What Should Your E-Book Cost?

Most authors (including me) are not experts in economics.  Many of them might have a vague idea that if their book was priced high, they’d make more money.  But this ignores the relationship between price and quantity sold.  The author should be seeking to maximize income over all, not income per book sold.

Caveat:  I’m no economist, so this is my best guess at the economics of e-book pricing. The thousands of economists who read my blog should comment and correct any errors I make.

Supply-and-demandThe relationship between price and quantity, from the consumer’s (or reader’s) view, is what economists call the demand curve.  Price something high and few people will buy it, and vice versa.  In classic economic theory, the demand curve gets paired with a supply curve and the intersection of the curves yields the equilibrium price.  The theory behind the supply curve is that high prices compel suppliers to produce more, and vice versa.

How does this apply to your electronic book?  The demand curve indicates you’ll sell more books at a lower price and fewer at a higher price.

But you can throw the supply curve out the window when it comes to e-books.  Why?  The supply curve is based on some assumptions, which are true for most products:

1.  If you’ve produced x  items so far, there is some measureable effort expended and resources used to produce the x + 1 item.

2.  Since resources are needed to produce the x + 1 item, it is possible to have shortages or surpluses of the item.

3.  The market is competitive.

None of those assumptions is true for e-books.  After the first book is produced, there is zero effort and zero resources expended for all the books that follow.  Therefore there can be no shortages or surpluses.  Also, the market is not competitive; there is only one source for your book.  Whoever publishes it has exclusive rights, though they may license competitive distributors to get the book to readers.

So it’s impossible to draw a supply curve for an e-book.  Quantity is irrelevant, so no supply curve, and no equilibrium price.

If you’re an author wondering whether your e-book is priced right, the lack of a supply curve and equilibrium price doesn’t leave you any more lost than you would be otherwise, though.  That’s because those curves represent a reasonable theory of how most markets work.  In practice, things get difficult.

Here’s a thought experiment:  Say you want to plot the demand curve for your just-published e-book using real data.  You set the price at $10,000 and nobody buys it.  You gradually lower the price each week and plot the sales data.  Eventually your book is priced at $0.01, demand is very high, and you’ve got your complete curve drawn.

The problems are: (1) many decades have elapsed, and (2) you haven’t ended up with the real demand curve after all, but pieces of many curves.  That’s because the curve changes with time too.  Economists say demand curves shift right or left depending on consumer tastes and preferences, the prices of related goods, and other factors which change with time.  What you really wanted at the launch of your e-book was the complete curve at that time, but there’s no practical way to determine it.

Sadly, e-book pricing involves guesswork.  If you’re self-publishing, you can set the price near that of similar books, and alter that price as circumstances warrant.  If you engaged a publisher, you have to trust their guesswork.

They call economics the dismal science, and we’ve arrived at a dismal conclusion.  Don’t blame me.  I’m no economist; I’m—

                                                                  Poseidon’s Scribe

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January 26, 2014Permalink

Thanks to Your Efforts…

top10shortstorysfMy story “A Tale More True” was rated 4th among all Science Fiction short stories in the Critters Workshop Annual Predators and Editors Readers Poll for 2013.  I earned a badge signifying a Top Ten finisher.

My thanks to all of you who voted for my story.  With your help, next year’s readers poll will be even better for—

                                                 Poseidon’s Scribe

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January 24, 2014Permalink

Got a Good Case of Writer’s Block?

Writer’s Block gets a lot of bad press.  Authors fear it.  It’s called an occupational hazard.  People write about how to avoid it and how to get unblocked, and I’m one of those who’s written posts like that (here and here).

Could it be that Writer’s Block (WB) might really be a good thing?

Writers block on a pedestalToday I’ll try finding some positive aspects of WB.  I’ll put it on a pedestal and let it shine a bit.

I came across this brief quote from author Gay Talese and it caused me to look at WB in a different light.  He says it’s a signal we’re not ready to write at our best; it’s an inner voice that is doing us a favor by holding us back.

