There is a question authors have to ask themselves with every new book: How much is my book worth?
We spend countless hours dreaming and brainstorming, drafting and rewriting, editing and revising. Then, we have someone else look at it and we edit it again. But the time we finally press publish, we have likely laughed, cried, yelled at it, and drowned our frustration in chocolate.
And then we put it up for order. Should it be 99 cents? 3 dollars? Dare we charge 4 dollars or even 5?
There are so many factors in this decision, I thought I would share some of them with you.
First of all, we have to debunk the notion that authors should give away all of their books for free. Yes, there are readers who believe this, especially in Christian fiction or non-fiction. After all, isn’t this a ministry?
Most of us who write Christian fiction would say that God has called us to write God-honoring stories to draw people to Him as well as provide clean, wholesome entertainment. But the presence of faith in a book doesn’t negate the time and effort it took to produce. Not to mention the money invested in editing, cover design, formatting and marketing. We pay our pastors, teachers, administrators, and missionaries for their time. These books took work, time, and money, and authors (although we love what we do!) cannot usually do it for nothing.
Okay, if we have established that books have value and shouldn’t ALL be free ALL the time; (trust me, I love a good FREE promotion and the ability to get books with Christian themes into the hands of thousands of readers!) the next question is how much?
$0.99 sounds good!
There are millions of 99 cent books out there. Can I let you in on a secret? For a 99 cent book on Amazon, the author gets just 35 cents. It kind of makes me cringe, because its the kind of money we give my toddler for doing his chores. My cost to produce each book is over $500, other authors invest even more. It takes a long time to earn back that money 35 cents at a time, and then ongoing marketing continues to eat away at the profit.
It should come as no surprise that we as authors use 99 cent books (and free ones) primarily as “loss leaders.” If you aren’t familiar with the term, it is common in business and means we don’t expect to make money on that particular product. But, we hope you’ll love it enough to pay more for our other products. That’s why you often see 99 cent promotions or the first books in a series priced at this level. For those on a tight budget, FREE and 99 cent books may be all you can afford, and that’s okay! But you may miss out on books that the author never discounts – and that doesn’t mean our books aren’t worth more than a dollar. Pricing all our books at 99 cents is likely unsustainable.
So then, $3? $4? $5? More?
It isn’t unusual to see ebooks from big names priced at over $10, often nearly the same price as the paperback version. Some readers balk at this, others don’t mind. I’ve heard it quoted that for big publishing houses, only about 10% of the cost of a paperback book is the actual ink and paper. The rest is editors, cover designers, janitors, managers, and oh yeah, the author themselves.
I went to Panera the other day to do some writing, and I ordered one of my favorite drinks – an iced cold brew coffee. It’s not a complicated drink, just some coffee grounds steeped in cold water overnight. It cost me nearly $5. And I was finished with it less than an hour later. I didn’t bat an eye. Yet, when I see an author charging $6 or $7 for an ebook, I flinch. Even though I know the effort and money it took to produce, I hate paying $10 for a digital download. I’m sure I’m not the only one. But… the story is the same, right?
How much does the author get?
I want to talk about the ways authors get paid. (I speak from an independent publishing perspective… all rules may vary for larger publishers!)
For each book, we make royalties. Those royalties may be set by the publisher or the publishing service (like Amazon). Sometimes, they have weird rules. Like – ever wonder why $1.99 is kind of a dead zone for ebooks? There are very few books at that price point. That’s because Amazon has a royalty % increase if it is priced above $2.99. There is a similar decrease above $9.99 (note that these limits don’t apply to big name publishers). It leaves us limited in price points — especially for big box set collections.
Authors can also get paid through subscription services (e.g Kindle Unlimited). If you aren’t familiar with KU, a reader pays roughly $10 per month for unlimited “borrows” of any book in the Kindle Unlimited library.
If an author is in Kindle Unlimited, we get paid a based on the number of “Kindle pages” a reader actually reads. For a 300 page book, it ends up being about $2 to the author. Yay! If you read a lot of books, this can be a huge cost savings for you, and the author still gets paid.
Side note: if you are a KU Reader, you actually support an author more if you read their $0.99 sale book in KU than if you buy the book – especially a boxset! (35 cents for a purchase vs $2+ for reading in KU). And if you want ultra-mega brownie points from your favorite authors… You can buy it so you have it forever, then read it in KU! Haha!
For authors not in KU (there are many reasons an author may choose not to enroll, which I won’t go into here!), there are other things to know. Like, if you read a book through a library service like Libby or Hoopla, they pay a royalty to the author for each use! So yay for libraries!
So how much is a story worth?
There is a lot of discussion in the author world about valuing our work. It’s disheartening to realize how easy it is to believe a cup of coffee is worth more than the books we poured our heart and soul into. There is still a strong belief that “Someone charging $4.99 must be awfully proud of themselves #humility!” or “If I charge $3.99 instead of $2.99, No one will buy my books.” I don’t think that is true, but I’m sure every author on this blog has had this debate multiple times in their career.
Of course, then there are authors who get emails from readers about how they should give away all their books for free, so maybe I’m wrong!
Enough from me…I want to know what you think as a reader:
How much is too much to pay for a book by an author you know you love?
How about an author recommended by a friend?
Or one you’ve never heard of but sounds good?
Does indie/traditional publisher make a difference?
If you read in Kindle Unlimited, does the sticker price of a book impact your decision to borrow?
I’ll be giving a $5 Amazon gift card to a random commenter who comments before Sunday at 8 pm CST. I hope you’ll use it to support an author and buy a book for $4 or even the entire $5!
The winner will be announced in the Sunday Edition on July 16th.