Ninety-Nine Cents ebooks

Posted by Mona Risk | 7:05 PM | 47 comments »

Let’s do some math.

I know writers are not particularly fond of math, but I hear this sentence several times a day when my husband--who can’t live without math—tries to convince me I’m 100% wrong. He knows that if he starts a discussion, he’d lose it. Hey, I know how to talk!

My discussion is about self-publishing ebooks, and pricing them.
After publishing three books TO LOVE A HERO, FRENCH PERIL [both at $0.99]and OSIRIS’ MISSING PART with Ellora’s Cave Blush,

and three books, BABIES IN THE BARGAIN, Rx FOR TRUST and Rx IN RUSSIAN with TWRP, --all have received many 5* reviews as you can check by going to my website, –I’ve decided to try my hand (and my luck) at self-publishing. TWRP publishers were extremely nice when I asked for my author rights back for Rx for Trust.

I changed the cover and the title, formatted NO MORE LIES for Smashwords and Amazon, and uploaded it on October 8, for $0.99. In November, I uploaded a brand new story, RIGHT NAME, WRONG MAN, for $0.99 too.

Smashwords pays 50% and Amazon 35% of $0.99 Not much.

So is it worth the trouble?

Let’s do some math!

At the Novelists Conference, Ted Weinstein put together a table of costs for self-publishing, with $500 for covert art and design, and $750 for copyediting, and $500 for proofreading. At that rate, you’ll need to sell millions of books to recover your costs.

Fortunately, you can prepare your book cover yourself with a good program such as Roxio, count on your critique partners for editing, and ask other authors to proofread your work and return the favor. Not expensive at all. Still it’s a lot of work. I spent a week to prepare my book cover.

I know a few authors, actually quite a number, who did great at self-publishing. Our own Patrice Wilton is a bestselling author at Amazon.

In one month, I sold more books than in two years with my publisher. And in the second month, I sold more than in the first month, though nothing comparable to Patrice.

With my publisher, my book sold for $6.99, therefore the few books I sold made more money than all the books I sold at Amazon in a month and a half. So why self-publishing and pricing so low?

Last week, I wasn’t feeling well and wanted to read. I specifically looked for the books of the authors who bought my books and gave me reviews. I wanted to return the favor. So I bought 6 books at TWRP, each at $6.99

Now forget the math. Look at the economy.

I paid over $40 for only six books. Many readers--or writers/readers--prefer to wait and win the books through contests and blogs. I won a few myself and enjoyed the free reading. And I distributed many of my ebooks as prize or for promotion.

Honestly, it’s becoming difficult to spend about $50 for books every month. But I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to buy a book at $0.99, less than what I pay when I buy a chewing-gum for my granddaughter. For $50, an avid reader could buy fifty books and be a very happy reader! Or be wise and save her money by buying only five books for $5.0.

Is that any wonder that NY bestselling authors are now putting their books at $0.99?

Of course a reader will always buy her favorite author's books, no matter the price. There a special bond between the author and the reader that defies the economy.

So what's your take on $0.99 ebooks?

RIGHT NAME, WRONG MAN: What’s a future bride to do when she utters another man’s name in her fiancé’s arms–– a name she thought she had erased from her heart after one blissful night, years ago? Before setting a wedding date, Mary-Beth Drake must reassure herself she has outgrown her youthful infatuation for handsome surgeon Yves Malroux. A trip to France and training with Yves would convince her she’s in control of her emotions. Except that sparks fly between them. Will Mary-Beth ever realize who’s her right man?

NO MORE LIES: A lie that brings a smile... or the truth that draws tears?

Dr. Olivia Crane lives a quiet life. No one questions why she doesn’t socialize or where she spends her weekends. When the visiting physician from France strolls into her office, with open arms and a confident smile, her perfect control is about to crumble. He’s Dr. Luc George, the man she loved ten years ago. Should she return his scorching kisses, or should she lock her door before he digs into her many secrets?
Secret daughter, secret friend, secret enemy. Had Luc really known his sweet Olivia back then?
He wants her back, but he wants the truth too. Now, Olivia has to face her past before she can grab her second chance.


  1. Beth Trissel // November 14, 2011 at 8:33 AM  

    Food for thought Mona. I don't know what the answer is. If we all selfpub what will happen to the publishers? I'd sure miss The Wild Rose Press and my wonderful editors, and all the support in 'the Garden.' The thought of letting my fabulous covers and cover artists go breaks my heart, but it's true only discerning readers will pay more for my books when they can get so many for far less. I'm feeling the crunch from all the competition. Quality will suffer in many of these self-pubbed books from authors who lack your writing experience, talent, and credits. Publishing is evolving so rapidly I can hardly wrap my head around it.

