I’ve published seven books since 2011 and will be publishing another one this year. I write every day, sometimes just for a couple hours, sometimes for eight or more. Admittedly, it feels a bit too much like work at times, but it’s an enjoyable hobby. I especially appreciate every review readers post to Amazon or Goodreads or wherever—even those that aren’t five stars. Honest reviews are how I gauge a book’s success. The number of purchases is secondary, and the money I receive in royalties doesn’t enter into the calculation at all. It’s not about the money. I’d be extremely pleased if my books made a gazillion dollars, but it’s not why I write them.
Being an indie writer, I have a lot of control over the pricing of my books. The prices for my trade paperback editions have to be enough to cover production, shipping, and handling, but since eBooks are cheap to reproduce and cost almost nothing to deliver, I’ve priced most of mine at 99¢. This is mainly because that’s as low as the big distributors will allow. I have managed to convince some retailers to offer a couple of my books free, but Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Sony, and others frown on free eBooks because, unlike me, they measure success in terms of money. Free books don’t make any for them.
There is one notable exception to the 99¢ rule. Smashwords is an online digital publisher that has almost 400,000 books available, both fiction and nonfiction, which can be downloaded in pretty much any format you need (epub, mobi, pdf, rtf, lrf, pdb, txt, or html). They, too, are a business and need to make money to stay in business, but they have a unique entrepreneurial flair to their pricing model. Authors can let readers decide what they want to pay for a book. If the author has selected this as an option, you will see You set the price! at the top right side of the screen just above the Buy button. This isn’t a joke or a bait and switch gimmick. You really can set the price. You’re more than welcome to pay any amount of money you wish, or you can pay nothing. Absolutely nothing, and you get the same book with the same content, in the same format as anyone else who buys it. You decide what that book is worth to you and pay as you see fit. It’s as simple as that.
All of my books on Smashwords, other than those I’ve specifically made free, have this option.* If you wish to pay for them, you may. If you don’t, that’s fine. I don’t mind. Seriously. I really don’t mind. I’d much prefer they be read for nothing than not read at all. It’s not about the money.
The Brane Skip device may allow a spaceship to skip between layers of reality, bypass normal space, and avoid the universal speed limit—the speed of light. Lisa Chang, mission commander for its first crewed test, doesn’t trust it. It seems like magic to her, and she doesn’t believe in magic, not even after the ship skips to a fantasy version of Earth, complete with dragons, orcs, and wizards.
The Scarecrow’s Brane by D.L. Morrese
You set the price! Words: 79,940. Language: English. Published: July 3, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Adventure, Fiction » Science fiction » Adventure
The spaceship Brane Child emerges from skip-space into a whirlwind and accidentally squashes the only effective protection Emerald City had against the tyrannical Red Witch of the South. Now, Lisa Chang and her crew must make their way through the Wild Lands of Oddz to convince the Blue Wizards to create a new protector for the Republic of Emerald.
The Corporation made him to observe humans and make sure they weren’t up dangerous things like inventing, exploring, or learning to read. But as the years go by and he works with them day after day, century after century, he grows to like them. Is it right to keep them happy but ignorant? Shouldn’t this be a choice they make for themselves?
A different kind of lighthearted science fiction story for epic fantasy fans. On a not so distant planet, a young, naive prince encounters reality and tries to prevent a war.
The Warden War continues the adventures of Prince Donald of Westgrove and completes the lighthearted tale of looming war, subversion, and a terrible magical weapon begun in The Warden Threat. The Warden books are a delight. They are sure to appeal to readers of fantasy and science fiction who may be looking for something fresh and different.
Amy’s Pendant by D.L. Morrese
You set the price! Words: 77,250. Language: English. Published: March 11, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Adventure, Fiction » Young adult or teen » Sci-Fi & fantasy
The antique pendant Amy receives for her fourteenth birthday unlocks an ancient mystery and traps her inside an alien labyrinth populated with strange robots, android animals, and a central intelligence that does not want her to leave.
Disturbing Clockwork by D.L. Morrese
You set the price! Words: 107,520. Language: English. Published: April 21, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Steampunk & retropunk, Fiction » Fantasy » Epic
Benkin, a brilliant but quirky inventor, stumbles upon something extraordinary—clockwork automatons. All he wants is to understand them. Snyde, a fugitive from the king’s justice, has other plans.
