Confession being good for the soul, below is an itemization of where I went wrong in my efforts, such as they were, as a short fiction Amazon Kindle author. While the specifics are unique to me, I hope the general principles contained herein will be helpful for indie writers who want to avoid similar mistakes.
Pricing Strategy & the Amazon Landscape
My preferred word count is in the 15,000 to 20,000 space—the border between novelette (7K to 17,500 words) and novella (17,500 to 40K). Alas, that length does not work well with Amazon’s royalty rate on ebooks.
As every author knows these days, Amazon pays a 70% royalty (less a few cents for data costs) on ebooks priced between $2.99 and $9.99. Anything outside that window only gets paid a 35% royalty. When a lot of novels are going for $2.99, it’s hard to justify to consumers a novelette at that price. (Though erotic short fiction Amazon ebooks can still sell at $2.99 or more, evidently.)
For shorter fiction, Amazon does accept submissions for its Kindle Singles program, the criteria for which are below:
• Length: 5,000 to 30,000 words
• List price: $0.99 to $4.99
• Original work, not previously published in other formats or publications
• Self-contained work, not chapters excerpted from a longer work
• Not published on any public website in its entirety
• We are currently not accepting how-to manuals, public domain works, reference books, travel guides, or children’s books.
• No story collections.
With the apparent exception of name brand authors, Amazon doesn’t allow for serials in Kindle Singles. Which is unfortunate, because while all of my novelettes were complete stories unto themselves, they were also each part of a series. I suspect that to Amazon the serial/series distinction is one without a difference.
As with everything on this list, this is on me. If one’s business model depends on the beneficence of a major company, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Short Fiction Amazon Demand
Relating to word count, there were more than a few Amazon comments where readers said they liked my writing, but that it was too short. Sometimes they’d dock a star or even two because of story length even though they said they liked it.
Since my stuff was never billed as novels, and Amazon lists the virtual page count, I never quite got these complaints–if you don’t like short fiction, why read it in the first place?
Still, it was feedback, and given the dominance of novels I should have better anticipated this. Especially since other authors have come to the same conclusions years ago that novels are where it’s at, and short stories a dead end.
Not Prolific Enough
By keeping my work short, my plan was that I could crank out a 15-20K novelette or novella in each series about once a month–a conveyor belt of fiction, as it were.
When I’m really firing on all cylinders, word counts at 4K a day are somewhat easy for me. I had thought that with that kind of volume, I could build a relationship with readers—turn an unknown such as myself into a friend they’d enjoy regularly visiting with.
Put another way, being prolific with shorter fiction would allow me to overcome the market’s revealed preference for longer works.
It was an interesting theory that never fully got tested. At a 35% payout for going under the $2.99 mark, a sort of “why bother?” ennui can set in. Or at least it did with me. While I did sell ebooks at $2.99, it wasn’t a great deal, and I eventually settled on the $1.99 mark.
By setting my book to free (which required a polite email to Amazon requesting the price change–you can’t set a book to free yourself), I boosted sales of other books in both the Steam Pointe and Nightfallen series. But I never got follow-up novelettes to market, dissuaded by price.
In other words, there was a moment when I had momentum, and I let it pass. Over time, unsurprisingly, sales have dwindled.
Looking back, fear was the killer.
By including an offer for another free book in the books I’d set to free, I’ve collected about 300 emails addresses. And except for one mailing in April of 2016, I’ve never utilized my list. All this despite the fact my first attempt at emailing readers was pretty successful. (A 42% open rate, and a 20% click-through rate, which Mailchimp tells me is above industry standard.)
All this lost potential, all this akrasia, because of fear. Fear of what? A lot of things, it turns out.
Rejection was one reason. It bothered me a bit even when one person unsubscribed after my first mass email. It seems stupid as I write it out, but there it is.
Another was this weird fear I’d make a mistake and be at the center of some massive social media shame storm, the kind that seems to hit at least once a week anymore. (A book I’ve been meaning to get on the phenomenon is So You’ve Been Socially Shamed.)
That’s probably why I never tried promoting anything on Twitter or Facebook. It’s also why blogging has been so slack. Posting online in 2017 America feels like Russian Roulette.
And at the root of this—and maybe everything else—is a fear of being known. A lingering concern from childhood that if anyone got to know the real me, they wouldn’t like me especially much. Best to hide oneself like shuttering a lantern’s light, never to be seen.
So goes the conditioned thinking. It’s why I’ve tried to brand my writing as my company’s (even copyrighting it to Series Hero, LLC) rather than under my own pen name.
A fear of being known, as one might imagine, is not conducive to marketing and promotion of one’s work. Houses divided against themselves not standing doesn’t just apply to nations, but also to writing careers it turns out.
Part of why confession is good for the soul is that by acknowledging one’s failings, they become more tangible and so easier to correct. Such is the reason for me writing out these causes of failure. If you’re a writer (or really anybody with a goal you’re not executing on), a good first step may be to just write down the ways you’re getting in your own way.
Thus, while this is something of a downer post, it’s a necessary first action towards correcting things. In a future post (we’ll know I’m actually correcting my mistakes if I get it posted in a timely manner) I’ll write about ways around the above that I will be using to bring more work to market.