Self-Publishing: Pricing

Honor Thy Enemy (book 3 of the Galactic Alliance series) re-editing is at 60%. I had originally decided not to do any editing but after a look through the text I decided I had better give it a quick run-through. I have found a number of major as well as minor errors and corrections. I hope to hit 75% by the end of the day. The reformatting process will not take long. Building a new cover takes a few hours. If all goes well, it will be uploaded to Amazon in about two weeks.

I also found a formatting mistake in both Translight and Chroniech. I’ve already fixed it and will upload all three new versions at the same time. I’m striving for professionalism here, not perfection, but the distinction is often a bit blurry.

Book Pricing
When I first started writing this post I had no idea what I was going to use as my main subject. I’m beginning to run out of self-publishing topics. Luckily, I came up with one at the last moment. This subject might seem like it’s based on common sense, but you would be surprised how many people don’t stop and think about how to price their books. The below discussion is about how to price a full-sized novel. Smaller works or works that would be less popular should be considered separately.

The other day, I noticed that Amazon had a beta version of a price to earnings ratio graph. According to the explanation, the graph is based on books that are similar to mine. I’m not sure how Amazon has made this determination though. Based on the graph, I decided to try an experiment.

I’ve dropped the price of all the Galactic Alliance books to $3.50. I will let the price remain at $3.50 for the next month or two and then check to see how sales are doing. There is a trade-off between pricing and income. If a book is priced below $2.99, your royalty income is limited to 35%. So it only makes sense to set your price at $2.99 or above at a minimum. So why not go higher so you can earn more?

If you set your price too high, you will begin losing sales. Readers want to pay as little as possible for a book. Yes, you will earn more per sale, but if the sales begin to drop off too much, then your royalty income begins to decrease. So why not just keep it low and hope the increase in sales will make up for the lower royalty? There are several schools of thought on this.

If you price your book low (say $2.99) you are potentially advertising that you’re a new author and you don’t believe your books are worth more than the bare minimum. Your book will also be competing with hundreds of others priced at the same low value. “I’m better than they are!” you tell yourself. So, you look at what a professional author charges for a typical book. (I’m talking about a well-known author who is published by a large publishing house.) Realizing you’re not as popular as they are, you take their price and cut it in half. You end up with a value of around $6.00. Good choice? I don’t think so.

I started off with my books priced at $2.99. Over the years, I slowly bumped that up until I was at $4.99 which seemed about right for a seasoned author. I have a fairly loyal following and my sales do increase for a time when I release a new novel. Does that give me the right to increase my price? Some authors will tell you yes. It takes a lot of work to write a book and an author must get a return on the time and effort they put into creating the novel. But, we live in an age when people expect to pay very little for online content – including books. If you have the clout and the following, by all means raise your price. But do so with caution! If you crank your price up too high, you’re going to lose readers. People will accuse you of price gouging.

As with everything you do in your writing business, the price you set for your books should be based on sound business logic. Set a price and keep track of your sales numbers as well as your royalty payments. Graph it out if you have to. Keep good records and make comparisons. You should be able to figure out what your sweet-spot is. But bear in mind that sales are an ever-changing target. You can go for a few days with no sales at all and then suddenly jump to selling 10 a day then back down to 2 or 3 a day all for no apparent reason. I’ve watched my sales peak and dip for years and I’ve never been able to figure out why the numbers are the way they are.

Something else to consider are your actual rankings. A low price could drive sales up which will cause your book to rise in the ranking system. Royalties might be down, but keeping your book high in the ranking might be a solid strategy if you want to maintain a steady royalty income. Sometimes, it’s not all about the money.

There have been long articles and entire books written on how to price your books. It’s a business decision and it should be done with a full analysis of the available data. You can price your book at $20.00 a copy and if you sell a few a month you might be happy. You can drop your price to $2.99 and sell 50 copies a month and be happy as well. But unless you know the details behind the numbers you can’t make an informed business decision as to the right price for your books. Maybe there is no right price. But you won’t know until you do the research.

My suggestion: If you’re a new author, set your price at $2.99 and read your comments. If sales get to the point where you feel comfortable about it, then increase the price a small amount. Keep track of what happens and make adjustments after a few months. Don’t go by only a week’s worth of data. It takes time for price changes to have an effect. If people like your book, they’re going to tell others about it. But, even if they like it, if you set the price too high, they are not going to recommend it or if they do, the person looking to buy it will pass.

Pricing is a business decision – treat it as such.