*I haven’t made them all free, as opposed to ‘Set your own price’, because I really don’t want to piss off Amazon (which outsells all my other distributors by about 1000 to 1). I also wouldn’t mind making some money out of this. I’d be content if my royalties covered my writing expenses. (e.g. I wore out a keyboard last week and had to buy a new one, which I bought from Amazon)
This is a story of humanity venturing into the unknown, as it has always done. One step leads to another, but not all are as sturdy as one might hope. Sometimes you just have to put your foot forward and hope for the best.
The Brane Skip Device, which may allow a spaceship to skip between layers of reality, bypass normal space, and avoid the universal speed limit—the speed of light—is unproven. The theory behind it is poorly understood. Lisa Chang, mission commander for its first crewed test, doesn’t trust it. It seems like magic to her, and she doesn’t believe in magic—not even after the ship skips to a fantasy version of Earth, complete with dragons, orcs, and wizards. This, ultimately, is her greatest advantage.
The release date for Brane Child is 21 December 2014 at the astoundingly low price of just 99¢ for digital editions.
The prices of all of my other books in eBook formats are also just 99¢ from now through December. (Due to the cost of production, prices for paper formats are not discounted and remain significantly higher.)
Brane Child is available for preorder here:
Amazon (US) Link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00PIPTRIS
Amazon (UK) Link: www.amazon.co.uk/Brane-Child-Science-Fiction-Counter-Fantasy-ebook/dp/B00PIPTRIS/
Smashwords Link: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/492149
Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes Books, and other online retailers should also be accepting preorders soon. The trade paperback edition of the book is not available for preorder but will be released on or about the same time.
Questions and Answers about this book:
How does this book relate to your previous books?
In the immortal words of Monty Python, it’s ‘something completely different’. Well, Okay, maybe not completely different. I am still the author and it falls firmly in the same ‘counter-fantasy’ subgenre of science fiction that my other books do, but the setting and characters are new and (I think) original. It is positive science fiction—upbeat, hopeful, and sometimes even a bit funny. There is also a smidgeon of cultural satire. My goal for this book was to combine science, history, philosophy, fantasy, games, and humor into a satisfying story about stories.
A story about stories?
Yes, in part. It is about how readers shape stories as much as writers do. The writer sketches the characters and settings, but the reader completes them. No two readers experience exactly the same story. Brane Child is about how beliefs and expectations shape perspective. It touches on human achievement, quantum physics (specifically M-theory), and the idea that reality is much more complex than it seems. The physics (and metaphysics) are warped a bit (Okay, more than a bit) to fit this particular story, but I believe there is a thought or two in here that some people will find intriguing. I also think it’s a fun story.
And now for a short video..
It’s Read and Ebook week on Smashwords! From now until Saturday March 8 2014, over 39,000 books are absolutely free. This includes mine. Use the code RW100 at checkout to get these books free during the site-wide promotion!
MO-126 is a dog, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. He is a construct and an employee of the Galactic Organic Development Corporation, which searches the galaxy for primitive sentient species to save from extinction and then creates colonies of them on Corporation agricultural planets where they can live happily and safely. The transplanted species survives, and its members produce some of the most expensive and sought-after food in the galaxy, which the Corporation profitably sells to developed worlds with this guarantee:
Caringly grown, cultivated and harvested by simple sentient life forms. No artificial ingredients, pesticides, herbicides, or mechanized equipment used in processing. Guaranteed 100% organic.
Of course, keeping the primitives primitive enough to ensure the Corporation’s promise of natural purity can be a challenge, especially when they’re like those it found twenty thousand years ago huddling in caves and scraping a meager and precarious existence on a pale blue planet in the Milky Way’s Orion–Cygnus spiral arm. The humans keep trying to change things.
An Android Dog’s Tale is the 15,000-year episodic story of one canine mobile observer android who must make choices about what he wants to accomplish in his artificial life. Does he accept the wisdom of his makers or does he dare to question?
Use the promo code to get your free copy of An Android Dog’s Tale from Smashwords here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/378268
Prince Donald, the idealistic third son of the king of Westgrove, believes he may be the only one able to protect his country from an invasion spearheaded by an ancient and massive magical stone warrior known as the Warden of Mystic Defiance. Donald, unfortunately, is woefully unprepared. His only real understanding of such things comes from his reading of adventure stories. When he finds an ancient scroll he believes may allow him to take control of the mysterious Warden, he eagerly takes on the task. He dreams of saving the kingdom and becoming a hero like those in his epic adventure stories. To his dismay, his quest turns out to be nothing like he imagined. He finds the stories in his library seriously understate the complexities and hardships involved. He also soon realizes that the real world can be much more confusing than fictional ones, and the hero is not necessarily predestined to save the day.
