How much do I charge for this thing, anyway?

So you’ve written your ebook, formatted it exactly the way it’s supposed to be, and are ready to make it available with the various big players in publishing.

But how much should you, the wildly talented but completely unknown author, charge for it?

I’ve been following the dialogue for a little while, and there seem to be two main camps. The first believes in getting the maximum return for each copy they sell, because of the hard work that they’ve put into writing their novel. The other is more interested in just getting their books in front of the most readers possible and will price it accordingly.

The first approach seems to be wholly counterproductive to me. Charging a reader the same fee for your work that the international bestselling authors do for theirs seems to be an exercise in futility. I know that there is a zero percent chance that I would shell out $10-15…or more…for an unknown author. For most of us, that’s a decent chunk of change to spend on a literary nobody. I’d wager that some of these authors who insist on being “properly compensated” (a direct quote from several writers whom I’ve spoken with about this issue, by the way) have yet to sell a single copy.

On the other hand, allow me to present two examples out of several in the low-pricing camp: John Locke and Amanda Hocking. John Locke (unfortunately, not the guy from Lost) occupied seven spots on Amazon’s Top 50 and made over $126,000 in March alone. All of his novels are priced at $.99. Amanda Hocking is believed to be the first to become a millionaire entirely through self-publishing, and her novels range from $.99 to $2.99.

This business is all about getting your name out there, and the worst way I can think of to do that is to scare your readers off right out of the gate. But what might happen if you give everyone a low- or even no-risk look at what you have to offer? If you’re good, motivated to market, and patient, you’ll probably do well.

I’m not sure if an author’s prolificness (It’s a word, I swear!) has anything to do with a higher price point, but I’m not sure it doesn’t, either. After all, if an author feels that he or she only has one or two novels in them, they may be more likely to price higher than someone who has more ideas than they’ll be able to write in their lifetime.

I’ll use yours truly as an example. By August of 2012, I will have published a short story collection, a novella, and three novels (I’m not a speed writer by any means; it’s the cumulative result of the writing I’ve done for the the last five years or so). The short story collection, to be released by the end of June, will be free until I publish the first novel at the end of July, at which time I might bump it all the way up to $.99. I have absolutely nothing to lose by keeping the price on my books low; I would gladly give one away free for eternity to get a reader interested in buying everything else I write. There’s a reason that companies will give you some of their product for free in the beginning. It’s all about the hook. Every dollar you don’t charge might lead to several dollars of profit. Repeat after me: If you’re in it for the long haul, you have nothing to lose.

As far as the standard full-length novel pricing goes, the current consensus seems to be that the sweet spot for sales and, therefore, profit, is $2.99-$3.99. Three bucks isn’t much of a commitment or risk; it’s an impulse buy. And in a reading market that is becoming dominated by a hand-held gadget that has the capability to instantly download the next beach read, the impulse buy is the upstart’s best friend.

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8 thoughts on “How much do I charge for this thing, anyway?

  1. Here’s the rub… If you start out selling low, you’re not going to be able to raise the price without huge backlash. If your books are 99¢ now and somebody reads and loves them, they will still expect to pay 99¢ for your next great work, even after you become established.

    Don’t forget about perceived value. You can price higher where your book is worth and still get sales. Don’t just chuck your book on the Kindle store and have done with it. Blog. Tweet. Give away sample chapters. The company I work for does instructional e-books and printed books, and they have recently started giving away large pieces of their books for free as the sample. We’re talking a third of the book here! Think what would happen if you gave away the first three chapters of your novel for free! If it’s good, you’ve got people hooked and running, not walking, to shell out their $10. There’s a reason iTunes tripled its sample sizes!

    Also, Seth Godin said something once about giving away the e-book for free, and then doing print on demand for people who want a “souvenir.” He’s a lot more popular than the upstart novelist, but again, the company I work for has a few free e-books and we have customers ask if they can buy printed copies. So there’s another strategy you might consider.

    • Hey Jordan, excellent thoughts. I’d have to say, I’m not sure where I stand on this issue. I think somewhere between $.99 and $2.99 is my price of preference. For a brand author, like Joe Abercrombie whose work I’m very much interested in reading, I’d go up to about $6.00.

      Honestly, I think there would be some negative reactions if you bumped price between works, but mostly just if you went from like $.99 to $6.00 because of a couple news stories.

      The thing is, even known authors are making admittedly more money by selling cheaper. Check out J.A. Konrath’s blog, where he talks a LOT about this and gives cold, hard numbers. Especially his interview with John Locke (who earlier this year had 6 books in Amazon’s top 100, including the #1 position)–> http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/03/guest-post-by-john-locke.html

      I think personally, there is a sense of “selling out” if you start small and cheap and let your fame make you think you’re suddenly worth a $10 download. But I also think there is enough incentive to stay cheap that you would be foolish to raise your price above $2.99 for an e-book even later in the game. If you’re self-publishing, your best option really is to cut the brand authors off at the knees by selling low-priced high-quality books that bring people back for more.

      Michael

      • It’s a pickle either way. Another interesting thought would be to have print-on-demand merely to drive sales of the e-book when people get sticker shock from the printed copy. As a customer service rep, I know it works (even inadvertently) from all the e-mails I deal with from people who bought the e-book because it was the cheapest option on the page, but really wanted a printed copy.

      • The ironic part is that a number of e-books are now more expensive than the print versions. For instance, the boxset of George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is $19 paperback on Amazon and B&N, and $29 for Kindle and Nook.

    • Hey, Jordan:

      I agree with most of what you said here, I just don’t believe that an author pricing his breaking-in work at $.99 leads the reader to expect that for every subsequent work. I think most readers are smart enough to know that a good book at $.99 is a steal, and at $2.99 is still a great value. They understand that the author is still trying to make a living. At least, I sure hope they do!

      Dan

  2. Thanks for a great article! I’m preparing to self-publish via ebook later this year, and price is something I have considered. Most people are going the 35% royalty option at 0.99. It’s trendy, but I’m not sure I want to go that low. I don’t believe in over-pricing, for the reasons you mentioned, but I think I’d rather hit the middle of the road. I’m leaning towards 75% royalty at 2.99 (the lowest you can go at the 75% royalty option with Kindle). However, I may change that, as it’s my first work and it’s a novella. I don’t think asking 2.99 for a full-length novel is unreasonable at all, but then again, I’m an indie girl – I know the work that it takes to make handmade, and I pay more for it. Other people are not that way.

    Regardless, it’s great to hear from another self-publishing Kindle author! I look forward to more of your posts and perhaps hearing more about your self-published works.

      • Thanks, Dan! Yes, I’m planning on listing my book on Smashwords as well. I just usually say “via Kindle” as shorthand. :)

        On expensive ebooks… it seems to me, from the minor browsing I’ve done, that some “big house” publishers price their ebooks high(er). I haven’t seen as many indies overpricing their work.

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