Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Pricing Silliness and a Learning Lesson

Five Years is Forever in Indie Publishing…

Well, I spent the last two nights going back and trying to update and then even fisk my own post from five years ago about pricing. What a fool’s errand.

The post was so out of date, I just kept shaking my head in amazement and wondering who wrote it.

I was looking at it through 2017 glasses and a ton of new knowledge. Stunning, just stunning how many changes in this business have happened.

In the last five years we have done a master business class here on the coast every October, the next one in a few weeks. And every year when we go to get ready for the new year, we look back at our notes and then just toss them out. They are always too dated.

I discovered that again trying to do an “update” on a pricing post from 2012.

So instead of making a fool of myself more than I already do by showing you that old post, let me give you my thinking on book pricing here in 2017 in a very simple and clear form.

Electronic Pricing… Novels

Genre matters. Range from $3.99 to $6.99, with romance being on the lower side, mystery on the upper side.

Length does not seem to matter at all.

All the studies have shown that you get above $6.99 and you start hitting price resistance for electronic books unless the book is something really special.

You go below $3.99 and you leave yourself no room for discounting or short-term sales.

You get down into the 99 cent area and you are in a trash ghetto.

And yes, I do know about the stupidity of ever-free. Just say no. However, doing a deep discount on a first novel of a series will get you readers. But make sure those readers pay something otherwise you attract the wrong kinds of readers. And secondly, you have to have the rest of the series priced decently for genre to make the first book discount look worthwhile.

Electronic Pricing… Short Stories

I know many don’t put their short stories up as stand-alone, but in this new world of Vellum, why not give readers more ways to discover you? You are missing a cash stream and readers by not doing it.

A general rule of thumb of short fiction… Genre does not matter. Length does matter. Exactly opposite of novels.

Under 3,000 words, 99 cents or $1.99. I would favor the $1.99 to stay out of the trash pile.

Over 3,000 words, $2.99.  (I know some writers who are doing $3.99 and making fine money on short fiction, but I like the $2.99 as a good balance.)

Over 10,000 words, $3.99 and above 20,000 words price it as a novel in the genre and call it a short novel. (Yes, I know that is still in novella length, but ask a person on the street to define a “novella.” Writers know what it is, regular readers outside of a couple genres do not.)

Paper Pricing… Novels

The old general rule of $2.00 profit in extended distribution in CreateSpace has become meaningless. Get your price down as much as you can. Under $10 is the best for trade paper. $12.99 is fine as well. Above that you hit resistance unless the book is longer.

Length not only matters, it causes the price to go up. You have no choice, but try to keep the cost down as low as possible.

If you want to try to do some bookstore distribution (a folly in 2017 because as Author Earnings have reported, almost 80% of paper books are sold online these days. But if you want to try, go to IngramSpark to get into the Ingram Catalog. (Yes, you can do two editions, one on CreateSpace just for Amazon and the other at Ingram for larger distribution.

This is new because of the ease of Vellum as well and the ease of laying out books. A friend had sex in some of his romance books, so he cleaned that out with an easy pass, then did “sweet” versions of his books in electronic paper alongside the normal ones on the shelves. More chances of reaching more readers.

Keep the price low as possible, especially in romance. Very price conscious group.

Paper Pricing… Short Stories.

Yes, why not do a paper edition of your stand-alone short story? It’s free to do, easy with Vellum to lay out, and makes your $2.99 electronic price look pretty good with the $4.99 paper there linked. I’ve done that on about eighty short stories and hope to do more shortly. They sell slowly, but they do sell.

Audio Pricing

Not getting anywhere near audio. You are on your own. But do realize there are new players on the field in audio. Go slow and learn them and give them a chance to grow some.

That’s it.

2017 sure has made things a ton easier. The drive of pricing to hit the bottom leveled out a few years ago and now we are stable. And if we indies keep our prices in those ranges, it makes those traditional electronic prices look downright stupid. And more readers will go to indie books.


And don’t forget about our Pulphouse Fiction Magazine Kickstarter. Going on now. I would love to get to the next stretch goal and do another book for everyone. And you can get workshop credits through the Kickstarter as well and it is the only place to sign up for the Strengths Workshops.

And someone asked and yes, a regular workshop credit is worth two Classic Workshop credits.


  • Kate Pavelle

    Fascinating, Dean, thank you! Watch me run to CreateSpace and adjust my pricing. As for your friend who removed sex from books and issued another version, I’ve been thinking of doing that. But what to call them? Did he do the same author name, same title, and different edition, or did he rebrand them entirely, even down to the pen name?
    I’m trying to keep things simple, but I don’t want to mislead readers.

