by Graeme Reynolds & Rick Taubold
RICK: Thea has been after Graeme and me to do a blog post. After I emailed him), he came up with this topic. I also asked Graeme to do a post for Scott Gamboe’s and my blog. Graeme sent me ONE blog post to play with. I’ll put his original up at the Write Well blog in a couple of weeks. For this post, I extracted some of his thoughts and added my own. My novels to date were traditionally published. I will be jumping into the self-publishing arena later this year.
GRAEME: A few weeks ago, I was reading an interview with a reasonably well-known author who stated that e-books should be priced at an appropriate level to reflect the work that had gone into their production.
RICK: This makes a lot of sense, and it’s how most stuff is priced in the retail world: price = cost of materials + labor. Except for publishing. Almost without exception, mass-market paperbacks are all sold at the same price. Surely a bigger book requires more editing time. Are publishers telling us that they’ve overpriced books so much that this time is factored into the cost of each one? What about e-books, where printing costs don’t factor in?
GRAEME: Traditional publishers have one opinion. They feel that an e-book should be sold for the same price as a physical book, even going so far as to charge a hardback price for the electronic version when a book comes out, then dropping it in line with the paperback price when that one is released. They argue that the content is what people are paying for and the medium that it’s delivered in is largely irrelevant, and that the cost of producing an e-book is the same as producing a hard copy.
So, let’s take a look at the costs associated with creating an e-book (Rick adds: or any book). Once the author has a decent manuscript, they will need to get an editor, proof-reader, cover artist, and interior layout designer involved.
Most freelance editors tend to work for around a penny a word, although I’ve seen them charge as much as four times more and four times less than that. The old adage of “you get what you pay for” rings true in these cases, with the lower end of that scale often delivering a much less thorough edit. As an illustrative figure, I’m going to say that around $1000 is about the cost of getting a manuscript edited. (Rick adds: editing is not the same as proofreading. Make sure you understand the differences.
Proofreaders also vary in price by a fairly wide margin. Some will charge the same as an editor, while others will work for considerably less. It’s important to use them, because they are your last defence against errors in the manuscript making it out into the real world. For the sake of argument, let’s say $500 for a proofreader on a standard 90,000 word book, although the reality will most likely be less than that.
RICK: This brings up the point of self-editing your work. It’s not impossible, but most of us have a hard time spotting all of our own errors, and if you’re not a grammar and punctuation guru, you will need professional help with that. While a well-edited novel doesn’t guarantee sales, a poorly edited one is far more likely to garner scathing reviews for being sloppy. If your budget can’t afford these prices, look around for alternatives, such as trading or bartering services with other writers. Do not skimp on quality. Your reputation as a writer depends on it.
GRAEME: Cover art is one of those things that you would think expensive, but is probably less than most people imagine. I got the cover for my novel done for less than $200.
RICK: A poor or sloppy cover will hurt your book as much as poor editing. A good cover will get buyers interested; a bad one will turn them off before they even read a sample, but a great cover won’t help if what’s underneath is poorly written and poorly edited.
GRAEME: Lastly, there is the expense of getting someone to lay the book out for you so that it displays properly on e-readers and looks good in paperback, if you decide to go down that route. To be honest, there are plenty of guides available that make the e-book layout fairly straightforward, but I would recommend using a specialist if you are going down the paperback route. Again, there are plenty of places out there that will do this for $100, but even the top end places don’t tend to charge more than $250.
So, there we have it. The cost of putting a good quality book together is around $2000. Realistically, if you shopped around you could probably get it done for $1500 or less. For the sake of argument, let’s stick with the $2000 figure.
For a self-published e-book, priced at $2.99, the author will need to cover off the $2000 fees for editing, cover design etc, but will make $1.97 per sale (at Amazon’s 70% royalty rate). Put the cover price up to $3.99 and the author makes $2.67 per copy. Once the publishing costs are paid, then you don’t have to worry about them again, and those costs would be covered after you sold your first 1000 e-books.
I sold the first 1000 copies of my novel “High Moor” in less than five months, this from a completely unknown author with no previous publishing history outside of some short stories, so it shows that it can be done.
Selling a book for $0.99 drops you down into the 35% bracket (at Amazon) and means the author only makes $0.35 per sale. Which means that he would need to shift almost 6000 copies to cover the cost of getting the book done properly in the first place. While moving those sorts of numbers isn’t impossible, it’s considerably less likely, and it generally means that the writer is almost certainly going to try to cut corners on things like editing to keep costs down. Readers are starting to associate the books at a permanent $0.99 price bracket as badly edited junk, and with good reason. An overwhelming number of them are exactly that.
The exception to this is when an author has a series and gives the first book away for free or at a reduced rate to hook the readers, or when the author does a short sale to boost sales rank and visibility. Both of these are examples of using pricing as a tool, and my own personal experience indicates that they can be very effective over short timescales. If they are set to the reduced level for longer than 48 hours though, then sales seem to plateau and then fall off quite sharply. I am putting this down to association with the aforementioned badly edited junk at a permanent $0.99 price point, but I may be wrong. I’m just going from my own experiences here.
So, after all of that, what is an appropriate price for an e-book? Well, it’s going to be down to the individual, but the way that I look at it is this. A $2.99 book will sell better than a $9.99 one (from a traditional publisher), or even a $3.99 one, and more sales mean a better sales rank and better visibility. Which means more sales.
RICK: As self-publishers, we can deliver apparent value to readers with proper pricing, and we can price by the size of the book. If you write a shorter book, price it less, unlike traditional publishers. Let’s say you’ve written a novella that’s 30,000 words. Because traditional publishers have this desire to price books by the unit rather than by the amount of material. Such a book would probably still be sold for the standard price. Would you, as a reader, pay $6.99 or more for a book barely half an inch thick? The self-published author has the advantage. Or he could bundle two novellas together, price the combo at $2.99 and give two for the price of one to readers.
If you price you books fairly for yourself and your readers, everyone wins. But don’t undersell yourself or price yourself out of the market, as the traditional publishers are trying to do. As a self-published author, you always have options. If a publisher doesn’t make enough money on your book–for whatever reason–you simply won’t be offered another contract.
Here’s where we hang out:
sidenote by Thea:
I really enjoy both of these authors and highly recommend you sample/buy any of their work. High Moor was a Thea indie recommended read on Thea’s Writing Page. They are worth the read. Also, please consider sharing this post. It’s always nice to see generous authors give of their time to help us all make sense of this indie journey.
Thanks Rick and Graeme. Please come back another time in the future.