Signaling literary ebook audiences by pricing strategy


As those of you who have read Pride’s Children: PURGATORY will know, I write literary contemporary mainstream fiction.

I added ‘literary’ to this, somewhat reluctantly, since I published in October 2015, and I don’t intend to remove that designation. Reluctantly, because in some circles this is the equivalent of trumpeting your own horn.

But ‘Literary’ now covers a spectrum which goes from writing which literally brings the story to a halt to admire a butterfly’s scales reflecting the light, to mainstream, to works which are genre but use language so perfectly you don’t even notice.

The first problem: literary indie work is a tiny subset of the literary ‘genre,’ (as the Author Earnings report characterizes it), and that is the smallest of genres. Here is the link to the AE graph for genres, from the June 2016 report.

The second problem: the literary category is dominated by big publishers (who have fought hard to maintain the principle that they vet authors, and the work they publish is worth publishing), and who price their ebooks in the higher ranges. The combination big 5 + small/medium publishers includes most of the bestseller sales. Here is the link to the AE graph for Kindle Bestsellers by price range from January 2016.

I’m concluding that buyers of literary fiction are used to paying $7 to $15 for their ebooks. And Amazon imprints are priced below that (and are doing extremely well – their books have a hugely disproportionate share of earnings in the price range they have chosen, peaking at around $6.99).

And therefore, pricing a literary ebook at $8.99 is a way of both staying in the Amazon 70% royalty range (2.99-9.99) and NOT raising a red flag of ‘cheap’ with literary readers (unless that is clearly a sale price).

My main problem now is advertising in such a place and manner to attract those readers who prefer their reading somewhere on the literary spectrum. I’ll be trying that tactic this July with an ad in the summer reading issue of the Princeton Alumni Weekly (PAW), about the only place I’ve planned to use my title.

Awards, a popular strategy for this class of writing, are often (almost always) not open to self-publishers – or expensive. And possibly biased.

I’m also aware that this may be a severely time-limited transition strategy which may only work until the literary category is well populated by indies. Amazon’s literary imprint, Little A, is going to be making inroads, if it hasn’t already. But Amazon becomes the publisher, and they don’t take submissions from indies (last I checked, submissions were accepted only from agents).

I’m sure there are MANY things wrong with this as a pricing strategy, but for me, for my kind of writing, for this book, for my extremely slow rate of production, and for the kind of readers who I believe will like Pride’s Children: PURGATORY and its two remaining volumes, I have not been able to find a better strategy. (This is not the indie genre pricing strategy.)

Other than either going viral or finding a champion – events even rarer than indie literary fiction.

Ideas and experiences welcome!


7 thoughts on “Signaling literary ebook audiences by pricing strategy

  1. Pingback: Signaling literary ebook audiences by pricing strategy | liebjabberings : Pricing News

  2. Janna G. Noelle

    I’ll be interested to hear the results of your pricing experiment.

    Personally, I see no compelling reason why book prices should vary by genre. I do expect to pay more for nonfiction because more effort usually goes into writing it (research, citations, fact-checking, etc.). Also, things like art books or cookbooks – books that have a lot of images or complicated layout – should reasonably cost more.

    However, for a run-of-the-mill story, regardless of genre, I’d more expect the price to vary by length (or perhaps more specifically, the word count) than whether or not it’s a literary title or a romance.

    Although maybe that is the point right there, for literary novels do tend to be longer than romances, and YA, and pretty much everything other than SFF and, to a lesser extent, historical. Maybe that’s why literary readers are used to paying more.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Pride’s Children is 167K. Your typical Romance varies, but most run between 50-80K (from my previous research). Genre fiction tends to be shorter, except possibly for SFF (which has worlds to construct, and needs space); even individual volumes of The Song of Ice and Fire are very fat.

      The amount of research that went into PC was prodigious, because I was setting up a long story which needs to have a lot of steps work in an unbroken chain from that first interview to the epilogue; the next two volumes will probably be at least as long as the first. When I’m finished, I may post a list of the topics I had to learn about, and a list of the themes I was including (I have one somewhere – it took me a page).

      This is what happens when you let someone like me write the book they always wanted to read! Oh, well.

      I think there are literary novels that are short – but you’re probably right in that many of these books, such as The Name of The Rose, The Thorn Birds, GWTW, The Pillars of the Earth… are quite long. My paperback copy of GWTW is 1468 pages – in a single binding! I didn’t even know you could do that until I ran across it (the type is tiny).


  3. J.M. Ney-Grimm

    …to works which are genre but use language so perfectly you don’t even notice.

    That’s the category I hope my own work fits into. I haven’t dared attach the word ‘literary’ to it, because I fear that many in my potential audience would assume that I “halted to admire a butterfly’s scales” (I do not), and thus never give my work a try.

    I am totally crossing my fingers for you regarding the PAW ad. I’m eager to hear how it goes (and wondering if UVa has anything similar for its alums – not that I have the money for that right now).


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      The part I had to tell myself was that ‘literary’ has COME TO MEAN a spectrum, and that the kind I don’t like doesn’t mean I don’t and can’t aim at the end of the spectrum I DO like, just because I HATE the other end, the plot-stopping, navel-gazing, go-nowhere end. The SELF-INDULGENT end.

      That’s the leap of faith.

      Before, ‘literary’ was conferred by the gods on high, the publishers and the MFA teachers. And, let’s not forget, the literary magazines which bless you by publishing you.

      I think the indie version is up for grabs, and I’m setting my sights at it and planting my flag, and officially telling people if Donna Tartt and Nicholas Sparks can put it on their books (usually via a publisher’s publicist – ie, not a personal claim because that is so gauche), I can, too.

      I can no longer wait for someone to annoint me. Though that would be lovely, assuming I approve of THEM and their credentials!

      If Jane Eyre is literary, I am. If Dorothy L. Sayers is literary, I am. If Flannery O’Connor is literary, I am. And if Margaret Atwood is literary, I am. They tell stories. GOOD stories. Some better than others for each writer.

      I’m also thoroughly educated to EXPECT a plot, and to want characters who don’t bore me to proverbial tears.

      And I have already seen horrible indie ‘literary.’ I don’t want to be associated with it – but them’s the breaks. There is horrible non-indie literary aplenty.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Early results have been quite unspectacular; the PAW ad is my big attempt at this. It has the advantage that there are few books which are advertised – you have to be alumni or staff to be in this issue – and that I expect Princeton folk to be well read. It has the huge disadvantage of being very expensive. The PAW goes out to almost 100K readers.

      Just cross your fingers for me – I’m blowing my wad, as the saying goes. I can’t do this very often unless it pays for itself. There is a Christmas issue… But I haven’t seen ads from Jodi Picoult or Joyce Carol Oates recently, and I would hope to compete with those good ladies. However, people already know who they are. And they are traditionally published – don’t know if their publishers will spring for this limited advertising.

      Liked by 1 person


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