A friend of mine was recently taken to task by another author. Author A was told by Author B that she was “unprofessional” because she included an estimated word count in her book blurb. After stammering words to the effect of, “Wha-wha-whaaaat?” (I’m an old Warner Brothers cartoon geek), Author B persisted.
Author B’s point was to the effect of, “Stephen King doesn’t post word counts. John Grisham doesn’t post word counts. Professional writers don’t post word counts. If you’re posting a word count, you’re being unprofessional.”
Everyone’s entitled to their point of view. Here’s mine.
The main reasons Stephen King and John Grisham and Charlaine Harris and James Patterson don’t post word counts is simple, and have nothing to do with professionalism. It’s actually rather elementary.
1) King, Grisham, Harris and Patterson, as a rule, don’t publish really short works individually.
2) King, Grisham, Harris and Patterson, as a rule, don’t think about the eBook market first and foremost.
You see, most readers can understand price if it’s linked to length. It’s a value-to-dollar consideration. For example, let’s look at Stephen King’s excellent novel, Under the Dome.
The average thriller these days is priced at, roughly, a $27.99 cover price. For this price, one usually receives a 300-350-page thriller. I based this example on Cross Fire by James Patterson, his latest Alex Cross novel, which actually runs a bit longer than that, about 384 pages.
Sure, big-box bookstores and mass retailers like Wal-Mart and Target will automatically discount that price by an average of 30 percent. So that becomes $19.59 plus tax. As readers, we all know and understand this shell game on pricing. But if you like hardcovers and are a huge James Patterson fan, $20 for his latest isn’t too big a pill to swallow. And the retailer usually gets a $27.99 book in at a cost of about $14.00 to them, so they’re still doing OK if the book sells at a good volume.
Now we return to Stephen King. Under the Dome originally listed for a whopping $35.00 cover price in hardcover. But do many people raise a stink? Do they complain that King thinks he’s $7.00 per copy better than James Patterson?
No. Why? Because for $35.00, all the justification you need is… you pick up the book. Flip it open to the back. Mercy sakes alive, Under the Dome weighs in at 1,074 pages! What a bargain! That’s well over two and a half times – almost three times – as many pages of entertainment! For only 25 percent more than the average Patterson novel! Readers have no problem seeing the value in the extra money they’re shelling out.
Plus $35 isn’t the real price anyway. We all know that along comes the average 30 percent retailer discount, you’re only going to pay $24.50 plus tax at the register.
This is why traditionally published authors are rarely asked, other than by the merely curious, how long their novels are in word-count. Because in retail locations, you can pick the book up, weigh it in your hands, look at the number of pages, and say, “Yeah, $24.50 for a book that’ll take me a couple months to read? That’s value.”
Value, because it’s something you can touch, see, feel and assess in a concrete way. So even if you buy Under the Dome in eBook form, you’re still very much aware of the value that eBook represents, because the print counterpart is readily available. So $14.99, or it’s new discounted price of $9.99, is not subject to much sticker-shock because that’s even less than the hardcover would cost.
So, we can all agree that traditionally published authors are not asked about their word count because they’re traditionally published, or because they possess a greater degree of professionalism, or because their PR guys at the publishing house forgot to add the word-count in.
They don’t add word-count because, by and large, it’s not needed.
And as a Kindleboard friend pointed out recently, in a sense, traditional publishers are still figuring out the market demands and expectations of selling eBooks. They’re new to it. They don’t include a word count because, well, in the traditional print model, that wasn’t much of a consideration, because you had a page-count to go by.
So, getting back to our original incident, why would Author B tell Author A it was “unprofessional” to post a word count as part of the description? Because the big names don’t do it. That was the argument. But now that we know why they don’t do it, that’s not sufficient anymore.
I therefore offer the possibility that Author B has drawn a false conclusion. Not false for the big boys like King and Patterson and Big Six publishers. But false for this market; false for the eBook market in general, and false particularly for indies.
