How to Price Your Self Published Book (5 Minute Guide)

by | Jun 2, 2017

By Fred Johnson

If you’re new to the world of self-publishing, there’s one important issues that’s probably outside of your comfort zone. Learning how to price your self-published book must be addressed.

It’s certainly a tricky question. The history of self-publishing is littered with tragic tales of overpriced and underpriced books falling at the wayside as stingy or sceptical crowds pass them by. It’s one of the most common mistakes self-publishing writers make.

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What’s the Problem?

Pricing your book isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. It depends on what you’ve written, how long your book is, how established you are as a writer, and any recognition, reviews, or awards you or your work have amassed. The quality of the cover, formatting, and design will also play an important role. Before you think about pricing your book, look over these tips…

Make Sure Your Book Looks Appealing

This obvious step is worth reiterating at every opportunity: before you put your book out there, make sure it looks like a professional product.

Nobody wants to pay for something that looks thrown together–make sure:

  • you have a professionally designed cover
  • the content adheres to industry standards in terms of style and formatting
  • the text is legible and pleasant to read

Amazon is full of poor-quality eBooks whose writers didn’t think appearance, typography, and proofreading were important. You can take advantage of this–if your book looks like the diamond in the rough, readers will flock to it before they’ve even read the blurb. While the “don’t judge a book by its cover” idiom is well-known, rarely is it obeyed.

The more appealing your book looks, the more you can charge for it without worrying about putting people off. If it looks high-quality on the outside, people will assume it’s high-quality on the inside.

Sweeten the Deal

People are less likely to take a chance on a new writer, so it’s a good idea to make yourself more appealing by offering a freebie. This could be a short story, a sample (this works well with non-fiction), or a brief novella–its main purpose is to show the discerning reader how well you write and convince them that you’re worth investing in.

Even better, by giving out a free sample or the first novel in a series for free, you can reel back in paying customers once you release the follow-up, charging incrementally more at each step.

You’ll also hopefully have made more of a name for yourself by the time you bring out these subsequent books, meaning you’ll be able to rely upon a core readership, allowing you to move further away from the low end when pricing.

However, even with the freebie, you’re going to want to price your first book very competitively. Amazon, the largest and most popular marketplace for self-publishing writers, will pay 70 percent commission for books priced between 2.99 and 9.99 (this is in dollars, pounds, and euros), but only 35 percent for books over or under these amounts.

Novellas

Starting out with a novella is a risky choice. Novellas tend to sell less well than novels–readers are consumers, and they like to feel like they’re getting more for their money.

As such, you’re going to want to stay as close as you can to the lower end. For Amazon’s 70 percent commission, 2.99 will seem like the ideal choice–however, if you’re more concerned with establishing an early audience than you are with raking in money, you might want to go for 1.99 or even less. You have to remember that your readers are taking a chance with you and will need persuading.

Novels

If 1.99 is a good starting price for a novella, then 2.99 is a good place to begin for a novel. This places you nicely within Amazon’s 70 percent commission bracket, meaning you’ll gain more for each book sold, and the low price should ensure as many people as possible buy your untried and untested book.

Short Stories

If you’re selling short stories singularly, you’re looking to charge as little as possible. It’s a good idea to give away these for free since they provide a curious reader with a taste of your writing.

Short story collections on the other hand should be priced similarly to novels, with careful attention paid to how established you are as a writer (as a rule, it’s a bad idea to start out with a collection of short stories—save it for when you’re more established.)

Non-Fiction

Non-fiction is a whole different kettle of fish. Generally, people are going to be looking for non-fiction to satisfy some niche curiosity or need. If your book is a guide to gardening, it becomes pragmatic, and people looking for gardening tips will see it as a necessity.

Unlike commercial fiction, non-fiction isn’t read once, consumed, and forgotten. Rather, it is kept on the shelf in case it’s needed again. Bearing this practical utility in mind, you can charge more for non-fiction as people are happier paying for something they think they need rather than want.

Of course, this scales in terms of importance—if you’ve written a guide to flower-arranging, you can’t charge the same as you would for a book explaining how to do your own wiring, since the latter could potentially save a reader buckets of money spent hiring tradesmen.

A good rule of thumb to remember if you’re hosting your book on Amazon is to not cross the 9.99 mark—as soon as you do, there goes that 70 percent commission. You’d have to go above twenty dollars/pounds/euros to earn any more in commission, and that would cut your sales.

