Small Realities

Inside the mind of Lance Schonberg

Self Publishing – What I’m Not Doing

I’m not typically a crowd follower.  I like to make up my own mind about things, usually after doing some research and thinking about it.  And something I’ve decided not to do is publish individual short stories.  There are a couple of reasons for this, but both of them come down to basic mathematics.

First, if your mythical average 100,000 word novel is priced, in e-book format, somewhere between $2.99 and $5.99, then, on a word-parity basis, it’s probably reasonable to price a 30-35,000 word novella individually between $0.99 and $1.99.  Following the same logic, a 5,000 word short story would get priced at between $0.15 and $0.30 cents.  If I look at what I hope is a viable online magazine model, Flagship Magazine gives you a half dozen stories per issue, plus an editorial and some commentary, both in pdf and audio, for $2.99, or $1.99 for the text only version, bringing us back into the $0.30 per story range.

All of which comes down to my not being able to justify $0.99 for an average short story, which is the minimum allowable list price point under Amazon’s model (but, oddly, there can be discounts on these—I found a couple at 10-20% off this afternoon), unless you set the story at free, which is a short term tactic to drive interest, not a long term strategy to do well as an author.  (And I firmly believe at this stage of the game that you have to be on Amazon if you’re self publishing.)

But say I could convince myself to sell a 5000 word story for $0.99, netting me $0.35 per copy sold on Amazon, a little higher amount on B&N, and a bit more on Smashwords, maybe.  As the publisher, I’m doing more than just the writing of the book.  I also have to find artwork and do the layout and formatting plus any marketing that might be involved.  Now, I suppose I don’t need to do much marketing for a short story, right?  But formatting doesn’t take any less time and unless I’m going to sucker convince an artist to just giving me their work for nothing, I need to pay for cover art, and it will take three copies of the story sold for every dollar I pay the artist for that cover.  Once the cover is paid for, I’ll need to sell another 150 copies of the story before I’ve made 1¢/word, 750 to get to a pro rate of 5¢/word.  And I’ve still done the formatting for free.

I’m a big advocate of trying a bunch of different things to see what works, so I’m not entirely sure why I’m giving myself such a hard time about it, but I don’t think I can do a short story for $0.99.  I can’t see myself buying one at this price, so why should I expect other people to?

But at least some other writers do seem to.  I’m not discounting the possibility that it’s possible to make a living selling individual short stories as mini e-books, but it doesn’t feel like a viable path for me.  And I see quite a few shorts priced significantly above $0.99.

What it comes down to for me is that I feel like it’s difficult to justify anything under novelette size for a dollar, and that novelette should have something different or extra about it.  I’ve thought a lot about Thorvald’s Wyrd, qualifying as a novelette at only a little over 13,000 words, and I’m not comfortable thinking about it at higher than that minimum price.

I’m still debating the right price for Turn the World Around.  At 35,000 words, it’s a stone’s throw from what’s generally considered a short novel (40,000 words), but a long, long way from that standard 100,000 word novel.  This needs some thought for the initial price and probably some flexibility and a willingness to play with that price to find the right one.

The exercise in basic math, if nothing else, has made me consider the viability of short story collections even more closely, and I find I like the idea a lot more.  After all, there are a lot of great short stories out there just waiting to be gathered up.  Why shouldn’t some of mine be among them?

(Thinking about this, I did consider the price tags on print books and magazines for value comparisons, but it’s difficult to consider that as fair.  Printing and distribution costs can have a big impact, particularly on magazines.)

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