  2. Patrice // November 14, 2011 at 9:08 AM  

    I agree that the price set by TWRP and other pub houses are too high for basically unknown authors. Yes, if we were NY best selling authors, it would be a different story. That's why at .99 readers are eager to try out a unknown author, and why so many sell so well. I have two other books up for $2.99 and they are selling nicely too, but haven't done as well financially as Barnie, although they are my later works and I believe better stories. I'm playing around with the numbers, still trying to figure out what works best. My next book will be priced at $1.99, and it's a sequel to Barnie, formerly with Wild Rose. New cover, new name. Let's see how it goes. Good luck, Mona, and everyone who's decided to give self publishing a try.

  3. Celia Yeary // November 14, 2011 at 9:32 AM  

    A question worth pondering, Mona.
    "It's the economy, stupid!" Not you, but you've heard that more than once. At this moment, the eReader is in its heyday, in my opinion. No, it won't go away, it'll only get better, but we'll see more and more books lowered in price. Very few readers in the US will spend, as you say, $40 a pop for ebooks. They might for something to keep...but not for a book they'll probably delete (my definition of an ebook is a "disposable book," just like many other things in our society.)
    Those of us who are pubished with the small presse simply cannot compete with Susan W., Susan P, Susan M, Nora, Linda Lael Miller, etc. Readers will pay $5.99 for their books, but not for one of mine. So compete--at least in numbers--I need to lower the price.
    I wish whoever started the 99cent thing would have used $1.99 instead, and we'd make more money. Little difference to a reader.
    But for now...we're on the 99cent bandwagon.
    My one 99cent book has sold more in three months than any of my other novels with any publisher--except TWRP--those are still selling after two years.

    I've found some wonderful books for 99cents by authors I'd never heard of...but I've also found some very poor ones, too.

    One day, I'll try the Indie publishing...or not. It does intimidate me.
    Congratulations on yours! I am very impressed.

  4. Autumn Jordon // November 14, 2011 at 9:52 AM  

    Mona, This is a hot topic. I haven't dipped into the self-pub world, but I'm seriously thinking about it.

    I worry however, that readers will quickly shy away from .99 books because so many writers who haven't invested in education or editing just upload inferior work.

    There are certain things I will buy at the dollar store but there are items I stay away from simply because I've tried them and lost money. Think Nora at .99 verus unknown author. If the readers don't recognize your name and know you have a proven record they're just not going to buy.

    SIGH I'm with Beth, when I started this path things were so different and in another 10 ten I'm sure things will change again.

  5. Judy // November 14, 2011 at 10:04 AM  

    Interesting discussion. I have not self-published any of my novels yet. Still waiting for things to shake down. A 99 cent book is intriguing but I agree with Autumn that a lot of work at that price is without the extra something that makes a book a standout. But it's a good place to start. Then if you're known, you can jump to $1.99 and $2.99 etc. But remember, publishers are jumping on the epub bandwagon too, in combination with hard copy publication. It's still being worked out...

  6. S.G. Rogers // November 14, 2011 at 10:41 AM  

    I must admit to watching for $0.99 specials...but I've only bought books from authors I knew. One time I didn't, and although I enjoyed the book it could have used the expertise of a professional editor. It's simply a fact that lower prices are better in a tough economy, but I am hoping there are ways to attract buyers to a slightly higher priced product. I guess we'll see...

  7. Nightingale // November 14, 2011 at 10:44 AM  

    You did a great job with your covers, Mona. They look really professional and intriguing. I self-pubbed a novella but haven't really seen much action with it. I'm thinking of pulling it and sending it to a small publisher.

  8. Pamela Varnado // November 14, 2011 at 12:23 PM  

    Mona, I love your cutting expenses tips. I thought about going indie, but felt the start up costs were more than what I'd make in sales. I don't want to put anything out there that isn't professional.

  9. Jill James // November 14, 2011 at 12:41 PM  

    Mona, wish I knew the answer, I could be rich. LOL I'm happy with my self-pubbed sales so far but it takes a lot of 99 cents books to start accumulating some money.

  10. Mary Ricksen // November 14, 2011 at 1:17 PM  

    Hi Mona! Great blog about a new controversy. Personally I love the 99cent e book. Like you said for $50 I get 50 books! Good books too! I may find one here or there that is really awful, but for the most part (if I can turn of my internal editor), even the newbie can tell a good tale! So if I buy a stranger or one of my favorite authors, I get a book! It will be interesting to watch how things continue to change.

