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Archive for the ‘Ebooks’ Category

E-book Pricing

All right.  I’m going to take a stab at this issue.  But first, a lot of caveats.

1) I don’t think that price, once under a certain threshold, matters as much as a lot of “indie” authors think it does.  My personal feeling is that time is better spent writing more books and doing some targeted marketing (like sending out review copies) than messing around with price on books.

2) My personal threshold for ebooks is that the price be below the available paper version’s cost (ie if the book is out in hardback for 27, the ebook should be less than that (I prefer under 10 bucks, but I’ll pay up to 15 for an ebook I really, really want if the paper version costs more).  If the book is out as a paperback for 7.99, the ebook should be less than that, say 6.99 or something).  I am perhaps still clinging to my love of paper books on this, however.  Personally, as someone who buys a good amount of books, that’s my threshold.  If I want a book RIGHT NOW but it is two bucks more for the Kindle version than the paper one, well, I generally hold off and either order the book or go to a bookstore.

3) All that said, when you become a publisher, which is what putting your own books out yourself or with the help of a start-up small publisher (ie a conglomerate of your friends, which is what mine is), you do have to price your books somewhere and decide on a range and general guidelines so that you look consistent and your readers know what to expect.  You have to pick a price with each new title and it helps, I think anyway, to have a basic idea of where you are pricing things.

4) Basically what I found is that ebook pricing varies a great deal and it varies a lot by genre (not as much by length, once you get away from short stories.  I found plenty of novellas priced more or less the same as novels, for example).  In an ink and paper bookstore, books are priced (unless on sale or sold used) by the format.  A hardcover will always be in the 24.99-28.99 range no matter the genre.  If I walk to the Mystery section and pick up a mass market paperback, it will likely be 7.99 (sometimes 6.99, but usually these days 7.99).  I can then walk over to Science Fiction and pick up a mass market paperback and it will also be 7.99.  Ebooks are different and I find that very interesting.  I don’t know what it means yet, if anything, but I do think that I’ll be looking at pricing more by genre than any other factor.

So for my totally unscientific study, I decided to look at the genres I’m planning to put out books and stories in and see what the pricing looked like.  First I checked the top 100 bestsellers in each category and marked down where the prices fell for those.  Then I did a very, very rough general price look-up to see where the numbers of books in each price range fell in each genre.  Again, these numbers were as of yesterday and are not exact.  This is just a rough overview, not a deeply scientific study.  All of these are Amazon.com only.  I haven’t looked at B&N pricing, though I might, nor have I looked too much at Smashwords yet.  So far all but one of my sales on my tester short stories have been through Amazon (Amazon.uk accounts for most of them, strangely. I guess they like literary short fiction?), so that’s what I studied first since for the moment, they still have a large portion of the ebook market.

Here’s what the rough breakdowns looked like:

Romance top 100:  43 books priced between .89 and 2.99, 27 books between 3.00 and 5.99, 19 priced between 6.00 and 7.99, 8 books priced between 8.00 and 9.99, and the remaining three priced over 10.00.  The rough pricing distribution among all Kindle books in the Romance category was about 3,250 in the .99 to 2.99 range, 3500 in the 3-4.99 range, 4050 in the 5-9.99 range, and 1200 priced over 10.00.    So the bestselling books are definitely weighted to the lower end of that, for whatever it means (correlation is not causation, after all).

Romance novellas (what I plan on writing, so I did this sub-category even though it isn’t really one even on Amazon) broke down roughly like this (I only looked at top 100 for this category):  There were 18 novellas priced at .99, 7 novellas priced 1-1.99, 31 novellas priced 2-2.99, 17 priced 3-3.99, 11 priced 4-4.99, 7 priced 5-5.99, and the other nine were price over 6.00.  These are of course a self-selecting category since if the publisher didn’t identify the book length as novella, it wouldn’t have shown up using the search parameters I used.

Mystery top 100:  36 books priced between .89 and 2.99, 6 books priced between 3.00 and 4.99, 22 priced between 5.00 and 6.99, 25 priced between 7.00 and 8.99, 8 priced between 9 and 9.99, and the remaining three priced over 10.00.  The rough pricing distribution among all Mystery books on Kindle (and it is by far the biggest genre category I looked at) broke down roughly like this:  7,050 books priced .99 to 2.99, 6,400 priced 3-4.99, 7,100 priced 5-8.99, 4,700 priced 9-9.99, and 3,400 priced over 10.00 (the bulk of that priced between 10 and 20 dollars).

