Thursday, July 26, 2012

How to See What's Really There (not what you think is there) when Editing the Little Picture

I've addressed tricks for seeing what's actually on the page rather than what's usually there when you're editing the "big picture". Now it's time to cover the tricks to seeing what's actually there—not what you think is there—when editing the "little picture".

In other words, how do you see your own typos?

There are several methods, and some work better than others—but the best one for you will depend on you.

Also, bear in mind: Even with these methods, it will take more work for you to see your own typos than it will for someone else. You also have to know what you're looking at to know if it's correct.

But once you know what you're doing (or if, say, you're writing for school or work and must edit yourself), these methods will help you find your own errors insofar as you're able.

• Wait before editing your text.

Wait between finishing a manuscript and starting the edit. Ideally, the wait's long enough that you'll have completely forgotten what you intended to write. The length of the original piece of writing, how long you spent writing it, and your own memory will influence how long you'll have to wait for this one to be effective.

This is why a writer might finish a novel and wait a year or more before looking at it again.

• Re-read your text.

The trick to re-reading effectively is to change the format of what you're writing. If you wrote by hand, read it on a computer or tablet screen (and a sans-serif font is best). If you wrote it on the computer, read it on paper or your E Ink e-reader (and a serif font is best).

If you must stick to working all on computer, due to time or material constraints, change the font and change the margin.

• Read your text aloud.

This means you read it aloud yourself—and yes, mumbling counts.

Tongue-twisters are flags for confusing sentences. And you might be surprised how much typos jump out when you're trying to say them.

• Have your text read to you.

While it's possible that you might find someone willing to read your story for you, this one's usually done by having your computer, tablet, or e-reader read your text to you.

Even with synthesized voices, once you get used to how they pronounce things, you can "hear" commas, periods, etc., and find lots of typos. (And if you lose track of a sentence being said…that's probably a confusing sentence that could use revision.)

• Read your text backward, word by word or sentence by sentence.

This one is all typo check, since you can't evaluate paragraphs this way.

I've only ever done it for an essay, and I didn't find it worth my time. If you're particularly prone to typos, particularly of types that your spell checker won't catch, then you might find the sentence by sentence version worthwhile to watch for homophones.

• Use editing software.

Be warned that grammar checker can be useful if you know what you're doing, but if you don't—avoid listening to it. It'll often auto-choose the wrong subject and verb in your sentence, or think that you're using a word as a different part of speech than what it actually is.

There are also some programs designed with the sole purpose of editing, like AutoCrit, EditMinion, and Pro Writing Aid. (If you use Scrivener, check the Text Statistics for a window listing how many times you use each word, which is handy for finding words you overuse.)

There you have it: six (6) methods for finding your own typos and other "little picture" errors when microediting.

What's your preferred method for finding "little picture" errors? Do you have another technique to add here?


Thursday, July 19, 2012

How to See What's Really There (not what you think is there) when Editing the Big Picture

A few times, now, I've mentioned that there are all sorts of "tricks" to being able to see what's actually on the page instead of what you think you put there.

So what are some of those tricks when you're macro editing, editing the big picture in your story?

• Write (or notecard) your story outline or synopsis.

Yep, you can write your outline after you write the book. Why would you do that, you ask?

Reason: It's easier to analyze a sentence than an entire scene.

How to do it: One sentence per scene. That's the key, see. Write no more than a sentence per scene. Write no less than a sentence per scene. If you cannot write that single sentence per scene, either nothing's happening and the scene needs some revision, or you're getting too wrapped up in the details. (Tip: drop all adjectives and adverbs unless it's something like "Jane learns Jill is dead", wherein dead is an adjective.)

When done with the writing, eye those sentences with an eye for 2 things:

  1. Does each one have a change?
  2. Does each one connect to the ones on either side of it?

No? Why not? (Maybe you wrote the wrong sentence, for example—but most likely, that's a warning sign.

Unfortunately, outlines and notecards are extremely popular at other stages in your writing—like, say, setting all these scenes up in advance.

I say "unfortunately" because that means I can't really find the links I'm looking for, though here's one author who uses this method.

