The Buying Habits of the Paying Readers of Self-Published Authors

A week or so ago, I had a conversation with a friend who reads a lot of e-books. While though her preferred genre – supernatural YA fiction – isn’t one where I’ve yet published, it was still great to hear her opinion on what worked and what had changed in the field since she had started reading e-books, particularly the self-published ones.

She’s noticed a couple of different trends:

– Where books used to be 400-600 pages, now they usually topped out around 250.

– Prices went up as series built their readership – and while she found this frustrating, she also acknowledged that it was a self-perpetuating system.

She also told me that every week, she gets a selection of free books, and those are the ones she reads – before she reads anything else. Which brought to mind something I had seen discussed a week or two ago, about how Kindle Select and its and free loans might be degrading the market for paying fiction readers. What my friend was telling me was exactly the opposite: the writers finding financial success were the ones whose stories were of a quality compelling enough to make people keep reading them. While the first book might be free, the second, third or fourth could rise as much as a dollar per volume in cost.

A while ago, I talked about why I wasn’t feeling particularly gung-ho about Kindle Select; for authors in specific genres, such as coming-of-age YA fiction, though, I suddenly understand where the impetus could come in to offer a short sample of work – but a whole novel?

My friend said that one of her frustrations with the indie market was a lack of well-edited work. By this, she was talking not just about proofreading, but about actual editing: someone who has gotten down in the trenches with the writer and helped them make their story as strong as possible.

I can understand why a reader might want to go on a short trip with an author, a setting, and a group of characters before setting out on a longer journey. But isn’t that what sample chapters are for? Is free, Kindle-Select-Accessible material a requirement for self-published authors who want to make an impact? If so, how might that impact writing trends overall? Is it just a YA thing? Just a genre thing? What about in literary fiction; what’s going on in those self-publishing circles? Is the tendency to read free books first part of why Smashwords and B&N sales are abysmal, because their platforms don’t provide options for free sampels?

HOT MESS: speculative fiction about climate change, is available for Kindle, Nook, on Smashwords and in print.. Cover design by Sarah Hartley.

Now, some of this is navel-gazing – after all, Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change is still selling steadily, and we neither used Kindle Select nor did I have other offerings for sale when the book was published.

But I do have other work in the pipeline. Haiku Of The Living Dead, for example, which is a Zombie Haiku compilation I’m putting together with Miranda Doerfler, which will likely not be eligible for Kindle Select because we’re allowing submissions to be made in public forums (including in the comments to this blog entry) accepting submissions throughout the week

So many questions. Clearly I have some reading up to do. But if any of my readers want to talk about their self-published-fiction-buying habits in the comments, your perspective would be appreciated.

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