I Met Mark Coker at the Nebraska Writer’s Guild Conference and Some Stats He Shared

I wrote this on April 17, but I wanted to wait until Mark Coker put up his presentation on a slideshow to share with everyone. As usual, I give my thoughts on this further down in the post for anyone who’s interested.

 First, the slideshow:

Now for my thoughts:

I attended the Nebraska Writer’s Guild Spring Conference on April 14, and I’m still excited that I got to meet Mark Coker in person.  It was my dream for over a year now to shake his hand and thank him for creating Smashwords, and I finally got to do it.  He is a really nice person, and it was an honor to meet him.  Like I said, I’m still excited.  It was definitely one of the highlights of my life as an author.

I also attended his two presentations.  One was on E-Publishing Trends and the other was based off his free book The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success.  In addition to sharing the Secrets, he also gave some interesting numbers he recently calculated on the overall success points like price and book length for the authors at Smashwords.  I think the total of books on Smashwords is about 115,000.  But I didn’t write the exact number down when he said it, so I could be wrong.  On the Smashwords site, it only has numbers of words published. 

I’ll start with the basics from the stats he shared while it’s fresh in my mind and add my two cents.  (I wish I had taken notes.  I took them for the E-Publishing Trends but not for the other, which was a mistake but hey, live and learn, right?)

Anyway, overall this is what I took away for the overall stats:

1.  Full-length books sell better. 

And overall, it looks like it’s at 120,000 words in a book.  However, when he looked at the romance books, it was more in the 60,000 to 80,000 range, and it didn’t vary a lot.  Erotica was only a little less than romance, which surprised me.  For some reason, I thought erotica shorts would do better than longer books.  He didn’t break down sci-fi and fantasy, but I’m guessing the sci-fi and fantasy sells better over the 100,000 word point since it seems that a lot of those books seem to be longer than the average romance novel (at least from what I’ve observed).

2.  Don’t price your book at $1.99. 

Weird, I know, but when he showed us the chart, there was a high point for $0.99 and $2.99, but the price between those two points showed a surprising dip.  Why?  I don’t know.  I thought it was the oddest thing.  So don’t price $1.99.  If you’re going to the low end either do $0.99 or $2.99.

$3.99 through $5.99 looked decent.  $0.99 and $2.99 were higher but not as much that I think there’s a significant “wow” factor.  The “wow” was the $1.99 price point.  I do wonder how many of the higher priced books that sold well were part of a series with the first book in that series being free. 

Adding my guesses (with no proof at all to back this up):

  • Though he didn’t break price down according to genre, I’m going to guess that romance books typically do better at $0.99 and $2.99 overall.  In my experience, romances seem to be priced at those points as a whole with Regencies being higher.  That’s not to say that non-Regency romances sell better than the $2.99 point, but I’ve noticed that Regencies tend to be a bit higher than the other romance genres from casual observation. 
  • However, I am guessing that sci-fi and fantasy tend to sell better at a higher price, but then again that might be because the first book in the series is free and people want to finish up the series so they’ll buy all the books at the higher point. 
  • Other genres?  I have no idea since I haven’t tracked them at all.  I’ve tracked romance and sci-fi/fantasy because I’ve written in those areas.

3.  Most readers find books from their online communities, not from family and friends.

I thought this was interesting, but it’s something he’d already covered before online.  But it bears repeating.  Readers rely heavily on their online communities where likeminded people are hanging out to get recommendations for new books.  This is probably why we need that word of mouth so much.  Those people are hitting our target audience a lot better than we can.  If you think about it, when we go into a community and pitch our book, it’s probably not as effective as a fan of our work who does it.  Of course we’ll think our book is worth reading; we wrote it.  But for someone who is a complete stranger to do it is going to carry a lot more weight because it represents an unbiased source.  If anyone has ventured into the Amazon forums, you know why the unbiased source is getting to be more and more important.

Now, if an author has established a fanbase and comes across another author with a similar writing style and the same genre they think their fans will enjoy, I think that kind of recommendation works well.  I’ve gotten the best feedback from my readers when I tell them about an author I discovered who has books that are similar enough to mine that I think they’ll enjoy it.  My readers thank me for this, so I think this is a great way to not only help your fellow author out but to also share something your readers can enjoy.  A win-win.  I’ve also found this doesn’t work as well if you pass on a book that isn’t similar enough to yours.  I’m not saying my readers say, “No thanks”.  They don’t say anything, actually.  But this didn’t do the author I pitched any good because there was no difference in their sales.  With authors who were similar to me that I pitched, I later found out they got a boost in sales.  So now I try to watch who I pitch and who I don’t so it’s as effective as possible.

A secondary way readers find new books is through searching online bookstores for books, which is why that “customers also bought” list is helpful.  But again, this doesn’t seem to be something an author can control.  I mean, how can any of us boost sales enough to be put on lists?  We can’t.  We have to wait for enough people to buy our book so that we end up being linked up to other books that are similar (as long as those customers are buying books similar to ours).  Then that helps new readers discover us. 

From this, I take away how little we can impact sales based on our own efforts.  I mean, we can do something to reach out and find a few readers, but it takes others we don’t know to really spread the word on our behalf.  I think that’s why JA Konrath keeps saying we need a lot of luck.  All we can do is write the best book we can, put a great cover on it, get the best description we can, and price it at a point that is competitive with other books in our genre.  Then we hope for that luck.  I will add here that Mark Coker said if you have a couple thousand dollars and have to decide between paying for editing and marketing, he said to choose editing.  He also said to never get into debt or pay for anything (book related) if you need that money to pay the bills.  When strapped for cash, barter for services.  If you have cash, do the editing, cover artist, etc costs first.  Then after that, worry about marketing, but in my experience there’s really nothing a marketing person can do that you can’t do yourself so I hesitate to spend money on marketing at all, except for a $10-$20 ad on a site that caters to your target audience (and even then, it helps to already have a name some people will recognize).  When I was a nobody, no ads ever worked for me.