Thoughts on Publishing – Pricing the Novella

Today, let’s talk business: What are you willing to pay for a novella?

When I went to ConQuest, I knew full well that I planned to fork over twenty bucks for a hardback copy of a book that contained two of Brandon Sanderson’s novellas. Sure, they’re available for purchase in ebook format for considerably cheaper, but having the hardback is nice, and I’m a fan of his work. (A note here: I’m the kind of person who likes having a hard copy, be it paperback or hardback. I’ll happily read non-fiction pertaining to publishing on my Kindle, but I have a difficult time reading fiction.) Anyway, I got the book signed at the convention, and I’ve read one of the stories (Perfect State) thus far. Even though I haven’t read the second one yet, spending that twenty dollars was worth every penny.

But not everyone is going to feel that way, and not for every book.

From the business perspective, I’ve got to figure out what readers are willing to pay for each book. Do I want to come up with a single, standard price range, or price them individually, according to length, genre, and various other factors? I don’t have the advantage of hiring a super-awesome illustrator for the cover art, or a top-of-the-line editor to make sure there aren’t typos. Not to start with, anyway (though I’ll sure do my best to find as many typos and errors as I can before I hit ‘publish’). Can I  make sure that the stories are the best they can be? Can I make sure that they are worth a reader’s hard-earned money?

I’ve determined that The Wishing Blade will be a series of (probably three) novellas. I’ve got the first one written, and it’s going through the process of being beta-read. Now the question I’m pondering is this: What should I price this novella, once I’ve completed edits and created the cover art?

On one hand, it’s a novella, so it’s not as long as a novel. I’m not sure how much money readers will be willing to spend, especially for an unknown author. While I do have several free pieces of flash fiction available on Smashwords, the style of writing varies, so it is unclear how many readers who download the freebies will be interested in the paid stories. I can’t price the stories as high as someone who already has a fan base. On the other hand, I’m trying to start a business. Which means that I actually need to be making money. The joy of self-publishing is that I get to wear two hats. I’m the creator, the author, and I’m also the business woman. So… provided that the stories are of a decent quality: engaging, not many typos, decent formatting, and good cover art, what should a novella be priced at?

I’m mostly going to look at Kindle’s (non-Select) pricing strategy, but I intend to sell on Smashwords as well:

99 cents: Not necessarily a bad spot for a short story, and many authors offer their novels at 99 cents as a way to promote their other works. However, the 99 cent price range only offers 35% royalties (I think it’s closer to 50-60% royalties on Smashwords, given that my “Ashes” short story, priced 99 cents, earned 56 cents after a Smashwords 10 cent cut and 33 cents transaction fee). The downside of this range is that people may pick up a 99 cent book on a whim, then forget about it because of the “it’s only a dollar” mentality.

$1.99: Long considered “the dead zone” in ebook pricing. I read a Smashwords report showing a trend of $2.99 vastly outperforming $1.99, and 99 cents doing just a bit better than the $1.99 range. Also keep in mind that Kindle only offers 35% royalties here. Not a lot of incentive to try this range, though I’ve seen trade publishers discount higher priced books to $1.99 on Book Bub. However, without actually testing this price range, it’s hard to say how well it performs for a specific story.

$2.99: Seems a bit high for a novella, with so many novels selling for $2.99, but is it? (See below list of example novella prices). At 2.99, Kindle authors get 70% royalties.  That’s around $2.00, versus 70 cents from pricing at $1.99, or 35 cents from pricing at 99 cents. And technically, if you hope to sell your novel at $4.99 or $6.99, that’s not too bad.

Now, one catch here is that I’m currently looking at the US dollar pricing. I haven’t even started to look at the UK or other territories. I’ll have to decide whether to try the retailer’s automatic price comparisons, or take a look at what’s selling in those stores and price it directly. This could be a bit difficult, though, given that the Amazon sites for other territories doesn’t show much what price they’re selling at. (Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on pricing, regardless of what currency you buy books with).

Here’s a few examples of novella length ebook prices in USD, from both independent and trade published authors (Note: I haven’t read all of these, I just did some research):

  • Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson sells for $2.99. I think it classifies as a novella. “Mitosis,” a short story from his Reckoners series, sells for $1.99.
  • Fairest by Marissa Meyer sells for $9.99 (46,600 words per Renaissance Learning)
  • The Invasion (an Animorphs book) by K.A. Applegate  sells for $5.99  (33,000 words per Renaissance Learning). Novella length, though meant for a younger audience.
  • Out of the Storm by Jody Hedlung is offered for free on Amazon. (The description suggests this is an introduction to her Beacons of Hope series).
  • Icefall by David Wood sells for $2.99 (approximately 30,000 words per article about the novella, and per Smashwords).
  • Elixer by Jennifer L. Armentrout sells for 99 cents (part of The Covenant Series).
  • Peacemaker by Lindsay Buroker sells for $2.99 (40,000 words, per her blog post).
  • Better World by Autumn Kalquist sells for $2.99. (A prequel novella to a novel series).

By the way, Renaissance Learning is great for finding the word count of books, especially middle grade and young adult. http://www.arbookfind.com/default.aspx

One of the textbooks I was reading recently, which focused on small business management (never mind that it’s from the earlier 90s), talked about the perception of value when marketing a product. There were two factors considered: quality and price.

A note on the chart below: an unknown indie author does not mean low quality, simply untested. Unfortunately, many people still perceive self-published books to be of low quality, whether they are or not.

High quality and high price: Serves clientele with expensive tastes. (Think of a Big 5 publisher selling an ebook for 13.99 from a big-name author).

Low quality and high price: No one buys the product, because the perception of value around it is muddled. (Think of an unknown author selling their ebook at $13.99).

Low quality and low price: “Cheap.” Not highly valued, but considered a decent price. (Think of how 99 cent indie novels are often perceived).

High quality and low price: “A good deal.” (Think of a Big 5 publisher running a $1.99 ad in Book Bub for a regularly $9.99 ebook).

So, at this point, I’m thinking of making Magic’s Stealing available for $2.99. It’s currently sitting at 30,000 words.

I hope you enjoyed this post. 🙂 What are your thoughts and experiences in the matter?

If you’re interested in further reading on the subject, these are a few of the articles I read while doing my research:

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