Use the promo code to get your free copy of The Warden Threat from Smashwords here: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/87730
The Warden War continues the quest begun by Prince Donald in The Warden Threat. His father, King Leonard of Westgrove, has been told that the neighboring kingdom of Gotrox has discovered a magical means to animate a mysterious and gigantic ancient stone warrior, the Warden of Mystic Defiance, which it plans to use it to spearhead an invasion of his country. Donald is convinced this is a hoax carefully crafted by his father’s chief adviser to bring about a war to gain control of Gotroxian resources. Donald is determined to thwart him. It will not be easy. Chief Adviser Horace Barter has resources, connections, influence, and the almost unquestioned trust of the king. Donald, sadly, has none of these. What the young prince does have is a nominal position with the diplomatic team being sent to Gotrox and the companionship of a few rather unique friends including a pair of 15,000-year-old androids, one of which is a dog — or a reasonable facsimile thereof.
Use the promo code to get your free copy of The Warden War from Smashwords here: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/88548
AP https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/294488 Amy, the only child of a poor family living in the bustling city of Dolphin Point, is given an amazing and potentially dangerous pendant as a present for her fourteenth birthday. She does not know how amazing or how potentially dangerous it is. If she did, she would cherish it even more. She is that kind of girl.
Through her investigations of the mysterious pendant, she uncovers an ancient mystery—the remnants of a vast alien commercial enterprise buried beneath surface of the planet. Unfortunately, the central computer for the complex is aware of her intrusion and it cannot let her escape with knowledge of its existence.
Use the promo code to get your free copy of Amy’s Pendant from Smashwords here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/294488
On a small island called Bob off the southern shore of the great Kingdom of Westgrove, Benkin, a brilliant if somewhat quirky scientist, discovers something extraordinary — clockwork automatons that can obey commands. For Benkin, this is an amazing scientific discovery, one he wants to explore; one he believes may revolutionize mankind’s understanding of the world. For Snyde, a fugitive from the king’s justice, it is something he can use…
This humorous, exciting, and charming story sees the return of several characters from the three previous novels set in this world, plus a few endearing additions. If you were wondering what happened to the thoroughly evil Snyde, or if Trixie and Prince Donald ever got together, this book provides the answers.
Use the promo code to get your free copy of Disturbing Clockwork from Smashwords here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/308615
This humorous and exciting story sees the return of several characters from my previous books, plus a few endearing additions. My Warden stories (Defying Fate) were about Prince Donald and his quest to prevent an unnecessary war prompted by exaggerated claims of a WMD (Warden of Mystic Defiance). Disturbing Clockwork focuses on one of his companions, the messenger Trixie.
The prince, now in charge of the Westgrove Center for Scientific Advancement, asks her to deliver a personal invention to a brilliant natural philosopher (Benkin) living in distant city. When she arrives, she finds he has mysteriously disappeared. His friends in town do not know where he has gone, and they are concerned. He often disappears, but never without telling them where he is going. This time, he didn’t, and they suspect foul play. They also don’t know about his discovery of incredibly powerful and versatile clockwork automatons that he found buried under some rocks on a small, uninhabited island. Trixie’s old nemesis, Snyde, however, does, and he sees them as a means for regaining the kind of power and position she and her friends helped deny him the year before.
If you were wondering what happened to the thoroughly evil Snyde, or if Trixie and Prince Donald ever got together, this book provides the answers.
In the past, a large publisher’s most profitable strategy was to publish a relatively small number of different books with wide appeal, those for which they believed there was a large market. The large volume offset the cost of editing, cover design, printing, and promotion. This made perfectly good business sense. There were a few predefined genres, and books that fit the currently popular trends in each of those were what ended up being published and displayed on the limited shelf space in bookstores. This model worked well for the publishing business, but it didn’t provide much variety for readers.
When I was a kid, I read mostly space operas and sword and sorcery epic fantasies. That’s what the stores sold, and for speculative fiction, that was about all they sold because that is all the traditional publishers were publishing, which they did because they sold…
These books were often very much alike. If you tore out the title page, there is a good chance you would not be able to guess who wrote the story. They were as generic as fast food hamburgers and for the same reason—mass appeal, low cost, predictable content, and reasonable quality.
