Or, really, An Entire Post on Selling Through Amazon
Chances are you’re not new to the world of 35% or 70% royalties, KDP Select, Smashwords, iBookstore, etc.
You’ve probably got a book or two for sale on Amazon right now, and/or have one on the way.
Also, you’ve most likely been around the block a few times when it comes to the DIY world of selling eBooks.
However, there’s one more assumption I can make:
You’re probably not a millionaire yet.
While this post isn’t going to guarantee that you’ll be a millionaire, it can certainly help you work through one of the most confusing, random, and downright annoying aspects of self-publishing: pricing your book(s).
I’ve published a few things on Amazon and the other online bookstores, from articles to shorts to full-length books. While I’m no millionaire either, I’m at a point where (I think) I have a handle on the pricing strategy that works best for me.
Again, no promises here — use the following advice at your discretion: it’s helped me sell more books, and it might help you. I recommend trying some of the things that seem to make sense, ignoring those that don’t, and testing/questioning all of them.
Ready to jump in?
Deconstructing the Pricing Monster
First, let’s clear one thing up: while there are way more stores than just Amazon.com (KDP, KDP Select), for the purposes of this post we’ll pretty much just cover Amazon. It’s the beast of the publishing world, and it pays the highest royalties (save for selling your stuff directly through your website).
Since >80% of my sales come from Amazon, I think of my Amazon promos/strategy first, and let that build out my strategies for the other stores. I’m a fan of KDP Select as well, which lets me place my books for free on Amazon for 5 out of every 90 days, at the expense of not being allowed to offer them anywhere else online.
So, first things first: let’s talk about how Amazon’s KDP pricing models work.
Two Pricing Models
Amazon lets you choose from a 35% or a 70% royalty option in their numerous stores around the world, and you can choose to base their other countries’ store price on your home country’s, or you can set individual pricing for each. I’m in ‘merica (US of A), so I set all the prices based on the US Amazon store. If my book is $2.99, they’ll set it in their other stores to whatever price is the equivalent of $2.99 USD.
If you choose price your book within $2.99 and $9.99, you can take advantage of the 70% royalty rate Amazon offers, after some negligible fees (Delivery Costs – based on the size of your Kindle book, and usually only a few pennies). Let me just say: this is awesome. Never before have authors (traditionally-published or not) had the opportunity to have a company with as much marketing clout as Amazon behind them, offering such a high royalty. This alone was reason enough for me to sell my soul to them.
If you price your book outside that range (<$2.99 or >$9.99), you’ll only get 35% back. Still, though, this is nothing to complain about — it’s still a respectable royalty, and with the right book/marketing strategy, you can make bank at 35% as well.
Amazon’s goal, I’m assuming, is to create a “standard” pricing structure for electronically-delivered books. They want most offerings to fall within $2.99 and $9.99, and so far it’s a popular move. There are, however, caveats to this “rule”:
Pricing in the “Everything Else” Range
There are a few reasons a book might be priced outside of the “standard” pricing range (either higher or lower):
- It’s not worth as much as a “standard”-priced book ($0.99 books, $1.99, free, etc.)
- It’s a loss-leader for something else (usually a series)
- It’s a promo (temporarily at an attractive price)
With all that in mind, how do you go about choosing the right price for your book?
What Price Should You Choose?
Not every book is created equal. Even within a broad genre, no two books are the same. While you can do your own research into book pricing for genre-specific books, you probably already have an idea of what your book should cost since you’re writing in that genre already.
I like to split out into Fiction and Nonfiction before I do anything else, since it seems that people are more likely to pay a little more for nonfiction than fiction. Perhaps it’s the assumed amount of research, factual data, or whatever — it’s not fair, but it’s true. Then, you can choose to factor in how retail book prices for your genre are calculated, or ignore them completely.
Either way, you can price a book based on a combination of any of these factors:
- Marketing reasons
- Quality (careful…)
Chances are, each of these things will play into your final pricing decision at least a bit. Let’s look at the different factors that go into each one of these areas:
Pricing Based on Length
If you’re writing fiction in a certain genre (Harlequin Romance, Western, etc.), there’s probably already a pretty specific guideline for word count you should be following. Further, there’s probably a “set” price at which most of the books in that genre are sold — whether paperback, hard cover, or ebook.
If at all possible, stick to that plan — people are used to that price, and publishers have tested it and found it to be the most profitable.
