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Indie Publishing: Setting the Price

Alright. All of us authors need a little therapy surrounding one of the most difficult parts of being an indie author, setting the prices for our book babies. Here are some strategies to help you through.


Congratulations, you've poured your heart and soul into crafting a masterpiece. You know it rocks. I know it’s unbelievably fantastic. But, now you want people to read it. Not only that, but you hope readers will actually pay for it. Many first-time authors suffer from self-doubt or imposter syndrome, meaning we fear nobody will buy a single copy. Others of us expect to make Stephen King and J.K. Rowling look like struggling authors. Wherever you land on this spectrum, the price will be decided by what potential readers are willing to pay for it more than what you think it’s worth.

The average eBook price is about $6."



THE LANDSCAPE

Your book is one of millions for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple Books. Readers have a nearly endless supply to choose from. Many are even free to readers because they’re on promotion, part of a program like Kindle Unlimited, or the author wants to give his book away. This means your book is competing with countless others in similar genres.

"72% of eBooks sold in 2020 were priced under $9.99."


Think of prices like staircases. The higher the price, the more steps you’re asking book browsers to climb in order to get your book. The reader asks, “Is it worth it?” A free book is hard to regret. A correctly priced book means lots of people purchase similar books in the same price range and feel comfortable with the climb. An expensive book is asking a reader to climb a skyscraper. While some people won’t have a problem with overcoming the price barrier, most of them will opt for a less daunting path to readership.

Take Home: the market sets how many purchases you’ll get at the price you set. 



ROYALTIES & RETAILERS

The big players in the eBook market provide authors with similar royalties. Amazon, as the giant pushes authors toward a narrower price range, which is the range they think books sell best. Here’s a table showing the royalties they give.

Retailer

Price ranges

 

 

 

$0.99 - $2.98

$2.99 - $9.99

$10+

Amazon

35%

70%

35%

Apple

70%

70%

70%

Barnes & Noble

70%

70%

70%

Google Play

70%

70%

70%

Kobo

45%

70%

70%


Take home: $2.99-9.99 is the sweet spot for most books. Where your book sits in that spot depends on you and your readers.



PERCEIVED RISK/REWARD

If you’re going to make someone climb all the way up the Statue of Liberty, they’re going to need to know it’s worth the climb, either because they’re most likely going to be rewarded for their purchase. A self-published book with a couple of reviews and a cruddy cover with a meh description might seem like too big of a risk with too little chance of reward even when it’s free. It’ll take them time to download and read the first few pages to see if it’s worth continuing.

A book that your friend recommends and is on the New York Times bestseller list with thousands of 5-star reviews has little risk of being bad, so you may high-step to the $10 floor. A required textbook for math class has a low risk of giving a student what you want/need, meaning she will climb to the $100 floor.

This is why good reviews, high-quality covers, catchy book descriptions, and enticing sample pages are so important for sales. Try to be honest with yourself regarding your book's quality when it comes to these factors.

 


VALUING YOUR TIME

Your work is valuable. You’ve been carving out time from your busy schedule, working well into the night, or getting up early to finish your book. You’ve written, re-written, edited, revised, gotten feedback, revised again, proofed, designed the cover, paid for software, purchased ISBNs, come up with a marketing plan, and done the endless other tasks required to publish. So, it feels like you should be paid well for your effort.

Not so. Getting paid 35 cents to $3.00 per book sold can seem like an insult. The average self-pubbed book typically sells fewer than 1000 copies, with many coming in at less than 20. That means you might get paid less than 7 cents per hour worked. It’s a harsh reality.

Moral: Set the price you feel valued at. That doesn’t mean others will pay it.



FORMAT MATTERS

Don’t expect to charge as much for your eBook as you would for your paperback. Your Hardcover will demand an even higher price. Treat them almost like completely different books because the person who loves hardcover books is used to paying more for the experience of owning a physical copy. In contrast, many readers choose ebooks because they are inexpensive so they can afford more of them, reading upward of a hundred books a year. Reading one hundred ebooks at $2.99 is very different from buying a hundred $19.99 hardback books.



