This post, by Robert Kroese, originally appeared on the New Wave Authors blog on 10/3/12.
When you self-publish your first novel, I recommend pricing the e-book very low. Currently $0.99 is the lowest price Amazon will allow for a Kindle book, and I think this is a good starting price. Smashwords allows free downloads, but I think most authors are better off not giving away their books (except as a limited time promotion). Even if you get a lot of downloads, it’s hard to know how that’s going to translate into actual sales if you start charging later on.
Free-book-downloaders are a whole different market segment than book-buyers. People who seek out free books are likely to continue doing that, whereas someone who pays $0.99 for your book and loves it probably won’t blink at the idea of spending $2.99 or even $4.99 or more for your next book.
At $0.99, you’ll make next to nothing per book, but you’ll have a good chance at catching the interest of a lot of potential fans. If you just can’t stomach pricing your baby that low, you can try setting the price a little higher. Currently, $2.99 is the minimum price that qualifies for Amazon’s 70% royalty option (at $0.99, you’ll make only 30%, less delivery costs), so you’ll make significantly more per copy at that price. $2.99 is still low enough that people will be willing to take a chance on an unknown author, but I wouldn’t go any higher than that.
I’ve heard many writers argue that they shouldn’t be expected to work for free; that their book is worth more than $0.99; that if authors keep giving away their work, it will depress prices overall, making it impossible to make a living as a writer; etc. I urge you to drop all these idealistic delusions right now. Besides being misguided, these sorts of notions are NOT helpful when it comes to trying to sell books. You can’t afford to be a snob or an idealist if you expect to make it as a writer. Before you draw a line in the sand, ask yourself whether you’re going to be content with your principles and less than a hundred sales.
Reality check: no matter how good your book is, or how long you worked on it, your book is worth what someone will pay for it. There is no minimum wage for authors or other artists (just ask Van Gogh, who sold exactly one painting while he was alive). Furthermore, it isn’t your job to worry about shaping the future of the publishing industry. The publishing industry is going to roll on, in one form or another, with or without you. It isn’t waiting breathless to find out whether you’re going to price your book at $2.99 or $4.99.