Book Pricing 101: Pricing your Book for Success

Book Pricing 101: Pricing your Book for Success


Pricing your book can be a tricky subject…

…if you don’t do your research, you could wind up not selling any books, or you could sell a ton and not make any real money from the sales. Self-Publishing means all of the work is on you, and that includes pricing your books. Luckily, the research has already been done for you.

Pricing Fiction:

For the sake of argument, let’s say we’re talking about pricing a book on Amazon. As most of you probably know, Kindle gives authors a 35% share of royalties for books priced from $0.99 to $2.98. From $2.99 to $9.99, Kindle gives authors a 70% share. Anything above $9.99 goes back to a 35% royalty structure. I assume this is to keep eBook prices low while not cutting into paperback sales. Traditional publishers will tend to price their eBooks between $7.99 and $9.99, which is consistent with a mass market paperback cost. In fact, the publisher is probably making more money in Kindle form because they have less overhead.
Self-Published authors usually charge near the low end of the spectrum for a number of reasons. Readers are more likely to take a chance on a new author if the price is $3.99 or less. Self
Published authors also make more from each sale than if a publisher published their book. You know, fewer mouths to feed and so on. So you should just price your book at $0.99 and sell a million of them, right? Not exactly. For most full-length novels, $2.99 to $3.99 is the better way to go. At $2.99, you’ll sell more than at $3.99, but at $3.99 you’ll make slightly more money. At that point, it depends on what you’re going for, sales numbers or money. If you’re just starting out, gaining new readers might be more important than the money.

For the first book in a series, I usually like to price it at $0.99. You won’t make as much money, but it’s critical that you sell as many of the first book as possible. Some people even opt to make it free. If you want to make a Kindle book free, there’s a method to do so, which I’ll get to in a later blog post.

Pricing Short Fiction:

For short stories and novelettes I like to price them at $0.99. It seems like readers won’t pay much more than that for short works. Exceptions would include works from very prominent authors. Some people can get away with selling short stories for $1.99 or $2.99 and still get good sales. I envy them. It helps to think of short stories and the like as promotional materials, works that will get people into your other books, especially a series.

Your TimePricing Nonfiction:

With nonfiction works, you can definitely get away with charging a bit more even if the work is short. I’ve seen 50 to 150 page nonfiction eBooks selling for $2.99 to $3.99 and people are willing to pay that amount. Even Self-Published authors are charging $4.99 and up for full-length nonfiction books. I think with this one it will depend more on what kind of following you already have. Try a price of $2.99 or $3.99 to start and if you think you can increase it, do so, and keep track of your sales. If they decrease too much, lower the price again. Play with it.

What do I do?

Pricing Books
Finding the Right Pricing Technique Can Be A Lengthy Journey

No matter what you publish, find three to five authors writing similar books and see what they charge. This isn’t something you should only do one time. I would check back once or twice a year and keep track of trends in the industry. For a while, selling books at $0.99 was THE thing to do. It worked for a lot of people I know. Now, however, selling for just a few dollars more s
ends a signal that your work isn’t “cheap.” It sends a signal that you are more professional. With that in mind, you should always strive to be worth the money your readers pay.

For more info, check out two more great sources for book pricing here and here.

In the comments below, tell me what you write and what you charge. What pricing models have you had success with?



Word Count And You: A Guide For Authors

Word Count And You: A Guide For Authors

Word Count is often among the first things a writer thinks about before they begin putting pen to paper, or more likely, fingertips to keyboard. Choosing the right format for you can be difficult, but if you understand your market and your readers you can find what will work best to enhance your end result. For the purposes of this blog, I’m using the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America‘s Word Counts that they use for the Nebula Award. This is a common standard that has been adopted by most other sources I’ve found in my research.

