[Lone figure walks toward slatted wood box in center of large room and stands on it. Taps the end of a hand held microphone. We hear dull thuds strum through speakers we can’t see.]
Hi. I’m back.
Yes. I know it’s been awhile. Stuff happens.
Medical stuff. Thank you for asking. I’m fine now.
And then there’s that damn inconvenient thing about earning a living. No. I’m fine. I have more work than I can handle. It’s just, you know, work.
Which is the topic I want to talk to you about. More specifically I want to talk to you about serial stories versus standalone fiction.
Here is the thing. My two recent freelance writing projects took me from serial work into standalones. The reason for this is that the people that commissioned that work did a horrible thing.
They listened to their readers.
The readers for both publishers complained about their stories ending in cliffhangers. There were complaints about having to wait for the next installment, or nasty comments about greedy authors making money by using cliffhanger stories. You’ve seen those sorts of things I’m sure.
Now, Miss Primm even as a ghostwriter doesn’t just write stuff and send it back to the publishers. She tracks the sales, mostly through a lovely free application called “Novel Rank” which you can find on the web. It’s not precise. But it’s close.
So I know what’s selling.
And what’s not.
In working with different publishers I also get to see the results of the market efforts of each. Book marketing is an art, not a science, and the publishers that do well shine in the area of marketing their books.
In this case, I have two stories released at about the same time, with well-established indie publishers who both seem to have a very good mailing list. With one book I’m dealing with a publisher that has marketing skills that she could take to New York and make big money. Another, since it is the first time I worked with her, I’m not sure about but she has multiple titles so she must be selling something.
And the results of the sales of the two standalones?
The sales are very nearly the same in terms of numbers. And those numbers are disappointing.
Not just from a sales standpoint, but also from the profitability of each book.
One limiting factor is the price ceiling on digital books. Theoretically, of course, there is no price ceiling. You can set it at anything you like. However there are people that tell you that when you go beyond $2.99 for an electronic book you are limiting its sales. And there are a lot of indie writers who believe that and price their books accordingly.
(On the other hand here is a very nice article presenting an argument for pricing e-books higher.)
But the point is you need to make a profit to make this digital publishing business worth your while. If you price your books at the $2.99 or below you are going to have to sell a lot of books to make a profit.
At this time neither publisher has earned back the money they spent. They probably will, down the road. Publisher number one definitely will; publisher number two maybe if she releases other books in the series. But she spent more on producing the book than publisher number one, mostly through what she paid me, so it will take longer, probably into the next year. This does not incentivise publisher number two to make other books in the series (same themes, different cast of characters,) unless she cuts her costs (i.e. pay me less.)
And this makes me sad, because Miss Primm is all for earning more money.
In corporate publishing, before anything is put to print a cost/profit analysis is run based on historical sales of similar books. Publishers know based on best guesses how many of a book will sell. They will price the book according the amount of profit they need to make publishing that book worth its while. This is why the retail of hard cover print book will run you $30.00.
Which brings me to the point of this post. This is how we earn a living. We can’t afford to pop out books and not make money on them. If readers think publishers are bilking them for money at the rate of discount pricing of $.99, $1.99 or $2.99 when we put out a serial, they should do the math. If you as an indie publisher don’t price your book to make back your money and give you a profit then you are hurting yourself and ultimately your readers because you can’t afford to stay in business.
There is a lot to think on here, but if you are going to put out books at the price points above, I think you almost have to serialize those books as part of your pricing strategy.
And readers, the next time you complain about that cliffhanger, I suggest that you don’t pass on the $4.99, $5.99 or $6.99 standalones based on price. Because otherwise serial fiction is here to stay.
I’ll get off my soapbox now. I have writing to do.
Photo credit: www.literalis.net