In the past few months, I know I found a fantastic blog post or three about how to phrase those analyses sentences, I think on Janice Hardy's blog…but I've changed computers recently and lost my bookmarks. (Jami? Somebody? Link help, please!)

Personally, I'm a fan of using notecards in a method fashioned after Holly Lisle's methods: Write each scene on a notecard color-coded to indicate how much work is needed. My "color coding" = highlighter or marker along the top edge of a white notecard. I also make a key card for that stack. Reason for the white card, color on top: I can look at the top edge and see how much work the book will need, but I also can read the cards easily—due to a quirk in my learning style, color hinders me.

(As an aside, Holly Lisle's book Mugging the Muse is $0.99 well spent.)

• Check your story against the a formula.

Popular ones include Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! (spreadsheet here, made by Elizabeth Davies) and Larry Brooks's Story Engineering (spreadsheet here, made by Jami Gold—who has also combined those two.)

Some authors even develop their own for particular stories of theirs for their own genre.

You don't have to use a formula—I personally chose not to follow one with A Fistful of Fire, because whenever I looked into making it more…"conventional", I would've had to make changes that would've hurt what I'd meant it to be.

However, it's highly likely that I unconsciously applied some formula to that story. I have difficulty analyzing plot events and their purpose, but I've started checking A Fistful of Earth against some of those formulas and am finding it to be pretty close.

The book-based formulas make it easy: Download or create a spreadsheet for it, plug in your word count, see if the required thing happens at the required page (or ± a few pages), and if they don't match up, determine if you want to change it or not—because formulas exist for a reason, so you need to understand the formula to understand when and if you should break it.

(So in case you're wondering, yes, I'm well aware that I broke a lot of pacing "rules" with A Fistful of Fire. It also tends to be my most popular title, so evidently I pulled it off.)

• Write your blurb and tagline.

Your blurb shows up in things like your query letter or cover copy, and your tagline can be a pithy thing you'd want used on your cover or can be your elevator pitch. Writers like Janice Hardy and Jami Gold (and even Nathan have done such thorough jobs writing posts on how to do those things, that I just have to refer you to them:

Personally, I prefer doing at least the blurb before I write the book, because I'm pretty much a panster, and writing those in advance helps me target what I want my story to be.

Do you have any techniques, examples, or resource links that you find particularly useful that you'd like to add? Which technique(s) sound or are most useful to you?


Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Secret of Successful Self-Editing

At long last, after much chattering and discussion and random interruptions, we reach what you really want to know: the secret of self-editing that works.

This secret applies to fiction and non-fiction, to school essays and independent work, when ghostwriting under NDAs and writing under your own name—though it applies a bit differently under some of those, but we'll get to that. (NDA = Non-Disclosure Agreement, by the way.)

Honestly, it's not exactly a secret. You probably do this already, without realizing it. I've even hinted at it before.

What's the secret to successful self-editing?

Beta readers.

I hear some of you chuckling or snorting in amusement, but others are surely startled. How is it self-editing if you have beta readers? …And, um, if you're not legally allowed to have someone else know that you wrote something—as when you work under a NDA—how can you have it beta read?

First, you might remember my post on how to find beta readers. (If you're new or missed that one, well, there's the link.) In the "Warning" section, I brought up something important:

You have to find the beta reader(s) that fit your needs.

Now, what are your needs? That'll depend on you.

Is your weakness grammar? Ask around, try to find someone who both knows what they're doing and can actually do it.

Maybe you need language translation. Ask folks you know; see if you can find some native speakers to translate. Play online games? Ask guildmates. Hang out on a forum or at a coffee shop? Ask around. You might be surprised by the people you know.

Me? The rules for commas, for semicolons, for em dashes, for en dashes, for suspension points—I know all that. Sure, I'm naturally blind to my own mistakes, but there are tricks to help with that. (We'll get into those in a later post, but for now, here's an article I wrote a few years ago, geared for freelance article writing.)

One thing I always I need on early drafts is content comments. Easily confused readers are particularly handy for me as beta readers, because I don't think with transitions. Because I don't think with transitions—seriously, I confuse myself sometimes—I have trouble writing with them, and I've found that easily confused readers are fantastic for stumbling over spots where I omitted a transition.

