Of pricing and release dates

I don’t know a single indie author who doesn’t wish there was a handbook out there that was constantly kept up-to-date with information about formatting, blurbs, promotion, when to release your books and pricing. The best we can do is watch trends and be ready to adapt not only when necessary but as quickly as possible. It also means making hard decisions sometimes as well as taking the long view. That is especially true when it comes to pricing.

Last night, I finished setting Battle Wounds up on Amazon so it would be live this morning. For those of you not familiar with it, BW is a short story set in the Honor and Duty universe. I started writing the short stories a little more than a year ago when there was a glitch, to put it nicely, in the upload process of Honor from Ashes. Somehow, the wrong text file was attached to the product page and, well, let’s just say the next week was an exercise in frustration to get it corrected. The short stories were my way of thanking my fans for hanging with me as things got straightened out.

When I made the decision to write a series of short stories in the universe, I had several things I needed to consider. The first, of course, was where in the timeline they would fall. Since the books in the series follow very closely on one another, I couldn’t see an easy way to slip short stories in. Besides, I had folks who wanted to know how Ashlyn Shaw became the character first introduced in Vengeance from Ashes. So, that’s where I decided to begin — at the beginning. ย With three shorts stories now out, I am closing in on the events that directly led to the events that kick off the series.

Anyway. . . .

Last night I uploaded the files and checked to make sure they converted properly — and, yes, were the correct file with the correct cover — and then continued on through the publication process. Part of that is choosing when to release the story. If you ask a dozen indie authors, you’ll probably get a dozen answers about when they think the best times are to time your releases. I’ve tried any number of different times and days. I’ve studied what other indies and small presses, as well as trad publishers, do. It seems there is a growing trend to release new titles on the first and third Tuesday of the month.

I’ll admit to pondering and wavering on deciding to follow this trend. After all, if I followed it, I would be one of who knew how many authors releasing a new title at the same time. But, let’s face it, that’s something we have to deal with no matter what day we choose to release our titles on. That’s the downside. The upside on releasing on either the first or third Tuesday is that there are a large number of readers who check for new titles on those days because they have learned to expect new releases then.

Hmmm.

So, guess what. I chose to try a third Tuesday release. It’s going to be interesting to see if there is more traction for this release than for the other short stories.

The next thing I had to determine was pricing for Battle Wounds. There’s been a lot of discussion since Amazon first opened up to indies on how much we should price our work for. If you ask indies, you’ll get a wide range of answers. Some look at pricing and take the long view on it all. Others look at the amount of money they earn per sale. Both sides have pros and cons. The problem with both, however, is that we are looking at it from the viewpoint of the author. Instead, we need to look at it from the point of view of the reader. After all, they are the ones making the decision to buy the short story or title.

And, like it or not, as indies, we operate in a world where our readers understand, on the whole, that we don’t have the overhead trad published titles have. Therefore, they aren’t going to pay as much for our work as they will for Nora Roberts or Stephen King or David Weber.

So how do we figure out the best price for our work?

The first thing we do is listen to our readers and to readers of our genre in general. We can do that by checking blogs and other social media platforms. We can also do it by checking the best sellers lists on Amazon. Look not only at what indie titles are on it but at their prices as well. Compare the price of the work and its length to what you are about to publish. Then there is the beta pricing tool you can use once you are setting up the title on Amazon.

There is something else we have to take into account when we are setting prices. Sarah, Dave and Brad can get away with charging more for short stories than I can. Why? Because they have a following of readers who have known them not as just indie authors but as trad published authors as well. They’ve earned their bones in the eyes of those readers. They have more published than I do as well. So, because they have the reputation and the experience, they can charge more for their work. Readers even expect them to.

But for me, even though I have 16 novels, 2 (?) novellas and a handful of short stories published, all but one of the shorts have been indie. I can charge more now than I used to — and I should — for novels, not so much for short stories. There are two reasons for that. First, and most obvious, I’m not a “name” that people are willing to pay additional money to read. Second, I look at short stories as loss leaders, which they are. They are promos in many ways to keep people interested in my work until the next novel comes out.

But there is something else. I know what I’m willing to pay. I can’t think of a single indie-only author I will pay more than $0.99 for a short story (for the purposes of pricing, I’m including anything under 20k words). I’ll pay $1.99 for work between 20k and 50k words or so. After that, I’ll pay $2.99 up to $4.99. There are a few indies I’ll pay $5.99 for a long novel but those are very few and far between. So I keep that in mind as I start thinking about pricing.

