Thursday, December 03, 2015

Indie Publishing Paths: What’s Your Pricing Plan? Part One

By Jami Gold, @JamiGold

Part of the Indie Authors Series

If you’ve been following this Indie Publishing Paths series, you know there’s no “one right way” to self-publish and be successful. The many successful indie authors have all made different choices, so it’s not about making the “right” or “wrong” decision. It’s about making the right decision for us.

As we’ve explored in the previous posts in this series, we first need to figure out our goals and priorities. Then once we’re ready to put our book up for sale, we need to decide on the where (such as whether we use a distributor or we sell direct through a retailer or go exclusive with Amazon’s KDP Select), the when (whether we delay, use a preorder, or go for immediate sales), and the how much.

Today, let’s talk about our options for how much:
  • Option 1: Will we price high?
  • Option 2: Will we price in the middle?
  • Option 3: Will we price low?

Just like when we looked at the when, for many authors, one option might stand out at first glance as a duh. Like, “Of course I want to…” But that’s why it’s so important to know our goals and priorities, as I mentioned in the very first post of this series.

Some authors know they want (or maybe desperately need) to make money. Some authors don’t prioritize money at all and care more about gathering readers. Some authors would like to have a writing income but are able to wait.

There’s no wrong answer—and no guarantees. We can choose an option to fit our priorities and still not reach our goals. In other words, picking the right strategy gives us a chance to meet our goals, but nothing is a given. However, by understanding how each strategy might help us fulfill a different purpose, we might have a better understanding of the best match for us.

Step One: Know Your Goals and Priorities

Yes, this is the same step we talked about in the first post of this series, but I’m repeating it here because it’s so important to know our goals and priorities before deciding on a pricing strategy. Technically, it’s important to know our priorities before all of these decisions, but we also know that money issues can feel more serious.

We can change our mind about KDP Select or wide distribution without causing too much damage (maybe just needed to wait 90 days, etc.). Same with preorders versus immediate sales. If we don’t like how things turn out, we can learn a better method for next time. But throw in a decision about money, and suddenly the choice can feel like life or death. *smile*

The number one reason why authors choose different strategies is because they have different priorities, so it’s important to know what we want to accomplish before listening to someone who preaches the benefits of their strategy. Sure, a book priced at $6.99 might have worked great for Author A’s goals, or a permafree book might have worked great for Author B’s goals, but until we know our goals, we won’t know what advice to listen to or ignore.

Step Two: Analyze Our Pricing Options

First, a bit of reassurance: Pricing strategies can be changed just as much as KDP Select or preorder decisions. Yes, the fact that this choice results in immediate changes to our bottom line can make it feel more fraught with gotcha mistakes, but our decisions aren’t set in stone, regardless.

Second, everyone might have different definitions for high, medium, and low ebook prices. For the purposes of this post, high refers to anything over $4.99 for novels, medium refers to the $2.99-$4.99 sweet spot for novels, and low refers to anything below $2.99 for a novel (all figures in U.S. dollars).

Option 1: Pricing Our Book High 

Why We Might Want to Price Our Book High

There are several reasons we might want to price our book above the ebook “sweet spot.” We might:
  • prioritize short-term income or not be able to wait for readership to build
  • have a dedicated fan base willing to pay more
  • want to advertise deep sale discounts during promotions (a markdown from $8.99 to $0.99 can be more enticing than one from $2.99 to $0.99)
  • think anything lower is undercharging for our hard work
  • decide against prioritizing readership numbers
  • think higher prices look more professional (like traditionally published ebook prices)

Note: For shorter than novel-length books, “pricing high” might mean anything over $2.99 (or even over $0.99 for a short story).

Option 2: Pricing Our Book in the Middle 

Why We Might Want to Price Our Book in the Middle

There are several reasons we might want to price our book within the ebook “sweet spot.” We might:
  • want to balance the goals of readership and income
  • think ebook prices in the normal range look more professional
  • have other books priced low for attracting new readers
  • have other books priced high for maximizing income
  • be able to wait for income to build long-term
  • decide on long-term or series-wide strategies (priorities are spread over a series, with some books focused on increasing readership and others prioritizing income)

Note: For shorter than novel-length books, “pricing in the middle” might mean $1.99-$2.99 for novellas and $0.99 for a short story.

Option 3: Pricing Our Book Low 

Why We Might Want to Price Our Book Low

There are several reasons we might want to price our book below the ebook “sweet spot.” We might:
  • be running a short-term promotion (preorder sale or other discount period)
  • prioritize gaining readership over income
  • think lower ebook prices look more attractive (especially to new readers)
  • be a debut author or not have a platform for attracting readers
  • have other books priced higher for providing income
  • hope for more sales to lead to higher visibility
  • be able to wait very long-term for income
  • decide on long-term or series-wide strategies (priorities are spread over a series, with some books focused on increasing readership and others prioritizing income)
  • struggle with low author self-esteem/high self-doubt

Note: For shorter than novel-length books, “pricing low” might mean free or $0.99.

By far, the most popular options are pricing low or in the middle. I can think of a handful of indie authors who recommend the “pricing high” strategy, but there are countless indie authors discussing the “pricing low” strategy on blog posts and forum threads everywhere.

As we can tell from sheer number of bullet points, there are a lot of reasons why pricing low might be a good option for us. However, there are a lot of cons to go with that choice as well, which we’ll get into next month.

Obviously, there’s no “one right answer.” What’s best for us entirely depends on our goals regarding income, gaining readership (and the various strategies for increasing readership), fulfilling our author ego, building a long-term or series-wide strategy, etc.

