Author Access, Value, and Thick Skin



I do a lot of conventions where I find other authors. At almost every show, if there are at least a half-dozen authors, at least one of them is charging too little for his or her books.

I know a lot of folks undercut themselves on pricing models. I had a friend who owned a coffee shop and ran it for years and years. He always felt he couldn’t increase prices because people would complain. But he had the best coffee around. When the local gas station raised prices on their coffee, people didn’t complain, they just paid an extra .30 for crappy coffee and went about their day. I think there’s an issue of access at play. My friend would would have to hear someone grumble.

As an author, we don’t like raising prices because we are going to hear about it. People have access to us—either from newsletter subscribers, social media, direct sales, or Goodreads/reviews on Amazon or elsewhere. The only answer for negative people is thick skin. Your book will not be a good fit for everyone and you could give it away and still get 1 star reviews—your books’ quality and salability have much less to do with price than authors realize.

But here’s the thing: Everyone is grumbling and all the time. It’s usually not something you can do anything about. You or I can’t change the fact that the cost of paper is rising, or that inflation is killing buying power.

But you can be out ahead of the trends with your pricing models…

You can know why you charge what you do for your books so that you’re able to explain to readers why production costs increase, what your copies cost to produce versus a big 5 publisher’s, and how your book is amazing because you’re the creative force and not some suit in a high rise at Penguin Random House or Simon & Schuster… (there are many ways to add value—including being small.)

Back to the author(s) charging too little at shows. Very often, by the end of the show, they look frustrated, especially if they were within sightline of my booth where I do a lot of business. I don’t outsell every author at any given show, but if I’m not, I am probably in the top tier of sellers and earners, and that can lead to frustration when other authors compare what they are doing versus my models. An implicit question of quality will come up when an author wonders, “Why did they buy his book for eighteen bucks when mine is only twelve?”

A while ago, I did a little show in Wisconsin and had a chat with an author about pricing. They had a book around that price point and I encouraged them to sell value instead of trying to be some kind of “deal.” Being the king or queen of discounts is a race to the bottom.

This author’s book was technically a higher quality than mine. I wasn’t struck by a great cover and I didn’t read it so can’t tell you about formatting, editing, or writing quality, but the book was produced by IngramSpark whereas mine were done by KDPprint (Amazon). Qualitatively, IS has brighter inks, a little better lamination and cover colors, better spine binding, and is a slightly higher quality book. And they cost more by about 10%.

When you try to appeal by being “the cheapest,” you get into the Wal-Mart mentality. I can’t think of anyone who is drawn to Wal-Mart because of the quality.

I have found it to be true that interested readers are least concerned about the price. It’s simply not a major deciding factor in their decision. Does it help? It can… but not in a secondary manner. If you convince a reader your book is perfect for them, they are going to do what it takes to buy it (now, or later, online or at a future event). If they are ready to buy now and there’s a bundle deal to buy through a series (discount)? That is where the deal should be placed to maximize your revenue.

Recently, I produced a guide to help authors, especially Indies, perform their best when selling at live shows. I highly recommend picking up a copy of Sell More Books at Live Events to step up your game and join my relevant Facebook group to ask questions about live events, network with others, etc. Perhaps most relevant to this topic is the pricing piece. I offer a free guide titled Pricing Hacks, which is available on all platforms. It goes into deeper detail on how to maximize your profits and sell more books and is a supplement to Sell More Books, but can be read by itself. In my experimenting with price models, I was already slightly more expensive than most of the other authors I do events with… and I just recently raised my prices on my most popular titles a second time. I sell my most popular book for $2 more than what it was initially priced at upon release a year ago.

Authors need to watch trends and stay one step ahead of the curve to avoid suffering a double whammy when it comes to inflation. By that, I mean that your dollars will already stretch further (the price of inflation) but if your cost of purchasing copies for resale increases/product cost at the POD distributor, then you’re losing money if you don’t raise your price, and the smaller portion shrinks its power due to inflation. Here’s what I mean: let’s say your book sells for $15 and you think it could or should go to 16.99; this book costs $5 to make, meaning you’re making $10 profit when you sell a copy to a co-worker. The holidays hit and there’s a hypothetical paper shortage increasing production costs, and inflation is happening. Your book now costs $6 to make and with inflation averaging about 8.5% your remaining $9 has only about $8 worth of buying power. A price correction to 16.99 means you hold roughly even with the market.

Not that you should change your price immediately or every time gas prices jump. I’m not a doom and gloom advocate, but when the big printers pass on the increased costs at the POD, then it’s time for authors to consider following suit. I would strongly advise walking around a few bookstores and watching the price of new releases in your genre and make sure you’re still remaining within the wheelhouse of pricing norms. But if you’ve been underpriced for a while, it’s the right time for a correction.

I mentioned access at the beginning of this article. Personal access carries an implicit value. More than ever, readers want that access and connection to the author. Buying a book and getting it autographed creates an experience unparalleled by pulling a copy off the shelf at B&N or clicking to buy on Amazon.

Access = Value

Sure, you might hear a complaint or two, but you’re going to get those, regardless. The important thing is that you know your worth as an artist and believe that your work has value. I have written before about a rude guy at Chicago Comic Con who told me “Nah, a book’s not worth $15.” He was carrying a plate with two hot dogs and beer… the concession stand was selling hot dogs for $16 and I said, “Sir, please don’t tell me that the year of my life I spent on this is not worth the price of lukewarm hot dog.”

Actually, I smiled and told him to have a nice day, anyhow. But inside I was filled with snark… I’m simply wise enough to that people sometimes come back. But I learned my lesson previously. I know my worth. If you can zero in on yours and know it, really know it, then you’ll have an easier time dialing in on the right price for your book—and I’d bet it’s at least a little higher than you’re charging currently.


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