The Economics of New eBook Covers

This week I started updating my ebook covers to meet the new requirements by buying newer stock graphics at a larger size since the smaller stock graphics don’t scale up well. Since I’m also restructuring my writing business, I’m also thinking about the economics of the new ebook covers in terms of breaking even and making a profit.

With the average price per stock graphic going from $1.67 USD to $8.35 USD for each ebook cover, I’ll need to sell more short story and essay ebooks at $0.99 USD each to offset the increased cost. Unfortunately, I’m not able to raise prices on my ebooks since I specialized in the shorter and less expensive end of the ebook market. If the price per ebook can’t change, I need to change something else to become profitable.

I was recently followed by Bibliocracy on Twitter and invited to submit my ebooks for sale at Bibliocracy. Since I’m already on Amazon and Smashwords, and in the process of abandoning Scribd for nonexistent sales, I’m reluctant to put time and effort into another market with uncertain prospects. But I did check out Bibliocracy and found one unusual requirement. The minimum word count is 2,500 words (ten pages), which disqualified most of my short story ebooks (the average length is over 1,000 words).

The more I thought about this market, the only suitable ebooks I have for Bibliocracy  are the omnibus ebooks (i.e., multiple ebooks collected into a single ebook) at $1.99 USD each. With two omnibus ebooks available, I can try out this market with very little effort. Unlike Amazon and Smashwords with a vast ocean of titles, Bibliocracy is a small pond with a growing list of titles. My omnibus ebooks should sell well here than elsewhere. A new market for higher priced ebooks will help decrease overall costs.

With Bibliocracy’s 2,500-word minimum requirement, and if Bibliocracy becomes a viable market for my titles, can I really afford to publish a short story ebook with less than 2,500 words? Maybe, maybe not. Like my 500-word flash stories, I might be bundling a handful of short stories into an ebook. Perhaps these short story bundles will sell better together than as individual ebooks at $0.99 USD.

Looking at my ebook publishing calendar for the next 18 months, I decided not to publish a new ebook per week. I’m still working at a full-time, non-writing job to pay the everyday bills. With blogging four times a week, building up the ebook buffer, and writing new material in between, I need more slack time in the schedule to keep everything on track. With each ebook cover costing $8.35 USD, I can only afford to do three ebook covers per month. I’m returning to my previous schedule of publishing an essay and short story ebook every month, with a free blog posting ebook tossed in.

Like my early days of being an over-the-transom short story writer, my carefree days of being an ebook publisher are gone.

The Batman Shooting – Life Intimating Art Or Vice Versa?

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Graphic Novel by Frank Miller

No sooner than a gunman got finished shooting a crowded Colorado movie theater straight to hell, the societal blame game started. With guns involved, no one was going to blame the current state of gun control. Not that it didn’t prevent ABCNews from initially blaming the Tea Party or Micheal Bloomburg from making an attempt. With the biggest summer movie premier of the summer involved, Batman—both the current movie and the cultural icon—would get the blame.

The Washington Examiner went one step further by tying a scene from “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns,” a graphic novel by Frank Miller, to the shooting, where a disgruntled man, angry at the pervasiveness of heavy metal music and pornography, sits down in a porno theater and pulls out a gun. The last panel shows a news anchor announcing the shooting with details coming up next. Was this life intimating art or vice versa?

Unless a copy of the graphic novel shows up in the shooter’s possession, I’m not sure if such a question can ever be answered. The shooter—like any American-grown terrorist—may have been drawn by the outsized publicity for the movie and the huge crowd gathering at the midnight showing to find an audience for his violence. Killing 12 and wounding 58 people will get his name—which I’m not using in this blog post—a quick ticket into the history book. The next nut job will have to do something even more brazen to get attention.

Sometimes a violent shooting does intimate art. After several high school shooters had reportedly read or were in possession of “The Rage” by Stephen King (originally published under the Richard Bachman pen name), a novel about a teenager who shoots the teacher dead and takes over classroom at gunpoint, King ordered the publisher to declare the book out of print. He wrote the novel while was still in high school, where his pain and anger at society was still raw, becoming something of a how-to manual for teenage readers who had easy access to guns and a deep-seated grudge to bear.

As a short story writer who writes mostly horror, does the Batman shooting inspires me to write something as equally horrifying or more so? No, not yet.

I’m always amazed that real life incidents are more gruesome than anything I can think up with my imagination. Although a weird incident can prompt a 500-word flash story, something this serious should sink into the subconscious before bubbling up after a long time in a story somewhere. Eleven years after the World Trade Center attack, I’m only now becoming receptive to writing a 9/11 story. Because I waited to let everyone write their stories in the aftermath, the story I write will be my own zeitgeist that stands apart from crowd.

