Meet Author Catherine Bybee, NYT Bestselling Self-Published Author

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Catherine Bybee, who recently had a self-published book "go viral," selling more than 300,000 copies and catapulting her onto the bestseller lists. As a relatively new author, she made the decision to price her first self-published book at 99 cents. There is much debate among self-published authors about effective pricing strategies. We all know about authors such as Amanda Hocking and John Locke who became a millionaires selling a lot of books at 99 cents. While the strategy can be a great way to bring new readers to an author's work, can it sustain a career over the long term? No one really knows for sure, but I asked Catherine to share her amazing success story and her thoughts about the way forward. After we hear from Catherine, I'll tell you about my experimentation with the 99-cent price point.

Marie: You recently hit the NYT list with your 99-cent self-published book, Wife by Wednesday. Congratulations! What do you suppose caused your book to take off the way it did?

Catherine: How much time do we have for this blog? What caused it to take off? Honestly, there is such a big combination of things that Wife had working for it at the time it’s hard to pinpoint one thing. In fact, it was several things that pulled together to make it work.

Let’s talk the 3 Cs of a bestseller:

Cover—A cover does sell a book. Sorry folks, but if a cover sucks people won’t look inside. Publishers have known this for years. We as self published authors need to know this and use it to our advantage.

Catch—I catch my readers with a great title, and a blurb that paints a picture of what is inside the book. If I caught them with the cover, and then the blurb, only one thing will stop them from buying…

Cost—Yeah, the 99-cent gig is what helped Wife shoot to the top. I debated lowering the price from 2.99, which was its original price, and I told myself that it didn’t go viral I would up it again. Well, it went viral! Would it have done the same at 2.99? I don’t know. Maybe. We will see what happens with book two.

Then we need to talk marketing. Twitter, Facebook…blogging… Like I said, there are a lot of things that helped my make the New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, #1 Amazon, #1 Indie Reader et all.

Marie: Had you been previously published?

Catherine: Yes, with a small press. And the bottom line here is that once you understand the process of writing and editing etc, you might not need a publisher at all. Marketing is on the author. I don’t care who your publisher is. Unless you’re a brand name author your publisher has to many authors to push. They give you a short shot and off they go to another book. It’s their job to get the books out, it’s your job to sell them. But this is critical to the success of Wife. I’d written nine books before Wife. I didn’t have as many readers, but I did have a few. And I understood about marketing by this point.

Marie: The 99-cent price point is often disrespected, but it can be a great way for authors to introduce their work to new readers. What role do you think the price played in catapulting your book onto the list?

Catherine: It is disrespected. Sadly. But I understand. There are several books that I certainly didn’t care for at that price. Newsflash: There are books at ten bucks that I didn’t finish too. For me, 99 cents was necessary since Wife by Wednesday was my first contemporary romance. I watched how several small press authors did nothing in terms of sales because their books were priced to high. I wanted to find new readers. I found them.

Marie: Any plans now to raise the price?

Catherine: I pine this question all the time. I won’t commit to anything. I have a second book in the works so I will probably keep this book at a low price point for a while. We will see.

Marie: What price point will you use for your next book?

Catherine: I already released a time travel, Highland Shifter, at 2.99. And Married by Monday will likely be the same. But again, if I can sell a third of a million copies at 99 cents, then I will. How is Highland Shifter doing, you ask? It’s doing great. Not NYT great, but after six weeks I’m in the top 1,300 books on Amazon. My reviews are steller… I’m making money. I’m happy.

Marie: Any advice for authors venturing into self-publishing?

Catherine: Use an editor. Use several proof readers. I made that mistake and I freely talk about it. I did use an editor but not enough proof readers and I missed things. Cover Art, Cover Art, Cover Art. I can’t say enough about this. And then…write your next book. Nothing sells book one like book two.

Here is a little information about Wife by Wednesday:

Blake Harrison:
Rich, titled, and charming… And in need of a wife by Wednesday so he turns to Sam Elliot who isn’t the business man he expected. Instead, Blake is faced with Samantha Elliot, engaging and spunky with a voice men call 900 numbers to hear.

Samantha Elliot:
Owner of Alliance, her matchmaking firm, and not on the marital menu... That is until Blake offers her ten million dollars for a one-year contract. All she needs to do is keep her attraction to her husband to herself and avoid his bed. But Blake’s toe-curling kisses and charm prove too difficult to combat. Now she needs to protect her heart so she can walk away when their mercenary life together is over.

Get it at Amazon, B&N and Smashwords. Read more about Catherine on her website and on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter @catherinebybee.

Thanks so much to Catherine for sharing her amazing story of how her book made the bestseller lists at the 99-cent price point.  

Before I tell you about my experiments with 99 cents, some info about pricing for the uninitiated. Amazon pays 70 percent royalties for self-published books priced at $2.99 to $9.99. B&N offers 65 percent for the same range. So for a book priced at $2.99 at Amazon, you will make $2.04, $3.99 will net $2.79, etc. The royalty rate of 35 percent applies to anything under $2.99, so for a 99-cent book, you will make 35 cents for each sale. Obviously, it takes a lot more sales of a 99-cent book to make serious money than it does at $2.99 and above. And now for my grand experiment. . .

When Falling for Love, book 4 in my McCarthys of Gansett Island Series, was released in January, I dropped the price of book 1, Maid for Love, from $2.99 to $.99, intending to keep it there for a week to give the fourth book a boost since the first three books were released in April, May and June 2011. Sales took off so significantly that 10 weeks later, Maid for Love is still 99 cents. It has been in the Top 50 at B&N for all of March. Hoping for Love, the fifth book in the series, came out March 6, and the sales went even higher. 

What's especially interesting is that my sales at Amazon have always been strong, but with this promotion, my sales at B&N took off in a big way, and I sold more than 1,000 books a day there for most of March—twice as many as I sold at Amazon. All five books have spent much of this month in the Top 100 at B&N. My grand total for the month across all retailers is going to exceed 45,000 books sold, and much of that is due to the 99-cent promotion. That's a crazy number no matter how you slice it. What I have "lost" in profit on Maid for Love, I have more than made up for in sheer volume of sales on the four other higher priced books. 

How long will I keep Maid for Love at 99 cents? For as long as the sales continue at this pace. When they drop off, and I expect they will eventually, I will bump it back up to its original price of $2.99 but I may drop it again when book 6, Season for Love, is released in June. By the way, I should mention that Maid for Love was rejected by just about every publisher out there. I'm sure they had their reasons for rejecting it, but I always suspected that readers would enjoy this island-set series featuring a family that owns a marina and hotel. I'm very pleased to report I was right about that.

What has been your experience with pricing? Those of you who have been there, done that, what do you recommend when setting prices?