Sunday, December 11, 2011

Liz’s Lair: Undervaluing Your Writing

In today’s world of self publication, we are entering new territory, and no one really knows what to charge for the stories we put up. We’re all learning, and sometimes it takes making a mistake to set us on the right track.

That’s the thing that is keeping me awake at night right now. Before I get into that, I want to take a look at what we know about self publishing. First off, let’s define it.

Self-publishing is putting your novel, short story, etc. available as a download and/or Print On Demand trade paperback without the involvement or vetting of an established publisher through a publishing system such as Lulu, Smashwords, Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing or Barnes & Noble's PubIt! The author pays to have it copy edited, pays for a cover, and either formats it herself or pays to have it done. All the catchy blurbs on the cover and on the websites are done by the author. The payout is usually 35 % for anything under $2.99. A $2.99 price tag earns the author 70%. Here are some facts.

1.There are a lot of people doing it! It no longer carries the same stigma as it used to. I was always told self publishing was the kiss of death for a writer…that no reputable publisher would touch you if you did. I believe Amanda Hocking’s story along with J A Konrath’s success tells a whole different story. Amanda, if you’ll remember, self pubbed a YA Paranormal series. When her sales skyrocketed (well over 450,000) she began getting noticed. Recently she signed a 4 book deal with St. Martin’s Press for two million dollars.

Holy crap!

2. Because there are a lot of people doing it, there are a lot of books out there with great titles, great covers, etc. that really are not ready for prime time for one reason or another. It’s difficult for readers to know if they are wasting their money on something that should have stayed under the author’s bed.

3. The popular thing to do right now is to put up short stories and price them at $.99. I see authors talking about how fast they write them and get them up there. After all, more books mean more sales, and even at $.99, their take is $.35. That’s about half of what a debut author gets for an $8 mass market paper back. So, IMO, that’s pretty good.

4. A recent survey shows 20 million people read e-books last year, and more self-published authors are taking advantage of the trend.

So, here’s my dilemma. I have my full length stand alone mystery up on Amazon with the introductory price of $.99. It’s been reviewed by a seasoned reviewer who fell in love with it. Three other readers (not related to me!!) also loved it. I know it’s a good book. Anyway, this weekend I was advised by two industry professionals to raise the price. These are people whose business opinions I value. To a man they said I was undervaluing my work.

How’s a girl to know?

Recently Elle Lohlorien posted on J A Conrath’s blog about this very thing. The entire blog is worth a read, but for the sake of arguing my case, I will try to break it down. Basically, she published her book on Amazon and slapped a $2.99 price tag on it. Sales were not anything to write home about. Then she ran across a thread where a reader said “she never bought a book that was $2.99 or less because it was sure to be self-published “indie crap” riddled with typos.” And one reviewer who gave her a 5 star review said she would have paid full price for her book.

That got her thinking about how pricing books compared to Starbucks coffee (you have to read the blog to get this.) so, she raised the price to $3.99 and guess what? Sales increased. When she jacked up the price another dollar, they sold even more.

What? This goes against all the advice I got before I self published…all the people who told me to price it at $.99 to get people to try me.

Elle went on to say that she questions the fact that pricing the book at $.99 may indicate to some people that your work had no value. On the flip side, one could argue that more people will download your book at the lower price, and then you can charge more for your next book.

Can you see my problem?

But I have to go with my gut and the advice of people who know what they’re talking about. For that reason, MORTAL DECEPTION will remain at $.99 until Wednesday when the price will go up. So if you’re seriously thinking about giving it a try, you’d better hurry.

Now I’d like to hear your opinions about ebook pricing. Are you more inclined to jump on the $.99 cent bandwagon or does it make you pause and wonder if the book is any good? Give it to me—the good, bad, and the ugly. And some lucky commenter will win a free download of MD...worth $.99 until Wednesday!!


Kari Lee Townsend said...

I think an introductory rate of 99 cents is great, and then increase the book to 2.99. That seems to be the most common way of doing it, but then again, what do I know. I'd like answers myself in preparation of self pubbing a few of my own stories :-)

Nan said...

I think you should have two twenty seven ounce margaritas and then decide. Just kidding.... sounds yummy though!

Lindsay said...

Talk to the people you know and trust Liz. For me, I'll buy a book for $2.99 or more if I know or have read the author. Hell, I've even paid $7.99 for an eBook because I have read that author before.
And if the 2 twenty-seven ounce margaritas don't work, have a third.

Anita Clenney said...

Liz, this was a fantastic post. Great information. I don't know what to suggest. I think Kari's suggestion might be the way to go.

Anita Clenney said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anita Clenney said...

Oops, published comment too soon. I remember reading a JA Konrath blog on how pricing his book lower earned more money in the long run, but who's to say how low is the best price? A low price can make lots of sales IF the readers don't think it's self published crap and buy it. But as you point out, self publishing has changed. Everyone is doing it now. It's gained more respect. Still, the whole think is confusing.