  11. Barbara Monajem // November 14, 2011 at 1:38 PM  

    If I were self-publishing, I would go for a low price. I barely think twice before purchasing a 99 cent book, so I assume others are the same. However, I do fear that the market will become glutted with poorly-edited, poorly-formatted books. I've already seen some of that (even in print books, but much more so in e-books). You have to be really meticulous to produce a perfectly turned-out product -- and as far as I can see, many people just aren't.

  12. Nancy Jardine // November 14, 2011 at 2:38 PM  

    It's good to know there is sucesss out there even if the mark up is very little. As a buyer of only 5 ebooks at 0.99c so far, I can say it's dead easy to buy them from Amazon at that price. What I personally have a problem with is now finding time to read them. Sorry, Mona, not read your latest yet...bought last week...but I will soon!

  13. Mona Risk // November 14, 2011 at 2:40 PM  

    Hi Beth, I didn't leave my editors. They left me. My editor at TWRP left the company six months ago, and my editor at Ellora's Cave left two month ago. I felt like an orphan, looking for a foster parent, but decided to be independent.

    I learned in the industry that if we don't adjust and move on, we'll find ourselves behind because others are moving forward. Now the writing world is experiencing the earthquake that shhok the industry a few years ago with a lot of lay-off.

  14. Mona Risk // November 14, 2011 at 2:46 PM  

    Patrice you did the right move at the right time. It's your example that encouraged me. Even if I don't sell a lot, at leat I tried my hardest to achieve my goal.

    Writing a sequel for Barnie is a fantastic idea. Your fans will love it.

    I wish my editors would have put my books at a lower price and help with the promotion. OSIRIS' MISSING PART, an 88,000 words ebook,used an awsome amount of research. My heart sank when I saw it priced at $8.90 on amazon. Sure enough it didn't sell a single copy for 5 months, until they lowered it to $5.99.

  15. Mona Risk // November 14, 2011 at 2:54 PM  

    Celia, I should have asked bloggers to honestly say how many books they buy per month at $5.99 and above. Of course, some authors are selling well. I wasn't selling enough in spite of the glowing review.

  16. Mona Risk // November 14, 2011 at 2:56 PM  

    Yes Autumn, things are changing. When I started with Ellora's Cave and TWRP TO LOVE A HERO and BABIES IN THE BARGAIN were selling well. No complaint. But after that it went slowly down, in spite of the promotion that exhausted me.

  17. Mona Risk // November 14, 2011 at 2:58 PM  

    Judy, I think we can try the 99 cents and then increase it if it works well.

  18. Mona Risk // November 14, 2011 at 3:00 PM  

    Hi Linda,

    I put a lot of work in creating attractive covers and in editing. I want readers to see that my book is inexpensive but not cheap!

  19. Mona Risk // November 14, 2011 at 3:04 PM  

    Hi S.G. Rogers, I find typos in every book I read, paperback or ebooks from NY publishers or small press.I was often surprised to see editors allow so much telling, purple prose and slow pace, when we learn in every workshop they should be avoided. Success is often 60% work and 40% luck. And persistence can make a difference.

  20. Mona Risk // November 14, 2011 at 3:08 PM  

    Of course Pam, if you can't put a very professional book on the market, don't do it on your own. I am still attached to my publishers and plan to go back to them if I don't reach my goal. It's an experiment that tempted me. Time will tell if it works or not. If Macys sells more when they have big sales and coupons, why can't we learn from the experys?

  21. Mona Risk // November 14, 2011 at 3:09 PM  

    Oh Jill, don't I know. We need many 99 cents books to make a little check!

  22. Mona Risk // November 14, 2011 at 3:15 PM  

    Hi Mary, it's just of luck. You can fall on a good book, or you can be fooled by a title and a nice cover.

  23. Mona Risk // November 14, 2011 at 3:17 PM  

    Barbabra, there is always the possibility of falling on a bad book. But at least you won't cry about wasted money, if it costs you 99cents.

  24. Mona Risk // November 14, 2011 at 3:19 PM  

    Nancy, first let me say thank you for buying my book. You're a real trooper. Like you I believe in "scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours." LOL

    After going on a shopping spree last week, 6 "expensive" $6 books and a dozen of $0.99 ebooks, I have enough books to keep me happy for sometime. Let me mention here, they were all books by authors who received great reviews or authors I knew as good writers.

  25. Mary Marvella // November 14, 2011 at 3:38 PM  

    Hey, Mona, good discussion.

    Did you know you can return ebooks for refunds, so you can still have returns?

    You can return that poorly written 99 cent book and give a review suggesting the need for editing. People will stop purchasing bad books by poorly prepared authors at some point.

