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Short Stories vs. Short Story Collections–Which Sell Better?

| Posted in E-publishing |

18

As we’ve discussed before, there are no rules about minimum word count when it comes to ebooks. You can publish a 150,000-word novel or you can publish a 5,000-word short story, and anything above, below, and in between is up for grabs too. You can put together a collection of short pieces or you can sell a single adventure. Are novellas allowed? You bet.

You can do anything you want, but it’s worth being aware of what sells best. As it turns out, readers seem to be less interested in short-story collections and more interested in single-story ebooks, regardless (to some extent) of length. In other words, short stories can outsell bundled works.

It seems odd, since a collection may be much longer and give the reader far more value, but my collections are always at the bottom when the sales totals come in at the end of the month. I’ve heard other indie authors report similar findings. (If you have experience with short stories and/or collections, please let us know about it below!)

Now, let’s talk about price. It’s all well and good to know that short stories sell, but you have to decide if you’re comfortable charging for yours. For something very short, you might not be.

The minimum price you can list an ebook for in most bookstores is 99 cents. If you’re like me and your full-length novels are only $3 or $4, it may seem like a lot to ask a reader to pay a dollar for a story that may be 1/20th of the length.

Personally, I’m not planning to break up my collections and sell the short stories individually since I’m not skilled enough to make my own cover art and paying for a design for each short story would be cost prohibitive. Also, most of my short stories are less than 6,000 words, and I don’t want to charge a dollar for something that short. Since I’ve started e-publishing, the shortest single-story adventure I’ve published is Flash Gold, which comes in at 17,000 words and is priced at 99 cents. In general, I’m someone who wants to under-price and (try to) over-deliver.

That’s just me though. You may feel that 99 cents is very fair for a 6,000-word story, or your shorter works may be longer. If this is the case, you may do better turning individual short stories into ebooks rather than bundling them for readers, especially if you can do your own cover art or have it done cheaply.

All right, time for you to chime in:

Short stories or collections, which do you prefer? And, if you’re a reader, do you mind paying 99 cents for a short story, or is that too much?

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Comments (18)

Personally, I prefer to read collections. I feel like I’m getting more value and just enjoy them more. And I’ve read some great ones for 99p.
As for my own collection, I’ve made it free to download. It’s a good way of getting people to simply read your work. When I release the next one (or novella) I might make it 99p, but I dont think I’ll go any higher than that.

As for paying for ebooks over print copies, I dont think I’m paying for nothing as some people may suggest. If you can read it, and enjoy it, its worth every penny.

Craig

Like all “how much are you ready to pay?”-questions, it depends a bit on the author. If I’ve read and enjoyed something else by the same author, I have no trouble paying 99 cents for a short story – one of my favourite ebooks is The Perfect Totem, which has only a bit over 2000 words.

I prefer individual short stories to collections. I like that I can just look for a title I want to re-read in my library, rather than having to remember in which collection I can find which story. I noticed that I have trouble with keeping separate books/stories apart with the Vorkosigan series, which I have mostly as omnibus editions.

I really like short story collections, and I find them even more attractive when they share a similar theme. Generally, I’m not willing to purchase anything less than 15,000 words for $0.99, but I might make an exception if the author has already proven herself to me through another book or a free offering. But novellas are the happy middle ground, I can’t get enough of novellas. They’re the best thing to read after reading an epic-fantasy-epic-door-stopper.

I’ll take a chance on new authors on paid short story collections, but not on paid standalone short stories–or at least not as often. The sample size isn’t big enough for standalone shorts, and I find that there’s even more newbie fiction in the <15,000 word count range. Multi-author anthologies/magazines are one of my most favourite forms of literature (only second to the classic novel), but I'd rather have an editor do the sifting with me paying an extra couple of bucks to save my time.

My answer: yes.

I don’t see why it has to be either/or. I intend to do both. Haven’t yet, but if all goes as planned I’ll have five stories and a collection of all five up by the end of the weekend. Might as well give customers the choice. I see no reason to limit their options. Plus, doing both equals more titles in my portfolio. Not a bad thing.

