Marketing: Short Stories and Novelettes
The when and why we accept Short Stories and Novelettes
January 9, 2019
Rebecca Mikkelson, CBD Authors 4 Authors Publishing
In case you haven’t noticed, lots of publishers don’t accept shorter novellas and novelettes, and won’t even consider publishing a short story unless it’s in an anthology with established authors. But we do—and there’s a very good reason for that. To help you understand the process behind why we accept some but not others, we wanted to give you some insight into our decision making.
Quick note: for clarification, we consider a short story to be a work that is 3,000–10,000 words, and a novelette is a work that is 10,000–30,000 words.
For the sake of this blog post, we’re going to throw out some hypothetical figures (with the exception of Amazon royalties that stay the same for everyone, because it’s Amazon). Please know that these can vary and are not absolute figures.
One of the biggest considerations we take when we’re choosing a book is the cost. Can we sell it? It’s a chance we’re taking with each contracted author. If we break down the cost for the book, we have to pay for the ISBN, the cover, and copyright. Depending on the quality of the cover and level of marketing we do for the books, this can cost anywhere between $90 to $120. If you add in advertisements, that number increases dramatically.
For short stories and novelettes, we’ll only publish them in ebook format, which means we’ll only be charging $0.99–$1.99. At Authors 4 Authors Publishing, we offer some of the highest royalties you can get from a publisher. Let's say we’re starting at 10% for ebooks before the production cost is earned back, and going up to 15% after. The royalties are earned on the SLRP (Suggest List Retail Price) and not just on what we get paid from distributors like Amazon—which, in this case, would only be 35% royalties because of the list price.
So let’s break this down for short stories. For the sake of argument, we’ll put book production at $120. Here’s what we’ll be earning from Amazon once the book is for sale: 0.99 x 0.35 = 0.3465, rounding up to $0.35 a copy.
Here’s what you’ll be earning from us: 0.99 x 0.10 = 0.099, rounding up to $0.10 a copy. That means that $0.25 a copy will be going back toward book production costs.
Before we jump up to the 15% royalty rate, we have to earn back the book production cost. In order to make back our production costs, we’ll have to sell 480 copies of your short story. (120.00 ÷ 0.25 = 480) That is a lot of copies, and an average digital-only book only sells 250 copies in its lifetime. That’s a loss for everyone, which we don’t think is fair to the author or the publisher.
Novelettes aren’t going to be much different. We’d price it at $1.99, and we’ll say again that the cost of production is going be $120 again, this time netting us $0.70 per copy and $0.50 toward paying back production costs.
To earn back book production cost, it would have to sell 240 copies. Now, you might be thinking, “But you just said it’ll sell 250 copies in the last section! That’s only ten copies away, I can sell those easy.” Indeed, we did say that, but you have to remember that that’s the average, not the rule. It might sell more, it might sell less, but either way, it will take a long time to earn the cost back, and it’s still a big risk for us to take on, especially when fewer copies of a novel earn everyone more.
Don’t get us wrong, we want to make money, but our most important goal is to make sure our authors also do well.
When we do consider taking the risk for a short story or novelette, it’s because the author has another work to market alongside it. If the author has a novel of any kind, we can incentivize readers to buy the novel by getting a free short story with it. Or even, “If you liked this author, buy their short story!”
This technique has been used very successfully by multiple small presses and self-published authors. In a saturated market—which the book industry definitely is—we need to offer risk-free opportunities for readers to encounter our books. That means freebies. That means sales. And that’s why having companion pieces work: we take the hit on one piece in hopes that it generates the interest, and therefore sales, on the other.
This is a very viable and important technique and why serialized books tend to do better than stand-alone books. We need to make sure that we can sell as many copies as we can, which is why we aim to take on shorter works as companion pieces or additional works only.
So what does that mean for me?
Have a short story idea? Absolutely write it! Want a companion novelette or novella piece for your novel series? Yes, please!
However, communicate your works in progress when we request that full manuscript. Let us know “Here’s a short story I finished, and I’m working on edits for a novel as well.” We’ll take your short story submission much more seriously. Likewise, if you have a trilogy of novelettes, tell us. We can plan to release them individually, then combine them together as a “box set.”
And now for the hard news: if you don’t have those companion pieces ready, we may say “not yet” to your submission.
The good news: “Not yet” doesn’t mean never. We log every submission, and we’ll remember you if you resubmit. So get those longer pieces ready, so we can hit the ground running with marketing your wonderful writing!
Join us next week for our series on Character Arcs!
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