You see, we’re dealing with a lot of differences between indie authors and traditional authors that can come into play for professional conduct issues such as this. Let’s take a look at some of those differences.
First, traditional publishing rarely publishes short stories individually. Indie authors do. Frequently.
Second, traditional publishing almost always prices books based, at least in part, on the length of the book in question. Indie authors seldom do.
This second point deserves more exploration.
Why don’t indie authors price their works based on the length of the work published?
Well, that’s simple. We’re not a corporation. We’re thousands of individual writers each doing our own thing. We have complete creative freedom, no corporate structural overhead, no printing costs, and so we’re free to price works much lower than traditional publishers.
And, savvy as we are, we know that we may not be able to compete on name recognition for a while, but we can certainly compete on price. Joe Konrath has blogged about the “race to the bottom” on pricing; he’s even in favor of it. When asked why he prices his books at $0.99 and $2.99, his reply is simple and straightforward: “Because I can make a living at it.”
His lead inspires a lot of authors to follow the same model, with varying degrees of success.
The trouble is this: customers don’t know what they’re getting, necessarily, at any indie price point.
For $0.99, one can receive anything from a 2,500-word short story, to a 62,000-word novel or longer.
For $2.99, one can receive anything from … a 2,500-word short story, to a 62,000-word novel. Or longer.
From a consumer perspective, from the book buyer’s perspective specifically, this is the equivalent of, well… insanity. When the eBook market and the indie writer presence in it was new, readers wanted to know why the prices were so low. “Is it of inferior quality?” was a frequent question.
And sadly, too often, in the early days especially, it was.
But we independent authors are learning. We’re getting our ducks in a row. We solicit beta-readers to help us out, hire freelance editors and cover artists, and many of us now offer a fairly professional-looking product, both inside and out.
But we still price for reasons not based on length. Why?
Well, here’s the conventional wisdom around indie circles.
“I’m a nobody. I can’t complete with Stephen King and James Patterson because no one at all knows me. So I need to stand out by being less expensive. I’ll trade a lower price for more readers. Once more people know who I am, I’ll raise the price a bit.”
Which can work, in theory. If the author is patient and sticks to the gameplan of “offer a first novel, or the first novel of any series, at an attention-getting price of $0.99, and then offer subsequent novels, or later novels in a series, at a more reasonable $2.99.”
Of course, we authors are not the most patient lot in the world. Especially if we’re full-time writers and struggling to buy a can of Coke, much less pay rent. So after offering our first novel for $0.99, shepherding it along, promoting it, and nursing it to a decent level of sales and a little bit of money in our pockets, then we release our second novel at $2.99 and … when that novel doesn’t sell at the same level our long-nurtured $0.99 novel is selling at within the first month or two, we panic and lower the price … to $0.99. Again.
Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. And readers then expect that all indie books should be priced at $0.99, because even if the author is brave enough to start out higher, if you hold off on your purchase long enough, you just KNOW they’re gonna drop it.
Complicating this picture is that authors of short stories and short novels also price all over the place. A 5,000-word short story should probably never be priced higher than $0.99. It’s just too short.
But if someone is working in a more arty, less popular form of literature, they might start pricing their short stories higher because they know they’re in a low-volume genre anyway. If they’re in a popular genre, they still might do this, just to test the waters. Especially if they have 20 other $0.99 short stories out there, see a consistent level of sales, and want to see if folks will keep buying their work at a higher price.
Where this all becomes a problem is at the most important level: the level of the confused reader who’s wondering what the heck they can expect to get if they One-Click something that looks promising in the Kindle Store.
If they One-Click a book, there’s no great way to know whether you’re about to get something the length of “The Monkey’s Paw,” or something the length of “Under the Dome.”
Because, as a group, we indies are crazy. We don’t price on length, or consistently. We price all over the place for reasons as varied as attracting readers, to an attempt to fix slow sales, to an attempt to earn more, to whatever. You just can’t predict us, as a group. Not based on price.