It seems that traditional publishers are still working to this model, and if you really want to read a new post-apocalyptic, dystopian, paranormal, vampire romance with demons, zombies and a teenage wizard, they’ll have one for you.* They’ll probably have dozens, in fact. That kind of stuff sells. They know this because they’ve already sold a bunch much like them. This doesn’t mean any of these books are good, nor does it mean all of them are bad, but it does mean that readers who want something completely different are going to have a hard time finding it.
Fortunately, the constraints of limited shelf space and mass appeal no longer apply, although I don’t think traditional publishers know this. Many authors and readers may not, either. Things are changing, though, and the change is good.
Online retailers do not need to be concerned about shelf space. This allows them to follow a different model. They can offer a wide variety of items to suit different needs and tastes rather than focusing on a relatively small number of currently popular items. Amazon may have been one of the first to adapt this idea to books, and they quickly came to dominate the book market because of it.
Then they went a step further by creating the Kindle, which made them the leader in digital books as well. They further expanded their eBook selection by encouraging writers to bypass traditional publishers and sell their books directly to readers (who had Kindles). I’m sure this wasn’t out of some altruistic concern or even due to some sense of duty to rescue the art of fiction from the doldrums. They are a business after all, and the primary business of business is, as we know, to make money, and I suspect Amazon is making a respectable profit from digital book sales. I have no idea how many eBook titles they now have available, but I imagine it’s a lot. They probably don’t sell many copies of most of these, but a few here and a few there can add a very large pile of nickels and dimes to their bottom line.
I did not realize how truly limited my book selection had been until I received a Kindle as a gift two years ago. In the years BK (Before Kindle), I got books from the library, brick and mortar bookstores, and online, but all of those books were published on paper through the gateway of a traditional publisher. I had no idea what I was missing. In the years AK (After Kindle), I have found many books that were fresh, different, that defied genre and convention, and, because of this, they were great reads. But they didn’t come from traditional publishers, which are still working to the old model of formulaic fiction for mass audiences. Many of the most enjoyable books I read last year came from small, independent publishers or were self-published by the authors.
The rise of indie publishing makes more books available to readers. But quantity is not what makes indie revolutionary. If all it did was increase the number of new vampire romances or zombie apocalypse stories released each year from a hundred to ten thousand, it would hardly be important. The greatest contribution of indie publishing is that it makes many different kinds of stories available to readers.
For a publishing business, the purpose of producing books is to make money. For many (but not all) indie writers, the purpose is simply because they have a need to create and share stories that are not like those coming out of the big publishing houses. Sure, indie writers would love to make piles of money, but few expect to, and I don’t think it’s why most of them write, especially those who are consciously not following the mass-market book trends. What this means for fiction readers is greater variety, more books, lower prices, and a better chance of finding a book that is fresh and wonderfully different.
I used to read about twenty new books a year. Now I read about seventy or eighty. The main reason for the increase is that I can now find more books that appeal to me. And, if this wasn’t enough, ‘indie’ eBooks tend to be much cheaper than their traditionally published counterparts. Many indie books are free. Not all of them are good of course, but not all the books published by traditional publishers are, either.
I have come to view traditional publishers as something akin to fast food chain restaurants. They offer items with wide appeal and consistent quality. I’ve found that some traditional publishers of speculative fiction tend to do this better than others do, but their variety remains limited and the difference between them is like that between Burger King and McDonalds. Indie publishers are more along the lines of local mom and pop diners. Some are good and some are not, but a few offer great things you cannot find anywhere else.
This is a good time for fiction writers. They can write stories they believe in and offer them directly to readers. It is a good time for readers whose tastes do not match those of the crowd. It is still difficult to find great books that match our individual tastes, but, because of the rise of indie publishing, those books are far more likely to be out there. What is now desperately needed is a way to sort through the many thousands of indie books available to find those that we’ll absolutely love. Variety is great, but it can be overwhelming.
*This is a slight exaggeration. Most popular books won’t have all of these elements. There is only so much, um, ‘stuff’ that will fit in any one bucket.
The official release date of my next book, Amy’s Pendant is 12 March. I can provide free Advance Reader Copies in digital format to anyone who would like to read it and do a review. Just let me know if you’re interested. All I need is your email address and what format you need the ARC to be in. (Requests must be submitted by 12 March but reviews can be done later.)
I have to admit to being a bit disappointed with this adventure in self publishing so far and I’m trying not to be disillusioned about it all. This post isn’t to gripe about that though. My intent here is to share my experiences with other new writers so that they might know what to expect and give them an opportunity to assess how they are doing by comparison with how I have done.
