Once the e-book is written, the marketing plan in place, and the work ready to release to the public, self-published authors find themselves with an unexpected challenge: assigning a value to their work. Setting an e-book’s price requires some creativity on the part of the author, a careful consideration of the book’s potential audience, and an assessment of what the author hopes to accomplish with the book.
By following a few basic steps, an author will be able to make an informed choice in naming her price, and not feel like a losing contestant on The Price Is Right.[Note: this article was originally published in March 2014 and was updated on August 5, 2016.]
By the time indie authors get to the point where they are naming a book’s price, they should have a clear idea of what they would like their book to do. There are two main goals that will determine how much an author should charge, according to Miral Sattar, CEO and founder of Bibliocrunch, a company that helps self-published authors market and promote their books.
“You have to ask yourself, ‘Am I looking to get more readers or more sales?’” says Sattar.
While most authors would probably say they want both, when it comes to pricing strategy, it’s best to focus on one and let the other follow. Either approach can be successful, so indie authors must ask themselves some tough questions, among them, can I sell 10 times more books at 99 cents than at $9.99?
For less established authors, a lower price will help draw in readers who might be willing to take a chance on 99 cent book, as opposed to a higher priced title. While authors with an established fan base can likely charge more for their work.
For those authors whose main concern is getting their book in front of as many readers as possible, the priority should be getting the pricepoint as low as possible. While most online retailers require authors to charge at least 99 cents for each book, platforms like Wattpad and Widbook can provide other options for getting readers attention and building a fan base.
Authors looking to be a little more strategic in how they price their work can enroll in Amazon’s KDP Select program. This program allows them to charge a low price for the book (99 cents being the most popular) and offer it for free for specific periods.
Authors can participate in a Kindle Free Book Promotion for a maximum of five days. In order to get the greatest sales impact from the giveaway, authors should get the word out to book blogs and sites that aggregate freebies from around the web. A few examples are:
BiblioCrunch offers a comprehensive, updated list of these sites, newsletters, and Facebook pages.
“We’ve seen authors who use this list of sites get 20,000 or 60,000 books read right away.” says Sattar.
Authors seeking a bit more money for their work should start by looking at the price of other books in the same genre. While romance e-books tend to do best in the 99 cents to $2.99 range, authors writing nonfiction or literary fiction can charge more.
Authors will want to begin at a price under $10 if possible, and test out different pricepoints with short-term promotions. An added motivator for pricing at this level is that retailers will often pay higher royalties for e-books priced between $2.99 and $9.99.
Amazon pays 70% of the retail download price for books in this range, but just 35% for those above or below it (more details here).
Smashwords pays 85% of list price on sales directly through its site, and 60% of list price on sales through other retailers, while BookBaby charges an annual fee, but gives authors 100% of net, keeping no commission.
Once the price is set, authors should make use of promotions to boost revenue. For a Kindle e-book priced at $7.99, run a Kindle Countdown Deal for $4.99. If you are trying to sell it at $4.99, run a promotion at $2.99. As with a book giveaway, these sales should be advertised as widely as possible. In addition to free plugs on websites such as BookBub and Kindle Nation Daily, the author can also consider paid advertising to help get the word out.
Sattar suggests running these promotions no fewer than two days to help them gather steam, and never running them on the weekend.
“If you can get a burst of sales at the lower price, it ups your sales rank for the category,” she explains. “That helps your book become a bestseller, and then it can go back to the normal price.”
Alex Palmer is a freelance journalist and the author of The Santa Claus Man.