So you’ve finished writing your book, added all the formatting bells and whistles, and are now ready to put it up for sale. Congratulations!
But of course, now you’ve got a new quandary:
What price should I sell my book for?
How do I price it to get the very best results?
The trick to answering that question is understanding that “the very best results” means different things to everyone … and even then, every book is different, and every author is different, and every author’s strategy, as a whole, is different.
Every one of those differences affects the price you might set for your book, meaning there’s no straightforward answer. I might price my book at $1, you might price yours at $5, and Jane Doe down the street might price hers at $10 — and we might all be “right” according to our individual situations.
So that’s the bad news: There’s no quick and easy answer to “what price should my book sell for?”
The good news, though, is that I’m about to take you through all you need to consider when pricing that book — and when you’re done reading, you’ll have a pretty good idea what price is best for you rather than for anyone else. And that means you’ll have a much better chance of getting those “very best results” you’re looking for than if you’d taken cookie-cutter advice.
The usual way of thinking about price (which, by the way, is usually wrong)
When it comes to putting a price on something, a lot of people will tell you to set the highest price that people will pay. You’ll lose some buyers at that price (because some are more price-conscious than others), but the higher amount you earn from those you don’t lose will more than make up for it. You have to find the sweet spot where readers might come and go — but profit, overall, remains maximized.
That advice works … kind of. Problem is, it’s only part of what a smart author should consider when pricing her books.
The “price that maximizes bottom-line profit” strategy is dead simple. You take a guess at a price, then raise it until you notice your income taking a hit. If you don’t want to raise the price on a given book over time, you can apply the price-hike strategy to future releases. If your last book sold well at $5, you might try the next at $6 and see what happens.
Pricing that way is an equation, nothing more. A robot could do it.
But because authors aren’t robots (yet!), we’ll want to look at a few other considerations when it comes to pricing. Before that, though, we should say two things to clear up some misconceptions and start you off on solid footing.
First, although there’s no simple scheme that works for everyone, a good rule of thumb is that a price between $2.99 and $5.99 for ebooks will work best for most genre fiction authors who don’t want to give their ebooks away for free. (See below for that.)
But more accurately, it depends, and what’s right for me might not be right for you. If you want to really answer the question, read through the pricing considerations below to find the very best strategy for you and your work..
Pricing Consideration #1: What’s the format?
At the risk of being obvious, let’s just get this one of the way: ebooks, print books, and audiobooks all command different price points — all of which are determined in different ways.
Most indie authors sell far more ebooks than print or audiobooks, so the focus of this article will be on ebooks. Ebook pricing is also the most flexible, seeing as you can price your ebook pretty much however you’d like, from zero to very expensive.
If you have a reason to give your ebook away for free (again: keep reading), you can set its price at $0 on many stores, like Kobo. You can’t set your Amazon price at $0 as of this writing, but if you set a $0 price on another retailer like Kobo or Barnes & Noble or Apple iBooks, Amazon will usually match that price … and then voila, your Amazon ebook will be free as well.
Or if, conversely, you want your ebook to be $100, you can set that price. You probably won’t get many takers at $100 for an ebook, but it’s possible.
Print and audiobooks, on the other hand, come with a few restrictions. Print books have a bottom-line cost since they’re physical objects that need to be printed, handled, packaged, and shipped. Print-on-demand outfits like Amazon’s KDP Print (formerly Createspace) won’t let you set your book’s price cheaper than that bottom-line production cost, meaning the only way to “make it free” is to buy a copy yourself and then give it away. In that case, you’re absorbing the production cost and “selling” at a negative profit.
(The same is true if you want to order a massive paperback print run and have boxes of books delivered to your house for later distribution. Once you have books in your hand, you can sell them at whatever price you want, including free. Just keep in mind that “everything’s always free” isn’t a sustainable way to run a business unless your free-book giveaways are tied to a back-end source of income.)
