woman reading indie book

How to Price your Indie Book: Finding A Balance Between Units Sold and Profit

Your book is finished! Congratulations! You wrote, edited, and polished that little guy until he sparkled. You agonized over every pixel of your cover and formatting. Maybe you even plotted out a series of sequels. It’s ready to go!

With all of that time and effort put into your book, it’s priceless to you. But what’s it worth to everyone else?

Let’s talk about how to properly price a book.

Pricing a book can be tricky. It’s more of an art than a science. Factors you consider in pricing your book might include what you’ve invested, the market, the trim size, the format, the genre, your competition, the mode of sale–deep inhale–the time of year, your business goals, your sales goals, and countless other elements. It’s a lot to sort out! Before you get overwhelmed, let’s break down why careful book pricing is important.

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Why you should know how to price a book

Pricing a product requires multiple levels of understanding in numerous areas like marketing, trends, psychology, and accounting.

The biggest reason pricing is important is that it can help you accomplish your book goals. Whether your goal is to turn a profit, build a business, grow your readership, or establish a brand, each goal will have a different pricing strategy.

If your goal is just to make money, pricing it too cheap might prevent you turning a profit. Price it too high, and you might have the same problem because no one is willing to buy it.

If you want to grow your business and use the book as a sales funnel, a high price point might be blocking you from potential sales. But maybe pricing it too low will undervalue your work and lose a browser’s interest.

Knowing how to price a book will help you make the right decisions for achieving your personal and professional goals.

This graph from ScribeWriting.com shows how the price of an ebook can affect the volume of sales. As you can see, the happy price for ebook sales to sell the most copies is between $0.99 and $3.99 with a drop for $1.99.

Why do sales  drop at the $1.99 mark? One explanation could be that there’s a balance between perceived value and cost. At the $0.99 price point, potential customers may have a feeling of “nothing to lose.” Even if the ebook is complete garbage, it’s less than a dollar. With such a low cost of entry, there’s very little at risk.

At $1.99, that feels a little different. That’s no longer just cents–it feels more substantial, so it’s less of a throwaway expense. But wait–why does the book priced at $2.99 sell MORE copies?

What you price your book at is what you’re telling prospective readers the book is “worth.” At $1.99, that’s not exactly an unnoticeable amount of money–you think your book is worth more than a dollar, but not THAT much more.

At $2.99, you’re VALUING your book higher, which can raise the perceived worth.

Outlandishly cheap ($0.99): Nothing to lose.

“Just” cheap ($1.99): Must not be worth much.

Affordable, but far from free ($2.99-3.99): The author puts worth in this book, so maybe I should too.

As this graph shows, the price of your book greatly indicates its sales success. You want to know how to price a book because then you can use it to accomplish your book goals.

We know why we want to price a book well, now let’s look at how to price a book well.

How to Price Your Book

Like I mentioned earlier, there are so, so many factors that can go into book pricing. Let’s look at a few of the big things you can do to settle on an appropriate price.

  1. Consider your goals. The main factor in deciding a price for your book is deciding what you’re trying to accomplish with it. What do you want your book to achieve?

Are you trying to make as much money as possible? Are you trying to grow your business? Are you trying to grow your readership?

Also consider your sales goals. If your goal is to sell enough in your first month to pay for the cost of production, what price point makes sense for your expected sales numbers? (Be careful here–in most cases, basing your price on the investment you made can harm your sales. More on that in a bit.)

If the book is simply a hook to grab readers or clients, it would likely be priced considerably lower than a book only written to produce income.

Take the time to determine your personal, business, brand, and sales goals before you settle on a price.

  1. Research the industry and your genre. Different genres and formats are priced differently. Take a look at how other publishers are pricing books like yours. Keep in mind that if a reader is holding your book and a similar book in their hands, and yours is $7 more, they’ll almost always go with the other. Consider your book’s worth in relation to comparable publications.

    Thing to consider in price comparison:
    • Genre
    • Content
    • Popularity of author
    • Wordcount
    • Format (ebook, paperback, hardback)
    • Quality (print, formatting, editing, information, etc.)

Write down the price range you see in books like yours. For example, if your romance subgenre sells between $3.99 and $7.99 at your book’s word count, your book should sell somewhere between those price points.

Now consider how the popular authors are selling versus the unknowns. Where do you lie on that spectrum? If you have a large online following, your book can probably sell for much higher than a debut. If you’re a debut, your book is probably realistically on the lower end.