Short Story: <7,500 Words

Novelette: 7,500 – 17,500 Words

Novella: 17,500 – 40,000 Words

Novel: >40,000 Words

Before we go any further, let’s talk about the implications of word count for the publishing industry.  If you are trying to approach a literary agent or publisher, your word count will matter a lot more than if you Self-Publish. If you Self-Publish, you can pretty much write what you want. However, often traditional publishers want the novels they publish to be between 60,000 and 80,000 words for many genres. I can tell you from experience working at a major book retailer in the U.S. that the reason for this is to have a larger spine on the book, allowing for more substantial font sizes for the title and author. In what I imagine took a lot of expensive research to confirm, the vast majority of books in a bookstore are not faced out, meaning most people never see the pretty cover someone worked so hard on, rather, they only see the spine. So, by filtering the field to consistently expand the length of books on the shelf, they found that longer works sold more (this can also be done with the height and length of the book, creating squatter books that are thicker). Think mass market paperbacks vs. trade paperbacks. If your books are only sold online, it really doesn’t matter how long your novel is, because everyone actually sees the cover!  There will be more on this later, but let’s move on.

Short Stories:

Despite what your English teacher might have told you in school, the short story is far from dead. However, as they probably told you, you probably won’t make much money from them directly. That much may be true. What I mean by this is that short stories can be a great promotional tool to get people to sign up for your mailing list or to introduce new readers to your writing style with a short, cheap (maybe even free), first foray into your mind. However, by themselves they hardly ever make any real money for the author. An exception would be a short story like We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick which was made into Total Recall (In two versions)! If your short story becomes a movie, yes, you will make real money from it. This is not, however, the norm.

Short stories by themselves should be very concise and convey more feelings and scenarios than fully fleshed out plot lines. As an example, Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway is one of my favorite short stories and it consists entirely of a couple having a conversation at a cafe, trying to avoid the elephant in the room. The reader might not get to know every detail about the characters, but the situation itself can teach us a lot about the time period or scenario the characters are placed in. Part of what made the story so enjoyable was the believable dialogue-driven plot. Often minimalist, short stories are great for conveying a fleeting feeling.

Word Count - Replica, a Free Short Story

Novelettes:

Longer than a short story, Novelettes are rare in today’s market, but that’s something I hope ebooks will eventually change. Already, I’ve seen the shift allowing for this format to flourish. Authors like Hugh Howey with his Wool series have started a trend, the origins of which began in the Victorian era. There is a famous anecdote involving Charles Dickens writing in his study wearing pajamas and rushing to get his next installment to his publisher, running through the streets of London with the pages to be ready for the next day’s printing. Dickens was a pioneer in the sense that he really owned a format that wasn’t particularly popular much before or after his heyday. What he would do is write short monthly installments of a much larger work, which was then eventually compiled into a very big novel. One such example is Bleak House, which came out in twenty short bundles of 32 pages each and sold for a shilling. He ended up making far more money and was able to flourish as a writer in part because of this serialized strategy.

The novelette can be fun to write since you get far more in depth than a short story, but you don’t have to have the standard story structure of a novel, with rising and falling action, a climax, and any number of other nuances expected of a longer work. The themes portrayed in novelettes can vary, often depending on whether it is part of a serial or stands on its own. If it stands on its own I suggest focusing on one or two characters and having the bulk of the action take place with them, adding in a small cast of supporting characters but really limiting the scope. You will not be able to portray your grandiose fantasy in 30-40 pages. The way I’ve used this format is to tell a dystopian tale in which the stakes are perhaps even higher than they would have been in a novel. With few exceptions, when you’re reading a novel you expect it to follow a certain formula. Maybe midway through the book there will be a turning point and about 9/10 of the way through there will be some kind of climax. All bets are off for the novelette. Have fun with it. Trick your reader. Tell the anti-Hollywood story. Experiment with your word counts! As there aren’t a heaping ton of examples of this format in the market right now, check out my latest novelette, The Chosen.

The Chosen Novelette Word Count

Novellas:

Novellas are between a novelette and a novel in the word count scale, and are often more complex than a short story and simpler than a novel, having fewer plot lines
to get tangled. Novellas are great if you have an idea for a novel and either want to keep it simple, eliminating subplots, or the story can simply be told more quickly than a standard novel. Plenty of famous works follow the novella format, including The Old Man and the Sea, Heart of Darkness, Of Mice and Men, and Animal Farm. The novella format dates back to the Renaissance, Italian by design but popularized by the Germans. In more recent times, it seems that novellas were more common around the mid-20th century than they are today, but with Kindles on seemingly every reader’s bookshelf the format is coming back. One of the great things about novellas is the pricing structure. It would be plausible to sell a novella anywhere from $0.99 to $2.99 depending on how popular the author is. Some big publishing houses charge $9.99! Readers want to feel they are getting something substantial for their money, so you can often leverage more sales if you keep the price low. Novellas are really great for the concise writer who wants to produce more material and get more ideas out of their head, but doesn’t want to draw out their work into a novel-length arbitrarily.

