My Thoughts Are Worth More Than A Value Meal (…At Least I Think They Are), guest post by Dennis B. Boyer

I write short fiction.

Very short fiction, typically. I have a terse style and I enjoy writing short tales. Particularly flash-fiction. I love very-short stories. My favorite author is Fredric Brown.

However, my following thoughts are uncharacteristically verbose, so I warn you now.

It’s been discussed before, but I’m new to the game. So I’m going to bring it up again. Join me, if you wish.

I’ve always written stories. In high-school and college I wrote all the time. But I never got picked up by traditional publishing. Sure a short-story here or there in some small lit mag or science-fiction zine. But I was never going to be the next big, breakout writer. So I largely put it away, focusing instead on more productive things. Work, family, you know… “real life”.

And then I bought my wife an e-reader last Christmas. She wanted one so I got her an Amazon Kindle. I was high-brow, so I wasn’t interested in an e-reader; I preferred “real” books. But when my wife was preoccupied, I’d check it out. So cool! I can download anything I want in an instant! I had to have one too, so I got one for myself.

That was when I discovered all these amazing “indie” books. I had missed this scene, completely. I researched further. You can self-publish your own book now! This is sweet!

I wished I had all those stories I had written in high school and college. The printed papers were long-gone, the harddrives of long-ago discarded computers were there only home now.

I’d start over, I thought to myself. So I did. I formed what I call my “Year One Self-Publishing Strategy”. I set a goal for myself– one new work a month, it didn’t have to be long, but I had to keep pace. In Year Two I can reorganize my library into larger collections and explore longer works.
I recycled a few of those old ideas, those old stories I had written as a teenager, basically rewriting them completely.

In May of 2012 I had a few pieces of speculative flash-fiction compiled into a collection which I called A Tasting of Thistles. I put it up on Amazon with an asking price of ninety-nine cents. It was only 5200 words and I was a nobody. That was what I was supposed to do, right?

I self-published two more collections of flash. They were a little longer now, at 7300 and 11300 words, but still I priced them at ninety-nine cents. Who was I to declare them to be worth more than that? That’s what indies who write short fiction do; I’m not special. I have to pay my dues, build an audience. And collect a whopping thirty-five cents for my efforts each time I do.

The books performed moderately well for a neophyte. I sold an amount of copies that let me know I was at least being read and I garnered a few four and five star reviews across Amazon’s various sites and Goodreads.

Many have commented to me that they like stories of 1000 or 2000 words in length, they fit into their lives. They are convenient. They give you something meaningful in a short amount of time. One person told me my stories were like little episodes of “The Twilight Zone”. For a Rod Serling fan, what a compliment!

My latest collection of speculative flash is called Greek Fire and Other Burning Tales. It went live on Amazon this morning, as of the time of writing this piece. It’s only 9000 words long. I have set it at $2.99.

What changed?

Well, I discovered a couple of websites. The first was an excellent community of self-published authors who hung out in the Writer’s Café on a site called Kindle Boards. Through their comments I discovered the website and blog of writer Dean Wesley Smith.

It was then that I became a disciple. A disciple of DWS.

Without knowing it, I had intuitively been following a Year One Self Publishing Strategy which was very similar to the DWS approach to short-fiction.

Dean Wesley Smith has a lot to say about writing. I don’t agree with it all. He says you should use pen-names when writing across vastly different genres. I disagree. In addition to my sci-fi and fantasy stuff I also enjoy writing faith-based stories. My third collection of flash is called Flashes of Inspiration: Brief Tales of Faith and Spirituality and it reflects my views as a Christian. Sure there’s still some weird, dark stuff in there like my story about a man who discovers the true nature of Hell. But it’s very different from my spec fic. I use my real name on both genres. I think I may have a few readers who will follow me from one to the other, too.