  1. Consider royalties. Sales price does not equal income. Don’t forget royalties when you’re deciding on your sales price. If your publisher or distributor offers a higher royalty, you can usually price it lower. If they offer a very small royalty, take that into consideration as well. That doesn’t mean hike up your prices until you’re happy with your cut, but it does mean to factor in your royalty percentage when pricing your book to meet your goals.
  2. Remember that people might judge the quality of your book based on the price. If your publication is an ebook that you spent a few weeks writing and is essentially an elongated listicle, 99 cents is probably perfect. If your publication is a 200,000 word fantasy novel you’ve been working on for three years, suggesting a 99 cent price tag probably just sent your soul shooting straight out your nostrils.

    A hefty fantasy novel priced at 99 cents might make potential buyers nervous too, because they’re used to bigger price tags in that genre. A book that time-consuming to produce selling for under a dollar is a big red flag–it tells your readers that your book won’t give them value.

    That said, there’s a wide range of reasonable prices for a book, and finding the balance between not undervaluing your work and not overpricing right at the beginning during peak sales times is tricky. Common advice is start on the lower end of reasonable to get more sales (thus more reviews), then inch the price up once you have momentum.

Consider your goals, your industry, your current readership, your genre, royalties, and quality perception when deciding on a price.

Those are specific factors to consider–now let’s look at some general things to keep in mind.

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Book Pricing Tips

Here are a few general tips to keep in mind when pricing your book.

  • Expect to fluctuate your price. As your book ages, sales will drop. Determine when you should drop the price of your book with it. For example, I published my first collection of short stories in 2018. The price started at $11.95 for paperback and $4.99 for ebook. They’re currently at $7.95 and $3.99 respectively, and I might drop them again in the future. I do this to match the price to demand.

    There might be cases where you want to raise your book’s price. For example, many indie authors use the strategy of starting your book at a lower price to collect reviews and build momentum before they increase it for higher royalties.

    Either way, don’t expect that your book’s price will stay consistent through its lifetime.
  • Run promotional prices. You’ll likely want to drop your prices temporarily to boost sales, before another book release, or to promote something else. For example, I dropped the ebook of my first collection to 99 cents for the release week of my new collection. That way, people could read the first one if they hadn’t yet to get hype for the new release.

    For another example: If you wrote an educational or nonfiction piece, you might run a promotional price period for the release of a corresponding webinar or online course.
  • Go for odd numbers. There’s a weird marketing phenomenon where people perceive odd numbers as being a bargain. That’s why you see items priced as $19.99 instead of $20. There is also research to support that giving a random-looking price can increase sales. If you price a book at $4.99, people might see it as below $5, a standard price. If you price something as $4.53, it might look like you’re making it as cheap as possible, because it’s a very strange number. Some distributors REQUIRE that you price your ebook ending in .99 because that’s how big of an impact it has on sales.
  • Lower the price for books in a series before releasing a new one. Like I said earlier, you might drop the price of a previous publication before the release of your next. This is an especially good move in a series. If someone sees a book that looks interesting, but it’s the third in a series, they might lose interest. But if they see that they can get the first in the series at a lower price point for a limited time, they’re much more likely to try it out and potentially buy the sequels.
  • Consider NOT considering your investment. I know there’s an impulse to “make your money back.” In business generally, your ROI is an important factor. In book pricing, this is somewhat of a gray area. Publishing hinges heavily on timing–the release of your book is the hottest sales spot. If you price your book higher because you’re worried about making your investment back, you run the risk of pricing it TOO high, resulting in fewer sales. Of course, in self-publishing, this might be rectified later with a price drop, but you won’t get that Shiny New Book time back. By that point, the book is stale and you’ve missed out on potential sales.

    I think the time to consider a return on investment is before production when you’re creating your book’s budget. If this is your first publication and you have no idea how it will perform, keep that in mind when you’re deciding what to invest.
  • Learn from experience. Keep track of your sales, prices, and other factors. Experiment with different price points and make note of what works.

    Also keep up-to-date with the market and current trends with every publication. The research you did for your last book might be irrelevant now. Publishing is a constantly evolving market, especially self-publishing. With newer industries, expect norms and best practices to change pretty regularly, so make sure you’re staying on top of it!

Book pricing can be difficult to get a handle on, but through research, practice, and trial and error, any author can manage it.

SPS 100: The “Duct Tape Marketing” Book Launch: Sell More Books & Get More Referrals with John Jantsch (And How To Negotiate Your Publishing Contract)

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and best-selling author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine, The Referral Engine, and SEO for Growth. He is the creator of the Duct Tape Marketing System and Duct Tape Marketing Consulting Network that trains and licenses small business marketing consultants around the world.

Why John Uses Book Marketing to Promote his Business

“It’s a great way for people to see what it may be like to work with you through your book.” John says that books can give people a deep look into a possible client fit. “Also, by buying the $15 calling card, it allows you to charge more for your services,” like writing and publishing a book bridges and builds trust with the reader.

