Economies of writer scale explained for readers

(2021’s last)


I am Director of Marketing for Trilka Press, the imprint that publishes my books, and may some day publish other writers (don’t hold your breath quite yet).

I am the PR department, as well. All of it. And the Art Department. And IT. And Housekeeping and Bookkeeping and Landscaping and…

I am in charge of all financial decisions; we are still at the venture capital stage (me), so I’m VP of Finance.

All self-publishers are entrepreneurs by definition. We make all the decisions which affect us, except for those made by our printer and distributor (in my case, only Amazon – changing that will require work I don’t have time for now, but it’s on the very-long To Do list of the CEO and COO of Trilka Press (again, me)).

Advertising is solely my responsibility at the end of 2021

If I want to advertise (takes time and effort away from writing), I choose the venue (Amazon, FaceBook, and, in one horrible expensive decision years back, the PAW (the Princeton Alumni Weekly), which I was allowed to advertise in as a former staff member – circulation 90K prime potential readers – cost >$600, RoI = $0).

And I set up the ads. And pay for them. And fulfill all the requirements of timing – and due diligence. I should have asked PAW for some statistics – it turns out that particular advertising section, published twice a year, is filled with other self-publishers and some perennials, and is probably not a good place to peddle fiction by unknown authors who get a tiny number of words to hawk their wares. Duly noted.

So, like all of us, I spend some time managing promotion for myself (I know, sounds so tacky!). Or I’m depending on the kindness of strangers, which is erratic.

You get over it when you realize you want readers, readers in general have been conditioned to be wary of SPAs (self-published authors), and it’s up to you.

If you happen to be lucky, or go viral in some way, good.

Don’t count on it.

Even in the pushy real world, most overnight sensations have been at it for at least ten years. Or are connected. Or know something about somebody (just kidding!).

The power and control are heady – and scary!

Unlike many indies, I am not solely supported by my writing (a good thing!). But I also don’t want to write only for myself, at least not past this trilogy, because it is an incredible amount of work, takes all my available energy, and I worry about leaving fans hanging if something happens to me during the (very long) time it takes me to write something to my standards – and don’t want them to see how far below that I start.

Twenty-one years so far – and the final book will consume at least my next five years.

This little win I just received – the lovely and letter-perfect review from Jennifer Jackson at Indies Today – showed me how much encouragement affects my ability to focus. Duly noted again – but it’s not the kind of thing you can say, even to friends: “Please tell me something nice about my writing.”

I do my part for other writers, and they have been wonderful, but modesty and not-bragging were ingrained in my generation by our parents, whose generation fought WWII, and had their priorities pretty straight by the end of it, in many ways. Did they overdo it? Probably. All parents do, no matter how perfect we think we are.

But I digress…

I generally avoid low-price sales

How can conditioning people to expect something for almost nothing be a functional business model?

Someone commented recently that most free or 0.99 downloaded books are NEVER read.

The exception is the books which somehow get read, and make the reader a fan who then purchases or borrows from library or streaming service the author’s other books.

And up until now I didn’t have other books.

The exceptions I can live with include:

  • Sales to raise a book’s rank (for Search Engines)
  • Sales to promote a series which already exists
  • Sales to promote a launch
  • Sales to capture any remaining market for a bestseller already out a while
  • Or sales to take advantage of a blip

In other words, sales which have an expected (or hoped for) return on investment. That investment can be considerable, and the return is not guaranteed, but, for example, most writers mention in writing groups (self-selected) that they’re happy with BookBub deals and get a significant bump from them. ‘Loss leader’ I believe the marketing folk call it. BookBub doesn’t lose, authors who don’t do well hope maybe next time, and readers get bargains or freebies.

I’ve noticed Netflix keeps raising its prices. Because ‘give stuff away free’ is not sustainable. And Amazon and Facebook make money from the ads. But authors who don’t get that boost might be subsidizing the whole experiment.

Anyhoo – moving right along – BUY!

If you have a business reason for a sale, you will eventually learn which ones work.

Amazon is being very efficient these days: the $0.99 price took less than an hour to show up today, so THE 0.99 E-BOOK SALE is on. At least until four days after January 14, 2022, when my first Hello Books promotion will be over. The price will then return to $9.99.

