I’m going to do something potentially dangerous and discuss pricing strategies in a rather candid way. I may risk turning off some of my potential readers, especially the ones who don’t like shorter works, but I want to be as open and transparent as I can, since I figure it’s only fair, especially to someone who’s just getting started with my books.
First of all, let me just say that if I could, I would make all my books free and write for love instead of money. The trouble, though, is that I have to eat, and at some point in the (hopefully) not too distant future I’m going to have to feed a wife and children as well. If I made all my books free right now, I would have to spend all my time and energy doing something other than writing, and as a result there would be far fewer books for you to read.
In the last year, I’ve discovered that the best way to make money self-publishing is to write in series, preferably at a short enough length that you can release a new installment every other month. A lot of other writers are discovering this, which is why there is such an explosion of series and serials.
I know a lot of readers don’t like this. And when a writer takes a perfectly good novel and splits it arbitrarily into parts, each one without a solid arc or story structure to hold it together, I get a little bit ticked as well. But the reality is that if you can tell a story in a series of short, self-contained novellas rather than a single novel, it will probably meet with better commercial success.
The price points for novellas are kind of tricky, though. For anything priced below $2.99, Amazon takes 65%, whereas from $2.99 to $9.99, the self-publisher takes 70%. To give that some perspective, you would have to sell 10x the number of copies at $.99 to earn as much on one sale of a book at $4.99, and 6x for a book at $2.99.
The trouble, of course, is that for a series where each installment is priced at $2.99, the readers may end up paying a lot more, depending on the lengths of the story arcs and the size of each installment. Novellas are kind of in a gray area, where $.99 seems kind of cheap for that much story, but three or four installments at $2.99 really add up–especially with so many other ebooks priced at $5 or below.
Now, I’d like to believe that most readers judge the value of a story by its quality and not by its word count, or by how much they have to pay per word. There are books like City of the Saints that I don’t mind buying in $2.99 increments at all. At the same time, though, I think there’s something to be said about keeping prices fair.
This is all on my mind right now because I’m getting ready to release the first Star Wanderers omnibus and expand that series considerably over the next year. It’s the series that sells best out of any of my books, and the one with the most potential to make it so that I can go full time. Plus, I really love writing in this universe, and have a lot more stories in it to tell.
Right now, this is the pricing structure I’m following:
- Outworlder — free (15,000 words)
- Fidelity — $.99 (17,000 words)
- Sacrifice — $2.99 (19,000 words)
- Homeworld — $2.99 (20,000 words)
- Dreamweaver — $2.99 (19,000 words)
Parts I through IV make a complete story arc, though of course each individual novella is a self-contained story on its own. With Part I at free and Part II at $.99, I figure readers have a good way to figure out if these are the kinds of stories that they’ll want to read. But if I keep pricing the stories at $2.99, at some point this series is going to get really expensive.
So here’s what I plan to do to alleviate that:
1) Make new releases free to newsletter subscribers.
For every Star Wanderers story up to this point, I’ve made it free for the first two weeks on Smashwords and given that code out through my email newsletter. I did that originally as an incentive to get people to sign up for my newsletter, but I think it’s a good series strategy as well. This way, if someone discovers Star Wanderers now, they can buy all the previous installments at the higher $2.99 price point and look forward to receiving any future installments for free.
Some may question the business sense of giving away free books to readers who are willing to buy them, but the way I see it, the fans are the ones who are selling these books, not me. I’m willing to put a free book in the hands of someone who already loves the series, and is more likely to write a glowing review or to share it with a friend. And since sales of this series continue to grow, that strategy would seem to be paying off (or at the very least, it’s not biting me in the ass).
2) Try to put more story into each individual installment.
If $2.99 seems a lot for a short novella, then maybe I need to expand on them, with things like extra subplots and viewpoint characters. Of course I don’t want the stories to feel like they’re padded, but if I can enrich the story in a way that really adds to it, then that’s certainly something that I should do.
For all of the Star Wanderers series so far, each novella is told from the point of view of just one character. This sort of focus can be good, because it really gets me into the head of that character. However, sometimes it’s also good to play things off of another character’s story, both to act as a foil and to provide contrast.
That’s what I’m doing with Reproach (Part VII) right now. It’s not just from Mariya’s point of view, but Noemi’s as well, and that adds a lot to the tension as you see their competing motives and the way their views of the world really clash. It’s delicious. Benefactor (Part VI) is just from Jakob’s viewpoint, just because I wanted the story to really focus on his character, but most of the other stories kicking around in my head have room for at least another viewpoint character without taking away from the spirit of the series itself.
3) Price the omnibus editions less than the sum of their parts.
For someone who is just getting started with Star Wanderers, $2.99 might seem like a lot to pay to get caught up. That’s only going to get more daunting as the series gets longer. For that reason, I’m inclined to price the omnibus editions much lower–at least $4.95, which is the price of one of my novels. At 70,000 words or so for Parts I-IV, that seems only fair.
I am a bit worried that sales of the individual novellas will drop off once I release the omnibus, but I figure if I’m constantly releasing new ones, those should cover the slack. Since Dreamweaver (Part V) is already out, and Benefactor (Part VI) will be out in another month or so, new readers who come in through the omnibus will have more than enough to keep them coming back.
The other benefit of doing it this way is that it reduces the chance that readers will drop out midway through the story arc. It seems that a few of them are doing that, or at least taking a while to get from Part II to Part III to Part IV, etc. By having them all in one omnibus and encouraging readers to buy that instead of the individual parts, hopefully they’ll have more of a chance to get hooked, making it all the more likely that they’ll keep coming back.
So that’s my plan, at least for now. When The Jeremiah Chronicles comes out next week, I’ll price it on parity with my other novels, even though that’s somewhat less than all the individual parts. I’ll make all new Star Wanderers novellas free for my newsletter subscribers, and do what I can to enrich them with extra viewpoints and subplots (without just padding them, of course). This way, I hope my readers won’t feel like I’m ripping them off, and I’ll still have a good shot of making a decent living at this.
With the way things have been going, I’m actually really excited. The slow build approach is working, and if it keeps up then I think I may be making enough to go full-time by this time next year. I’ll be sure to keep you posted as things come along.
In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or comments, please don’t hesitate to share. I’m still thinking this issue through, and there’s a lot I have left to learn. In fact, I feel like I’m only just starting to figure it out, so any other perspectives on this topic would be much appreciated!