The Problem With Free

It’s been a big couple of months for us, here at Golden Fleece Press. We’ve put out four books in the last month, and blog posts, and shows, and a couple of big shows coming up.

We’re at the calm before the storm phase now. Lost and Found is out in the world, and as of writing this there’s nothing left to do with Sugar and Spice but pull the trigger (when this goes live you’ll be able to buy it here). We’ve got most of our plans in place for AwesomeCon, and I’ve almost stopped panicking about the fact the first big con I ever attend will be one I’m working at.

All of this makes a case for this being a week where the world actually gets stuff out of me. Like serious blog posts, and other content, and attention that’s sadly lacking when I’m up to my eyeballs in slush and editing projects. It also means I have a lot more time to pay attention to what’s happening on the internet.

Yay.

Anyway, have a post about serious businessy stuff. Don’t worry, it’s mostly just my opinions.

The Problem With Free: Or, why our value radar is perpetually broken.

As I was aimlessly strolling around the internet this weekend I came across this blog post by Rob McClellan (who also runs ThirdScribe, but that’s a post for another day). He has some interesting points about the realities of ebook pricing, at least as he sees them. And while I think in places his numbers are a little inflated (I hope he’s genuinely not paying for things what he says he is, but to each their own) he’s done a good job of laying out the corpses, so to speak. But I feel like there’s something missing from his market analysis.

Actual customers.

Now, I don’t mean spreadsheet customers. This is a thing I notice a lot about marketing, no matter how targeted it is, the only people they seem to pay attention to are the people buying their products. There’s a whole list of metrics, but none of it is about people who don’t buy a thing. It’s all about reaching out to people who usually buy the thing.

And that makes a certain amount of market sense, I grant you. “Most of our products are enjoyed by 16 to 21 year old yodeling mountain-climbers, so how to we reach out to more of them.” You’re right, that’s probably the easiest sale you’re going to make.

But it’s not actually increasing your market.

Humans have a weird relationship with cost. We want free, but we equate free with worthless. “So and so probably didn’t really put a lot of effort into that books, it’s free.” And the other side of the scale is just as problematic. “Even were it plated in gold I wouldn’t pay that.”

So that blog post I linked to is talking about how 2.99 to 4.99 is the sweet spot for amazon, and for authors/publishers. Is that the sweet spot for customers though? If you sell twenty times as many books at .99 cents isn’t that the sweet spot for consumers?

It’s a triksy argument, and it never works with books because we start assigning art lables, but only to certain kinds of books, and then we’re off in the weeds arguing about literary merit. So instead I’m going to tell you a little about pricing other things I know. This is a little personal anecdote, and a little market research, though in a completely different market. When I was around twelve to sixteen my dad had a side-line photography business. He took some of the most amazing nature pictures I’ve ever seen, I still have some of them hanging in my house, and they’re the thing my siblings and I will probably fight over when it’s time to divide up the assets.

For several years, aside from carrying equipment when he trudged into the woods and such to take pictures, I carried pictures and manned the booth at craft shows and helped him set up and take down the booth. I explained what Polaroid Transfers were to intrigued artists and customers alike and affirmed that yes, he did take all of his pictures. Yes, he used real film. No, they weren’t developed at the drug-store and blown up by a third party and mailed back to us.

Mostly I pretended not to hear when people muttered about how much a 16×20 framed picture cost.

One of my favorite parts about these shows was wandering around to see what other people were selling. I was twelve, and there are only so many hours you can sit in a hot EZ-UP and smell cotton candy before you go a little stir crazy. And I started to notice then, that people are strange about price. One jewelry booth has really great jewelry, and awesome earrings, and they’re all $2.00. Nobody buys them. The one down the lane has the same style of jewelry, makes the same claims about the stone content, and charges $60 a pair. They don’t sell any either.

Then there’s the booth in the middle. This booth sells them for $10 a pair at the local crafts fair in my tiny hometown. And $30 at the big regional fair in the mall parking lot a state over. This booth knows what kind of people come to each show, and adjusts their prices accordingly. Which is not something most business can do, but at least this booth was thinking about all the customers, and all the reasons.

I think the worst piece of advice I ever heard on these excursions was, and I quote, “It’s not about how much it cost to make, what is it worth to you.”

This is horrible market advice. Of course your effort and your time are worth buckets. Of course you love the thing, otherwise you wouldn’t be releasing it into the world. Don’t price a thing you’re selling based on how much you love it. Price a thing you’re selling on how much you need to make to keep doing it.

Any kind of market decisions you make, about knitting, or soap, or cookies, or chainmail, or books should be a Venn diagram. Circle 1: How much I need to charge to make the thing viable. Circle 2: How much person in my widest target group would pay for the thing. Now find your overlap.

Notice I said would there. I am an inherently cheap individual. My ability to pay for a thing and my desire to pay for a thing are generally a very long way apart. This is good. This means my child is fed and I have a roof over my head, and my disastrously expensive tastes aren’t about to leave us in the poor house.