Police Procedural subgenre of Mystery top 100:  25 books priced between .89 and 2.99, 8 priced 3-4.99, 49 priced 5-7.99, 15 priced 8-9.99, and the remaining three over 10.  The general pricing breakdown for all books listed under Police Procedurals was 546 priced between .89 and 2.99, 264 priced between 3 and 4.99, and the bulk of the rest priced in the 5-7.99 range.  I wasn’t able to get good numbers on this due to the way I was searching (Amazon kept mixing in prices that weren’t in my search designation, probably due to their discounting? I’m not sure).  My rough look though showed a great deal of the books in this category listed at 6.99 and 7.99.

Science Fiction top 100: 39 books priced between .89 and 2.99, 10 priced between 3-4.99, 29 priced 5-6.99, 19 priced 7-9.99, and three over 10.  The overall breakdown was approximately 1,600 books between .99 and 2.99, 700 priced 3-4.99, 290 priced 5-6.99, 550 priced 7-9.99, and about 300 over 10.00.

Fantasy top 100: 29 books priced .89-2.99, 8 priced 3-4.99, 43 priced 5-7.99, 11 priced 8-9.99, and the remaining nine priced over 10.00.  The overall pricing looked like this: 1,500 books priced .99 to 2.99, 1300 priced 3-4.99, 2,200 priced 5-9.99, 300 priced between 10 and 20.

So that’s the basic data I collected.  My searches, other than the novella one, did not weed out short stories or take length into consideration at all.  I looked at genre numbers and pricing and at the top 100 bestseller lists at the moment of the search.  That allows for a lot of variance and other factors in this, but I just wanted a rough overview of pricing on ebooks.

What have I learned and/or decided?  Genre does seem to matter.  Science Fiction and Romance both had lower trending prices than the other genres I looked at.  There also seems to be a strange “deadzone” in the 3-4.99 range on a lot of those top 100 lists that isn’t always reflected in the number of books priced there.  Are readers avoiding books priced in that range?  Could the .99-2.99 book buyers be a whole different set of buyers than the 5.00 and up crowd?  I’ve noticed from looking at Amazon’s “customers who bought this also bought” sections that people who’ve bought .99 books tend to buy a lot of other .99 books.  I’m not sure what that means, if anything, but I think it is interesting to think about.  When I’m selling my books, who are my targeted customers?  I joke with my friends that the only thing I look for in a reader is recidivism.

I think when I put books up for my small press, I’ll definitely be pricing by genre and using what I’ve found in this data to decide.  For Romance, and specifically Romance novellas, it seems as long as I stay in the 2-4 dollar range, I’m right in the expected price range given the pricing of books on the bestseller list.  For the Fantasy Police Procedural books (yeah, that’s crossing genres, yay ebooks and being able to put things under more than one category), I think I’ll aim for the 5-6.99 range.  For straight mystery, probably aim at the same range.  For Science Fiction the price trend seems lower, but I don’t want to be in the 3-4.99 deadzone either.  More books in Sci/fi were priced in the 5-9.99 range than below 2.99 (48 vs 39), so I’ll probably take a chance and position the books on the lower end of the higher range.  Short story collections seem like an all over the place no-man’s land and I wasn’t even able to get good data on them, so I’ll probably go with genre pricing on those.

Again, no one really knows how ebook pricing will shake out or where the various prices will settle.  Length might become more of a factor, but it is difficult to see how long a book is on the Kindle. File sizes and location numbers can be way off based on things other than book length.  I’m going to make sure that if a book is less than 45k words or so that the descriptions reflect this so a reader knows they are buying a novella or short stories, etc.

But in the end, the price matters a lot less than other things.  If the books I publish aren’t any good and aren’t packaged well (good covers, good descriptions, good samples), they won’t sell at any price.  That’s what I’m going to focus my energies on.  More books, better books, great packaging.

Nom Nom Nom

Technically, I have a couple stories eligible for award nominations. I had a long debate with myself about even writing this post, but decided, hey, first year I’ve got things eligible, I should at least write a subtle “zomg sold stuffz!” post pointing this out.

So here goes…subtle. Yeah.

“Some Like it Hot” (AlienSkin Feb/March 2010 issue) is eligible as a short story.
No Spaceships Go” (Daily Science Fiction, Dec. 17th, 2010) is also eligible as a short story.