    Thank you,


    • dwsmith

      Same title, same author name, same covers, just under the title he put the words “Sweet Version.” Or something like that and that made it a different book because he made that part of the title.

  • Harvey

    Dean, I’m using this as a “Guest Topic” (with full attribution and a link back to the original, of course) on today’s edition of my Daily Journal at It’s just too important not to share. Thanks.

  • Ed Ryan

    Thanks for the thoughts, Dean.

    Do you still advocate buying ISBNs for paper books in light of the 80% sales online data?

    Unfortunately (as I am sure you noticed!) createspace killed their $10 ISBN deal.

    I know the free isbn lists CS as the publisher. Do you still think that can turn some buyers off or has that thinking gone away too?


    • dwsmith

      Ed, that’s a problem only in the States because of the monopoly by Bowker and their stupidity on pricing ISBN numbers. I use the free Createspace ones for short story paper, of course. But for novels and collections and other major books, we put the ISBNs on them.

      The entire topic just makes me angry at the stupidity of this publishing system, to be honest, so my opinions are tainted. Trying to stay calm, I would say use them on the bigger projects.

      • allynh

        In a different blog somebody mentioned using Kindle Direct Publishing Beta rather than Createspace. When I checked his Amazon book page I saw “Publisher: Independently published” instead of as “CreateSpace”. I bought the book and it is the same POD as any put out by CreateSpace.

        I looked at the web pages for Kindle Direct Publishing Beta and I can’t tell if they are going to transition from one to the other. They have a system for moving your books from CreateSpace to the Beta, but you can’t move them from Beta to CreateSpace.

        I’m not going to worry about it until they make a change.

        • Rene Fomby

          One difference right now is the Beta doesn’t let you buy author copies at cost (though they suggest that will change sometime in the future). Depending upon how you price it, though, if you want to eschew Ingram or any other POD house, you might still do fine just ordering print copies from Amazon. For example, if you priced at, say 10 bucks with 1 buck profit, you’re paying 9 bucks per book, but with zero shipping cost. A similar book at Ingram might cost 7-8 bucks with shipping. So, if it’s a low-volume thing, ordering from Amazon pushes your sales numbers up without much difference in out of pocket. As for me, I order 100 books at a time from Ingram, driving the per-book shipping costs down, so it made sense to go to the trouble of uploading the book to them.

  • Leah Cutter

    I know that WMG has done some starter libraries for longer series, like the diving universe. Thoughts on pricing those?

    Also, since my collections of short stories tend to be novel length, I follow that pricing for them.

    • dwsmith

      Yeah, length for collections tends to be the good measuring stick. With a base price you don’t drop below. But keep them reasonable. You would have to talk with Allyson on the pricing of those starter groups. I honestly have paid no attention.

  • Danielle

    Thank you, Mr. Smith! Your advice to relabel “novellas” as “short novels” makes sense to me, and I’m doing relabeling this morning.

    Is there a more reader-friendly term for “novelette”? I have a couple of them (in the 10,000 ish range), but your post made me realize that most readers won’t be familiar with the word.

    Thanks again!

  • Martin L. Shoemaker

    So paper versions of short stories are strategic? To highlight the value of the eBook version?


    I had tried to do some paper singles, and the minimum price to not lose money just struck me as outrageous. I hadn’t thought that that might be a GOOD thing.

    • dwsmith

      Classic marketing called comparative shopping. You got the same thing at $4.99 and $2.99, unless you have a driving need for the paper, you buy the $2.99. And the customer feels they got a deal. You see this working in discount malls. The original price of $99 is on the item, marked down to $49.99 and the customer feels like they got a deal.

  • Bea

    Vellum is beautiful, but have you checked out the new Draft2Digital ebook conversion tool? They sent out an email on Aug. 31 showing what it can do (even print options) and it looks really good. As always with Draft2Digital, it’s free.

    Thank you as always for the excellent information.

    • dwsmith

      Heard it was pretty good. Might want to give it a little time to get past testing though. But the D2D people are amazing and very smart with what they are doing. The Universal links they came up with are heaven.

  • Vera Soroka

    I just recently watched an interview with the D2D fellow and he was talking about the audio. It sounds very exciting what they are doing there. I think it will be a disruption but in a good way.
    My romance novels are 4.99. I see that has as a popular price point with many romance authors. All the sales I’ve made have been from the ibookstore. One best selling romance author said that ibookstore readers are willing to pay more. Maybe because they are Apple users? But my 4.99 price point has sold well there.