Just my $.02

I agree with Frida that I like collections to be themed. Actually, I’m pretty much guaranteed not to buy it if there isn’t a theme–and I’m talking a tightly focused theme, not sure “Five stories of speculative fiction” or “Three tales of pulp era retro goodness.” Your collection, Lindsay, is precisely the sort of thing I prefer, as it’s a chance to get to know the characters from a novel series a bit better.

But even if the collection is unrelated to a series of novels by the author, I want some connection. The reason I’ve never really liked shorts before is that just as I’m getting familiar with characters, setting, conflicts, etc., the story ends. Through collections, and especially with the ease of bundling similar stories together these days with epubbing, the writer can develop some characters/worlds over several tales without having necessarily to commit to a larger novel.

I also agree with Michael on the “give the readers an option” stand. The only issue there is that if you’re charging for individuals and for the collection, you’ll end up having to price the collection higher, at which point you get into that perceived value question in a whole different way. I think people are OK paying 99c for a SS even when they pay 99c for a full novel. But charging $2.99 for five stories that total, say, 30,000 words starts to look far less appealing, and yet it is still technically value for money (as opposed to paying $4.95 separately).

I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m pretty sure “Can I make a living selling only short stories and collections?” is the wrong question. Short stories will be best utilized in the long run, I think, as bonus material and tide-me-overs for fuller novels.

@Brondt: There’s short stories that act as standalones, and there’s short stories that act as introductions to a longer work. I liked Ice Breaker II because it was free, and short, and let me know whether Amaranthe and Sicarius were interesting enough to read in a full novel (which they are). I don’t know if I would have paid for it unless I’ve already read over 2+ books.

It’s just a completely subjective, but I’d rather pay for short story anthologies where it’s less character-driven and more self-contained concept-driven stuff. If I’m going to pay for characters, I want a satisfying story in the package, not just a buy-this-next-book.

I think the reason why I prefer themed anthologies is that I know *exactly* when I will want to read it. Steampunk adventure tales? Creepy cosmic horror? etc, I know exactly when I want to read it. But when I see “science fiction/fantasy anthology” I go eeeeehh that’s what I read everyday, isn’t it? For this genre reader, I pretty much read everything but paranormal romance, but what *kind* of SF/F is more important. Historical fantasy? Space opera political intrigue? I’m not gonna want to read all types of books everyday. Something generally described as “science fiction/fantasy anthology” isn’t making me want to pick it up anytime soon, because it just has a giant question mark on it.

@Craig Thanks for commenting! I hope you do well giving away the freebie. I always say that’s a great way to get your work into someone’s hands (and maybe get them to check out your non-free stuff!).

@Anke Good point about it being easier to keep track of individual stories. Most ebooks do have a ToC, but you still have to open them up and take a look to check the titles (and, without cover art as a memory cue, the title alone might not help you remember the story details).

@Frida I think 15,000 words is about the minimum I’d like to see for 99 cents too. Sure, a dollar isn’t much, but if you’re a voracious reader, even 99-cent ebooks add up quickly. I’ve never been a big fan of anthologies myself (though a cool theme like pirates or assassins might get me to try them), just because I usually don’t end up liking enough of the stories to make it worth the purchase price.

@Michael Good point. You could definitely do individual titles as well as a collection if the numbers work. I’m planning to do that with my Flash Gold stories when I have more out. Maybe four 99-cent individual stories and then a 4-story omnibus for $2.99.

@Brondt Great thoughts (and I don’t just say that because you approved of my short story collections :P)! By the way, I just noticed on your site that you have a novella coming out soon. Looks interesting! Are you going to use it as a freebie to promote your series?

@Lindsay, I’m not sure yet how I’ll use it. I had thought to use it as the freebie, but I’ve also thought of using (and have used before) Book 1 in that capacity, and as the novella is outside of the main story arc, I’m not sure whether it will entice readers to get the other books. IDK. I know you’ve talked about your freebie SS collection before. Is that serving well as a gateway for new readers to the main series? Can you tell at based on your numbers?

@Brondt My freebie, Ice Cracker II, has worked well for me on Smashwords and B&N. I didn’t really sell much of anything in either place before that went live.

I *wish* I could get it into Amazon, but the similar cover/title for it and the three-story anthology got Amazon’s panties in a twist, and I couldn’t even upload it. I may eventually try getting Flash Gold listed for free (when I have a couple more stories out in the series).

