I'm reading a great non-fiction book by Malcolm Gladwell, "David and Goliath." As the subtitle describes, it's about Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. One chapter is about how small fish can excel in a big pond by becoming a Big Fish in a small pond. He wrote about how the Impressionists were frustrated by their work being rejected by a major art exhibition (The Salon) in Paris. After many rejections, they discussed creating their own show--becoming Big Fish in a small pond. They found a gallery space for 30 days. They arranged their art on the walls in a manner that would showcase their work better than The Salon did for the hundreds of artists they showcased. The Impressionists opened up the exhibition and charged one franc in 1874. The exhibition brought them a lot of attention and it changed their lives. We now know these Impressionists today as Cezanne, Monet, Degas, Pissarro, Renoir, and Sisley. Their artwork goes for millions--priceless actually.
What I learned from that chapter is the need to think outside of the box with writing, rather, the writing business. Yes, my books are my art. I need to showcase them the way that I feel is best, becoming a Big Fish in my own created small pond. It seems impossible, but I can't say that it is impossible in an industry with almost a million books published yearly. While there is a glut of romance books, there are millions of ways to get seen. Trial and error must be undertaken to figure out what sticks to the individual artist. I often ask myself what method of exhibition should I undertake to be successful.
I've tried many methods. I've failed at many methods. But one rings true, unfortunately, and that is to give the readers something to entice them to come back to an author's catalog. Top Indie sellers have all espoused the virtue of giving books away (to newsletter subscribers or first-time readers), such as the first book of a series. An author can then strategically price the rest of her series. I studied one very successful Indie who did a Free first book, then priced the other books at $2.99, then when her series gained traction, they were all for purchase at $2.99. Then she priced each book in her series at $4.99. Then each capped at $6.99 and continued to sell like hotcakes. The thing is, she had quality books. The books resonated with readers. There was word of mouth (along with an intense marketing campaign behind her sales).
What I learned from that "case study" is that readers want authors to entice them to start the series with a free offer or profoundly discounted at 99 cents. Then they will sample the next book if priced at a reasonable value. Readers have been burned before. They like to spend their money on authors who they know will deliver the entertainment they seek. If a reader is hooked, they'll purchase the remaining books of the series or even the author's entire backlist. And they will tell their friends to buy that book or series. (Keep in mind that you still must have a good book or story)
Like Monet and Cezanne, I'm attempting to gain my own following by pricing to entice. Yes, my work has a higher value than Free or 99 cents, but it's my choice to price at a point where I will gain some traction with readers. If and when I see that sales steadily increase, I can charge $2.99 for Book #2 and #3. If at a later stage the series has steadily increased in sales per day, I will increase again to $3.99 or even $4.99, capping them at that price--because readers are adamant that they won't pay more than $5.00 for a digital book. (Yet, they will pay $7.99, and upwards of $9.99, for a Traditionally Published author who they trust to deliver a great story) This is all part of a marketing strategy--one I can do because I'm Indie and not Traditionally Published with no say as to pricing or sales events. Remember, no one knew Monet when he tried to get seen (but rejected) at the Salon, but when he showcased his work at the Impressionists exhibition, he gained interest from the art world.
Essentially, as the artist of your own published work, you dictate the value of your art at whatever stage of your exhibition. This isn't about the self-publishing or traditional publishing industry. You're NOT bringing down an entire industry because your books are "valued" less than other authors price point. Self-publishing is not only art, but it is a business. In business, you must ensure to give yourself the best shot of being considered and supported by your customers. The customers, who are often gun shy to try a new product, will give you a chance if they believe they won't lose out on the deal. If you give them a great product they will spend more for more of your products, at which point you decide how much more to charge. And if you think your work is 99 cents for infinity, maintain your business model as long as you succeed creatively and business wise. I wish you well in becoming a Big Fish in a Big Pond.