Setting the Price of Your Book


This is a pretty tricky thing—it’s much more difficult than you might think and it’s, quite honestly, something I’ve always struggled with. Many smaller presses have what feels like outrageously inflated prices… sometimes that’s true, but sometimes that my own background context wreaking havoc with my economic sense. I grew up as a reader from a young age and often bought books at library sales, used book bins, and mass market copies off a shelf at the local drug store; if I was about anything close to $20 it had to be a hardcover novel that just released. In the back of my mind I’m still thinking that all paperbacks ought to be $5.99, just like my dad thinks a soda ought to cost a nickel and we should crack open a fire hydrant if we want to cool down in the summer heat.

Of course, it’s ridiculous to live in the past and to base your books’ prices on that… even if you print copies of your book in bulk to resell, you’re going to have paid around $5.99 (give or take a dollar) apiece just to have it printed and shipped to you. I’m constantly tweaking my prices and looking at the issue and realizing that many readers nowadays are used to paying $12-15 for a new book. Their metric is different; $12.99 is the new $5.99… people interested in my books at signings seldom balk at an approx $15 price tag given the size and weight of the book they are looking at.

But that’s not to say that you should price all your books at $15. You’ve got to decide a few things with your pricing: 1. What is your goal/purpose in writing, 2. Are you communicating true value with your book, and 3. Is your price market feasible.

  1. Are you in this to make some money or are you willing to make less money so that more people will be able to buy your book based on a low price? Many writers (myself included) are more interested in having readers and building a solid base and fandom than they are with making money. This may change at some point, but at least for now I am just trying to break even with my book sales. If you are trying to price your book so cheap that people can’t hardly refuse to buy it (trust me—they still will) then you might be limiting your books potential market feasibility.
  2. If you set your book price too low, you do risk communicating that your writing has low value/worth… sometimes low cost things are “cheap” and oftentimes free things aren’t worth the $0.00 price tag. If you want people to buy in and take you seriously as a writer do two things: make sure that it is indeed good (honest reviews from beta readers, your book was edited well, it’s not a rip-off of some other story) and don’t give away something that has real value/cost (unless it’s a specific promo tactic).
  3. You need to make sure that your book can enter mainstream distribution and is feasible. Regardless of whether or not you would give away your book, resellers/bookstores do not feel the same way. If your book costs $5 to manufacture and you want to sell it for $7.50, it will not be available on Amazon and bookstores won’t sell it because there is no margin for them to mark it up and sell it. You could buy copies and store them and then enter them into distribution, but for a bookstore to carry it, they demand certain wholesale prices (they will sell the book at $7.50, but will only pay $3.37 per copy which you will have about $7 invested into at the end of the day after production and 2-way shipping costs… plus another dollar or so that it will cost you if the book is returned to clear space for new books—that $7.50 book costs you about $8 at the end of the day—it’s just not feasible to lose $5 on every book that you “sell” (wholesale cost versus your actual cost). You’ve got to take that into consideration when looking at the costs. Thankfully, there are some handy built-in guides within Createspace and IngramSpark that will help you, and some general recommendations at the bottom of this article.

I sell my books at a discount at conventions for a slightly reduced price…I sell my $16.95 book for $15 for a nice and simple round number. I plan on changing that in the future, unless a buyer signs up for my newsletter, tweets a pic of meeting me, or buys multiple books. At the end of the day, even if I discount my book to $15, I still have to pay sales tax on that. If I am invested into the book for $6 and take $15, my profit isn’t $9. Sales tax is about $1.50, making my profit $7.50, and another $0.50 for a credit card fee at 3% (all these figures are rounded and approximate) but you can see how nickels and dimes hemorrhage out of the sale. You’re only taking home $7 off of that $17 book, and you still have to pay for a booth/table fee as is common to most conventions… and this is at the self-published rate. This same book gets way worse if you’re published through a small press and your author discount is something like 20-40% off rather than the actual production cost. (by the above metric, before I pay for my booth fees I’ve lost about $2 for every book sold if I bought it from my traditional publisher at a 20% discount. Bleeding. Money.)

The solution is to be smart and not flush your wallet down the toilet. If I sell my 350 page  fantasy novel that costs me about $5 shipped for $16.99 and then add tax (Square does this nicely for you in their app) then the consumer pays their tax and you pay about .50 in banking fees, netting you about 11.50 (more, actually, but you need to keep that portion set aside to pay taxes at the end of the year).

I know… this seems like math overload and you just want to write stories, right? Here is some good info on how to set a price point which I’ve gleaned from the internet (after arriving at similar numbers from my own experience over the years.) There is as much danger in setting a price too low as there is in setting it too high… although, setting it too low has a built in lowest-price threshold since it can’t go into distribution if it’s too low.

Most average sized (300-400 page) trade paperbacks fall into the 13.95-17.95 price range. Of course, you should still visit a few bookstores for books similar to genre before landing on a reasonable price. Don’t fall prey to the thought that someone will buy your YA dystopia instead of the newest Maze Runner because its $2 cheaper. Readers buy consumable content—you have to have a good story and convince them of it. Plus, they are probably going to buy both rather than picking a title (and then you’ve just lost money you shouldn’t have and undersold/devalued yourself). Avid readers are more both/and than they are either/or.

The best place to find your low-price threshold will be the most expensive distributor you will use. I am an advocate of using both Createspace and Ingramspark for a variety of reasons written about elsewhere. The latter is slightly more expensive to both print and distribute, but it helps you determine what your lowest price will be after allowing for all costs, fees, and wholesaler discounts.

Thinking about it in these terms is cold and calculating, I know, but it’s a must to establish pricing boundaries. However, don’t think about it only in these terms. Think about it also from the value readers get and the investment of your time. But hold your horses… you can’t sell it for $100, either. You have to find a balance, like all things in life, and then feel free to find the best path that works for you.

As far as ebook pricing goes, all the same ideas still apply, but the costs are different and more relative to bandwidth and electronic gobbledygook that few understand or care about (it’s less real to us on this side of the internet.) Luckily there is a general consensus and rough guide for pricing based on word length:
$0.99 Flash Short-stories: Under 3K
$1.99 Short-stories: 3-7K
$2.99 Novellette Stories: 7-15K
$3.99 Novella Short-stories: 15-35K
$4.99 Short Novels: 35-50K
$5.99 Mid-sized Novels 50-70K
$6.99 Large Novels: 70-140K

Of course, all of these are just suggested guidelines. If you’re either famous or unknown these rules go straight out the window with great frequency. Besides, I’m just a guy with a blog who has learned a few things via the school of hardknocks—what do I know, anyway? Find what works for you—and if something isn’t clicking, change it!

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