So if you for some reason loved either of those and are in a position to do some nom-ing, there you go. That’s my list.  (My third story published this year doesn’t, I think anyway, fall into the speculative fiction category enough to be relevant.  However, if you feel like reading it and don’t mind dropping .99 on it, it is now available as an ebook with another short story here or for free on Contrary’s website here)

Link SMASH!

I have website!

My official Annie Bellet website is now live.  There are still some tweaks happening, and content will be added, but the basics are in place (including an awesome header image by my friend Greg).  Go HERE to visit.

The official Pyrrh Project website (my soon to be here e-pub series put out through Doomed Muse press) is also live.  There isn’t much content yet, but it’s being tweaked and produced and there will be more stuff added to that site as well over the coming months.  But the publication schedule is up, at least.  Go HERE and bookmark it so you don’t miss any announcements/freebies etc.

That’s that for now.

Okay, Let’s Do Math

This’ll likely be part 1 of this post, with more math and data to come later as I collect more.

Since multiple people have asked, both here in the comments and privately, I’ll show my numbers, so to speak.

I have two, yes just two, short stories up on Kindle/Smashwords etc.  They are literary fiction and available for .99 cents. I put them up mostly to practice the formatting.  A friend did my covers, which I think are beautiful.  If you want to see the covers or check out the stories, follow this link.

First question people often wonder with self-publishing things is how do you know it’s any good.  Well, I don’t.  Good is fairly subjective because some people might like that kind of story, some might not.  I do have some faith the writing in these stories is up to par because these are the two stories I used to get myself into an MFA program, so they can’t be bad on a writing level.   But in the end, you never know.  I would use the rough rule that if you have sold some fiction at pro or decent semi-pro rates and zines, if your submissions get more personal rejections than form letters, etc… as the measure for writing publishable/saleable fiction.  And hey, not everyone will like what you write.  Oh well.  If you have readable writing, a decent grasp of story, a good cover, and a decent description/blurb, I don’t think you’ll suffer much in the e-pub market, from my experience.

So… to the math.

I’ve made about 8-9 dollars total over about 3 months with my stories (counting the one I had to take down because I accidentally sold it).  This works out to each story averaging 1.16 per month for the two up now.  One sells better (slightly) than the other, but it’s longer and the content less violent, so that doesn’t surprise me too much.  I’ve also sold a few copies on Amazon UK netting me another 1.05.

Seems like nothing, doesn’t it?  My two semi-pro sales this year got me 30 or so, my pro sale will be a heck of a lot more whenever it comes out (paid on publication for that one).  But let’s look at the longer game here.

1.16 a month average per story (this will be my minimum, because this is the real number I’m getting now).  I have two stories out.  My goal is to write 40 short stories a year.  (I’m at 21 this year, but I’ll catch up to near 40 by Jan, no worries).  Give each story a year to two years to get through the pro/semi-pro markets on my list, so we’ll say that I get 20 stories up a year on average as the stories either sell (3 months average wait to get rights back) or sunset due to rejections/time.

So next year (we’ll call it year one) I might have 22 short stories e-pubbed by the end of the year (we’ll ignore putting together collections for the moment).  At 1.16 a month each, that’s 25.52 dollars a month.  Which would pay for my comic book habit, no problem.

Year two, another 20.  But the first 20 have been earning as well, so now it’s 42 stories.  That’s 48.72 a month.  Or, another way to look at it, 584.64 a year.  Sweet! I’m now (hypothetically, based on real numbers so far, of course) earning almost 600 a year extra for work I did years ago that I’ve also hopefully earned something on by selling to magazines.

Year three, another 20.  So now we’re at 62 stories up online, each earning 1.16 a month.  71.92 a month.  863.04 a year.  Anyway… you can see the progression.  That trickle? It adds up.  Not fast, but it builds and it sure as hell earns more than a story you’ve sold/didn’t sell/whatever would sitting on your hard drive.

Now, imagine if I wrote a story a week instead of just 40 a year (Bradbury does this, as do other pros).  52 stories a year.  If I said screw it to trying to sell to magazines, I could put up 52 stories a year.  That’s 60.32 a month, or 723.84 a year, the first year.  Second year- 1,447.68.  It just keeps going.  But the really fun numbers are when you start to look at the total ten year earnings.  So let’s do that.

On the 20 stories posted a year plan, after ten years I’d be earning about 2,800 a year in that tenth year from short stories.  But over the course of those ten years, I’d have earned almost 14,500 from those stories total.  Not that bad, especially when you think about it as work you did years and years ago, earning you thousands of dollars in a nice little trickle for you doing NOTHING.  (And it is potentially all bonus money on top of any you made selling the story in the first place, because again, balance is key).

