.

Want further proof? Here is a link to a YouTube interview the newbie writer T S Paul gave to the SPF guys for their weekly podcast. Watch It Here. Here is a guy that broke all the Indie rules (it's quite funny listening actually!) and yet in just one year as a writer, is making a killing! And all this by writing short stories that he sells for $2.99 each!

Why does it work? There are a few elements…maybe it's luck (as one of the hosts suggests)…my main point, though, is this; T S Paul has trained his readers that his books cost $2.99 and then doesn't give them away, doesn't reduce them (I think he mentions once trying this, but clearly he isn't a fan) and yet, despite that, earns upwards of $40k a month!

In short, he's set an expectancy with his readership, who buy into his series with that knowledge, and keep coming back for more!

Now, your goals as a writer may differ from mine. If it's just about getting word out, maybe you are pushing a cause (though I guess that's less likely for fiction writers) then go free all the way (remember, however, that stats are increasingly proving that free downloads are just never read.)  So you might have 50,000 downloads with maybe just a few hundred ever reading your message.

If, like me, it's about making a living, a career, from telling stories, then we need to change quickly.

Stop selling yourself short.

This summer, I'm going to survey my readership carefully, and really target in on pricing for my next launch.  Some fans will buy at whatever price (within reason, of course, but certainly much higher than I'm selling for even now). So I'm going to test this and base my next launch on this feedback.  (Even at $2.99 compared to $0.99, because of the reduced royalty percentage, you have to sell 6.5 times more books at $0.99 to make the same amount as one $2.99 book).

And $2.99 is low for a book––I'm aiming much higher. What about you?

Share with me what's working for you. You can contact me via email on tim @ timheathbooks . com and I'll use your feedback to help increase this knowledge base.

About

Tim has been married to his wife Rachel since 2001 and they have two daughters. He lives in Tallinn, Estonia, having moved there with his family in 2012 from St Petersburg, Russia, which they moved to in 2008. He is originally from Kent in England and lived for eight years in Cheshire, before moving abroad. As well as writing the novels that are already published (plus the one or two that are always in the process of being finished!) Tim enjoys being outdoors, exploring Estonia, cooking and spending time with his family.