Pricing a Paperback

pound-709699_1280.jpgAny company that uses the phrase: ‘Set your own price to decide your royalty,’ should be taken out and shot for disservice to authors. The idea that you can simply increase the retail price in order to make your book profitable is ludicrous and goes against every law of commerce known to man. And yet, this is still a concept peddled to unsuspecting self-publishers far and wide.

The bottom line is, readers are not going to pay over the odds for a self-published book when they can buy a new release from their favourite author at half the price.

The only logical approach is to focus on what that buyer will actually pay and look for a distribution method which still allows you to make a profit, rather than selecting the distribution method and then simply upping the price until it’s financially viable.

The easiest way to determine price is to reference traditionally published books in your genre to see what they’re selling at. Above all, don’t be deluded. As an unknown author, you have an uphill struggle persuading readers to give your book a chance. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot before you’ve even started by giving your book an unreasonable price.

Pricing for Fiction

A brief tour of Amazon is a scary experience for fiction writers. Promotions such as Three for £10 strike a chill into the heart of all but the most hardened publishers. Obviously, you can’t compete with this sort of mass-production but you can match the book’s original recommended retail price of around £6.99 or £7.99. You could go a pound either side but for a standard work of fiction, I really wouldn’t deviate further.

There’s one exception to this: if your book is less than 150 pages, you’ve written a novella, not a novel and it should be priced down at anything from £2.99 to £5.99.

Pricing for Longer Novels

There’s some debate over whether the converse is true: can you increase the price for a longer book? Readers generally love long works of fiction because they get value for money. However, I remain unconvinced that they’ll pay over the odds for them.

Remember, when someone lands on your listing page, the first thing they see is your cover and price. If either of these put them off, they’re unlikely to scroll down to investigate how many pages they’re paying for. Attention spans in the online world are just too short.

Obviously, on a bookshop shelf, size will be immediately apparent. However, as I’ll discuss shortly, the chances of you getting your book onto the shelves of all but small, local bookshops, is virtually non-existent. If you’re interested in big sales, you need to consider how your book presents on the internet. For this reason, I wouldn’t add more than a pound or so for a long work of fiction and certainly never go above £9.99.

This leaves self-publishers with very long novels in a difficult position. Bestselling authors don’t need to worry if they’ve written 800 pages because their book will be produced on such a large-scale that printing costs per page will be negligible. However, page count definitely does matter when you’re using Print On Demand or shorter digital print runs. Here, costs spiral upwards and make it very hard to profitably sell a book over 500/600 pages at a market rate.

If your novel is sprawling completely out of control at a thousand plus pages, it might be worth deciding if it can be more sensibly presented as a book series, rather than a single volume. This not only makes your book more economically viable but also has distinct marketing advantages. The first book can be listed free to hook customers who will then, hopefully, buy the rest of the series.

However, you can’t just stop dead at the end of a random chapter. If you go down this route, you’ll need to do some significant re-writing to add a natural conclusion to each book. You should also ensure that later books start at a place where anyone picking them up, without having read previous ones, still understands what’s going on. Whatever you do, don’t split your book into tiny, nonsensical segments which leave the reader feeling they’ve paid full price for a chapter. Serialisation isn’t an easy job or one to be undertaken lightly but if you do it well, it can be highly effective.

If this isn’t possible, you may be best skipping the print edition altogether and concentrating on eBooks. Most authors dream of seeing their work in print. However, eBooks are where self-publishers really make money. You’ll probably sell far more of them than of their physical counterparts. In fact, some self-publishers are now deciding to forgo a print edition altogether (regardless of the length of their books).

Here a longer book is actually to your advantage. Mark Coker, in The Secrets to EBook Publishing Success, notes that a high proportion of bestselling eBooks tend to be longer at between 150 000 to 200 000 words.

You can always come back to the world of print, at a later date, when you’ve got a loyal following who are willing to pay a little more because they know the quality of your work. Plus, at that stage, you can print in larger quantities and reduce the per page/unit cost.

Pricing for Nonfiction

Pricing for nonfiction tends to be more complex and varies significantly between genres so it’s impossible to give even a ballpark figure. For instance a quick search of computer manuals on Amazon, reveals prices of £8–£20 and beyond whereas biographies tend to sell just as cheaply as novels. Look at some traditionally published books in your genre and get an idea of what they’re selling for.

Pay particular attention to bestsellers. There’s no point basing your price on a single overpriced volume that’s sold a total of three copies. Bestsellers are easy to find on Amazon, using the Shop by Department button (to the bottom left of the search box).


Overpricing is the cardinal sin but under-pricing for nonfiction can also be dangerous. Buyers may wonder why the book is so cheap and question its quality. Always try to go for the middle ground and as with everything else, from cover design to interior font, make sure your book fits snugly in its genre and doesn’t stick out as self-published.


Having established what sort of price is right for your book, keep this in mind when looking at distribution options. You need to pick a method that allows you to make a profit whilst maintaining your book at a viable commercial price. As you’ll see, this can be a challenge but isn’t insurmountable.


Next time: Distribution


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