You also have to consider your brand and the reader expectation of what you’ve been doing. If you’ve been selling 99 cent novels, then a 99 cent story seems like a rip-off (and will also annoy readers who thought they were getting a novel).

In fact, one of the most vitriolic types of reviews seem to be those where the reader is misled–even if unintentionally. In other words, even if you declare it’s a short story in the product description, if they bought your novels and assumed this was a novel, they might get upset.

Personally, I bundle 9 to 13 stories for between 99 cents and $2.99, depending. I do sell some novellas but I’ve been tempted to try some longer individual stories at 99 cents just to see. If my 70 or so short stories were earning me 35 cents per sale, I’d call that easy money but I also would feel like I was overcharging, since so many novels are just a few bucks.

Scott

Good point there, Scott, that customer expectations not only change genre to genre, but also writer to writer.

Lindsay, that’s kind of messed up about you not being able to load book to Amazon, though I can see the logic from their POV. Still, as that’s the main thoroughfare for ebooks, it would be interesting to see how a freebie there affects your numbers, as it’s done well for you elsewhere. I need to give it a think in the next two weeks. I’m knee deep editing both the novella and the next novel, and I’ll make that decision when I see my finished product.

I do like the thought of the freebie, always have, ever since I saw Michael Sullivan use it so well over the winter–among others.

I’m new to all this … just put up some short reads as free.

I like the no rules on length thing, and don’t see a problem with charging 99 cents for any work over 5,000 words. Something shorter, I’d go for the old-fashioned way or bundle with some other stories.

I’ve heard from other writers that their readers liked shorter reads.

@Scott Thank for chiming in! Yes, it’s definitely important to label those short stories as shorter works, ideally in the title and blurb description. I usually add the paperback pages, too, since word count doesn’t really mean much to someone who isn’t a writer. I’ve had complaints about “too short” on reviews for my freebie (which is only 6k words or so), probably because it was one of my first ebooks and I didn’t think to label it as a short story. I figured it was free, so who cared? Well, people care, lol.

@Brondt Yup, I keep thinking that I should write another story, specifically with the purpose of getting it listed for free at Amazon, though I may just go that way with EE once I have more books out in the series. Good luck with the editing. You sound busy!

@Mary Thanks for chiming in. I keep meaning to check out your ebooks on Smashwords. I know I downloaded the space opera one. I hope you’re getting some readers over there!

It’s a pertinent topic for me because I published a 6,000 word story on Amazon a few hours ago, my twelfth.

One of the reasons I started publishing shorts a few months ago is the ‘build your own anthology’ idea. As a reader, rather than obey the timescale and author choices of a traditional anthology editor, I’d like to pick and chose authors and topics and cart my mega-anthology around with me on my Kindle. And I can choose to keep my favourite short stories and archive the rest, something you can’t do with a collection.

Is a well-written short story worth 99 cents? Absolutely. I think of a coffee shop scenario. For a few dollars, I can buy a slice of cake to go with my coffee. Or for 99 cents I can browse, buy, and read a short story while I enjoy my drink. The e-book is cheaper and lower in calories.

But when you stack a 99 cent story against the abundance of 99 cent novels, or 99 cent collections, it makes for a very hard sell. So I’ve put a minimum length for submissions of 5,000 words and am concentrating more at present on novelettes and novellas.

For my little publishing venture we’re seeing a trickle of sales so far. Just enough for my authors and me to buy a coffee once in a while. The trend, though, is slowly ticking upward.

Tim

I published a collection of short horror stories a few weeks ago with a total word count of all stories at a little more than 59000 words. It sold a few copies. so far @2.99. I also published two short stories together @ .99. The word count for it is at over 13000 words. So far the collection is doing better but more time is needed to see how things go. I personally would get a collection for the value.

[…] on this topic. However, Lindsay Buroker had the most thoughtful, though misleading, post regarding short stories versus collections on her website. She says, “As it turns out, readers seem to be less interested in short-story […]

I’m contemplating a “short story & long poem” collection since I’ve finished a novel and its sequel. Will readers prefer all stories together, then all poems together, or will they like story-poem-story-poem (though unrelated)?

Poetry is a tough sell, so you might get more people checking it out by sprinkling the poems in with your stories. I don’t have any experience trying to sell poetry, though, so that’s just my hunch. Good luck!

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