Sunday, June 26, 2011

Day 98 – My Pricing Dilemma: How Much Would YOU Charge for This?

Alright, so here’s a question for you folks, and what makes it really interesting is the variety of people reading this. Some of you are family, some are “real world” friends of varying degrees of familiarity and connection, some are online writing/forum friends, some are friends of friends, and some just found this blog randomly. What makes that interesting is that I hope it will translate to some really good advice, especially from those of you who DON’T know me very well (sorry, Mom).

Here's the deal: I have to decide what I’m going to charge for this book. Yes, there are going to be e-versions of the book for Kindle and all that stuff, meaning, yes there will be cheap ways to read it, so DON’T freak out when you see what is about to happen (even though I kind of am). But I’m talking about the actual, physical book, the paperback.

To begin, fantasy/sci-fi readers like, in general, long books. They like to be “in” the experience for a while; it’s escapist reading. In fact, fantasy pretty much has to come in trilogies, and the most successful stuff goes on forever (eight, ten, fifteen books … sometimes they go on so long that other writers jump in and start writing in the original fantasy world too—don’t worry, my book has an ending). That said, my book is going to be about 520 pages, standard paperback size. So, that’s good. The downside is, the bigger the book, the more it costs to make.

To get some kind of baseline, I went to the book aisle at the grocery store today and did some checking on paperback prices there. They were all pretty much $8.99 for the average length (300-ish pages), and some of the 400-600 pagers were $9.99. A couple of 800 and 1000 page ones were $9.99 to $12.99 (I only saw one $12.99). This includes stuff by known authors with names you have all heard of.

Going to a retail book store like Borders doesn’t lower the price.

Going online to Amazon I find HARDCOVER books showing $9.50-ish prices, pretending to come down from a “retail price” of $18.99. Right, we all know how that works. It was the same at  $9.50. For hardcover.

Did I mention those were hardcover?

... On to my book. Createspace has a little calculator that helps authors figure out cost and profit. If I price my paperback at $9.99, which appears to be the going rate for this type of book, here’s what I get:

Alright, let me break that down real fast for those of you who aren’t big graph people, or if the graphic doesn't show up too well. First, notice the blue circles. The pricing breaks down in two ways, one is the “Standard” <cough>stupid<cough> plan and the other is the “Hey, give us an extra $40 bucks before you get going and we won’t hose you later” plan, or, as they call it, the “Pro Plan.” Apparently, the way you know you are a pro writer is by not being an imbecile when it comes to money.

So, in red, you can see on the left the $9.99 price I entered followed by what I would make (or not) using the various distribution channels (marked with red arrows). Feel free to ignore the "standard" column in each section, for reasons already covered. The estore section is for the Createspace direct bookstore. That is the self publishing store where everyone’s books are. Keep in mind, Createspace is a part of Amazon. (I don’t blame them for wanting to separate out self published books from “real” books. Plus, there is a community of writers doing this; so, that’s what the estore is.) The Amazon section is just that, the Amazon book site you all know and love. The last one, Expanded Distribution, is all other channels, the kind that sell through book stores or go to libraries etc. It’s basically what it costs to distribute outside of the two Amazon channels from the first two sections.

Notice that through the estore, I can make money at $9.99, but I will LOSE money if someone buys through Amazon or if I get some book store chain wainting to carry my book—Yes, that’s probably not going to happen, but let’s not assume that, because the story really is awesome, as you will see, so you never know. Word of mouth, here we come!

Obviously I don’t want to write Amazon a check every time I sell a book through that major channel, so I have to raise the price. That said, here’s what it looks like if I price it at $12.99, which is what a lot of other fantasy and science fiction authors have theirs priced at. It’s higher than grocery store and other retail books as I've shown above, but, hey, it’s only $3.00 more, so, with a really amazing cover and great jacket blurb, maybe that won’t be a problem. Here goes:

Hey, lookie there. At $12.99, I will now make a whopping 58 cents if people buy through Amazon. Which is fine. I don’t care. I’m not doing this to make money. I really am not. Sure it would be great to make money given how far in the hole I'm going to be when I start, but I’d rather get this awesome story out, get people into it, and, well, I’ll make money on book three when you people are all hooked and breathlessly waiting to find out what happened next (and don’t worry, my book is not a cliff hanger, I promise). But notice that third column. I’m still losing money. I’m three bucks higher than established writers (assuming I end up on a bookshelf somewhere), and I am in the hole for two dollars. Grrr.

So, I figured, what the heck, I’ll bump it up the two extra bucks and just rely on the awesomeness of my book and the amazing cover art to sell it at that pretty high price.  So, here’s $14.99, still a semi-popular price on Createspace for the genre, especially for people arguing that as a writer, we deserve to make money for our hard work:

DUDE! WTF? Do they even know how to calculate profit? You have a fixed cost for the damn book for crying out loud. Raising the price does NOT raise the hard cost to produce the f-ing book. How can I be two bucks in the hole at $12.99, add two more dollars to the price and yet net only an 80 cent profit improvement. That makes absolutely no sense. They need to stop smoking crack.

So, to make any money through any form of distribution outside of Amazon and its self-pub estore… No wait. Screw profit.  Just to break even, here is what I have to sell the book for:

Really? I have to sell it for that? For $18.03. Just to make nothing?

And worse, remember that thing I was saying about hardbacks up above? Remember the price for them right now, the $9 and change thing? (Yeah, I know you really do end up paying close to $20 for a good hardback most of the time, but still, really?)

Sheesh. So anyway, the clear lesson I think I have come away with is that I WON’T be going through expanded distribution. Which is too bad, but I’m sure I can readjust something when that happens.

