Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Self-publishing and Money

So, there has been a lot of conversation going around lately and I've been devouring blogs, trying to discover the magical price a self-published author should set for their first book.  It seems the "gold rush" of 99 cent books or free Amazon Select giveaway days is gone.  Word on the web is that Amazon has changed their program, and there is no longer a post-free bump to boost your book's ratings and gain visibility.

Does it even make sense to sell our books for 99 cents?  My answer to this question is a resounding "No!" I am willing to do giveaways and hand out a few free books here and there, but I have decided there is no way I want to take place in the mass giving away of thousands upon thousands of my book.  I have had the very good fortune of making many friends in the writing community, and they are so wonderful about sharing information.  Through the knowledge gained with their experiences, I've learned I'm not willing to give my book away, especially if there is now little benefit gained from doing so.  I've worked hard on Always & Forever, as have my critique partners and my editor, and it is worth way more than 99 cents.  Now, I am a new author, and I'm not so confident in my ability to market that I am going to price it at $9.99 either.  I've been thinking $3.99 seems like a good, fair price range.  Then again, a recent blog by Ed Robertson explains how Amazon has changed their algorithms so that higher priced books will rank higher on the popularity rankings, even if the lower priced book is actually selling more.  You can read that article in its entirety here.  What does this say for Indie authors who are trying to gain visibility?  Does it make sense to price your book lower than $5 when $5 and above seems to be the price point getting the most exposure?

I think books have been devalued in the eyes of the consumer.  They are so used to getting free books (and I basically think a 99-cent book is the same as free) that they think all books should be priced at this rate.  This image has been going around, and I really think it says it all.  Why is a book someone reads while drinking a Double Mocha Iced Coffee worth less than the drink, which took someone a few seconds to whip up?  My Kindle app is full of free books and cheap books that I will probably never read.  But if I pay $5-$15 for a book, you bet I'm going to read that sucker.

{After getting a few comments this morning and sleeping (so tired when I wrote this last night, but I'd promised it would be up) I want to make something clear. I do not think it is the readers' fault the book has been devalued. They've come to expect this because it is what so many of us are doing when we price our books, thinking we have to price at 99 cents to sell because of what "experts" told us.  This is neither an attack on authors nor readers. I think things just got warped in the "gold rush" mentality that started happening, and now we are starting to see a fallout as authors realize they aren't making a fair wage. Not that mid-list writers have ever made a fair wage.}

Many Indie authors are starting to speak out against the idea of a 99 cent book, and I'm happy they are.  I think devaluing something that takes so much work and effort is not a good idea.  Rob on Writing recently ranted My Novel Is Worth More Than John Locke's Comb (warning - this link contains some explicit language), and he's right. Why should we sell our hard work for the same price as crap that can be bought at the dollar store?  Lindsay Buroker discusses how it doesn't matter if you are a new author. Even established authors are unknown to people who have never read them.  She claims you just need a good cover, an interesting blurb, 5-10 reviews (that don't all need to be good), and a clean novel (meaning you hired an editor and didn't just throw a bunch of error-riddle crap up on Amazon).  You can read her entire article here.

I think the view points of Indie authors are slowly changing. We are slowly banding together and realizing there is no reason to sell our work for an amount that will never make us a decent living, let alone pay a single bill.  Heck, at 99 cents a book, only earning 35 cents on each sale, you would have to sell quite a few books to even afford that Double Mocha Iced Coffee.

Honestly, my expectations for a cheap book are low to begin with, and for that reason I may never read it. If someone wants more than a few bucks for their novel, I'm going to assume they've gone through all the proper channels to edit and present a book worthy of reading. Of course, it's always a good idea to read the free sample and make sure the book isn't full of errors beyond the norm in the traditional publishing industry.

I want to find the readers who are at least willing to spend as much on an entire novel of mine as they would on their coffee, or even if I price higher, it still would be cheaper than a combo meal at many fast food places.  If they pay a little more money for it, they'll probably read it, and then *crosses fingers* they will rave about it to all their friends! That's what I'm hoping for, anyway.

Where do you stand on this issue?  Do you think my plan to charge $3.99 for my book is too much, too little?  What are you willing to pay for a really good romantic suspense? What is your top price for an Indie book, or even an eBook?

Thanks for reading! Have a wonderful day everyone!


  1. I think there's a lot of insecurity and anxiety present when people talk about this subject. I don't think it matters what you price your book at, it's what you make over the long term that matters. There's no differnce between selling 100 copies at $10 and 1000 copies at $1. It doesn't devalue the book, or the work, or your status as a human being.

    I know it feels like it does, and if those thousand people paid $10 each then wouldn't that be great, but it doesn't work like that.

    And coffee doesn't take seconds to make, it starts in a big field of nothing and has to be grown, harvested, transported, stored, etc, etc. Making artificial comparisons just warp the discussion.

    The real difference between coffee and books is that coffee requires capital investment - you need to put vast amnounts of money in to get money out. Writing at home in your spare time doesn't. Doesn't make it any less valuable, but you can't compare them like for like.