But I’m not new! – How to price your self-published book if you’re experienced

If you’re new to self-publishing but have published stories/novels in journals, magazines, or through a traditional publisher, you’ll be on a different level to someone just starting out.

Your book’s commercial copy should mention these previous published works. Quote from any positive reviews your work has received and, if you’ve won any awards, make sure you mention them. You’re looking to transfer any previous audience you may have had across to your new book.

Presuming your book looks professional, these accolades and features can justify charging more for your book. Remember, in bookshops the average cost of a paperback novel is about $15/£8.99, but I wouldn’t go quite that high (especially if your book is an eBook).

I’d recommend sticking to about five dollars/pounds/euros. This is low enough that your book will look like a good deal and high enough to be making use of that author recognition you’re rolling in.

Remember, pricing is a progression. You might have to earn a penny now to earn a pound later on.

author of how to price your self-published book fred johnson

Fred Johnson is an editor for Standout Books, where he helps authors take their manuscripts from good to perfect. In his spare time he writes bad poetry and worries about the future.

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8 Comments

  1. Michael N. Marcus

    Value may be more important than price, and both require careful consideration.

    https://www.bookmakingblog.com/2012/10/how-important-is-book-value.html

    Also, while I detest Amazon’s absurd delivery fee, I charge enough for my ebooks to compensate for it. Sadly, Amazon’s readers lose because of this, and my sales may suffer.

    I hope the fee will disappear like the premium that was once charged for touch-tone phone service. Perhaps a combination of competition and public embarrassment will do it.

    Reply
  2. Michael W. Perry

    Quote: “Amazon, the largest and most popular marketplace for self-publishing writers, will pay 70 percent commission for books priced between 2.99 and 9.99 (this is in dollars, pounds, and euros), but only 35 percent for books over or under these amounts.”

    In their eagerness to bow down before the 800-pound gorilla, most authors don’t even get their facts right, as this article all too sadly illustrates. Amazon does NOT pay “70 percent commission for books priced between 2.99 and 9.99.” It never, never, never, never pays that. From that 70 percent it subtracts a grossly inflated delivery fee is accessed. Here’s where Amazon explains it:

    https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/A29FL26OKE7R7B

    Note that the charge for the U.S. store is $0.15/MB.

    Now put off your “I’m a stupid author” hat for a moment and compare that fee to what cell phone companies charge for say 1 GB of data. Keep in mind that over-the-air cellular data is far more expensive to provide than data through cables.

    I pay $40 to get 1000 minutes of cell phone time and 1 GB of data. How much would Amazon charge to send that same amount of data though those far cheaper means were that data your or our ebooks? The math is simple. A gigabyte (GB) is a thousand megabytes (MB), so Amazon would be charging 1,000 times $0.15 or $150.

    That’s vile. That’s nasty. That’s obscene. Indeed, Amazon charges you for book loads some 1,000 times what it charges those who contract with Amazon Web Services. That $0.15/MB isn’t the “Delivery Costs” as Amazon claims on the webpage I linked above. Amazon’s actual delivery costs are a microscopic slice of that fee. Perhaps 99.999% of that charge is pure profit. Amazon is lying to you when it claims “delivery costs.” Doesn’t that bother you? Probably not.

    And take note of a change that’s in the works. Amazon’s latest devices have displays in the 300 dpi range and they’ve beginning to insist on 300 dpi images for Kindle books. That means that if your books include pictures, that download fee could easily devour all your royalties. Indeed, if I change several of my books from 150 dpi images to 300 dpi, it will do just that. A 300 dpi image is four times the size of a 150 dpi one.

    I cannot emphasize enough my frustration at the utter inability of most authors to make an effort to discover what Amazon’s real royalties are, much less act on them. One ill-informed writer says, “Amazon pays 70%,” and the other echoes that without bothering to check. Don’t these people think? Can’t they read? Yes, Amazon’s statements are deceptive, but their lies are not that hard to see around. Just look further down that webpage.The real issue isn’t evil Amazon. It’s all these almost willfully ill-informed authors.

    And why do authors put up with this only a (fake) 70% business over only a limited price range? If they price their first book at $1.99, as suggested above, Amazon will grab $1.40 for doing essentially nothing, leaving them only 59 cents for a book they labored over for months. And if they labor over a textbook that’s have such limited sales, that it must be priced over $9.99, again they endure Amazon miserly 35% royalty—and all without a squeak of complaint.

