Thursday, January 26, 2012

How much are you worth?

Writing a book is hard work. Despite what most people think, not everyone can do it. Like singing. Never believe someone that says, "Anyone can learn to sing," because it's just not true. Sure, anyone can learn to sing better than they already do, but that doesn't mean they can actually learn to sing. And, sure, anyone can learn to construct better sentences, but that doesn't mean they can learn to write.

For the writer, though, despite the amount of hard work that goes into writing a book, writing the book is the easy part. It's everything after where it gets hard. Really hard. Amongst all the hard stuff, like finding an agent, a publisher, or marketing your work yourself, there's one thing that can fall through the cracks. Sure, if you're fixated on traditional publishing, this is something that doesn't concern you, because the publisher will make these decisions, but, for those of us going it alone, pricing is something that can end up being overlooked.

I was reminded of how important this aspect of self-publishing is just the other day, but let me give some background, first.

When I first published The House on the Corner, I didn't know anything about pricing other than what I pay for books. It seemed reasonable to me at the time that people should be willing to pay for my book what anyone would pay for a book from a bookstore. Or from Amazon. I knew that wasn't really true, but it bothered me because, darn it, I'd written a book, a good book, and people should value that. Idealism often doesn't fare well when it comes up against reality.

At any rate, I ended up pricing House at $18.00 mostly because I had to. Amazon gives you a minimum price you have to charge based on the number of pages in your book, so I went $1 and change over what they said, which is my part of the profit. If you set it at the minimum, you don't make anything. This, of course, was for the physical copy of my book. You do a little bit better with the Kindle. But there was a wrinkle.

Because I'm an instruction reading kind of guy, I read all the "terms of agreement" stuff. One of the things it said was that I was not allowed to sell my book for a lower price anywhere else or they could choose to not allow you to use CreateSpace anymore. Although, this seemed reasonable to me, I also didn't want to risk having my book pulled, so I set my Kindle price at $18.00, also. See, in my mind, my book was my book.

But I was wrong.

To Amazon, your book through CreateSpace and your book on the Kindle are two completely separate things. Also, if I order copies of my book, the physical book, I'm allowed to sell them for whatever I want to, because I've already paid CreateSpace for them. In a lot of ways, it's all ridiculous, and it took me some months to work out the kinks. And, really, this is a much longer story, but my issues are not what this post is about; they're just to let you know that pricing is complicated. If you look up at my box for The House on the Corner, you'll see what the current prices are which took me months to get to.

And, before I go on, let me just say that I don't believe in $0.99 e-books. I think they are devaluing to the author. Writing a book is hard work, and a book should be valued at more than $0.99. Not that $2.99 is much better, but, hey, at $2.99 on the Kindle, I make more per book than I make for a physical copy through Amazon, so, yeah... $2.99 it is. Let me stress my distinction here: $0.99 is devaluing to the author for a book. An actual novel. It's a perfectly fine price for shorter works.

Which brings us up to the event that brought all this up. The other day, I set off to buy the next book on my list for my Unexpected Applause posts, but I didn't buy it. When I got over to Amazon to do it, I found that the author actually has the book priced at above $2.99. This wouldn't really have been an issue except that he has the physical book priced probably as low as he can price it which made me think, "If I'm going to pay that much for a virtual copy, I should just by the actual book." Not owning a Kindle (I use the app on my computer), I still much prefer actual books to e-books, because it's difficult to drag my desktop to bed if I want to some reading at night before sleeping. And I would hate to drop the monitor on my face if I fell asleep while reading like I did in college with a text book. Let me just say that that will wake you up in a hurry.

After staring indecisively for several minutes, I put the physical book in my cart, huffed,  and went on to the next book on my list (because I'm not actually placing an Amazon order, yet). I get over to the next book, and it's priced at the expected price of $2.99, but, when I look at it, it's hardly a book. When I say that it's hardly a book, I mean that the page count on the physical book is less than 100 pages. I huffed again. It's just $3, right, but I couldn't bring myself to pay that for a short story. Especially after reading the sample, seeing that it's poorly formatted, and full of punctuation errors. I don't know if the story's any good, but I couldn't bring myself to pay the $2.99 the author wanted. I would have paid $0.99 for it without a problem, but I balked at the additional $2.