    Moody Writing
    The Funnily Enough

    1. I can kind of see what you are saying about the coffee, but the coffee houses don't grow their own beans. They buy them all ready to go. That would be like if writers made their own paper or assembled their own computers :-) So, I do think it is a good analogy, though I see your point.

      I guess part of my problem is, I don't 100% feel like electronic books should be priced as highly as paperback books either. I want something in return for that amount of money, and thus the reason I'm thinking the 3.99 price point is more fair. On the other hand, I really don't find the time to read the masses of "free" books. *shrugs*

      Thanks so much for your thoughts and for commenting! I LOVE your blog!

    2. Yes, they pay for the coffee (and rent, rates, wages, storage, marketing, etc) so their costs can be calculated. What do writers pay for?

      I could take a year to write a book, you could take a week. Should that effect price?

      Two baristas serving similar coffee will get paid the same. Two authors writing similar vampire novels won't.

      Coffee and books aren't comparable in simple economic terms. One is standardized and mass produced, the other is singular and no two are the same.

      My point is we don't produce or consume art the way we do food, and we've never priced them in the same way.

      I do think it's an interesting discussion though, trying to figure out what is the right price for a new novel in the digital age. But I don't think people value a story based on how much they paid for it. And there are plenty of books I've enjoyed far less than a cup of coffee.

      Thanks for the love!


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    4. Okay - I can concede the point that this is comparing apples to oranges. I do see what you are saying. The picture was not the main point of my blog, just what inspired me to start thinking of the issue of pricing.

      And I guess those coffee guys get to have a business plan with all their numbers laid out and they can tell exactly the cost of their product. Writer's cost is more subjective. It took me months to write my book, more months for it to get critiqued by my crit partners, now it is taking even more time to work with my editor. Then, I will have to figure out how to format it for publication. I can't even put a price on the time spent, as this is all time I could have been putting in overtime at my job and making real money, but I chose to write simply because I love it. I may never sell more books than just to friends and family, but it won't take away from my experience. I suppose the coffee guys can't say that if their product doesn't sell :-)

      We also have the cost of a cover artist, copy editor, and proof reader, if we plan to go about this as a business and want to sell a top quality product.

      I guess there are probably no fast and hard answers to this question. I know I'd rather have a paperback book if I'm paying upwards of $7 bucks for an eBook. I perceive more value out of the tangible book, I guess.

      I suppose I will just have to keep watching the blogs and trends, and learn from experience when I publish my book later this year. Although, I'm still interested in knowing what anyone thinks of as "fair" price for eBooks. I'm sure people's opinions vary widely, however.

      Thanks so much for your insights and comments! Enjoy the rest of your week!

  2. I agree with you about $0.99 being too little to charge for a full-length novel. I think an author could create a free book (a novella) as a tool to let reader try his/her work, but like you said, if one put in any amount of work to create the book, it's unfair for a reader to expect to buy the book for pocket change.

    It's nice to get a free book - I'll admit that, but I'm talking about a book that has a standard price but is being promoted for whatever reason (New Release, Independence Day, Valentine's etc).

    Maybe, like Mooderino said, coffee isn't a good comparison, but I think art is. Why are people willing to pay so much for a painting or photograph and not for a book?

    1. Thanks, Empi. Good thoughts. Art is a great analogy! And yes, I did mean full-length novels, not short stories or novella's. They have less words, so I don't think authors should be charging massive amounts for them, but a lot of work still goes into them, I'm sure (I've never been able to write short stories).

      If I "win" a free book in a giveaway and it's something I was going to pay for anyway, I'd read it. So, I still think giveaways are a good idea. I agree with what you are saying here.

      Thanks for your thoughts! Have a great day!

  3. Charge it, charge it, charge it--I say!
    So much goes behind the making of a novel.
    It's a scary world out there, isn't it? But I'm glad there are people like you who help share invaluable knowledge :)

    1. Awww - thanks, Karla! And I'm so glad some things on my blog are useful ;-) It's always nice to hear that I'm helping someone in some way. Have a fantastic rest of your week and thanks for commenting!

  4. Interesting discussion. There are a lot of things to consider, and, as you point out, the situation is changing moment to moment. It is interesting to hear that the pendulum is swinging back to some kind of middle ground from the days of freebies and 99 cents.

    From a consumer's point of view, I also think it is interesting. Does the amount of time I spend enjoying something form part of the equation of how much I'm willing to spend? How much money am I willing to "risk" on an unknown-to-me author? Is it different because I often purchase a coffee (to use the analogy above) with change already in my purse, whereas I purchase a book on my credit card and have to think about paying for that relatively minor cost twice, so it seems bigger?

    That said, I don't think $3.99 is too much, but I would probably only pay that if I've read something by that author before (whether a short story, a sample / excerpt, etc).

