A Maze of Sale Options


Or a few things I’ve gleaned about my indie publishing.


So, I suspect Witchfinder is a bit overpriced. It was forced on me, more or less, by my early decision to set subscription price at $6. At that time, I intended to publish Witchfinder at 9.99.

This was because I was trying to foster the impression that it was traditionally published. Well, when I got it out 2 years later, things had changed.

To be exact, the agency pricing had got the way of the dodo, and I couldn’t picture putting anything up at 9.99. So, my real top choice was $6.99, which I thought gave the subscribers a leg up over other people.

Studies have indicated that the sweet spot of indie pricing is 4.99 to 6.99 and heck, well, my reprint novel that does best, No Will But His which sells about a copy a day, is at 5.99 and only one cent lower than the still-publisher held paperback.


So… 6.99. I can’t be sure of course, since well, as far as that goes, my friends haven’t published weird historical fantasies with tangled worlds, but friends publishing at between 2.99 and 4.99 all have outsold me, sometimes substantially.stardogsPageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00006]

This is not a big deal, of course, since I intend to lower the price of Witchfinder when I bring out The Haunted Air (Michael’s story) and then Rogue Magic. My goal is to have them all at 4.99 to 5.99 in a year.  Meanwhile I’m giving both books to those who’ve subscribed for Rogue Magic, which gives me a freer hand with pricing.

So, do I think that’s what novels should be? No, not really. Witchfinder for instance is a goatgagger of a book, just LONG which means I had additional expenses upfront with copyediting and editing. BUT the point of being in business is to charge, not pie-in-the-sky but what the market will bear. (Something traditional publishers could learn, I think.)

Sigh. Look what I think mostly is that people are broke. They do want to read, but they’re broke. So, you get weird fluctuations. Like my best day for the last several months is the first and then the fifteenth. Yep. Paychecks. My worst day is the day after.

Or take my collection Wings – this is important actually, so keep it in mind. It is priced at 9.99 because it’s SEVENTEEN short stories. Considering I’m selling collections of three or four for 2.99 and 3.99, I can’t quite cannibalize the other sales, right?


Also, I can’t break Wings up because it’s the electronic edition of a traditionally published paper collection.

So I was staring at my numbers in the beginning of the month and going “Gee, people borrow Wings more than buy it, so clearly they like it, but it’s too high.” When I realized that I had forgotten to take it off the Amazon exclusive program. (Look, Goldport Press is me and the kids when they have time, which means, mostly, it’s me and a lot of teaching the kids to do stuff. I forget to put things on other sites, which at any rate pay a 1% of Amazon. So…) I had the option of putting it for free, but this did not appeal. In my experience, what does best is to take SHORT stories free – it doubles my income for a month if I keep a short free at all times. Or I could put it on countdown, which I thought would bring me SOME sales. The last time I’d done it I’d sold 14 copies of Wings in a month, so hey.

I set the countdown, wandered off to do stuff, and came back to see if I’d sold any at 99c, with 66c going to me.

My first thought was that Amazon was broken. They’d reversed the free and sold colors. I mean, the short story I had free showed a respectable hundred and some copies given away, but the sold was showing over 1k copies.

Yep. In two weeks I’ve now made around $1200 from that one collection that was just sitting there.

Two strange effects from this: it’s not only made me a nice chunk of change, but it seems to have sent a goodly number of people crazy, like Russian wives in Beverly Hills shops. I’ve sold 29 properties this month (stories that sold at least one copy.) My normal is 12 to 17.

Second, it’s still selling, now at a full 9.99, which shows the power of ranking and reviews.  In fact I’m still selling about five of those a day, which is… a lot of money for a property that was completely stalled.  Mind you, it is worth it because 17 short stories for 9.99.  It’s less than a dollar per story.

This has inspired me with some interesting ideas. Take Death of a Musketeer, for instance. I lowered the price to 3.99 under the impression that it would bring people into the series. It didn’t.

Ditto for Ill Met by Moonlight at 2.99. Rather, having those books cheap cheapens the experience the reader perceives.

So, I’m going to put them back up to 4.99. And then I’m going to run countdown sales, starting at 99c (This is where we get to see if the big sales came from the original price being so high, which will put me a quandary, if true.) At least for DOAM, when the next book – The Musketeer’s Servant – comes out, this is a worthwhile experiment. For Ill Met, I’ll confess I’ve wild hopes it will become a runaway bestseller and I’ll get to finish the series.

Who knows? Weirder things have happened. Okay, not many, but it’s… technically possible.

So how do I feel about all this?

Amazed at this Brave New World, that hath such selling options in it.

And grateful, very very grateful that I’m allowed to experiment.


