When I self-published my first children’s book in 2017, I found it really difficult to decide what price I should put on the book’s cover. I was keen to keep it low, so that if children were buying it with their own pocket money it wouldn’t be out of their reach. The publisher suggested £7.99, but I was concerned that if I priced it that high, no one would buy it. I thought £5.99 sounded more reasonable, but I was quickly told that this was too low, and I’d make a huge loss on every copy that was sold. Apparently, even at £6.99 I’d make a loss of 3 pence on every copy sold through Amazon, and would only make 32 pence profit on each sale via wholesalers.
Wow! This was news to me! Until that moment, I hadn’t realised how little money authors made on each book sold. Of course, traditionally published authors can hope to receive an advance from their publishers, but the chances of getting anything on top of that is still, for most, remote – and of course, for self-published authors, advances simply don’t exist.
I had a think about it, and decided to go with £6.99 as a middle ground – if most copies sold through Amazon there would be a small loss, but so long as I sold some books at events like school visits, I’d probably break even, overall.
I’d never worked in retail or sales, so having to puzzle over this pricing business was completely new to me, but fortunately I did have an experienced salesman to call on for advice – my writing buddy, the dog. He has long believed firmly in everything having a value and – unfortunately for me – a price.
One of his favourite activities is stealing things that he knows I want – socks from the laundry basket being a preferred item, but everything in the house is pretty much ‘up for grabs’, if you’ll excuse the pun. He thinks that it is hilarious to race around the kitchen table, a sock dangling from his mouth, me chasing after him and never quite able to get within grabbing distance. Every now and then he’ll stop and give a snorty laugh, wait until I’m nearly there, and then bound away again.
Once I get sick of chasing him, the negotiations begin. I walk to the treat cupboard and take down a box of dog biscuits. ‘Come on,’ I say, in a wheedling tone of voice. ‘Would you like a dog biscuit?’ He stops bounding around, puts the sock down at his feet and looks at me with his head on one side.
I take a biscuit out of the box and throw it onto the floor. I might not have his sock, but I have got his interest. There’s a moment’s silence while we both look down at the biscuit, and then the dog raises his eyebrows and gives a snort, stamping on the sock in irritation. ‘One biscuit? For this fantastic sock? No thank you!’
Out comes another biscuit, which quickly joins the first one in the ‘no man’s land’, on the floor between us. He looks at me disparagingly, and then snorts in the direction of the two biscuits.
I throw down a third biscuit, and he immediately trots over and collects all three, leaving me to go and pick up my purchase from the other side of the room. Most socks, it seems, cost three biscuits. Some things are more expensive, of course – pens for example, often cost four biscuits. And then there are those rare and valuable items – pies spring to mind – which are simply not for sale.
Sometimes he’ll come trotting over, hoping to persuade me to buy a piece of newspaper he’s snatched off the worktop, only to find that, sadly for him, either I don’t want to buy it, or I’m only prepared to offer one biscuit. When this happens he disappears under the table and chews it up – just to make sure that I don’t manage to pick it up for free, later.
What I’ve learnt from the dog through these experiences is that most things – although certainly not all things – have a price. The trick, as far as self-published authors are concerned, is to choose a price that will work for both the author and the reader – hopefully a fair, middle-ground – and ideally one that won’t cost too many biscuits!