Yeah, I don’t like to talk about money. Like politics and religion, it can ugly. That’s why this post is longer and rantier than usual. But it’s part of this whole series I’m taking you through this week, and it’s my opinion. I’m keeping it. If you don’t like it, just go do your own thing, ok?
Ok, so the series, if you’re just joining us… Last Saturday I talked about reaching the Kindle top 1000 and some things I think were helpful, and now I’m going through and expanding on those ideas.
When most of my friends put out their first books, everyone was all about 99 cents. It’s the lowest price an indie can set on Amazon. And there were a lot of 99 cent ebooks out there, competing for space. At the time, it was even harder for the 99 cent books to get found because, when searching by price, you had to start with the freebies that the trad publishers are allowed to run, pages and pages of freebies, many of which were merely excerpts from books.
The two things happened: first, Amazon broke the freebies away from the rest of the Kindle store so that they could be searched and ranked separately (yay!), and they went to the 70% royalty rate for books priced between $2.99 and $9.99.
Since that time, $2.99 has been on its way to becoming the new 99 cents, possibly in the same way it seems that just yesterday a regular sized Milky Way bar was under 50 cents and the “fun size” was a whole lot funner. /accidental chocolatey tangent.
And I’ve certainly got no beef with anyone who wants to make $2 off their book instead of 35 cents. What I do have a problem with is people implying that I am doing something wrong by pricing my book at 99 cents. That I am undercutting other authors, devaluing my own work and books as a whole, and somehow behaving as a bad citizen of the indie author community. In a sense, reading (SOME and not all of) these articles on why we should all move on up to $2.99, feels a lot like reading some of the not so nice things the trad authors have said about the indies.
Last month I sold over 300 books through all channels. This month I’m on target to sell that many by halfway through the month. But I’m making 35 cents per book, or a bit over $100 when I could, in theory, be making $600. OMG, why don’t I raise that price.
Because there is no way on this Earth that you are going to convince me that, as an 8 week old, baby author with NO name, NO ad budget, and one title, that many people are going to buy my book at $2.99.
But Susan, it doesn’t matter if 300 people buy your book. At that rate, fewer people can buy your book and you’ll still be making more money. Great. If making money were the most important thing to me right now, I’d be all over that. Would I like to be able to make back what I paid my cover artist, the copyright registration, the paper copies I’ve sent out? Would I love to be able to give away more paper books, t-shirts and other swag, do the Kindle Nation sponsorship thing, have contests that give away Kindles? Hell yes! Am I there yet? No. I haven’t earned that yet. Would I love to be able to pay some bills, figure out what’s wrong with my car, and not have to roll down the window to open the door from the outside? Yes. But I haven’t earned that yet either.
I’m pretty sure I once read where Holly Lisle (who has many smart and helpful things to say to writers) said that you shouldn’t quit your day job until you have 11 books published. Because that’s the point at which your royalties may be stable enough to support you writing full time. Now that was a few years back, and the industry has changed boatloads in that time. I have no idea what she’d say about that now. But that has really stuck with me.
So what do I think I’m getting at the 99 cent level? Sales and rank. Rank comes from sales. Once I started to push up from the middle of the category lists I was on, sales increased. See, I had trouble figuring this out because, remember all those reviews I had? Well, things had a been really quiet on that front. And then sales, like, doubled. Not that that was totally crazy, because it wasn’t a huge number either way. But I’d Google myself and no one was really talking about the book. I wouldn’t be able to put my finger on what prompted someone to check me out. But the thing that had changed was my placement in the Kindle rankings, which was moving me up those category lists.
The biggest hurdle is visibility, the second is credibility.
There are some people out there saying that people who buy books for 99 cents are then not motivated to read them. That’s their loss. It’s a fun book. I believe that plenty of people do read it and are then unmotivated to tell others about it. So in that way, as far as sales of this book are concerned, non-reader and reader have done me the exact same service. They’ve registered a sale that has increased my rank, and therefore also my visibility. When they come across another blogger talking about it, maybe they’ll move it to the top of the TBR list.
I know people are searching me by price, and I’m pretty sure some are choosing free reads over mine. And this is because, on my Kindle page, I can see What Do Customers Ultimately Do After Viewing This Item? Most of them are still buying me. That percentage, often referred to as “conversion rate” has gone down a lot since I started. That’s because, in the beginning, people were going to my page via direct link because of me, a tweet, a review, etc. They went with the purpose of buying my book. As I got out of that, and browsers became a bigger part of my sales, that rate goes down, because some browsers by you, and some pass you by. The browsers who do not buy Hush Money generally buy other free reads or other 99 cent ebooks. So far, I don’t have a lot of people looking at my book and walking away to buy a $5 ebook instead. Because I’m only 99 cents, so why not try it?
When people come across me, unknown, under-vetted, baby indie author, it’s a lot easier for them to throw 99 cents at Amazon than it is $2.99. It just is. It may very well be that $2.99 is no big loss for lots of people if the book doesn’t suit them, but it’s still more than 99 cents, and any increase in price has the potential to increase customer resistance of the Buy button.
Yes, there is more to marketing than just a low price point. We need to learn to market effectively, build a brand, build a readership. But it has to start somewhere, and I think new authors who start higher are denying themselves some perks of the 99 cent slot.
I said on the Indie Reader blog recently that I don’t devalue my work. That makes no sense to me. I don’t have an ad budget, so a discounted price for the work is what I have to trade with right now in order to develop an audience for my future work. If my work had no value, that wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t net me anything. I’d get no word of mouth, and no one would come back for the next book. If I didn’t believe my book was going to earn me some loyal readers, and if I didn’t believe in my ability to produce good work in the future, I’d set a higher price, take the money and run. Wouldn’t I?
Authors talk about all the work they put in. The years they spent honing their craft, the months they put into this book, the planning, the writing, the editing, money they put into producing and marketing. They deserve to get paid for that. Well yeah. And so do all the artists selling over at Etsy who have done the same thing. And a lot of them realize that they have to sell at a break-even point for a while to build a brand and a business.
That’s all I’m saying. I believe in my future work. Hush Money is an introduction to my writing and my world, and it comes at a discounted rate. I earn very little on it in cash terms, but that gets made up to me in other ways that I hope will help me in the long run.
Will it be 99 cents forever? I don’t know. I’m still feeling my way through. What I do know is that the first books in Amanda Hocking’s My Blood Approves series and Imogen Rose’s Portal Chronicles series are both currently priced at 99 cents and both have been very high on their category lists for quite some time. I’ve also seen new printings of first books of some series, like Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, reprinted with $2.99 on the cover as an incentive to draw new readers into the series.
- Your share of your 99 cent price is more than 35 cents. It’s just not all in cash.
- Despite what others are saying, a low price does not mean “lack of faith in the work” to all people. Don’t be bullied. Do what’s right for you.
- Biggest hurdles? Visibility and credibility. Think of those when thinking about pricing.
- Remember that, in many professions, it can take years to begin to earn what your work is really worth. We may do it faster, but maybe not right of the gate.
My recommendation to other new indies is to price at 99 cents. I feel it’s been very beneficial for me, and plan to leave the price at this level at least until after the release of Heroes ‘Til Curfew, if not longer.
No matter how much I really want to buy six seasons of Supernatural on DVD.