When a lot of us think about becoming famous as writers, what do we see in front of us? Yes, we'll try to play off some humble diatribe about making an impact in the world or reaching a large number of readers, and I'm sure that those contain a grain of truth. However, one thing not far from our minds is money.
So, how do we come about the money we want to swim in? Through selling our work. And in order to sell it, we have to price it right. This can be a difficult task, especially for someone new to the scene.
I have griped about the price of books while buying them, but if it's one I really, really want, by an author I really, really like, my tolerance for the level of cash pain involved goes up. I'm willing to pay upwards of $30 per book for the latest Harry Turtledove novel, but my threshold isn't as high for Gordon Dickson. That's not to say I don't enjoy Dickson's work, but I'm not as willing to shell out the bucks.
When we think to what we should charge for our work, we need to keep several factors in mind:
1. When we first start out, we're not in very high demand.
Stephen King can get away with charging $26.95 for a hardback or over $15 for an e-copy of 11/22/63, but the rest of us can't. Until we build an audience that is loyal and has proven that they'll not only buy our books, but that they anticipate their release, we have to stay reasonable. That means creating a narrow profit margin that will be much smaller per copy in the beginning than it will be later on.
2. Don't sell yourself or your quality short.
This seems to go against number one, and it can be one of the most maddening pieces of contradictory advice I've yet given. However, there really is logic behind it.
I know a number of writers who, for whatever reason, don't think they're worth people giving up a lot of money to read. Trust me - if you don't think you're worth it, no one else will.
As a corollary to this, most folks will actually avoid things they think are priced too low. For example, if you go into a jewelery store and see a Rolex watch on sale for $99, what is your first thought? If you're anything like me, you thought something was wrong with the watch. Rolexes are supposed to be priced higher, because they're quality, and if it's too low, it won't matter whether you know it works or not because you'll assume it's defective.
When Kindle first came along and the indie publishing trend started gathering momentum, 99 cent e-books were all the rage. Readers loved to get them because they could try out a new author for less than a buck, and if the writer wasn't very good, the reader didn't lose much. However, that thinking is quickly becoming a relic of a time gone by. Books under $2.99 are increasingly being seen as being of lesser quality. That might be harsh, but as incredible as it sounds, readers are walking away from some great stories because the price is too low. Therefore, you have to balance your knowledge that you're not Timothy Zahn with the understanding that people rarely buy $5 lobster at a restaurant.
3. You have to pay for your own overhead.
Coming up with a reasonable profit margin can be tricky. Too many look at the price they get once they go to POD places like Lightning Source or CreateSpace and think that's all they have to consider. Most have forgotten about their cover, the cost of traveling to and from events, the cost of their website, the copy editor's fee, and so on. These are all expenses, and they don't get magically absorbed just because you're now on Amazon.
4. You need to eat.
What's your goal as a writer? If it's just to get a few copies into the hands of your readers so you can see your name in print, then don't worry about the price. However, if you want to make a living doing this, you need a decent profit margin. You've got to be able to make enough to cover quirky things like shelter and the car payment. Sure, you could charge a pittance and sell a lot, but you're margin would be so low that you'd need to crack the NY Times Bestseller List to stay out from under bridges. Conversely, you can't try for a margin so high that you only need sell a couple of copies because no one will buy one.
Something along the lines of $5 to $6 per book in hardcopy, or in the neighborhood of $2 per ebook(due to the higher current potential for distribution), seems reasonable to me. You don't have to be incredibly proficient, but you're not pawning off a $3 hooker either.
It's the mundane things like this that keep a lot of authors starving, but they're necessary components of being a writer these days, especially in an indie environment. Just because they're not sexy doesn't mean they're not just as vital as plot development, so spend as much time on the price as you would on the resolution to your tale. In the end, it'll mean you make a better living and can go on doing what you enjoy doing - writing stories for your readers.