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Understanding the Smashwords Survey — Sex For Money, Post #20

Sex For Money is a semi-regular blog series about my experiences in writing, publishing, and marketing gay erotica and M/M erotic romance. All of this information is from my own experience, so your experience may differ. It’s hoped that sharing this information might be helpful to new and aspiring erotica and erotic romance authors, as I see a lot of questions and a lot of misinformation out there. To read more Sex For Money posts, click here.


Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve written a Sex For Money post! The last one was in December 2016 — so it’s about time I got back into them!

I’ve been fairly dormant lately, at least online, because I’ve been working on getting my new publishing company kicked off and into high gear. Now that it’s underway and the bumps have been smoothed and the team is working together well, I’m finally able to start getting back into writing and blogging and publishing (my own stuff).

And I figure a necessary part of getting back into my role as a smut writer is to get back into these self-help posts. And the timing is pretty much perfect.

Late last week, Smashwords released their annual survey, which compiles massive amounts of data collected by Smashwords in relation to book sales. While, for most authors, Amazon is the powerhouse of sales and Smashwords is a distant second, this data is still useful. (On that note, though, I should point out that for many authors, myself included, Smashwords is a prime source of royalties. I make about 1.5-2 times more on Smashwords than on Amazon.)

The first reason this data is useful is that it shows you trends regarding what’s selling through Smashwords and their third party vendors. If you’re wondering what sells on Smashwords, you’ll find our answer here. The second reason this data is useful is that even if you’re a devoted Amazon fan, Amazon gives its publishers almost no data.

If you haven’t already, I’d strongly suggest taking a look at Smashwords’s annual survey and flipping through the slides. You might take something different from the data than I did.

Some of the data is likely useless. For example, they found that the bestselling books had longer titles. Does this mean you should come up with longer titles for your books? The problem is we don’t know if the better sales was because of the longer titles… or if it was more or less coincidental. If JK Rowling released a book through Smashwords, it would be a phenomenal bestseller, regardless of the length of title. We don’t know if the books were selling because of their titles or because of the author.

However, it could be that the longer titles were better for keyword searches. While I generally don’t like “keyword stuffing” — which is where you have something like Title of Book (gay erotica with lots of gangbangs and forbidden hook up discrete encounters tentacle sex BDSM) — a slightly longer title that catches search traffic is a good idea. One of my bestselling titles is Seduced By My Best Friend’s Dad. It’s also one of my longest titles. What drives sales? I doubt it’s the length of the title that is making sales. But I bet that because I have a more descriptive title, I’m catching search traffic, clicks, and sales. If I had gone with something artsy like Hotter Than The Campfire or simply Camping Trip, I wouldn’t get that search traffic — and even if I did get that search traffic, the titles are not sexy or appealing.

Smashwords found that bundles and box sets sell well. That’s something most authors in the industry have found. As soon as you have a number of related titles or a completed series, it’s to your benefit to create a box set or bundle and price it at a low price. It’s believed by many that those who buy individual ebooks are a different market than those who search out bundles and sales and deals — so by offering a cheap bundle, you’re not necessarily undercutting your sales, rather, you’re reaching a new market you weren’t reaching before.

Their findings on prices were interesting. $3.99 might be the new norm. I firmly believe (right now anyway) that short stories should still be $2.99. If you’re in a non-erotic genre and you’re reading this post, you might want to price a short story a little lower — it’s really in the erotic genres only that readers will spend $2.99 on a short story.

If you have something longer, then maybe $3.99 is the way to go. I generally price my novellas at $3.99.

On that note, the Romance Writers Association found a few years back that $6 was considered by readers to be an appropriate price for a romance novel ebook. So, I tend to price between $2.99 and $5.99, depending on the length. ($5.99 is a good price for a bundle.)

However, again, we don’t know if the surge of $3.99 books is because that price is somehow appealing… or if there were a number of appealing books that happened to be priced at $3.99.

The lack of clarity in the data can be frustrating sometimes, but it’s not like the staff at Smashwords necessarily know what’s causing these trends. They’re just crunching the numbers and presenting it to us. Even so, it’s far more helpful than what we get from Amazon.

Part of being an author in the erotic genres is simply going out there and trying your ideas and seeing if they work. Erotic authors and romance authors have been at the forefront of the ebook revolution and have led the industry into that new realm. If you do something that doesn’t quite work, that’s fine — dust yourself off and try something new. And if you find something that works well, then ride that wave until it runs out.

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eBook Pricing

I’ve been cruising through Smashwords lately — I’ve got a free short story up there and I occasionally check the stats — and I’m about to self-pub another short story through Smashwords in the next few weeks.  Whenever I log in, I see a whole ton of erotica in the list of latest publications… and I’m constantly amazed at what people consider to be an appropriate price for an ebook.

The short story I self-publish in the next few weeks will be $0.99.  I think that’s an appropriate price for a fairly short story.  If I were to write something over 10,000 words, I might bump it up to $1.99.  Over 50,000 — maybe $2.99.  And anything at 80,000 and above would be $3.99.  I don’t foresee ever pricing my own stuff at above $3.99… and I feel it’s important to have the price reflect the general length of the novel.

Yet, on Smashwords, it’s not unexpected to see a short story of 3,000 words or less priced at $2.99 or higher.  I don’t think I would ever pay three bucks or more for a story that’ll take me 10-20 minutes to read.  The pricing has to be part of the appeal of the ebook — if the price is too high, the book loses appeal.  (If I recall correctly, I saw one erotica short story of 760 words — and that’s not a typo, it’s 760 words — priced at $3.99.  I don’t understand how a story that short could possibly be worth that much money.)

It also doesn’t help that a lot of those overpriced short stories have descriptions filled with typos, clumsy sentences, and vague statements.  A lot of them just list a few details of the setting and characters and… it just fizzles for me.  Selling ebooks is an extremely competitive task as there are thousands, if not millions, of people who are all competing for readers.

In addition to a solid story, a professional editor, and a top notch cover (and a writer should be hiring editors and cover designers unless they are supremely gifted), a writer MUST price their works appropriately.  To do otherwise works against the effort the writer has put into their story.

There are some truly good works on Smashwords — but there’s a lot of rather questionable stuff.

But I’ll throw it out to anyone who’s reading this:

What do you consider to be an appropriate price for an ebook short story?

What about an ebook novella / novel?

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