February 4, 2016

Self Publishing? What’s Your Pricing Plan? — Let’s Talk Freebies!

Stick figure at a chalkboard with text: What's Your Pricing Plan?

It’s time once again for my monthly guest post over at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University. We’ve been walking through the process of making choices for what path we want to follow in our indie publishing career.

My series about Indie Publishing Paths at Fiction University has been highlighting some of the choices we have to make and giving us a few guidelines for figuring out how to make the best decisions for us.

We started off talking about knowing our goals. There’s no end to the conflicting advice out there about self-publishing, and to add confusion, the “rules” from retailers and others change frequently. So we need to have an understanding of why we’re choosing certain paths so that we can adapt as the industry changes.

Once we know our priorities, we might make different choices about distribution, release schedules, or pricing. I’ve been focusing on each of those areas in the next segment of the series, calling them the where, when, and how much of our decision process.

Janice Hardy's Fiction University banner

Over the past two months, we’ve identified three options for the pricing strategy of our books—the how much. We can…:

  • price high,
  • price in the middle, or
  • price low.

And we’ve discussed the pros and cons of the most common (and yet controversial) pricing advice—to price low.

As we mentioned last time, there are many good reasons we might (or might not) want to price our books below the typical $2.99-$4.99 “sweet spot” (for novels). But before deciding whether that strategy would work for us, we need to understand more about how or why the advice is supposed to work so we can see if it applies to our situation.

A big part of our decision for choosing the best pricing strategy for us comes down to understanding what we want to accomplish and investigating whether a strategy could meet that goal.

For example, some of the possible reasons we might want to price our book low include:

  • using our low-priced book as a “loss leader” for our other books (introducing our work to more readers, with a potential for more income down the road),
  • hoping our low price leads to more sales (maximizing income), or
  • hoping our low price leads to more exposure and/or better rankings (an amplifier that can lead to more readers or more income).

However, the concept of “maximizing income” doesn’t apply if we price our books really low…as in free. So some goals can’t be met with a freebie.

The choice to go free also brings up different considerations that we might not have thought of. Before jumping on the freebie bandwagon, we want to think through how our freebie connects to our other books and how a free book might affect reader psychology.

So this month we’re taking a look at the benefits and risks that apply specifically to the option of pricing our book for free. We want to ensure that our free-book strategy won’t end up being short-sighted.

In the post, I cover the only business reason for offering a free book, how a free book can help (or when it wouldn’t help), and why “free” might affect our reviews.

I hope you’ll join me at Fiction University for this month’s post!

Have you seen advice for authors to offer a freebie? Do you agree that it can be a good strategy for some situations? Have you considered offering (or do you already offer) a freebie? If not, why not? How does a freebie fit into your long-term plans?

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Comments — What do you think?

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In the middle of writing my second book, I thought about and balked at the idea of making my first book – an 118k historical I worked on for years – free or .99. So I’ve stopped writing book 2 and am working on a prequel that can be turned into a freebie or cheapie. Unless it also becomes a 110k+, in which case I’ll have to do a prequel to the prequel 🙂 Maybe freebie is good if you have more than 3 books in your series? Maybe a short story or a novella makes a better freebie or cheapie because it took less work? Maybe I’m too sensitive about all the work I’ve put into my writing? It’s a conundrum all right.

Steve Fey

I like this post, and the Fiction University enhancement, but I’m still undecided as to whether to give any away or not. Not your fault. You have provided more data to chew in making the decision, and that’s always good, right? (Right?)


[…] the same time, I recently posted about how we can use free content as a pricing strategy. So which is it? Should we work for free or […]


[…] we’re new and trying to prove ourselves, so we make our first book a freebie to expose ourselves to readers. Maybe there’s no money to be shared, so we say yes to expose […]

Kristen Steele

Great insights. The biggest takeaway here is not to list it for free just to list it for free or because that’s what other authors are doing. It needs to be part of a greater plan, more so than simply getting readers.


One factor to consider: Who is your target audience? How do they find books? Where do they look for books?

If it’s a demographic that things free = worthless, then offering a freebie will be shooting yourself in the foot. But offering a freebie also makes readers less likely to actually sit down and read it (because they didn’t spend money on it, they might forget they have it even if it’s something they want to read!).

In my case, one of my target demographics can’t afford to buy books. That’s one of the reasons I post full novels on Wattpad. If someone can only afford freebies, then they won’t be able to read the full series.

I’m also in a niche where folks generally want to see how I handle things before they decide to buy or not. [shrug] Makes sense. And folks need to read something like 3 novels by an author to be likely to remember the series exists, so my focus needs to be on getting folks to read those 3 (and on finishing the writing of the series). Making the first book free will be more effective once I have all 6/7 novels done, so I’m gonna be bumping up the price soon when I get around to it. Folks can still read free on Wattpad, and it’ll make the 3-in-1 omnibus a better deal. Win/win! 🙂

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