PLEASE take advantage of the timing – I am hoping for a bump in ranking which might help later, and followers who might be interested in NETHERWORLD.

If you go to PURGATORY‘s page, I would appreciate it if you scroll down to the Editorial Reviews and tell me what you think of the new version – I modeled it on The Goldfinch‘s ER, and Amazon was very responsive as I worked on changes – an hour or so instead of their published ‘3 to 5 business days.’ Much appreciated, because it is almost impossible to get those things right the first time, and it took me three iterations.

The probability of a lower price is minuscule – I think ‘FREE’ doesn’t work for my kind of author and book.

[NOTE: The paperback is not on sale any more (Amazon was playing with it).]


Really looking forward to your comments – readers and writers. How does any of the above reflect your experience?

And if you are interested in NETHERWORLD, but haven’t popped over to the books’ site to Follow it, now is a good time to guarantee you hear about things like sales.


22 thoughts on “Economies of writer scale explained for readers

    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      It has, so far, made almost zero difference. I’m philosophical about it – it hasn’t been the traditional ten years for an overnight success, since Purgatory was published late in 2015. By 2025 I may even have finished the trilogy, and be ready.

      What makes me feel better about the lack of friend recommendations resulting in growth is that when I DO get someone to read, the reviews are often very encouraging.


  1. Lee McAulay

    Same here. Recently I’ve come to realise that some people – overentitled by upbringing – think nothing of being paid eyewatering sums for their piffle, while most of us are grateful for a mention somewhere obscure. Don’t know how to change that though…


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      We stand up for ourselves, after first making sure what we produce is as good as it needs to be – according to us, the creators.

      There are like-minded people out there, and the signal to noise ratio is small, but non-zero.

      We do things like blog – or comment.

      We seize what opportunities do come our way – by being prepared to seize them.

      And we learn to take a quiet pride in our work that no one can take away.


  2. Lloyd Lofthouse

    As another indie author, I’ve been wearing all the same hats you wear since I published my first book back in December 2007.

    I either create my own covers or hire an indie book cover artist.

    I hire an indie editor to edit each book once I’m done. But, when I get the edited file back, I’m the one that has to approve all the changes. That means going through the entire manuscript again.

    I have also spent thousands promoting my work when running Kindle Countdown Deals using Deal Sites, three Book Bub Features (2013, 2014, 2015 – Book Bub has said no to all my requests since 2015), and that last feature resulted in more than 40,000 downloads and about 300 reviews.

    Those three Book Bub Features sold enough books and/or generated enough reviews to pay for the cost of the features and made a profit. I didn’t know why Book Bub kept saying NO until I read that Book Bub doesn’t accept many books that are exclusive to Amazon. After the last feature in 2015, I made most of my books exclusive to Amazon.

    But, BookBub ADs cost a lot without much return (Book Bub Feature deals are different from Bookbub ADs).

    I’m still learning how to manage Amazon ADs so I don’t end up owning more than my books earn each month. I might have that figured out, but that learning curve cost a lot over the last few years as I experimented and learned. What I’ve been doing for the last three months has worked so far, but that means I have to turn the AD on after 11:00 AM and PAUSE the AD before bedtime usually around 19:00 PST (7:00 PM), so it doesn’t keep eating my money. If I’m not earning enough money to pay for another day of ADs, I keep that AD PAUSED until there’s enough to pay for another partial day.

    In 2021, for the first time, I ran at least one Kindle Countdown Deal every 90 days and paid out more for Deal Site Ads than I earned back but the books I don’t advertise do not sell many copies or garner any page reads with Kindle Unlimited.

    I’ve read that Amazon has millions of titles and readers are not searching for authors or books they don’t know about.

    I’m also glad that I have another source of income because I’d be starving and homeless if I didn’t. Without that retirement income, there’d be no way to pay for those ADs either. All I had to do was work for 45 years in a conventional job to earn that retirement income, and I did my writing on my days off, on vacations, and often starting at 3:00 AM in the morning a few hours before I stumbled off the teach. For me, that journey started back in 1968.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      And you’re doing far better than I am by all objective measures: more books out, more marketing of all kinds, several BookBubs in your background…

      But you’re supporting your books with your retirement income, not the other way around, it sounds like. As I am.