In fact, I recently wrote a novelette that I knew had problems. It was a transition-less mess that assumed the reader was already familiar the world it was set in, and I was pretty sure some of it was out of order. I intentionally found a beta reader unfamiliar with the series or even with me as a writer, someone who would hack my story into puzzle pieces for me. (I've spent well over 2 hours on the content of those original 6.9k words, stitching it back up and plying it like taffy for the resultant story of 8.8k words. That's about 2k words I added, mostly in transitions. I did say it was a mess.)

Now, what if I'd handed that mess to a proofreader-type beta reader? That person might've found a few details, and he might've said "I'm confused," but I may or may not have gotten the type of feedback I needed for what I knew needed to be done to fix that story into being what I'd originally intended it to be.

In short:

You must pick an appropriate beta reader for the type of editing you need for each story.

If you don't pick the proper type, you'll be wasting the time and effort of both you and your beta.

But even so, contrary to what some folks will tell you, having your story beta read by at least one person who's an copyeditor/proofreader type—particularly if you're already good with grammar, yourself—can actually warrant you a good edit. The problem is that you need to have some idea how to edit, yourself, to be able to identify when someone does as good a job as they say they can. I've encountered many an author who cheerfully had their books "cleaned up" by an editor that they think is amazing…until typo complaints come in, backed by proof. Or until readers complained about "poor editing" (meaning pacing, or structure, or plotting, or…something other than what the author had edited).

However, that issue remains regardless of whether you rely on free or paid content editing, line editing, proofreading, etc. You have to know what "good" is for that task, to recognize it when you see it.

Remember my post on reasons authors should dabble in cover design? One reason: Playing with the parts helps you learn what goes into a cover, and it helps you eye covers with an eye for what you want and what you don't want in your covers. Personally, I prefer covers that have text on top, if not also the bottom. But also, I want the text (not an image) on top, where the eye will be first. The cover for "Romeo & Jillian" violates that for me, but I also didn't design it. I bought it from Dara England's clearance bin for pre-made covers.

Thus why this series on self-editing has focused on what goes into editing, etc.—if you don't know, you won't be able to recognize good editing of the type you need if you see it.

And believe me, when you use beta readers, you need to know what you're dealing with and how to take their input, because otherwise, they might just screw your story up.

But when you pick ones that fit you, fit your story, ones you know how to work with… They can help make your story the best you can get it.

That's why some authors pay their beta readers: gratitude and acknowledgement for the time they spend helping—although some probably also pay because they can't return the favor and beta read for the person beta reading for them.

Now, what do you do in situations like school essays or writing with NDA agreements? How do you find a beta reader?

In those situations, you already have one: the teacher or client. In some situations, the teacher or client actually starts out acknowledging that the two of you will need a round of discussion to make sure the writing matches expectations on both their ends. In others, the client or teacher will expect you to somehow be telepathic and know what they want.

Either way, that's their choice for how they want to run their classrooms or business. If you dislike it, find another client or teacher.

Just like, in the more conventional sense, you can find another beta reader when you need one.

Do you rely on beta readers? Do you know what kind of editing your worst at? Do you know people who can help you with it?


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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What's Up with…Er? Which Project?

No, I have not forgotten about A Fistful of Fire's paperback editions, nor getting A Fistful of Earth published. Nor have I forgotten about… Just see the list below for updates on everything.

  • A Fistful of Fire has gone through a very careful re-proofreading process as it's been formatted for paperback, because somewhere in publication I screwed up and uploaded the wrong file. I've also compared the current file against the various other ones to make sure everything's included. I'm also making some formatting changes (like smart quotes) that mean I have to watch for newly inserted errors, like quotes turned the wrong way.

  • A Fistful of Earth has finally gotten the results from the "Does this story work?" check. (Long story short: It "jinxed" the first 3 first readers.) Now it's going through editing. After editing comes ARCs to Kickstarter folks, proofreading and formatting and finalizing the cover. (I have the image; I just have to put the typography together—and there are some slight things I'm considering changing about the typography that'll affect the cover for A Fistful of Fire.)

