A Trio of Short Stories eBooks

A Trio of Short Stories eBooks

When I started selling ebooks four years ago, I could package a 1,000-word short story ebook and readers would buy it for a buck. That was four years ago. Looking at the accumulated sales data since then, readers are less incline to buy a 1,000-word short story ebook for a buck these days. Although the 1,500-word short story ebooks are still selling good, I think the minimum word count for a short story ebook that readers are willing to pay a buck for is 2,000+ words. I decided to improve my ebooks to better meet changing market conditions.

I came out with three new short stories ebooks−”Reaching For The Heavens,” “Travelers Among Strange Worlds” and “A Sorrowful River Runs Through Here”−that each has three short stories organized around a common theme. This trio of short stories ebooks features eight short stories that are still available as short story ebooks and an original short story.

Are readers willing to pay a buck for a 3,000-word short stories ebook?

The initial sales data is yes. A co-founder of a new ebook subscription service contacted me about publishing on their platform and specifically requested the trio of short stories ebooks (a future blog post will cover this in detail). An encouraging start for a new product category.

I may remove the eight short story ebooks after I get more sales data from the subscription services like Scribd, Oyster and others. Subscription services justify having as many ebooks as possible to increase every opportunity for attracting readers. However, since I specialize in SHORT ebooks (i.e., short stories and essays) and will be publishing my 75th ebook at year’s end, pruning and maintaining my ebook catalog becomes an issue. Sales data decided the creation of the new short stories ebook; sales data will decide the fate of the older short story ebooks.

Read An eBook Week 2013

Smashwords has a special promotion every year during the Read An eBook Week (March 3-9, 2013) for authors to offer their ebooks for FREE or at a discounted price. My entire ebook catalog is available for FREE (no coupon code), FREE (coupon code RW100) or 50% off (coupon code REW50).

If you download and read one of my ebooks, please leave a review at the Smashwords website. Or send an email to chris at cdreimer dot com.

FREE eBooks

  • A Pumpkin’s Life (poetry)
  • A Silicon Valley Writer Volume 1 (2008-2009) (blog postings)
  • An Ironic Flash of Life (flash stories)
  • Once Upon An Albatross… Volume 1 (1999-2005) (blog postings)
  • The Cabbage Patch Doll Fight: A Christmas Shopping Tale (essay)
  • The Devil Came A-Collecting (short story)
  • The Giggling Mongoose: Kitchen Elementals (flash stories)
  • The Unfaithful Camera (short story)
  • The Uninvited Spook (short story)
  • The World’s Best Coffee (short story)
  • Walking Into The Night (short story)

FREE eBooks (Coupon Code RW100)

Discounted eBooks (Coupon Code REW50)

  • A Few Short Stories Omnibus Volume 1
  • A Few Short Stories Omnibus Volume 2
  • A Few Short Stories Omnibus Volume 3
  • Essays From Silicon Valley Omnibus Volume 1
  • Marigolds For A Vampire (novella)

A Fraudulent eBook Purchase At Smashwords

I get email notifications whenever someone purchases one of my ebook titles at the Smashwords website, which is less common than the sales I get from Amazon. About 99.98% of my sales on Smashwords come through the third-party premium catalog (i.e., Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and many others). I was happy to have a sale. And then I read the notification email. Five copies of my newest flash stories ebook in a single transaction. This was a fraudulent ebook purchase.

How did I know that this particular transaction was fraudulent?

All my direct sales through the Smashwords website are single-copy orders for an ebook. Although it’s possible to purchase multiple copies of a single ebook to gift to other Smashwords readers, five copies in a single transaction was irregular. Even more so when I don’t have a large enough fan base to send copies flying off the virtual shelves. If I did, such a transaction would be buried—and perhaps undetectable—in a lengthy sales report.

If you’re a Smashwords author, you have to read the site updates on a regular basis. Reports of credit card fraud appears from time to time when such activity impacts numerous writers, usually after the sales reports gets updated and prior to the quarterly payments being paid out.

Why would someone use a stolen credit card to buy ebooks? The two most common reasons are:

  • Buying single copies of numerous ebooks to post on an illegal download website for others to read for free.
  • Testing the buying limits of the stolen credit card by purchasing multiple copies of a single ebook.

After I logged into the Smashwords website and clicked on the comments link at the top of the page, I reported the transaction as being suspicious. My sales report got updated forty-eight hours later to reflect that the original transaction voided due to a fraudulent credit card payment and the $4.05 USD I earned from the sale reversed.

Traditional authors were often advised to go through their quarterly royalty statements with a fine-tooth comb and report any irregularities to their agent or publisher. Indie authors must do the same with the sales reports from the ebook retailers. Credit card fraud hurts everyone in this business.

