August 25, 2011

Guest Post by Bradley Convissar: Self-Publishing, Story Length, and Pricing

A while back, I had an e-mail conversation with independent author, Brad Convissar, over the whole e-books topic. Following that, I invited him to write a guest post and share his opinions with everyone else. He was kind enough to oblige, and below is the result. Enjoy.
Bradley Convissar on Self-Publishing, Story Length, and Pricing:

I was offered the chance by Gef to write a post on the nature of self-published books in regard to length and pricing.  So, here we go.

First off, as a new author who plans to self publish, you may ask yourself, what should I write?  There are several things to consider:
  • Short stories - I think every self-published author should publish a handful of short stories for free.  Why?  Well, they take minimal time to do so you can get them out quickly.  And more importantly, i believe they give potential readers a chance to learn about you as a writer with minimal cost and time.  Sure, people can download samples, which may give them a taste of your style.  But as a reader, I like to know if a new author I am considering has the ability to write a whole story.  I want to know if an author can not only structure a story well, but also end it well.
     
  • Novellas vs novels - This is a purely arbitrary cut off, but I am going to define a novella as anything between 15,000 words and 60,000 words. Anything below, a short story, anything about a novel.  Now, I am an advocate for the first time author to start work on novellas first.  Why?  As a new author, you are already behind the eight-ball.  Dozens of established authors have huge back catalogues of previously published books.  This gives them a huge library they can put out, as well as an established reading base.  New authors can get lost when they have one novel out there while established authors who have been traditionally published can tout a dozen books.  The more books you have, the more potential exposure.  Sure, you can spend six months to a year writing an 80,000 word novel.  But while you're doing that, the established authors are tossing out a new book every 3-4 months and other self-published authors are publishing 2-4 novellas of 15,000-30,000 words a year.  Sure, quality counts, but you need to be found.  And readers like to have choices.  My three different novellas have a better chance of catching the eye of a new reader than your one novel.  Sure, I want to write a novel. And I will.  But I want to establish a reader base first.  I want to capture their attention with short stories, reel them in with novellas, then, when I have enough in my net, hit them on the head with a novel. 
Now, what should you write?  This is obviously a loaded question: write what you want.  But I've struggled with this question.  We are a television culture.  We love our series and we love our characters.  Now, I love my stand alone novels.  Most of the horror I read are stand alone novels.  But if you browse the best seller list, it is littered with series featuring recurring characters, whether it be an FBI agent or a police officer or CIA agent or pathologist, etc.  Hell, many of my favorite books are series: Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, The Nightside by Simon Green, the Pendergast books by Lincoln and Child, the Penn cage books by Greg Iles and the Lincoln Rhyme books by Jeff Deaver.  Even if a particular book/story is just good, not great, I'll snatch up the next book as soon as its out because I love the characters.  So this leaves me in a bind: I like writing stand alone novels.  I have dozens of stories.  But if you're first book isn't great, some of your readers may decide not to get the next book.  But, as I said earlier, if you have a series with a compelling lead character, that reader is more likely to come back.

So where does this leave me?  Right now, I am finishing up 2 stand-alone novellas.  After that, I'll probably start an open-ended long novella, short novel series, each book 50,000-60,000 words, and mix in a stand alone novella or short story collection along the way.  And then in 2013, get back to work on my novel.  That's my plan.  I want the exposure so I want to have a dozen stand alone books before I commit a full year to a 100,000 word novel.

And this brings me to my last topic, a very contentious topic: price:  this is tough, and there are two thoughts on the matter. On one side you have the $.99 camp.  The philosophy here is that people are more willing to spend $.99 on an unknown author than $2.99.  That readers are more often to buy a book on whim if it costs less than a dollar.  That to get exposure, you need to price cheap at the beginning.  The $2.99 camp philosophy says that people equate cost with quality, and if you only price at $.99, people are going to assume it is crap.  It's tough; you have to sell 6 books at $.99 to make the same you would make at selling one book at $2.99.  But you most likely will sell more at the lower price point, and while you may not make as much off the bat, the more people who read it, the more people who will talk about it.

I take a mixed approach:
  • Under 10,000 words- I never sell anything that is under 10,000 words.  I have plenty of friends and know other writers who sell single short stories for $.99, but I won't.  This is a personal decision.  If I want to sell short stories, I will bunch them into a 10,000-15,000 word collection
  • 10,000-25,000 words- This is my $.99 price point. 
  • 25,000-50,000 words- This is my $1.99 price point
  • Over 50,000 words- For me, this is the $2.99 price point
That being said, if/when I get around to doing a novella series, book one will ALWAYS be $.99.  You need to get people to read the first book, and that's how you do it.  Remember, impulse buying is huge.  Each subsequent book will probably cost $.99 for a month or two, and then go up to $2.99.  That way my early fans, the diehard fans, get a break for being loyal.