Honestly, I really don't know. I've been thinking about this question for days, and I don't have a good answer. What I do know, though, is how you price your book is important. Perceived value is important. When I perceive something to be worth $1, yet I'm being asked to pay $3 for it, I won't do it. I totally understand wanting to hit the $2.99 pricing mark for the Kindle, because, frankly, you get pretty screwed by Amazon pricing at $0.99. However, if you want to price at $2.99, you better have a product that says "this is worth $2.99." And that's entirely subjective. Which is the problem.

I mean, it's so subjective that The House on the Corner sold almost as well when I had it priced at $9.99 as it does, now, at $2.99, and I made a heck of a lot more per sale that way.

I guess what I'm getting at is this: you have to decide how much you think you're worth. You also have to decide how much you're comfortable with selling. Then, you have to balance those two things out.  For me, the price of my physical book is pretty much what Amazon says it has to be. I mean, I could lower the price, but, then, it would be priced at something scewy like $14.23, so I figure $14.99 works. Because I believe that the price of the e-book should be low enough to make it worth buying instead of ordering the physical book, $2.99 works. And, like I said, I make more per unit than I do when someone goes to Amazon and buys a physical copy of the book.

As a buyer, the real issue for me is paying for something that isn't real. Isn't tangible. But, maybe, if I actually had a Kindle, I wouldn't feel that way about spending more for books on it. At any rate, all of this has made me start thinking from teh buyer's perspective again, which is what you have to do if you want to sell your book. You can't just decide "people should be willing to pay this, so this is what I'm pricing this at." You'll always price too high (a recent study actually proved this: people tend overestimate what other people will be willing to pay for something even though they themselves are not willing to pay that much). So... am I willing to pay $2.99 for an e-book? Yes, I am. So I feel comfortable pricing my e-book at that. Am I willing to pay $2.99 for something that is not book length? No, I'm not, so I will know to never price short stories or whatnot in that price range. Am I willing to pay more than $2.99 for an e-book? I don't think so. If I'm going to pay more than that, I'd rather own the physical book. Yes, I'd rather pay $10, $12, or $15 for a physical book that I can hold in my hand than pay $5 for an e-book. Maybe that's just me, but I do know that it is me, so I have to keep that in my mind, too. Maybe I'd be willing to pay $5 for an e-book if there was no physical book available. That's something I've yet to discover.

What I do know for certain, though, is that I don't want someone paying $15 for my book and feeling like they got ripped off. In the end, that's probably why $0.99 works for so many people. Even if it sucks, it was only a buck, so no big deal. I'm willing to run that risk at $3, but I'm not really willing to go beyond that. I suppose that's why Amazon has those price points set.

Yeah, I know I didn't answer any questions in this post. I don't have those answers. Hopefully, though, I've pointed out that there is a question. Don't just slap a price on yourself because that's the price that seems good or what everyone else is doing. Look at what you're offering and balance out the variables. When I go to buy your book, don't make me second guess myself because of your pricing. Hesitation is a killer.


  1. Joe Konrath on his blog goes over pricing pretty thoroughly. You seem to have figured out the sweet spot all on your own but I still suggest popping over there and reading what Mr. Konrath has to say on this topic.

  2. Great post, Andrew, and I agree that 99 cents is just too little for something like an entire novel. I have absolutely no issue paying 2.99 for an e-book, I can't imagine insulting an author, knowing how much work goes into a book, by paying less than that even for an electronic copy.

    I still favor paper books though- I just wish I could afford more of them at the print-on-demand type pricing like Lulu. I end up buying what I can afford unless it's a really special book because I can't spend 20 or 25 on a paperback book these days. Glad I have the Kindle, but I'll admit it's still for me just not the same.


    1. Do you know a place that sells kinds for very cheap and i agree with the post.

  3. Actually, if that story was somewhere close to 100 pages then it's not much shorter than many novels used to be. I have several on my bookshelf right now that are in the 100-150 page range. It is certainly not a short story. I suppose it could be called a novella. I'm willing to pay .99 for a short story (in theory, I'm pretty hard up for cash right now) so I'd be willing to pay 2.99 for a novella and more for a longer novel.

