“…by which we’ll prick the conscience of the king” – Shakespeare, probably
A subject that pops up from time to time in self-publishing circles is pricing. How much is too much? Is there even such a thing as too cheap? Do readers treat free books differently than they would books they have to buy? And is there even such a thing as a consensus opinion these days?
The truth is that there are a lot of factors that go into a pricing decision and many of those factors are external in nature. With the release of The Italian Screwjob somehow only two weeks away, I thought I’d take you all on a quick trip through the modern day theme park ride that is my strategy for pricing.
Unsurprisingly, public opinion on book pricing is as varied as the books (and the readers!) themselves. I always assumed readers would appreciate cheaper books… especially with ebooks where printing costs are not a factor. And some readers do… especially if it’s an author they’ve never heard of!
But recently, I’ve found more than a few discussion threads where readers say they will ignore any book below a certain price (one commenter said $7.99, another said $5.99) because they assume it’s a reflection of that book’s quality. Now, that might just be a subtle way of throwing shade at indie releases, but it does reflect a trend you see sometimes in other industries: some people assume expensive means better1.
There’s a similar attitude shift with books that are free (or temporarily free). Authors have reported that a free promotion spiked their book’s sales rankings, but had very little impact on that book’s ratings/reviews. There’s a phenomenon where people like to grab books whenever they’re free, but then never get around to reading them, as those books are constantly pre-empted by new books the reader was interested enough in to actually buy.
So, when pricing your book, you need to weigh those two contradictory opinions. Do you price high, to win over the readers who don’t even touch books at less than a certain price point? Do you price low, to make your book more accessible to everyone2? Or do you make your series starter permanently free and then charge full-price for everything else? Everyone has their own strategy and opinion.
Another huge factor in pricing is how much the author will earn from each sale. Having any readers at all is amazing, but the long-term goal is generally to make a living.
In traditional publishing, an author’s royalty cut depends on their contract but generally falls between 8% and 14%. Amazon self-publishing gives a much larger cut3, with the caveat that the author pays for the cover, editing, etc. that a press would normally cover.
Print-on-demand paperbacks/hardcovers are their own beasts because of printing costs, but even there, the Amazon royalty rate is 60%.
And then, of course, there are international releases, where things like VAT play a role in the overall calculations. It’s not rocket science, but it’s also not as simple as you’d think. Still, 70% > 35%4, so you will generally see most full-length self-published novels on Amazon priced at $2.99 or higher.
Outside of promotional discounts, I follow that trend. I think there’s a sweet spot where books are cheap enough for most readers5 to afford yet priced well enough that I can get a fair royalty for each sale.
See These Bones was 130k words, so I priced it at $3.99, even though it was my debut. Investigation, Mediation, Vindication was significantly shorter at 100k words, so I priced it at $2.99 instead, even though it was my second book and I had actual readers by then. I’ve tried to keep pricing similar for a given series. The ebook for Ghost of a Chance remained $2.99, even though it was as long as the higher-priced Damian books.
Paperback prices are a little bit less consistent. See These Bones and its sequels were all $13.996, but I priced Investigation, Mediation, Vindication at $9.99, thinking it might spur print sales7. I priced the first two John Smith sequels higher at $12.99 and didn’t see much of a change in the paperback purchase numbers.
And then I wrote a 180k+ word novel and broke all of my established patterns.
As a 6″ x 9″ paperback, The Italian Screwjob is six-hundred-and-sixty-seven pages long, not counting front and back matter. That’s two hundred pages longer than anything in The Murder of Crows. The size raised a lot of concerns for me on the editing front8, but it wasn’t until the publishing stage that I realized pricing would be every bit as much of a worry.
The Italian Screwjob pricing
Those of you who have already pre-ordered The Italian Screwjob9 know that the ebook is priced at $3.99 instead of the series’ usual $2.99. There’s an argument to price it even higher, given the size relative to my other $3.99 books, but I’m just not comfortable doing so. And the vast, vast majority10 of my readers are on Kindle Unlimited, which pays royalties based on pages read instead of purchase price, so I’ll still see a royalty bump commensurate with the book’s size. That feels like a win-win to me!
The print edition is where it gets tricky. The on-demand printing cost for The Italian Screwjob is $9.00 a copy, but the minimum allowable price is $15. Pricing it lower would mean I owed money for every copy sold, and Amazon does not allow that11. So, whatever royalty I get is based on how much the price exceeds that minimum.
The Italian Screwjob’s paperback edition won’t be available until release12, but when it is available, it will be for the rather absurd price of $17.99. At that price, I still make less per copy sold than the ebook version, and much, much less than the KindleUnlimited version. I wish it was even cheaper, but the reality of POD print pricing is both harsh and cold. As a result, I highly recommend buying or borrowing the digital version… it’s cheaper, I make more, and the story is just as good!
Long-time readers know I usually kick off the pre-release countdown hype a full month before a new book launches. That… didn’t happen this time. February was an enjoyable black hole of non-productivity and I am behind on literally everything. With the release only TWO WEEKS away, I’ll be cramming all that hype into the next fourteen days instead. More or less, anyway… I’m also famously low-energy, so we’ll see where we end up. Later this week, I’ll be back with subtitles from this monster of a book. Next week, I’ll have a deeper dive into some of the book’s new characters and at least a few stats. And I’ll celebrate the final five days of the countdown with a new sample chapter each day.
If you’ve read this far, you’ve got gumption, kid. In fact, you’re just the kind of person that would make an awesome subscriber to my newsletter. Come join the fun!
And by fun, I mean “be alerted when new books are available.” If this site’s blog posts are my monthly, in-depth, fact-heavy shareholders’ reports, the newsletters are my far-less-frequent, carefully crafted pseudo-tweets, skipping all the nitty gritty to tell you what you actually want to know: what’s new and how you can get it.
I promise that I will never spam you… because spamming takes effort, and I am way, way too busy for that.
- Several popular authors I’ve spoken to have said that raising their prices didn’t impact their sales numbers at all, while also generating significantly higher royalties, so there may be something to that approach in general.
- And to attract people if you’re an unknown author.
- 35% (for ebooks from $0.99-$2.99) to 70% (ebooks over $2.99), after delivery costs on the back-end
- Math is hard, but I’ve still got it!
- The people who only want $7.99+ books are never going to discover me, apparently
- Which netted me just slightly less royalties than a $3.99 ebook purchase!
- It didn’t! Given how little money I make at that price, I’m okay with most buyers either purchasing the ebook or reading the book on Kindle Unlimited!
- Was it too long? Would the pacing suffer? Would people accidentally knock it off a bookshelf and put a hole through their floors? Thankfully, none of those fears have been realized… so far.
- Heroes, every single one of you!
- Meaning 70-80%
- Basically, the min price is the printing cost * 0.6 (the royalty share). For more on how they determine minimum/maximum pricing, check out this link.
- Because Amazon still doesn’t allow indie authors to put paperback/hardcover editions up for pre-order.