  • A Fistful of Water has the basic plot outline. (For me, that means notes jotted of major events, including where the story will end up—and the opening scene is started.) I've started poking at it enough to have a sense of the narrator's voice (Geddis). I've also started compiling that book's song listing. (Anyone have suggestions for songs about someone who feels neglected, bitter, and resentful that she gets ignored and that everyone complains about having what she'd give almost anything to have?)

  • Destiny's Kiss will be getting a glance-through to convert it to smart quotes, etc., but that won't be an issue until…

  • Know Thy Frienemy (Destiny #2) is the current to-write project. It's half written, so I should be able to finish drafting it in the next month or so, after which time I'll jump into A Fistful of Water.

  • Short stories – I have several planned and started. A sequel to "Associated Accidents" that explains how Nirmoh so quickly became Silva's fiancé in A Fistful of Fire. Three shorts all stemming from "The Corpse Cat", which will reveal more about Emris and some side characters in Destiny's Kiss. I have probably a good score more short stories in various stages of completion, including some that would go under alternate pennames or would be (or are being) submitted to 'zines.

  • A note on "Of Her Own": I'll be updating it in the next few weeks so it contains an excerpt from A Fistful of Earth rather than A Fistful of Fire. It will be free for at least a short time after that.

So. Now let's talk some numbers.

I've mentioned before that math isn't my strong point. I probably have some form of dyscalculia. If I don't concentrate, I will transpose numbers. I'm not talking the usual "Oh, I do that sometimes" that everyone does. If I'm not careful, I will transpose numbers. No "sometimes" about it.

Even when I'm careful, it happens more often than is normal, but it isn't completely debilitating. I still tend to double- and triple-check my math on even the simplest things. I also apply a lot of logic to my math: I estimate answers before I calculate, so I can quickly figure out when I transposed numbers in a fraction (again).

Still. Even I can see that A Fistful of Fire is about 20k words longer than Destiny's Kiss.

I've mentioned before over on the blog version of A Fistful of Fire that the sequel will cost $4.99 US when it comes out. That's true.

But A Fistful of Earth will only cost $4.99 for 1–4 weeks.

After that, I'll be bumping up the prices for both A Fistful of Fire and A Fistful of Earth by a dollar or two. (So A Fistful of Fire will cost $4.99 or $5.99 and A Fistful of Earth will cost $5.99 or $6.99.) Then, when I release A Fistful of Water, I'll look at the prices again.

Now, why did I mention that A Fistful of Fire is longer than Destiny's Kiss?

There's a growing knee-jerk reaction against too-low prices (even in me as a reader). That $3.99 price point of A Fistful of Fire…is starting to feel too "bargain bin". The book's already available for free as a web novel, which is something I mention openly. I even link to it at the start of the book.

I think $0.99 is fair for a short story of 2-4k words. Those of you who've bought one of mine obviously agree, because you haven't left scathing reviews protesting the lengths and/or price point.

Even Destiny's Kiss, my shorter novel, is over 10 times the length of one of my short stories.

That was why I first raised the price on Destiny's Kiss to $4.95. The sales rate has stayed the same if not increased slightly, so I don't think I've found the ideal price for that audience. (Actually, looking at comparable titles' prices, I've not yet decided if my next move will be to try $3.99 or to shoot higher on that one, to give fair warning to anyone interested in buying it.) I'm not planning on entering Dean Wesley Smith's current pricing scheme—but then a year ago, I never would've put Destiny's Kiss up for $5, either, which is what he was recommending then.

I might just change my mind and start following his pricing recommendations. We'll see.

Some folks scoff at Dean and his wife (Kris Rusch) due to their ranking on the Amazon bestseller lists, which evidently suggest they aren't selling all that many copies a month, but those people seem to forget that other vendors exist. Some authors actually sell better on vendors other than Amazon. Also, consider that an author would have to sell 16 copies of something at $0.99 to equal the income of 1 sale at $7.99 (which is still a reasonable price for a novel, which provides more entertainment time than a $10 movie at the theater).

Dean and Kris aren't dumb. They know business. So when they talk, if I disagree, I sit up and listen and figure out why I disagree. Sometimes, it's because we're at different stages in our careers or have different goals. Sometimes, it's because I'm being dense.

