Starting Out as an Indie Author: Ebook Pricing

Once you’ve written your book, had it beta-read, edited, proof-read, what have you; once you’ve got a great, eye-catching cover and gripping book description; once you’ve formatted the interior (or had someone do it for you) so that your book looks professional on an eReader; after all that, then you are ready to publish.

Only: what price are you going to charge for your book?

There are many philosophies out there regarding eBook pricing, from those who are offended by the idea of pricing their book for less than a Grande Caffe Latte, to those who who advocate “price pulsing” (raising and lowering prices on a regular basis in response to sales, or lack of same), those who swear by 99c to reach as many readers as possible, or those who set a price without much thought and never touch it again.

What it comes down to is: what is going to make you as an author the most money and get you the most readers?

Of course, like all things, it’s not quite as simple as that. There are a number of things to take into consideration when pricing your eBook. Here are some of the questions to ask yourself when determining the prices for your eBooks:

– What royalties will the price point earn you per book?
– How long is it?
– What genre is it in?
– Do you already have a fan base?
– What are you personally comfortable with price-wise?

You may have noticed that I didn’t include the question, “What prices are readers paying?” The variables for that are so huge, it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to try and base your pricing decisions on that. There have been several surveys done on what readers are willing to pay, such as that by the Fussy Librarian.

It is interesting data, and certainly worth taking into consideration. But you and I are never going to earn anything off of the 9.4% of readers who only download free books (and those are only the 9.4% who admit it.)

Ebook Royalties

One of the first things to take into consideration when pricing your book is: What percentage are you as an author going to earn of the cover price? (As an indie author, you are the publisher and what you earn from your books are not royalties, strictly speaking, but for the sake of simplicity, I will use it as an umbrella term for the percentage the author earns from a sale.) Here is a breakdown according to eBook retailer:

Ebook Royalties

Most retailers require that you set the price the same with them as with all other stores where you sell the eBook. From this table, it’s fairly obvious that the best price range for your book is between $2.99 and $9.99. But the percentage the author earns is only part of the picture. Although the royalties are lower, many authors swear by the 99c prince point, saying that the volume makes up for the lower royalties. I have had little success at 99c, except for short-term promotions, but as with all things, YMMV.

Length

An eBook does not have the same weight and heft as a physical book, so that readers do not have the same immediate signs communicating length. I personally suspect that this is one of the main reasons I see a certain reluctance among the eBook audience to pay more for longer books. While this might feel unfair to the author, to the reader, an eBook is an eBook is an eBook — at least in my experience.

As a result, I have ended up pricing most of my books at $2.99 — from collections of short stories, to novellas, to novels of over 100,000 words. Only for my “doorstoppers” of nearly 200,000 words each, Yseult and Shadow of Stone, do I charge more than $2.99.

While many readers are unwilling to plunk down much more for twice as many+ words in digital format, at the same time, it is still going to be hard to try and get 70% royalties from your readers for short fiction — with certain exceptions, which brings me to the next point, “Genre.”

Genre

When deciding how to price your eBooks, I highly recommend conducting some research to see what other eBooks in the same genre are selling for. I write primarily in science fiction and fantasy, and I am only one author among many, and my experience is limited by what I write. In other genres, readers are willing to pay very different prices.

Take for example erotica. In erotica, a common practice is to charge $2.99 for short stories, and rely on borrows through Kindle Unlimited to actually make money. Readers put up with this because it’s smut, and they don’t care what the price is because they’re getting their reads for “free.”

In most other genres, if you charge more than 99c for a short story, you will either get 0 sales or be vilified in reviews — unless, of course, you already have a fan base that will snap up everything you write.

Another example: there are a number of New Adult, Romance and Paranormal writers who are releasing short episodes of their books in serial for $2.99 each, with the first episode free. So if you have the right product and can reach the right audience, you will also be able to demand very different prices than what I have described here.

What price are you comfortable with?

While some authors just starting out may think $2.99 for a full-length novel is equivalent to giving their work away, let me put it in perspective briefly. My novel Yseult was originally published in translation with Random House Germany as Flamme und Harfe. It was over 700 pages long and sold in hardcover for €19.95. And I was making less per book on that €19.95 hardcover than I am making now on the eBook at $3.99.

On the other hand, I no longer care to give away my Big Fat Fantasies for free in the hopes of seeing more sales at some future date. That may be a decision that is costing me sales in the long run and that I will eventually have to revise, but for now I am trying to find other ways of getting eyeballs on my big books.

Conclusion

For the most part, I think it is safe to say that readers expect eBook prices to be lower than for a standard paperback. And for an unknown author with no fan base, the lower the price, the better. If you are considering publishing a first book and have no other works ready for publication, it might be wise to wait until you have a couple more books almost ready to go. Having one book free to entice readers to try out your work can be a powerful marketing tool.

But keep in mind, all I can give you in these posts on “starting out as an indie author” are tips based on my own experience. Before you decide on prices for your eBooks, do more research, especially in your genre. And good luck!

Further reading:

https://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/the-great-e-book-pricing-question/

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6 thoughts on “Starting Out as an Indie Author: Ebook Pricing”

  1. Hi Ruth! I have tried all sorts of pricing for urban fantasy and horror shorts. They sell differently. I’m about to launch erotic romance shorts under a pseudonym, and will sell them all for $2.99, leading from a free short. But I still make most of my earnings from writing for others, which is great, because I earn a living from writing. But it sucks, because apparently, they sell my writing better than I do!!!

    http://shahwharton.com

    1. Yeah, hard to figure out! I still make most of my money from translating the fiction of others, which feels similar — and leaves me little time for my own writing. 😦 Well, maybe one of these days we’ll both write the right thing and make it big! *g*

  2. Thank you – this is a very interesting and helpful post. I have been going round the twist trying to work out how to price my three books. Having had the first one “permafree” for a while, I stopped that, but the sales now seem to have dropped off altogether. One of my novels is over 200,000 words long and I have considered pricing it higher than the others. But it really is quite tricky.

  3. I enjoyed this post. This is always a tough subject to tackle, because it seems like everybody has a different result. My books did NOT sell when I had them priced at $2.99 last year. I find they sell a bit better with the permafree lead-in (especially on non-Amazon sales channels) and $3.99 for books 1 and 2. Those two clock in about 65K words each (roughly 240 pages). I am pretty sure book 3 is going to be about 75K, and I am very uncertain about how to price the remaining books. I’ve had thoughts of going up to $4.99 (as I’ve seen a successful series in my genre do) for the last 3 books in the series, and doing nice promotions, with advertising the permafree and putting book 1 on sale for 99 cents for a limited time.
    I think the availability of a print version of the book may also have influence on sales of the e-books, comparing pricing, etc.

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