The art of pricing your book

Setting the right price for your self-published book

Most creative people I know hate math. They tend to choose careers that don’t involve numbers. They’re notoriously bad at splitting checks—four out of five writers throw up their hands when faced with the task. The fifth sneaks out the back door. (Although, to be fair, I have a friend who got her degree in poetry and became a CEO, so there are always exceptions).

Still, there’s a time when every writer needs to talk numbers⎯mainly prices and profits. It’s an issue that gets even more interesting if you’re selling your book on I won’t go into specific numbers here—because there are no magic numbers—but there are strategies you can use to help find the right price.

To illustrate the point, here’s a refresher on how Blurb to Amazon pricing works:

Every book on Blurb has a base unit price. This is what you pay for that copy of the book. The Amazon price is what you decide to sell the book for⎯in other words, what potential buyers will pay. Changing the Amazon price changes both the Amazon fee and your earnings. This is because the Amazon fee amounts to 15% of the Amazon list price (again, the price you set) plus a small listing fee. In our example, you’re paying for your book to be printed by Blurb and sold by Amazon. Your profit is there in the margin.

If you set the Amazon Price the same as the Base Cost + the Amazon Fee (AKA the minimum price), your profit is zero. Raise the listing price for sale on Amazon (what we’ve been referring to as the “Amazon price”) and the Amazon Fee goes up by 15% of that. Your profit goes up by the difference.

So, what should your Amazon price be?

Do your research

You’ll want to do some research to find out what similar books are selling for. You don’t have to beat the price, but you should be aware of the range. Think of what makes your book different than other books in your genre. Decide how price competitive you need to be.

If you do have a dedicated group of readers, think about asking them what they might pay. True story: Comedy photographer Liezl Espinoza approached the standup comedy community via a forum to find out what her audience would pay for her book before putting it up for sale.

Think about your goals

So much of the beauty of selling your book on Amazon is about discoverability and reach. It is, after all, the world’s biggest marketplace for books. If this is your first foray into serious self-publishing, you might want to think of this as an opportunity to get your name out there and set yourself up for future success. In other words, take less of a profit on your first book, build your readership, and move towards greater profitability on your next book, when people can’t resist what you’re offering.

However, you may have decided to print via offset, cutting down your base unit price. Your goal then is to start recouping the initial outlay for printing those offset copies. Your selling price can then be lower and therefore more cost-competitive.

Pick a number

Ultimately you want to put up a fair price, taking into account all the things above. There’s no magic number, no multiplier, no formula. It’s that old saw about “charge what the market will bear.” Which is why it’s a good idea to know your market.

The important thing, of course, is that you get your work out there. Then you can sit back, relax, maybe go out for dinner with some of your creative friends. And if you can’t figure out how to split the check, sneak out the back.*

*Blurb does not officially endorse dine and dash.


  • Stephen Phillips says:
    Oct 22 at 06:32

    Please correct me if I’m wrong…
    I think it’s worth clarifying that the “Blurb to Amazon” pricing presented above (where Amazon’s fees are 15% of list price) is for *photo books* in the “Blurb to Amazon” programme only.
    Books in the Global Retail Network programme (with Ingram) are sold to all retailers (including Amazon) for the *wholesale price*. ( = list price – wholesale discount)

  • Keith Towers says:
    Sep 1 at 01:29

    Some of the Amazon prices for photo books are a lot less than Blurb’s base cost, so how does that work?

  • Kent Hall says:
    Sep 7 at 10:54

    Hey Keith,

    Are you talking about books from other publishers? Because those books are printed in large print runs, publishers are able to bring the cost way down. When you print books one-at-a-time, the cost per unit is a bit higher. You can do larger print runs with Blurb, however, it just requires a greater upfront cost.

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