I also realize there are many, many, many readers who feel the same way I do about how much they are willing to pay for a title. Yes, readers to look at the price and, if they think you are pricing a work too low, they wonder if you aren’t convinced your work is any good. However, for a short story, you can quickly price readers out. So it comes down to deciding if you would rather sell more copies at a lower price and royalty or fewer copies at a higher royalty. For me, because I don’t look at my short stories as a major income generator in the short term, I price them on the low end, where most other short stories are priced. What I’ve discovered by doing so is I tend to sell more over time, more than making up for the difference in royalties.

But the decision is yours. Just remember, you need to look at more than how much are you going to make per sale. You need to take into account what the going rate for stories in your genre with a similar length. If you price yourself out of the market, you are not only cutting your own royalty throat, so to speak, but you are denying your readers the opportunity to read your work.

Shrug.

I really wish there was an easy to use manual that told me the best way to promote my work, the best price point, the best day for release, etc. Instead, I get to watch my hair turn even whiter as I try to figure it out for myself when all I really want to do is write.

Oh, go buy Battle Wounds. My kitties need kibble. ๐Ÿ˜‰

52 Comments

Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: PUBLISHING

52 responses to “Of pricing and release dates

  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    Grumble Grumble

    I’m having to be careful of my spending this month and you put up another “must have” story. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    It may be only a dollar but those dollars mount up. ๐Ÿ‘ฟ

  2. If possible, I try to release novels around the 30th-1st or the 15th. Because those traditionally are pay-day. *evil little kitty grin* Seasonally? Heck, I’ve given up trying to time major releases for anything but Christmas. Summer is slow, after Christmas is slow, March is slow, after back-to-school is slow…

    Pricing? $.99 for short stories, $2.99 for first in series and first week of release, $3.99 for most novels after that.

    • I’ve tried just before and just after payday, different days of the week but, looking back, Tuesdays and late Thursday/Friday seem to be the best release days for me.

      As for seasonal? December – Mid-Jan are awesome usually. Everything else can be hit or miss but at least sales do seem to build if I keep up a new title no more than 3 months apart.

      • Uncle Lar

        The December run up to Christmas is good, presents you know, but it’s also when trad pub does their big releases. A wise woman who often posts here advised Stephanie and I to try early January with the release of her new series, the Division One books. You catch folks with brand new Christmas Kindles and Amazon gift cards there. It proved to be a solid choice.
        Trying to do a release every three months, so book 2 came out in early April which did not fare as well. Obviously no bump from a gifting holiday, and it was the week before tax day. Sales weren’t terrible, but nothing like the first book. Hoping that will even out over time, but we won’t be putting out any books in April any time soon again.
        Just as a reference, Baen’s monthly output goes live on the first Tuesday of every month.

        • April sucks, especially if you release the first two weeks of the month. I learned that lesson early on. As for the Dec/Jan, I like doing a mid-Dec release and continue pushing the book hard until mid-Jan. Why? Because you do get not only those who want to give e-books as gifts, or who want to use their early holiday money to buy something for themselves, but you then also get the post-Christmas buying push. One way to get both is to release a short that is themed to the holiday in early December and then do your major release on or just after Christmas.

        • Around Memorial Day is probably good too, what with graduations and “beach reading”.

  3. Totally agree with your pricing guidelines. $2.99-4.99 seems to be the proper range for novels; I’m staying with $3.99 for the time being. Short stories have to be minimally priced, IMHO, since they already have two strikes going against them: the reading market by and large seems to prefer full-length novels, and if you’re in KU the page-based income is minimal. Anthologies do a little better, but are still far below novels in sales potential.

    I usually release books when they are done, and not a second later, and my sales have been pretty consistent on every release date. And if you can release a book every 3-5 months, a bad release month can be made good by the next release in line. Unlike trads, our books never go out of print, so we can revitalize sales via promos, especially if they happen during the release of the next book in a series.

    • Absolutely. It is going to be interesting to see how the next several releases go since I want to do at least one novel release on the first or third Tuesday to test the theory.

  4. paladin3001

    c4c, cause this is going to be good to look at.

  5. Always good to hear real-life information and reasoning.

    Slight tangent: you mentioned writing shorts in your established universe. How hard was that? I’m trying the same thing, but the first one at least feels a little contrived.

    • These haven’t been too hard to do, at least not until this last one. I simply chose to write outside the novels’ timelines. The short stories are basically prequels to the current novel story arc. The biggest issue is as I come closer in time to when the novels take place, I have to be careful not to do anything that contradicts — or gives away — the overall story arc. You just have to figure out where in your timeline you want the stories to take place and whether you are going to feature your main characters from the novels or secondary characters. I’ve also used the short stories to also explore some of the relationships, how they got started and so on.