But it was DWS’s thoughts on price points that caught my attention and changed my Year One Self-Publishing Strategy. He’s adamant that short fiction writer’s are undervaluing their work, relegating them to obscurity among the discount bin of fiction for a buck. Hence my latest pricing for what would be considered a very short work.
I think I'm pretty good, and I don't want to be in the discount bin. I don't want to be overlooked because I'm a "blue-light special". I think my works have value, and I am now reflecting that in my asking price. I spend a good amount of time on these and I purchase high-quality covers. It's time to get some dividends on the investments of my time, effort and expenses. Is asking for a royalty of two dollars for my work really so outrageous? I buy hardcovers for $29.99. Yeah, I know they’re novels and I’m not asking for thirty buck for my flash. But are my own thoughts worth nothing more than ninety-nine cents?
So I came to a realization– I'm not selling words, I'm selling ideas.
My stories, I believe, are poignant and thoughtful. I have been told they linger in the minds of my readers as they reflect upon their meanings and the implications which I have alluded to. So, I've decided, it doesn't matter if they can read one of my stories in a few minutes. An entire book in an hour or less.
I'm offering more than just word counts.

My next work, currently being formatted, is a short story of 5000 words. I'm going to ask $2.99 for that as well. You can read it in probably twenty minutes. But I think its worth three bucks. It has depth and significance. I'm asking about half the cost of a value meal. You know the number four with fries and a Dr. Pepper that you’ll gladly hand over seven bucks for. You’ll scarf it down in ten minutes. And you’ll be hungry again later. But you’ll pay it, happily so. My thoughts are worth more than a value meal aren’t they?

I also have a novelette that will drop soon. It's about 15K. For me, that's an epic. And I think it is pretty damn epic, actually. I'm going to ask $4.99 for it. Yup, a whole Abe Lincoln for something I've been working on for months now, pouring my heart, soul, and energy into. The value meal is still more expensive.

Some of you will say, "That's crazy, I can get a whole novel for that price!" Okay, then go ahead. If I ever write a novel, I'll be asking what the big boys ask for it. Eight or nine bucks. A small fortune, I know.

"I won't buy something that short for that much money."

I understand that. A lot of people won't, easily the majority of people. But I'm taking a chance that some people will. Hopefully the readers I've invited into my mind for a dollar will agree. And I don’t need that many. At a royalty of $2.08 compared to $0.35, I only need one willing reader for every six at the lower price point to break even.

If not, so be it. Maybe I'm not as good as I think I am. That's okay too. But damn if I'm going to dismiss myself without trying first.

And perhaps some readers will see my books among the myriad of ninety-nine-centers and think, hmm... that might be something there. Prestige pricing, you may call it. I think of it as asking what my stuff is worth. If people disagree I'm sure they'll let me know via an assault of low-star reviews. We'll see.

“But Den, e-books aren’t value meals, you can’t compare the two.”

I know. A book has the ability to make people think, to consider bold, new ideas. It has the ability to affect them on a deeply personal level. It can entertain them by transporting them to brand new worlds, amazing places where the possibilities are limited only by the human imagination.

You can get a side of honey mustard sauce with the value meal. If you ask for it.

So I am really being so crazy to assign these the values I have?

 But still, I am hesitant. I’m bucking the system, following a mad messiah known as Dean Wesley Smith. I’m taking part in an uprising, a revolution. It does indeed make me nervous. Will I be rejected for my audacity? Will people stop buying my books because of my over-inflated sense of self-importance?

That’s why I am putting my thoughts to virtual-paper and sharing them with you– so that I don't waver. So I don't allow doubt and uncertainty to reenter my psyche and reverse my course of action. So I don't chicken out. Once I've committed to pushing the "send" button on this e-mail, my thoughts are real are out there. They become “real”. I can't take them back.

And if you’re a self-published writer, maybe some of you will agree with DWS and me and the other self-pubbed writers who have reached this conclusion before I have. And perhaps you'll find you haven't been giving your work the value it warrants, either.

Anyways, that's my rant for the day. It was more for me than for you, but if you've made it to the end, I hope it was worth your time. I'll let you know how it goes with Greek Fire and my higher-priced works.

Be well.

-Den

Check out Dennis' work on Amazon.

Comments

  1. Hi Alain, Thanks for having Dennis on your blog. I enjoyed his article. I hope that you'll have him back in a couple of months to write a follow up article to let us know how things are working for him.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Definitely! It's an interesting concept. There are strong pros and cons. As an observer, one thing I am curious about is if this higher price point will speed up or slow down his brand name development.

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