Pricing in Self-Publishing | Author Denise Grover Swank Pricing in Self-Publishing | Author Denise Grover Swank
Denise Grover Swank

Pricing in Self-Publishing

Here’s my  insight into pricing self-published books and one genre: romantic suspense
For a self-published author, romantic suspense is actually a very hot, well selling genre on Amazon, which is odd since it’s decreasing in print with traditional publishers. But let’s look at the top 20 in romantic suspense on Amazon:
#1 is currently Golden Lies by Barbara Freethy and ranks #21 in the Kindle store. Which means it’s probably selling about 3000-4000 (maybe 5000 it gets sketchy here) or more copies a day to maintain the rank. It’s price is $1.99. Self published
#2 Daddy’s Home by A.K. Alexander and ranks #51 in the Kindle store. It’s probably selling over 1000 copies a day. It sells for $0.99 self-published
#3 is Obsession (Faces of Evil) by Debra Webb #65 in the Kindle store It sells for $0.99 self-published
#4 A “boxed set” of four previously published High Heel Mysteries by Gemma Halliday. The author got rights to her previously traditionally published series and self-pubbed it. It ranks at #86 (and probably sells about 600 copies a day to maintain that rank) and sells for $2.99 self published
#5 Loose Ends by Terri Reid, #106 in the Kindle store. It’s probably selling 350-400 copies a day. Sells for $0.99 self-published
#6 Impulse by Debra Webb It’s #151 in the Kindle store and sells for $2.99 self-published
#7 Wild for You (Book one) by Sophia Knightly. Ranks #155 in Kindle store and sells for $0.99 self-published
#8 Deadly Desires by Ann Christopher Ranks #157 and sells for $1.99 HOWEVER it’s usual selling price is $5.99 and is published by Kensington NOTE: this the first book on the list from a traditional publisher AND it’s price has been slashed. traditionally published/price slashed
#9 Secrets, Love and Lies by Rosanne Dowell ranks #220 and sells for $2.99. Two things to note: Ms. Dowell has other published books AND this book just came off a Free listing. It was offered for free for an unknown number of days. When this happens, typically books jump from free to higher up in the ranks, then fall– sometimes quite quickly. (It has to do with Amazon algorithms) It would be interesting to check the rank of this book in a couple of days. self-published
#10 Silent Witness (Book two in a series) by Rebecca Forster ranks #222 and sells for $2.99. self-published
The first REAL traditionally published, full price book we find on the list is #12– The Witness by Dee Henderson. It ranks #302 and sells for $8.99. It was released in Feb 2006 by Tyndale Press. It was recently listed for free (you can see this in the “also boughts” most of the books in there are priced $0.00, a sure sign the book has come off a free promo.) Traditionally published
RS ranks #13 -#19 are ALL self-published and sell for $0.99 to $3.49 (Barbara Feethy)
Sidenote: #19 is Chosen by Denise Grover Swank >grin< and ranks #526 and sells for $0.99. I sold 150 copies of Chosen yesterday to maintain that rank. self-published
#20 Fearless in High Heels (part of High Heel Mystery series) by Gemma Halliday is #533 in the Kindle store. It sells for $4.99 and it’s interesting to note that this is the ONLY book $4.99 or higher on the top 20 to be there without benefit of a free promotion. self-published
So, what have we learned?
1) Romantic suspense on Amazon is dominated by self-published authors.
2) Almost all are low priced:

  • Seven $0.99 books
  • Three are $1.99
  • Seven are $2.99
  • One is $3.49
  • One is $4.99
  • One is $8..99
  • The last three book are anomalies.