I suppose I could set it at $18.99 and then discount it down to $12.99 on the other two channels (I think), but then I am starting out doing that lame retail thing that annoying stores do: “Hey, here's an amazing deal on our crap. Now 69% off, YOU SAVE BIG!”  But I hate those kind of retailers. Why would I want to be one? And that assumes the system has ways for me do that.

So, there you have it, my pricing dilemma. I’ll be reading up on the discount structure and permissions, but I am interested to hear what people have to say about pricing based on what I know now.

What would you charge if you were me?


  1. I would go for the pro plan so you can make more money. That's what we did. By the way, I would pay $14.99 for your book. I've seen your writing and it's awesome!

  2. Create Space's math is redonkulous. This whole print to order thing should cast the writer less. I was working on a collection once that required color illustrations. It simply wouldn't work without them. The cost to print one was over $30. I think you're right to forget about the expanded distribution for now. Do it where you can make some money and sell for less for starters,and build the word of mouth. Then when a book publisher comes along, stop the whole print-on-demand thing and hand it over to them--for a generous fee and a percentage, of course.

  3. I'm not even going to touch the math stuff. I'll just tell you how I am about buying books. Even though this is your first, I sorta/kinda know you, and trust that it will be good. It's also got some meat at over 500 pages. That being said, I'd pay $15 for a paperback if I found it in a store. Shit, I end up paying anywhere from $20-$30 for hardback in retail.

    If I don't know or trust an author yet, I won't pay more than $9 for a paperback in retail - EVER.

    I'm with Chris though - sell it for a little less in the beginning for those who don't know you yet and get them hooked. You can always move into expanded distribution later, I'd imagine.

  4. I just went through this myself, mucking around with CS's stupid calculator. I finally decided to price the print edition of "Enchantment" at $12.99. (For comparison's sake, the Kindle and Nook versions are $2.99).

    I don't expect to sell many hard copies, but that's okay, my main focus is on the digital market. So far, the only people that want it in print are friends and family. I'm still waiting to get my hands on the proof, so I have no idea what sort of quality issues I'll run into, but I suspect there will be more than a few. I doubt the book will be worth $12.99.

  5. I'm thinking that at first you probably aren't going to sell too many hardcovers. You just need a pile of them to take with you when you make public appearances and to sell to your relatives. If it were me, I'd price the hard copies at $19.99 and focus on downloads to make your money.

    I worked in an independent bookstore for years, and from time to time authors would approach the owner with self-published books. He never refused to carry them and he often had signings. I'm telling you the truth when I say I never saw a single one that was even coherent let alone GOOD, and they ALWAYS sold a few. I never could figure that. I think if you have the courage to put yourself out there, people respect that, even when people who should stop putting themselves out there do it.

    If your book really takes off, you will likely be approached by a publishing house, especially now that you have this awesome website and a soon to be fer-real MFA. But a few online fantasy authors are making so much from downloads they would never accept a major publishing house offer. Things are changing. Kudos to you for jumping in.

    In short, the hard cover first novel is just to wave around and hawk at bookstores and sign at sci fi conventions and what not.

    Shades, you should also put together a collection of your humor and cartoons, (like you have all this spare time), even if it's just an ebook to sell on your own site for five bucks or whatever. People really love your sarcasm--I know this isn't about that, but seriously, you have such a following there.

    Good luck! I hope you get mega rich.

    Remember us little people when you do. :)

  6. K. Wodke, yes, Pro plan for sure, and thank you. I'm looking forward to having you buy one. :)

    Chris, I think you are spot on. I've done some more reading since writing this. If it takes off to that kind of degree, I'll hand it off to the experts so I can work on sequels.

    Motown, that's pretty much how I buy books too. I'm not so sure I'd NEVER buy a new author for more, but, it better have an amazing cover and really cool sounding summary.

    Charlotte, I'm really curious to hear what you think on quality. I read a blog yesterday about a guy who was really struggling to get good copies. Half of each shipment were horrible. He kept calling and writing letters, and finally, apparently, they put a sharp blade in the machine or something and the copies stopped coming maimed. (sigh). I hope you'll keep me posted.

    Pam, I am hoping for that approached by publishing house, but am realistic and plan on putting out the whole trilogy on my own to get to where that might become a reality. I think you are right about the getting out there though, and I plan on hitting up local book stores and even anime con and comic con type events. We have a local thing here they call Second Saturday I might even look into. So, yeah, just got to do the work. Sucks though, I'd rather be writing than marketing, but, that's not how it works. I'd rather have wings and be invincible too, you know? lol.

  7. You know, though, John, you should be grateful you have a marketing background. At least you know you've been successful in that vein, so it will be helpful as you move forward to not have to learn the ropes on that one.

  8. Honestly, I am, Motown. I see some of the stuff people are doing with their books and want to email them and try to explain stuff, but I know it would be pushy and bombastic, especially from a guy who hasn't sold any yet. So, hopefully you are right, at least in theory. We shall see. Marketing a book isn't the same as the stuff I've worked on, but, people are, so, we'll see how it goes. Marketing is 20% planning and 80% execution. Let's see how I do on the 80%.

  9. Well, I wish you all the best. When it comes time, I'll ask advice. I don't give a shit if you're pushy and bombastic so long as you're right. :P

  10. LOL "right" is subjective, and I'm a slippery bastard, so I am confident I can bombast my way to the highest degree of vanity without having said anything I can be held truly accountable for later on.

  11. Ah, that wouldn't surprise me. Let me put it another way. I don't care if you're pushy or bombastic so long as your advice works. For real. In the un-subjective sense. :P