This week, authors J Thorn and Crys Cain discuss what elements come into play when you’re deciding how to price your book. Are you going exclusive with Amazon or wide? Are you a new author or are you established? What are your goals?


Crys: Welcome to the TASM podcast. I’m Crys Cain with my cohost, J Thorn.  

J: Hey, Crys. How you doing?  

Crys: I am doing great. I have a subtitle for the Summer of Chaos. 

J: Ooh, what is it? 

Crys: It is “My Disney Pixar Princess Adventure.”  

J: You’re gonna have to explain a little bit.  

Crys: Over the last couple of weeks, particularly visiting the national parks… animals are just cheeky, and they’ve been coming up to us. I have these great pictures of a squirrel, like I dunno, six inches from me and he’s up the giant face, like hello, and a video of him petting my son. That was wild.  

Um, birds. We saw a bear. I’ve swam gold. There’s just magic happening out in the west here.  

J: That’s wonderful. And for our members who are in our Slack group, they’ve been somewhat following along your adventures. How’s Vancy doing?  

Crys: Vancy, as our members know, died on a mountain at 11:00 PM at night, in an area with no cell phone reception. Thankfully in a national park, so there are people who are paid to save you.  

We managed to get on over to the LA area and she is in a transmission shop right now, hopefully getting a seal replaced and looking at anything else that might be wrong. She’s an old girl. She does not deal with heat and mountains very well. 

I sympathize with her. So we’re trying to… it’s like a knee replacement analogy here.  

J: I like it. I’m glad to hear she’s still in service.  

Crys: Yes. Thank goodness. How have your three weeks been since we’ve had a good chat?  

J: Yeah, the last time we recorded together was in my house that I no longer own. 

Crys: So it went through!  

J: It went through, yeah. The wire transfer landed yesterday. Yeah, my summer of chaos is calming down now. In fact that, you know, now that it’s September, I think that’s a good sign, but we got moved out. We got my son delivered to Reed college in Portland. We got moved into the apartment. I’ve got my desk in my office set up and things are starting to calm down a little.  

Crys: Yeah, like you’re already unpacked. You’ve got all your books behind you. You’ve got the writer motif already going on no longer like jail cell looking barreness.  

J: I mean, We really, we downsized and we got rid of a lot of stuff. 

And so the move was much easier than any one we’ve ever done before. We just didn’t have the same volume of things to worry about, which was very nice. And in the stage of life I’m heading into, I’m definitely about decluttering, downsizing and getting rid of things.  

Crys: That helps so much. In other wild news, I also sold my property and got the wire transfer two days ago. So woo. We are completing the things that have been in process for months.  

J: Nice. We’ve got some good forward mojo going here. I like it.  

Crys: We’re prepping for 2022. We haven’t had a lot of comments lately. Some really good conversations in our group, but rather than try and catch up three weeks worth of conversations, we’re just going to go ahead into our question for this week. 

That does come from a member in our group. And this is something I think people struggle with a lot. And that is how do you price your work as an indie author?  

J: Yes. Do you want to start? Do you want me to give you some thoughts?  

Crys: Yeah, you go for it. I feel like my answer’s fairly simple and arbitrary. 

J: Yeah. And I feel like I’m going to say what I always say, which is, it depends. This is tricky. And I think it’s a tricky question and because it’s so emotionally based.  

Pricing in general is all, it’s all about emotion. It has nothing to do with logic, whether you’re the one setting the price or the one paying it there are countless studies on people do not make rational purchasing decisions, even if you think you don’t.  

When you add in that emotional element, it’s really difficult. There’s a spectrum of pricing. There’s the very low end and the rationale there is reduce the barrier to entry make it as easy as possible to get someone into your work or your services.  

And then at the far other end of the spectrum is price your stuff as a premium product. Therefore you have to sell fewer because the marKUp or the price differential is so high.  

And that’s a spectrum so that, you’re going to slide along that back and forth depending on the project, depending on where you are in your career. 

