What is the ideal length for erotic ebooks we want to sell via Kindle Publishing? I once did a little research and looked at what other erotica authors have to say on the subject.
Why publish short stories at all?
New titles last a maximum of four weeks in the new releases before they disappear from view. After that, they sink into the depths of the catalogs. For that reason alone, it’s important to put new books on the market regularly. But who produces a new novel every month? Even Georges Simenon, one of the most gifted and prolific writers of the 20th century, did not usually finish more than one book a month. And had to regenerate the following month on the advice of his doctor, so his usual output was 6 novels a year.
The logical consequence is to switch to short stories. Even slow writers like us, who get to no more than 300 to 500 words a day (1 to 2 manuscript pages), can easily finish and publish a story within a week or two. However, erotica is the only genre in which individual short stories actually sell. For this reason alone, many authors write erotica under a pseudonym on the side.
Amazon and Kindle Unlimited
There used to be a second argument in favor of erotic short texts: Amazon’s lending program, Kindle Unlimited, was regulated in such a way that authors received the money for their book as soon as the borrowers had read 10% of the text. So for most short stories, it was enough for a reader to look at the first page of a text, after the title and disclaimer, to get the money for the story.
Of course, novelists, some of whom had spent more than a year polishing their scripts, found this practice highly unfair. After all, as unknown self-publishers, they can’t take more than €2.99 for a novel. At least if they want to sell it. No one spends more on a book by an unknown author. So it hailed complaints. And rained animosity: Why do people who finish a short story in a week (or even less time) get the same money as artists with noble intentions who spend years polishing their novels?
That’s why KU now has a new billing practice that is much fairer but cuts off those erotica authors who made a quick buck with KU: payment is now based on actual pages read. In order to earn the same from a text on loan as from a sale for €2.99, the borrower must have actually read about 258 pages. (An author earns ~€1.72 on a €2.99 sale. Borrowers are charged by KENPC pages – Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count – which are about as long as half a page of a book. For the KENPC normalized page, there was €0.003327 per reader in May 2016). If the novel – or short story collection is longer, the author actually makes a profit on the loan. However, the days when you could make a quick buck with short stories on loan are over.
But let’s face it: at least in sales, individually published short stories still pay off. If I have the choice of posting either a novel or a short story for the €2.99 I can earn from a text, it makes no sense from an economic point of view to bother with the production of several hundred pages for an eBook. Especially if I don’t yet have a secure fan base that will buy my book.
For the distributor, on the other hand, it’s more clever to work with bundles that entice readers to read several stories in a row. After all, a single story brings in virtually no more money.
Minimum length and the recommendations of various authors
On the Internet, you can find various testimonials from authors who have tried to sell short stories with a length of fewer than 2500 characters as an eBook on Amazon. These authors have been contacted by Amazon and told that their texts do not meet the quality requirements. They should either make the stories longer or remove the corresponding texts from the market.
Accordingly, erotica author Jade K. Scott recommends 3000-5000 words as the ideal length for erotic short stories in “The Six-Figure Erotica Author”. This is only slightly above the Amazon minimum length. Scott’s intent is obvious: The more texts I have on the market, the greater the profit – at least in purely mathematical terms. And as an author who wants to make a living from writing, it is necessary to have a large pool of books available as quickly as possible. Consequently, it makes no sense to sit on a text longer than absolutely necessary. In the time I spend on a 10,000-word script, Scott says, I can produce three short stories of 3,000 words each. Her main point here is that readers who buy erotica are willing to pay the €2.99 price for the ten manuscript pages that fill the 3,000 words.
I don’t want to leave it unmentioned that “The Six-Figure Erotica Author” is written with the American market in mind, and that it partly works differently than Amazon.de. Overall, however, Jade K. Scott’s guide is profound and worth reading.
Marc and I are still at the beginning of our publications. At the moment we are offering each of our short stories with a length of 3,000-4,000 words for a period of four weeks for 0.99 €. After that, we will go to 2.99 €. After that, we go to €2.99. Our experience shows that readers react to higher prices at least in a clearly restrained way. Whether this would change as soon as we experiment with longer texts? That remains to be seen.
Jade K. Scott, quoted above, has about 10 stories in the low-price segment on offer for 0.99 € and sells the rest for 2.99 €. Bundles cost €3.99 with her. While some adult authors also sell these bundles for more expensive money, Jade says she wants to make these collections absolutely irresistible.
As far as prices are concerned, erotica short authors are pretty much in agreement. As far as the length of the texts is concerned, things are different. For example, Amy Cooper (Publishing Erotica: How to Make Your First $1,000) works with a length of 5,000 – 12,000 words, without giving any reason for this other than her experience. And with the same verve, Emily Baker (The Erotica Handbook: How to Write Erotica) champions the 7500 word length as ideal.
The fact is, Amazon offers a higher profit margin for books starting at 2.99 euros than for 0.99 euro eBooks. Therefore, we have to sell not just three, but seven €0.99 books to make the same profit as for one €2.99 book. So it’s not worth taking the lowest price. If a reading sample is worth something, readers – all authors agree – are also prepared to pay the somewhat higher price, regardless of whether it’s for 3,000, 5,000, or 7,500 words.
Marc and I find Jade K. Scott’s argument plausible: shorter texts are quicker to experiment with. Before we slave over a 12,000-word story, we’d rather produce three short texts of 3,500 words each and see how the market responds. I’m sure that with time, writing will become more routine so that even longer texts won’t take so incredibly long to see the light of day. We’re currently among the really slow writers, happy to get another 300 words down on paper on a productive day (after work at the agency or company). And then there’s the “first draft”. From that to the finished book, it also takes a while.
But we know that from our day jobs: All beginnings are difficult. With routine, the texts will certainly become longer, so that we can experiment with different lengths.
Until then, we’ll just take the word of the authors who have been on the market for a while. Each of them has his or her preferred text length – and it seems that this depends more on the preferences of the authors than on the reading public.
Maybe it’s enough to change perspective once in a while: When I find a new book in my preferred subgenre, I don’t care too much whether it’s 10 or 20 pages, as long as it’s well written. Of course, I’m happy about longer texts, but I’ll spend the money even if I don’t get as much for it. In the end, it’s the topic and the reading sample that convince me, not the length specification.