    Are you planning to self-pub soon? :)

    1. Well, and who knows? The trends could change again tomorrow. I think it will take a while for things to settle down in this regard. Though I do think it will also benefit readers if the days of 99 cent books is not as profitable for writers, as I think the higher quality books will rise to the top. That's my hope, anyway :-)

      Very good point about having to think twice if you are putting books on your card, because that would raise the price higher in the end.

      I have no talent for writing short stories, but I have put the first chapter here on my blog (first chapter at least until the editor looks at it again - LOL) and I will make the sample pages available so people can try before they buy.

      I am hoping to self-pub by the end of July for my birthday present to myself. That said, I'm not sure exactly how long my work with the editor will take so I'm not making any hard declarations yet on a release date. I just received a bunch of suggestions from her tonight, and I see some rewrites in my future!

      Thanks for putting in your input! I really appreciate it!!

  5. For some solid backing of your position, look up Russell Blake on Twitter and then check out his blog. Blake argues well what I've come to believe: that the .99 price point lumps experienced, talented writers together with wannabe writers and hacks. Blake also states, emphatically, that he's seen no significant drop-off in sales when he's upped his price: from $2.99, say, to $4.99, readers will willing to pay. True, they've come to know his work...but, hey, a twelve-year-old's first Kindle book is priced at $7.99! Don't sell short.

    1. Thanks so much, I will look that up. Very good points your are bringing up, too. My biggest thing is people will not know my work, and I don't want to charge more than a fair price either, since it is a digital book. My paperback, I have no qualms about setting at the same price a book store would charge (of course, I have to because of costs of printing).

      I think that is part of my hangup - the consumer isn't getting "real" merchandise when they purchase a digital book, so a fair price is harder for me to determine.

      I have always been shocked when I learn people who I know hired an editor and proof reader and sent their books through critique groups are only charging 99 cents. I always feel they should charge more.

      Thanks so much for this information! I appreciate you stopping by!

  6. Interesting article. I can see a first book in a series being offered at 0.99 or the occasional 0.99 promotion but I never really got the full-time 0.99 kindle book concept. On the other hand a big 6 kindle book that cost the same as or more than a print book I also find hard to swallow. I think prices in the 3.99-9.99 are reasonable for books that are kindle only or came out as kindle 1st. But the book better be mostly free of typos and be reasonably formatted.

    1. Thanks, Tasha! I really appreciate your comments and the follow. See, you are of a similar view of this as I am. As an author, I'm trying to find the right price, because as a reader, I don't want to pay too much for an eBook. I definitely think $10 is too much. But I see 99c and free as possibly low quality books.

      And yes, I agree. Free of typos and a format we can read, please! LOL I am a reader first, so this issue bothers me. Now, granted, even traditionally published books have a few errors, so I'm willing to give a little bit there, but I want it to be minimal.

      Have a fantastic day!

  7. I think $3.99 is more than reasonable. Actually it might be a little low.

    I don't agree that $0.99 is the same as free. If I buy 40 eBooks at that price it's a chunk of my budget that will significantly impact what I have to put off buying until next month (during which time I wouldn't be buying any eBooks because I'm still reading that 40). Not to say I would ever buy that many at once, but when you're buying something that's "so affordable" it's easy to buy more of them than you intended, especially when credit cards are involved. Of course I wouldn't even download a free book that I didn't think I'd enjoy reading so I can't imagine having a backlog of cheap eBooks that I'll never read. Also I imagine most eBook readers have more disposable income than I do.

    I do heartily agree that the amount of time, energy, and creativity that go into writing a novel are worth way, way more than 99 cents.

    Pricing is tricky. If your initial price is too high, you may not see as many early sales. It's safer to raise the price later when people are talking about how great your book is. But there's no reason to put the price too low either.

    A forum I'm on had a discussion once about book pricing, with regard to the idea that lowering your price will "devalue your brand." It was about printed books, but this might apply here as well. The consensus among the hardcore readers on that forum was that none of them have ever passed over a book because it was too cheap.

    Every writer needs to find the middle ground that works best for them. Even 99 cent eBooks that sell like hotcakes at first are going to stop if the writing sucks. If you write a good book, people will be willing to pay for it. Some may not pay more than $5. Some may not pay more than $1. But most readers are willing to pay something reasonable.

    1. Very good points, Kate. Thanks so much for commenting. I see what you are saying about 99 cents not being the same as free, but it also isn't so much money that I feel horrible if I don't read the book, you know? If I pay more than that, I'm more likely to read no matter how busy I get.

      Honestly, I know a lot of people who have free books built up on the ereaders that they are never going to get to. They have told me they downloaded them because they were free, but then ended up deleting them without ever opening them. I guess that's what I'm trying to avoid. It does no good if a bunch of people get my book, but never even look at it.

      Then again, your point is very valid about pricing too high, and I want to avoid that as well. That was the whole point of this blog, because I think pricing too high isn't fair to the readers, but too low doesn't benefit the authors. I'm still not sure the correct answer, but I think $3.99 is looking pretty fair.

      I still have time before making a final decision. You've given me lots to think about. Thanks so much!


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