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Ebook Pricing for Short Stories and Novellas?

| Posted in E-publishing |

30

As we’ve talked about before (How Well Does Short Fiction Sell in Ebook Form? and Novellas and Short Stories — Ebooks Not Just for Novels), there are no rules when it comes to word count on ebooks. I enjoy writing novel-length fiction, but those 100,000-word beasts do take a while to pen. It’s nice to whip out a short story or a novella here and there, both because it makes you feel terribly productive by releasing ebooks more often and also because it gives you a break from your main projects.

I started my Flash Gold Chronicles, a series of steampunk novellas, for those reasons. One thing I’ve wondered about is pricing. With novels, there are a lot of them out there in any and every genre, so it’s easy to get an idea for a baseline price. We’re seeing more and more short stories, too, and those often go for 99 cents — the lowest price you can set an ebook at without making it free. With novellas (defined on Wikipedia as being between 17,500 and 40,000 words in length), there are fewer examples in the Kindle Store and elsewhere.

Long-time author, Dean Wesley Smith, suggests the following pricing scheme for ebooks:

Short stories. 99 cents. Author gets about 35 cents per sale.

Short novels and short collections (Anything from 15,000 words to 45,000 words) $2.99. Author gets around 65% or about $1.95 per sale.

Novels or long collections (45,000 words and up) $4.99-$5.99 range. Author gets around 65% or about $3.25-$4.50 per sale.

This seems like a good guideline to me, especially for short stories and novels, though the ebook-buyer in me wonders if $2.99 is a little high for something in the 15,000-20,000-word range. Most folks can zip through a story that length in about an hour. Also, if they can get a whole novel (my novels are all over 100,000 words) for $5, then isn’t $3 on the steep side for something 1/5th of that length?

Perhaps $1.99 would be a more fair price point, but herein lies the dilemma for e-publishers:

At price points of $2.98 and below, you only receive a 35% royalty from stores such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble (Smashwords offers a higher royalty for any price point, but their marketplace sees a fraction of the traffic of Amazon, and many authors have low to non-existent sales there). So, on a $1.99 ebook, you’d only get about 70 cents whereas charging a dollar more lets you get well over a dollar more on your cut.

Receiving 35 cents for a 6,000-word short story doesn’t seem too shabby because it probably didn’t take that long to write, but with a 20,000-word novella, you’re getting into different territory. There are more words to write, more words to pay an editor to proofread, and a more intricate story to work out overall.

I’ve been doing some mulling of late on the prices for my Flash Gold novellas, and I’m planning to test things a little when I release the third one in a few weeks.

Testing price points for novellas

Here’s what I’m doing right now with my Flash Gold Chronicles:

  • Flash Gold (18,000 words) — 99 cents
  • Hunted (27,000 words) — 1.49
  • Peacemaker (38-40,000 words) — to be determined

Because Flash Gold is on the short end for a novella, I don’t think 99 cents is too low. I really think of it as more of a short story (a long short story if you will). I based the price of Hunted on the 99-cent price of Flash Gold, figuring it had roughly 1/3rd more words, so I’d charge 1/3rd more. It makes sense, but at the same time 50 cents per sale seems kind of weak when a $2.99 price point would bring in $2. Would people pay that much more for a story of that length though? That’s the question, and I haven’t yet tested it out.

I think I’m going to play it safe and try the $2.99 price on Peacemaker, since it’s even longer than the other two, almost novel-length in its own right, at least according to Wikipedia. I plan on raising the price on Hunted to $1.99, mostly so it’ll make the jump to $2.99 seem less drastic to readers.

Proposed future price points:

  • Flash Gold — 99 cents
  • Hunted — 1.99
  • Peacemaker 2.99

I’ll make the price adjustments when I release Peacemaker (so, if you’ve been thinking of buying Hunted, now would be the time to do it! :D).

In the end, we just have to test things and see what the market will bear. For an established author, with a fan base built up, $2.99 may work just fine for a 20,000-word novella. For a new author, without any sort of fan base built up, getting $2.99 for an entire novel can be a challenge.

Earning more for short stories and novellas while keeping prices low

You and I may find that we simply can’t get people to buy short works at $2.99 a pop. Or, maybe we can sell some, but sales are so much lower that it’s not worth it overall to charge more. Here’s an option for us:

Bundling short stories and/or novellas to create an omnibus.