True, WB is an interruption in your production of words, and you will earn no sales from future works until production resumes.  But Talese is saying there are worse things, such as creating stories of inferior quality.  At best, those low-grade stories won’t get published.  At worst, they will, and your reputation as an author will suffer.

Perhaps, then, you should think of WB as an opportunity.  It’s the stranger who grabs you by the shoulder while you’re hacking your way through the forest with your machete and says, “There’s quicksand, and a hungry bear, and a steep cliff that way, Mate.”  Then he vanishes somewhere into the foliage.

It’s decision time for you.  You could ignore him and continue hacking.  Or you could consult your map and compass and discover he is right.  You were going the wrong direction.  The lost city of gold lies that way.

Note: this mysterious guide only detained you.  He didn’t point out the right way, let alone lead you straight to El Dorado.  Writer’s Block by itself doesn’t get your story going aright.  It only stays you from going awry.  It’s up to you to figure out the proper path.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying WB is something to seek out or strive for.  It’s best not to be hacking your way toward the quicksand in the first place.  It’s just comforting to know that if you are headed for trouble, some strange entity, some being from your unconscious mind, may seize your shoulder before you’ve gone too far.

Maybe changing the name will cause us to think of it in a different light.  Writer’s Block sounds dreadful, like some career-stalling or hobby-killing disease. Perhaps Writer’s Pause or something like that would be better.  If you can think of a more positive term for Writer’s Block, let me know by leaving a comment.

Got you to look at it differently, didn’t I?  You’re welcome.  Don’t worry; I’ve already thought of a way you can express your gratitude.  If you do get a good case of Writer’s Block, and it causes you to rethink your story, and a publisher gives you a million dollar advance, it would be only right for you to mail a modest but significant check to—

                                                      Poseidon’s Scribe

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January 19, 2014Permalink

Scamming Writers for Fun and Profit

As long as there has been money, there have been scammers trying to separate people from their coin while providing nothing in return.  Today I’ll discuss scamming writers, from the scammer’s point of view.  (Note:  I am not encouraging scamming; I’m trying to make a point to budding writers.)

Writer ScamIn general, scams work best when your mark has a strong need for something, but not a lot of knowledge of the world.  You’d think that a rare combination, but there’s enough of them out there for you to get by.

People who want to be writers are particularly susceptible.  Why?  Glad you asked.

1.  New writers without much experience are confused by the process.  After all, it’s not like other businesses, where you get a company-paid training session on Day 1.

2.  Writers can get really, really desperate to be published.  They’re willing to do anything to see their name in print.

3.  Writers work alone, so they’ve got no one to turn to for advice, guidance, or support.

4.  Beginning writers are used to rejection, since they’ve been submitting stories and getting turned down often.  That means you can string them along with vague promises awhile; for them, a half assurance is better than outright rejection.

5.  In a lot of other businesses, you really do have to pay a little money now to make a lot of money later.  Therefore, you can easily convince new writers that writing is the same way.  Newbies don’t know that money should almost always flow to the writer.

6.  The writing biz is just complicated enough so you can set up your scam at almost any point in it.  You can be a scam-editor, a scam-publisher, a scam-agent, or a scam-marketer.  You can offer a scam-writing workshop or scam-conference, run a scam-contest, or dozens of other things.

7.  It’s difficult for new writers to distinguish your scam from a legitimate business.  As long as your website looks professional, how are they going to tell?  There are plenty of editors, agents, publishers, etc. that are legitimate and not scammers but are just bad at their job.  Unlike us, they provide something to the writer, but it’s of low quality.  We’re just one step across the line from them; our task is to give nothing in return for the writer’s money.

8.  There’s no place a beginning writer can go to find out information about us scammers.  Well, okay, there’s Writer Beware, but how many of them know about that?  Besides, our message is positive and enticing (You can be published!  You can have guaranteed sales of your stories!), but “Writer Beware” is just a downer.

I’m done thinking like a scammer.  It felt so wrong and I had to scrub down in the shower for ten minutes just to get the slime off.