  1. Hm! I’m almost tempted to take back some of my titles into the KDP select. For one thing, nothing is selling on SW or D2D… well, ok, maybe 2-3 sales a month. Given that is about what the lowest of my short stories does in a month on Amazon (just one title, mind you) I’m not impressed. Also, I do think the advertising emails will work better with a reduced price or free book. So what to do; just before launching The God’s Wolfling, take Vulcan’s Kittens KDP select, and sale price it with promotion? Should I put a new cover on it first?

    1. I think the cover is okay — it would take a better eye than mine (not difficult) to find problems. But yes. Probably. then again remember the last time I did this I sold 14 copies of Wings. I’ll be danged if I know what made the difference.

      1. Questions regarding “advertising emails”: Are you referring to emails sent out by you to your own email list, or is this through a service of some kind?

        The reason I ask is because, if you have complete control over the content of the email, I would suggest a format where you put at least one loss leader at the top, followed by a list of other works below.

        1. I was referring to ebooksoda.com and I am debating shelling out the money for bookbub, which is a couple hundred dollars so it had better darn well work!! Ebooksoda was only $5.

      2. I can think of one thing, which I can’t do. Well, ok, several factors different. But I will plan to put it on sale about July 25 (I’m doing a library event, then, so it will be good timing.) and I will report back.

  2. Now that is interesting. I thought the countdown thing was silly and haven’t tried it. Perhaps I ought to.

    I took the “price your books like a real publisher” advice and bumped all my longer work up to $5.99 and saw a modest jump in sales, which, IMO is just weird. Just goes to show who isn’t the marketing expert here.

  3. I dropped “Elizabeth of Starland” to $3.99 as part of a promo for the sequel, and it started selling briskly. I also lowered the Cat novel-length collections, and all the Cat books and stories started moving. “Elizabeth of Donatello Bend” is also doing well at $4.50.

    But only an Amazon. I barely have any sales on B&N, and Kobo’s almost a joke. Interestingly, the hard sci-fi novel “Hubris” isn’t moving at all on any site. ‘Tis strange. I’m not complaining, believe me, but it’s interesting.

    1. Kobo is supposed to be giving up the US market to concentrate on the rest of the world. This is me biting my tongue.
      Interesting. But it is SF. What I’m dealing with in series (so far) is literary fantasy and historic mystery both of which might have a different “prestige thing” involved, as well as not having had the experience of Jim Baen lowering prices….

  4. I’d appreciate if you’d follow up with the results–I know, I know, all are different, skill and fame and genre and promotion, etc, but it’s still useful.

    My first two books disappeared without a trace, thanks to some bad covers, boring blurbs, a lack of promotion, and who knows, boring writing as well. I pretty much shrugged it off and made a joke out of them.

    But when I put Company Daughter up, I’ll be doing a bit more management, tweaking prices and possibly doing some cheap ads. And finally getting my author web page to work.

    Still applying the DWS WIBBOW rule, though 🙂

  5. Thanks for sharing, Sarah. This is fascinating. My new book is in Select because I wanted the option of running a countdown. But, I feel so guilty over the people who paid the full $3.99 already, that I can’t quite bring myself to do it.
    I wanted to do a countdown right when I first published, but KDP makes you wait 30 days so that your price is “real,” I guess, and then I was impatient and did my publicity. So, huh.

    1. The people who pay full price get the benefit of getting their little hands on it immediately – instead of hoping for a sale.

      You might have some true fans there – maybe they will sign up for a newsletter, and you can reward them by giving those signed up a few days of the next book at a very low price (and get some reviews in the process).

      At least if I’m interpreting things correctly (she who hasn’t published anything yet because she can’t). Fall is right around the corner. Fall is going to be my debut. Now if I can just finish Book 1 by Fall…

      1. I find keeping a running daily word count helps. Not only do I know where the heck I stopped (in case I need to add scenes and restart revisions), but I can look at the little page and see that “hey! I’m actually making progress” on those days when nothing seems to be jelling.

  6. On the “people going nuts” thing– I know I sent some copies as gifts, and facebooked about it– 99c is great for an impulse buy, and makes for a higher chance that folks who’ve never read you before will find out they like you.

      1. Bah. Not like I’ve hit the tip jar, least I can do is try to get your stuff out to folks I KNOW are starving for stuff to read, rather than sitting here and wishing I had time/brain to read!

    1. And Gimp is free, and does everything PS does without having to deal with licensing and the risk of losing ALL the work you have ever done with that program when you don’t upgrade. Trust me, ten years of work I can’t access? Adobe is not your friend.

      1. Uhm, many other programs can load Photoshop files. Really not going to discuss how ‘great’ GIMP is, I tried using it several times, including before i really knew Photoshop.

        1. It’s not Photoshop, it was InDesign. We don’t need to discuss the various merits or programs, I just wanted to make it clear there were options without having to sell one’s soul to Adobe.

