Testing Times – Writing for the Web

It was a while ago I decided that I’d have to test the digital waters.
At present a few of my books are up there on the web. I’ve the first six or so titles available through the HarperCollins imprint Avon Books in the US, and the more recent books are all on the internet as well. However, the bulk of my series isn’t up there yet, and there are good financial reasons for that.
I’m a firm believer in the “No one but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money” class of authors. If I’m going to think up a good plot, spend days or months writing it down, and miss out on little pleasures like holidays and a life generally, I want to be paid something for my effort.
A few years ago my last publisher demanded all digital rights for free. I wasn’t keen, oddly enough.
For me, the best guarantee that I’ll earn something at some future date is the fact that a publisher is prepared to defray some of my up-front costs – ie, pay me.
Publishers do perform a useful purpose.
They have the ability to see a possible bestseller. The mere fact that a publisher has taken on a book is an indication that the book is of a reasonable quality. Then, publishers edit, copyedit, re-edit and proof read every book that they publish. You may still find the odd typo, but generally they do a good job. A publisher’s label on a jacket is a sign of quality, no matter what indie and self-published authors assert. A book that is edited and copyedited and then published will not have had the critical eye of an industry professional tearing it apart, and thus may (it’s not definite, but it’s pretty much certain) be far poorer than a published book.

City of Fiends – time you pre-ordered your copy now. Available in less than a month now!

But even if the author gets a publishing contract, he or she still gets a pretty bad deal. My last publishers agreed a punitive rate of discount which hurt me badly (and is the reason why I was forced to leave their stable). After all, when a publisher pays an advance, it is only an interest-free loan which has to be paid back (so many people don’t get that: advances are not a gift or salary, they must be repaid out of royalties).
But now we don’t need publishers. We have Kindle. The internet is invigorating. It’s open, freeing, liberating, exciting. That’s what I see all about me. Excitement. Liberation. Freedom.
Excuse me.
You look at those words again, and apply them to your income. “Exciting” and “liberating” tend to have unpleasant connotations when they refer to your own money. It begins to sound like that appalling cliché about every horrible event in your life being an “opportunity”. No. Horrible things happen. They are not opportunities, they are often bloody disasters. I know this. I’ve lived through two recessions that have destroyed my livelihood. They weren’t soul-inspiring events.
The fact is, whether you are employed or self-employed, you crave a little stability. A minimum income level, perhaps.
For writers, there has never been any security. We write and hope that a fickle audience will be teased into buying. Most writers have suffered from appalling incomes for many years. Over three quarters earned less than the national average wage when the Society of Authors last checked. That was before the advent of Kindle, Googlebooks etc.
But the internet is here to stay. There is no getting away from that.
And so, I have decided to bite the bullet and see how my own works will fare. It necessarily means a change in the way that I work, because I must learn how to market and irritate the hell out of people with my scribblings about my books. Well, ideally not irritate them, but you know what I mean – there is a fine balance between determinedly flogging your wares and putting off any readers who might otherwise have been excitedly running to the computer to order the latest.
Whereas in the past I spent all the year planning, thinking and plotting about new stories, now I have to spend much more time in marketing and selling them. It’ll reduce the number of stories I can write. It’s a shame, but it is inevitable. I have to sell them to survive.
What is the best way of selling books? Well, I’ve decided that I’ll start with short stories. Heck, they’re easy. A short read, and I think that a single short of 7-8,000 words should be worth a pound. It’s a diversion for an hour or two, and I guess 50 pennies per hour should be fair payment.
Then, I’ve a collection of four stories that are all Baldwin/Puttock tales and which have been published over some years. They all seem to be begging to be lumped together, so I thought that all together I could sell them for £2.99, which again is pretty cheap for about eight hours of entertainment.

The cover for my new collection of short stories – to be released shortly (as soon as I figure out how to get it up on Kindle!)

Of course, if these go well, I will be looking at my modern thriller. That, and an associated short story, could be sold on the internet too. I guess the thriller would be a good buy at £4.99, the short for another 99 pennies.
It’s not a precise science, of course. Many people will think that I’m charging far too much. I recently had an enthusiastic fool try to recommend that I put all my books on the web for free, and hope that readers will read my work and then come back and pay me something for it. Somehow I don’t think he’d like his own income to depend upon others coming back to pay him from goodwill.
I am not that kind of blockhead.
However, while some folks think I’m overpricing, I have to consider several factors. One, that I am looking at about a year of solid work for all the above stories. I don’t see why I should give away my time and labour for free. Second, other people have designed covers etc. I’ve already had to pay them for their work – and it’s good work, too, as you can see from the short story cover. They are worth their pay, just as I am.
So, is 99 pennies too much for a short story? Is £4.99 too much for a novel? Or are they too little?
I don’t know, in short. But it’s going to be interesting to find out!

16 Responses to “Testing Times – Writing for the Web”
  1. ann slicer says:

    I did not realize that it was such hard work to get a book published and how poorly paid you all are are all I want is for you to get on with the next book,just goes to show how ignorant some folks are ,but I love your books,so Micheal go for it ,it would be a shame to lose your stories,also I do enjoy your photos and comments on facebook.please do not give up,from now on I will look at authors with a new prospective


    • Don’t you worry, Ann. There are two books ready and waiting to be published, and I’m hoping that more will be flowing too. But it is hard to make money as a writer, much more difficult than before, when there was some price fixing to protect authors. But those days are gone now, and there’s nothing will bring them back, sadly.