Soon after I release Peacemaker, I’m planning to publish the Flash Gold Chronicles I-III in a single ebook volume, probably for $3.95 or so. This would be a good deal for readers who want to simply grab all three at once (it’ll be cheaper for them to buy all of the stories in one ebook, and the combined word count will equal that of a full-length fantasy novel), and it’ll be a good deal for me because the higher royalty rate on a $4 ebook will mean I’m making about $2.70 per sale. Compare that to 35 cents on Book 1 plus 50 cents on Book 2 plus 50-70 cents on Book 3 (if I find I have to price that at $1.99 instead of $2.99 to make sales).

Ah, who knew writing involved so much math?

I’ll write another post later on with details on how the pricing experiment and the novella-omnibus goes. In the meantime, authors, what are your thoughts on pricing for short stories and novellas? Are you following Mr. Smith’s guidelines or doing something else? Readers, what are you willing to pay for ebooks of those lengths?

 

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Comments (30)

I was just talking about this with someone. I’m so glad you did this post today!

I’ve been thinking a lot on this topic lately as well. I’ve got an 8,000 word short story and a 79,000 word novel priced at .99 and 2.99 respectively. I’ve got what I believe to be a 20,000 word novella in the works now, so I figured I’d price that somewhere in between, probably around the 1.49 -1.99 mark. I’ve held off on increasing the price of the novel because I wasn’t sure if people would consider 3.99 or 4.99 too much for an unknown.

You could always try the higher price for the novel and see how it goes, Nick, or, if the short story is related, try giving that one away for free and seeing if that boosts sales of the novel. If people try the free one and learn that they like your work, they’ll probably be willing to pay more for a novel.

So the obvious question to me is…when does Peacemaker come out?

I’m editing the big climactic airship fight right now! Well, not right now, but today. I hope to send the story off to beta readers next week. 🙂

It is an interesting challenge to figure out the right combination that will give good satisfaction and value to the readers, and yet give the writer a bit of a reward to help keep writing.

My business plan (not nearly as fun as planning character arcs and world building) is to have mini collections of three short stories each (15k words) for .99. Then a compilation that contains 12 of those short stories (60k words) for 2.99.

For novels, I’ll have short (60k words each) serial type novels of books 1 through 3 for 2.99. Then the omnibus of those three books for 4.99. As a reader, I would think those price/value ratios seem reasonable.

Then there would probably be special rates (like .99 or free) for older works or the first in the series or one-off shorts and special holiday or theme stories.

I have seen very short works (2k or less) on Amazon for 4.99 and 5.99 and that just annoys me on general principles. I’d love to quit the day job and write by the pool all day, but I don’t think price gouging is the way to build up a readership.

Looks like you’re planning to be busy this year, Jon. That’s great!

“I have seen very short works (2k or less) on Amazon for 4.99 and 5.99 and that just annoys me on general principles.”

Wow, I haven’t come across those yet! I’ve seen people selling short stories for $2.99 to try and get the 70% royalty, but I admittedly haven’t seen any short stories at that price point with a sales rank that suggests they get purchased very often.

FYI, there’s an extra “http//” in your Amazon link on the Flash Gold page — the one reachable from the sidebar under “my eBooks.” (I did buy it — I’m trying to up my steampunk reading!)

Thanks, Andrea! I hadn’t updated the price on that page either. There go my cool points for the week. Doh!

Thanks for giving Flash Gold a try, despite my attempt to sabotage the link!

From a fans perspective, I want you to make a good amount from each sale so you will continue writing for a long time 🙂 I would gladly pay $2.99 for the newest flash gold saga…..please don’t devalue your work. Take pride in your great stories!!!

Thaddeus

Thanks for the support, Thaddeus! People keep suggesting I make the Flash Gold stories longer, so I did it with this one. It’s still not novel, of course, but I hope it will be a fun adventure for folks!

As a reader who enjoys reading her books as actual books, with some side ebook reading, if I like an author, I will pay list price for the book. I want to support the authors I like so they will keep on writing books for me to read!

I just bought up everything Emperor’s Edge-related as ebook at the price offered at Amazon, and shelled out for the physical copies of the first 2 books. So, I would gladly pay $3.95 – $4.95 for an ebook novel from you!

