When discussing book marketing, writers often debate free versus cheap versus charging what a book is worth. “What a book is worth” can be a moving target, depending on who you ask and when. Here are some factors to consider:
1. Length of the book.
My friend and co-author, Holly Pop, wrote a novella, Ouija: Based on a True Story. It charted at 99 cents, but since going up to $2.99, it’s still charting and doing well. Short doesn’t have to mean 99 cents. It’s around 8,000 words and people still want it. Pick it up. It’s really compelling.
Some genres, like epic fantasy or historical romance, seem to have readers who expect higher word counts. They often want more than 100,000 words.
I think many readers are becoming less sensitive to word count. That’s good. What should matter to us, as readers and writers, is providing value for money. My books are getting shorter. I start looking for the exit around 50,000 words and I generally find it north of 60,000 words. Still a good-sized book that doesn’t feel to the reader like it’s full of shortcuts. Consider that a lot of people are grooving on shorter, fast-paced books, too. They don’t feel they have time for very long books. (I think that trend will continue.)
3. Intent and timing.
Is this book a loss leader? Is it meant to be an introduction and sales funnel for a series? You might put it at perma-free or you might decide to offer an introductory price of 99 cents. You might also choose to put it at whatever you consider full price and hold a sale once in a while to move more books (and include a call to action to your other, similar, books.) You might even just write the bloody book, slap on the price you think is fair, never drop the price ever. You might start high and slowly drop (the traditional approach) or you might start low to get more attention and reviews and slowly raise the price.
4. Is it time to reevaluate your book prices?
Here’s my little case study:
I had the first Season of This Plague of Days set at 99 cents for a long time. I don’t personally like that price — not much sense having a pulse sale on a 99 cent book — but it got people looking at it who might have passed me by otherwise. It’s at 100 reviews now and more people are opting for the This Plague of Days, Omnibus Edition (greater value for the price and it contains all three books for an epic saga many compare favorably to The Stand.) All things considered, time to assert worth, right?
I put the price up to $3.99 today. According to Amazon’s price estimation tool, I should be charging $5.99 for a revenue increase of 451% and a drop in unit sales by half. However, Season One is the first in the series and the other books are also $3.99 each (while the TPOD Omnibus is at $6.99 and around 300,000 words.) No reasonable reader could say I’m trying to gouge them by keeping the price to $3.99. Arguably, I priced the first book in the series too low for too long. In the long-term, price should reflect value, but value is not the lone factor.
Another consideration when setting prices is your sensibility and your confidence in the value of your product. Do you feel you’re well-known enough to set a higher price or are you still stuck enticing them with a low price? (Note: that strategy may well be deep in the Law of Diminishing Returns since competing on price is far less effective now.)
Also: Is the quality high? Do the reviews back that up for someone happening across your author page for the first time? Are you marketing your work well? What does “full price” mean to you, anyway? If you get a complaint about a price point, comparing it unfavorably to a low word count, for instance, will that send you reeling into a rage and/or depression?
Here’s one thing you don’t have to worry about: history.
If you priced a book too low or too high, you can always change it. You can experiment with price until you find the price that moves books effectively but still pays. Some writers worry that readers will complain about cost, comparing it to what it has been priced in the past. That’s rare. If I hadn’t just given you the history of a couple of my book prices, how many of you would really know what I charged yesterday? A few to none. Feel free to experiment.
6. Don’t discount free unnecessarily, either.
The truth is this: I think my crime novels rock. The Hit Man Series is a fun and funny romp with some serious power and punch behind it. (My fave is Hollywood Jesus, for the John Leguizamo joke alone.) However, it’s one of those best kept secrets that needs to get out there and mingle. I’m not seeing enough movement nor enough reviews on those titles. To get more readers to take a chance on my funny Cuban hit man, Jesus Diaz, I’m going to make the first novel in the series perma-free or at least tempo-free. Bigger Than Jesus is already on Kobo for free and I’m hoping Amazon will price match soon.
If a series isn’t moving the way it should, consider doing a giveaway so you draw more readers into the fold. It’s not necessarily that your book series is ugly. It could be that Book #1 hasn’t gone on enough dates yet. Those who know it, love it, so eventually, everybody is going to love Jesus.
7. Stay flexible.
It may take a lot of experimentation and experience before you find the price move that’s right for you. Then you’ll have the same journey of discovery when you publish the next book, too. I’m on that journey, still experimenting. I don’t think that experimentation ever really stops. It’s just forgotten for a while until we figure it’s time to reassess sales and marketing and pricing again.
~ Robert Chazz Chute will publish his next novel (with co-author Holly Pop) later this week. It’s called The Haunting Lessons, an urban fantasy about a young woman from Iowa who, when tragedy strikes, discovers she has powers she never suspected. It’s the beginning of a fun series packed with jokes and disaster. If you want to join the fight and survive Armageddon, look for it on Amazon this weekend.