And let me be honest: I’ve had a couple times where I saw a nice cover, read the summery and was intrigued, One-Clicked and… got upset as all get-out that all I received for $2.99 was a 5,000-word short story.
So then readers start retaliating. They post one-star reviews saying things are too short for the price. Justifiable, but not necessarily a reflection of the quality of the story itself.
It can get tense pretty quickly, folks. I’ve seen at least one reviewer on Amazon accuse a 62,000-word novel (not mine) of being a “short story.” Mostly because they didn’t understand how locations relate to length, or even how word-count relates to length.
(Dirty secret, folks: While readers are starting to catch on to word length, most readers still think in page count. And no one, except maybe Jeff Bezos, thinks in locations. Writers understand word length, because we’ve dealt with it long before there was ePublishing of any sort. But readers? They think in page count. It’s like a group of newspaper editors who think in column inches, and forget most newspaper readers don’t think that way.)
Amazon posts a file-size, but this is relatively useless. If an author can’t afford a cover, a decent-length story could still have a very small file-size. If an author has a lot of artwork and illustrations in a book, the file size could be huge, but it could mask a very low word-count. So file-size doesn’t work, from a reader’s perspective.
And remember, as eAuthors, we don’t have print books available at every Target, Wal-Mart and Barnes and Noble to give them what they’re used to, that tactile, book-in-hand experience by which to judge value-to-price.
To fix this, it has for a long time been customary in electronic publishing to post a word-count as part of the book’s description. Some sites, like Smashwords, do this automatically. Some sites, like Amazon, do not. If a site does not include a word count automatically, and an author does not include this detail in his or her description, the customer has no idea what they’re getting before they One-Click.
And that’s what gets under a person’s skin. The lack of a heads-up. The lack of what the law calls, “informed consent.”
Hey, if I have a favorite author and he or she wants to charge $2.99 for a 5,000-word short story… and they tell me before I buy that that’s what I’m paying for, then I have informed consent. I can either decide I don’t want to pay so much for so little, or I can decide I like that author’s work so much, I’ll go ahead and One-Click anyway.
But without that heads-up, generally speaking, if I pay $2.99 for an eBook and only get one 5,000-word short story, you can bet that I am … not pleased. Because I had no heads-up, no informed consent.
Still, some will argue that a lot of consumers still don’t understand word-count, so it’s as useless as file size. I say that readers can learn to interpret word-count.
It’s actually a simple formula. A single printed page, depending on several layout variables, averages 300 to 350 words. Let’s go with the more conservative number of 300 for illustration purposes.
My novel, Most Likely, runs around 63,000 words. With a couple minor layout alterations, I can make it run anywhere from a tightly-packed 178 pages, to a more comfortable-to-read length of 222 pages, when prepping the book for CreateSpace.
Personally, I hate books that are cramped onto the page, so Most Likely, when it hits CreateSpace, will run 222 pages, roughly. (I’m still finalizing the layout.)
How long should it run? Well, at 300 words a page, you have 30,000 words for every 100 pages. So Most Likely, at 63,000 words, should run about 210 pages. Add in a few pages for front matter and back matter, and it pretty much does.
And around 200-225 pages is the average length of most young adult novels, which is what Most Likely is. So I’m right where I should be. For comparison’s sake, using the same formula, James Patterson’s 384-page novel Cross Fire should run around 115,200 words. And Stephen King’s Under the Dome, at 1,074 pages, should run around 322,200 words. Roughly.
Give readers this kind of metric, and they’ll learn soon enough how to interpret word count.
“This story only runs 3,600 words? That’s a 15 page short story. And you want $2.99 for that? #()* you!”
Or maybe they’ll click anyway. They might just like your work enough to accept that.
But it’s always better to know exactly what you’re getting before you OneClick. You’ll have happier readers as a result.
So, yes… for indie authors in an eBook world, the professional thing to do is to absolutely include a word count. It’s the only half-decent tool to give a reader a heads-up on what exactly their money is buying them … before they OneClick.
