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Self-Publishing Fiction: Do Short Ebooks Sell? Case Study Insights

This article was originally published on e-Junkie.info on March 25, 2013, a site I wrote for for almost two years between 2012 and 2014. It was originally entitled, Self-Publishing Profits: Do Short Fiction Ebooks Sell? $1,100 in 25 Days Says Yes – Here’s Why. Since I wrote this article, I’ve published over 40 romance novellas.

e-Junkie.info has since gone offline. This is the updated version (May 2017) of the aforementioned article – with a lot more insight. Note: This post contains affiliate links. Here’s the site’s affiliate disclosure policy for full details.

Making Money Writing: There are So Many Ways to Do It!

If you’ve hung around this blog for any amount of time, you know that I make money writing in several different ways, ie: developing and teaching ecourses; writing for clients; promoting products and services via affiliate marketing (which requires a lot of blogging!); and self-publishing – non-fiction, how-to ebooks, as well as fiction, primarily romance.

Just FYI, I’ve never been diagnosed, but I think I have a touch of ADD (attention deficit disorder) because I’m easily bored. So doing different types of writing makes my career soooo much more fun. And a side benefit is, I have multiple streams of income. So when one tanks or is not going that great, I have other ones to rely on. This keeps me from living a feast-or-famine existence, which means more peace of mind as a freelancer.

Now, to the topic of this post – self-publishing shorts (or shorties as I like to call them). Is it worth it? Do they pay? Do readers like them? Here’s the answer to all of those questions – and more.

Self-Publishing Profits: Does Short Fiction Sell? $1,100 in 25 Days Says, “Yes!”

In February (2013), my sister uploaded a short fiction romance and sold 541 copies in just 25 days – mostly on Amazon. She earned over $1,100 dollars.

The ebook was only about 65 pages; a “novelette” she called it. And, it only took her approximately a week to write. She priced it at $2.99, netting $2.09 from Amazon for every copy sold.

When I saw her success – which shocked us both! — I hopped on the bandwagon and published my first romance novel a couple of months later (May 2013).

Just so you know, I’d never written a romance novel in my life. I’d read hundreds of them; I used to devour Harlequins in my teens, and as I grew into adulthood, I started reading historical romances. So, I’ve always been a big fan of the genre.

Writing Romance: 2 Things I Learned Immediately Upon Self-Publishing My First Novella

My first romance novella was an African American romance. I didn’t have the success my sister did; in fact, nowhere near it. BUT … that gave me two pieces of insight which would change the trajectory of my budding fiction writing career.

1. Romance Sells

Even though I only sold 6 copies that first month (May 2013) and 2 copies the next month (June 2013), it gave me a glimpse of just how lucrative romance can be.

Come on Yuwanda, you didn’t even sell 10 books in two months. You call that lucrative? Yeah, right!

If that’s what you’re thinking, hold on, hold on … following is what I mean. Before writing my first romance, I’d only written non-fiction, how-to ebooks. And even though many of them were on Amazon, most of the sales still came from my website; primarily via newsletter subscribers.

The reason this is important is because these are people who know me. Many have been on my subscriber list for years. So when they purchase from me, it’s because they already know, like and trust me. Also, it’s something they need, eg, like the info in this ebook (one of my most successful titles).

But when I published my first romance novella, nobody knew me in that genre. My writing could have been crap. But as soon as I put the book up, a half dozen people bought it. That almost never happens with non-fiction, at least not for me.

Immediate sales, by an unknown author, in a completely different genre? In my mind I was like, “Hot damn! There’s something here!” So I started to do some digging, and that led me to my second revelation, namely that …

2. Niche/Genre Matters

Even though I wrote in the same genre as my sister (romance), I’d written in a different niche in that genre (African American romance) as opposed to interracial romance. And yes, that mattered, as I found out when I wrote my second romance novella, Trapped by Desire, almost a year later (March 2014). Look at these sales numbers. Note: Click image for larger view.

That book was published on March 11, and for that month, it sold 241 copies on AMZ (all countries). Of course, most sales come from the U.S., which are the ones pictured here.