Most traditionally published books often peak on the list then quickly fall.One can hypothesize that it’s because of price given the above statistics.
But here’s the problem for self-published authors: On books selling less than $2.99, the author only receives 35%. So for every book I sell of Chosen I make $0.35. At $2.99 and higher, the author can choose to opt into 70% (I have no idea why someone wouldn’t, but it’s an option.) The author get 70% plus a small “delivery” fee for each book sold. I make $2.04 on Hunted and $2.05 on Here. (It has to do with the size of the file.) One exception to receiving 70%: when the book is sold to a few foreign countries, I only receive 35%.
So it’s obvious that I sell more books at a lower price, but I make more money at $2.99 or more. What’s the best price?
There’s no one price fits all solutions. The author has to decide their primary and secondary objectives. My primary objective when I published my first two books was to establish myself in the publishing world. I wanted readers to take a chance on an unknown, debut author. I wanted my name to be recognized. My theory was that I would gain readers and develop a core reader base. My secondary objective was to make a living selling books.
Some self-published authors say they won’t “give their books” away and price them $4.99 or more. And that’s fine. That’s their choice. Let’s say an author who sells an ebook titled Sunny Days on Amazon for $4.99 is making around $3.42 a book. I have to sell 10 copies of Chosen to make as much as one book of Sunny Days. But Chosen is #19 on the romantic suspense list and #7 on the contemporary fantasy list. Amazon is promoting Chosen and Hunted (it ranks #33 on the romantic suspense list and #24 on the contemporary fantasy list) and I don’t have to do a thing. It recommends it to buyers based on their previously purchased books.
My young adult book Here has only hit the top 100 in young adult fantasy/science fiction once and not long enough to catch onto the Amazon algorithms so it struggles to maintain sales. (I sell from 15-20 copies of Here a day.)
So let’s say that Sunny Days is like my book Here and sells 15 copies a day. For an unknown author, I would think that would be on the high side. Most higher priced ebooks I come across have overall rankings in the thousands, which means they are probably lucky to sell one or two books a week. But we’ll be generous to Sunny Days and give it 15 sales a day. And then we’ll say that Chosen sells 150 copies a day.
One day’s profit:
Sunny Days— 15 books at $3.42= $51.50
Chosen — 150 books at $0.35= $52.20
It’s nearly equal profit.
And let’s be realistic. Chosen will fall. It is falling. It’s a fact of life. It’s expected. Sunny Days might maintain it’s 15 sales a day for eternity. My book Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes consistently sells an average of 30 books a day and has for four months. My hope is that Chosen and Hunted will do the same and by that time, I’ll have new books released that with any luck at all, will hit the top 20 of their genres.
But in the meantime, thousands of more readers will know my name. I’ve sold 18,000 copies of Chosen in four months. At 15 books a day, Sunny Days will have sold 1830. Authors are sick to death of hearing about branding themselves, but if the author wants to make a living writing books, they need to build a base of readers. The first way to do that is write a good book, and let’s hope at this point that’s a given. But the author has to get the reader to take a chance on their book.
All that being said, I plan to raise the price of Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes in March. I will debut a new cover and the book has 48 reviews on Amazon with an average rating of 4.7. It’s established and I think it will tolerate a price hike to $2.99. At the moment, I also plan for all my future books to be priced at $2.99. I believe that I will be able to make a living writing by pricing my books at this price point and still catch the eye of the price-conscious book buyer.
Bottom line: pricing books is subjective. It all boils down to the author’s objective.

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Trish McCallan
Trish McCallan
12 years ago

Excellent article Denise.
Everything you’ve noted is what I’ve seen on the bestsellers list too. For over eight months now. The only other thing I would add, is that there is nothing to stop an author from pricing a book low enough to hit the top of their genre’s bestsellers lists and ride it (collecting the highest possible rate of sales) for as long as they can, getting into as many also boughts and recommends as they can, and then once the book drops off the bestsellers list-pushing the price back up. Rather like you are planning to do with 28 Wishes. Until recent events, this was always my strategy for Forged in Fire.

Trish McCallan
Trish McCallan
12 years ago

Can you put another poll up, asking what a reader would pay for an e-book by an author they have never heard of? I’d pay over 10.00 for an ebook by my favorite authors. But nothing like that for an author who is new to me.

Tamara Hunter
Tamara Hunter
12 years ago

Very good post. I’m wrestling with the pricing question myself. My first book is .99. That’s fine for me because when the second book goes up, the first will be my loss leader. I’m looking at 2.99 as the price for the second book.

Heidi Tretheway
Heidi Tretheway
12 years ago

This is great analysis, Denise, and keeps moving me further toward the idea that self-publishing will be the best (and least frustrating) way to go. I agree with other commenters that I am only willing to pay over $10 (or heck, over $5) for an author I already know and love, but for someone I don’t know, $2.99 has really become my high point. When I am browsing, I don’t pay attention to whether books are self-pubbed or traditional (as I buy 99% of my books on Kindle), but I am very sketchy about buying first–I almost always try a sample to avoid total disappointment in writing or editing quality. That said, my advice to authors is to HOOK the reader in that first 10% of the book (the free download part) or else they’ll drift away. I probably quit reading 15% of the free samples I download because they don’t engage me enough to even pay $0.99 for the full story. One other thing I notice about my Kindle buying habits is that I find subtitles very helpful. So if you book title is Driven, it should be titled Driven: A paranormal romance, or Driven: Changing your attitude in business or Driven: One man’s love of cars. Otherwise, it’s just a cover-shot game.

Heather McCorkle
Heather McCorkle
12 years ago

Very wise, and oh so true. Objective is the key in the end. Being with an emerging small press I struggle with this a lot. Many small presses price their books too high to even hit the radar. I’m lucky to be in control of my pricing, but then comes the dilemma of where to set it and how will it affect other authors with the press. The business side of self-publishing is oh so hard!

Julie Duck
Julie Duck
12 years ago

Spot-on post!
I took my debut from 2.99 to .99 just before Christmas, and it started to catch on. People were looking to take the risk and buy it. My agent says it’s because .99 is akin to ‘free.” People see that price and can do it with almost no thought.
– Julie

Terri Reid
Terri Reid
12 years ago

Hi Denise – excellent post. I did sell over 19,000 copies of “Loose Ends” in January, so more like 600 books a day – but you’re right – I was only getting the 35% royalty on them. However…and this is the method behind my madness 🙂 – Loose Ends is the first in a series of six books (I’m actually working on #7 right now) – and they are all priced at $2.99. So, if someone takes a chance on the 99 cent “Loose Ends” and likes it, then will generally download the other five currently available. I realize that not everyone is either going to (a) like the story or (b) read it right away – but, in January I had a 43% pick up rate of the other books. so, for every hundred that bought “Loose Ends” 43 people bought the other five books. When you can upsell your readers – selling your book for 99 cents or even giving it away is more like an investment. Terri

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