Novels

Novels really need no introduction in today’s age, but let’s see how well you do on your history. Miguel de Cervantes is often named the first modern European novelist with his work Don Quixote in the 18th Century. Since then, the format has risen to prominence and has dominated the market since at least the 19th Century. Novels are typically longer narratives which many espouse should cover the life of the main character, or at least the important bits. I personally think that’s too narrow-minded. I believe the traditional novel should be an intimate experience between the author and the reader, however than can be accomplished. However, I think there’s a big difference between a literary novel and a genre or popular fiction novel. With our highly visual society, I tend to think of genre and popular novels more as movies than anything else. If I’ve done my job, my popular fiction novel should translate perfectly to the big or small screen. Sometimes with literary fiction, the work is so intimate that it doesn’t feel like it’s meant to be put on screen. Nevertheless, audiences crave what they crave, and if a literary work gains prominence and studios think they can make money off of it, they will certainly adapt it, whether or not the finished product does justice to the book or the author’s intent. But I digress…

 

Word Count And You:

Your decision of which format and what word count works best for you is probably a deeply personal one. Novels are the most commercially viable of all the formats at this time, but that doesn’t mean it will always be the case. I suggest you experiment with multiple styles in anticipation of the cultural shift currently underway. Amazon in particular is pushing the market to more varied lengths to give readers more choice. Sometimes when you’re traveling you don’t want a giant novel, you want something shorter that you can finish in a single, relatively short flight. The author that has multiple options for their readers will not only expand their writing prowess across formats, but will provide their readers with the much-desired bevy of options.

What’s your favorite word count range? How much do you think about word count before you start writing? As a reader, are you becoming interested in works of varied lengths? Sound off in the comments below!



Self-Publishing Vs. Traditional Publishing

Self-Publishing Vs. Traditional Publishing: The Showdown

Self-Publishing doesn’t have the stigma it once had. In fact, the sales figures for self-published books is making the big publishers pull their hair out as they struggle to remain relevant. Authors today have more options for publishing their novel than ever before, so I wanted to break down what it means to pursue self-publishing vs a traditional publisher.

Traditional Publishing

Let’s start with Traditional Publishing. First, you’ll probably need to find a literary agent, which will involve countless queries to literary agencies and some upfront costs. Some literary agents still require a physical copy of the manuscript (in 2015!). The proprietors of those agencies are stuck in the past. If you do get picked up by an agent, they will shop your manuscript around to the big publishers. If none of them bite, the agent may shop around to a lower tier publisher (a small-medium sized press). Getting an agent in no way guarantees your book will be published. Heck, even getting a contract with a large publisher is no guarantee that your book will be published. Since the largest publishers don’t really give advances anymore, they can pick up more novels and then pick and choose later where to foot the bill. Meanwhile, you’ve sold your rights and may not make any money off the book or see it in print for a long time.

Next, unless you’re Stephen King or another big name author, the big publishers won’t risk spending money to market your book. They just won’t. The best you can hope for is a few submissions to newspapers for reviews. (Again, stuck in the past). What’s been happening in recent years is Traditional Publishers are looking to see if you have a social media following even before they will sign a contract with you. The more of a following you have, the less effort they have to exert on your behalf. In the end, you will end up doing the lion’s share of your own marketing regardless of which route you take to publishing.

About the only decent thing you’ll get out of one of these deals (barring a lucky break) is a fairly good cover for your book. However, because of the way brick-and-mortar bookstores are going, if your book is placed in a bookstore it has a limited amount of time to prove itself before it gets the ax. When I worked for a large national chain of bookstores, we pulled books if they didn’t sell a certain quota after 3-6 months. This is why it’s critical to have a large social media following. Traditional Publishers are going to put their money on proven sources of book sales rather than an unknown who may or may not do well. If you make it past that initial period, you could end up doing well with Traditional Publishing. Or, statistically speaking, you may just make it to the next sales period only to be cut then.

If you are cut by a Traditional Publisher, your rights will probably revert to you after a time. For more on rights reversion, here’s a great source.