    An yes, I know. I wasting my time expecting the typical author to show backbone. A more spineless and gutless group never walked the face of the earth. But at the very least, you need to have enough business sense to realize that if someone buys your book from the iBookstore, you really do get 70% of the retail price with no download fee. That means the smart move is to steer every single reader you possibly can to other retailers, none of which charge download fees. And if you want to release a book for $1.99 and later raise that price to $2.99, then show some business savvy. Release it at $1.99 everywhere but Amazon, sell it at that price for a couple of months, and then raise the price to $2.99 at the same time to release it on Amazon for $2.99. Let Amazon pay for its cheating ways with less sales.

    Can’t you see that? Can’t you do something about it? When it comes to Amazon, the average author seem to have “Kick me” tattooed on their backside. Anything Amazon does, they put up with without even mumbling or complaining. They don’t bother to get their facts straight. They don’t bother to complain or do anything about even the most obvious unfairness.

    I used to feel sorry for all the thousands of authors struggling to get by on a pittance. More and more, I’ve begun to conclude that their troubles are, to a great extent, their own fault. They’re getting screwed in a host of ways by Amazon and yet few even seem to rise to the level of even knowing they should do something—never mind actually doing it.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Michael, I realize this is a subject about which you are passionate, but please edit yourself a bit before you hit “Submit.” Coming on my blog and calling my readers “A more spineless and gutless group never walked the face of the earth” is unacceptable, inaccurate, and demeaning to them and you.

      Reply
      • Nicole G.

        Seconded. While you have some great info, Michael, you catch more flies with honey, so they say. We’re all trying to make it out there, from those of us who are at square one and making sense of publishing online for the first time, to those of us who have published and more. Spineless and gutless, as you say, doesn’t describe the troupes of people I see who are willing to take their souls and put it on a page and share that with the world – a world that can be quick to critique and condescend on that piece of your heart you plastered on a page. I’d say that what we do is bravery on a massive scale, quiet – strong – bravery.

        We aren’t business people, and many writers have never taken business classes. Should they? Absolutely! The more you know! Should they be berated for not doing so and having to learn the hard way? Absolutely not. People make mistakes, it’s all in how they learn from them after the fact that changes the way they work.

        But… to echo Joel in a slightly different way: Dude. Don’t come on someone else’s blog written for writers and insult the audience. And thanks, Joel, for coming to our defense. This isn’t your typical reply, I’m here a lot, so while I’m stunned by the vinegar, I realize it isn’t in the tea you’re serving. :D

        Reply
    • Matt

      Still a lot better than the 10% you make publishing traditionally.

      Reply
    • angelica.v.cain@gmail.com

      Thank you very much Michael for info! I don’t feel offended with anything in your text! I don’t like “political correctness” and minding every word… I see your frustration and I share it with you! Amazon uses it’s dominance on the market to rob people and most don’t even bother to make research! Those who are searching and wants to know what is really happening, will appreciate your comment a lot!

      Reply
    • Jamie

      Mr. Perry,
      A fascinating response. As a seventeen-year-old who has published two books independently on Amazon, I share your frustrations with the royalty situation. I did toil on my books for a long time, and what do I earn but a small amount of its price. However, I can hardly call myself ‘spineless and gutless’ and it is unfair and honestly, rude for you to do so to the entire Amazon independent author community.
      Of course authors should learn one way or another about the business side of things, but not all can take classes or even if they have, be able to learn in that environment. Some people just need to figure out the world through experiencing it.
      I see now that others have responded to you in a similar fashion, and four years ago, but it still stands.
      Cheerio, Jamie

      Reply
  3. Ernie Zelinski

    Fred, first, your article is insightful and has a lot of very important information, particularly for new self-published authors.

    Nonetheless, you should differentiate between ebooks and print editions when you state: “A good rule of thumb to remember if you’re hosting your book on Amazon is to not cross the 9.99 mark—as soon as you do, there goes that 70 percent commission. You have to go above twenty dollars/pounds/euros to earn any more in commission, and that would cut your sales.”

    This is true but only applies to ebooks on Amazon.

    Having said that, I agree with “you can charge more for non-fiction as people are happier paying for something they think they need rather than want.”

    Since 2004 until about a year and a half ago, I had the print edition of my “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” priced at $16.95. When the cost of printing the book went up a bit, I decided to raise the price to $19.95. Near as I can tell, the increased price has not hurt sales one bit. Not only that, I found a way to lower the print costs. So my profits have increased considerably. But that’s another story.

    Reply

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