Columns > Published on July 21st, 2017

99 Cents Is Too Cheap For Your Book

It’s been a little while since I tried the persuasive essay, the sort of thing we did in school, but I’m giving it a shot here.

My recollection is that you’re supposed to outline your premise, go through all the points, then remind everyone what the premise was one last time. Y’know, for the morons. Or the teachers, who almost certainly would have to be drunk to grade 30 essays on whether or not it’s acceptable to wear hats in school.

Oh, and if you can start with a phrase like “Since the dawn of time,” you probably should.

My premise is this: Since the dawn of time, I’ve seen a lot of indie authors selling their ebooks for 99 cents, and that is too cheap. You have to value your own work, low-pricing doesn’t work, and you need to remove red flags that identify your book as self-published.

Let’s take a closer look.

If You Don’t Value Your Work, No One Will

Here’s a life lesson: If you don’t value your work, no one will. I would type it a third time, but you can just go back and read it again, either in the last sentence or the section heading. Do that now. I’ll wait.

You don’t stand a chance of courting impulse buyers, if they even exist anymore.

Luckily for you, I live across the street from a Dollar General, so I can make a nice analogy here. I say “luckily for you” instead of “luckily for me,”, let’s just say that a Dollar General being nearby is not something they really hammer on in real estate ads.

At the Dollar General, I can buy Kraft BBQ sauce for a dollar. Kraft feels that their bottle of sauce is worth one dollar. And I would say, from experience, that they are correct.

When you price your BBQ sauce at a buck, you are telling consumers, “Hey, this isn’t going to blow your mind. But it’s passable.” Kraft doesn’t BELIEVE in their sauce, but they don’t have to.

You have to believe in your book, at least more than a dollar’s worth.

When you price your ebook at a dollar, you’re saying that, if a well-known book is a nice BBQ sauce, say a Gates or an Arthur Bryant (that’s right, Kansas City styles. COME AT ME!) your book is Kraft BBQ sauce. Passable, sure. Maybe even delicious under the right circumstances (4th of July BBQ, mild heatstroke, overdose of patriotism, possibly stoned). But, no matter how good it ends up, you’ll know you bought the Kraft for a buck. And when something’s that cheap, the question is never about whether or not the sauce is good. It’s whether it’s 99-cents good.

When you price your book at 99 cents, you’ve put a ceiling on it. The best likely outcome, in the mind of a consumer, is that it will be worth 99 cents. If it makes that bar, then it’s a success.

That bar is too low. It’s too low for you, and it’s too low for your work.

When you assign a price to your book, you’re not just thinking about what some sucker will pay. You’re assigning it a value. You’re telling the world what you think your book is worth.

If you don’t believe in your books more than 99 cents worth, nobody else will either.

The Idea Behind Ultra-Low Pricing Is Crap

We live in a world of abundant content. There’s more than enough shit to fill anyone’s Kindle without having to take a risk on an unknown ebook.

There’s this idea floating around that readers will come across your book and say, “Eh, it’s only a buck. What do I have to lose?”

Alright, fine. What DO readers have to lose?

Let’s say it’s a 50/50 shot that any random Kindle book is good (which is VERY generous, but let’s go with it). That means I could buy 10 books for $10, and half of them would be decent. Or, I could buy just about any goddamn book ever published for the same $10 bucks, which means I can pick something I’ve been wanting to read. Which of these $10 investments is smarter?

Add in the time investment, whether it's better to spend time reading a single good book or 10 books of mixed quality, and you start to get the picture of what consumers are losing when they take a chance on a cheap book.

The world of ebooks doesn’t work like a used bookstore. In a small, physical bookstore, you might take a chance on something that’s cheap because it’s also right there. In the ebook world, EVERYTHING is right there. You can price out different stuff. You can be pretty sure that a book will still be there a year from now.

Buyers are unlikely to take a chance on your book just because it’s cheap. They aren’t going to impulse buy YOUR book. There’s a lot of other shit they can impulse buy. There’s no shortage of stuff out there, and no shortage of cheap stuff. Your book isn’t going to show up on a ton of “Readers Also Enjoyed” lists. You don’t stand a chance of courting impulse buyers, if they even exist anymore.

99 Cents Is A Red Flag

There are a few red flags that a book is self-published. There are only a couple reviews, and they’re all 5-stars. The cover looks like shit. The description is distinctly bad. And the cost is 99 cents.

You might as well title your book The Self-Published Book That Nobody Cares About: A Meditation, if you’re going to price it at 99 cents.

When you’re putting your book on an online outlet, your goal should be to make someone look twice, to make them question whether your book is self-published or not. By the time they’re investigating whether or not your title is self-published, you’ve got them hooked.

You don’t have to hide the fact that you self-published. I'm a big fan of self-published work and think it's the wave of the future, if not the wave of the present. But there are a lot of readers who still haven’t jumped on the self-publishing bandwagon, and lowering your red “I’m self-published!” flag is a way to open the door to people who might not take a chance on your book. 

Imagine you're a pirate. You're at sea, and your goal is to get close to a ship that has a bunch of, I don't know, whatever the hell pirates wanted. You don't put up the jolly roger right away, even though that flag was metal before being metal was a thing. You put up some lame flag you stole off some sea nerds until the ship you're stalking gets in close enough to attack. That's how you operate.

Avoid anything that signals, from a distance, on first glance, from a list of search results, that your book is a self-published.


You know what I forgot? In a school essay, you’re definitely supposed to end your essay with “In conclusion.”

In conclusion, you can clearly see that because you have to value your work, low pricing doesn’t sell books, and because it’s a red flag, 99 cents is too cheap for your ebook.

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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