A few third-party audiobook distributors like Findaway Voices (which distributes to Audible.com and others for you, in exchange for a fee) will let you set your own price on audio, but most indies sell their audiobooks via the DIY audiobook-creation site ACX … and if you do things that way, Audible and others set the price for you. You simply don’t get a choice.
Our audiobook advice for most authors is to take whatever price (and whatever profit) ACX sets for your book rather banging your head against the wall to try somehow to change it.
Our print advice is a little different. To begin with ask yourself if creating print versions of your books has a purpose other than earning profit. If your goal is to gain maximal exposure or to make paperback-loving fans happy, for instance, set the paperback price as low as it will go. Readers will still have to pay for your book (or you will, if you want to give them away free), but at least they won’t pay much.
If you do want to earn profit from your paperbacks, there are two things to know: First, unless you’re a rare case, you probably won’t earn much profit on paperbacks no matter what you do, so in our opinion fussing much about paperback profits is wasted time. Self-published authors rarely sell enough paperbacks to matter. Second, a lot of what I’m about to say about ebooks still applies to for-profit paperbacks, so be sure to read through what follows and apply it to paperbacks as best you can. If you can handle paperbacks with minimal fuss, it might still be worth your time.
Now. On to the ebook considerations …
Pricing Consideration #2: What’s your goal?
Here’s a tip: You won’t hit your goals if you don’t plan your strategies with those goals in mind. What’s worse, many authors don’t even know what their goals are. They just watch other authors talk about profits, and assume without thinking that their goal should be profit, too.
But … is profit your primary goal, per our “usual way of thinking about price” section above? Often it is, but plenty of times it isn’t. The folks who tell you to “charge the maximum the market will bear” assume that profit is the only goal, meaning it’s good advice for some authors but incomplete advice for others.
If your goal is to find as many devoted readers as possible, the advice “price as high as you can” probably won’t serve you. Authors who simply want to get their books into as many hands as possible (and don’t care much about profit, at least on this project, at least for now) should choose to make their book very inexpensive (maybe 99 cents) or even free. Doing so will encourage new readers to give you a chance, whereas they might not if your price were higher.
If your goal is maximize earnings on a series rather than just a single book, you might want to price your first book cheap or free for the same reason. If every book in your trilogy costs $5, readers who don’t know you might pass just because you’re too much of an unknown to risk $5. Make the first book free or 99 cents, on the other hand, and they might try it … and then buy the second and third book at full price — earning $11 instead of the zero you’d have gotten if they’d passed.
Yet more factors apply if you published a book for pride or to impress your parents. Same thing if the book is simply a business card … and your real money will be made on consulting or a course that readers will want after finishing the book. And so on and so on.
The point is, ask what you really want out of publishing before assuming it must be profit. Don’t price high just because you can.
Pricing Consideration #3: What price does the bookstore prefer?
Different stores serve different types of customers. They have different personalities and cultures. That means that they, too, have preferences about the books that authors sell there, including price.
On Amazon’s KDP (self-) publishing platform, ebooks priced between $2.99 and $9.99 earn the author a royalty equal to 70% of the purchase price. Books priced lower than $2.99 or higher than $9.99 only earn a 35% royalty. The reason? Amazon wants authors to price their ebooks between those two numbers.
The reason I’m explaining this in terms of “what the bookseller wants” instead of “how much royalty you can earn” is because there’s more to it than raw royalty percentages. YES, you should try to price your book between $2.99 and $9.99 on Amazon so that you can get a higher royalty, but the bigger reason to price in that range is because that’s what Amazon wants.
The whole reason Amazon created their royalty brackets was to drive authors to sell ebooks between $3-10. Why? Because Amazon has a lot more customer data than you’ll ever have, and they know that’s the sweet spot for books they can and would like to sell. They sell $15 ebooks for traditional publishers, but those publishers have big-boy marketing behind them and indies don’t. If you insist on pricing outside of the range at which that Amazon knows they can best sell indie books, you’re doing so at your own risk.
