The following is the last installment in my I Want to Self-Publish – Now What? series.
Let’s be clear, convincing people who don’t know you or haven’t followed your exploits on social media to buy your book is hard. I mean really, really hard. Luckily, self-publishing allows authors to do something those who have pursued other publishing paths cannot. Namely set your own price, which on the surface sounds easy enough, but there are a few steps you should take before advertising your book to the world.
1. Determine Your Book Pricing Strategy
In theory, you can set any price you want. Unfortunately, just because you can set it equal to your monthly rent or mortgage payment, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. You need to be strategic. Speaking of pricing strategies, there are three that dominate in the self-publishing industry: permafree, 99c, and full-price.
Permafree is a term publishers use to describe any book that is available indefinitely for no financial cost to the reader. I’m personally not a huge fan of this strategy because I’ve found it to be harder to give my books away than it is to sell them, but other authors swear by it as a strategy for gaining fans and email list building.
However, not all retail outlets will allow you to set a $0 price for your book. And why should they? They make their money by taking a portion of your earnings. So, by making your book free, you are costing them server space (as minuscule as that is) in addition to the manual resources it took to review your book’s files and maintain the listing on the site without any chance for profit.
To get around this minor detail, self-published authors offering their book for free on sites that allow it and then wait for larger sites, who like to be the low-cost leader, to notice and magically price check. Officially, the book will still be listed for sale at a price on the publisher-facing setup forms, but will show as $0 on the consumer/reader-facing pages.
If you don’t want to go the permafree route, the 99c strategy can still make your book enticing for those who are less willing to spend their money on a relatively unknown author. However, it is worth noting that Amazon takes a larger cut of the sale for 99c books than it does for full-priced books, and by larger, I mean it takes the majority of the sale (65% plus delivery charge). In other words, 99c books, by and large, don’t make authors rich, they make Bezos (or the Bezos wanna-bes) richer.
That said, the average reader has been conditioned to expect a steep discount when it comes to self-published books. They expect to be entertained for hours for less than it costs to purchase and mail a greeting card. This conditioning is entirely on us and would effectively take a literary revolution to counter at this point.
As a result, 99c remains an effective pricing strategy, particularly for the first book in a series. You just have to hope that readers like book one so much they are willing to pay full-price for all the rest in order to make the loss worth it.
This brings me to full-price. Full-price is a rather nebulous term that is the maximum value you, as the author, can expect a reader to pay for your work. I say nebulous because it can range widely depending on genre and, sadly, the publishing route.
The truth is there is quite a bit of bias against self-published books—they don’t get featured in round-ups in pop-culture magazines like Entertainment Weekly, and rarely get added to things like Oprah’s book club. Your book may be the literary equivalent of the Mona Lisa, but as far as some people are concerned, your book isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on unless you are signed by an agent.
Sadly, this bias has forced self-published authors to price their books below that of their traditional counterparts in order to make them more appealing to the average reader. But on the upside, you don’t have to worry about earning back your advance or splitting commission with a third party.
So what is full-price for a self-published book?
If you ask Amazon, they will tell you that a full-priced book is $2.99. They even have a ‘helpful’ tool that will produce a pretty graph that will show you can expect maximum conversions at this price point. It doesn’t matter that the average traditionally published book costs closer to $9.99 at launch or that your book is 500 pages—Amazon will always suggest you price your book at $2.99.
While you are absolutely, positively free to charge $2.99, I want to be clear—you don’t have to take this suggestion. I price all of my books higher than $2.99 and I still sell them. You also don’t have to keep it at one price for the rest of time eternal. You can go back into setup forms at any time and adjust pricing as you see fit.
2. Research the Competition
When determining what you should charge for your book, research the competition. Take a look at the bestsellers in your intended categories and see if you can detect a common pricing trend based on the number of pages or date of publication.
The reason I am suggesting you pay attention to the date of publication in addition to page count, is that often a book will be launched at a lower price point as a way to drum up initial sales or reward early fans, but then gradually increase as the book gains reviews. Then, setting your book’s sales price can be as simple as matching the trend. That said, don’t feel compelled to discount your book just because others have if you think it is worth more.
However, it is a good idea to end whatever price you choose with ‘.99’. For example, $0.99, $1.99, $2.99, etc. People expect to see 9s in prices. Prices like $3.43 or $13.48 weird them out and make it seem to the reader like you don’t know what you are doing, which in turn, makes them think you are an amateur rather than an expert.
3. Adjust for International Currencies
When you enter your sales price into the various retail site’s setup forms, the sites will often suggest international prices for you. However, these suggestions are based on that day’s currency exchange rates, and not necessarily what is best from a marketing perspective. For example, a $4.99 price could result in suggestions like €4.24 or £3.87, which appear random and are off-putting.
This is why you should always go through and manually tweak your book’s price for international markets, making sure that all your prices end in .99 no matter the currency.
4. Hit the Submit Button
Pricing is usually the last step in the book setup process. Therefore, assuming you’ve already uploaded cover and interior files, and updated your categories, description, and keywords, all there should be left to do is hit the submit button.
Once you hit that button, your book’s information will then be flagged for review by the various retail sites. This step is intended to ensure your book doesn’t violate any of their content policies. If there are no concerns, they will send you a congratulation email. From that point on, all you have to do is plan a launch, which is a whole other topic, and hit that publish button.
I hope you have found this series interesting, even if you have no intention of ever venturing down the self-publishing path. If you are considering self-publishing, but aren’t quite ready to make the leap just yet, I’ve consolidated all of these articles into a downloadable pdf, which I hope comes in handy when the time is right.
Best of luck!
If you prefer to navigate through posts instead of downloading the consolidated guide, the articles in this series include: