The eBook business has provided writers with the ability to take some liberties on the use of the term “novel.” Traditionally, a novel is defined, at least in part, by word count. On average 70 thousand words in the threshold – below in a novella. As I said, with eBook publications some of those lines have blurred. On the other end of the spectrum is the 100 thousand word count. A place where a traditional publisher starts to cringe unless we are speaking of an established series (e.g. Harry Potter, Twilight). The cringe factor isn’t because readers don’t like long stories. The reason is that price matters and word count drives page count which drives costs.
When publishing an eBook, the word count doesn’t matter -electronic space is cheap. But when we’re chopping down trees, it can make all the difference in the world. It was a lesson I learned after my first publication. Without a publisher to guide me, I was actually more concerned about having enough length. Knowing what I know now, I would have done things a little differently. This freshman ignorance, and my fifth mistake, had a greater impact than I would have ever considered.
In the beginning, I had only a small sense of the length to cost ratio. Having never published a book, I assumed that a physical book page’s content would be fairly similar to that of a Word doc page. So I had around 350 pages in book one and assumed that when published it would be around the same. By the time the first copy format was complete and the book was ready to publish, it was too late to do anything about it. And the page count was too long.
The first publication was over 400 pages. The cost of printing is based on page count. So a book carries a threshold price based on length – the minimum price that the book can be offered. That threshold price is especially affected by the use of any extended distribution channels. The more people touching it in the process from print to customer, the more discounts and profits scooped off the top. To ensure all those things are covered – the threshold price goes up. As an actual example – my second edition, physical book has a retail price of $14.95. If you purchased a copy at Barnes & Noble, my take of that would be….sixty eight cents. That means that I cannot, if I wish to use extended distribution, offer the novel for any less than $14.27 (in which case I would earn zero on each sale).
Back the original issue. In the first publication, my threshold price was announced at $19.95. A new, unknown author offering a horror novel of all things for $19.95 is equal to death. That I sold any copies was just a miracle of which I am grateful. My book was in a small market share sector. It was competing with the likes of Max Brooks’ World War Z ($9.99), Brian Keene’s The Rising ($6.00) and a slew of others like Peter Cline and David Wellington. Well, actually, at $20 my book wasn’t competing at all. I could of course work with the eBook pricing, but I had invested a good chunk of cash into the print copy. But money wasn’t my real concern – every author’s goal is to get a following, without a reasonable price, that is impossible.
The mistake was two-fold. True I did not understand at the onset the impact of length on costs and I was a little ignorant to the impact of formatting on length. During the formatting process I maximized the “dress up” options without care or consideration. I choose book antiqua for my font (kind of big), I went with 12 point instead of 11 and I opted from drop case lettering. All of which, line by line, increased the book’s length.
The second issue was not mine, it was the publisher. Although they were a great little company that offered good service, that service cost me a lot in book length. You see they liked a nice big safety net around the words. This ensured excellent spacing, but increased page count. Thing like margins and gutters kept the words from the page end, but also created an awful lot of white space. In retrospect far more white space than was required.
In my second edition I used Create Space. They provided even more options than the previous publisher. This time, however, I made more informed selections. I kept the 12 point font, but switched to a font style that was a little smaller. I did not use drop case lettering but instead opted for some classic fluerons. Those things help, but what made the real difference was working with a large company. As a direct printer they know their business and they don’t require the large safety net in formatting. The reduction of white space, reduced my page count without any impact on readability or professional presentation.
The result of these changes were that my novel page count dropped to 326. That page count reduced my threshold price from $20 to $14.95. Still not the $9.99 I preferred, but at least I wasn’t completely priced out of the market – through direct Create Space sales I can discount the book through my own direct marketing.
For comparison here are pictures of the two versions of the same page and an example of that page in Word –
So price matters and it is something you have to consider throughout the writing project. My suggestion to self publishing authors is set your goal at 65 to 75 thousand words. If you find your story will run higher – consider a developmental edit or writing a second in the series.
If you missed the rest of my series Five Mistakes I Made with My First Novel – Start Here
Also check out my other series Right That Novel
Categories: 5 Mistakes Series