Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Pricing your self-published kids’ books: are you doing it wrong? (5 essential guidelines)


Did you ever have a garage sale or yard sale?

I have, and one of the toughest parts was figuring out how to price the stuff I was selling.  You want it to go, but you want to make something.  Your stuff is valuable – at least to you – plus, you want to get paid for your time and trouble in setting everything up.

It’s sort of like that when you’re selling your own books.

How much will YOUR book cost?  Have you decided yet?

It’s a ton of pressure.  How do you know you’re not doing it wrong?  If you price your book too high, it won’t sell. 

Cheap isn’t always the answer, either.  Price your book too low, and people may decide it’s worthless and give it a pass.  It’s your book – it’s your baby.  Pricing our books fairly is a challenge all of us face, not just once, but every single day we hang out our shingle as indie, self-published writers.

Keep yourself on the right track with these 5 handy guidelines.  Use them to help pick your price point and you may find your way to financial success as a children’s-book writer after all.

#1.  You’re not Stephen King or Jodi Picoult (or Maurice Sendak).  So you can’t charge their prices.

Even if these guys can get away with selling an ebook for $10-15, you can’t.  Don’t even think about it.  And I’ve seen indie-published children’s picture books for upwards of $20.  In one case, the writer told me, “It’s my book – I can charge what I want for it.”  Of course she can.  Just don’t expect me to buy it.

Trouble is, you’re an unknown.  As great as your book is, you don’t have the kind of trust built up with a large readership to charge what your book may actually be worth.  You can look at what established authors are charging in your area, but don’t try to price yourself up against them.  Low prices are one big strength of indie authors.  Take advantage of it if you can.

#2.  You may not make back your money on a single book.  Think career, not just one book.

Here’s where it’s tough beans being a children’s-book author.  Unless you’re doing the illustrations yourself, you’re going to have to shell out for pictures (or skimp on the pictures, which I do not recommend!).

So by the time you’re publishing your book, you’re already in the hole, potentially rather deep.  And now you’re hoping your book will pull you out of the hole so you can get some money together and maybe think about doing your NEXT book.

Don’t hold your breath.

You may never make back your money if you’re independently self-publishing.  I really hope you do, though.  But, judging from the current landscape, the only way you will do that is by putting out more books. 

#3.  Not all books are created equal.  Don’t price them all the same.

You might want to consider my current strategy.  I’m using lower-cost books (books that cost me less to create) to “subsidize” higher-cost books. 

Higher-cost books are the ones I’ve had to pay someone to illustrate for me.  I love them, but they don’t come cheap, and I don’t mind turning around and selling them for a little more.  But I can’t sell them for what they’re worth, or nobody would buy.

Here are examples of some of my higher-cost books:

children's book cover:  One Chanukah Night, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod children's book cover:  Shabbat Monsters, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod children's book cover:  Captain Steve, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod children's book cover:  Elijah and the Priests of Baal, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

Lower-cost books are those I’ve illustrated with free photos and nearly-free stock photos (this is an affiliate link to Dollar Photo Club, where I get tons of great images for only $1 each).  Also, chapter books – which don’t need many (or any) illustrations.  Plus, books for adults, which are practically free to write and publish, if you don’t count my time and the cover.

Here are examples of some of my “lower-cost” books:

children's book cover:  No Santa!, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod writer's book cover:  The Seven Day Manuscript Machine, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod children's book cover:  Panda Purim, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod children's book cover:  Now You Know:  Passover for Kids, by Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

Remember, “lower cost” doesn’t mean “worth less.”  It just means books you haven’t spent as much putting together, either because you’ve illustrated them yourself, or they don’t have illustrations, or they have cheap illustrations for some other reason.  It doesn’t mean these books aren’t as good, as interesting, or as well-written!

Essentially, what I’m doing with these two categories is pricing the “lower cost” books slightly HIGHER than I need to – slightly!  not a lot more – and this will (in the long run; I’m just speculating right now) allow me to charge slightly LESS than I need to for the “higher cost” books.

I’ve spent a while talking about this because I have heard from SO many writers who have put together a book they love, a book they’re proud of… and then nobody can afford to buy it.  Paperbacks for $20 or more; ebooks well over $10-15.

Remember that you will also become a little more philosophical about pricing over time as you build up your “inventory” of books.  You won’t be leaning as heavily on each book.  You might initially resist the idea of pricing your masterpiece at 99 cents, even temporarily, but once you have 12 masterpieces out there, the thought is a little less painful. 

(More on 99 cents in a minute!)

By the way, NONE of my books that I showed you up above existed a year ago today.  Look back at #2 and think CAREER.  Sure, it’s a lot of work putting out new books.  But I can be more flexible with my pricing now that I have more books to play around with.

#4.  Juggle your choices if it’s not working.  Nothing is written in stone.

This is another one of our strengths as indie writers and self-publishers.  If it doesn’t look like people are buying your book – or not enough people are buying – then it’s possible you’ve priced yourself out of your league.  Bite the bullet and bring the price down. 

Should you bring it down a lot or a little?  A shift of $1 might not make a difference if it’s from $7.99 to $6.99.  But what if you bring your book from $5.99 to $4.99?  That psychological difference – between “this book is under $5” and “this book is over $5” – can make a huge difference to your book’s sales.

#5.  Use 99 cents as a tool, not a sign of desperation.  How can it get you where you want to go?

Thinking about hauling the price all the way down to that magical (or not-so-magical-anymore) 99-cent price point?   It may help you, it may not.  For anything other than a very short story, I don’t think 99 cents is a good permanent price. 

I’d suggest using 99 cents just like you’d use free (or might have used free back when it worked better), as a special price.  It’s okay to put things on sale, and buyers know that doesn’t mean they’re worthless.  People buy CARS and even new houses on sale. 

Just make it clear in your book’s description that it is TEMPORARY.  Let buyers know when the price is going to go back up, and then stick to it.  Lowering your price for a short time can help your book gain “traction” and start it crawling up the charts.  Once it’s up in the Top 100 – or, better, the Top 20 – people will see it even after you raise the price again.

Like I said, we’re all just juggling here.  Even if you hit on a solution that works, things may shift tomorrow if Amazon changes the rules of the game on us.  (Where does the 500-pound gorilla sit?  Anywhere he wants!)

But these guidelines aren’t merely guesswork.  If you keep them in mind, then no matter how the market shifts, you’ll be able to keep up, and even stay ahead of the game.

Do you have a strategy that’s worked well for you?  Please (please!) let me know in the Comments.

More great reading about ebook and kids’-book prices:

(garage sale photo © Mike Mozart via flickr)


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