Print books – should an author release a series as one volume or separate titles, and which generates higher royalties?

by Jane Ayres

I’ve always loved the way indie authors are so generous in sharing advice and helping each other and hope I can add to this by sharing my experience in a way that is useful. The topic of this blog post is the relationship of print and e-book titles to an author’s visibility and income.

I started indie publishing my pony book backlist 6 years ago – mostly as e-books, but I used Createspace to put 5 titles out in print in addition to the e-book versions.  Sales of these paperbacks have never been significant, so I didn’t go through the process for any of my other titles. As fellow authors will know, it takes a lot of work and time to get your work out into the world – not to mention marketing and promotion. It’s a juggling act, with the day job and home life, that requires a lot of energy and, a few years ago, I kind of burned out. I decided that after 40 years of writing pony books, I was finished with it.  I stopped writing and promoting.  My Amazon sales – and income – dropped to virtually nothing. I was experiencing some health issues, had a hysterectomy and decided my career as a pony book author was over.

Print Books - One Volume Series or Separate Titles? @equineauthors

Print Books – One Volume Series or Separate Titles? @equineauthors

So……why am I giving it another go?

  • Reason 1. UK pony book author Amanda Wills.  A lovely human being and a powerhouse of a writer, she has been a real source of inspiration and encouragement and our conversations have motivated me to try harder.
  • Reason 2. Being able to release my kindle titles in print at no financial cost via KDP after getting to grips with Cover Creator.(kind of! I find it inflexible and frustrating but I can use it to get a reasonable result).

When I started out publishing some of my pony book backlist, when indie publishing was relatively new, I opted to go the kindle route because it seemed simpler and cheaper.  The only financial cost was my cover design.

But most pony book authors seem to offer print and e-book options, so, recently, I decided to look into the KDP print option (which will replace Createspace). As a dyspraxic non-techie, could I get to grips with Cover Creator and use my kindle image for my print books?  The answer, after a lot of trial and error, was Yes. Surprised, I issued Trick Riders in paperback. It took me 9 hours……EEK! (And I have redone it twice already). But the second title took 4 hours, the next 2 hours, and a fortnight later, I managed to publish 7 titles in paperback. (Although I am seeing the Amazon dashboard in my sleep now…)

I was pleased with the way the books looked, and it would be easy to get carried away.  However, before continuing down this path, I have decided to wait several months to see if they actually sell.  Because so far, I have only made one sale.

I have promoted via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and sent links to specific equine oriented organisations. Whenever I get tempted to pay for advertising in equine specific magazines that target pony mad children/teens, I remind myself that I did this a few years back – a total of 4 advertorials over the course of a year. The magazine also gave me 2 freebie ads, but the campaign did not noticeably impact my sales and I am probably still trying to earn royalties to cover the outlay.

Back to the present – prior to this adventure in print, I had not sold any kindle titles in the month of September, but in the last few days, 10 kindle sales have been recorded. Is this because the mysterious Amazon algorithm has been kickstarted and increased my previously non-existent visibility? Does the existence of my titles in print affect this? Or would it have happened anyway? That is the thing about marketing.  It is often mysterious and difficult to evaluate. Will having print books positively impact the synergy with my e-books and vice versa?  Logic says it would, but how does an author get hard evidence either way?

I naturally write quite short novels, typically 20,000-23,000 words, and my books have been popular with reluctant readers. However, I know from feedback that a lot of voracious readers love a much bigger book.  Bearing this in mind, I made the decision to bring out my Forever Horse trilogy in one chunky volume to test this theory against my slimmer print titles. Will it sell better in print than the shorter books?

What about pricing? Would readers be unwilling to pay more than £4.99 (or less) for a 120-150 page book? (Bearing in mind that some readers don’t want to pay even 99p for an e-book. Don’t get me started on the way authors often end up having to practically give away their work and the way we are undervalued – and undervalue our work – compared to other professions. That’s a whole other post!)

I did some research and looked at page quantity and prices of other pony books, and £5.99 seemed to be a competitive price. Below is the breakdown of retail price to royalty received.

Last Chance Horse                           £ retail price   £ author royalty

Print                                                    5.99                1.79

4.99                1.19

e-book                                                2.49                1.44

 

Forever Horse Trilogy

Print                                                    8.99                2.20

e-book                                                2.99                1.79

 

Gemma and the Pony Club Dance

ebook                                                 1.99                1.15

Not yet in print.

So, when I looked into my author royalty, if I priced a title at £4.99 I would get 25p less for each title than the e-book, which was a lot less work to format.

At present, I have priced the Forever Horse trilogy at £8.99, again comparing other comparable titles.  Perhaps this is too high – maybe I will have to reduce it to £7.99. In which case the royalty will be about the same as the e-book.

Before I embarked on this, I had considered publishing my Gemma 4 book series as one volume. At a similar size to Forever Horse (and if priced at £8.99), my royalty would be a total of £2.20 per sale.

If I bring it out as 4 x paperbacks, (and if readers bought all 4 titles) my royalty would be £1.79 per title, so total royalty is £7.16.

The maths tells me it would be very poor business to go for the one big volume option!

It is very early days yet, and I intend to review sales of e-books and print titles early next year (although Christmas book buying may skew the figures). I will then make a decision about how to move forward (or not) on this print project, before drawing any conclusions.

I really would be interested to hear from fellow authors about the synergy between your e-books and print versions.  Does having a title in print stimulate e-book sales and vice versa?  And what sells better in print – a chunky trilogy in one volume or slimmer separate titles?

Thanks everyone.

Born in 1962 and based in the UK, Jane Ayres had her first short story published in a UK pony magazine at the age of 14. Since then, 40 novels and novellas about horses and ponies and the people who love them (and one cat novel, Coming Home, about two amazing Norwegian Forest cats) have been published internationally and translated into 9 languages.

Jane donates all her author royalties from the e-book trilogy Matty series Matty and the Moonlight Horse to the charity Redwings Horse Sanctuary.

Her latest title The Spooky Pony Mystery and other stories is available in e-book and paperback from Amazon.

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