But interestingly, look at what happened to sales of the African American romance novella I’d published almost a year before. I sold 9 copies of that novel that month; more than I’d sold the first two months that it originally came out. Obviously, it was because readers doubled back and picked that title up. Whether out of curiousity, because they liked my writing – whatever, they bought.

Just to pound home this point, info from Romance Writers of America underscore that being a name brand author matters less than the appeal of the story. When asked the most important factor when deciding on which romance novel to buy (ranked from most to least important), readers responded:

(1) The story
(2) The author
(3) Price
(4) Review
(5) Part of a series
(6) Back cover copy
(7) Cover art
(8) Recommendations on a social media site
(9) Deal/bundle/bargain/special offer
(10) An endorsement by another leading author

The point is, once readers discover you, if they like one title, some of them will give your other ones a shot. To further reinforce this point, do you see the title, The Courage to Love? That one was published about 10 days after Part I of Trapped by Desire. And in just about a week, it had sold almost 60 copies.

So I didn’t get “lucky” with Trapped by Desire, or unlucky with 3 Weeks til Forever. From then on, I knew, romance sells – yes, even the shorties. But, niche within a genre matters too.

While African American romance does sell (obviously), I just never experienced the sales that I had with interracial romance, so that’s why I stuck with that genre. Also, I’ve been in an interracial marriage. My ex-husband is from Argentina, so it’s not like it’s foreign subject matter to me.

I will from time to time publish more African American romance novellas because somtimes couples/characters that come to me are black. But for right now, I’m going with where I’ve built a following – and that’s in the interracial romance niche.

FYI, Brenda Jackson is one of the leading – if not the leading – author of African American romance novels. So if that’s a genre you’re interested in, check out her novels. She has over 100 of them.

Wanna know about the money? Most do, so here are some figures to chew on.

Almost $4,000 per Month Writing Romance?

The most I’ve earned in one month from publishing romance is around $3,800. FYI, I detail 20 months of sales figures – and a whole buch of other insights about how to make money in this genre — in the ebook, in How to Make Money Writing Romance.

In 2016, I only wrote two romance novellas; the least one was published in October. I wrote the bulk of my 40+ titles between 2014 and 2015. This year, I’m slated to write four. Even thoough I haven’t written that much in the last couple of years, I still earn between $200 on a slow month and $500 on a good month from the books I already have out there.

Now that I’ve gotten some things off my plate – namely migrating my ecourses over to Teachable – I’m ready to dive back into the romance writing waters. I miss it and I have a couple of developed titles in my head that I’m eager to start on.

The first title up is the second part of Hooked! Readers ahve been waiting two years for the second installment, and I’m finally ready to write it. I read the first part again last night, and even I was like, “OMG, what’s gonna happen?!” The characters will reveal … they always do.

Now that you have some background info on my romance writing career, following is why I know that show romance novels sale, and why this trend will continue in my humble opinion.

5 Reasons I Believe Short Fiction Ebook Sales Will Continue to Grow

When it comes to the question of “how long should an ebook be to sell,” many get the impression that you have to publish a full-fledged novel to make sales. As me and my sister’s modest self-publishing success stories illustrate, this isn’t the case. Both of us write novellas in the 10,000 to 40,000-word range.

Most of mine fall in the 15,000 to 25,000-word range, if the truth be told. And yeah, they sell, primarily for the following reasons.

1. The Way We Consume Info Is Changing

With the popularity of e-readers like Kindle, we have thousands of choices in reads. In my opinion, this makes us a bit of a schizophrenic reading society; kinda like what happened when TV remote controls became popular. Who watches one channel anymore? I know I don’t. I’m constantly flipping back and forth.

I say all this to say, short ebooks appeal to the “small doses of many different things” in all of us these days. You can finish a 65-page ebook in one sitting; whereas a full-length ebook may take five, six or seven sittings – sittings you may never get to.

2. Short Fiction Ebooks are Great Time Killers

I lived in New York City for almost 20 years. Of course, I took the train (subway) like everyone else. And what did I do on the train? Mainly read and/or listen to music.

Short ebooks are great for filling in gaps of time like this, eg, at the dentist office, waiting for your friend at a restaurant, waiting for your boyfriend at the coffeehouse, etc.