So my best advice on pricing, or what I try to do, is I try to remove my own emotions from it. And here’s an example of that: I’ll often hear from writers and they’ll say something like “Well, I’m not giving away a free book as a reader magnet, because I worked for two years on it and I poured my heart and soul into it. And there’s no way I’m giving it away for free.”  

That’s a strictly emotional decision. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong or it’s the right or wrong move for you at that time, but I think looking at the market and looking at the reader expectation or the expectation of the customer is a much better approach, understanding that it’s still going to be highly emotionally driven.  

Crys: Yeah. I believe everyone should have a… they should set up a set of rules of how they’re going to price things so that they’re not questioning themselves every time they publish a book. And a lot of that will be genre based.  

I think that most nonfiction books can be priced higher than fiction books because people will pay more for an answer to a painful problem. 

There’s that emotion there. It’s worth more to them.  

And so you might have a 30,000 word nonfiction book that answers a painful problem and it’s useful. So you charge, I don’t know, $5.99, maybe $9.99 for it. And people will be far more willing to pay that than they would necessarily a fiction book. 

When I started, I simply priced everything, cause I was Amazon exclusive, I priced everything at $2.99 because the Amazon rules are that below $2.99, you only get 35% of the list price minus delivery fees. No. When it’s that low they don’t charge you for delivery fees. Anyways, those are semantics, but the things we need to think about.  

And so I was like, nobody knows me. So I want the lowest barrier to entry without kneecapping myself with the price. Not doing free and not doing in 99 cents or $1.99. So that’s why I chose my initial price.  

J: Yeah, and I think that’s a very sound rationale. It is highly genre dependent too. I think there are… in romance, the quote-unquote books tend to be shorter but they’re not necessarily priced less than other genre fiction. 

I also think too that Amazon has driven a lot of those decisions based on their royalty structure. And because of that, there aren’t a lot of options. You have 99 cents or you have between $2.99 and $5.99, like that’s it really when you realistically, when you’re talking about fiction. 

I think that you have to be cognizant of what the platform…, like Amazon is creating those rules for a reason. They have the data, they have the evidence that says this type of book sells better at this price point. And so by enforcing those royalty structures, they’re trying to force us into those decisions. So you have to take that into account.  

Your example with nonfiction is also a good point, too. If your book is sitting on the virtual shelf next to other books in the genre, the same way your cover and your title and the story has to be somewhat consistent for reader expectation, so does the price.  

If you’re in a genre where all the price, all the books are priced at 99 cents, and yours is $8.99? That’s going to be problematic for a number of reasons.  

So I think with, with book pricing, you don’t have a lot of options and it’s probably going to be driven by both the platform and by the reader expectation. 

I think when you get into pricing of other things like merchandise or crowdfunding things, or if you’re doing author services, that’s a whole nother conversation. And I think it’s a slightly different approach.  

Crys: Then you have the cost of the individual item’s production to take into account and there’s more math to do there. 

J: There’s also a perception there. And I think this plays into book prices as well, but Seth Godin is a great one to follow in marketing and pricing. He talks about a race to the bottom and in a way that, that’s been the criticism of platforms like 99 Designs. 

I remember when 99 Designs first came out, there were a lot of graphic designers who were like, that’s a race to the bottom. You’re forcing designers to design it at the cheapest possible price point. There is some, there’s some validity to that.  

And I think that the same holds true for books, is 99 cents or a free book on Amazon, the race to the bottom? Yeah, maybe.  

But I think too, you have to consider the rationale behind your pricing. And this gets to my original response of, it depends if you’re an established author with a readership, you’re probably able to charge more because readers will pay that because you’re a known quantity. And if you’re not, you’re going to have to price less.  

I think that’s a natural progression. For all of us, whether we’re authors or doing author services, I think early on, you’re going to have to price lower. And then as you get more customers and as you develop a word of mouth and testimonials, then you can start raising those prices. 

Crys: 100%. There was a point, I don’t know, maybe two years ago, maybe three years ago when I raised my minimum price of what I would charge for a new work. An older work, I might price lower at some point. But a new work, I don’t charge $2.99 anymore. I charge higher than that.  

