Serial Story Pricing

Pile o' Books

In previous posts, I’ve covered the general idea of the ‘tickets to read‘ and in this post I’ll be going over the general foundation that I’m building my price points on. Nothing like a little math to spice up a rainy week!

Normally I would use materials cost plus man-hours in order to calculate a price, but in this case the market has already set expectations on how much writing is worth.

This will no doubt change as I get more in-depth information on the market (and see how folks respond to the tests), but I figure it’s a solid base to start from.

Matching the Standards

The Science Fiction Writer’s of America require that an author be published within certain guidelines in order to apply to their ranks. While they would laugh themselves to death if I tried to use my own website to apply, it’s not a bad place to start my pricing.

The SWFA have set a minimum acceptable per-word rate for short fiction of $0.05 per word, with a minimum of $50. This is the rate the publisher pays the writer, not what the reader pays to access the content. While there are overhead costs behind publishing a magazine or a website, the average reader isn’t paying anything close to the minimum.

In order for a magazine to be accepted by the SWFA as a ‘professional’ publication it must have at least 1,000 readers. So the $0.05 a word from the publisher is only $0.00005 per reader, ignoring overhead. Even an ‘amateur’ publication at 500 readers would still only have a $0.0001 per reader charge.

But I’m going to be optimistic and assume that over the course of its life each story will be sold 1,000 times. Since a story’s life is indefinite, it’s easy to make that assumption (at least statistically!). So, assuming we have a story that runs for 52 weeks at roughly 1,000 words per week, that means the cost to the reader should be about $2.60 (52,000 x $0.00005).

Covering Overhead

Now that I have a base ticket price, it’s time to fiddle with the numbers so that I don’t lose money on PayPal or Amazon fees. I’ll lose money to taxes as well, but I’m going to worry about that a bit later.

PayPal fees on micropayments are 5% + 0.05, so for $2.60 this works out to $0.18. The nice thing about working with numbers this small is that adding the fees back onto the base price doesn’t affect the fee calculations much. PayPal fees for $2.78 are $0.19, so I can round up to $2.99 (to make things look pretty) and have that little bit extra to help cover the taxes.

Since the price of a paperback is roughly $8.00 and there are roughly 90,000 words in a novel, I don’t feel bad about asking $3.00 for 52,000 words.

Making a Living

The downside to this plan is that I put in the work up front and then sit back and wait for the eventual income. Unlike a day job where I get rewarded a two weeks after the fact, getting a ‘full’ payment on these stories will most likely take years. (Especially considering a good portion of the readership will be doing so for free!)

Amusingly, things aren’t much better in the ‘real’ publishing market. In order to make a living at SFWA rates ($28,000) you’d have to sell roughly 560,000 words a year in the small press market—or make enough of a name for yourself that you command better rates. On the other hand, with my setup I’d have to sell 9,334 tickets to serial stories to get the same number… also something that isn’t likely to happen.

Which is why the stories are a long term income goal and not short term. As the library fills in so will the readers, although I never expect ticket sales to make up more than a third of my income target. Right now I’m just going to work on getting words onto the screen, we’ll see where it grows from there.

Martha Bechtel

My name is Martha Bechtel and I write fantasy and science fiction stories, paint small model horses silly colors, cast resin and plaster magnets, code random code (and Wordpress plugins)... Come on in and join in the fun!