And sometimes, I can't figure out which it is.

I say all this so my fellow writers can know what one of their peers is thinking, and so my fellow readers can have fair warning that my prices are going to change, most likely to go up. (So if you've been eyeing one of my stories, you might want to get it now—unless we're talking about "Of Her Own".)

If you've read any of my stories, which one(s) do you most want to see a sequel/prequel for? What character's your favorite? What off-screen situation or event do you want to see a story for?

And what price do you think too high for a short story? How about for a novel (e-book and print form)?


Thursday, July 5, 2012

The $0.99 Price Point

From John Locke using it, to Dean Wesley Smith calling it ill-advised, a lot gets discussed about self-publishers pricing their work at $0.99. I admit, I've even picked up a few $0.99 novels—when they're promos, or when I'm feeling grateful to a writer and want to say "Thank you," so I pick up something they have for sale.

(In other words, this post is geared for fellow writers who might be interested in selling their work, but for any readers trying to figure out where those $2.99 short stories are coming from, feel free to stick around.)

And let me say up front: I am neither for nor against $0.99 as a price point.

Each price point targets a different type of reader.

Each price point has its pros and cons.

And each price point has people who get indignant about naysayers.

I'm not one of the naysayers—but I'm also not a yaysayer. I'm a "consider your options and how they connect to your goals before you commit to a route" sayer.

For example, if you want oodles of readers and don't give a care about money, go serialize your book on Wattpad and make it available on different e-book vendors for free or $0.99. John Locke did famously well at that $0.99 price point, though I think his marketing background (and skill in marketing) helped him find attract a lot more readers than most would be able to, in his position. (Also, serializing on a blog can actually be a good marketing strategy, but I digress.)

Readers who impulse buy, picking things up for free or cheap tend to read fast, read a lot, and be willing to overlook some technicalities if the story's good. (Say what you like about poor Amanda Hocking's poor fortune with editors as she worked on My Blood Approves—she wrote a good story and got it to her intended readership. Kudos, Amanda.)

Well, that's one type of "impulse buy" reader. Some are "download everything free and cheap that looks even remotely interesting at a glance"—and because there isn't enough incentive for them to sample and make sure it matches their tastes, they trash it when they don't like it. W00t.

(Hey, I'm critical, but that just means I don't buy much of anything and I don't get past the first few pages of most of the freebies I download—unless, say, that title's immensely popular or I know the author. And when I'm reading a popular title that I dislike, I make myself look for what they're doing right—because they obviously are doing something right, else they wouldn't be popular.)

Then there are the budget shoppers—but I don't think those play as much in the $0.99 reading pool as many self-publishing authors seem to think.

See, I'm a budget shopper. (Did you know some herbs in your cabinet can be potent painkillers and antibiotics? I've saved so much money on doctor copays this past year, since I learned that! Each lung infection used to cost me at least $50, since it took 2+ rounds of antibiotics to get rid of them. Now, it's…maybe $1 in ingredients to cure each infection.) (Speaking of which, I'm drinking some of that tea now.)

But even as a budget shopper, I, uh, honestly can't think of any authors I got into because they were inexpensive or free, though I could name a few whose price points helped me collect more of their titles more quickly once I was interested. (Lindasy Buroker, looking at you. You're one of the few authors I collect so thoroughly, but it's not because of your prices.)

But even with Lindsay—whose steampunk other-world fantasy novel The Emperor's Edge is free, so if you don't have it yet, go!—I didn't start reading because it was free, or even because it was a genre I very much wanted to read. Most of the time, when I pick up a freebie (usually by searching for a genre and then sorting by price on my Nook), I'm waiting for a pot to boil or something. So I pick up a few freebies, glance at them, wince or enjoy them, then can't remember the author later.

But Lindsay Buroker, I "knew" because I'd met her online. I also had an inkling that she knew how to write, considering she'd spent years supporting herself online with blogs (something I know enough about to know it's not easy). So I picked up her freebie, intrigued and interested in possibly reading it…

And kept forgetting about it.