    I don't really view ebooks as intangible. On my Kindle Fire I can access it whenever I want and giggle to myself about how fun flipping the pages is. It's a lot more tangible than say one viewing of a movie in a theater, which people are willing to pay a lot of money for.

  4. I'd be willing to pay more if I knew it was going to be worth it. (Or if I have a gift card!) With self-published books though you definitely want to keep it under $5 because who wants to pay more than that for a book that might be poorly edited and suck ass?

    And yeah I hate that Expanded Distribution thing that makes you charge $18 for a trade paperback, which is not competitive really to what traditional publishers are able to charge with discounts at the bookstore and such.

  5. My publisher prices my books, so it's not something I deal with right now. As a buyer of eBooks, ten bucks is about my limit, but I have gone higher.
    Definitely understand what you mean about placing a value on your writing!

  6. I figure if you can get change for 5 (in most western currencies) you've got a good deal.

  7. Interesting post.

    I price all of my books at $0.99 on the Kindle, because I hate paying more than a buck for anything and because I want people to read them. Writing for me is a hobby that makes a little money, not a form of income, so I can give away most of my writing (and I do; my blogs are all free and at the same time provide about 99.9% of my income from writing.)

    I've been concerned, at times, that people might view the ninety-nine cents price as devaluing it, but I'm not sure who those people are that will reject a book based on the price. I at least read the copy and see what it sounds to be about before rejecting it, so I guess I'm okay with not having readers who decide things based on that.

    On the other hand, the "It's only $0.99" might get people to try it out -- you're the guy who said "Santa, Godzilla and Jesus Walk Into A Bar..." was worth it in part because it's less than a buck, so I like that. There are lots of books I'd read for just a buck, not so many for $3, and almost none at $9.99.

    $9.99 is the most I think an ebook should cost, at all. I was shocked to see one book I wanted set at more than $18 on the Kindle. That's a ripoff no matter how you look at it, given that there is no cost of delivery.

    I think people who charge $0.99 for a short story are getting ripped off. I've got two collections of shorts for $0.99; I suppose I could break those down and sell them off for a buck each, but that seems like I'm taking advantage of people.

    In conclusion: enter my Stupid Pineapple Blogfest:

  8. Michael: Yeah, I've read his stuff. If I'm thinking of the right person, and I know how well he's done at $0.99, but I think the idea that a book is not worth more than $1 is wrong, so I don't agree with him about that.

    bru: There shouldn't be any reason to price a paperback that high. I did see that your friend's paperback is $25, but that must have to do with going through Lulu. He should just go straight through CreateSpace, and he could probably bring the price down to the $15 range.

    Sarah Mc: I completely agree with you about book prices vs movie prices. I actually did a post on that a long, long time ago. Books are a much better value.

    As I said in the post, my views might be different if I owned a Kindle, but having to sit in front of my computer to read e-things makes it much less real to me.

    And about shortness issues:
    1. My reaction to not being willing to pay $3 for the short work caught me by surprise. I'm still trying to figure that out.
    2. Often classic works that are that short are collected with other works by the author.
    3. The physical copies of classics are often only in the $4-6 range, so that doesn't help me to be willing to pay $3 for something short in e-format.

    Grumpy: I agree on both your points. The book I ended up buying (for $3) is one I don't think I'm going to enjoy, but it was only $3, so I'll be okay with not enjoying it.
    And the expanded distribution thing sucks more, now, it seems, since it looks like they've made that mandatory. Maybe I won't feel that way if some book store chain starts buying up my books...

    Alex: Personally, I think $10 is way too high for an e-book unless the physical book is, like, $40+. I can't think of any author I'd spend that much on for an e-book. I'd rather just go buy the book.

    Martin: Well, then, my book is a great deal! :)

    Briane: Yeah, for a buck it's hard to lose. I also feel like people should be willing to support authors by being willing to pay more than that. And, I suppose, they are if they know it's something they'll like. I just think that $0.99 thing creates the idea in people that books aren't worth more than that.

    I will take a look at your blogfest.