On the 52 short stories posted a year plan, the numbers, of course, look even sweeter in the long term.  In that tenth year you’d earn about 7,240 from your short story inventory.  Over the course of the whole ten years? You’d have earned about 37,000 from those short stories total.  Again, not horrible.

This only works, of course, if you keep writing and learning and producing work.  And I fully believe that if it takes you months to write a short story, this plan and method won’t work as well (though the trickle can still happen, and still build even at a pace like that).

Of course, if you want the math to get very insane, start making collections with those stories.  At the end of plan 1 (20 posted a year), that’s enough for thirteen solid collections that you could sell at 2.99 or even 4.99 (12-15 stories each is pretty good, depending on story length).   Thirteen 4.99 collections, selling just three copies a month each at 70% royalty rates (I don’t have real data for collections yet, of course, so this is now hypothetical time) would earn an extra 1,635 a year.  For practically no extra work (after all, you have the stories already written and formatted, you just put them together.  I’m guessing this would take at most an hour or two, plus time for a cover if you are doing your own).

I’m editing this to add the numbers for if you do collections off ten years of accruing 52 stories a year.  This works out to about thirty five collections (12-15 stories per).  Thirty five collections at 4.99 earning 70% royalties selling three copies a month each works out to about 4,400 a year.  Again, for work you’ve already written, are already earning from (as separate short stories), and have to expend minimal effort on one more time to get into a collection.

Add it up.  After ten years at the 20 story pace, you’re earning 4,435 a year off collections and shorts (370 a month) (and you will go on earning that on top of the 14,000+ you’ve already earned over the last decade).  After ten years at the 52 story pace, you’re earning 11,600 a year off collections and shorts together (970 a month) and again, on top of the 37,000+ you’ve earned already over the last decade (see how it builds?).

So there you go.  Some math, based on what I’m seeing over the last three months from my own very very limited experience.  And I’m a no-name author.  I’ve sold 3 short stories this year traditionally, but under a different name (Annie Bellet, my spec fic name) and in a different genre than the two posted online.  I doubt I have any sort of platform or following at this point.

These are just my numbers and my take on things.  I have no idea how well my e-pub novels will sell.  That’s why I’m writing them (well, and the idea is kick-ass and will be a bucket of fun to write).  I’m curious how this process and the numbers will stack up for a writer who is at this point pretty unknown.  I’m going to do everything I can, of course, to make sure I fulfill the four principals hypothesized by Konrath and others about what makes an ebook sell (write a good book, low price point, good/professional cover, good blurb).

I intend to be open about my numbers when the time comes.  I am very grateful to authors who have trod this path before me and put up their experiences and numbers, and I intend to pay that forward with my own data.

So, hopefully, this post answers some questions.  Now, I’m going to write another short story, because without the work, these numbers mean nothing 🙂

*I did very rough math here.  If I’ve made a mistake (I’m dyslexic, especially with numbers), I apologize.  I triple checked, so hopefully I haven’t totally gone astray with my maths.

So… The Eeeevolution

No, this post isn’t about evolution.  It doesn’t matter what I think about evolution anyway because I choose to believe in the Flat Earth theory, which has hot light and cold light and an anti-moon and… (I’m kidding here. Seriously. But google Flat Earth Society if you really really really have to).

This post is about the e-book revolution or whatever you want to call it and some of my history/thoughts at the moment on the whole thing.

About a year and a half ago I decided that this writing thing was for me and that I should give it a real go.  I found a blog called A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing by an author named JA Konrath.  It kind of blew my mind in many ways for many reasons.  Relevant to this particular topic is that Konrath is currently making a very cushy living doing e-books (he’s also traditionally published) and is very candid about his path and where he’s at.

Back then I figured that self publishing was still pretty much the same as vanity publishing and not really an option for what I wanted.  That’s changed, clearly.  I decided to keep reading everything I could find about ebooks and to follow Konrath’s posts and the comments (more and more e-authors post good comments on his posts, and comments online can be gold.  Except on you-tube, and sometimes even then).

Konrath posits that all you need for success as an ebook author are four basic things (and I’m way paraphrasing from memory, so forgive any inaccuracies, they are mine and not Konrath’s):  1) a good book 2) a good cover 3) a good blurb 4)  a low price point (he recommends, I believe, under 5 dollars).  I don’t think being traditionally published hurts, but he does have an interesting point.