Well, I went all-out of promoting MOST LIKELY last week and landed some fun and impressive exposure results; that included an interview of me appearing in no less a source than the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Which is great.
I probably tested the patience of some of my fussier Twitter followers, even, by trying to keep them updated on all my tour stops and appearances. And the net sales result so far?
I sold one copy of Most Likely while the tour was in progress.
Hey, I get it. I’m still new. I only have one novel for sale. And it’s not a hugely popular genre.
Time to fix that by concentrating my efforts on my next release: SHADA, an Ember prequel, which will be a short novel and a customer-friendly price of only $0.99. It’s supernatural suspense, so that’ll help a lot. That tends to be more popular than Christian Young Adult Coming of Age.
So I’m still only about 7,000 or 7,500 words into Shada. Time to make progress on that front. Time to push toward completion.
That’s my focus right now; promoting Most Likely will be secondary to that for a while.
As I’m winding up my one-week blog tour in support of MOST LIKELY, I received a very pleasant surprise.
Indie.ebooks blog founder Nadine Earnshaw was kind enough to interview me for BlogCritics.org, part of the Technorati network somehow, which is a sort of syndicate that gets unique content out to newspapers and other media sources in the US and around the world.
I was quite pleased when Nadine offered me the opportunity for this interview, because just appearing on BlogCritics is an honor. But I was tipped off that the interview on Saturday was picked up by no less a media outlet than the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which is basically the newspaper of record for Seattle residents.
It’s an especially fortuitous outlet for the interview, because my family and I will be moving to the Pacific Northwest in late August, and while we’re planning to be in Oregon, we’ll also be not that far away from Seattle.
Incredible exposure for MOST LIKELY and for me in general. Thanks again, Nadine! The interview was an honor for me to do even before this. The Seattle newspaper appearance is, well, the icing on the cake.
No, I don’t have the entire book in German… at least not at this point.
But just for a laugh, and a potential courtesy to my Amazon.co.de readers, I have used Google Translate to attempt to put a free sample chapter of Most Likely in German.
If it’s bad German, well… I didn’t translate it.
But hopefully it gets the idea across!
So, I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to write about for my final post in A Round Of Words In 80 Days, Round 2 (ROW80) for a couple days now and I can’t say I have a lot of certainty about it even as I begin putting words in the WordPress frame here.
Certainly, I’ve accomplished a lot in the last 80 days. I’ve completed MOST LIKELY and brought it to market. And as of Thursday, June 23, I’ve completed the first month of MOST LIKELY being in retail release on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.
Here are my sales results so far.
On Amazon’s US site, I sold five copies in May, and another six copies in June so far. That’s 11 copies in the Amazon US store.
Additionally, I’ve sold 2 copies (both in June) on Amazon UK, and 1 copy on Barnes and Noble (in May).
That brings me to a 30-day sales window total of 14 copies, which isn’t too bad. The blog tour I’m on this week is increasing my visibility so hopefully the numbers will improve from there.
Outside of MOST LIKELY, which was my major accomplishment, I’m about 7,500 words into the EMBER prequel short novel I’m working on. I’m expecting it to be on the long side of things, closer to 30,000 words than 20,000, so I’m not quite one-third of the way done. But it’s really starting to take shape and my goal is to get the story finished and out to my beta-reader team in July. Whether the book can make it to market in July remains to be seen, but I can tell you it’ll go up for sale sometime during ROW80 Round 3.
After the EMBER prequel, which I may or may not give the title SHADA, I think I’ll focus my attention on finishing EMBER, as well as on my Messianic theology project, DATING THE MESSIAH. I haven’t forgotten about IDEA WAREHOUSE, but if SHADA takes off, I want to get EMBER out on the market as soon as possible, to take advantage of any momentum it may generate, before veering off into non-EMBER-related projects.
So things are going well, and I’m making great progress. I owe a lot to ROW80 for instilling in me the good work habits necessary to make a go of things as a full-time writer. So you can bet I’ll be back for Round 3 on July 4.