Self-Publishing

If you choose Self-Publishing, you will be responsible for every aspect of your novel. There is a great deal of freedom in this, but it can be scary for those who are just starting out. Self-Publishing your first novel, if nothing else, will surely net you some great skills. There are a lot of companies out there that prey on unsuspecting authors, selling them overpriced packages that include editing services, cover design, and more. I’ve personally never dealt with those services because I think they’re a ripoff. There are a few things you can do to save money and turn out a great book.

1. Cover Design. If you can’t afford photoshop, I suggest Photoshop Elements, which is a stripped-down version that sells for $76.67 on Amazon (As of this writing). To put it in perspective, most businesses will charge $400-$500 for a single cover. Next, head over to IStock Photo and find a good image. I plan to go in depth into this process in a later post, but for now, you’ll want something that is 6″ x 9″ or larger at 300 dpi. IStock has changed their pricing scheme so every size of the image is the same price. As a rule of thumb, download the best quality you can. When you’re looking for an image, don’t just pick the first one that looks nice. Spend some quality time looking around. I looked for days for my last cover and it definitely paid off. I also tend to look for images that are already vertical rather than horizontal, as it makes it easier. Otherwise you might find a large image that’s horizontal and end up cutting out something you wanted. Before you download anything for real, download a comp version (very low quality that’s free) and see what it looks like in photoshop with words overlaid. Again, I will go into this more deeply in a later post.

2. Editing. This will vary depending on the writer. Some people really need editing services and others don’t need it as much. Everyone, however, needs another pair of eyes. I have three alpha-readers that read every book I publish, searching specifically for errors. One is a reader who focuses more on the flow of the story. One is highly critical (in a nice way) and tends to find problems in story structure and the littlest of details gone awry. The last one is another author who’s written more than 25 books and has a Master’s in Creative Writing. Luckily for me, I don’t have to pay them anything because they’re related to me and they’re nice like that. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have this situation, but most people have a friend or three who can look over their work for free. I would suggest doing this first.

If there are still prevalent errors after multiple people have looked at it, then I would say you need to send it off to a line editor to make sure your book is as near to error-free as possible. However, something that’s great about Self-Publishing is if you or a reader does find another error after publishing, it’s very easy to change. In fact, you can even fix an error in the print version (through Createspace) in about 24 hours or less. In this way, a lot of books have become like versions of software. You put out the best book you can, and then adjust if any errors are found. Still, don’t half-ass this step.

3. Control. One great thing for us OCD writers is the immeasurable amount of control we have over our work. Self-Publishing allows us to make sure we tell the story that WE want to tell, that our cover is up to OUR standards, and that marketing is truly up to US. Story time. I spend about one hour every day learning something new that will advance my writing career. One day it could be perfecting my photoshop skills, another it could be drilling down into SEO (Search Engine Optimization). If you were to spend one hour every day for a year learning the ins and outs of Self-Publishing, promotion, book formatting, photo/video editing, and more, you would make so much progress you’d hardly recognize where you came from. Eventually, you will become a rock star at all of these skills and more.

4. Marketing. I’m going to include social media under this umbrella to keep things simple. Since most people don’t really start out with a marketing budget when they’re Self-Publishing, I suggest you start with social media. Build up a following on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and other sites to get your name out there. While there are ad services on just about every social media site that you can pay for, you can do a lot for free. In fact, I haven’t paid for anything on a social media site yet. I’ve looked into it and may start using those options in the future, but for right now free works fine. In addition to social media sites, I would suggest a blog and/or website that can act as a landing zone for readers. Social media can help get your name out there, but if someone Googles your name and comes up blank, that says something about you. (To be fair, if you Google “Trevor Schmidt” you might find a fair number of articles about Liposuction and a ripoff report for said surgeon. That is NOT the same Trevor Schmidt). Blogging is also a good way to practice writing and get in the habit of writing more words in a sitting.

 

If you’ve made it this far, then it’s probably pretty obvious where I stand on Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing. There are merits to both, but for the vast majority of people, self-publishing may be the way to go. For more insight on this, watch my video. There’s certainly a lot more to Self-Publishing that I couldn’t cover in today’s post, but stay tuned for more posts and videos every Tuesday to learn more!