Thanks for the support, Nina! I’m glad you’re enjoying the stories. 🙂

Your pricing strategy has worked well for hooking me on your books. I tried the Emperor’s Edge since it was free and because I liked it I purchased the others without any reservations. I bought Flash Gold for the same reason but to answer your question I thought it was reasonably priced both for the size or for trying out a new series/or author. Amazon samples have failed me before when trying to find a good book to read. A novella gives a better “feel” for the quality of an author.

That being said I can afford the 4.95 for your longer ones and likewise any lower price for lower word counts- 3.00 or below seems reasonable to me for 30,000 words.

Not saying I wouldn’t pay more for your books or that they aren’t worth it. I just wouldn’t be able to purchase them as often and (as I read a lot) the price affects what I can budget in for a couple of months. 🙁

Thanks for chiming in, Hannah!

Though I’m tinkering a bit with pricing on the shorter works, I’m not planning to go above the $5 for a novel any time soon. I love that e-readers have made it so authors can sell books for less than paperbacks and actually make more than they would have in ye olden days of a couple years ago. 😉

Good post – a topic I have pondered frequently since self-pubbing. I have priced my short stories at .99, an anthology of them at $1.99 and my novel/novellas at $2.99. I’ve toyed with the idea of dropping the price but I always talk myself out of it due to the cut in royalties from 70% down to 35%. As to Smashwords, though I like the additional exposure, my sales through those channels are just a fraction of my Amazon sales.

Thanks again for posting!

Michael

Thanks for posting this. I’ve been considering price points for short stories and novellas as well, and I think your prices are fair to both readers and writers.

One thing I’ve thought about–from a writer’s perspective–is that all stories, whether novelettes or novels–require an initial startup cost, no matter what the length. As a fantasy writer, I have to build a world, get to know my cast, and figure out the plot. In many ways, a novel of 90K is easier than writing 3 unrelated novellas of 30K each because of the pre-writing planning I’d need to do thrice over.

Now you know why I do a series, even for novellas. 😉

Heh.

Whereas I suck at series or something. I’ve tried writing a series of shorts with a recurring character and failed. Writing series doesn’t come naturally to me.

I only really started playing the ebook game the beginning of this year, so I don’t have a lot of data to draw on, but this is the way I’m pricing my novella and short story collections:

Up to 15,000 words: 0.99
From 15,000 – 40,000 words (~ novella length): 1.99
From 40,000 – 100,000: 2.99 (hypothetical – I don’t have any novels or collections that length up yet)

I also have a novel of 190,000 words which is presently priced at 4.95. At the moment it’s only selling 1-2 copies a day, so I may lower that.

[…] Buck: Lindsay Buroker: Ebook Pricing for Short Stories and Novellas […]

I’m struggling with this very issue. About to launch my first e-novella (39K words), which is actually a follow-up to 3 novels in a series. My current plan:
$.99 for 2-4 weeks
$1.99 for 2-4 weeks
$2.99 thereafter

I’d like to publish 3 of these novellas, then put them in an omnibus volume for $5.99 (120K words), as well as POD at that point.

[…] E-Book Pricing for Short Stories and Novellas by Lindsay Buroker […]

Well, I just published my first 40,000 word length science fiction novel for $3.99 about 2 months ago and haven’t made any sales from people outside my circle of family and friends. So I’ve decided to drop it $2.99 like you’ve suggested.

I just hope by dropping the price I get more sales. I fear if I drop it to $0.99 people might think it’s too cheat and a not a very good novel. I will keep experimenting with the different price ranges.

Thanks for the info!

Eric

I am glad I saw your post on Google! You have a new follower.

Thanks, Imani! I hope you find the blog useful. 🙂

[…] for anything under 15,000 words. If you have written a short story or novella, check out this blog on pricing […]

Thanks for posting this! I’ve been struggling with price points as well. My stories are short chapter books, but at the same time they’ve been professionally illustrated throughout, so the initial outlay was quite significant. At the moment they’re priced at .99, but I do feel that this price is too low.

Thanks for this, Lindsay. I’m considering novella length for my next project and was concerned about how the length would impact its commercial potential. BTW, I really enjoyed “The Emperor’s Edge.” Was that indeed 100K words? It felt like it read “faster” than that.

Thanks for this post. I just published a novella and priced it for $0.99. It too is on the shorter side. It has also helped me decide what to publish next while I finish my novel.

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