This forgetfulness has happened with several free or cheap books I picked up, from one of Kris Rusch's titles under the name Kristine Grayson to Soulless and some other books.

Eventually, I happen upon a reminder of "Oh, yeah! I wanted to read that!" and I go check it out. (And sometimes become a rabid fan… My friends know not to ask me what I've been reading lately unless they want to risk possibly entering a 20-minute discussion of what they like in books for me to try to find an angle that would intrigue them in a title of which I've recently become a fan. Though my careful consideration of what they like in books does mean that they take me seriously when I say "You will love this book!", because I don't say that unless I'm 100% certain they will.)

I admit, when I first started paying attention to e-books, I paid close attention to their prices, and though I still note them now, I've been burned enough times by cheap that I sample everything. (To be fair, I know of one released-by-a-publisher e-book that's horribly formatted, but that's due to the annotations in the book, which the publisher evidently wasn't sure how to handle for EPUB. I'm quite glad I only sampled that one and didn't drop $8 on it—though I also recently dropped $11 of birthday money on an e-novel I really wanted to read and knew I'd re-read. Neither one of those mentioned titles is available in mass market paperback, for the record.)

All that to jump into the first things to ask yourself when considering the $0.99 price point, either for a sale or for a long-term price:

  • What kind of reader am I hoping to attract?
  • Does that reader shop at the $0.99 price point?
  • Am I willing to risk attracting the super-critical type of reader who will blame me when they don't bother making sure my writing is to their taste?

But, see, there's these little things called "money" and "bills" and "value of your time" that also are considerations for anybody who would like to be able to support themselves with their job. (And why shouldn't authors earn a living wage for what they do—assuming they can write good stories that appeal to the tastes of a large enough number of people?)

This "money" issue is why some authors are now charging $2.99 for a short story: That's the minimum an author can charge and still earn the maximum royalty percentage on their work with some of the major e-book vendors. One of the major guys to talk about it, Dean Wesley Smith, insists that the $0.99 price, even for a short story, is "discount publishing" (not an insult; it's 1 of the 3 types of publishers). He therefore advises pricing short stories at $2.99.

Note #1: Yes, some of DWS's titles are still at $0.99, right now. That's changing. He only changed his mind fairly recently about that price point, and he's been busy with life rolls.

Note #2: Dean Wesley Smith "short story" threshold for charging $2.99 is 7k words; he bundles stories together to get at least that minimum. SFWA definition of "short story" ends at 7.5k words. I'm not sure at what which word count he starts calling them "novelettes", but it doesn't matter—point is, he's not recommending that I, for example, take "Driven by the Deadline" and bundle it with "Butterfly Boots" and sell the ensuing 3k words for $2.99. Though I understand that erotica writers do fine with that—I don't read or write the genre.

Here's the crux of the issue: When a reader buys a $0.99 title, the author only gets $0.35.

Ooo, that's a whole quarter and a dime! I could take that down the street and buy, um… Two Now and Laters from the dime store? (Mmm, cherry. Not that the cherry Now and Laters actually taste like cherry, mind you. More like sour + red dye. Yes, I just publicly admitted to liking the taste of red dye. I also like kangaroo.)

An author has to sell 6 copies at $0.99 to earn what they make with one $2.99 copy. (Unless your buyer of your $2.99 title is in a country where the maximum royalty percentage doesn't apply. Then you only have to sell 3 to equal one sale at the other price.)

Now, let's step back a bit visit what pro– and anti– $0.99 price pointers are thinking. There are two basic ideas at work here:

  1. What the author earns for the time worked (measured in word count as an indicator of time spent writing the work). Formula: (Cost_of_Title X Author_Royalty_Rate) / Title_Word_Count
  2. How much enjoyment the reader gets from the end product (measured in word count as a measure of time spent reading the work). Formula: Cost_of_Title / Title_Word_Count

See how those two basic focuses come up with such wildly divergent pricing schemes?

(Note: Some writers also believe that they have to price low to "compete" with others, but that… Just kick that idea from your head, okay? If it were a competition, "big publisher" debut authors wouldn't ever get popular, because their book prices are too high.)