  2. Ralph Spurrier says:

    I do think you are in a better position than a lot of authors, Mike. With a considerable backlist – and a reputation that has built a readership ready to take your latest – there is going to be a substantial market for your e-books. As you say, though, all this takes time and takes you away from writing new material. However you’ve done the really hard work on the older books (writing them!) and now spending a little more time in organising and promoting the back list will reap dividends. Let’s face it most of the older books – and I’m talking about 99% of authors here – get published, have their day in hardback, in paperback and then gradually fade into the sunset and when the publisher sees no further mileage in reprinting the early titles, that’s it, you’re off the shelf chum. E-books now give a further income stream to an author. I’m not surpised you told your previous publisher to sling their hook. They tried the same approach to another writer of historical mysteries on their list and he promptly moved the whole list, new and old, out.
    Pricing is a difficult area but I’d definitely keep BELOW the £5.00 mark for novels. Maybe £3.99…but the price doesn’t have to be set for all time. Its something you can play about with. Some authors do a “special” price of £1.99 for a short period ensuring that the potential readers get to know about the offer. This is where your marketing skills come into play. Yes, it takes time and energy but adding as many strings to your writing bow as possible but this is what authors have to do now to make themselves “visible” in the e-world. In truth, most genre authors were totally dependent on a fairly minimal or non-existant marketing from the publishers who depended on the authors pumping out a novel a year to justify bringing them to market in the first place. It was (is) a simple numbers game. Do x hundred in hardback, x thousand in paperback, sell’em out – next please!
    Now you have control and can breathe life back into the backlist (and earning a few bob) while promoting and writing your new titles.
    Good luck!


    • Thanks for the thoughts, Ralph. It’s a tough call on pricing. I think I’ve got things about right, but it’s damn hard to tell until the things get out there and we learn the hard way!


  3. akhenkhan says:

    Welcome to the new world of publishing Michael. Amazon’s KDP system is a doddle to use. Your quite right – once you take the self publishing route as I have, you will find yourself literally doing everything re publicity.

    Good luck. :D


  4. I buy most of my books on Kindle and never pay more than £3.99 – a lot of excellent writers – Dibdin.Leon have back lists for a lot less than that. I think £2-99 is the optimum price – you get 70% of that -which is more than you get from a mmpb.


    • The way things are, I earn more from a library loan than I do for a paperback sold in the US – interesting, though. So you wouldn’t pay £4.99 for a novel? I assumed that under a fiver would be a fair price for a book which would normally be £7.99 or £8.99 in paperback (before discount, of course). Mind you, I don’t know what happens with VAT on Kindle. I assume that gets in there somehow – although Amazon are remarkably unenthusiastic about letting us know what the VAT is.


      • Ralph Spurrier says:

        I’d go with Fenella on this one and say £3.99 is the top price. As I said earlier if you take a long view on the e-book production you could do Book #1 at £1.99 -as a special offer for starters and new readers – and then Book #2 at £2.50 and so on until you get a feel for the kind of take-up you are getting. The trick is to get e-book readers hooked and want them to come back for the next and the next. I would expect an e-book reader would be prepared to give something a go more readily at a “bargain” price of say £1.99 than a paperback buyer at 50% off price. And remember YOU are in charge of the price and can vary it up and down as you see fit.


      • Cheers, Ralph. Food for thought. I think that the first of my books (modern thriller) would be better priced at, say, £4.49 or £4.99 rather than the lower rates. That’s where Hurwitz and guys like McCall Smith are priced. Then again, guys like Patterson and others are up there at £8 plus, so I think I’m positioned about right. We’ll see!


  5. ginahepburn says:

    £4.99 is the average price I’ve paid for an ebook (novel length) from an established author and I think it’s a good price. I certainly wouldn’t charge less unless you’re having a marketing push and bring the price down temporarily. Authors still have to eat!

    Best of luck!


  6. ginahepburn says:

    I’m with you on the pricing. £4.99 is the average price I’ll pay for an ebook (novel length) from an established author and I think it’s a fair one. You can always lower the price temporarily for marketing purposes but I wouldn’t price yourself too low. Authors have to eat too!

    Best of luck!


    • Many thanks, Gina (and sorry it took me so long to see your messages – getting the kids ready for school!). I’m glad you agree – there are so many ideas for how to get pricing right. You only have to look at publishers and how they’re struggling with pricing. But I think that the under £5 mark is about right for a novel. And hopefully I can earn enough to pay some of the mortgage at that level as well as eat.


      • ginahepburn says:

        I can’t believe my comment posted twice – I wrote the first but it went to a blank screen when I pressed send so I had to write it again, grr wordpress!

        Ah yes, the mortgage, always in need of paying! I have to keep reminding clients about that when they fail to pay me: “um, I know you think I should be doing this for free because I’m an artiste, but I’m afraid I’ll be needing that cheque”..


      • I once had a local authority wait nearly six months before paying me for a talk. Never, never again!


  7. Tasha Turner says:

    I know I’m coming to this late. Dean Wesley Smith in http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=7143 says: price your short story at at least $2.99 ; $3.99 for a 20,000 word collection and then up from there.

    I think 4.99 for a novel is more than reasonable given you are an established author and have a following. You will need to get more active on the social networking end (Twitter/Facebook). Make sure you are friending/following your readers who are likely to promote your books (@turner_tasha) because we want to see you succeed. I’m new to your blog but have been recommending your book offline to friends and family for years. Make sure your Facebook author page is linked in with your blog so your blog posts show their automatically. Add networked blog feature to the blog so people can subscribe to your blog that way… Umm sorry I tend to get a bit carried away when I talk about social media as that is what my area of expertise is.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: