Pricing tests on e-books and paperbacks, done by both publishers and self-published authors, is one of the most interesting recent developments in the book world. The most common of these tests is experimenting with series sales. Two examples are Debra Webb’s Faces of Evil suspense series and Vicki Pettersson’s Signs of the Zodiac series. Both are hot topics with book clubs and on readers’ boards. The pricing tests seem to work in bringing new life to sales as well as introducing a new base of readers to a series and author.  The Webb series was released in e-book format last year and is now available in paperback at a special low price.

A little history on the Faces of Evil series:

In 2012, Hachette’s Forever picked up and released the e-book versions of Debra Webb’s Faces of Evil romantic suspense series. Debra had originally published the first two herself: They are more intense than her Harlequin Intrigue series, a romantic suspense and a true suspense with no happy ending in either book, and more along the lines of Nora Roberts’ J.D. Robb In Death series. As hoped, there was a definite audience for the evolving story of Jess Harris. The first book, Obsession (Grand Central), introduces Jess in fast-paced manner. A special agent, she has spent the last decade tracking a serial killer, breaking rules and, in the end, putting her career at risk. A chance to advise on a case in Birmingham, Ala. seems like a golden opportunity to resuscitate her career, even if it means working with her first love, police chief Dan Burnett. But all doesn’t go as expected, especially when the killer follows Jess to Birmingham. From the very first paragraph, Webb pulls the reader into an increasingly complicated but compulsive tangled web requiring the reader to follow as quickly as possible.

In the second book, Impulse (Grand Central), Jess decides to stay in Birmingham and takes on a new position working for her old lover. The man she thinks of as her serial killer nemesis, The Player, has followed her and found more victims. Or hasn’t he? The clues may mount, but Webb manages to keep the reader confused over the solving of the crime spree and the relationship between Harris and Burnett—not an easy thing to do in a romantic suspense, which must walk a tightrope of captivating suspense and developing romantic relationship.  But Webb’s career in series romance writing proves to be a charm in her ability to snag the romance reader with a believable romance that arches over multiple books. Romance readers expect a happy ever after, but they don’t always demand one: a distinction sometimes lost on publishers and new writers in the genre. The romance, however, must be believable, compelling and not a tease.

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The third book, Power (Grand Central), was released last fall. As Jess settles into her new position, the reader is introduced to even more of the city of Birmingham, including its gangs and gang warfare. The suspense and relationship continues to gather steam and excitement. The first three books had a decent showing in the e-book bestseller lists, but there were still more fans to be found. All three books were released in paperback at a special price of $3.99 each (March 26, 2013; Grand Central) to appeal to a broader audience—all before the next installment, Rage (April 30, 2013; Grand Central), which is eagerly awaited by the newly addicted fans ofCity of Souls the Faces of Evil series.

The pricing scheme of bundling together a series is exciting for avid readers. The chance to own a complete set for an affordable price in either e-book format or paper seems to be introducing new readers to an established series. Harper Voyager released the entire Signs of the Zodiac series by Vicki Pettersson (The Scent of Shadows, The Taste of Night, The Touch of Twilight, City Of Souls,  Cheat the Grave  and The Neon Graveyard) in e-book format for $0.99 each or, in other words, gave readers the ability to purchase the entire series for less than the price of a single paperback.  As a dark urban fantasy, Signs of the Zodiac had a consistent base of readers that grew with each release over a five year period. But the release of all six books for less than $6.00 opened the floodgates to new readers who may have missed the first release round or who felt the price was worth the gamble on a completed series.

Another pricing test is the banding together of authors of a subgenre to create a “boxed set of volumes.” To be honest, I don’t understand the logic of carrying over to the e-book world the pretentious image of a collector’s box of books. After all, when you buy an e-book, you’re getting a single file loaded on your reading device. There isn’t a hard cardboard case or slip cover or anything close. If you’re really lucky, the book will be formatted so it’s easy to find the story you’re looking for.  Also,  borrowing from the more popular “indie” craze of marketing, a group of eight romantic suspense authors calling themselves the Indie Voice have put together a collection titled To Die For. It includes eight full-length previously published books for the easy price of $0.99.  So, even if only one of the authors is appealing, you get a decent opportunity to try out other authors in a genre.  Each book is a different previously released romantic suspense, either a straight contemporary or with paranormal elements.  It may have been better to put together a more similar grouping of books, sticking to a single sub-genre, as readers expect from other anthologies or collections, but with the low pricing, it’s hard to dismiss the opportunity to check out new authors and their series.

So, in the long run, how does the pricing of a series affect you as a reader? Do you try out new ones based on price and availability? Or do you stick with word of mouth?

Sara Reyes is the founder and partner at FreshFiction.com a popular fiction web site for today's reader with new titles, contests, over 50,000 genre fiction author profiles with backlists, and permanently archived reviews, plus all the industry buzz. Fresh Fiction has a biweekly segment (Buy the Book) on WFAA Channel 8 Good Morning Texas to talk about new books not to miss. Believing face-to-face interaction is as important as virtual communities, Fresh Fiction sponsors an annual readers conference, monthly literary events, and book clubs. Follow Sara at @FreshFiction on Twitter or Facebook.com/FreshFiction.