In business, one of the surest ways to know you are on the wrong track is to see everyone else on the same track with you. If the masses are going right, I have always gone left. It has served me well thus far. When approaching the world of books and book sales, I thought that there was something magical or different about the way it all worked. I am now beginning to believe that it is not that different to the glut of retail fads (over-priced coffee, nail bars, etc) or the bubbles that form and go bust in property cycles. If you are a coffee operator, position yourself next to the most successful coffee shops--Starbucks, whatnot. They have spent the big money analyzing the marketplace and ensuring that the right combination of affluence and disposable income are in place. You set up your coffee shop and compete. This is not contrarian--it is the standard form of practice and serves many people very well. It is the foundation of mainstream retail business. You create an area where like-minded people congregate and spend money. Excellent.
What happens when there are 700,000 new coffee shops opening each year. The coffee drinker no longer can distinguish anything and is drawn to reliable brands. This is why so much is spent on branding. For authors, it is difficult to brand yourself when all of the other 700,000 books published each year (in the US alone) are also reading the same how-to books.
Even gorilla-marketing has gone mainstream. The end user is much more savvy and is aware of the tricks. Once aware, a crusty cynicism forms in the mind of your customer. And you, the author, lose the one most important tool in your marketing arsenal: trust.
I am told that you must give your books away to create that trust. You must create an email list. You must do this, that, and everything in between. Perhaps. Today (this week), I am leaning towards the other end of the spectrum. I will put a fair price on my books ($2.99-$3.99 for ebooks) and a couple of bucks above the print costs for the hard copies. If people buy, great. If they don't, it is also fine. There is a psychology behind value: if it can be had for free, why pay for it? And if it is free, it can't be worth that much in the first place. People want to pay. They want the experience of parting with their money and receiving something in return--something you only get when you part with your money.
I recently purchased a three book box set written by Mark Dawson. Great, easy reading thrillers. I paid £6 for it and I was quite satisfied with the price and the quality of the product. Then, as part of his marketing campaign, I got an email saying that I can get his box set for free if I signed up to his email list. But I had just bought the box set. The product was tarnished and felt diminished.
Mark Dawson doesn't need my £6 and he doesn't need my advice. He gives away free books and has sold millions of copies. His books are in negotiation to be made into movies. He has hit the sweet spot in marketing. What he has also done is put all of his chips into Amazon. Amazon, in return, rewards him with promotions. Success bred success and now he is kicking some serious posterior! As a result of his story, I have been agonizing whether to go exclusively with Amazon. Today, I decided that I wouldn't. It is partly my contrarian philosophy. It is also my understanding that everyone is chasing his dream. There are hundreds of thousands of other authors who hear his story and want to replicate it. Amazon is happy to put him out as the poster child of success. The algorithms work. He writes firmly within his genre. The planets aligned and all is well.
For me, I want people to appreciate me enough to invest the price of a cup of coffee towards my book. I have spent months working on each title and it will provide hours of enjoyment (hopefully) for the reader. My one thought is to provide a money back guarantee to readers--thus allowing them to leave the fence and open the door to my little coffee shop and read my book.