      Except I don’t pay for ANY outside services, as I prefer my own take on things, and my beta reader refuses to let me pay her (so far), though, as THE outside eyes on my writing, she is invaluable. But available on her terms – she has a new baby, just moved, writes, and works – wow!

      I expected to lose her completely – she keeps saying she wants the next chapter.


  3. acflory

    I’ve never paid for advertising because…lol…I’ve never had the money. Plus, I hate to admit that I simply don’t understand the /way/ Amazon [and others] structure what, when and why you pay. Beyond that, I think advertising only really works if you already have a ‘presence’ via an established fan base – i.e. your sales keep ticking over even when you’re not doing any marketing. I haven’t reached that point of critical mass yet, so advertising for me would leave 99.9999999% of readers going “AC who?”
    At this point, whatever marketing I do is designed to increase reviews, nothing else.
    -sigh- I should probably do another lot of something but I don’t have the energy, or enthusiasm. I have nothing new to promote, and until I do, what’s the point?
    Sorry to be such a wet blanket but I was raised with the same distaste for ‘braggers’ so marketing is like going to the dentist – you do it when you have to, and as rarely as possible.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Yup. Getting over our childhood conditioning is tough. Ergo, we are allowed to blame our parents for everything. Convenient!

      Say there’s 0.01% of people in the world who would like your work. If they never hear of it, you are not going to find many of them!

      So you either advertise – or go after the influencers and hope they recommend you. I do mostly the second, but the people who would really appreciate my book have bought into the ‘if it’s indie, it’s no good’ idea, and won’t even try – even the influencers.

      We’re working on it – some genres are being more successful than others. I’m pretty sure mine – mainstream commercial literary epic blockbuster goatgagger doorstopper novels (ie, big books) – is going to be last to capitulate, because the traditional publishers have retreated there, and are defending at all costs their last bastion.

      SFF is probably halfway there. Romance maybe 75% (because traditional publishers like Harlequin have been very paternalistic and paid very little to their authors).

      The above is my opinions – what do I know?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. acflory

        -sigh- You’re right, but paying advertising for that miniscule 0.01% is like launching an SOS in a bottle – into the middle of the Pacific. :d

        I’m not sure that I know any ‘influencers’ so I just write on my blog. The free content – e.g. how-to posts – are there because a) I enjoy writing them and b) I hope that one or two of those who come for the how-tos stay to see what else there is.
        I’m actually pretty confident of my how-tos; I’m a damn good teacher. Fiction though? Fiction is like music, what appeals to one person rarely appeals to everyone. -shrug-
        We do the best we can, and we don’t compromise on quality. Bottom line: neither one of us could write to a formula if our lives depended on it.


        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Which is why I try out new advertisers who claim to cater to indie + literary or some such – can recommend a very responsive father/daughter combination at LitNuts (not just literary) dot com. Inexpensive and targeted – but not sure they have enough readers yet.

          Check out today’s Literary selection to see what I mean. I asked him to update because of the new review, and he said sure. I didn’t expect it, and told him I didn’t, but it was very nice of him (Mike).

          Liked by 1 person

        2. acflory

          I had a look at LitNuts – great reviews by the way. 🙂 My only question is why clicking on ‘Buy Now’ doesn’t take you to amazon?
          I already have Purgatory but I always try out links and this one puzzled me.


        3. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          I checked. The Buy Now goes to a link – which offers the ability to go to more than one seller. This one only has an Amazon link at the link because I’m not in wide distribution. It’s fine – but would require one extra click. Keeps things tidy, I suppose. Possibly keeps the affiliate link data (no idea if that’s possible or true in this case) – they warn you they have the affiliate links. Probably keeps them afloat.

          All the stuff on mine comes from the Editorial Reviews section on Purgatory’s Amazon page, which I put together. I have a lot of nice reviews – and like to use other people’s words with their permission or because they were posted in public places like Amazon and GR. I am SCRUPULOUS about attribution – too many people get in trouble by being lax and not keeping good records.

          Liked by 1 person

        4. acflory

          Ah! I didn’t see the further link so assumed you had to buy it from LitNuts itself.
          I’m a bit anal about attribution too. More of that early upbringing – you don’t EVER take what isn’t yours.
          Sometimes I feel old. 😦


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