  • Jo

    Dean I know quite a few people, mostly in Romance, who launch at 99 cents trying to gain rank and exposure on Amazon. The royalty rate is only 30 cents on those sales, but over 2 bucks if you price at 2.99. 7 times more per sale.

    I think for some people the 99c launch has to be a blunder, especially if you already have an audience looking to buy your stuff when it comes out.

    • dwsmith

      I would agree, Jo. The 99 cent is Dollar Store area and we all know the quality you get in the Dollar Store products. And that is subconscious to the reader. And yes, if the author already has a following, why lose the money? Makes no sense to me either.

  • Chong Go

    Great post, Dean! Interesting to hear that the $2 idea on expanded distribution doesn’t really apply these days. Is that just because the value of more price-competitive, online paper sales outweighs whatever increase in sales the $2 for expanded distribution gives?

    Fwiw, we just released an audiobook through Author’s Republic (as the distributer), and although we had our recommended price, it seems like every single audiobook store set the price to whatever they wanted! I put a lot of brain-sweat into setting that price, lol. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to trust that they know what will maximize sales (and profits.)

    We used a distributor because we’re based overseas and can’t upload directly to some audiobook stores. There’s also the issue where if you have only one or two products and upload yourself, you can end up with payment-threshold issues, where you have small amounts of money stuck in various overseas publisher accounts. They can send us a check for our $20 in Rupees, but our bank will charge us $30 to process it, etc.

    • dwsmith

      Yes, if you really want to make a run at bookstores, go to CreateSpace for only Amazon, then move the same book file to IngramSpark to get into the Ingrams catalogs and such with better discounts.

      But, yes, you are right, you make more sales with online sales being almost 80% of paper book sales if you keep your prices in a buyable range.

  • J.M. Ney-Grimm

    Dean, I’d love it if you could give some more guidance on setting paperback prices.

    I have three doorstopper novels (444 pages, 466 pages, and 490 pages). If I price them at $16.99 each, I’ll make roughly $0.36 on any expanded distribution sales, but at least I won’t be going negative! Is $16.99 an appropriate price for them? Or should I go lower still and simply turn off the expanded distribution option? Can I turn off expanded distribution, since I’ve already turned it on?

    I’m seeing that if I price my 306-page omnibus at $12.99, I’ll get $0.67 from an expanded distribution sale.

    And if I price my shorter novel (232 pages) at $9.99, I’ll get $0.36 per expanded distribution sale.

    I’ve been following the old guideline of pricing books for a $2 profit on an expanded distribution sale. But what you say about most sales now taking place online makes so much sense. So I want to adjust! Specific suggestions from you would be very much appreciated!

    • dwsmith

      J.M. go to $17.99. No difference in consumer’s minds. Or even $19.99. When you have large books like that, the printing allows no choice in pricing.

      And as I said, if you really want to try to get to bookstores, go to Ingram Spark for the distribution copies.

      The adjustment needs to be to think of paper as a lost leader in some ways. Make something, but focus on reasonable price first. You get a paper book floating out there in any fashion and it remains out there and numbers of people might find it along the way and buy your other work.

  • E. R. Paskey

    Are you still recommending that the newest book be priced a dollar higher than backlist?
    Also, with regards to doing away with the $2 on expanded distribution…how far should one take that? Slash the price enough for Amazon customers that there’s no profit in expanded distribution to B & ,etc. through Createspace? My novels run long, which means my trade paperbacks have always been a lot more expensive than the ebooks.

    • dwsmith

      No book is ever front list or backlist these days. To readers they are all the same. So nope. That was part of the old traditional thinking and still exists in New York and London book publishers. But launches and front lists don’t exist anymore for any real reason.

      I actually did a post a couple years back with the title “Grandpa, What’s a Backlist?” I think I might dig that one up and take a look at it again and bring it forward. See how accurate I was to todays world on that one. (grin)

      If you have a desire to get to bookstores (a fools errand for the most part, but still many want to see that one book sitting on a wooden shelf), go through Ingrams Spark with that. Only use CreateSpace for Amazon. (yes, same books, printed two places) But the key is to think of paper as a billboard driving your other work. So get the price down so that people will by the book.

      However, if you write long books, you will have little choice in this. Paper books are based on length because of printing.

  • Michael Alan Peck

    As always, thank you for the insights. At the risk of asking you to do something you just expressly said you DIDN’T want to do—rehash the old post, which you found to be off the mark—would you mind revealing one or two of the biggest surprises that happened between the original and this update? What didn’t you see coming? And does it reflect a larger industry dynamic that you wouldn’t have predicted?