READING PROGRAMS

Readers can belong to various subscription programs such as Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program where they pay $11.99 per month and can read as many participating books as they want. As an author, I enroll in such programs because I reach more readers, many of whom would have skipped over my book if they had to pay for it separately. I get paid based on the number of pages the subscribers read from my books. Kindle Unlimited accounts for over half of my royalties.

Up To You: As indie authors, join these programs because you’ll reach more avid readers and earn more from a reader base who don’t usually purchase books.



MARKETING

If you have a large following or marketing is one of your many talents, you can increase the price because:

  • More people from your target audience will see your book,

  • You’ll get more positive reviews,

  • Your cover will excede expectations,

  • Your blurb/description will entice readers, and

  • You’ll use a style of writing that appeals to more people.

The Truth: Most of us aren’t great at marketing and don’t have large followings, so we can’t demand high prices.



GOALS & COMPROMISES

Setting the right price involves weighing tradeoffs. Do you prioritize reaching a wider audience with a lower price, or do you aim for higher earnings with a premium tag? This comes down to what your priorities are. Don’t worry, your goals can change over time and from book to book. For example, consider setting your first book at a lower price, or offering a short-term giveaway, to encourage readers to buy your second book at full price.

Take Home: Do your best to understand your motivations and make whatever compromises you have to make in order to satisfy them.



COMPARISONS

Before attaching a price tag, conduct some market research. What prices are similar books? Make sure to objectively consider cover quality, book-length, genre, author following, and so on. Comparing a celebrity’s autobiography to your own might not be a realistic comparison, so be honest with yourself. If most of your peers are charging 99 cents for a 60,000-word romance, then charging much more might disincentivize potential readers. If comparable books cost $2.99, then that’s your target price.

Simplicity: The most common compromise is to set your price similar to the books that most resemble yours.



FAQ

Q. Can I change the price of my book after publishing?

A. Absolutely. Most platforms allow you to adjust your book's price at any time. Keep in mind that it may take a few hours to several days for the changes to show up.


Q. Should I consider the royalty options when setting the price?

A. Yes. The royalty options on platforms like Amazon (e.g., 35% or 70%) directly impact your earnings. Choose a pricing strategy aligned with your goals of readership and sales.


Q. Is there a minimum and maximum price for my eBook on major platforms?

A. It depends on the format and platform. For Amazon, the 35% royalty option lets you set any price while the 70% royalty sets a min of 99 cents and a max of $9.99. Print copies have minimums associated with page count, paper quality, and distribution.


Q. How do I decide on promotional discounts or free periods for my eBook?

A. Use promotions strategically to boost visibility. Consider your overall marketing plan, target audience, and the long-term impact on your book's perceived value. Sorry this is vague. I’ll post a longer answer when I have time.


Q. Should I have different prices for eBook and print versions?

A. Yes. People are willing to pay more for physical copies. There is something about the tactile experience, the scent, and the beauty of books on the shelves that means many of us will pay more. This is good because it costs more to print them.


Q. Can I offer my eBook for free permanently?

A. Some platforms allow permanent free pricing. Others may require enrollment in specific programs. Evaluate the long-term impact on your author brand before deciding.


Q. How does pricing differ across genres?

A. Non-fiction, as well as historical fiction, sci-fi, and romance can demand higher prices.


Q. What role does perceived value play in setting the price?

A. Perceived value is crucial. Ensure your book's price aligns with its quality, genre, and target audience expectations.


Q. Can I change the price of my book for promotions or limited-time offers?

A. Yes, many platforms allow temporary price changes for promotions. Leverage this flexibility to experiment with different pricing strategies.


Q. How often should I reassess my book's pricing strategy?

A. Regularly reassess your pricing strategy based on sales performance, reader feedback, and market changes. Adapt to evolving circumstances to maximize your book's success.


 

As always, I appreciate your support of indie authors. In the name of putting myself out there, here are a few of my works.




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