Question: I seems like many authors I’ve found in the last few years are moving toward series that have shorter page count per book and maybe one or two “filler” episodes so that the reading experience feels more like watching TV shows. These authors seem to throw out 3-5 books a year in multiple series. Do you think this is a trend in writing due to the changes in publishing? Is it just a reaction to self publishing (I can, therefore I will)? I am sometimes waffling between being grateful authors are able to write and feeling miffed that I’m basically getting 1/2-3/4 of a story. They sell them cheap ($2.99-$3.99), but it feels like 2-3 of the books could have been smooshed together and edited to make one better book. Any thoughts appreciated.
This is what I get for asking for questions. 🙂 Thought we’d start with this one, since it’s dicey.
Disclaimer: what follows is complete speculation on my part and shouldn’t be construed as criticism of any particular author. I have no idea what motivates any individual author except me and possibly Gordon, and I’m simply making observation on the marketplace.
There are probably two forces in play here, the speed of production and the demands of the marketplace.
Speed of production.
Once an author has written something, they typically can’t wait to show it off. The traditional publishing forces the author to wait, sometimes a year, sometimes longer (cough, White Hot, cough.) There is all this pressure to share the story, but the wheels of publishing turn slowly: the story must be edited, then edited again, typeset, proofread, fitted into schedule as to not to conflict with other releases, printed, hand-sold to retailers, and finally shipped. All of this takes time.
With self-publishing, there are no imposed timelines. I know an author, let’s call her Emily. Emily finishes a manuscript, gets an edit – often paying rush fees, because it’s last minute – and as soon as she gets it back, formats and uploads it. No warning, no prepublication publicity, just boom, here it is. She doesn’t like to wait. We, on other hand, do things like make the manuscript available fore preorder weeks in advance, because we’ve been trained by professional publishing to this model and it works.
So some of what you are seeing as readers in regard to rapid publication may simply be authors who are writing at their natural speed and publishing stuff as soon as it’s done and edited. They exist in traditional publishing as well. Nora Roberts. Jayne Anne Krentz. These people simply write faster, and even though the publisher paces the releases, they often have multiple releases per year.
Demands of the Marketplace.
Self-publishing used to be more lucrative. Right now KU is kind of choking the numbers. KU customers borrow books, but the majority of people who signed up for KU never purchased a book through Amazon, something Amazon freely admits. The payout through KU isn’t as awesome as an outright purchase. We test drove KU for a bit, and we get better mileage with direct sales.
On top of lower sales, there is pressure to compete. The marketplace is glutted with fiction. There is an embarrassment of riches. When there is that much product, most of the offerings are mediocre, but it doesn’t matter. Research has shown that if a person wants a particular movie or book, they would rather settle for a mediocre book on their preferred topic than buy a better quality book in a different genre. If you’re in the mood for SF with aliens and romance, you will buy one, a mediocre one if that’s all you can find, even though an award-winning fantasy is on sale. This competition for reader attention drives the prices down.
So let’s do some math.
To get the best royalty rate from Amazon and other retailers, the book has to be priced in $2.99 -9.99 range. That gives us the royalty of 70%.
Let’s say we put out two full length book a year, a natural writing pace for many people. We price them at $4.99 to be competitive.
Our take home after Amazon cut: $4.99 x .7 = $3.49.
Let’s say we have two books a year, and each one of them sells 10,000 copies, so we sold a total of 20,000 units.
Our annual earnings: $3.49 x 20,000 = $69,800.
Now let’s say we put our 4 books of shorter length and price them at $2.99.
Our take home after Amazon cut: $2.99 x .7= $2.09
Let’s say each of these books sells 10,000 copies. We’re losing some readers due to drop in quality, but we have releases that are coming fast, and every time the book is released, the backlist gets a bump. Also, because the books are released that quickly to an existing fan base, the volume of sales remains more or less constant. When a book reaches a certain sales volume, Amazon and BN marketing algorithms shove the book in front of the readers by including it in “other customers also purchased” and “sponsored products” sections, which means the books get a lot more exposure. Exposure translates into higher sales.
$2.09 x 40,000 = $83,600.
Now, if we are mercenary, and we raise the price to $3.99.
$3.99 x .7 =$2.79 x 36,000 (we knocked off some sales because the price is slightly higher) = $100, 400.
We’re making bank now.
I’ve seen authors abuse serials before, releasing installments as short as 15,000 words, a length of a shorter novella, and pricing them at $3.99. They could do ten of these a year. And people still bought them. They complained bitterly, but they bought them because they were invested in the story. ::spreads arms:: By the end, they paid something like $40 for what would’ve been maybe two books at the traditional publishing price of $6.99 each, meaning they overpaid by about $16.
As a reader, you have to make a decision. Are the books in any particular series dropping in quality due to multiple cheap releases, and if they are, are they worth your time? Because it’s not about the money as much. We can always make more money. But you will never get your time back.