You understand my overall point.  The scammers are out there, and they’re after your money.  As a writer, money flows to you, not the other way around.  There are resources out there to help you.  Whether you’ve been scammed or not, whether you’re a scammer or not, I’d love to read any comments you have about this. Remember, it costs you nothing to leave a comment for—

                                           Poseidon’s Scribe

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January 12, 2014Permalink

Formula for Success

Have you ever written formula fiction? Is it good or bad to do so?  What is it, exactly?

formula 2If your story re-uses the plot, plot devices, and stock characters of other stories, then you’ve written formula fiction.  It’s different from the term genre, in that genre fiction makes use of the same setting and style as other works within the genre, but genre fiction may vary plot and characters considerably.  I termed such writers formulists in a brief discussion here.

Although literary critics tend to dismiss formula fiction, there are so many published stories, it’s difficult to come up with entirely new plots and characters.

Usually there’s a good reason why a writer chooses a formula.  It works!  It’s a curious thing that readers enjoy reading formula fiction.  They’re comfortable with the character types, and although they know how the story will come out, they follow along anyway.  Readers can forgive a great deal if the author tells the story in an interesting way.

I’ll discuss plot types in a future blog post, but with formula fiction there’s no real attempt to vary from a proven plot line too much.  Just re-use what’s been done before, perhaps with slight deviations in setting or style, or specific plot events.

The use of stock characters frees the writer from having to include a lot of explanation or description.  After only a few words, the reader understands all there is to know.  Again, it’s possible to vary a bit from the standard character type, but there’s little need.

I said it’s a curious thing that readers would enjoy formula fiction, but perhaps it’s not so mysterious.  Before there was a formula, there was an enterprising writer (or oral storyteller) who conveyed the story for the first time.  It struck a chord.  It was successful.  After that, why not just do variations on a popular and effective theme?

Examples of formula fiction include romance, horror fiction, and space opera.  Each of these has withstood the test of time because each has appealing characteristics that really reach an audience, and keep on reaching generations of new readers.

In the case of romance fiction, readers enjoy the odd or awkward meeting (the ‘meet-cute’) between man and woman characters who seem opposite or ill-fitting at first, then they warm to each other, only to have a parting of the ways, and finally reunite in love at the end.  An overdone plot line?  Apparently not yet, since this formula sells more books than any other by far.

In horror fiction, at least the cinematic type, the audience sees a mixed-gender group of characters who are isolated in some way and face a horrible entity bent on their destruction.  One by one the characters are killed until only a lone female—the so-called final girl— is left to either defeat the entity or escape.  Another plot line that has not run its course.

For space opera, readers are treated to a heroic character in the distant future, somewhere in outer space, confronting a menace threatening the survival of the hero’s people.  The hero strives against the evil force, and just when it appears all is lost, the hero is able to defeat the menace.  This formula continues to work.

Despite what critics might say, there’s nothing wrong with formula fiction, particularly if you’d like to sell your stories.  There’s plenty of room within the constraints of the formula to display your creativity as a writer.  So, like a mad scientist (Mwahahaha!), go ahead and use your (fiction) formula to take over the world!  Good luck, says—

                                                            Poseidon’s Scribe

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Vote for Your Favorite Story

predlogoEach year at this time, the Critters Writers Workshop conducts a Predators and Editors Poll to see which newly published e-book readers prefer.

Anyone can vote for his or her favorite book in a wide variety of categories.  It’s not really a scientific poll, but winning it (or landing in the top ten) gives the author(s) some bragging rights.

Oh, I just noticed one of my own stories, “A Tale More True,” is one of the entries in the Science Fiction & Fantasy Short Story part of the poll.  How about that?  In fact, it’s running second in the standings as of today.

Now that I think about it, it’s even possible for you to vote for my story, should you wish to do so.  All you do is click the button beside your favorite story’s title (for example, “A Tale More True”), then scroll to the bottom, enter your e-mail address, and type a name from an image to prove you’re not a spam robot.  Then you’ll get an e-mail to confirm your vote.

And, by the way, Happy New Year!  Here’s hoping 2014 is a good year for you and for—

                                                Poseidon’s Scribe

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