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.