Interview: Kait Nolan on Pricing

First I’d like to apologize for getting this posted late. I was happily doing NaNo when I realized I hadn’t received an email stating Kait Nolan’s Friday interview had posted. A quick check revealed I’d forgot to set it to schedule. 🙁 Please give a warm welcome to Indie Author Kait Nolan as she gives advice on pricing indie novels.

Tell us a little about your books.

My debut paranormal romance novella, Forsaken By Shadow, was released in March of this year.

Cade Shepherd is on top of the world as this year’s Ultimate Fighting Champion. He doesn’t even remember his life as Gage Dempsey, a Shadow Walker with the ability to magically transport himself from shadow to shadow. In fact, he can’t remember anything before waking up in a cheap motel room ten years ago with mysterious burns on his hands–not even the woman he almost died for.

Embry Hollister has picked up the pieces of her life, learned to control her ability to generate flame, and now works an enforcer for the Council of Races. But when her father is captured by the human military and the Council refuses mount a rescue mission, Embry has no choice but to go rogue. All she has to do is find the man with the new name and new life who was completely wronged by her people, give him back the memories they stole, convince him to join her on what’s probably a suicide mission, and hope that after ten years of living as a regular guy he still remembers what her father taught him.

And after that, she just has to leave him. Again.

The first of a planned series, Forsaken By Shadow is an introduction to the world and my new mythology.  You won’t see any sparklay vamps here!  I have a freebie (Devil’s Eye), set in the same world, that I hope to release in November or December.  I also have an unrelated foray into paranormal YA planned for next spring.  Red puts an interesting new spin on the Red Riding Hood mythology.

$0.99, $1.99, $2.99, $999.99. Okay, maybe not $999.99, but you know what I mean. 🙂 What are some of the benefits of pricing low? high?

Well, I speak to this coming from the perspective of a newb to the publishing world.  Readers don’t know me from Adam’s housecat, so I absolutely feel that starting low is the way to go to begin creating visibility (without getting into the ins and outs of social media and how that contributes to visibility).  If you start at $0.99 (or straight up $1, which is what I did), you automatically place yourself into the impulse purchase category.  Consider it the Super Value Menu of books.  Given the wide variability of quality among independently published books, people are a LOT more likely to drop a buck on you to give you a try.  Now, sure, that may appeal to a demographic who may buy your book to be supportive but never actually read it.  But the thing is, every single purchase puts you higher in the Amazon rankings.  When you’re starting out above 100k in the rankings, you need every sale you can get to push you up the ladder and onto those top 100 category lists, which will really boost your visibility.  There are others out there who will say that $1.99 and $2.99 are still impulse buys, and that’s true for some people.  I know for me that the author has to work harder to get my $1.99 or $2.99.  They must have good cover art, a good blurb, and not turn me off when I read the sample (which I do, religiously).  Sometimes I don’t want to do that much work to pick a book, and I’ll stick to the $1 range.  I know I’m not the only one.

The benefits to pricing higher are, of course, that you get more royalties per sale, but you do have to consider your conversion rate (how many people who come to your book’s purchase page actually ultimately buy the book).  When you’re starting out, you cannot let it become a money game.  You have to build an audience and a backlist, and offering cheap, quality reads is a good way to do that.

And to those Big 5 Publishing houses who think an ebook is worth $9.99…well, I have to say that they’re smoking something.  I will not pay more for an ebook than I will for a paperback.  Period.  Now length certainly plays a role in this.  For a short story, no I’m not paying more than a buck.  For a novella, if the sample really impresses me, I might go up to $2.99.  For a full length novel, I’ll go as high as $4.99 under the same circumstances.  Anything higher than that and I’m requesting it from the library.

What about the cons?

So the cons to these price points.  Well at the buck range, you don’t make a lot per sale and it takes a while to recoup your startup costs for copyright registration, cover art, etc.  I recouped my costs within 3 months of release of Forsaken By Shadow, so I don’t consider this con to outweigh the pros of the visibility I gained.

At the slightly higher price points of $1.99 to $2.99 or higher, you risk turning away impulse buyers because they don’t know anything about you.  I did ultimately raise the price of Forsaken By Shadow to $1.99, just to see how it would impact sales, and as it’s turned out, one of my distributors through Smashwords hasn’t updated the price since June, so right now Amazon is selling it for $1 and I’m still getting royalties on the $1.99 list price (a happy accident and not something I suggest trying on purpose).  As the bulk of my sales are through Amazon, I haven’t switched back to a $1 list price, though I might in the future.