Let's think about some other types of entertainment that can be found at the $0.99 price point:

  • A 1-day movie rental: 1–3 hours' entertainment within a 24–hour period
  • A song: 2–10 minutes' entertainment

What about ±$4.99?

  • A DVD movie: 1–3 hours' entertainment
  • A discount music CD: about an hour's entertainment

What about ≥$9.99?

  • A movie at the theater: 1–3 hours' entertainment (without reuse ability)
  • A music CD: about an hour's entertainment

And most people take at least 4 hours to read even a 60k-word novel once. A 7k-word story? For many readers, that's about half an hour, and I suspect that's some of what DWS considered when he chose that word count for his price $2.99 threshold.

Personally, I'm a very fast reader, so that affects how I think about pricing. Also, compared to some writers, I also write short stories, as in ≤3.5k words. (Possibly due to several challenges I did on one website where I had to write short stories in that word count range. Maybe I got used to it.)

Might I someday change my mind about having short stories available for $0.99? Probably, even if it's only due to inflation. Is $2.99 an "unfair" price for a 7k-word story that would provide most readers with 30 minutes' entertainment even before the re-read value?

I don't think it is. It might only be 10 minutes' entertainment for me (if that), but I do not think the price "unfair". (Remember the $10 CD that's only about an hour's entertainment? For some artists, a CD's more like 30–40 minutes.)

And depending on a person, a story can have just as much re-read value as a music album.

So it's best to bear all those factors in mind when deciding how you're going to price something, but there's another little detail involved in the pricing mindsets here:

Even that $0.35 per sale is a heck of a lot better than what some authors earn. As in over 3 times better. (Hint: Major romance publisher you've surely heard of? Yep.)

Even a NYT bestselling traditionally published author might gross about $0.35 per sale. Granted, that's on discounted e-books, but…the best-case scenario royalty that author evidently gets per sale? $1.

So your favorite author might only be getting a whole dollar from that $7.99 you dropped on their latest e-book. (Technically, they were probably already paid that dollar already in their advance, but that's another issue.)

(That also means that you could assume that some publishers place over twice the value on the e-book's vendor as they do the author who wrote the book's content, based on what they pay each party.)

But anyway

There's another important factor, here. For a moment, forget everything I said about how much is earned per sale, and let's consider Dean Wesley Smith's recent point that an author needs to consider how many sales it will take to repay the author their investment in a story—including time paid for hours invested.

So, let's roll with how little authors tend to value their per-hour time and assume they're paying themselves $10 per hour—which, after self-employment taxes in the US, is roughly equivalent to minimum wage.

Let's assume the following:

  • Hourly wage: $10 per hr/minimum wage
  • Cover = 2 hours
  • Writing = 1 hour per 1k words
  • Editing/Revising = 1 hour per 1k words
  • Proofreading = 1 hour per 3k words
  • Formatting = 1 hour

So, taking those numbers—which some of you writers will consider high, some of you low—let's have three stories:

  1. 6k-word short story: 2 hrs (cover) + 6 hrs (writing) + 6 hrs (editing) + 2 hr (proofreading) + 1 hr (formatting) = 17 hrs = $170
  2. 30k-word novelette: 2 hrs (cover) + 30 hrs (writing) + 30 hrs (editing) + 10 hr (proofreading) + 1 hr (formatting) = 73 hrs = $730
  3. 90k-word novel: 2 hrs (cover) + 90 hrs (writing) + 90 hrs (editing) + 30 hr (proofreading) + 1 hr (formatting) = 213 hrs = $2130

Now, in how many sales will the author make their money back on each one?

  1. Short story @ $0.99 = 490 sales
  2. Novelette @ $2.99 = 348 sales
  3. Novel @ $6.99 = 436 sales (@ $5.99 = 508 sales)

So the $0.99 short story will take a comparable number of sales to the novel, to earn back what's been invested in it. Granted, overall, short stories don't seem to sell as well as novels, so those equal numbers of sales might theoretically be harder to get with the short story as opposed to a novel.

But it's still something to think about.

What does it make you think, when you see a story available for $0.99? Does it make you more or less likely to buy it? Does the length of the story affect what you think about the price?


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