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Self-Publishing for Beginners Part 3: Tools for Writers Series

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Woohoo! We’ve come to the final part of our “Self-Publishing for Beginners” series. In the first part, we discussed the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing, and the steps you need to take to get published in both. We also shared useful self-publishing tools for new authors in part one. In part two, we discussed everything you need to know about editing, book formatting, ISBN, and book cover design. We also shared plenty of resources to get your book ready for publication. Now we’re in the final sprint: Pricing, distributing, and marketing your book to sell. Let’s get to it!

Your book is almost ready for its debut. Only three things are standing in its way.

First, how much should you charge for your book? You must nail pricing because it communicates value to your target audience. They expect to pay a certain price for the type of book they’re looking to purchase. If you price too low, they’ll get suspicious. And if you price too high, they’ll ignore you. You’ve got to find that sweet spot for pricing, and it’s not as easy as it seems.

Second, how will you distribute your book? As a self-published author, how do you move a book from your hard drive and onto bookshelves?

Third, how do you get people to notice your book? There are thousands of books published each week. What will make someone notice your book? You need a plan to get noticed before you publish so that you can take advantage of your momentum.

Let’s tackle these three obstacles so that you can finally hit publish.

Choosing the Price

Pricing, Distributing, and Marketing Your Book

This first obstacle is also the most complicated. Pricing a book is hard work. How do you find the right price? Do you simply charge what others charge? When you look at what others charge, you’ll notice a variety of prices. Some charge more than you think they should and others seem to be sabotaging their success with bargain-basement prices.

It can be maddening!

So, what’s the right answer? Here’s how to determine your unique price:

Decide Where You'll Sell

We’ll deep dive into distribution in the next section but in simple terms, distribution determines book pricing. You need to determine where you’ll distribute your book to figure out pricing.

Most self-publishers go with Amazon. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) covers both ebooks and print-on-demand paperback books.

If you plan to sell only ebooks on Amazon, pricing is simple. Amazon takes a cut and pays you a royalty, which varies between 35% and 70%. (We’ll learn more about royalties in the next section.)

If you choose to sell paperbacks on Amazon, you’ll get a fixed 60% royalty minus printing cost. So, for a 333-page paperback listed at $15, you’ll earn $4.15 in royalty. (Amazon charges $4.85 in printing costs in this scenario, but that number fluctuates based on the type of book you’re printing, trim size, page number, etc.)

However, if you plan to sell to bookstores, libraries, schools, and other institutions, you’ll need to think carefully about your pricing because you’ll get a lower percentage. Take that same paperback for expanded distribution. Your royalty drops to 40% which means that you’ll earn $1.15 for the same $15.

That changes things. At first glance, $15 seems like a lot to charge for a book, but if you’re only making $1.15 from each sell, it’s going to take a while to make decent earnings from your book.

That said, you don’t want to inflate your book’s price to raise your royalty. That tactic can backfire and prevent you from getting more book sales. This is why many authors prefer to focus solely on Amazon distribution channels.

Research Other Books in Your Genre

The next step is to research what other books are currently selling for. Record the price for the top 100 books in your genre, but make sure that these books are true comparables. Books should be similar in the following ways:

  • Genre

  • Page count

  • Theme

  • Writing style

  • Target audience

Consider Your Expertise as an Author

Are you new or established? Do you have a fanbase?

As a new author, you can’t compare yourself to Danielle Steel. That’s not a remark on your talent, but rather your notoriety. Some books can sell for more simply because they’re written by established authors. If you’re just starting on your path, adjust your pricing expectations accordingly. But don’t worry. As you continue writing, and raise your profile, you’ll be able to raise your prices, too.

Consider the Printing Cost

If you’re printing in black and white, the costs are lower than if you print in color.

One of the benefits of Amazon KDP is that the system automatically calculates the printing costs.

Consider What's Coming Down the Line

Are you publishing the first book in a series? Consider pricing your first book as a loss leader at a low price. This way, you can hook your readers.

Consider pricing your first book at a permanently low price. This way, your first book acts as a loss leader, and then, you can charge considerably more for subsequent books. Low prices reduce risk and increase the odds that people will buy your book “just because.”

Use This Quick Pricing Guide

To make it easier for you to determine the price of your book, here’s a simple guide (using the best practices found on Amazon):

  • For ebooks, charge between $2.99 to $5.99.

  • For paperbacks, charge between $9.99 to $19.99.

  • Forget hardcovers, because they’re cost-prohibitive when you self-publish.

  • End your price with the number 9 because it’s a psychological trick that makes your price look more affordable. A book priced at $7.99 seems more affordable than one priced at $8.00, even though the savings are negligible.

Be Willing to Experiment

Unless you’ve printed the price on the book’s cover (don’t do that), remember that you’re not tied down to any specific price.

You can change pricing as frequently as you change shoes, but also don’t do that. Stick with the same price for a few weeks to see if your target audience responds and, if not, then change it.

Distributing Your Book

Pricing, Distributing, and Marketing Your Book

Now, let’s switch gears to something a little less complicated: Distribution.

Well, distribution is still kind of complicated, so let’s focus only on what you need to know about distribution as a self-published author.

It’s incredibly tough to get into bookstores and libraries as a self-published author. Even as a traditionally published author, you have an uphill climb.

Think about the largest bookstore you’ve ever visited. That store only contained a fraction of the books in existence. In 2010, Google recorded 130 million books. That was over a decade ago and before the rise of on-demand self-publishing. I wouldn’t be surprised if that number has almost doubled.

There are millions of books out there. But your average brick-and-mortar bookstore has around 3,000 books on its shelf. And there’s usually no room for more than that.

This is why it’s so difficult to make it into a bookstore.

This is why it’s so difficult to make it into a book store as a self-published author.

Booksellers have limited space and they’ve got to stock the shelves with books they know will sell. Even if you enroll in Amazon’s expanded distribution service to make sure that your book is available to distributors, most bookstores will only order your book if it’s already sold thousands of copies.

Bookstores are not marketers. It’s important to remember that.

If you really, really, really want to sell at bookstores, you have three main options:

  1. Go through Amazon’s expanded distribution service.

  2. Use IngramSpark to distribute your book (you’ll pay a one-time fee and then your physical title will be available for purchase by anyone, including booksellers, through IngramSpark’s print-on-demand service).

  3. Print copies of your book and shop it personally to local bookstores and libraries (you’ll need a unique ISBN for that -- check out part 2 for more information on ISBN).

Remember that you’ll earn a smaller royalty for books sold in traditional bookstores. Most self-published authors are better off without it. Focus your energy on marketing your books through Amazon because you’ll keep more of the pie.

Marketing Your Book

Finally, it’s time to market your book. We have the resources to help!

First, hire a PR professional

You don’t need to be a big-time author to hire a publicist. As a new author, you could benefit a ton by having a publicist on your team. A publicist can set your entire career on the right path by introducing your debut book to the right people. Learn why hiring a publicist is a good idea, along with our top publicist recommendations for new authors.

Get reviews ASAP

Before your book is published, send out advance review copies to book bloggers in your genre. The goal is to get reviews immediately after publishing your book. This will increase visibility for your book among readers who haven’t heard of you yet. Check out this guide to working with book bloggers to learn more about this strategy.

We have even more marketing tips and strategies that you can download at the end of the post.

Final Thoughts

Thank you for reading our three-part series on self-publishing. While self-publishing has lots of steps, it’s one of the best journeys you’ll ever take.

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