Again, I’m not going to be inactive in the meantime. I can’t afford to be. So come visit me often. I’ll be here. And I’ll still be here on July 4, when Round 3 gets underway, too.
One note: there will be a two or three week period of relative inactivity in August, because I’ll be moving my family to Oregon from about mid-August through early September. We hope to settle in as quickly as we can and re-establish our routines, but since we’re leaving a lot of our possessions behind, let’s be honest… there will be an adjustment period.
So I hope to get the CreateSpace paperback version of MOST LIKELY, and both the eBook and paperback versions of SHADA out before the big move. But I doubt I’ll finish anything more than that, until after the move. So EMBER itself is now looking like a fall release. Maybe October? We’ll see.
Anyway, in the meantime, dear readers… enjoy the summer, keep reader, keep buying indie authors, and if you have a chance, make sure my books are among those you choose. I’d certainly appreciate it.
All best. ROW 80, out, till July 4.
But I’ll still be posting to my blog in between now and then…
To celebrate my MOST LIKELY blog tour this week, I’m announcing a special coupon discount available at Smashwords, redeemable now through June 30, 2011.
If you’ve been on the fence about buying MOST LIKELY, now’s your time to act because this is just a short-term, Smashwords-only sale. All you need to do is go here to find my book on Smashwords.
Put it in your shopping cart. At checkout, enter this coupon code: DU75B
That will discount your copy of MOST LIKELY to only $0.99, a 67% savings off its normal price! But don’t delay! Once June’s over, so is this limited-time special price.
Smashwords is a great outlet because they’ll give you your choice of file format, so it’ll work for you no matter what kind of eReader you use!
And if you have strong feelings on MOST LIKELY, one way or another, feel free to give it a rating and a review at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Shelfari, LibraryThing, Goodreads or wherever you tend to hang out.
Thanks, and enjoy your change to save big on your copy of MOST LIKELY!
Despite the impending blog tour I have beginning Monday, June 20, I am pleased to say that I have been spending more time on my EMBER prequel short novel. While not all this time has been spent adding words to the manuscript, I have been mentally working out things that I want to put into words soon.
That counts. At least in my book. The mental figuring out part is an essential aspect of writing, and makes the actual adding of words go much, much easier. That part is going to be part of the mix here yet tonight, and moreso in the coming week.
The thing I’m pleased with right now is that I’ve found unique voices for four different female characters in the same story; as a male author, that’s not always the easiest trick to pull off. But it’s working.
I’d love to share some details of how I identified each voice and made it unique, but that gets too close to telling the story before I write it, and that tends to trip me up. So excuse me for offering only a tease. But progress is indeed being made.
Remember to join me this week for my blog tour, which is a fitting way, I think, to call to a close my part in the second session of ROW 80. While I plan to participate in ROW 80, Round 3, there will be about three weeks where my participation will be sketchy at best, due to my move west to Oregon in August. About a week leading up to the move, the week of the move, and perhaps even the week after the move, I expect to be rather busy with move-related stuff.
But I’ll be posting stuff as I can, and taking bunches of pictures once the actual moving across the US is underway. We’re planning stops at Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park along the way, and we’ll be going through the northern mountainous area of the US to get into Oregon, so I’ll be seeing stuff I’ve never seen before.
Only a couple months away now, before the move begins. Excited? Yes. Scared? That, too. Will I be relieved once it’s over? Definitely.
Here’s my finalized schedule, with a better idea of the content of each stop, on my MOST LIKELY blog tour, which starts Monday, June 20! Be sure to visit me at each stop along the way, as there’s quite different content every day of the tour!
June 20, 2011: Guest Blog Post, “How I Wrote MOST LIKELY… the First Time,” on T.L. Haddix’s blog.
June 21, 2011: Ten Random Facts at Bards and Sages.
June 22, 2011: Book excerpt at Speak Without Interruption.