    Most of us will pay more than 99 cents for the second and third book if we like the cheap one.

    Numbers impress, so folks are offering free reads to build numbers and readerships for the books that cost.

    I know I can't pay $5 or $6 a book at this time, paper or ebooks. I might manage a dollar or even three for a book if I know and like the author. They say $2.99 is a good price for most new authors for complete novels. For me, that's my limit now. Maybe later...

  26. Mary Marvella // November 14, 2011 at 3:39 PM  

    About sales, mine are low, but I'm not doing much to promote them, and I don't have a built-in audience. My books are also a tad different and old-fashioned.

  27. Kristin W. // November 14, 2011 at 3:59 PM  

    I guess my worry about the .99 cent books is that it's teaching readers to "expect" that .99 cents is all a book is worth. It's basically giving it away for free. If you're using the .99 cents price as a promotional tool that's one thing, but if it becomes the norm to charge that amount there could be repurcussions. Once the public learns to expect that price you can't then go back & start charging more. In the short term it sounds great to make a larger % return, but in the long run will it end up hurting all authors by basically forcing them to price every book at .99 cents?

    Think about it, how many people now balk at buying music b/c they can get it for "free"? How many people now already think they are entitiled to get that music for free? And think it doesn't matter because everybody knows people in the music industry are all rich & wouldn't miss the money. I bet a lot think all authors make a lot of money too.

  28. Mona Risk // November 14, 2011 at 4:43 PM  

    Mary, I don't think it's fair to return an ebook. When you return an item you bought you need the price tag still attached to it. You can't waer a shirt and then return it. And you can't read a book and then return. By reading it, you used it already.

  29. Cara Marsi // November 14, 2011 at 4:48 PM  

    This is a great blog, Mona. I too got rights back from TWRP for my first book with them and put it up for 99 cents. I had the same experience as you. In a month I'd sold more than I had in 2 years with the publisher (nothing against TWRP-I love them). Readers love 99 cent books, and so do I. That has a lot to do with the great sales. My sales for my 99 cent book were terrific for a long time, but are slowing now, and while I didn't make the extraordinary money some indie authors make, I'm very happy with what I made. I put up a completely indie book recently and priced it at $2.99. Sales have been slow for that one. I like the story, but the sex happens behind closed doors which could account for the low sales, or it could be the $2.99price. I recently put it on sale for $1.39 so I'll se if that helps. I paid an editor to edit that book because I won't put up any book that hasn't been edited. A friend does my covers and my formatting so my expenses are very low. I've read lots of good books that were priced at 99 cents. I'm a real proponent of indie publishing.

  30. Mona Risk // November 14, 2011 at 4:48 PM  

    Kristin, I agree with you. Ten yeas ago, we had a video store. The video tapes were rented at $5 or 6. It was good business. Then the next door supermarket added tapes for $1 to rent. It forces us out of business. There was nothing we could do. Unfortunately, it's the way things are going. When NY bestselling authors are putting their own bestsellers at $0.99, yes it's going to lower the market. In a way, the publishers pushed writers in that direction by being so difficult or by not promoting their authors, and we are paying for it. At $0.99 an author is not making much unless selling a LOT of books.

  31. Margaret Tanner // November 14, 2011 at 4:59 PM  

    Hi Mona,
    Terrific blog. It certainly is a vexing question - to do or not to do. I haven't quite worked out what to do. I have a few books coming out of contract soon. Guess I'll have to think on it some more.



  32. Mona Risk // November 14, 2011 at 5:21 PM  

    Hi Margaret,

    Reading RELUCTANT FATHER right now. I love your stories and would hate to see them fading away.

  33. Mona Risk // November 14, 2011 at 5:26 PM  

    Hi Cara, we think the same way, and share the same experience with indie books. Let's wait and see.

  34. Anonymous // November 14, 2011 at 6:31 PM  

    Mona- I've read good and bad about this. I have to bow to Patrice for her skill in selling her book - she says it was about pricing. I also have to think she wrote a damn good book. Some say yes to 99 cents, some say no. I've been doing a lot of internet reading about this topic and writers seem to come out on one side or the other. And the marketers say don't drop your prices for short-term gain . . . but if no one knows who you are? They also say check your strategy. I put Frankenstein's Daemon up for $3.99 and sales have been fair, but have seriously dropped off after the initial buzz. Oddly enough, my print book through Lightning Source is selling almost as well as my e-book at $14.99. Go figure. I'm considering having a "Nightmare before Christmas" sale on the e-book just to see if it jump starts sales. Oh, who would have thought that you would have to be a marketing and internet genius in order to be an author.
    Love your blog.