Meanwhile, I’m working on my non-speculative short stories this weekend. The horror of the real world and my imagination is something I don’t want to deal with. I’m no longer dying to see the new Batman movie. Maybe next weekend.

Putting A Price On Your Literary Copyrights

When filing for my Chapter 7 bankruptcy last year, the paralegal for my attorney needed a price for my literary copyrights and the documentation backing up that price. Neither the paralegal nor I knew how to do that. After the paralegal consulted with the attorney, she told me to talk to an intellectual property rights attorney. (Never mind that I could barely afford to file for bankruptcy.) A Google search turned up nothing useful.

I didn’t think my copyrights were worth too much. I’m just a short story writer that no one heard about who found a niche in the genre anthologies and started publishing my reprints as ebooks. At the time of my filing, I made less than a hundred bucks a year from my copyrights. If I was Stephen King or J.K. Rowlings, my copyrights would be worth substantially more, and, even then, it might be difficult to determine a price for their copyrights.

While I was pondering this weighty legal matter, a contract from Pill Hill Press valued my short story, “The Lunch Box,” at a quarter-cent per word (the typical rate for a “non-pro” genre market). I had my answer. After figuring out the per-word number for each of my copyrights, I was able to provide a precise dollar amount and the documentation—a copy of the publishing contract—that satisfied the attorney’s requirements.

Were my literary copyrights worth a quarter-cent per word? Maybe, maybe not.

I started thinking about the value of my literary and other copyrights after setting up an  intellectual property holding company (IPHC), where I needed to value my contributions (i.e., cash and copyrights) for the owners equity account. A quarter-cent per word is still a valid metric and I have two-dozen contracts to back up that value.

Since the IPHC will be handling the first serial right sales for my copyrights, a quarter-cent per word will probably be the prevailing rate for the foreseeable future. If I ever go “pro” (as if six dozen short stories weren’t enough to establish my writing creds), making a nickel per word would be a big step up.

Writing And Editing On Public Transit Again

After my father passed away from lung cancer in early May, my car—which was his old car—finally kicked the hub cap a few weeks later when—ironically—I went to the post office to pick up his ashes. Without a car to drive, I had to rely on a friend to drive me to work in the mornings and take the light rail home in the evenings. Since public transit takes forever to cross Silicon Valley, I spent my commute time writing and editing. Something I used for many years before I got a car.

After getting off work at the hospital, I’ll cross the street for the bus that will take 15 minutes to get over to the light rail station in Mountain View. I’m usually listening to an audio book on my iPod Touch for this part of the trip. I don’t want to get distracted with writing and editing that I miss the stop at the transit center. After I get off bus and walk over to the light rail station, I’ll pull out my clipboard and spend the next 15 minutes to see what I need to do for that day. When the light rail train pulls into the station, I’ll take a seat inside and work for the next 75 minutes. Walking home from the light rail station takes ten minutes.

My clipboard almost always has four unfinished short stories at various stages of being written or edited. If I’m writing new material, I’m using a black Pilot G2 pen. If I’m editing old material, I’m using a red Pilot Precision V5 pen. If a short story has a submission date, I’ll focus on that one. Otherwise I’ll jump around to the different short stories until I’m done or stop in mid-sentence. If get stuck on something that won’t budge, I’ll doze off for the rest of the trip like so many other passengers do. After I have dinner, I’ll update the corresponding e-files and print out new copies to re-load the clipboard.

This break from driving came at a good time. I was going through a creative drought prior to my father’s death and taking a summer break from publishing ebooks. I’m using the “spare time” from riding public transit to get back into writing and editing short stories again.

Writing and editing on public transit will soon end as I get a new used car to resume driving again. The extra 90 minutes spent on the public transit will be behind my writing desk at home, where the distractions are numerous and my motivation diminished. If only I had the discipline to haul my sorry ass out of bed before the crack of dawn to take the public transit in the morning, I would have three hours of enforced writing and editing time. Like that will never happen.

Smashwords July Summer/Winter Sale 2012

Smashwords Write Stuff LogoThe Smashwords July Summer/winter sale with selected ebooks at discounted prices is now available. This is a perfect opportunity to promote your Smashwords ebooks. Since I specialized in short story and essay ebooks, a significant discount on the omnibus ebooks (i.e., multiple ebooks combined into a single ebook at a much lower price) and a handful of free ebooks provides a good mixture for increasing sales on other non-sale ebooks.

The following ebooks are at half price at $0.99 each (use coupon code SSW50 when checking out).

  • A Few Short Stories Omnibus Volume 1
  • A Few Short Stories Omnibus Volume 2
  • Essays From Silicon Valley Omnibus Volume 1

The following ebooks are FREE for the summer.

As with the Read An eBook Week in 2011 and 2012, the first blog post in August will have a breakdown of this month promotion to determine if it was successful or not.