December 12, 2011 12:05 PM

Liz Lipperman said...

We'll all learn together, Kari. Since I am the first to take the plunge of all of us, I get to make the mistakes!!

Liz Lipperman said...

Oh, Nan, I do like the way you think!!! Of course, anyone who knows me knows I am such a sissy drinker, I would sleep for a week after that.

Loved the laugh, thugh.

Liz Lipperman said...

Thanks for the advice, Lindsay. I'll pay that much, too, for an author I like.

But the other part of me says I might get more readers with a lower price...readers who might return for another book and be wiling to pay a higher price.


AS for the third margarita...double oy!!

Liz Lipperman said...

I know, Anita. I wish there were clear cut answers. It's such a new landscape out there for writers. I know you personally had a lot of success with a lower price, but your book wasn't self published and had been on the market for a few months, right?

I am so confused, and everybody seems to have a different take on it.

Edie Ramer said...

Liz, the odd thing is that when you look at The Frog Prince, it's $2.99. Not $2.99 with a higher price above and a slash through the higher price to show Amazon put it on sale. But just a $2.99 sales price.

That said, go for the $2.99 price. I have one book priced 99 cents, but I hope that it will give me fans that buy my other book. If it was the only book I had, I might leave it at $2.99. I think my books are worth it.

Amy Atwell said...

There's a lot to mull through with this post. Add in that Darcie Chan just hit the Amazon 2011 Bestsellers list (#4) for her indie debut--only available in Kindle--that she priced at 99¢.

I released my 100K+ word historical, Ambersley, in June and I priced it at $4.99. Sales were okay until late August. Then it died. So I reduced the price to 99¢. Not quite sure what I tapped into, but the book hit the top 100 at both B&N and Amazon. I was terrified to raise the price back up. I finally took it back to $4.99 again earlier this month. But, frankly, I plan to discount again in the future.

For me, the question isn't "how much do I earn per book," it's how much I earn in a week. If I can hit my target at a lower price, then that's a benefit for the readers. The benefit for me comes in greater visibility. Over 25,000 people have purchased my book in six months--the majority of them for 99¢. If they read it and love it, they're apt to buy my next one.

Donna Cummings said...

This is a great discussion. I recently self-pubbed a novella, and I have it priced at 99 cents, since I'm trying to gain new readers, and it seems like it's helping people take a chance on me.

I'm also getting ready to self-pub a full-length manuscript, and I think I'll be offering it at a higher price, since it's longer. We'll see what happens! I know I better get a copy of your book for my new Nook. :)

Pepper Phillips said...

Pricing is one of the things you have to play with to get exposure, new readers, etc., even the big boys will discount their work for awhile.

It's a problem we all have to figure out.

I don't think drinking will help, but you might need an aspirin when the headache kicks in.

Liz Lipperman said...

Edie, that's interesting about the Frog Prince since she specifically said she had raised the price to $4.99.

And I'm leaning toward the higher price for full length books and the lower one for novellas and short stories. Agree?

Liz Lipperman said...

Amy,that's wonderful that Ambersley us doing so well. And you make a good point about the lower price. As I said, that's what keeps me awake at night. I wish someone would publish guidelines for this.

If it's a stand along- so many points.
If it's series - so many points.
If it's a full length novel--well, you get the point.

Liz Lipperman said...

Donna, good luck on both the short story and the full length book. I'd be curious to see if selling the $.99 cents one helped your sales on the full length one, but how could you tell, really?

And MD will definitely come to Nook tomorrow. Keep checking Smashwords.

Liz Lipperman said...

Pepper thanks for reminding me that even the big boys lower their prices to promote. I kind of wish Berkley would lower the kindle download of LLD for a month or two. I think it would make people more anxious to buy book 2 in that series.

And I hear you about the headaches. Thanks for commenting.

KC Stone said...

Hey Liz,
thanks for sharing your journey into this crazy new era of publishing. I'm so glad I was able to catch up on blog reading today!
I'm working on several ms now with an eye on self-pub in the spring if I don't have an agent by then... so I really appreciate you sharing this information.

I still don't own an ereader but my sister does and she says she doesn't hesitate to pay "real" money for a writer she trusts to give her a good read.
So IMHO, the product is the critical issue. Customers will pay if they believe.
Which means the will pay for your books!

Liz Lipperman said...

K.C., glad you stopped by. You're just in time for the drawing for the free download, too.

But first, I wanted to comment on your comment. I find it interesting that your sister feels that way. I'm betting this is how most people feel It's good to know.

Now on to the drawing. Hold on while I go to and let them pick a winner.

And the winner is Lindsay. Congrats. I'll send a coupon when it is available.

Lindsay said...

Woohoo. I finally get a copy of the book.
Thanks Liz