  35. Mona Risk // November 14, 2011 at 7:09 PM  

    Hi Michael, that's what we're becoming: expert-in-the-make about marketing and internet. To be honest, I'm learning the Internet faster than marketing. Time will tell if the cheap price will help. I prefer to live and enjoy every moment of success, rather than wait for an improbable future. I've tried, and tried, and like many I'm tired of waiting.

  36. Beth Trissel // November 14, 2011 at 7:59 PM  

    I self-pubbed my nonfiction (it finaled in the EPPIE) but it's not selling at all well, and it's .99.

  37. Beth Trissel // November 14, 2011 at 8:32 PM  

    Mona, I didn't realize your editors left you. I had no idea. I would have thought another one would have eagerly stepped up.

  38. Mary Marvella // November 14, 2011 at 8:36 PM  

    Of course it isn't right to return an ebook, but it's much easier than packaging and shipping a book back for a refund. If it wasn't what you expected it to be, you can send it back, though. If it is poorly written. .... If one author has a lot of returns, that could signal a need to do a better job.

  39. Mona Risk // November 14, 2011 at 8:50 PM  

    Oh yes, Beth, I was assigned a new editor at EC. At TWRP the senior editor said to contact her directly when I'm ready. I just didn't have the chance to do it yet. Depending on how the two books on amazon do, I'll decide if the one I'm editing now will go to TWRP. I never said I will abandon ship. No way.

    Your non-fiction is a different case. Not too many people buy them, or maybe you haven't done as much promotion.

  40. Mona Risk // November 14, 2011 at 8:54 PM  

    I still don't agree, Mary. An ebook can't be returned. If it's read, then it's too late to return it. It would be too easy for some people to buy ebooks, read them, put lousy reviews, return them and save money to do the same again. Liking a book is often a matter of taste. There are a lot of good books I don't like, because I don't like that genre.

  41. Scarlet Pumpernickel // November 14, 2011 at 10:58 PM  

    Mona congratulations on the success of your indie books. It is amazing the pace at which publishing is changing. It has got to be scaring the old established guys silly. Imagine, those who have forever held the power of life or death over an authors career seeing that power slowly erroding. Amazing.

  42. Caroline Clemmons // November 14, 2011 at 11:16 PM  

    Mona, I received the rights back for my older Kensington books, and then also the rights back for a novella in a TWRP anthology. I've pubbed them on Smashwords and Amazon Kindle and been amazed. I tried them at 2.99 and sales were only okay. When I lowered the price to 99 cents, sales jumped meteorically (is that a word?) and have continued to hold. And speaking of holding, I'm holding my breath and praying sales continue to climb. I love, love, love TWRP for the staff, the friends I've made on the loop, and the wonderful covers. But I'm making so much more from the indie books. It cost only ten bucks for the most expensive cover, and several of the photos/graphics were free. It's true they aren't nearly as good as Rae Monet's, but look at the difference in my income. Sadly, there's no way a small press can compete with indie publishing.

  43. Mona Risk // November 15, 2011 at 9:29 AM  

    Hi Caroline, I'm so glad you confirmed what I only assumed. I'm still in the trial period. Second month for one book, first month for a second.

  44. Mona Risk // November 15, 2011 at 9:30 AM  

    Hi Scarlet, I love what you're saying! It's so right.

  45. Morgan Mandel // November 15, 2011 at 1:46 PM  

    In today's economy, I believe 99 cent books are the way to go. Self-publishing does require effort, but when it comes down to it, maybe a few days more than if you were to be published by a publisher. Not as many people can afford to buy from traditional publishers any more and are looking for good reads at reasonable prices. I'm going the self-pub route myself with 3 of the 99 cent books and one that will be $2.99.

    Morgan Mandel

  46. Josie // November 18, 2011 at 3:46 PM  

    .99 books work for me. As a reader, I'm hard-pressed to spend much more. But, as many of you know, I'm the coupon queen.

    Excellent and timely blog. Please keep us posted and best wishes for your continued success.

  47. Beth // November 23, 2011 at 6:21 PM  

    Hi -

    I read a kindle book my husband kept raving about, and I thought, oh no not another political rant, but I read it last weekend and I was stunned - now this is going to sound a little sexist, but a guy wrote a book on having good character and analyzes everyone and why they are doing all the bad things they do ... so I thought I would share it because unless it had been cheap, I don't think my cheapskate hubby would have bought it - so the author is Joe Couch and he has two books: one is called Polarization in America and it's 99 cents.

    My husband just finished his other book called America's Real Deficit. There is no swearing in either of them, so they are safe to give to people as Christmas gifts.

    Great blog ladies - I enjoy it often.