Why self-publishing authors should not sell themselves too cheap
My qualification for writing this is I have done it wrong in the past, and now I think I do it more or less right. I’m definitely coming at this from the school of hard knocks. My very first book was a short story for children, and I tried to keep it as cheap as possible, cutting the page length by cramming the words up and chucking out the pictures, I used the thinnest paper too, and gave myself almost no profit margin. I still have copies of that terrible book and I use it to warn others. Like the ancient mariner at the wedding, I stop one in three. I hope you are the third.
How much should I sell my self-published book for?
So you’ve written a book. It may be a novel, a collection of poems or short stories, a children’s chapter book or picture book, or perhaps it is non-fiction, a carefully researched historical work perhaps. Regardless of the subject you want to get it published and ‘out there’ for people to read. Sure you’d like to make money too, but you know that unknown authors rarely make much and right now you just want people to read your book and tell you what they think. Well, as long as they think it’s good, right? So you figure the best thing to do is make your book as cheap as you possibly can, right? WRONG!
Price your book at the right price.
No matter whether your book is self-published or the product of a big-name publisher there is a right price for it, and that price is never the cheapest you can possibly make it. But I’m not just going to pontificate; I am going to explain exactly why using logic and reasoning.
Price is NOT the only purchasing criteria
A potential reader must make an investment of TIME to read your book. They must provide space on their shelf for the physical product too. If they don’t want to READ your book, then even making it free won’t induce them to take a copy. If you don’t believe me, try standing on a busy street conrer handing out copies of your book for nothing and see how many people walk past. Some will even take it and then leave it on a bench somewhere or stick it in the bin when they realise it’s not their kind of thing.
The process of a customer buying a physical book goes in four stages
- Look at the cover. If they like that then;
- They pick up the book and turn it over to read the blurb. If – then etc.;
- They may read the first paragraph or so. If at that point they are still interested;
- They will get their money out and pay ANY AMOUNT … within reason.
Whether your book is £1 £5 £8 £10 or even more, if they
— WANT TO READ it, they WILL BUY it. —
Don’t make your self-published book too cheap
There are several reasons why you should not price your book too cheaply:
As an unknown author your first customers will be people who know you.
I was going to say your first customers will be friends and family, but I have tried to say this to authors before now and they say, “My family never support me in anything I do” or, “Hah! My friends told me where I could stick my book!” The fact remains that your first sales will, inevitably, be to people who ‘already know you exist‘. You will discover people you scarcely know, social media friends, or an old school mate, who will support you to the hilt, and others who you thought were good mates who just say, “I don’t really read much, but I’ll share your link if it helps.” Either way, your first foray into the quaggy mire of book marketing will be to people who would buy your book at almost any price. So if you pitch your 70k paperback novel at them for a fiver they will buy it and think they are helping you out; but they will buy it just as readily at £8 or even £10 so why sell yourself short to the only people who care? (The same rules apply in Dollars, Euros, or Yen, and it’s the same for e-books too, but different numbers.)
Nobody will buy your book at ANY price, not even free, if they don’t know it exists.
Once you have exhausted your immediate circle of friends you discover the painful truth that you are not David Walliams, or Stephen King, and your books will not sell simply because of your name. More to the point, they will not seek out your book eagerly, anticipating the next great work from the pen of… who are you again? I’m not saying this from any smug superior position, this is literally the painful lesson I had to learn. The only way you stand a remote chance of getting your book read is for a potential reader to see it. And the only way that will happen (often enough to be useful) is if you pay someone else to tell people about it.
I am of course referring to advertising. And if you are going to pay for advertising, then you sure as heck need to make a profit when you sell a book. Unless this is just a hobby and either you or your rich dad/mum/aunt/boyfriend/girlfriend whatever, is going to pay for it.
When you run a promotion, where do you go from rock bottom?
Whether we are talking about a physical product, i.e. a paperback, or a digital product, i.e. e-book, the same rule applies. If you are not making any profit to start with, then you have nowhere to go when you want to give people a special incentive to buy.
Big retailers know this. They know you want a bargain in the sales, so they often overprice things for a few months before offering a big 50% discount and selling it for the price they actually need to make a profit. You could call them cynical, but the customer is a part of this game too. If the shop starts with the correct price and you still wait for the sales, then they have no room to discount and could be left with unsold stock.
So give yourself a decent margin from the start, and only offer a discount when you are running a special promotion. You will still have to pay to advertise that promotion, otherwise nobody will know. (see point above).
Your price sends a message about how you value your product.
If you price your e-book at 99p, or worse FREE, then you are telling the customer that is all you think your work is worth. Why not add something in the blurb as well? “This book isn’t much good, but it’s free…” No?
Maybe I am being too harsh, I have books priced at 99p, but that’s because they are short, and I actualy do think that’s what they are worth. My novels are all £3.99 ($4.99) and they are worth every penny.
Don’t overprice your self-published book either.
just almost as bad to overprice your book. Of course, you may still make the odd sale and if you do you made more profit.
But an exorbitant price will put off all but the most determined buyers, and you do want people to buy your book.
So how do I know what’s the right price?
OK, I can almost hear you screaming, “But you haven’t TOLD me how much my book should be yet!”
Well, this is where we get into linear dimensions of string territory, but there are some fundamentals that are going to affect your choice.
Let’s talk about paperbacks first, because they have an intrinsic cost to produce, unlike e-books. If you are using print on demand, there will be a minimum price you can sell your books for to cover the print costs and the platform’s cut. So clearly you need to add on some profit for you. With a print run the cost per book is cheaper, but you also have to consider capital outlay and possible postage costs. I need to sell my books for at least three times the print cost to justify printing at all.
You also want to avoid going overboard and asking silly money for your book. So a good start is to check the prices of similar books from big publishers, however, be careful to compare like-for-like.
You are not in competition with mass market pulp fiction!
Those racks of books that sell for £3.99 are not the same as yours. They are probably not as good as yours, and I’m not just being nice. They are written to a formula. Readers buy them because they devour books of that type and they know what they are getting. They are the MacDonald’s of the book world. Your book is more like a home prepared meal for a posh dinner party. You’ve put LOVE into it.
If we are talking about novels, then there is a rule-of-thumb which I have found stands me in good stead. Short novels (50k-70k) £7.99 – Longer novels (70k-90k) £8.99 – and epic tomes (90k+) £9.99 (or a tenner perhaps on Amazon, so the buyer gets free postage?) Yes, you can go higher still. I would reckon up to £11.99 might be the ceiling for fiction.
Shorter books can be less, but rarely less than £4.99 If you really think your paperback book is worth less than a fiver, then consider lengthening it or adding pictures. It costs £2 to post a small book (large letter 1st class, inland UK) and £3 for one of 320 pages or more. (small parcel 2nd class).
Non-fiction is a little more difficult to price and so you will need to do more research into similar books. One thing that is definitely the case is that non-fiction can be priced a LOT higher if the content justifies it. I have far less experience of non-fiction so you will need to do some more research but as a bare minimum, make sure you are making a healthy profit from selling your book at the regular price.
What About my E-book Price?
Your e-book price can be whatever you want, with the same rules as discussed applying. I tend to pitch all mine at 50% of the paperback price. If you are selling exclusively on Amazon and want the 70% royalty rate then you can’t go below $2.99 or above $9.99 so your options are limited there.
Whatever you decide, I wish you luck. Writing the book was the easy part.