So, just to line this all up and tie it together, here is my metric chart. 1–pay attention to your product, and what others like it cost. 2–pay attention to your market. 3–pay attention to all those strange, strange things called people. They’re probably easier to connect with if you don’t assign them a number and a value return.

Also, this may be an utterly unfair dig, but if you want me to pay fifty dollars a month for ‘author services’ I’m not sure you get to throw stones at Publish America. Talk fast, bud, as of right now I ain’t buying.

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You Decide Alone

I was scatter-shot thinking of possible topics for this blog post today when this song popped up. So, this is going to be a bit of a meditation on writing.

Writing doesn’t have to be good to be true. Stick with me here. We talk about grammar and topics and world-building. Those are the things that can be controlled and learned. But there is another layer to any and every story that grabs us.

Truth.

One of my college professors considered “true” a nasty little four letter word. (Also included on the list “hero” and “love.”)

I’m not talking about non-fiction. I’m talking about heart and voice. Write to me from the middle of emotions. If you want me to cry, write about something which makes you sad. Write to me raw and true and there’s a strong likelihood that I will overlook clumsy sentence structure.

Scare me. Make me cry. Make me fume in anger. Make me cheer when the killer gets caught. Or maybe make me understand why the victim was murdered. Just write me the true story.

Write to me about the rawness of coming home from combat and not knowing how to talk to people who haven’t been through the same experiences. Weave that into the heart of a story that’s about choices and finding home.

Make me feel the flush of your newest love and finding a quiet place in the forest to talk to him.

But, I will tell you this, emotion can be transmuted from one story to another. Grief for my cat translated into a story about cancer. Love for your new flame can become the pivotal moment for your hero to stand up and say “no, I will draw the line here.” Frustration with the lack of progress in government can become the germ of your super-villain’s reason for taking over the world.

Now, emotion isn’t everything. And I know it’s annoying as all the advice that says “just sit and write.” If you don’t write from that emotional truth your story will be flat, even if it’s technically perfect.

What is the truth of your story?

(Bonus Points if you guess the song the title is from.)

Mother of Stars!

I have this little book thing coming out on the 19th, so I’ve been immersed in the world of the novel. It’s set an undetermined time in the future, but for all that it’s a very familiar setting. We spent a bunch of time talking about it as not!steampunk. Then, for awhile it was the sci-fi/cozy. Finally, after everything, it ended up as a sci-fi/noir.

But at the core of any novel is the world the characters grew up with. My main characters have very different backgrounds which lead them to working in the Pit Crew of an Estate off of the London. Different childhoods, families, training, sexualities, and religions. I barely even thought about it. There was no way that they came from the same place.

The two religions I chose were… not real. Not completely at least. They reference real religions and myths. The Mother of Stars is vague off-shoot of Catholicism. She is a Mary figure and the Sister of Stars is based on the Holy Spirit. There are litanies and rituals that are based on the things I remember from childhood.

The unnamed guildhouse is related to the myth of the Thugee cults and the veneration of Kali-ma. However, it focuses on all aspects of the mythology: the mother, protector, and destroyer. (This will be explored more in the next book.)

My main characters, Spinner and Blagger, are more the same then they are different. They both enjoy their work. They are loyal to Lady Long. They both love solving puzzles. They can both pass in the upper-class of society. But they are not the same. One of them is a thief, the other a killer.

The Estate has its own traditions and religions. The people born on the Estate tend toward Episcopal. They don’t understand why people from the Cities don’t talk about religion. The City habit of not talking about religion just makes no sense to them.

One good shove could send the world they live in off of its shallow little shelf.

But during the entirety of the novel, actual religion is mentioned once in passing and a little bit of cursing gives us the rest. So why do I know so much about the religions of my characters? Because religion is one of those things that gives us definition as a character.

Blagger’s religion doesn’t care about the fact that he sleeps with multiple partners or what gender those partners are. Spinner’s religion doesn’t prohibit murder. The head of security’s religion frowns on both of those things. These can cause conflict or simply inform the way they dance around topics.

While I was trying to hash this all out last night, the lack of a firm tie-up here made me drop it into a draft to look at again this morning. I figured out what I was trying to say during my morning commute.

World-building does not mean info-dumping. You can read Sugar and Spice and never find out any of this. It informs the characters. It creates bits and pieces of their behavior. It is not the focus of the book.

The focus of the book is the plot and the characters *not* the world.

And, if I do say so myself, the plot is a bit of a twisty roller coaster. *winks*

You can pre-order it right now by the way. Just click on the cover:

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New Books!

This is why this is going to be a one post week!

On May 12th we have Guardian’s Circle Book 1: Lost and Found by me, down at the bottom of the post you can see the full wrap book cover. It’ll be available for pre-order tomorrow.

And then on May 19th we have Stars and Shadows Book 1: Sugar and Spice by Kate Ressman. I’ll post her full wrap book cover too, and then you can pre-order Sugar and Spice early next week.

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And while I’m being all flashy and pretty, this one is out now and looking for a nice home:

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