About six months ago, I decided that I would get my feet wet with ebooks in a big way as soon as I fulfilled a couple of conditions.  The first was to sell at least two short stories and be getting more personal than form rejections.  The second was to have a couple more novels for traditional publishing written and submitted.

I set the first condition because that is where I felt my writing would need to be, ie at a level that has proven it can sell, before I would be comfortable with trying to achieve tenant one of the checklist (write a good book).  I set the second condition because a) writing is practice and having a few books written before I write more books is always good and b) I wanted to make sure I wasn’t taking away too much time from other parts of my business plan.

I have fulfilled condition one and will have soon fulfilled condition two.  Which means that starting early next year, I’ll be going ahead with operation e-book experiment in which I plan to put Konrath’s theory to the test.  The publishing world is changing, there’s no doubt about that.   This might be paper book nostalgia talking, but I lean toward trad publishing doing all right in the end and sticking around.  I don’t think the big publishers are going anywhere anytime soon.  But e-books aren’t going to either, and I see really no way the author who stays on top of this stuff can lose.

Look at the porn industry (stay with me now…).  The internet caused a huge shake-up in porn. Huge.  The giant piles of money turned into more disparate piles of money because suddenly everyone with a camera could produce and distribute porn.  Sound familiar? But there is still porn. And still money to be made in porn, lots of money.  Even for amateurs.   I look at publishing the same way*.  Things are going to change, but books won’t go away.  The author provides the product and as long as people want to read, there will be demand for what I do for a living.

So basically, conditions fulfilled, I’m jumping on the e-train.  Stay tuned for a post about the specifics in another month or two (as soon as I have some cover art for a preview, perhaps?).  I think the future for authors lies somewhere in the happy middle between trad and indy.  They are both ways to make money, to find readers and connect with an audience.  Each has advantages and disadvantages, and I think there is, in the end, a way to get a bit of the best of both worlds.

*I just know that somehow I’m going to get flack about this porn/publishing analogy. Sigh.

Feet, Meet… Wet

So after a lot of thinking about it and some very good discussions with people at the workshop this last weekend, I’ve decided to get my feet wet with the whole electronic publishing thing. I already had plans for an experiment with longer fiction, which I’m going to talk about closer to the things happening date (not for months… stay tuned!). But I hadn’t really thought about putting up short fiction yet.

However, I do have a few literary stories that have made some submission rounds (you think spec fic mags are slow to respond? Try the lit fic world, whew). A couple even got nice rejections from what I think are prestigious literary magazines (and certainly ones that pay fairly well). Two of my stories got me into graduate school (MFA program which I then dropped out of…). So I know the stories aren’t horrible, they are just hard to place.

And now they are available online. I bundled two surreal shorts together, and then put up the longer ones separately. Will I sell any copies? Who knows? But I haven’t resubmitted them in a bit (even though it would have increased my race score I guess) and so they weren’t doing me much good sitting on the computer. If you want to read them, they are cheap (inexpensive?) and found here for Kindle and here for other formats (the sidebar there has the other two stories).

So I’ve decided to change my submission habits a little.  I still intend to submit every story I write to every pro-paying magazine and to the handful of good semi-pro zines that I love.  If a story then doesn’t sell to those magazines, I’ll put it up online.  It’ll take a while for each story to make those rounds (looks like about a year to two years so far), but at least there will be no trunk.  I’ll also probably (depending on if/how well anything sells online) put up stories of mine that I have sold and then gotten the rights back from.  This ebook stuff is a brave new world and interesting changes are coming for everyone, and damn but I want to be a part of that.  I think it’s good to stay on top of the changes and for me to get my feet wet learning how to put things online.  There are readers out there and they’ll vote with their dollars on the quality of things.  Plus it is good practice for writing blurbs, right? *grin*

Anyway, as other stories finish the submission rounds, I’ll be slowly putting them online.  I have a great friend doing my covers and I spent quite a few painful hours learning to format for Kindle.  It’s a fun new thing to try at the very least.  And as I said, I have a crazy/awesome idea for an experiment starting up in a few months, so eventually I’ll post a nice long thing about that.

Meanwhile, I am running into my own writing deadlines full speed.  I signed up for another novel workshop in October and haven’t even started the book I want to workshop.  So I guess I’d better stop blogging and go (have my characters) kill a few people and wrap up the current novel.  Lots of work ahead, but I feel good about.  I’m so busy between writing and Starcraft 2 that I’m (mostly) not even stressing about WotF results.  Crazy 🙂