What the Price Is Right Can Teach You About Selling Books

Most weekdays, pup and I break for lunch right when The Price is Right is on.  So we sit there and watch it for about fifteen minutes while munching on whatever I’ve managed to fix myself that particular day.

And I sometimes find myself shaking my head at what I see.

For those of you who don’t know how it works, four people guess what the price of an item is and the one who comes closest to that price without going over gets to go on stage and maybe win more things like a brand-new car.

Let’s give an example because I want to talk about that last person to bid.   This is where things tie back to writing.

So, let’s say we’re watching the show and the contestants have to bid on six pairs of designer sunglasses.  Contestant A bids $750.  Contest B bids $1000.  Contest C bids $400.

Now here’s where it gets interesting.

Let’s say Contest D bids $700.  (I’ve seen it happen.)

Was this a smart bid?


Why not?  Because, unless Contestant D is going for the bonus money for being right on the mark (which almost never happens and is a fool’s bet), that contestant just cost themselves about two hundred and fifty possible chances to be right.

How so?  Because had they instead bid $401 then they would be a winner if the price was anywhere between $401 and $749.  But, given their bid, they’ll only win if the price is between $700 and $749.

What if they bid $1?

Was this a smart bid?

Probably not in this case.  Unless those sunglasses are really cheap, chances are the price is not below $400 so even though they’ve been told that $1 is “the bid” and there are t-shirts dedicated to the concept of bidding just $1, it’s actually a strategy that only makes sense when there’s a realistic possibility that the actual price of the item is below the next highest bid.

On the other extreme, what if they bid $1200?

Again, not a smart bid because the next highest bid is $1000 and any price between $1000 and $1200 is going to go to the other bidder, not them.

Now, here’s where we tie things back to selling books.  I’ve watched the show enough to see contestants win in all three scenarios and then go on to win even more prizes and walk away with $50,000 in cash and prizes.

They’re winners, right?

Doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing or should tell others how to win.  The guy who bid $1 is going to walk around telling people, “Bid a dollar.  That’s how I won.”  And the other two guys are going to say, “Well you just gotta bid what you think it’s worth.  I read up on prices before I went on the show so I knew what those glasses would cost.”  Or, worse.  “When in doubt, average the two prices you think are closest to the price and bid that average.”

Or worse yet, people are going to study who wins and say, “Well, folks who bid $1 were ten times more likely to win than those that bid any other price” without seeing the nuance of why that bid won.

See, it’s possible to succeed and have no idea why you actually succeeded or to have simply been lucky.

Which is also true in publishing.

(And, no, I’m not saying it’s always true, so stop right there.  Many people succeed from hard work and study and knowing how things work, but there are always those few who think they know why they “won” who really, really don’t.  And taking advice from them is not going to help anyone else win unless they too win by sheer happenstance.)

So, yes, listen to how others succeeded, but dig deep enough to know whether there was actual thought and strategy behind it before you follow in their footsteps.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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