    If you don’t want to get into it, I understand. And thanks again either way.

    • dwsmith

      Michael, back then I was giving the old traditional methods a lot more value. Of course, that was where I learned all this to start with, but now all that traditional thinking, pricing, and getting into the trade channels is pretty much not worth the time, effort, or costs. That was the biggest change. Not sure I was surprised by it. But impossible in 2017 to talk about pricing through that old trade-channel filter. That’s why I thought I might actually try fisking it, but alas, even that was too silly. (grin)

      Getting books to readers has come a long ways and is a fantastic ton easier.

      • Michael Alan Peck

        And it’s a relief to hear that getting the work out there has only gotten easier. Of course, there’s nothing to market and sell if I don’t get back to banging the current project out, but that story never changes.

        Thanks for the reply!

  • Vera Soroka

    I have always bought my books on line before the ebooks came along. I live out in the country so this was very convenient and if your order was so much, you got free shipping. McNally Robison was my go to place until Chapters showed up and they were cheaper. Now it’s even easier with our phones. It’s like carrying a world wide store in your hand. As long as they have an app and why wouldn’t they? You can access anything you want on your phone. The internet is the new store.

  • J.A. Marlow

    I remember you and Kris giving the Ingram Spark contract to a lawyer, who then nearly keeled over at how bad it was. So you both chose not to use them. Has this changed to where you now think they are a good option?

    • dwsmith

      It was the Ingram contract, not the IngramSpark contract. And it was the terms of service with Ingram. And that has now changed since they changed ownership a while back. So all clear there. But for a while it was horrid at Ingram. Ingram Spark has always been fine.

  • Philip Smith

    Dean, how do you feel about lower pricing for pre-orders, then boost it up to normal on release day? Actually, what are your thoughts on pre-orders in general in order to goose the algorithms?

    • dwsmith

      Pre-orders are wonderful as long as you have the book completely done before you put it up for preorder. Otherwise you could be asking for troubles.

      Price the same. Don’t discount when you don’t need to. Discount later for sales and bookbubs and things like that. Don’t discount on release.

  • J. D. Brink

    The paperback conundrum… I see by turning off the expanded distribution on CreateSpace it makes your minimum price 3 bucks cheaper! But I’m wondering if it’s worth my while to open an Ingram Sparks account and go to the effort of throwing books up there when they don’t tend to move much as it is. (And my “publisher’s” time allowance feels more constrained than ever right now.) The alternative, as you say, is to basically accept the paperbacks as loss leaders and advertising items that float around, taking that 24 cents and just being glad that book is out there.
    Not sure there’s much of a question here. Just a personal choice, I guess.

  • Louis Doggett

    Hmm, very good but that means I need to redo one of my books on Createspace to get it smaller. It came out as a larger book with larger print but still.

    And I could try short stories too. Do I remember correctly that you have an online workshop dealing with how to do covers?

    • dwsmith

      One is just starting on the 18th, taught by Allyson who is an expert. It is for branding sf covers. It still has spots open in it. She does a Indesign template for each person to use for other covers.

  • PatrickR

    Hi Dean

    Thanks for this updated information on pricing. To look even more at the extremes around length, what of:

    – short, short stories such as 1200-2500 words? (also…too short for print, physically?)

    – long, longer novels such as monsters (600+) pages (I know…what the heck?!), which could arise from omnibus collections of 2-3 novels of 50-70k each as distinct and time-separated parts of a trilogy or simply a bunch in a series; or, are a collection in a continuous narrative as a long story (episodic; serial) as if runs of Homeland or 24 or Marvel Agents of Shield or House of Cards or Breaking Bad were novelised. [Perhaps, as a whole, getting too monstrously physically big for reasonable printing and binding, and pricing…though readers may/may not go for 1 or a few parts of the series tales]

    With so many possibilities in story length and format these days, I’m wondering how the multi-part serial tales might dip into all of this.



    • allynh


      I love the concept of “novelizing” TV series like you mentioned.

      Look at the paper copy of _Bookburners_ by Max Gladstone, from Serial Box, as an example of what you are talking about. It is a 16 episode “novelized” series. The book is not POD. The font, spacing, margins, are puffed out. If I were doing it POD I would reduce the page count.

      The book is 5.5 x 8.5, 800 pages, roughly 260 wpp. From what I could see from the various articles, they are doing the novelizations with each “manuscript” page equaling a minute of screen time, so each page is a minute. In reading the episodes, not all of them followed that rule the way they should. Those episodes that did, worked well.