If you’re Amazon exclusive it’s a fairly simple calculation as far as deciding what you’re going to price compared to if you’re wide, because once you’re wide, you have to take into account that you have to have the same price in all markets because of platform agreements that you sign, your terms of services that you signed. And wider markets often have a willingness to spend a greater amount on an ebook.  

You have to then decide, where is your energy going to be spent most? Where are you going to be developing your readership most? Are you going to be developing it wide? Are you going to be developing it on Amazon? 

Because which area determines what kind of pricing you want to use.  

J: Good point. Yeah. There are other variables that work their way in as you publish more too. Like you’re writing in series and then you get into audio book production, you get into paperback and hardback pricing, you get into electronic bundles. If you take a series and put them into a box set their pricing implications there. So it does get a little bit more complicated, the more IP you create. But yeah, I would agree with that.  

Crys: Now, one of the side questions asked with this question, is it different for beginners versus more established authors? And we touched on that a little bit.  

And my personal opinion is that you start as low as you can with the highest royalty that you can. That’s, that is why I chose $2.99. And that’s my personal opinion.  

I know a lot of authors who have started out with 99 cents, particularly in the more competitive genres, like romance, trying to get their book out to as many readers as possible. 

Also they’re banking on the KU money. So that’s another factor in that. If you’re KU a lot of times you can offset that 99 cents if you’re publishing 80,000 word books. You’re gonna earn far more from KU than you will from your sales, but then you rank comes into play and more people buying your book, come into play. 

But as a new author, I personally just didn’t feel like that was a gamble I was willing to make that more enough people are going to buy my book at 99 cents to make it worth it for me.  

J: Yeah. And the KU one is tricky too, because KU is a different marketplace then Amazon. And those aren’t the same buyers. 

And yet, if you price too low in Amazon, the perceived value in KU is low. Someone in KU who wants to borrow a book, wants to borrow the most expensive book, that’s human nature. There’s that element too. So yeah, it is it can get quite complex.  

But I think the big takeaway, and I think what authors really need to think about is what is your aim for that book at that time? 

There are going to be times where you’re like, I don’t care if it’s free, I just need to get in as many hands as possible. Maybe you want to get reviews, right? So you’re like, I’ll give it away, if people will review it. And then there are other times where you’re like I need a, you call it a cash grab, right? 

You’re like, I need an injection of cash, and I’m gonna do a promo or I’m gonna raise the price and push ads to it and try and maximize royalties. And that’s an entirely different approach.  

And that’s going to vary from… depending on the time that you’re in the book that you’re talking about, the size of your back catalog. 

I think it all comes back to what is it you want to accomplish right now with this particular title? 

Crys: Absolutely. And one of the best things you can do is watch your area of sales. If you’re a scifi author who’s going to go wide, spend a month where you’re checking every day, maybe twice a day, or at least two weeks, spend some time seeing what the rhythm is in the area that you want to sell. Because that’s going to matter more than any individual feelings about how you ought to price things when you’re first starting out.  

It’s really important over your entire career to know what is currently industry standard in the areas that you’re wanting to sell. And the more you learn, the more, when you want to break away from those standards and what reasons you have for breaking away from those standards, there’s no rules for any situation about whether you stay with what everyone else is doing, or when you break away. There’s only your thoughts about ” Hey, I think that this might work for this result that I’m reaching for.”  

And it’s a constant test. There’s no guarantees. You’re constantly testing hypotheses. I think this book XYZ will sell like this if I price it like this. If that doesn’t work out, you have more information, you change things up, you try something new.  

J: totally.  

Crys: Excellent. I guess my question for our listeners then is what are your personal rules for yourself with selling your books? how do you price them? If you haven’t priced sold a book yet,if you haven’t published a book yet, what do you think you will do? 

If you would like to join this conversation in real time, we’d love for you to pop over and check out what The Author Success Mastermind is all about.