(Similarly, stepping away from price for just a second, it’s never a good idea to buck Amazon’s preferences when selling books. You can try to game the system by pretending your 18+ erotica is clean or publishing a 900-page book that’s mostly public domain stuff you had nothing to do with, but doing so is short-term thinking. Amazon’s store is Amazon’s home turf, so we suggest you always remember that you’re a guest, and house rules apply. Do otherwise, and you’ll find your career hurting.)
Non-Amazon bookstores don’t all have the same price brackets, so in those places you can price differently if you’d like. Don’t sell the same $5 Amazon book for $12 on iBooks, but if you have books you can’t bring yourself to price between $2.99 and $9.99 (say, a massive full-series bundle of seven books that normally sell for $5 each, and that you’d like to offer all together for $20), you may want to keep those projects off of Amazon and sell them only on Kobo instead — a seller that we’ve been told many times PREFERS high-priced books and bundles, unlike Amazon.
Pricing Consideration #4: What does the genre expect?
Massive, doorstopper tomes that sell near the $9.99 limit are common in genres like fantasy. By contrast, romance readers tend to balk even at $4.99 — and that’s assuming they even buy books instead of just borrowing them through Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited (KU) program.
Each genre has its own expectations and culture and norms. Fantasy readers want to sink into long reads and take their time, so it’s no big deal to spend ten bucks every month or two. On the other hand, it’s not at all uncommon for romance readers to burn through a book a day, or sometimes more. When you’re reading a book a day, $5-10 per book gets expensive. Even $1 can get expensive at that rate, which is why so many will only read books that are exclusive to Amazon and hence in the KU program. KU currently costs readers $10 per month, and for that amount they can read all they want from KU’s massive library.
Before pricing your book, take a look through the bestseller lists and see what’s common in your genre. Are the popular books mostly expensive, or are they mostly cheap? If you’re browsing on Amazon, are most of those popular books in Kindle Unlimited, where price barely matters (because most readers borrow instead of buy)?
You can buck your genre’s trends, but more often than not you’ll get far better results if you go with the flow, conforming to what readers already expect and are used to paying.
Pricing Consideration #5: How long is your book?
As a general rule, if all other things are equal, longer books tend to price higher than shorter books. In a way, this is just common sense. Your average genre novel is somewhere around 70,000 words or so, and therefore will (again, if all other things are equal) merit an average price for that genre and other considerations.
But if the book is significantly shorter — say, a 35,000-word novella, in a case where 70,000 words is the average — you should really price lower. It’s true that length doesn’t determine quality for books, but it’s equally true that readers might not act that way. If they pay full price for a short book, it might lead a bad taste in their mouth. To avoid this, we suggest cutting the price. How far you cut it depends on your starting point, but we try very hard not to dip below $2.99 as our lower price unless we absolutely have to.
Conversely, longer books often merit higher prices … but only when the contrast is extreme and you’re confident it won’t irritate readers. If the 70,000-word-ish price would be $3.99, maybe charge $4.99 for a 130,000-word book assuming those words are worth something and not just padding. We don’t suggest going above $5.99 on his logic unless the genre demands it, though.
Oh, and don’t get greedy. Don’t assume that readers will agree that more words warrants more dollars. Sometimes they don’t, and no amount of protest from you will change their minds. They’ll just move on, and not buy.
Pricing Consideration #6: Is your book in Kindle Unlimited?
If your book is in KU, most people will borrow it instead of buying it. Amazon shoppers can do either, and if someone who doesn’t have KU wants your book, they’ll have to shell out cash for it … but in our experience, KU books are borrowed much more often than they’re purchased.