  6. Because KU will pay you a bonus if you get enough ‘page reads’ (though I think that number has now grown to over a million) and the ‘page reads’ reset at the end of the month, that may make you want to consider launching around the end/beginning of the month, to maximize them.

    Personally I usually try to release in the first week of the month, but always seem to go on the second. Cause something always comes up. I have learned from personal experience that you do not release in the two weeks prior to Christmas. Better to wait and go after.

    On prices, well for novels there’s been tons of research done (and I forget now the name of the study from about four years ago) that put the sweet spot for novels at 2.99 to 3.99. There’s an old thread on the Amazon boards that mentions it, if you can dredge it up (what moves ebooks off the shelves, or something like that). If you’re not a ‘name’ moving to 4.99 is hard. I continually see a lot of new people with no experience, or who think that they’re the greatest writers ever, pricing their books at 5.99 right up to 9.99.

    As 60 percent of my readers are now via KU, the price doesn’t have as big an impact as it used to, because Amazon is now determining the price on most of my sales. Though one of these days I may just push it to 4.99 and drop out of KU to see what happens.

    Or at least I keep telling myself that!

    • I think I know the research you’re referring to and it is good but you still need to look at what is trending in your genre at the time. It’s like cover art, you need to adapt to what is happening so you are sure to cue your readers correctly.

      One thing to remember about pricing full-length novels, readers are starting to look at pricing and hesitate if the novel is priced too low. That’s why I never recommend pricing for under $2.99 unless you are doing a promo or the book has been out for a long time and isn’t getting any traction. Then drop the price lower for a while, promo the hell out of it and get traction that way.

      • I agree that genre does matter. Romance -always- trends higher, same for horror. Some subgroups like LitRPG look like 4.99 is a price folks will pay as well. Personally I start at 3.99 on everything now, but that’s because I’m just slightly above ‘completely unknown author’ now ๐Ÿ™‚

        • Actually, indie romance pretty much tops out at $4.99 and is usually lower, in the $2.99 – $3.99 range, even for subsequent books in a series. There are a number of novels that sell for even less, depending on the sub-genre.

  7. Max

    I get not wanting to pay more than $5 for a book that’s only 150 pages long, but man are some of these comments running toward the cheapskate end of things. I see no problems with paying $5-10 based on the quality and length of the book, and have routinely bought 300 page novels for $7.

    Personally, the “race to the bottom” with ebook prices only seems to be hurting both audience and author. No author wants to write a 600 page epic only to make $2 off of it, so they shorten their works, resulting in the ‘up to $4 for a 50K book’, which is barely the minimum length for a novel. Or 8 page short stories being sold for 99 cents. No author wants to do something for nothing, so they shoot for the lowest price point with the lowest possible work.

    I’d much rather spend $8 on a solid read than 99 cents on a few minutes worth of short, or $4 on a truncated novel.

    • Max, I get what you are saying but you have to remember that most novelists, be they indie or trad, write 600 page books. Then we do have to remember that there is still not exactly a stigma against indie books but an impression that, since we don’t have the overhead of a trad publisher, we shouldn’t be charging the same prices. Frankly, I happen to agree with that opinion. Yes, I will pay $7 or $8 for an established author, one whose work I am familiar with. But for someone who doesn’t have a track record or someone whose work I’m not familiar with? Nope, and doubly nope if there are other books in the genre by authors I know that are of similar length and quality I can buy for less.

      That’s not to say you’re wrong but there also isn’t, no matter what you think, a race to the lowest price. As business owners, and that’s what an indie author is, we have to find the sweet spot pricing so we sell the most. If I can sell three times as many books at $4.99 than I do at $7.99, then I will make more money. That’s just the numbers talking, whether I like it or not.

      • *blink blink* 600 pages? Oops. Mine average 300 or so (68-100K words, varies from book to book, 75K seems to be the average.)

        • Ditto! I don’t know why buy people shy away from ebooks from indy’s that are over ~90K words long. Split that 600 page book into two 300 page books and you’ll sell more and make more money, and not because you’re putting out twice as many books. People just want it that way these days.

          • Maybe it’s different by genre, but I’m moving a lot of 100-120K words books and have gotten no complaints. I do see a lot of shorter (50-60K-word) novels do very well in thrillers/men’s adventure, etc, though. Different market segments want different things.

