Crunching the numbers: how do you price a self-published book?

Nisha Tuli
May 16, 2022
July 22, 2022
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If you’re planning to become an indie author, one of the first things you might be wondering is: how do you price a self-published book?

Unfortunately, as with most things in life, there is no cut and dry answer to this question. There are several factors to consider when pricing your book that depend on your goals, your publishing history, and your genre.

It’s important to note, all of this only applies if you are self-publishing. If you’re working with a press who’s publishing your book for you, you will have absolutely no say in how your book is priced, which can be both a positive or a negative depending on who you’re asking. (But the merits of traditional versus self publishing is a lengthy topic for a whole other post.)

In this article we’ll talk about:

  • Assessing the goals of your book
  • Pricing series and debuts
  • Kindle Unlimited and going "Wide"
  • Using pricing psychology
how do you price a self published book

What are the goals for your self-published book?

Let’s start by talking about what you want to accomplish. Is this your first book and you’re trying to grow an audience? The first book in a long series you’re planning to publish? Is it a standalone? How quickly are you publishing? Are you trying to make a lot of sales? A lot of money? There are numerous things to consider. (And for a little insider info on how much authors actually ‌make, check out this article.)

If you’re a new author with no track record, you might consider pricing your book a little lower to entice people to buy it. The catch is, though, you don’t want to price it so low that people think it’s low quality. People are weird like that. Another thing you don’t want is to ‘train’ your readers into thinking you’re only going to be selling really cheap books from now until forever. That’s not going to do you any favors in the long run.

Look at other books in your genre

Start by looking at the top one hundred books in your genre or subgenre. The more specific you can get with your genre, the better. Go to Amazon and see what the e-book versions of each book are selling for. Add them all up and find an average. You’ll probably be getting a combination of traditionally published and indie books in your list.

Traditionally published books tend to be priced higher for e-books because they have distribution and marketing expenses to support. You might consider filtering out the indie published books from the traditional ones, though this step might not be necessary. Try both and see what you get.

That genre’s audience is already ‘trained’ to spend the average of that amount for a book. Some genres tolerate higher price points than others. When pricing your book, consider choosing a price around that average or maybe a little lower if you’re a new author trying to build an audience.

Is this part of a series?

Many authors will price the first book in a series very low, say at $0.99 or even give it out for free, to draw readers in. Then, once they’ve got them hooked, they’ll charge a higher price for subsequent books in the series. You know you’ve done it when you read a book you love and absolutely have to start the next one. This is known as ‘read-through’ in the industry.

If your book is a standalone, you’ll need to consider where you’re sending your readers next. Do you have another book on preorder? Can you use this one to interest them in the next one? Again, consider your potential read-through. It might be worth pricing one book lower to encourage future purchases that net positive gains in the long term.

Is your goal to make money?

If your goal is to make money (even if it’s just a little), you’ll need to consider how much you actually get for each sale. Just because you sold a book for $3.99 doesn’t mean you’re going to get $3.99 for it. Retailers like Amazon take a cut from the book for the cost of hosting it on their website. You’re paying for the millions of users they attract to their site who are looking to buy books and they want their share.

Basically, if your e-book is priced between 0.99-2.98 you get 35% of that. If it’s priced between $2.99-$9.99, you get 70% of that. There are a lot of variables depending on the country it sells in etc. but that’s the general breakdown. For more detailed info, you can visit here.

There are different amounts for printed books, but if you’re writing a novel, the vast majority of your sales are going to be e-books, so that’s the price that’s going to matter the most. For more info on how paperback royalties are calculated on Amazon, visit here.

A note about Kindle Unlimited

As an aside, you’re going to want to decide if you want to become a Kindle Unlimited author or if you want to go “Wide”. What does that mean? So glad you asked.

If you decide to include your book on Kindle Unlimited (KU), it means it can be accessed by the bajillion or so people who have a KU subscription. That means it costs the reader nothing extra to read your book (if you’re a new author, this can be useful since people are more willing to give you a shot). It works kind of like a library where readers can ‘borrow’ your book, read it, and then return it when they’re done. People can borrow up to 20 books at a time.

The royalties for KU are lower (you get paid in fractions of a cent for every page that gets read), but a lot of authors will tell you the tradeoff comes in the volume of books you’ll ‘sell’ through the program and that they make more money this way. This is another case of looking at your genre and seeing if the top books are on KU. If they’re all listed on KU, you might want to do the same since those readers are going to expect it.

This choice matters because if you decide to go with KU, you won’t be able to sell your e-book on any other platform (you can also still sell your e-book outright on Amazon, but not anywhere else). You can still sell paperbacks, but e-books are exclusive to Amazon.

Being a “Wide” author means you only sell your book on Amazon at a per book price and also sell with other online booksellers like Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Google Books, Apple Books etc.

A note on expenses

Don’t forget that you likely have some costs associated with publishing your book too. There are the cover and editing expenses. The subscription cost for your newsletter. There’s the advertising costs for Amazon or Facebook ads. There are other marketing costs you might incur like graphic design charges or paying for prizes for a contest.

You’re about to publish one book in a sea of billions—no one is going to see it if you don’t tell them about it. Marketing and advertising need to be a part of your budget if you want people to notice your book. So all those royalties we talked about earlier are going to be balanced by the amount you spend on producing and marketing your book.

Use pricing psychology

There are plenty of studies that show people are more inclined to buy something that ends in a .99. There’s just something about that single cent difference that makes a $2.99 feel like you’ve spend $2 versus $3. You’ve done it. I’ve done it. We’ve all done it.

So make use of that fact and price your books accordingly. You may need to test the price of your books over time. If you’ve got a great cover, an enticing blurb, and are driving traffic to your book page, but it’s not selling, then it might be that your price is too high.

After considering all of the above variables, I hope you have a better idea of how you might price your book. Book pricing can be a bit of an art form and it’s something you’ll hone over time.

Writing a book is only half the journey for indie authors. It’s not just price you’ll be working out over time, but other marketing, community management, and improving your craft along the way. So, if this article was helpful, sign up for Dabble’s weekly newsletter where we’ll send you all the info you need to help with the craft of writing and the business of publishing.

Nisha Tuli

Nisha J Tuli is a YA and adult fantasy and romance author who specializes in glitter-strewn settings and angst-filled kissing scenes. Give her a feisty heroine, a windswept castle, and a dash of true love and she’ll be lost in the pages forever. When Nisha isn’t writing, it’s probably because one of her two kids needs something (but she loves them anyway). After they’re finally asleep, she can be found curled up with her Kobo or knitting sweaters and scarves, perfect for surviving a Canadian winter.