All else being equal, most people agree that the longer a story is, the more you’re allowed to charge for it. A good barometer for all of this is a simple word count list (I borrowed and adapted this list from the Kindle forums):
- Flash Fiction – <1,000 words
- Short Short – 1,000 – 5,000 words
- Short Story – 5,000 – 10,000 words
- Novelette – 10,000 – 20,000 words
- Novella – 20,000 – 40,000 words
- Novel – 40,000 – 120,000 words
- Epic Novel – >120,000 words (I added this one, but I do think it should be there…)
There are plenty of places you can look to find common prices for these book lengths, and one of my favorites is from Dean Wesley Smith’s blog:
He lists some prices for different lengths and types of book, but it’s far from all-inclusive. You’ll need to do your homework here, but generally you probably already have a pretty reasonable idea of where your book should fall. If you absolutely must have a length/price list, here are my recommendations:
- Flash Fiction – $0.00 – $0.99 (maybe offer these for free on your blog, or bundle them to charge more?)
- Short Short – $0.00 – $0.99 (same)
- Short Story – $0.99 – $1.99 (I’ve spent as much as $4.99 in recent memory on short fiction, but I don’t like to very often)
- Novelette – $1.99 – $3.99
- Novella – $2.99 – $5.99 (now you’re getting into the “muddy” waters of length-based pricing)
- Novel – $2.99 – $7.99 (I collect books, so if I don’t get a hard copy in my hands to feel and touch and love, I have a hard time paying more than $7.99 for it)
- Epic Novel – $5.99 – $12.99 (if it’s really long, why not cut it up and serialize it?)
The consensus seems to be that people will easily pay more for an Epic Novel than for a piece of Flash Fiction, but the lines are always going to be muddy. Since length is hardly the only variable going into it, let’s look at a few more:
Pricing Based on Genre
This one’s infinitely more tricky, as each genre of fiction and nonfiction has its own subgenre of categories within it. For example, Sci-Fi is a genre of fiction, but Epic Fantasy could be within that genre. The best answer for pricing within a genre is to familiarize yourself with that genre — it’s as easy and as difficult as that.
I write fiction in the Thriller genre, but you could alternatively (or more specifically) categorize the book as Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi Thriller, Military Thriller, and on. “Thriller” works fine for me, because most of the traditionally-published works I’ve seen are around $7.99 for mass-market paperback, $9.99-$12.99 for trade paperback, and $24.99 for hardcover.
A not-so-quick aside:
FAQ I get through email every now and then: “Why are traditionally-published ebooks so damn expensive? It doesn’t make any sense!?!”
My answer: Ebook versions of these typically fall around the $9.99 – $12.99 mark, but that’s because the publishing houses pricing them at this exorbitant price are in the business of printing paper, not selling books. As such, I’ll gladly keep price-cutting them while collecting a much better royalty each time I sell a copy. Here’s what I mean:
Ebook produced and sold by publishing company:
- Their price: $12.99
- My royalty of their net (taken from what they get back): 15%
- My cut: ~$0.97 per copy
Ebook produced and sold by me:
- My price: $7.99
- My royalty of my net: 70% (as long as I’m within Amazon’s “standard” ebook pricing model)
- My cut: $5.59
Do you see how the math works out here?
I would need to sell more than five times as many books at a higher price with the traditional option. I’m a confident writer, but I’m no Clive Cussler…
Ok, back to pricing stuff.
Check around your genre for prices of current bestsellers. Try to find some self-published options too, as they’ll most likely be the ones you need to pay attention to (it won’t be hard to price-beat a traditional book). If all else fails, forget about genre. There are more variables to focus on, and they probably matter more anyway.
Pricing Based on Marketing
If you’re trying to launch a series of books, you can try pricing the first one at a lower price than the rest, to get buyers “hooked” on your product.
In the marketing world, this is called a “loss leader,” because stores used to price certain items so low they’d actually take a loss if a customer purchased it, in the interest of just getting them in the door.
While you probably won’t ever take an actual loss in writing (unless you buy a million copies of your hardcover book and burn them, or sign with a company like Archway/iUniverse), you can still price your books to “get people in the door.”
Even with extreme market saturation, “free” is still a great, noticeable price, and if your work stands out to people, they’ll gladly pay a few bucks to get more of it. If you have a series out already, consider pricing one so low people can’t ignore it. If you don’t have a series of books out but plan on it, wait until at least the second book comes out before you start lowering the price of the first.
Another “marketing-based” pricing strategy is the infamous KDP Select promo period: for 5 days out of every 90-day period, you agree to only offer your book through Amazon.com and its extended distribution network, but they’ll give you the ability to set your book’s price to “free.”
You can run a free promo of your book during the 5-day workweek to drum up sales, or you can do one-off free days as the counterpart to another book’s launch — you get to choose which days you’ll use.
I’ve all but completely switched to Amazon for this promo option alone. It’s a fantastic way to incentivize a guest post on a big blog, or it’s a great way to simply get the word out about yourself and your work.
Pricing Based on Quality
Don’t do it. Hardly ever.