June 23, 2011: Guest Blog Post, “Ember Cole Interviews Becky Howard,” at Prissy Fit.
June 24, 2011: Author interview at Jerry’s Writing Corner.
June 25, 2011: Guest Blog Post, “Can Writing Be Taught,” on Sybil Nelson’s Writer’s Lounge blog.
A big thanks goes out to Positively Publishing Perspectives’ Julie Anne Dawson, who set up the stops between June 20-25, and to Nadine Earnshow for setting up the extra stop on June 26!
Well, aside from soliciting reviews, contacting book bloggers and such, I think the urge to get the next thing written and out is settling in again. I’ve made it about 4,000 words into my prequel short novel to EMBER, which I still haven’t decided on a title for, but the story structure is solid and the prose is flowing and that matters a lot.
Sure, it’s only maybe a day or a day-plus of progress so far, but new projects are always a bit sluggish at first and then pick up the pace once they start clicking. I’m pretty sure this story will start clicking soon.
The fun bit is that this isn’t going to be just a character sketch or an unsatisfying little side-story. There are unique characters and events being covered here, and while it will provide some background, context and subtext for EMBER, it feels like it’s going to stand on its own as a satisfying read, with a complete story arc: beginning, middle, and end.
I’m not always satisfied by some prequels; that’s why I’m working hard to write mine in a way that would leave the reader side of me satisfied. Hopefully, others will think so, too.
Well, I will admit a couple things.
First, when I set my goals for the second round of ROW80, I was extremely ambitious. And, not having ePublished before, I was probably a bit too ambitious. After all, I had, what, 12 goals? Yeah, that’s was probably overreaching. Naivete on my part.
Still, I’m feeling really good about what I’ve pulled off in the second round of ROW80. I’ve brought a manuscript to market! I’ve gone from “aspiring writer” to “Author of…” and that’s no small task.
Let’s check back in with my (scaled down to 10) goals:
DONE 01) Complete revisions of MOST LIKELY….
DONE 02) Send MOST LIKELY… to my group of beta-readers and request a one-week turnaround.
DONE 03) Revise MOST LIKELY… based on beta-readers’ feedback.
DONE 04) Send MOST LIKELY… to editor.
DONE 05) Final preparations on MOST LIKELY…
DONE 06) Publish MOST LIKELY… to Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Smashwords.
The rest of my goals, I’ll probably not finish before ROW80 is over, but they were good goals nevertheless.
IN PROGRESS 07) Write next project … a short novel.
This has become the prequel to EMBER that will run 20,000 to 30,000 words and sell at $0.99, as an introduction to the series. It’s also a fun adventure that will be a great, complete story all by itself. I’m not as far along as I’d like to be, but you know what? With all the publicity I’m doing, I’m OK with how I’ve been spending my time. So far.
WON’T COMPLETE THIS SESSION 08) Revise short novel and send to betas.
WON’T COMPLETE THIS SESSION 09) Write second short novel or my theological book project.
The above goals I just won’t have time to accomplish this round. Similar goals will be part of my participation in Round 3, though.
IN PROGRESS 10) On writing days (as opposed to revision days) average 4,000 new words per day.
I’ve actually revised this down to 3,000 words a day, a more realistic goal. But I haven’t had many writing days lately. That should improve soon, though.
I’m finding out that a big part of being published is the publicity you have to generate to get sales off the ground. As much as I want to focus on writing, the demands of PR are equally important and must be done.
For example, I have a blog tour set up for mid-to-late June that I announced earlier today, thanks to Positive Publishing Perspectives. I am also exploring the possibility of a longer, second tour through another venue, though nothing is official just yet, so I can’t talk about it.
All of this is great fun, but a lot of work. And work takes time.
I have the EMBER PREQUEL in the works, though, and I’m liking how it’s developing. But I’m not that deep in yet, maybe a couple thousand words.
But be sure to check out my MOST LIKELY page here on the site, because I’m going to start tracking all the publicity for MOST LIKELY there, so that people who want to check it out, can.