I think it takes time to build credibility as an author who puts out quality work, whether that’s through reviews on the purchase site, book blogger reviews, etc.   You have to remember that practically nobody but Stephanie Meyer ever got rich quick via publishing.  It’s a long haul game and you must have strategy when considering your pricing.  Yes, you may make more money on the front end with a higher price point, but fewer sales overall translates into less visibility to start, which then impacts number of sales overall (e.g. generally lower because people aren’t finding you as well).

Some say with Amazon’s new 70% royalty, $2.99 is the new $0.99. What are your thoughts on the matter?

This comes back to the issue of making money.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I want to make a living at my writing eventually.  We all do.  And some people with well established backlists and the credibility to ask that price are doing really well at $2.99. For full length novels, I don’t have a problem at all with this price.  Forsaken By Shadow is a novella, so I personally do not feel comfortable asking readers for more than $1.99.  It’s a short read and I’m still building my reputation.

There are some indie authors who want to see everybody jump on the $2.99 bandwagon.  They’re tossing around notions like “anything less than $2.99 devalues our work.”  What they really mean is, “there are still all these cheaper reads and people are buying more of them than my higher priced book.”  Okay, that’s not a blanket statement, by any means, but certainly there are those out there who are lambasting those of us who choose to keep our books at very low prices in perpetuity.  The thing is, it has absolutely NOTHING to do with devaluing the work.  We are not saying that all books are only worth $1.  We’re not saying that readers ought to be conditioned to that price point and anything higher is horrible.  But we absolutely have the right to price as we choose and to recognize that there are benefits to low pricing that far outweigh the precise monetary income generated from it.

I think pricing is a very personal decision and one that everyone should give a lot of thought.  For me, I don’t have any intention of ever listing my novellas for more than $1.99.  They’re the short, bite-sized introduction to a much longer series, and it will ultimately benefit me far greater to continue to have a cheap read to pull people in for the full length novels to come.

Introductory pricing, promotions, and free reads. How do these work for or against an author?

I’m going to attack these backwards, actually.

I have to say that the number one thing (in my opinion) that can benefit authors is free reads.  Now this falls into two categories in my mind:

1) Permanently free reads that are offered up on your website or Smashwords or wherever.  These are great because what better low risk way for readers to try you out?  It costs them nothing but time, so if they hate it, it’s no skin off their back, and if they love it, well then they go buy your other stuff and tell their friends.  There’s nothing better than an enthusiastic fan.

2) Free review copies of your book.  This probably isn’t what you meant by free reads (and it probably counts as promotion too), but I want to mention them anyway.  These are, hands down, the best way to garner many reviews pretty quickly.  I offer up my crit partner, Susan Bischoff, as a case study.  Her debut Hush Money went from unknown to the top 1k in the Kindle store in 8 weeks as a result of the reviews generated by her giveaway.

As for promotion, I think that there’s no need for big dramatic, expensive giveaways (like “Win a Kindle!”).  That’s not targeting your audience.  That’s targeting everybody who wants a Kindle.  You’ll get more return on your investment of time if you properly utilize social media to build your platform.

Regarding introductory pricing, I’m going to start sounding like a broken record here—start low.  Even if you plan to ultimately raise the price, starting low will invariably raise you up the charts to higher visibility faster than if you start with a higher price.

Do debut novelists have additional pricing considerations? and if so, what?

Yes, absolutely.  As I said before, if you are a debut novelist, nobody knows who you are.  Maybe you’ve been active in social media and have developed some kind of reputation among other indie authors, but for the most part, debut novelists haven’t got the reputation with readers that existing novelists do.  Your book could be the greatest thing since peanut butter met chocolate, but readers don’t know that, so you have to work extra hard to wow them with your cover, your blurb, your summary, and yes, your price.  The economy is in the toilet, and people have less and less discretionary income.  They are much more likely to try an unheard of author if it’s not going to cost them more than a cup of gas station coffee.

Any additional advice on pricing you’d like to give to authors?

That pretty well covers it.  🙂

Where might readers find you?

I be found at my website where I blog almost daily about my writing life and topics of interest to writers and indie publishers.  I can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, MySpace, and the Indie Book Collective, of which I am a founding member.  You can also find me at Pots and Plots, my cooking blog, where I concentrate on recipes that reduce fat, calories, and hopefully, my time in the kitchen, so that I can get back to my writing.

Thank you again, Kait. The information you shared is wonderful, and I learned quite a bit myself. 🙂

Available at Barnes & Nobles || Amazon || The Book Depository || Kobo || iTunes || Smashwords

How Much Is an eRead Worth to You?

Today, I’m thinking a poll would be nice. After reading Zoe Winter’s post: I Want to Read a Zoe Winters Book on pricing, I’m curious. How much do you think the price of an eRead should be? You’ll notice, I didn’t give the option of free. Consider your paying job; even a small job has a price.

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