            • Absolutely. You will see shorter books in those areas as well as some romance and mystery sub-genres. Fantasy, those are still, on the whole, beating the 100k barrier without any drop in sales. SF seems to run between 80k – 120k, generally, depending on what sub-genre they fall into.

          • Maybe it’s the time investment. If you don’t know the author you’re willing to spend a few hours getting to know them, but don’t want to commit for longer than that.

        • Depending on genre and sub-genre, mine go from 85k – 120k words. I have found that if I start a series, except for fantasy, with a shorter book, that first book sells better and stirs enough interest to justify writing other books in the series.

    • Were you paying $7 for well known authors published by a house? Or were those an indy author?
      Because if you bought that book through a publisher, the author is lucky if he gets fifty cents for that book. Unless you’re Steven King or some other top shelf author, you’re never going to get more than a dollar for your book anyways, regardless of the price, even if it’s $11.99

      It’s not a race to the bottom, it’s a race to get -sales-. At $3.99 a book, I’m making over $2.50 a copy sold. At $2.99 that’s about a $1.95. That’s still pretty good money for a unknown, non-house published author. Because people aren’t going to pick up a book by someone they don’t know if it costs more than a cup of coffee. They just won’t.

      And seventy percent of six or seven dollars may sound like a lot, but it isn’t if you only sell a hundred copies. While seventy percent of two ninety-nine drew in enough people that I sold fifteen thousand copies. Do the math. The secret is in volume, not in cover price. Cover price has never been where you make your money. It’s the Sales.

      I literally got dozens of emails from people who said they only bought the book because it was $2.99 so they were willing to take the chance. They then went on to buy the rest of the series, at 3.99. I once tried $4.99 for a book in the same series, and sales dwindled. As soon as I dropped it to the ‘expected’ 3.99, sales shot off again. Heck, look at Michael Anderle, I think he only charges 2.99 for everything, and it’s all in KU. He made over a -million- dollars in royalties last year. He’s got tens of thousands of followers and he flat out refuses to raise his prices.

      Remember, it’s not what -you- think your book is worth. It’s what the market is willing to pay. Larry, Mad Mike, Sarah, Brandon, et al, these people are well known and have large audiences. They can charge more, because the market expects to pay more. Their fans are in the tens (if not hundreds) of thousands. But I bet they get less per book sold via their publishers than I get for mine, even though my price is lower. But it doesn’t matter because they have -volume-.

    • The sad thing is that a lot of authors have gotten paid a couple of bucks (or the equivalent at the time) for their efforts for a good while in trad publishing. A couple of years ago a writer displayed her sales on her blog (and took them down very quickly afterwards) and her royalty for a trade paperback (the only format she was published in) was $0.60 per copy sold (make that $0.51 after her agent took his cut). My guess is a lot of midlisters aren’t getting much more than that.

      I’m perfectly happy netting $2.00 for a 120K-word book, myself. At this point I can count on selling a couple thousand books of a given title a year (for mil-sf, in a couple weeks), which matches a typical trad advance. Most of my books are a bit shorter (around 100K) and at $3.99 my cut is around $2.74 (70% minus download charges), or $2-something on Kindle Unlimited) and that’s plenty good enough.

      • That’s exactly the way I look at it. I would rather use the smaller price point and sell more books, making more money overall, than to raise my prices to trad prices and losing sales. As for paying an agent, looking at the overly inflated amount most trad publishers take on e-books, nope. Not gonna happen. Right now, there is only one trad publisher I would consider going with. Hell, who am I kidding. If that publisher expressed interest, I doubt I’d hesitate just because I’ve always wanted to be published by them.

  8. Kristina

    Excellent, fly my pretty dollars! FLY to those books. For the 30 or so dollars I’ve used on my book budget so far, I was able to get around 10 books in various indie series compared to what? Two overpriced trad publish ebooks.

    Plus disney, are you out of your mind? 10-16 bucks for various star wars books….I don’t think so. I’d rather give my money to various indies then one of those overpriced and mostly dubious writing tomes.

    • Yep. I just bought three indie books for the price of the one trad e-book I want but refuse to pay the price the publisher is asking. Oh, and I still have money left over for another book. Decisions, decisions because there are so many good e-books by indie authors out there.

    • My husband has been listening me talk so much about how to price my books, including lots of “so-and-so prices at x and who’sabob at y” that when a new book came out by one of his favorite authors and the ebook was priced well over $10.00, he just couldn’t buy it. Ebooks were supposed to be well under $10.

      He finally cracked, but it took him months. (Also, he was wrongly convinced that the author had a say in the price, and that it was something the fellow should have bargained over. I could not dissuade him.)