How Authors Can Use the Duct Tape Method to Sell Books

The Duct Tape Marketing is a system that starts with using strategy before tactics. “We want to differentiate who is going to be a standout client for us.” Having a solid point of view that allows you to differentiate yourself is critical for your business, John says.

Marketing strategy is the foundation for your marketing by starting with your ideal client for your company. You can figure out the problem you solve for your client and develop content for each stage of your customer journey with the Duct Tape seven phases. Combining these marketing components gives your business a solid fan base that will spread the word about your platform and send you more referrals.

Developing a Book Marketing Strategy

Focus your book around a core problem that is a pain point for people. John gives new ideas on how to market your book, including sending your book out to those who would promote and market your book by sharing it with others. Speaking at events and selling books at events is a tangible marketing strategy to get the word out for your book.

Listen in to today’s episode to find out how to negotiate your publishing contract, how to use your book as a referral source, and how to sell your book when speaking at an event.

Show Notes

  • [02:27] Why John uses books as part of his marketing plan.
  • [04:10] How authors can use the Duct Tape Method to sell more books.
  • [08:28] What you need to develop in your book marketing strategy.
  • [13:00] Identifying product fulfillment for your market.
  • [19:36] Tactics that have sold the most books for John.
  • [22:19] Marketing your book to a traditional publisher.
  • [28:23] What you can ask for when negotiating with a publisher.
  • [32:42] Offering free content with a book purchase.
  • [35:03] Advice John gives to new authors.
bookshelf with book series

How To Write A Book Series: Hooking Your Audience

Some of the most beloved books of all time are a part of a series. The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hunger Games, Discworld, Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire, A Series of Unfortunate Events.

The writers of these stories have created fantastical worlds and characters so endearing you want to follow them through book after book. I’m sure most of your favorites as a kid were series, because series facilitate the space to really develop a relationship between your reader and your characters.

Like any longform writing, book series present their own unique challenge, but they also offer unique benefits, for both reader and writer. Are you ready to write your own series?

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Should you write a book series?

Do you have dynamic characters and an interesting world you’d like to explore for more than one book? Do you have a story that just won’t fit into one book, but you can segment it up cleanly into several? Then maybe you should write a book series!

While book series can be incredibly challenging, they also hold tons of potential for building a loyal readership. Think about it–if you’re developing the same world and same characters over several books, people who read the first book are likely to begin another. The more they read, often the more committed they become. The more committed they are, the more friends they will recommend your books to.

Think about a 10-book series versus 10 standalones by the same author. If you read the first book of the series and you love it, you’ll want to read the next one. If you read a standalone and love it, you’re done. There’s nothing else for you here. Series just attract more readers.

Aside from that, readers love following their favorite characters through multiple adventures. Once you’ve connected with a character, you want to know more about them, and you want to see them grow.

If you’re up to the challenge of writing a book series, I have a few tips for you.

How long should a book series be?

As long as you need it to be. Some stories need one book, some stories need a trilogy, and maybe some stories need an interminable serial publication. Which one is best for you?

There are essentially two types of series–closed or continued.

A closed series is when you’ve got a story that just doesn’t fit in one book, so it becomes several books. Think of the closed series like The Hunger Games–three books tell the story of Katniss Everdeen.

A continued series is a collection of episodic stories set in the same universe, likely with the same characters, but each book is a complete story and none of them rely on each other. Think Nancy Drew. Each story is about the same teenage detective, but each plot is a different, standalone mystery.

Some closed series have the potential to become continued serials, like The Chronicles of Narnia. There are only seven books in that series, but CS Lewis could have continued writing stories set in that universe, or even in the different universes we see in Narnia–in The Magician’s Nephew, we learn about The Wood Between The Worlds, which is a wooded area full of countless ponds, each of which could take someone to a different existence. That’s endless story fodder, and the series could still be publishing new stories to this day, had CS Lewis decided to continue it.

But the most important thing to know about the length of a book series is knowing when to tap out. When a story’s run its course, anything you force will seem just like that–forced. It’s often better to quit while it’s still going strong, if you feel you’ve reached the end of the tale.

So how long should a book series be? As long as the story needs.

How to write a book series step-by-step

  1. Decide if it’s a closed series or a continuation.

Before you jump into your series, you need to know the format so you can properly plan them out before you start writing.

Like we already covered, a closed series is essentially a story that ends within a certain number of books, like The Hunger Games. It’s a three-book series about Katniss, from being destitute in District 12, to battling in the Hunger Games, to where she ends up married with children. We get the whole story in a three-book journey. It would be difficult to capture everything that happens in that series in a single book.

A continuation series is something like Nancy Drew–books about the character interminably solving mysteries with no end in sight. There have been over 500 books published in this series since the 1930s, written by various authors and published under the name Carolyn Keene. With a serial like that, the publisher can release new books forever.

