October 12, 2011


So since I’ve made the decision (again) to self-publish, I would like to take a moment to talk about eBooks, since they’re the primary product of self-publishing.

Now, there’s a lot of debate about what an author should do in regards to creating his or her eBook. Some authors relinquish all control and let a self-publishing company or a vanity press do the work. Some authors rely only on an editor and a cover artist. Other authors rely on less. Me? I rely on myself and my husband. Sometimes, I wonder if that’s such a good idea.

I’ve already designed the cover art, because I’m cheap and I have a little bit of talent with graphic design. My husband is a programming beast, so he’ll be able to convert my novel to .epub so that we can preview what it will look like before we actually publish. As far as an editor, I’m relying on my husband and critique partner. This is the one aspect that I may consider hiring out. I know how frustrating it is to read a book riddled with typos, and I don’t want my book to suffer from that. I also wonder if I should invest in a cover artist, someone who can actually draw.

I like the cover that I made, but I think it could be better. And a good cover is our first line of offense, I think. I just don’t know how to go about finding a cover artist.

Now, there are other aspects that go into selling eBooks. Marketing is important. Very important. But I’m not entirely sure where to begin. I think a lot of what we already do for our books contributes to marketing: cover, blurb, and pricing.

I think I have a decent cover, and a decent blurb, which, here that is:

It’s 1881, the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Chroniker City, the global hub of technological advancement in the modern world. Based off the British, the city is home to the most prestigious polytechnic university worldwide, a center of mechanical ingenuity teaching everything from clockwork mechanics and thermodynamics to electromagnetism and electricity.
 Petra Wade, self-taught clockwork engineer, dreams of one day becoming a member of the Guild, an elite group of inventors and innovators who envision a future fueled by technology, but her ambitions will only come to fruition if she can find a way into the illustrious university—an institution reserved for men only. When she meets Emmerich Goss, an accomplished engineer newly recruited into the Guild, she discovers that he needs help building a top-secret, government-sanctioned automaton, and Petra is just the girl to help him.
 Together, they craft the clockwork giant, and as the deadline for its completion nears, Petra finds that she can love more than gears and mainsprings.
Now, my biggest concern right now is pricing. At what price should I sell my novel?

To me, selling a novel at $0.99 signifies desperation. The book is likely to be poor quality, riddled with typos, and possibly have only so-so characters and so-so plot. That may not be true for every book priced at $0.99, but that’s my opinion of it. On top of that, royalties are lower for books priced under $2.99. And that brings me to the point that yes, an author is more likely to sell more copies the lower the book is priced, but it would take 285 books priced at $0.99 and a 35% royalty to reach $100. It would take only 48 books priced at $2.99 and only 29 priced at $4.99 with the 70% royalties. That’s the kicker.

A step up from $0.99, selling a novel at $1.99 garners a little bit of pride on the author’s part, but it’s still beneath that $2.99 mark. The author is not quite desperate, but it seems that they don’t believe people should pay any more for their book. It tells me that they think it’s worth more than a dollar, but not by much. I still sense the desperation here. But, these books are likely to be better than those lower priced.

Now, I think that the sweet spot for eBooks is between $2.99 and $4.99 for self-published books, and between $4.99 and $7.99 for traditionally published books. That’s not to say that traditionally published books are worth more; they just have a higher overhead and have to cover that somehow. I get that. So the question for self-published authors is where do you price your novel? Personally, I think that $2.99 for a book is a bargain. Priced such, it would seem to me that the author takes pride in their book, and they feel that their story is worth spending a bit of money on. Books above $2.99 are more likely to be of decent to good quality. That’s not always the case, but it seems it would be the standard. A lot of traditionally published eBooks go on sale for $2.99 for promotional purposes, especially firsts of series.

So, if the price of books represents quality, then it would seem that the higher the price, the better the book. I disagree. I think any eBook priced over $4.99 is a little egotistic. This is my enacted opinion: My book is so awesome that I’m going to price it for $9.99 (the highest price before Amazon and Barnes&Noble take away the sweet 70%/65% royalties). So the author does so. Here’s my thinking: Wow, this guy really thinks highly of himself. Yeah, I get that he thinks his book is awesome and deserves to sell at a higher price, but he doesn’t have the overhead that a traditional publisher does. On top of that, I don’t feel like shelling out $10 for a self-published book that may or may not be good when I can buy two $5 books instead. And that’s the dilemma: what is a good price for the author to feel like he’s earning what he deserves on his story, but also, what is a good price for the reader? That’s the battle.