      If they did POD, 6×9, Garamond 11, half inch margins, 0.25 gutter, they could have about 500 wpp, cutting the page count in half. Running the CreateSpace royalty calculator, 6×9, 400 pages, is $14.99. It still makes $0.34 on extended.

      • PatrickR

        Hi allynh
        Thanks for your excellent information. Much to think over there.
        Also glad to hear you like the concept of serial tales as a way to explore multi-story books.

  • David Anthony Brown

    This is a great post, thanks for pulling it forward into 2017. I was still following the $2 profit rule, without really thinking about why. So you got me rethinking my paper prices. Which is timely because I’m restarting a regular churn of paper publications, both full and short length.

    For what it’s worth, I also re-thought the tradition of sticking a price point on the back cover. If the paper copy is just for floating advertising, why would a reader care what somebody once paid for the book? I made the decision for myself to just drop that element.

  • Guy Riessen

    Wow, thanks so much for the thoughts on paper publishing for shorts. There’s not a huge market right now for short stories, but it’s a form I love. I never thought of using the paper version for the comparative discount…even though I was well aware of the concept. Forehead slap here.

    In light of everything I read here, I’m going to adjust my prices up (I already moved my 50-page novelette up to $2.99 last month). Seems like it might be a good idea to let my email list know a week or so before–both so they won’t be blindsided by the increases, and also to maybe create a bit of a limited-time rush to pick up any shorts they haven’t read yet. Just curious, do you ever let your email list know about a discounted price not advertised to the general public?

  • Joe Vasicek

    Fascinating post, Dean. Thanks for sharing your insights.

    Your conclusion on digital novel prices dovetails pretty well with my own, and I’m not selling very many short stories or print copies ATM, so I’ve decided to try out your pricing strategy for myself. I was hesitant to raise prices on my short stories, until I remembered how I’d bought a short story from one of my favorite authors (Michael Bunker) at $2.99 and thought nothing of it.

    On KBoards, I’ve noticed that the usual crowd is ganging up on you for going against the “estsablished wisdom” by writing this post. They claim, as usual, that your advice is bad because your sales are horrible, based on your Amazon rankings. They attacked me on a similar basis whenever I went against the “established wisdom.”

    The really aggravating thing is that Amazon ranking really tells you nothing about another person’s sales. Not only does it only count one bookstore (I make more than 50% of my sales outside of Amazon in any given month), but it counts things like KU borrows that don’t even represent a read! Elsewhere on KBoards, they complain about this all the time, but for some reason they seem unable to make the logical leap that page rank does not correlate with sales.

    There’s way too much groupthink over at KBoards, not to mention the petty vindictiveness.

    Anyway, thanks again for sharing your insights!

    • dwsmith

      Why I never go over there. (grin) And holy crap, if I made all my money from Amazon, I would be working a day job, or taking money for all this teaching. Do these folks even understand the concept of a bundle? (Oh, wait, they are in KU, so they can’t be in a bundle.) I made MORE THAN a full living wage last year alone just from bundles my novels are in. Not counting the bits I make from Patreon, my magazine subscriptions and sales, my short story sales of 300 plus short stories, my almost 100 book titles. There isn’t a “shout to the rafters” on any one title. But honestly, it sure adds up. (grin) And wait, what about overseas and movie and translation and audio and paper and… and… and…

      Those folks can shout at me all the want and I will laugh all the way to the bank with my writing money they can’t begin to even understand because they are in KU.

  • Jonathan

    Hi Dean,

    A few questions:

    1. Would you suggest giving up extended distribution entirely in order to cut the price of print novels from $12.99 to $9.99? If so, what’s the point of using Createspace? Shouldn’t we go with KDP print instead?

    2. For formatting, have you used the Reedsy tool? It’s free and Vellum is rather pricey.

    3. In regard to bundles, can you give advice on how to enter your books into more bundles and how to help them be successful?



    • dwsmith

      I know nothing about KDP Print and know on no one who has tried it yet. But if you shut off the extended on Createspace, then migrate the same file to IngramSpark and do a trade paper there for distribution with a higher price. So same book, lower price on Amazon, higher out to the stores through Ingrams and B&T. Better that way these days.

      Never used or heard of Reedsy. Vellum is a dream and will do paper books for you in five minutes. Scary easy. Sometimes it is better to invest in a tool.

      Put your books in and then maybe curate a bundle or two yourself. That’s how you start.