Most mornings I listen to The Author Conference on a chat application called "Clubhouse." I would guess that the lion's share of the chatroom's members are romance writers based on past conversations, but occasionally there's a non-fiction or historical fiction writer. Rarely do I ask a question, but this morning's conversation centered briefly on sales and marketing tactics, and the practice of offering books at no cost. The idea that I would consider giving my work away brought to mind a lesson I learned many years ago as a technology management consultant from one of my peers: the perceived quality of your services has a direct correlation to the fees you charge for those services.
Back to the lesson. My colleague and I were working for a large manufacturing company in Dayton, Ohio at the time. He had previously held a C-level position with the company, but due to a merger, had been released as an employee, but secured as a contractor. I had recently joined the company, but knew my time there would be short-lived as we were in the process of yet another merger. More often than not when faced with joblessness, at least in IT, we turn to consulting as a bridge to the next opportunity.
Consulting really comes in two flavors: the least risky is to join a consulting firm and basically pull a paycheck for the duration of the contract. The contracting company acts as the hunter, sealing the deal; however, they take an enormous portion of your fee to manage the engagement. Even after the contract has ended, they still own the client. If the client wants to retain you, either you have to pay the contracting firm to release the binding/non-compete clause of your agreement, or if the client really loves you, they pay the fee. Sounds shadier than it is. You are in fact a commodity--the property of the consulting company until released.
A riskier, but more profitable, way to go is to secure the contracts on your own. You manage the relationship with the client and provide the services while maintaining your professional network. The problem for me was figuring out what to charge for my services--too little and I'd not be taken seriously, too much and I'd price myself out of the market. So I bought the consulting friend I mentioned previously a cup of coffee and simply asked: how do you charge for your services? The answer surprised me.
My colleague charged (in 1999) $2,500 a day to be available, whether or not he did any work at all. That seemed a lot to me at the time, but he went on to say that there was perceived value in how he priced his services.
If he charged a daily rate for a pre-determined period, the client would be incented to make good use of his time. I asked if he ever gave discounts--he said no, not even for someone he'd known for years, like me. He did, however, discount his rates if the client signed a retainer-based contract. There's a big difference between $2,500/day for a week, and $2,500/day for a year. The yearly rate allowed the client the latitude to include him in less-visible activities like planning and speaking engagements, it gave him guaranteed income for a known period, and it gave the client time to really get to know him, and potentially turn the engagement into something more permanent.
I'm still trying to determine how to apply this philosophy to my new career as a writer. Do I charge $9.99 for ebooks on Amazon and $16.00 for print copies regardless of the length of the book? It would sure make the math easier. Do I self publish until I'm more well known? Or do I find an agent and let them do the hunting and relationship management with the publisher. Sounds a lot like consulting, doesn't it?
In the chatroom this morning, one of the participants suggested that since I'm largely unpublished, I offer "freebies" to my customer base. These could be things like a project management worksheet, or a short story based on the novel I'm getting ready to publish. It's certainly worth considering. In IT, we often published "white papers" on specific topics as a way to showcase our subject matter expertise. My husband occasionally publishes a YouTube channel called "Go Ask Your Brother" which answers quick questions for users in the music production industry when there's a new software product release (and it ties back to our studio: Combined Minds Media and the video tutorials we produce for Streamworks Audio).
Well would you look at that...I just gave away free content.
I don't know that I have answers to this question just yet. Any thoughts?