The other day I was talking to an author who had written a short historical book of about 100 pages. The book was priced at a course in miracles I suggested to the author that her book was overpriced. She responded by saying, “What price should I charge for my three years of research and writing?”
This author’s response made it clear that she was looking to get a return for the work she put into writing the book, and that is understandable, but she failed to consider what her readers are willing to pay. If authors want a return on their work, they need to get it through the quantity of books sold, and less so on individual copies. When a potential customer looks at a 100 page book, he is not going to see that it took three hours to research.
He’s going to see 100 pages, which will take him about two hours to read. $29.99 is a lot of money for two hours of entertainment when you can go to a movie for about $8. How much is two hours of entertainment or information worth? I would have priced the book maybe at $14.99 myself, but the author clearly thought her information was worth more. I will give her that her book is the only one I know of on the topic so some people might be willing to pay more for the information in it, but I don’t think too many will want to pay $29.99.
I once attended a conference where several bookstore owners discussed how authors could work with bookstores to sell their books. Two of the owners disagreed about whether the price of a book mattered. One owner said that if people wanted what you had to sell, they would pay what you asked. (In the case of this history author, because her information was new, that might be the case. I doubt it would be, however, in the case of a fantasy author when there are thousands of fantasy titles to choose from.) The other bookstore owner pointed out that people will tend to buy the less expensive book if there are two on the same subject, unless the more expensive book appears to be of higher quality to make it worthwhile.
Higher quality might mean a hardback book, or it might mean something beyond text such as pictures, graphics, or colored photographs. A 100 page coffee table book or a graphic novel can be sold for a higher price because they are perceived as having higher quality because of their attractive look and that they have more than just straight text.
So just how do you determine an appropriate price? The best thing authors can do is to visit a bookstore to compare books similar to their own. It is better to go to a physical bookstore, not an online one, because then you can see and touch the books and compare them side-by-side. For example, if you’ve written a fantasy novel, look at the other fantasy novels in terms of content, size, and price and try to price yours somewhere in the middle. Granted, if you’re self-publishing, you may not be able to compete with the $6.99 mass market paperbacks put out by big fantasy publishers like TOR, but perhaps you can sell your book for $12.99 to out-price the hardback fantasy novels and the larger sized novels.
In general, it is best to price your book in the middle price range. You don’t want to overprice your book so people won’t buy it, but neither do you want to price it lower than most of the other books in your genre, especially if it’s self-published, because readers might dismiss your book as not being of value.
Some cases do exist for pricing your book on the higher end. If you are an established author in your subject matter and have already had some success with previous books so that customers will be loyal to you despite the price (within reason of course: you might get away with $29.95 when your past books were $25.95 but charging $39.95 may turn customers away). In the case of the history author above, she might be able to sell her book for $19.99 because its subject matter is unique, but I still think $29.99 is too high.