And that’s why I think that the $2.99 to $4.99 is the sweet spot for eBooks. Yes, people are more likely to spend $1 five times over $5 once, but in a way, those readers aren’t necessarily looking for quality. They’re looking for a cheap story to enjoy for a few hours. But for every one of those readers, I’d like to believe that there is another who wants quality, who thinks that a $5 book is five-times better than a $1 book, who thinks that it’s worth spending the extra money to read a good book.

Now, I can’t decide whether I should sell my book at the $2.99 or $4.99 price point (because who prices their book at $3.99? pfft…). My husband thinks I should sell the first book in the steampunk series at $2.99 and price the rest at $4.99. I think it’s a good idea.

What do you think? Should I hire a cover artist? An editor? Should I work on my blurb? Should I price my book below, above, or at $2.99?


  1. As a husband, I agree with your husband.

    No, seriously, it does make sense. Hook people with a lower price, and if they find they like it, then they will be willing to pay a higher price for the rest.

  2. I think you should go with $3.99. It'll make you stand out.

  3. From the pricing I've seen, $2.99 is the sweet spot for ebooks. This tends to be the way to draw the reader. After a cool promotional period, you can try a staggered increase, to $3.99 for a while then make the final price $4.99. That may be too much. Sorry,

    But, when you get the next book out, loyal fans will have no issue with paying $4.99 for it and they'll really appreciate a promo period when it's set at $2.99.

    I wish you well with whatever you decide. I am intrigued and look forward to getting my copy of your ebook.

  4. I would price it at 2.99 -- at that price I will buy a book from an author I don't know if it has a couple of good reviews.
    (At $1 I will buy a book that looks intriguing even if it has no reviews or a book that has good reviews but is in a genre I don't read).
    I only buy books at $4.99+ if I know the author or it has glowing reviews from reviewers I trust. YMMV.

    I think the cover is OK but I would definitely hire a copy editor. People are quick to jump on self-published writers who don't have good copyediting in reviews. Not sure how good this is, but you might want to look into:

  5. Thanks everyone!

    Angela, a gradual price increase makes sense, but I imagine I'll probably keep the first book at the low price, and give subsequent books a promotion period at the same price before increasing it.

    Katya, thanks for the insight! I'll definitely look into hiring a copy editor before I publish. My biggest problem is that I'm next to broke. :/ That's why I've hesitated to hire a cover artist when I can do an okay job myself. Editing on the other hand, I'm terrible at doing my own stuff.

  6. I think you're totally right. Three and even five dollars isn't that much to pay, and I'm more willing to pay that much for a good book than a buck for a mediocre one.

  7. I actually discussed this on one of my blogs, Brooke.

    The key is, due to elasticity of demand, you're going to see significant drops in readers over $4.99. You see a dramatic loss in profits under $2.99 for the reason you states. Just to confirm your napkin math of the 2.99 to 3.99 range.

    Having examined an experimental straight line depreciation of profit compared to sales, the 'optimum' price is about $4.50. I personally don't believe that readerships are a straight line drop and tried an exponential regression; this put the 'optimal' price at $3.99. You mentioned how strange that price point is, but I feel that that is what makes it even stronger as a price point. Being part of that 'mid zone' where few people are pricing puts you in an interesting position since Amazon lets you search by price.

    Obviously, there's more to influence the price than that, since the idea of 'bargain' pricing the first book in a series has proven track record among other independent publishers, so it may be worth pricing at 2.99 (And dropping it lower when you have a handful of books in the series) for marketing purposes.

  8. I've also blogged about eBook pricing. FWIW, I've decided to price White Pickups at $3.00, but maybe offer promotional pricing.

    Quality is getting better, even in the bargain basement. I just finished reading a very good 99¢ anthology, formatting & editing were good enough to not notice. That says we all need to step up our game if we're going to have a chance. I lucked into finding two people with editing chops locally, so I'll have my duckies in a row anyway.

  9. I priced my books at $3.99... O_o