The thing is, it’s a sad truth in the writing world that authors usually don’t get paid near what they’re worth (or, at least what they think they’re worth).
I understand you’ve spent the last decade of your life photo-documenting your transoceanic canoe trip, but guess what:
We’ve been groomed for price association.
That is, we already know what a great nonfiction autobiography ebook should cost: around ten bucks.
We already know what we want to pay for the latest release of our favorite thriller author: as little as possible; probably 5 bucks.
We already know what “standard” pricing should be for a Kindle book: 3-10 bucks.
Sorry — that’s the world we live in.
If you’re dead-set on charging considerably more than $10 for your ebook, consider foregoing Amazon altogether and sell it to your micro-niche via blog or website.
Even better, reconsider: charge $10, then use in-book links to point back to your blog offering $10,000 14-day canoe expeditions for the diehards out there.
The point is, ebook pricing isn’t about pricing what you think it’s worth: it’s a business decision that sets a price for a virtual share of an endlessly-reproducable commodity.
Get it? The reason publishing companies can’t exist as-is for the next decade is that people are starting to realize that what they’re paying for can be reproduced, again and again, indefinitely, at little to no cost.
There’s possibly one exception to all of this, and I mentioned it in passing earlier: you can charge a little more for nonfiction most of the time, and the exception to the “no quality-based pricing” schtick is this:
If you’ve invested upwards of thousands of dollars researching, training, and developing your “product” (your book), you can charge more than $10.
Great examples are the influx of things like science-based cookbooks costing upwards of $500 (in their defense, it’s six books, and it’s a hard-copy version. However, I’m sure they could get away with charging close to $100 for the same content in digital form), industry-specific research papers/books, and most textbooks (although I still have a vendetta for textbook publishers).
These types of writing usually represent considerably more in-depth research and time investments than your average fiction piece (and a lot of nonfiction as well), and therefore can command such a high price.
Please see these as the exceptions that prove the rule — not the norm. Yes, you did research for your latest novel as well. But seriously, consider what you’re up against: can you really convince people that you did more than the next writer in your genre?
Oh wait, it doesn’t matter. People might not even get far enough to read your description (explanation of price) if they see another option in the same genre waiting for them that’s reasonably-priced.
Pricing Tips and Tricks
Your price is important, but it’s just one variable at play. Here are some other things to keep in mind:
1. We now judge books by their cover.
I’d argue that we always have, but now it’s yesterday’s news that book cover design is huge when it comes to selling books. In fact, here are the things that really seem to matter most, in order of importance:
- Cover design
- Additional books (series)
- Description (SEO)
- Interior layout
- KOLL (inclusion in the Kindle Owners Lending Library)
2. Consider in-book marketing.
“In-book” marketing is exactly like what it sounds: advertisements and links within the content of your existing book. Now, don’t get all bent out of shape — think of the ads at the ends of mass-market paperbacks, usually hyping the newest release of the same author.
In-book marketing for ebooks is similar, except you can also include hyperlinks — if you’re mentioning a blog post you’ve written, link to it. If you include your published works in your About the Author section, include links to each of your other books.
3. Use loss-leaders.
And not just for books that are in a series — consider offering an inexpensive primer book that introduces people to the kind of stuff you write. It doesn’t have to the “first” of anything.
Price at a point that’s almost a steal, and use in-book marketing to promote your other books.
4. Get reviews!
This one is super important. Get reviews; as many as possible. When you’re submitting your book to Kindle book promo sites, many will expect you to have at least 10 five-star reviews, or even more. Get started early — it’s like putting that first handful of money in a guitar case/tip jar: it takes the pressure off of everyone else who might be wondering if they’re the first buyers.
5. $0.99 is great, but it’s getting saturated.
People are discovering the “magic” of the 1-buck price, but that means that $1 is no longer a rare occurrence on Amazon. To effectively use the $0.99 price point, get as many reviews (positive ones, of course) racked up as you can, and then try to keep your book at the top of its niche lists, by offering additional promos as often as necessary.
6. Consider a “permanent” sale.
Try “selling” your book for free on your own website, then hinting to Amazon that you’ve found a lower price (then link them to your site). What will (eventually) happen is Amazon will match the lowest price they find — yours — and your book will be forever “free” on Amazon.
Alternatively, you can set your $0 price in Smashwords, and Amazon will match that as well. Either way, the $0 price should keep.
7. Start high, move low.
When you’re starting to price your book strategically, start at the highest point you feel comfortable charging (say, $9.99, for example), and measure the results for a month or two. Move down $1 the next period, and measure again.
Keep doing this until you have a pretty good idea of how many sales you’re making and how much you’re bringing in. Remember, even if you’re making more net profit at a higher price point, there could be potential fans you’re missing by charging more. It’s a balancing act, and it never ends — keep testing and trying new things.