Ebook Success: Rule #5, Price

Welcome! If there's an issue more hotly debated than cover art, it's price.

Most writers have a problem with ebook pricing. Many of these writers base their pricing strategies on ego and emotion rather than on market analysis and a business plan.

Today, I'm going to tell you what I think about ebook pricing so hang onto your hats. You may not like what I have to say.

Ebook Success: Joan Sells & Tells All

As you can see, I'm still playing around with a title for what will be a compilation of this series on SlingWords and many more blog posts about this subject posted on this blog and my old blog that I've terminated. I hope to have this published in a few weeks so you can have all the information in one place.

In the meantime, here's my book list for those of you who are new to the blog. If you've seen it before, just scroll down.

Just One Look

Still The One

JANE (I'm-Still-Single) JONES

The Trouble With Love

Romeo and Judy Anne

Written Wisdom

Parts Of This Series Previously Published

Ebook Success: Get Educated

Ebook Success: Write Business Plan

Ebook Success: Cover Art, Part 1

Ebook Success: Cover Art, Part 2

Ebook Success: Cover Art, Part 3

Ebook Success: Cover Art, Part 4

Ebook Success: Working With Cover Artists (addendum published the next day)

Ebook Success: Ad Copy, Part 1, Keywords

Ebook Success: Ad Copy, Part 2, Categories

Ebook Success: Ad Copy, Part 3, Bio & Book Description

Joan's Golden Rules

Here's my list of golden rules--called golden because I hope they will help you earn heaps of gold from your ebook sales.

1. Get educated.

2. Write a business plan.

3. Choose cover art wisely.

4. Write professional ad copy.

5. Choose price wisely.

6. Give a smart sample.

7. Write a good book.

8. Customize Marketing and Promotion.

Rule #5: Choose Price Wisely

I made a decision, based on the Business Plan I wrote, to price my first few ebooks at $.99. Here's why.

I'd analyzed many bestselling ebooks that were on the Top 100 Paid list. Of the Indie books, the majority were priced at $.99. I read all the popular Indie author blogs beginning with Joe Konrath. From the hundreds of Comments on Joe's blog, I followed writers back to their own blogs and book pages.

I charted the sales progress of about a dozen authors who were where I wanted to be--at the top of the Indie Author food chain. Clearly, part of their success was massive sales propelled by the low price point.

Still, as a print author, pricing a book at $.99 gave me pause. Yet, I knew that I hadn't been in print with a new book in some time. I decided to see myself as just another unknown self-publishing author.

If I were a reader perusing books by an unknown author, how would I base my buying decisions? I had a Kindle, and I knew I bought unknown indie authors--if the price was right. Would I pay more than $.99 for a book by someone I didn't know? Probably not.

Now, when I sample books by unknowns, if the sample is compelling, then I do go ahead and buy even if the price is higher. However, I decided to err on the conservative side and ignore the segment of discerning readers who investigate before buying. I focused on the readers who didn't do a lot of background work in buying a book. I think these are probably the vast majority.

In order to reach readers and build an audience, I decided to follow John Locke and many other Indie authors and price my ebooks low. I'll confess, it took some major cojones. It took even more guts to leave the prices low when the books took off, selling thousands every day. There's a part of you that whispers: "Just think, if this was priced at 2.99, you'd be getting a 70% royalty on all these sales."

Hang Tough

I can't tell you how many disparaging comments I've read about authors who price their books low. According to some, our books aren't worth any more than .99, or we're amateurs who don't know the true value of a book, or their books are worth much more than ours so they would never devalue their book by pricing low, or we are killing the publishing industry with our cheap books, or we are betraying authors everywhere by lowering standards of pricing which mean they can't make a living any longer, or you name it.

I've read it, heard it, or had it emailed to me. Even some readers who don't like your book will post nasty reviews calling in the price as part of the reason it's no good. If I had $.99 for every time I've read a review that says, "not worth .99" or "overpriced at .99," I'd buy myself a pair of those super expensive red-soled high heels.

A Book Is Worth

Commit this to memory.

