8

This answer suggests that nothing published through Amazon (or other indie e-book route) should be priced at $0.99, and I'll give that Dean Wesley Smith has a lot of experience at this and is a pioneer in the field.

I see long-established authors like Barbary Hambly selling what I consider short work for $5 (too short for me to be willing to pay that much, in truth), but they're asking $16 for their novel length work. Many indie authors (including one I live with) sell novels for $4 to $7, which would push short work (say, under 20,000 words) into the dollar bin.

This seems to imply that I shouldn't even attempt to publish single short stories on their own, or that I should expect to price all my work at the same level as long-established authors. As it stands, I have a 2000 words short-short on Amazon at this time, and in the past two years it has sold one (1) copy (to someone who knows me), but I have no way to know if that's because the $0.99 price is putting people off, the generic cover isn't attracting clicks, or just because it's not coming up in the recommendations (never sold, so doesn't get recommended, so never sells -- I call this "the Amazon trap").

Should I just not bother publishing short fiction independently, or wait until I have enough for a collection? Or should I try to avoid writing short fiction, and concentrate my time and energy on longer work, even though shorter work is easier to finish?

  • I found this post from him about 99-cent novels, but I don't know what he's said about short stories. Speaking personally, in a world where e-novels are $5-10, a $1 e-short-story seems about right (and I've certainly bought them). – Monica Cellio Aug 22 '17 at 20:44
  • Last time I looked at his site, selling his own work, he was charging a minimum of $2 for 2000-5000 word short-shorts. That was around five years ago. – Zeiss Ikon Aug 23 '17 at 11:03
  • @MonicaCellio Read down the article you linked, and he covers short work under 10,000 words. Currently, he prices his at $2.99, but he includes them in bundles as well -- and sells the bundle for less than the stand-alone price of the short novel that headlines it, plus some short work and a serial installment (yes, that's a one-author magazine!). Mind you, this is a guy who's been writing full time for thirty-plus years. I used to see him banging away when I bought books at his used book store in the late 1970s. – Zeiss Ikon Aug 23 '17 at 11:16
  • Oh, you're right -- he does cover that toward the end. Thanks. I guess that works for a prolific, established author for whom short-story sales are gravy; I don't know that the same advice would work for someone who's trying to use short stories to get established. – Monica Cellio Aug 23 '17 at 14:23
  • @MonicaCellio I'm not sure either, but if you don't value your work that much, you're implying (to yourself) that it's not worth doing. Hence this question. Getting 35 cents for a sale is hardly worth doing unless you know you're going to sell tens of thousands. Getting $2+ is a lot closer to feeling you've spent your time well. – Zeiss Ikon Aug 23 '17 at 14:45
6

The problem with publishing short stories on Amazon is basically the same as the general problem with publishing --too much competition. With an almost unlimited supply of writing to choose from, what (other than personal friendship) is going to steer someone towards your work? That problem doesn't change if you change your pricing --or the length of what you write.

As you mentioned, it's the chicken-or-the-egg problem. How can I sell if I'm not known, how can I become known if I don't sell? I'd suggest trying to build up a reputation first, either via traditional publishing, or by releasing fiction free, either on a blog, or in a community oriented around the kind of work you write. Once you gain a following, you can switch to online sales, and at a price-point that reflects your platform.

  • Competition applies equally to traditional/paper publishing; they've got 500 other writers trying to get in the door any give day. When I started writing (before getting away for many years), it was assumed you'd get nothing but rejections your first several years. "If there's anything in the world that can keep you from writing, let it" wasn't intended to reduce competition, but to save would-be writers from spending their lives and getting nowhere. – Zeiss Ikon Aug 21 '17 at 15:59
  • @ZeissIkon Yes, but getting published is at least theoretically a meritocracy. If you "win" the competition to get published, you get the resources of the publisher deployed on your behalf, plus the bonus of an expectation of quality from the vetting process. If you can write a good query letter, and your work is properly formatted and proofed, you can greatly improve your odds in the publishing game, whereas with online self-publishing you're just competing directly against all comers, with no vetting process at all. – Chris Sunami Aug 21 '17 at 16:07
  • You'd probably have a long, heated argument with the author I sleep with, who thinks the primary function of publishers is to steal your money. – Zeiss Ikon Aug 21 '17 at 16:13
  • @ZeissIkon OK, let's not say "your behalf," but on behalf of the published work they now have a vested interest in. BTW, I imagine your author partner, if asked, would let you know there's no real way to skip those years of rejections, whether they come from publishers or directly from readers online. – Chris Sunami Aug 21 '17 at 16:23
2

Should have read deeper.

In this article Dean Wesley Smith goes into ebook pricing, and includes a section specific to short work (by his definition, under 10,000 words). Much of his advice is based on an author who has many-many works available to a reader, but his take in general is that even short work in stand-alone format shouldn't be priced low enough to be limited to 35% author payment on KDP. He sells his own short work for $2.99, though he sometimes offers short term discounts and bundles the works into discounted "omnibus" or "collection" form that sell for much less than $2.99 per story.

His reasoning is that it's important to value your own work, to avoid the situation where it becomes "not worth your time" to continue writing. As well, low pricing leaves no room for temporary "sale" discounting, and you'd have to sell 2-6 times as many units at the lower price to make the same income as the higher price (comparing $0.99 short stories to $2.99, or $1.99 novels to $5.99) -- and are unlikely to do so.

Naturally, this is a long term strategy -- it assumes that an author will continue to write, in volume, producing new work on a regular basis (as Dean Wesley Smith has been doing for the past forty years or so). It is not really applicable (in terms of short-term sales to draw in new readers, at least) to the author who has only one or two works for sale on Amazon. However, it does seem to provide a good guide to setting up a business plan that doesn't undervalue one's work.

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