One last thing on pricing and word count: I wish more authors were up front on there description pages with word count.  I don’t want page count.  Page count means nothing in the digital age.  Some people think 250 words is a page, but if you've ever counted the average number of words on a printed page, it is 300-450 words.  I give word counts for all of my books.  Hell, if it is a short story collection, I give word count for the individual stories.  I believe in full disclosure.  I believe readers should know how many words they are getting for their money.  Nothing pisses people of more than spending $3-5 and getting 15,000 words.

Brad's novella: Dogs of War
So there it is, one man’s philosophy on the self-publishing world.  If you want to keep up with me, my blog is www.pandoraschildren.com.  My Facebook page is Bradley Convissar author, while my Twitter handle is @bconvisdmd.

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for the post, Brad. I love practical, useful advice when it comes to ebooks.

    I like your idea of putting the word count upfront. I've been stung before too, forking over four of five clams for a 20 or 30K word book. Ugh.

    Cheers,
    Tim

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  2. I don't quite get why the worth of a book should be determined by word count. I am much more put off by a really big book by an unknown author. I'll buy a wonderfully crafted novella for a higher price than an epic any day. But then I still prefer to buy a real book.

    I find page count easier to picture than word count, I'm not a writer, I don't know how many words are in the average book but I know 200 pages appeals more to me than 800!

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  3. Word count and page count is always an issue. Of course quality is worth more than quantity! One of my favorite authors is Simon Green, and his Nightside books clock in at around 250 pages. They sell for $9-10. But I always pick them up because I know I love his writing. And yes, an epic fantasy author may sell a 700 page book for only a dollar or two more. I understand that cost and page count do not correlate.

    But I am talking about the world of Indie publishing, when you are always trying to build a readership and need to entice readers into buying your books.

    In addition to being a self-published writer, I read a lot of self-published authors. And when dealing with an unknown writer, I don't want to spend $2.99 on a book that may be 15,000 words long. Sure I may love it, but I won't know until buy it and read it. And I won't spend 3 bucks on a 15,000 word book by an unkown author. I will spend a dollar, though. And if there is NO page count, I will NEVER buy a book. Never. But that is my own prejudice.

    Will I pay $2.99 for a 60,000 word book? Sure. if I know I like the writer. That's is why I am working on series of ghost novellas, all 15-25K words which i can sell for $.99. it is an enticing price, and readers think they are getting their money's worth (NEW readers can only judge worth by page count at first; once they have read something by you, then they develop a point of reference).

    Then, if they like what they read at $.99, they will think a 60K book is worth $2.99.

    As for word count vs page count, editors will tell you a "page" is 250 words. That is what 12 point courier on MS WORD 2x spaced avergae out to be. But as I am putting together one of my short story collections for paper publishing using a Standard 12 pt Garramond font, single-spaced 6x9 size paper, a "real page" has between 350-450 words

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  4. A very interesting article, especially concerning price point. I was curious about your thoughts on selling short stories. Good to see you break it down to word count for that decision. After all, while we are artists, it's also a matter of production, right?

    I have a similar post rumbling around in my head about the 99 cent book. Mine is currently about 120,000 words, and I have it at 2.99. But I'm debating putting it on sale for a month to generate some buzz.

    My concern is, more buyers doesn't necessarily mean more quality readers (or readers who really look into an author or book before buying... ergo, bad reviews).

    Paul D. Dail
    www.pauldail.com- A horror writer's not necessarily horrific blog

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  5. I would hate to sell a 120,000 word book for $.99. That's why right now I am working on a series of stand alone novellas, 15,000-25,000 words each. This way perspective readers can pick up a novella for cheap and decide if they like me or not. And if they do, they are more likely to pickup a $2.99 or $3.99 100K word novel because they already know they like me from my $.99 novellas. If someone reads 2-3 novellas and likes me, they will spend the $2.99 on a book. If a new reader stumbles upon my book, or sees it advertised somewhere, but they say, "Hell, $2.99 is too much, I've never read him before," he will soon learn that he can sample my novellas for $.99. Having only long books is tricky because you are FORCED to price at least one at $.99 to entice readers. Having 15-25K novellas and short story collections to sell for $.99 means i can keep my novels at $2.99

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