With this in mind, you may choose to use your actual dollars-and-cents price as an “anchor” — meaning it’s a price people will see and know, but probably won’t pay (because they’ll borrow it instead). Just seeing a price, even if they know they won’t pay that price, will have a psychological effect on your potential buyer: higher prices suggest your book is worth more, whereas cheap prices can make your book look … well … cheap.
This is nowhere near hard and fast, though, so use price anchoring with caution. Pricing your book at $9.99 just so it “looks valuable and hence worth KU-borrowing” can easily backfire if browsers don’t agree your book could possibly be worth that much. But pricing your book at $4.99 instead of 99 cents to create the same impression can be just the right nudge to get that reader to borrow your book.
If this one doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry about it. It’s a minor consideration, but one that can give you just a bit more of an advantage if used well.
Pricing Consideration #7: Are you up against traditionally published books?
Traditional publishers aren’t nimble, have tons of internal costs that need paying, and, in our opinion, don’t really understand the ebook buying market just yet. That’s why you see big-publisher ebooks selling for $15 all the time. It’s digital, folks, and most digital books top out at $4.99, maybe $5.99. Don’t be greedy, folks!
As an indie, if you’re competing against high-priced traditional books, you’ll gain an automatic price anchor just by pricing sensibly. Your $5 book might not have the pedigree of that trad book next to it for $15, but it’s also a third of the price.
You can price a bit more aggressively if you’re up against a lot of high-priced trad books. But don’t get greedy yourself, or you’ll lose all that advantage.
Pricing Consideration #8: How well do readers know and like you already?
When you’re a new author, you need every advantage to convince readers to take a chance on your book … and that naturally includes the price. For this reason, newbies usually need to price lower than more established authors.
Established authors with devoted fans have a real advantage with pricing, because their readers go shopping already half-convinced to buy. Price, for those shoppers, is far less of a consideration — and therefore those authors can charge more if they’d like to.
Pricing Consideration #9: What are your costs and required margins?
I was tempted to skip this one, but instead I’ll just keep it brief. The reason? Because margins and costs are your problem, not your reader’s. Try to explain to readers that your should-be-$3 book is $6 because you have a lot of bills to pay and see how well that works.
Still — though you’ll probably never tell readers about this consideration — it’s something you may want to know and consider for your own behind-the-curtain figuring. If you’re confident that you’ll sell 100 copies of a book and are similarly confident that $6 will fly just as well as $3 with buyers, knowing that you can’t survive as an author on the $3 royalties is a valid thing to factor in. You have to be able to pay rent and buy food if you’re to continue writing, after all.
Pricing Consideration #10: Do the math.
Chances are, you won’t get a clear-cut answer after weighing all the considerations above. Instead, you’ll probably come away with tendencies, ranges, and possible prices … but no one obvious winner.
In cases like this, we suggest getting out your calculator.
Assuming you’ve read everything above, we’ll assume the “all other things being equal” caveat has been duly considered. That means that at this point, your decision probably comes down to dollars and cents, and how many of each you’ll get with each pricing option.
The best example of this happens when you’re weighing a 99 cent price versus a $2.99 price, because at 99 cents, you don’t need to sell three times as many copies to equal the profit from $2.99; you actually need to sell six times as many. At 99 cents, Amazon’s royalty is 35%. At $2.99, it’s 70%. Factoring in the doubled royalty, you’ll earn as much from 20 sales at $2.99 as you will from 120 sales at 99 cents.
(Don’t ever price at $1.99, by the way. It’s the no-man’s-land of pricing: too low to earn that 70% royalty, but higher enough than 99 to discourage price-conscious buyers from buying.)
So ask yourself: Would you rather go for maximal buyers at 99 cents, knowing you’re likely to earn less that way? Or would you rather price higher and know that you have a pretty good shot at earning more money from a smaller pool of buyers?
In the end, there’s no perfect formula that will consider all factors and spit out your ideal price. You’ll have to play this by feel, trying and experimenting until you find what works for you and your unique constellation of circumstances.
Good luck and happy selling!
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