A book is worth only what a reader is willing to pay for it.

Readers don't care how long it took you to write it or how much agony you went through or how this was the best book you ever wrote. Knowing that it took a year of pain and agony will not make them pay $9.99 or even 2.99 for it.

Readers revolt against high prices. Just check out one of the most popular tags on Amazon: 9 99 boycott. It's been used almost 40,000 times by readers to tag books they think are priced too high.


If you think a $.99 ebook gets no respect, try having a free ebook in your arsenal. There are many reasons to offer a book for free: promote your next release or gain new readers. Most readers happily try a free book, but some readers can't imagine a free book is any good. And writers? Oh, my goodness, many writers think free ebooks are the spawn of the devil or something similar.

Free gets you noticed--in a big way. Author Cynthia Wicklund wasn't selling huge numbers until Amazon put the first book in her Garden Series free to match Smashwords pricing. Overnight, she had tens of thousands of downloads. Satisfied readers were then happy to buy the next books in her series. She's remained a Regency Historical Romance bestseller because of that free book. Her new book In the Garden of Deceit is selling quite well at $2.99 now because of her fan base.

My Price Strategy

Though I haven't tried a free offering except for Summer Sizzlers, a book of excerpts to which I contributed and which took forever for Amazon to offer for free, I've maintained my $.99 prices until my most recent ebook Romeo and Judy Anne, Book 2 of Texas One Night Stands, which I brought out at $2.99.

I think my pricing strategy brought me to the attention of readers and helped me build an audience for my particular brand of romance. Enough readers like what I published initially that they have bought my other books. The Trouble With Love, the first book of the series Texas One Night Stands, remains at $.99 in order to introduce readers to the series. (Buy links to these 2 books appear above if you're interested.)

Future Pricing

Will I now price everything at $2.99? No. I agree with one of my favorite authors Andrew Vachss, who writes the Burke Series, that there are a lot of people who would buy more books if economics allowed them to do so.

I've received a lot of emails from readers who have thanked me for keeping my prices low. To me, $2.99 is low, but to many in this economic mess, it's too high. I've given the matter a lot of thought. I want to have low-price books available for readers who need the lower price point.

I'm going to continue with $.99 when it makes sense, like for The Good, The Bad, and The Girly, the novella series I'll be publishing. Each of those 4 will be at $.99. For longer novels, I will price at $2.99.

Before publishing any book, I'll analyze pricing again, and take into account several factors before making my final decision. That's one of the beauties of being an Indie Author, you can go with the flow and make adjustments on the fly.

Pro: Low Prices

Benefit from impulse purchases.

Reach new readers who are willing to take a chance because of low price.

Get instant momentum that propels you onto Bestseller Lists.

Con: Low Prices

Your book is perceived by many as lower-quality, and no one wants to waste time on a lousy book.

Impulse buys mean that readers don't read the book description much less the sample so you get readers who really don't like your genre in the first place. You'll see either massive returns or nasty reviews. I've seen a lot of those "1-star, hate this book because it's a blank and I don't read blank" reviews.

Wake Up & Smell The Coffee

I've been asked quite often lately to look at someone's book page and tell them why they aren't selling like I am. Of course, I like to think that I write entertaining books that offer escape from drab reality, but disregarding all other factors, often, these authors have a print self-published book that's priced higher than a NYT bestselling author's book.

Or, the indie author might have an ebook priced as high as one from a respected and popular author. You know why their books aren't selling. What surprises me is that they don't know.

Indie authors, start analyzing the competition that you are up against, and that competition probably isn't me.

It's Amazon sale deals to promote ebooks put up by publishers, and it's the thousands of previously-published Harlequin/Silhouette novels, Bantam Loveswepts, and Kensington books that got dumped on Amazon this summer. These books are priced from $.99 to a little over 3 bucks. In most cases, the author isn't making more than a few cents per book on the ebook editions. The publisher is the one cashing in.

Result For You

If you're priced higher than that, then you're up against the wall. All the print publishers have decided they want to milk that cash cow known as ebooks. I'm sure there are more to come because most of these print publishers have retained rights to thousands of books.