Join me next month when we dig deeper into the pros and cons of pricing low in Indie Publishing Paths: What’s Your Pricing Plan? Part Two. Until then, let me know if you have any questions in the comments! *smile*

After escaping Area 51 armed only with a ukulele, Jami Gold moved to Arizona and decided to become a writer, where she could put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fortunately, her muse, an arrogant male who delights in causing her to sound as insane as possible, rewards her with unique and rich story ideas.

Fueled by chocolate, she writes paranormal romance and urban fantasy tales that range from dark to humorous, but one thing remains the same: Normal need not apply. Just ask her family—and zombie cat.

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About Ironclad Devotion, the latest release in the Mythos Legacy series:

A faerie princess evading her fate…

Earth is no place for a faerie, but Kira can’t go home without dooming her people. Desperate to avoid the pull of her homeland, she fosters an abandoned girl, the child’s joy a source of much-needed energy.

A blacksmith with something to prove…

When Zachary Chase discovers he has a daughter, he’s determined to be part of his child’s life and not repeat his mother’s neglect. But to open the little girl’s heart, he must earn her foster mother’s trust.

One night is never enough…

Despite their rivalry, Kira and Zac’s desires tempt them into one no-consequences night. Yet the more passion flares between them, the more Kira risks destroying the life she’s carved out on Earth—and endangering those she cares about in both worlds.

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  1. Jaime and Janice, thank you for providing these three options which I will mull over. Personally, I lean toward mid and high. Will be filing this post in my Evernote file. ��

  2. I recently bought Libbie Hawker's latest how-to and was surprised to read she had priced her debut novel at a higher price than what's usually rec'd, to ensure only those most interested would buy it. She also had a well-known author endorsing her work so that helped too :) As a debut novelist without a famous author rec'ing me alas :), I was leaning to KU and mid-list price, with a pre-order for the sequel. However, a trad published author recently released her fourth novel which features the same historical personage as my so far unpublished novel. We have completely different takes on her and she is one of three protagonists in this author's book, while she is the main one in mine. I postponed my release to next month or Feb and am worried about getting reviews from book review bloggers now.The author's not Phillipa Gregory :) but a Big Five publisher has more budget and resources for promo than a mere newbie. Do I worry for nothing? Should I discount to a rock=bottom price? Thoughts ? Thanks.

    1. Hi Ceejay,

      Interesting! Aiming for a target audience who is more invested in our work is an intriguing reason to add to our list of reasons for Pricing High. That's one I hadn't thought of, but I can see how that would apply in certain cases. Thank you so much for bringing that up! :)

      As for your question, I don't know how much book bloggers take price into account before deciding what to read and review, so I wouldn't discount just for the hope of more blog appearances or reviews. My thought is also that unless the story is a true in-depth historical examination of a person (meaning, that it would appeal to people in a biography way), I think most people would pick stories based on the premise than on any historical characters making an appearance. So my gut instinct (and of course, this is just my opinion, so ignore at will ;) ) is that the other release wouldn't affect yours. (In fact, if you're in similar genres, you could USE that overlap in promo: "Did you enjoy the XYZ character in ABC? Get more in DEF, where XYZ struggles with...!" ;) )

      I hope that helps! Jami

    2. I guess I wasn't very clear. Sorry. My concern was more that my book has the same main character and historical background as the trad pub'd one. However different the interpretation of history and character - would book bloggers think "Already reviewed one recently with that character and time period" and pass on mine for that reason?

      As far as price was concerned, I thought about lowering the price of my book to cheap and less than the trad author's book to attract buyers instead of keeping to the original plan of a midlist price.

      I never thought of promoting my book in the way you suggest. Come to think of it, I have seen blurbs such as "Perfect for fans of (insert bestselling author here)" and "In the tradition of (ditto).I'm a little hazy on this but I know Amazon frowns on certain types of keywords and wouldn't putting, say "Phillipa Gregory" or "Gone Girl" in your blurb be a no-no? If not, that's an interesting idea! Thank you!

      Re LH's book - have to wonder if that "price high" strategy would work for a debut novel without a big name endorsement though. Food for thought. Libbie says in her book that some buyers told her they bought her novel on the strength of the endorsement.

      After I visited the trad author's website and read her reviews and endorsements and saw the lengthy blog tour set up by the publisher, I was freaking out a tad :) I don't have that budget or those resources. Thanks again for your comments. I do feel better :)

    3. Hi Cee,

      My question is, would it hurt to try? :) Sure, some reviewers might skip, but some might not.

      To answer your question about Amazon, yes, I've heard that Amazon frowns on keyword-stuffing along those lines (using another author's name). But I've never heard of a problem of including a line like that in the blurb.

      Whatever you decide, good luck! :) Jami

  3. Forgot to add this - both my novel and Trad Author's are historical novels so maybe I could use the overlap :) . Also, Libbie's how-to book just came out and is pretty current. Though it's written for the historical novelist, I think it could benefit writers in other genres too.

  4. I understand the pricing concepts for ebooks (and I completely agree with you). But what's the rule of thumb for pricing the paperback version of a novel? I put one together on Createspace, and priced it according to the retail price of my trad published books (and it looks just as professional) --- but now I'm second-guessing myself.

    1. Hi Dani,

      I don't know that there has been as much studied for paperbacks, so I've never seen a rule of thumb. It's a great question though!

      My guess is that a reader who purchases print copies is going to be more used to traditional prices and would likely not expect "discount" pricing from any print book, much less only the self-pub ones. They might use Look Inside to judge the quality, so as long as a book measures up, they'd pay a similar amount for any publisher.

      Just my opinion though. :) Jami