Pricing as an Indie Author with Drew Hayes

20 February 2017
20 Feb 2017
7 min read

As promised in my book review that was published last week, below is my interview with indie author Drew Hayes. Drew was kind enough to answer several of my questions and we talked a bit about how publishing online works, especially as an indie author. Some of his answers were surprising to me and he brought up points that I didn’t even think about. After the interview section, I’ll also write some bullets of what I took away from the interview. I definitely had fun doing it, and I think you’ll enjoy it as well.

To reiterate, I didn’t receive any financial compensation for this interview or the book review. I did receive an advance copy of Forging Hephaestus. I will take all blame if there’s a poorly worded question at hand, Drew was great with answering these questions. If you haven’t checked out the book already, go grab it! If you’re looking for more pricing goodness, here’s another podcast about similar topics.

Zach: I don’t know if you’ve read my article on pricing (or the follow up but I’m interested in figuring out the best price to set for a good, especially goods with a zero marginal cost (aka it doesn’t cost any more to produce another unit of the good). My first question is about pricing an ebook in the abstract. Do you try and hit a price point? Do quantifiable measures like length factor into the price?

D: Pricing in the ebook world is still sort of a new frontier, and a lot of folks are figuring out what does and doesn’t work for them. I’ve seen a lot of books from traditional publishers that looked really promising, but pricing them way too high crippled potential sales. For my own books, most of my works are priced ~$3.99. I’d love to say there’s a grand science behind that, but the truth is it was just what most books were going for when I started in the market, and it seemed like a fair price. I do raise it on books that are exceptionally longer, since those require more cash to bring to market with all the editing, however for the most part I keep around that general area. It seems to be working so far.

Z: Follow up, do you think ebooks are an elastic good? In other words, do you think dropping the price increases additional sales significantly?

D: Sometimes, sure, if a book is drastically over-priced, however for the most part I think we see big swings in sales when prices drop because that’s usually accompanied by a marketing effort. You pay for ads, maybe a Boobkbub spot, and then drop the price so there’s a sale worth advertising. Below a certain cost threshold, getting noticed is more important than being low-priced.

Z: In addition, I’d also like to talk about how this book factors into your overall portfolio. You have a couple of successful series out (Fred, Super Powereds, NPCs), but this is a new self-published book. Does having that freedom of three series let you play around with pricing a bit more?

D: In a few places, although as I said above I tend to stick to a general price area so it’s really not that much different. My only price outlier are the Fred books, and since those are produced by a publisher I don’t get to set the price on them.

Z: You’ve talked a little about how popularity affects what series you’re going to work on. I’d love to hear about how you deal with opportunity costs. Starting a new book is inherently more risky than extending an old property.

D: One slight correction, I’ve said that popularity affects the order in which I work on my books, not whether they get worked on at all. Currently I have my writing schedule structured so that I’ll do a book that extends an existing property, which has a good chance of selling, and then I’ll do something a little riskier like Forging Hephaestus, which is a new property. Alternating like that has actually given me more freedom, since it provides a semi-regular income stream while still allowing me to do projects that might not be as commercially successful.

Z: Similar to the last question, I’d love to hear how you schedule your writing list. I know you publish chapters of Super Powerd’s (which I eagerly await) every week, but you wake up every day and just focus on one series? Bounce between multiple?

D: I have a daily quota I have to meet each weekday, one that varies depending on the project I’m doing. If I’m working on Super Powereds, for example, I do 2 chapters (minimum 1,000 words usually closer to 1,300) each day. If I’m working on a novel, on the other hand, I do 4,000 words per day. Very rarely do I ever bounce between projects in one day though, or even in the same week. I prefer getting deep into a world and doing real work there before moving on.

Z: I’d be interested to hear about how you handle marketing and delving in on customer statistics.

D: Yeah, that would probably be pretty cool… but the truth is I don’t really do any of that. I definitely should, I’ve talked to other authors and there’s a lot to learn there. However, right now I’ve got enough on my plate with the books, so I’d rather spend the time writing. When sales dip, I may have to extend my repertoire of marketing skills, but for now winging it seems to be working okay.

Z: Do you track reviews, and if so, do they matter?

D: From a fiscal and marketing perspective, reviews matter. Since some ad-services require a threshold of reviews to use them, you have to be aware of your numbers, and of course it never hurts to know what books people are liking and buying the most. That’s how I can build a schedule that keeps the rent paid while still letting me explore some of my stranger ideas.

Z: In the novel, you show that the lines between heros and villains aren’t as crystal clear as they should be. Would you be a hero or a villain?

Drew: Oh definitely villain. More villain like in these books than outright monster, but still villain all the way. Sure, heroes get more glory and do cool stuff, however there’s a lot to be said for being able to break a few rules. At the end of the day, villains just have more fun!

Some Takeaways

  • In the first question, it makes sense intuitively that prices for longer books were higher. However, I had thought that it was because length is something that we can measure.1 However, I did not even think about editing being a variable cost.2 That means the book should be priced higher, due to the variable cost associated with it.
  • In the next question, his point about elasticity was interesting as well. A price drop increases sales, but that’s due to a big marketing push. I bet it’s hard to tease apart that difference.
  • Throughout he talks about how his price is pretty consistent at $3.99, which is an incredibly fair price for an ebook, and how he picked it through some market research. As a data driven Economist, I’d be very interested to see what effect a pricing increase or decrease has on the number of units sold, but it’s hard to argue with success.
  • Similarly, it’s great to see that he doesn’t do a ton of customer or marketing analytics, but is still making a living as an indie author. As a reader I would rather Drew to be writing, and knowing he can still expand is terrific news.3
  • I had thought reviews would be important, but the point about the ad networks was intriguing. I think this also ties into his point about alternating between extending properties and more creative projects. Really a great way to keep track of what projects are doing better than others.
  • As a side note, I wonder how important each 5 star review is? Is it the number of reviews that matter? The overall (or average) rating? Definitely an interesting thesis waiting in the wings.
  • Finally, I agree with his selection to be a villain. Glory is overrated, and being a villain paints a much more interesting picture.

  1. Imagine storage for iPhones. Higher memory really doesn’t cost $100 more, but it’s an easy way to differentiate between products. The larger number is more expensive. ↩︎

  2. Not sure what this says about my writing style, but there you go. ↩︎

  3. What to analyze would be a terrific post. I wonder how it would change the writing process at all. ↩︎

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