True, the vast majority of these books were written decades ago, and the world, and the taste of the reading public, has changed. For better or worse, that's your competition. Amazon will continue trying to offer benefits to print publishers, and that's going to affect indie authors. It's just good business on their part.

Smart Indie Authors Do This

1. Create your own good business practices that give you an edge.

2. Detach emotion from your decisions, especially from your pricing.

3. Don't be afraid to think outside the box and shake things up by changing the things that you control.

4. Always look for ways you can offer benefits to readers.

5. Worry about what you can control, not what Amazon and other authors are doing.

Why I'm Sharing

I keep getting emails wondering why I'm sharing all of my secrets--essentially everything I've had to work hard to learn. That's just the way I'm made. I know how hard it is to make a living as a writer. Like I've said, I'm not an expert. I'm just a working writer who has had some success.

I hope this will help shortcut the process for you. I hope you can achieve your own brand of success and have fun doing it.

Takeaway Truth

A rising tide floats all boats. I wish you magnificent ebook sales. If my advice helps, please let me know.

Note: If SlingWords helps you get ahead, please consider buying one of my books or making a donation by clicking the button below or, perhaps subscribe, for only $.99 per month to the Kindle Edition of SlingWords. Thank you for your moral support and any monetary support you see fit to contribute.


  1. With the initial buzz that's created around the .99 cent book offer, within what time frame should the same author publish another book, perhaps one with a high price margin, to capture the buzz off the first. I realize sooner is better....but what exactly is too late?

  2. Natasha ... That's a question for which there is no definitive answer. I think there are several factors to consider: (1) is your book continuing to sell over a long period of time (2) do you already have an audience or are you unknown (3) have you actually received many emails asking for more books from you?

    If you're completely unknown, it may take more than 1 book to build an audience. You have to have base of thousands of fans who like your work enough to follow you to a higher-priced book.

    I went to 2.99 only after 5 books at .99. My latest that's priced at 2.99 is selling well and improving in rank each day, but it's not selling anything like my $.99 books do. I sell hundreds more each day of the low-price books than I do of the $2.99.

    However, it's pushing sales of the first book in the series which is now my fastest selling .99 book.

    I know if I were to drop the price to .99 on Romeo and Judy Anne, that it would take off like rocket. The temptation to do that is strong because I like having a book on the Top 100 Paid list. But I'm staying true to the business plan I wrote and hanging tough. I think readers will embrace the book even more than they're doing.

    I don't know if there is a "too late" in charging a higher price. If I had to offer an opinion, I think it would be an error to publish a dozen books at .99 and then start asking 2.99.

    You just have to look at your sales numbers and the general reception your books are receiving and make as sound a business decision as possible.

    Best wishes,
    Joan Reeves

  3. Thanks, Joan, for another great post. It takes a lot of guts to stick to your business plan, but obviously you're doing everything right. (I've seen your ranks at amazon!)

    When I began to epublish my out-of-print books, I put up four books immediately. I decided to price one at 99-cents to attract readers, hoping they would then cross over to my $3.49 Brides of Bath series of 3 (still waiting on reversion on #4) books. I have to say that plan has not been very successful. After a while my 99 cent book became a bestseller, going to the Top 10 in Regency. I have to sell 7 of those 99 cent books to equal what I make off one of my $3.49; as it is now, I'm selling at a ratio of more that 100:1, 99 cent vs. 3.49.

    There is a great deal of merit in putting up your first 4 or 5 at 99-cents in order to hit those bestseller lists and keep your name high on the amazon searches.

    My other strategy when I started to epub was that books of mine previously published in paper would be higher; books indie published will be 99-cents. I have many, many more books to epublish, and I will not charge more than 99-cents for them.

  4. Cheryl Bolen ... It's tough, Cheryl, to take a step back, but sometimes it's needed in order to get momentum to leap forward. You know, that 3.49 price point is a hard one to maintain unless you have a lot of momentum going into it.


  5. Great post. Thanks for the response!