  9. You hit the nail on the head with the perceived value thing. I know that since Borders went out of business I've been ruined for paying full price for a physical book. I've been to B&N a dozen times and have walked out with nothing every time. I just can't do it now.

    For ebooks I think the same thing is happening to a lot of buyers. But I've got tons of ebooks now that I don't think I'll ever read that were purchases because they were cheap. The seller may have made their 35 cents from me, but I've not actually read the thing they sold.

    So, my thoughts on pricing are that .99 should be fine for short stories and such. I have a sequel to A Dead God's Wrath sitting around that is a novella - around 2.5 times longer than the previous story. The amount of work, comparatively, is an order of magnitude more. I'd like to sell it at $1.99 but Amazon has made that a horrible price point thanks to their payout structure. Well, if I were to put it up today I'd sell it for $2.99.

    In fact, several authors do have a scale for what they sell their ebooks at based on length, topping out at around $5 for novels. I think that is probably the sweet spot for novels right now - maybe $2.99 sales from time to time, but the higher, yet still affordable price as a regular cost.

    And the free thing - geez, don't get me started.

  10. I feel the same way. I will buy a book for $2.99 unless the physical book is not much over that, in which case I'd rather have a physical book in my hands. Yes, I do enjoy my Kindle, but I still enjoy an actual book made of paper.

    I will pay $.99 for a short story, as well. I will rarely, if ever, spend more than about $3 on an e-book. I just can't help it. The chances of my going back and reading the e-book again are actually slimmer than my going back and reading the physical book again. Plus, if I really like the e-book, there is a good chance I will go and buy the physical book to have my grubby little hands on. I imagine this is all sort of a trained response at this point, and that it will change some in the future, but for right now that is how it is. Had my husband not gifted a Kindle to me, I still wouldn't have an e-reader. I appreciated it once I got it, though.

  11. Oh, I am not looking forward to the pricing part of the publishing process. Fortunately, I can't seem to get out of my own way whereas these things are concerned so that day will remain a long time coming.

    But you make a lot of great points... thanks for sharing them.

  12. Rusty: Yeah, the free thing just sucks. I don't think people realize how all of this causes the perception of the masses to shift to think that they shouldn't have to pay, or not pay much, for written work.

    Shannon: I rarely go back and re-read. Although, the e-books don't clutter the house, I can't take them and trade them in, either. heh

    M.J.: It's not fun, but it's better than never getting to that point. Get out of your way! :P

  13. Heres is what drives me crazy......readers of ebooks who complain that all books should be priced at .99 cents. That absolutely makes me want to scream! Every time I am on Barnes and Noble which is my book supplier of choice and I read a review for a book and it's filled with complaints because the book was more then .99 cents I lose it! Anyway sorry very sore subject for me. Great post I enjoyed reading it and all of the comments as well.

  14. Wow, this all hurt my head. I hate money. A lot of this is why I'm trying so damn hard to land an agent, because I don't know anything about self publishing.

  15. Jennifer: Yeah, I know. It's crazy. The idea the electronic content should just be free. I think people don't understand that there are people back there working to generate that content.

    Lynn(e): Yeah, I know what you mean. I wish I didn't have to deal with it myself.
    oh, well...

  16. I know I am really late with a comment here, but here is my two cents.

    There are a number of people who use the 99 cent price, because it is the minimum you can charge on Amazon. They would prefer the books to be free, but this is the minimum distribution cost. (Some of those books you can find as a pdf on anyhow)

    There is another benefit of the 99 cents. That is, release your book before publicizing it. Set it at 99 cents and then gift it to several people, paying that price. They can read it and write a review on amazon and it will show as a review from someone who purchased the book.

    After you have waited the minimum time for price changes, you can up it to the price you want and "launch" the book publicly.

  17. Actually, I'm pretty sure you can set your works as free. $0.99 is the minimum you can charge, if you are charging, but I'm pretty sure free is also an option. I haven't actually done that, yet, so I can't say for sure.

    There's also no minimum time for price changes. You can do them at any time, although, there is some lag before they take effect, but it's usually less than a day.

    Getting people to leave reviews is difficult.