      • I don’t know whether to laugh and rub my hands together to know you are enlisting yet another to our side or shake my head and pity your husband because he will forever look at e-book prices and know they are too high (trads, that is).

    • Disney is still laboring under the delusion that it’s a worthwhile thing to have a cartoon “vault” where they go out of print for a while. Why do they think so many desperate parents start pirating?

  9. Your potential readers’ expectations are what matters: if you write indie genre, and the readers expect a regular novel to be priced at 4.99, you have a choice. 3.99 marks you as ‘less expensive’ – but begs the question why; 5.99 may tag you as ‘thinks she is special,’ and some readers may wait for the sale.

    I constantly get indies – unasked – telling me I price too high. But those who do are not necessarily my target audience; I want to figure out how to attract the attention of those readers who happily pay 11.99 to 16.99 for the next ebook from their favorite literary writer – and might consider 8.99 a potential read, and 5.99 obviously something they wouldn’t read.

    It’s all a dance, and you can’t possibly be right for everyone. Not until and unless you’re famous.

    I offer a free electronic Review Copy to anyone who wouldn’t dream of paying 8.99 for a novel. Standing offer. I’ve tried sales at lower prices – and sold very few (4) copies. And some of my worst reviews have come from people who got the book for free. (Also some of my best.)

    You can’t win.

    If I have to define my audience, I say I want the people who bought Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch – and didn’t like it. You have to say something.

    • That’s exactly right. Not only do you have to define your audience but you have to do the daily dance of what price is best. It never ends and there is no easy answer. All we can do is wait and hope we choose the right price point at the right time.

  10. mrsizer

    Is it still called an anthology if there is only one author?

    I’ve read SO many Hero’s Journey SciFi books lately that I want to write an bunch of short stories about failed Hero’s Journeys. The talented thief who’s crippled falling off a roof. The kid who fails Basic Training. The star athlete who gets in a car crash.

    To avoid making it too depressing, perhaps two halves to the book: First half is horribly depressing anti-hero’s journey followed by a second half in which we find out how they overcome and have a good life, anyway.

  11. Hunting Guy

    I’m a reader, not an author. It doesn’t make any difference to me when the book is put out. If it’s by an author I like, I’ll buy it.

    Personal quirks – I won’t pre-order and I don’t buy short stories.

    Prices. If it’s an author I really, really like, I’ll pay $7.99. Otherwise I get it from the library. I’m willing to chance an author I’m not familiar with for $5.99.

    I’ll bite on free books. I’ve found several series that way and bought the rest of the books by the author.

    I’ve also found a lot of bovine fecal matter that was free as well.

  12. Mary

    You can always give the readers the option of buying your stories bundled up in collections. I’ve found the collections always sell better than the individual stories. Perhaps because they are cheaper that way.

  13. The readers who participate at MCG and ATH are informed and know a lot about the current state of publishing, but there’s an ocean of readers out there that pay no attention to such things. They don’t look to see who published the book (whether an individual indie, a small press, or one of the Big 5), and they don’t think about the overhead involved in running New York offices versus that of merely keeping your laptop running. They just want their next good read, many of them think trad pub’s $12-$14 price too much for an ebook, and they like the $2.99-$5.99 prices they see from indies, although they haven’t looked into why that price difference exists.

    Amanda, I think you are absolutely correct that you have to assess your own audience and your own genre to decide on the price point for your own books. I agree that it is never an easy or straight-forward choice, alas. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  14. Arwen

    Why do all the prices end in 99 cents instead of say 75, 34, or 2?

    • It’s a psychological thing. American residents are more likely to buy at prices that end in 9 (though 8 is a close second.) Other countries have different results.

      • Arwen

        That’s cool. I wonder why.

        • I heard that long ago store owners priced that way so that the cashier would have to open the cash register to return a penny to the customer and–this is the important part–deposit the customer’s money in the cash register rather than pocketing it, thus preserving the honesty of the transaction. Then the American eye got used to the .99 and is convinced that this is how all prices should look. This may be apocryphal.

          The other theory I’ve heard is that it started as a way of making people think they got a deal because the item was “under X” rather than at X. I’ve heard this with regard to house prices, too.

        • Probably some form of pre-internet cultural training. As a tangent to that, there’s a decent theory as to why Americans smile (sincerely) so muchโ€”in a culture of immigrants, there’s no guarantee that someone is going to understand you, and smiles go a long way. But in homogenous cultures, smiles are often a form of smugness, so they’re not seen in the same light.