Get Amazon To Price Match Your FREE Smashwords eBooks

If you want your ebooks on both Amazon and Smashwords to reach the widest audience possible, you need to have FREE ebooks for readers to sample your work. Smashwords makes this easy by letting you set the price to FREE. Amazon, however, doesn’t allow you to set the price to FREE. The workaround is to get Amazon to price match your FREE Smashwords ebook.


For Amazon price matching to work, your Smashwords ebooks are enrolled in the third-party premium catalog (i.e., Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and many others) and the price set to $0.00 (FREE). You will need to wait six to eight weeks or so before the newly published ebook or price update appears at least two prominent ebook retailers.

  1. Open in your web browser to two ebook retailers that has your FREE Smashwords ebook. Apple and Barnes & Noble are usually the first to update.
  2. Open the corresponding Amazon page.
  3. Click on the “tell us about a lower price” link underneath the product details on the Amazon page.
  4. A small pop-up box will ask for the URL and price for the lower-priced ebook.
  5. Copy and paste the URL from the first ebook retailer and set the price to $0.00.
  6. Do this for the second ebook retailer.

If you do this every day for a week, your Amazon ebook will be price-matched to FREE the following week. This may happen sooner (a few days) or later (two weeks). You need to be persistent until the price change takes effect.

Amazon has price-matched seven of my FREE Smashwords ebooks and given away 2,571 copies over the last three months, resulting in a slight increase in sales for PAID ebooks and reviews on the FREE ebook.


Price matching works well if your Amazon ebooks are in the 35% royalty tier, which is about half the royalty rate from Smashwords and has fewest restrictions.

If your Amazon ebooks are in the 70% tier and/or the KDP Select program, you’re making money on Amazon’s dime and have to play by their rules. I’ve heard reports that Amazon have threaten authors with canceling their accounts if an ebook in the 70% tier are found for a lower price elsewhere. If you’re in the KDP Select program, you have to remove your ebooks from all other ebook retailers and can only promote your Amazon ebook for FREE only five times out of every 90-day period.

You will get some flak from the “professional” writers who publish their ebooks only through Amazon (especially in the KDP Select program), accusing you of breaking the rules and warning dire consequences when Amazon finds out. Relax. The “professionals” writers signed their souls over to Amazon are now chafing at the restrictions imposed on them and watching enviously as indie writers have greater success at all ebook retailers.

If Amazon does threaten to cancel my account for whatever reason, I’ll be happy to inform my readers that they can find my ebooks elsewhere. Although Amazon is “the world’s largest market” (a favorite mantra from the “professional” writers), my Amazon sales are 20% or less of my overall ebook sales. In short, I don’t need Amazon. As an indie writer, I’m not obligated to help Amazon sustain their ebook monopoly at my expense.

The 99-Cent Business Model For SHORT eBooks

Some writers on Twitter were discussing about other writers who priced their full-length ebooks at $0.99 USD, therefore ruining the market for ebooks priced at $2.99 USD or higher. I kept reading that pricing ebooks at $0.99 USD doesn’t work. Actually, it does work—for SHORT ebooks featuring short stories and essays. The $0.99 USD price point appeals to IMPULSIVE SHOPPERS who want a quick read for a buck.

I stumbled upon this pricing scheme by accident when I became frustrated that the short story reprint market was dead. My short stories saw print once and only once. Placing my reprints elsewhere became too much work. All the editors wanted new content. The few editors willing to consider reprints were so damn picky I’m not sure why they bothered. Unless you’re selling books like Stephen King, a traditional publisher won’t even look at a short story collection.

My reprints found new life as short story ebooks in late 2010. Due to the short length (my minimum word count is 1,000 words), these SHORT ebooks could only be priced at $0.99 USD. Since then I started adding more short story and essay ebooks to my catalog. My income from Amazon and Smashwords grew with every little sale to become a predictable income stream that was larger than my first serial right sales.

My current business model is to add a new SHORT ebook every other week. I should have 40 SHORT ebooks for sale by the end of this year. Most will be at $0.99 USD, some will be FREE, and the omnibus ebooks will be $1.99 USD or higher. The more SHORT ebooks I have for sale, the more sales I’ll have.

This business model isn’t risk free. I’m putting time and effort into a business model that is nothing more than throwing mud at the wall and seeing what sticks. I really don’t know what will work and what doesn’t work. From what I learned so far—reprint sells better than original content, essays sells better than short stories—I can make reasonable readjustments over time to gain more sales.

The serious downside of having too many ebooks available for sale is when the newest generation of ebook readers require high-resolution covers to take advantage of the high-definition displays. Updating the ebook covers over the summer put me into the hole for $300 to $400 USD (still working on this project), wiping out what little profit I had for this year. The uniform covers and formatting should spur an increase in sales.

What annoys me the most with having too many ebooks for sale are the whining reviews that the SHORT ebooks are TOO SHORT. Never mind that word count listed in the description. Never mind that the SHORT ebooks area available for FREE. (I have yet to see a whining review about a paid SHORT ebook.) This is almost as bad as writers complaining about how other writers are pricing their ebooks too low.