Any media series will take one form or the other. Look at TV shows: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has a four-season arc, and plays out like the Four Acts of a story.

While something like CSI or NCIS typically goes on for much longer, the focus of the episodes being more on the plot (a whodunit) that gets wrapped up in that episode, rather than a show like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that focuses on the characters and their journey.

If you’re aiming for a serial story, the important things for your series will be a likable, pretty middle-of-the-lane character, and an environment that lends itself to those smaller, serial stories. Using Nancy Drew as the example, she’s a teen detective. She’s likable, but standard enough to be relatable to most readers of the genre, and she’s a detective, which gives an endless amount of story ideas–just give her a new mystery to solve. The character doesn’t necessarily change. They might learn a few lessons, sure, but the focus isn’t on character arc.

A closed series is going to follow typically a much more flawed character with complicated emotions and special difficulties, like Katniss Everdeen. For a closed series, you’ll usually want to outline the entire series and know how it ends before you publish the first one. With a continuation series, this is less necessary.

As you can see, there’s a huge difference in how you plan and execute a closed narrative and a serial story, so make that decision first.

  1. Craft the metanarrative. If your series is “closed,” it requires a metanarrative. The metanarrative is the overarching story. Each book should have a story on its own, then a greater story across the entire series.

The Hunger Games series is about the people of a broken society being beaten down until they’ve had enough and rise together.

The first book is about surviving the hunger games. We see the problems, we get to know the characters, and we understand the urgency.

The second book, Catching Fire, is about the rebellion rising because of what they’ve done. We see that people have been ready to rebel for a long time, and now Katniss has sparked the revolt.

Mockingjay brings us to the end of the story. We see one cruel dictatorship fall and another threaten to rise in its place.

The metanarrative works as one piece, but each book tells its own story.

Another example of metanarrative is with a TV series. My favorite to reference is Crazy Ex-Girlfriend because it’s well-written, and because it’s very intentionally done over a four-season series. Each episode has its own arc, each season has its own arc, and the entire series has its own arc. That’s how books in a closed series should be. Next time you watch your favorite TV show, note how there’s a plot inside of each episode, but they all contribute to the greater metanarrative.

This can be incredibly tricky to manage, but it’s much easier with careful planning and a full-series outline before the first book is published.

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  1. Outline the series, then outline the books. The simplest way to deal with the metanarrative issue is by outlining the series as a whole first, then outlining each book with its own mini-arc that contributes to the greater story. Ideally, you want to have the entire series outlined–or at least a plan from getting to the beginning to the end–and an idea of what happens in each book.
  2. Create loose ends. While you do want each book to stand on its own pretty well, creating loose ends is essential.

    In one of my favorite book series, Bloody Jack by LA Meyer, we follow an orphan girl from where she lived on the streets in London to a ship where she pretended to be a boy to get accepted into the British Navy. The book ends with her being found out and left in a prestigious girls’ school in America. This ends the first book quite well–we saw her adventures on the sea, then those adventures ended.

    But Jack’s adventures continue in the next book with the next book about her time at the girls’ school. The greater story of the series is the adventures of Jack, but each book outlines a specific adventure. The first book ends with her exiting the navy, which leaves the reader satisfied that we’ve heard the whole story. But it also ends with her entering the school, which might pique interest into reading the next book to see what happens there. It’s a great balance between satisfaction of the story we’ve been told and curiosity to hear the next one.

    Another series I’m in the middle of is Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson. This series is very much closed–it’s a mystery story, and each book ends with “to be continued.” This series does NOT work as a standalone, and definitely leaves loose ends. While Bloody Jack could be consumed one book at a time, to get the full narrative of Truly Devious requires you to read the full series.

    As you can see, each writer takes their own route to telling stories with a closed series, but they all leave loose ends.
  3. Keep track of your story. Creating a series bible or keeping careful notes and outlines of the overall story as well as individual books will help you avoid plot holes and inconsistencies. It’s wise to keep a quick reference guide on hand while writing, and also to keep a more detailed account of what has happened so far and what you plan to happen next.

    Here’s a list of documents you might like to keep on hand while writing your series:
    1. Character sheets – keep track of your character’s background information, physical description, character arc, and motivation
    2. Series plot outline – the metanarrative and overall story arc
    3. Book plot outline – the outline for the current book you’re working on
    4. Worldbuilding notes – especially if you’re writing a fantasy, sci-fi, or historical series, you’ll want to have world notes. You might even make separate documents for different aspects of your worldbuilding, like the magic system, your research notes, etc.

Most problems that arise while writing a book series can be alleviated through careful planning and keeping a reference guide easily accessible while writing the next installment!

While series can be a big challenge and commitment, the return of consistent content, a loyal following, and quicker production once you get rolling might be worth the initial time investment.

Ready to start your book series?