  7. My current plans (which anyone is free to adopt if it suits them) are to set up a mailing list and a Gumroad account.

    When I have a new title coming out, I’ll upload the book to Gumroad and send an email out to my mailing list along the lines of:
    “Hey everyone! I have a new shiny for you! For the next [x – likely 3] days, you can buy [TITLE], a [genre] [novel/short story] for [big discount price]. [Short blurb.] On [date], I’m releasing [TITLE] at [full price] on all the major vendors, so grab your fan-priced copy while it lasts!”

    Then – boom. I don’t have to worry about pricing as much. My “true” fans would presumably be on the mailing list and have access to a price as low as I’d ever be likely to go on the piece, so if later I do a sale, I don’t have to fret too much about the people who bought it at a higher price. If they’re on my mailing list, they won’t miss out again, after all! (Unless they’re on vacation, which I can’t control.)

    I’ll miss out on some of the sales velocity a healthy fan group could bring, but hopefully make up for it in fan loyalty.

    All plans subject to change, of course. But it seems to suit the ideas that have been stirring in me since I found out that Kindle Countdown doesn’t let me debut at 99 cents and I like this idea: http://edwardwrobertson.com/challenging-assumptions-pricing-frontlist-like-backlist-and-backlist-like-frontlist/ (This is something I hated the idea of at first, but I was shortly after stung by buying someone’s book at 7.99 and seeing them discount it to 99 cents a week or two later and now, on principle, I refuse to pay full price for that person’s work.)


    Thanks for sharing, btw!

    1. I have stuff ready to go on Gumroad, but sorting out the tax situation is my holdup. First, I have to make certain I can sell files from my home office without violating zoning. Then I have to get tax numbers for city, county, and state, and all that entails. That’s yet another of my summer projects.

      1. That’s something that makes me drag my heels a little too. Wish there was a site that collected information like that so anyone who came after you could just go to the site and see if the legwork was already done.

        “Thankfully”, I’m at least two months from doing anything about it (likely longer), as my pen name has a book nearly done and I want to have two short stories ready to go before I publish anything under this name. And I don’t have a mailing list set up yet, so no one to push the first two stories to.

    2. See, this reaction is what worries me. How would you feel if you’d paid 3.99 and then saw a countdown where it was available for .99?

      1. No, don’t worry. I’d feel as I feel when I just bought a Georgette Heyer and this happens. “Oo. I can now send one to Amanda, and one to Kate, and one to–” See?

        1. Ohhhhhhh……. (light dawning).
          Ok, now I have a plan. First, I’ll figure out when I can next post at Book Plug Friday, then I’ll set the countdown for that day (I think I have to wait a couple of more weeks.). Then, presto!

          Also, now that I’m stuck on my WIP, maybe I’ll go dig out a short story and post it for 99 cents for thirty days. I should be able to do that in a weekend.

      2. The difference is three dollars rather than seven. I might be disappointed, but not upset. In that case, I’d only get annoyed if the author made any comments about never doing sales or something.

  8. Just a wonderment, and I realize it is most likely a quirk in the depths of Amazon, but why does Your Wicked Heart (Rules for the Reckless) by Meredith Duran always come up when I search for Sarah Hoyt in the Kindle store? Izzat your secret identity? Your shifter alter-ego, as a romance writer under the full moon?

  9. After Sarah told me to put Kiwi at $2.99, I thought I would ease up to it in 50 cent jumps each month. It’s hard to judge the effect on sales when you are averaging one a month, but the rank number has fallen lower than ever.

      1. Well, color me confused.

        I’m still wrestling with the “Am I any good at this” doubts. Which is why I didn’t immediately go $2.99.

  10. I’ve been meaning to mention my iota of data for Amanda. I got a pop-up ad for Vengeance (which is on my TBR list and I’ve been checking now and then) from Amazon yesterday when I was in my yahoo email. I don’t know if she paid for the ad or it came to me because I’ve been looking at the book, but it’s nice to see Amazon doing marketing for someone I virtually “know.”

  11. My wife and I are voracious readers on kindle and can give anecdotes from a reader’s perspective (yes, the plural of anecdote is not data). My wife reads mostly romance/historical/fantasy. She will try out new to her authors if the first in the series is free or 1.99 cheap. If she likes the writer she then buys the rest of the series/published works. She expects that the prices will be higher but will only rarely go above 5.99. She finds new authors from the kindle “others bought” and also from the countdown/free list. I read SF and mystery. I no longer buy anything at “full price”, ie the price of physical books, on kindle. The countdown list had dramatically helped me find new authors. $3 or less is worth taking a chance. Above that not worth it, esp if it is 9.99, ie not indie but brain dead publisher published. FWIW think that kindle is competing with both physical publishers but also the library. Reading can be an expensive vice. Our book budget did not change but we now can read dramatically more books/authors with kindle.

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