Slimming Down The eBook File Size For Publication

As I finished preparing my newest ebook, “Once Upon An Albatross… Volume 1 (1999-2005),” I looked forward to being done. I wrote this batch of blog posts from my personal blog long before I became serious as a writer, when the concept of blogging didn’t quite exist, and my grammar usage was horrible.

In short, this wasn’t my best writing.

The process of cleaning up individual posts for the ebook became a laborious task as I had to update the website with the revised content (a little side project that I put off for the last four years). Many early posts got deleted as irrelevant or nonsensical, broken links updated or eliminated, pictures re-sized and moved to the portfolio section. For a website that started off as a dial-up Wildcat! BBS in 1995 before something called the Internet became popular, I still have seven years of content to go through.

When I uploaded the completed ebook file into Amazon and Smashwords, they both presented me with a different technical issue because the ebook file size was too big. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry for being dinged from opposing sides.

Amazon refused to allow me to set a minimum price of $0.99 USD. The price was meaningless as my blog postings ebook was FREE. (Amazon will price match to FREE when my Smashword titles are available on Barnes & Noble and iTunes for FREE.) Clicking through the various info links that Amazon provided, I had to set the minimum price to $1.99 USD because the ebook file size was greater than 3MB. That I couldn’t change without removing all the pictures from the ebook.

Smashwords refused to upload the ebook file because it exceeded the 5MB file size by a half-megabyte. Using Microsoft Word to compress all the pictures in the ebook file didn’t work because I made all the adjustments in Adobe Photoshop. I ended up deleting eight pictures that were visually redundant to get the ebook file size under 5MB.

The file size is something to keep in consideration when incorporating pictures into an ebook. If this becomes an issue again, I might select a handful of pictures for each blog post and provide a link back to the corresponding portfolio page.

Do You Have A Literary Doppelnamer?

When I became serious about being a writer in 2006, I did an Internet search for variations of my legal name and found another “writer” using a short version of my name. (I added quotes since he haven’t published much of anything in the last six years.) The author name that I came up with was the initials of my first and middle names combined into a first name. All the search results for my author name pops right up without any competition.

The word for finding an identical or similar name as your own on the Internet, according to Carrie Kirby of the San Francisco Chronicle, is doppelnamer (a play off the German word, doppelganger).

At least [Norb] Vonnegut’s name is linked to someone [Kurt Vonnegut] with a good reputation. Not so for Michael McAfee, an Ocean Beach (San Diego County) podcast producer who had an escaped convict for a doppelnamer. Tara Murphy, a recent law school graduate and blogger in Minnesota, has been dogged by a whole pack of Tara Murphys with overdue library books, DUI arrests and sexy pictures.

The only problem that I have with my author name is that certain ebook websites don’t handle abbreviated names properly in their search results and return all the ebook listings by last name only. (My family name, Reimer, is supposedly the German equivalent to Smith in the United States.) Back in the snail mail submission days of six years ago, ebooks publishing wasn’t on my radar. If I were starting over as a writer today, I would pick a different author name without the abbreviations.

As for my legal name, I embraced all my dopplernamers—the good, the bad, and the ugly—in the search results. The dopplernamers helps preserve my secret identity as a writer from my non-writing job in Silicon Valley. But my legal name has the opposite problem when hiring companies conduct a social media search as my anonymous alter ego ceased to exist in the late 1990’s. Most computer technicians leave behind an Internet trail as wide as the debris field of a crashed airplane. By the time that a lack of Internet presence becomes a problem, I’ll be making a living as a full-time writer.

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.

New eBook Cover Image Requirements

Mark Coker alerted Smashwords writers that Apple will be requiring larger cover image for new and updated ebook titles in August 2012. Since Amazon is also recommending a larger cover image, the ideal image size is 1600 pixels by 2400 pixels. The larger images are for the newer ebook readers such as the Apple iPad and Amazon Kindle Fire.

I put together a redesigned cover image, submitting it to Amazon and Smashwords for approval. I’m not sure if the smallest text font size is large enough to be visible when viewing the cover image as a thumbnail. Depending on the feedback, I’ll make additional tweaks before I finalized the design.

For the smaller cover image, I got away with using the extra-small-sized stock photos. I’ll need the medium-sized stock photos for the larger cover image. A small fortune in buying new images for 33 existing titles as each new cover image will cost $6.00 USD each. The redesigned covers should spark an increase in sales.

A good thing I’m summer break from publishing new ebooks. I wasn’t planning to update the ebook covers unless it was necessary. Now that the larger cover images are necessary, I’ll be updating all the ebooks towards the end of summer. I may even get a larger monitor since manipulating a 1600 x 2400 image is annoying on the 1280×800 screen for my MacBook. A justifiable business expense, if there ever was one.