Cheap, Yes, But I Like It Too

18 Mar

I’ve been thinking about price points lately. There’s a lot of debate on this issue, 99 cents versus $2.99 versus higher prices. I’ve seen in a lot of places that pricing your books at 99 cents marks you as a hobbyist, someone not focusing on profit.

To which I say, good! If you’re focusing on profit then you’re not focusing on other things. I’d rather have someone enjoy my books than have them pay me for it–and even at 99 cents I AM making a profit, 35 cents on each book sold, what do you call that, chopped liver? Frankly I think it’s amazing that oh my goodness a fly just flew past my ukulele and STRUMMED it! How does that even work? Are flies musical now? That was amazing! I wouldn’t have even thought that to be possible except that it just happened!

Sorry, I got distracted–you have to admit, a fly strumming a ukulele is pretty darn distracting, you’d have to be damn near undistractable for that not to distract you.

BJK Factoid #177: I am easily–ooh, something irrelevant!

Back to my point, which was about pricing. I think it’s amazing that I can sell my books for 99 cents and still make a profit on each sale. That’s incredible. Right now, I’m not in this to make money, but the dream is that maybe, someday, eventually, I might be able to support myself and my family just from book sales. To do that I’d need to sell at least 2000 books a month at the 99 cent price point. That seems unrealistic to me–yes, it’s possible, but not likely.

Except I don’t just have one book, and I’m not just sitting on my hands waiting for the books I have to take off. I’m working every day on new books–on sequels and on new series. Imogen Shroud’s about to come out, and Miya Black III, and Charlotte Powers 2–in a year’s time I expect to have at least ten books out. In two years I’ll probably have fifteen. In three years I’d be disappointed if I didn’t have at least twenty books published–and so on, and so forth, and e-books don’t have print runs, once they’re out they’re out effectively forever.

My pricing policy is that first-in-series and short standalones (like The Boy & Little Witch, at around 50,000 words) are priced at 99 cents, subsequent books-in-series and longer standalones (none planned right now, but who knows) are priced at $2.99. Now let’s fast-forward in time, and let’s make the hefty assumption that my books are starting to sell. Let’s say it’s the futuristic year of 2012 and the books I have available are as follows:

Miya Black I – 99 cents
Miya Black II – $2.99
Miya Black III – $2.99
Miya Black IV – $2.99

Imogen Shroud – 99 cents

Charlotte Powers: Power Down – 99 cents
Charlotte Powers: Power Play – $2.99

The Boy & Little Witch – 99 cents

Resonance Book One: Birds Of Passage – 99 cents
Resonance Book Two: Against Darker Days – $2.99

Let’s say I’m selling ten a week of each of my 99 cent books (it could happen!). That’s 5x10x35 cents or $17.50. Not quite enough to feed a family of four, but this money is just a bonus–what I’m really hoping for are readers, and more than that, the elusive ‘fans’. Now let’s say that a quarter of the people who read Miya Black I like it enough to buy the sequel, so let’s be generous and round up to three a week sold of that. That’s around $2 a book, or $1 for foreign sales. We’ll round it off to $5. Now let’s say that out of the people who bought Miya Black II, a third of them (for ease of reference) become fans of the series and will buy every subsequent book (and why wouldn’t they, they just keep getting better). So that’s one sale of MBIII and one of MBIV, earning another $4 or so. We’ll do the same thing for Charlotte Powers and Resonance; three copies of the sequels to these sold per week, another $10 in the coffers.

In total, that would give me $36.50 a week, or around $150 per month. Not enough to live on, but enough to pour into advertising and maybe pay the phone bill. But this isn’t a short term thing, at this point I’m still writing, I’m (hopefully) talking to readers and fans and they’re talking to other people and theoretically my sales start to increase, and I’m putting out new books and these result in a spike of sales, and maybe by 2013 I’ve got another five books out and I’m getting twenty sales a week on each of my 99 centers–but to get any of this, ANY of it, first I have to reach those initial brave readers, those people willing to try an untested author they’ve never heard of. And seeing that the first book in a series is $2.99 (or higher) might just be enough to dissuade them from trying it. I’ve heard a lot of anecdotal evidence from people, things like how their sales dropped to a third of what they were after they raised the price, but how they’re making more of a profit–but to me that seems to be missing the point. Yes, it’s nice to be getting more money, yes, of course we think that our books are worth more than a dollar–and they probably are–but this is about removing as many barriers as possible between our books and potential readers/fans. 99 cents means that the money barrier is essentially removed; I’m poor and even I don’t have to think about spending a dollar on a book. If I like it at all, I’ll buy it.

Maybe if I’d only written one book, or a couple, or if I’d run out of ideas or lost the urge to write and wasn’t planning on putting any more books out, maybe then I’d price higher. But it just so happens that I am, and I don’t wish to toot my own trumpet too much here, a writing machine. Imogen Shroud went from the germ of an idea to a finished first draft in less than thirty days–and on ten of those days I wasn’t even working on it. It’ll take a couple of weeks to proof-and-edit it to a publishable standard, but then it’ll be done. Some books take longer than others, it’s true, but considering that I already have the first five Miya Black books written and the sixth in an almost-complete form I’m not really worried about my output. After all, Writing Is The Easy Part (ooh, title drop!).

So I’m going to stick to my policy. After all, isn’t it nice to feel like you got good value for something? I always like it when people COULD charge more for something but decide not to, and I’m happy to have the opportunity to do so myself–more than for the sake of marketing, I just like being able to offer my books so cheaply.

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Posted by on March 18, 2011 in Of Writing


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