I have always wanted to write fiction. I knew I would be something of a niche author because I am a niche reader. I like books that provide social commentary, philosophical insights, and do so without being heavy or taking themselves too seriously. This is hard to pull off although Sir Terry Pratchett normally can do it and others can occasionally as well. These are the kinds of books I like to read so they are the kind I wanted to write.
I found that Young Adult (YA) books are often better at this than those targeted for adult markets because they tend to be more hopeful, more idealistic, and less focused on sex and violence. If I want to see the darker side of humanity, I can watch the TV news. A few hours of that could convince anyone that humanity is doomed, and quite possibly deservedly so.
I want something different for my leisure reading. Something that will allow me to pretend, at least for a moment, that there is a bright future for humanity. For video entertainment, this is what draws me to both Star Trek and Doctor Who. They both show people being able to overcome prejudice and superstition and they portray people, as a whole and individually, as creatures with value and potential. Apparently this is not a popular perspective so I never expected my books to be bestsellers. I never expected them to appeal to a very large audience. I have to admit that I did expect some feedback on them though, some indication that they are at least being read. So far, except for personal friends and family, there has been none.
From what I have heard anecdotally, my expectations, low as they were, may have been too high. I have found no reliable statistics on this but I’ve seen claims that it is not uncommon for a blog to attract only a few select followers its first year. Mine was established the end of May and here are statistics on how it has fared in terms of the gross number of views since then:
May – 26
June – 42
July – 83
August – 96
September – 226
October (so far) – 172
Clearly readership has grown, and hopefully will continue to do so as I write more of these wonderful posts, but so far this has not equated to book sales. This may also be common. Again, my only means of comparison for this are anecdotal comments from other writers from their blogs but I get the distinct impression that most fiction ebooks by unknown authors don’t see any appreciable sales – ever – but those that do don’t until they’ve been available for a couple years. Mine have been out a couple of months.
I began by making an anthology of my first two books available on Smashwords and created a coupon to allow them to be downloaded free. Most of these went to friends and family who did provide feeback on them, all of it positive. But then, what else would you expect from friends and family? (By the way, thanks, Dad.)
A couple of months ago, I published my first two books separately. I made the first free on Smashwords for a month and then raised the price on both Smashwords and Amazon to 99¢. I priced the sequel at 99¢ as well and the anthology at $1.99. The following shows how this pricing strategy has fared.
The summary for this table is that I’ve given away 174 copies of my books (all on Smashwords) and sold two (both on Amazon). I assume the one sale of The Warden War, the sequel to The Warden Threat was to someone who got a free copy of the first one, liked it, and was willing to spend 99¢ for the next one. This may not be the case but it makes me feel better to think so.
So what does this mean to others like me who may just be starting out on their own self publishing adventures? Just this. Keep your expectations low. You may have written the best book ever. It may have the potential to brighten the lives of millions, bring enlightenment to the masses and usher in a new and hopeful era for humanity. And all of these things may be true even though you don’t see many sales and don’t get any feedback from readers right away. The only opinion that really matters is your own. If you believe in your work, continue. Keep writing.
So, what is my next step? I have heard from others that my low prices, which I hoped would attract readers, may be having the opposite effect. Many people mistakenly associate cost with value. The low cost of my books may imply that they have little value. Personally I believe this to be untrue but to charge what I really think they are worth would mean only millionaires could buy them and they really aren’t the market I was trying to reach, not that I would mind them buying them as well.
One other indie writer told me that pricing a book at 99¢ may cause a person to skim over it thinking it is a novella, rather than an 80,000+ word complete novel or one that is poorly written, unedited, and incoherent. Since none of these things are true, he said I should price them at least at $2.99. I hesitate to do this because I want my books to be available to as many people as possible and some simply can’t afford $2.99 for a single book. In principle though, he may be right so in the next month or so, I am going to increase some of the prices. I will keep the first book in the series, The Warden Threat, at 99¢. I will change the price of the second to $1.99 and price the anthology of both books (which includes a special prelude as well) at $2.99. These new prices will become effective early November. I will post periodic updates on how this goes and whether or not it seems to have an impact on sales.
In the meantime, keep reading, keep writing. If you’d like to share your experiences, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear about them.
Why I Chose To Self Publish
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode One
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Two
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Three – Building a Platform
My Self Publishing Adventure – Episode Five – Gaining a Following
Ten Things For Aspiring Fiction Writers To Consider