3. Short Fiction Ebooks are Great for a Busy Reading Public

This may be the number one reason I believe short fiction ebooks are only going to grow in popularity. Most of us are too busy these days to devote time to finishing novels of 200, 300 or 400 pages. In the comments section of the post, How Well Does Short Fiction Sell in Ebook Form, readers echoed this sentiment over and over and over again, ie:

The author of the post, Lindsay Buroker said, “I’ve found a couple of novellas I’ve enjoyed, too, since getting my kindle. I’m so busy these days that I don’t actually mind shorter stories.”

Reader M.S. Jackson wrote: “I am a very busy fellow and I have found that either a light easy read, or a novella are only bit [sic] of reading I can get in these days. I have an iPad with literally dozens of novels in my ‘to read’ cue, but the short stories are the ones that I devour at any regular rate.

And finally . . .

Author Declan Conner, chimed in, writing: “Lunch Break Thrillers, a compilation of 12 short stories, has exceeded my expectations. It jumped straight in to the charts for its category at number 4 in the UK and has stayed in the top ten ever since.”

4. Romance Readers are Voracious Readers

Romance is the number one selling genre of all time. Proof? Check out the following stats from the Romance Writers of America:

  • Estimated annual total sales value of romance in 2013: $1.08 billion (source: BookStats)
  • Romance novel share of the U.S. fiction market: 34% (source: Nielsen BookScan/PubTrack Digital 2015)

And it’s because, the readers consume books like two-year-olds consume candy – non-stop (if you let them).

Written Word Media, a marketing service for authors, did a survey of their readership and found that Red Feather Romance [their romance division] readers (are voracious, with almost half (48%) reading over 10 books per month. Almost a quarter of subscribers to that list read more than 20 books per month!

Stats from the Romance Writers of America bear this out also, reporting that 64 percent read romance more than once a month; 35 percent buy romance more than once a month.

5. Ereaders Allow You to Give Short Books a Chance

No longer do you have to stand in a bookstore and browse shelves to find new authors. You can browse a library of thousands on an e-reader. And if a book strikes your fancy – even in a genre that’s unfamiliar to you – you may give it a shot if it’s a shortie, as opposed to a Moby Dick-length novel, right?

For all of these reasons, I think short ebooks are here to stay. I love writing them, and even though readers hem and haw, they buy them.

What an Increase in Short Fiction Sales Means for Authors & Indie Publishers

You don’t have to devote six months or a year to writing one novel, hoping it will sell. I’ve written shorties in as little as three days. One was just a tad under 10,000 words (Just Sex Please), and it sold so well, I added a couple of more parts to it.

So if you wanna write a book, write a book! Start with a shortie. See how it does. Then go from there. There’s no excuse not to, especially with outlets like Amazon and Draft2Digital to handle the distribution end of things. Who knows, you could be the next E.L. James (author of 50 Shades of Grey in case you didn’t know).

Ebook Marketing Tips from a Self-Publisher Who Sold 541 Copies of Her Ebook in Just 25 Days

Back in 2013, my sister wrote her first novella in about a week. She published it on February 3rd, and by February 28th, had sold 541 copies. Not bad for an ebook she said that just “poured out of her.”

FYI, learn more about her self-publishing / ebook writing success (she gives some great ebook marketing tips, as well as some fiction and non-fiction ebook writing tips).

With self-publishing profits creating ebook millionaires, who’s to say you can’t “short” your way to publishing success!

Is Self-Publishing for You?

Making money ebook-publishing-packselling ebooks and ecourses online is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not for lazy people. It’s not for those who need others to motivate them.

The Ultimate Self-Publishing Package: 4 Ebooks. 1 Low Price.

But if you are the anti-thesis of this, ie, courageous, hard-working and self-motivated, you really can make a lot of money selling ebooks and ecourses online (I’m proof of this) – if you don’t forget that last ingredient – perseverance.

Share Your Ebook Selling Tips and Questions?

Have any ebook selling tips you can share? Have a question about how to make money selling ebooks online? Please share in the comments section below.

P.S.: Serious about Starting a Self-Publishing Career? Then You Need a Website/Blog. Learn why and how to start one.

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