Understand the Publishing Industry

I am sure most of you have read lists of best selling authors that were rejected by multiple agents or publishers but when finally picked up by an agent or editor, went on to making bucket loads of money when each book was published, and/or made into a movie.

When I first read some of the lists, including the rejections of the first Harry Potter story, I realised there were no qualifications required to become publishers or agents Not a one. Just an ability to guess what will sell well. I have always wondered what happened to every one of the agents and publishers who rejected Harry Potter. Did they lose their jobs?

Every accepted manuscript was a personal choice by the editor or agent who read it. The decision to publish was then based on how much money the publisher would make if the book sold, which was guessed or calculated on the advertising budget and what risk would result in the story not selling.

This, I guess, is why there is a glut of books on the market about zombies, werewolves, vampires and what all. Still, it has worked to make the publishers money, year after year, so why would they change their ways.

I also came to understand the lack of a controlling body in the publishing industry is now, as in the past, allowing room for more publishing scams to spring up around the world, in particular, stealing money from authors. Or to put it another way, conning authors to sign away all rights for their work.

If you want to keep up to date on the latest scams please read Dean Wesley Smith’s and Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blogs. Also read the comments. Especially about the music and film industries. Interesting stories. Don’t sign any contracts on percentage of net. Net does not mean any amount greater than zero, even though it is implied, and 100 percent of zero is still zero.

To avoid any of these new scams, please understand what you are signing before you sign anything. Understand what rights you are selling (or giving away), and what rights you are keeping.

Now, writers and readers have had enough of seeing the same old stories on the shelves, and have turned to ebooks in droves.

I understand there is nothing new in the world, but writers can now use a different slant or angle, or even mix genres, to tell a story and get it up on the ebook sites to see if readers like it.

Obviously, they have to follow the standard guidelines of narrative voice, character voices, plot, sentence structure, correct spelling, reasonable cover, good blurb, tags, etc. but most of all tell a good story.

Ebooks have now freed up whatever rules there were for length of novels, novellas, novelettes, short stories and flash fiction stories.

I decided, even though I do not like reading flash fiction or short stories, that I need to understand the difference between the story lengths and what makes them different. What made one story flash fiction and another a short story when they can both be 1500 words long? Is it only the number of words used to tell the story? Or something else?

First, I discovered the grouping of length is not even agreed between professional writers. So, after googling and reading different takes on what classification the length of a story is, I came up with the following.

Novels = 40000 plus words comprising three acts:

Normal life, Inciting Incident, Change of Direction, Three Complications, Climax and Resolution (many scenes and one or more subplots)

Novella = 17500 – 40000 words comprising three acts:

Inciting Incident, Three Complications, Climax And Resolution (many scenes and one or more subplots)

Novelette = 7500 – 17500 words comprising three acts:

Setup, Inciting Incident, Complication, Climax And Resolution (more than one scenes, no subplots)

Short Story = 1000 – 7500 words comprising three acts:

Inciting Incident, Climax And Resolution (one or more scenes, no subplots)

Flash Fiction = 500 – 2000 words comprising one act:

Climax and Resolution (one scene, no plots)

You may disagree with my conclusions, because there are so many different lengths classified as short stories in the publishers market listings. One group was short short story. How is that different from Flash Fiction?

Where does that leave me?

Well, if stories sell at one cent per word, then to write a 7000 word short story, I need to sell enough copies to earn $70.00 to break even, and more to make a profit. If I price the short story at $0.99 I will receive $0.56 cents each sale from Smashwords. So, when I sell 125 copies I will break even.

If I write an 8000 word novelette I need to sell enough copies to earn $80.00 dollars (still assuming I am earning one cent per word) to break even. So, priced at $1.99 I will receive $1.61 each sale from Smashwords, and that would be 50 copies sold to break even. Or, if priced at $0.99, that would be 143 copies sold to break even.

This is an extremely simplistic approach to accounting and does not include my expenses, such as rental of office space, equipment, stationary, telephone, internet, manuals, education, editing, cost of cover images, etc.

Also, the amount received at all the other distributors will be less than Smashwords because they take their cut, too. But it gives me a figure to calculate break even point. And it is doable. I can set this as a goal and know I can achieve it.

This leads to other questions. How many words can I write in an hour? 1000? Does that mean I am capable of earning $10.00 per hour based on the 1000 words produced? If working on an hourly basis, what about research, editing, copyediting, cover creation, formatting and uploading to each site? How do I calculate the time involved to improve the first draft ready to publish?

How do I work smarter, not longer, to earn more? Selling different rights separately? Write and sell 5 short stories separately, then put the same 5 stories into a collection and sell it at a price less than the 5 short stories. That I understand. Learn audio processes and sell the same stories as Podcasts. I know nothing about that. Translate into other languages and sell those rights. Learn and sell POD books.

The publishing industry does all this, and probably a lot more.

I am sure there are many more questions that need answers. They can all keep for other blogs, if I ever get good enough to branch out further than ebooks.

What about you? What is your take on length and description of the different classifications of fiction.


6 comments so far

  1. Angela/Curiocat on

    KKR and DWS are really making the case for not having an agent but hiring an IP lawyer for any negotiations.

    Whether someone goes the agent route or not it’s clear that reading and understanding the contracts is not an option but a must or suffer the possible consequences.

    I understand your point about writing smart to make more money. I suppose there should be writing length standards and to use tradish publishing standards makes sense.

    But then I question why worry about it all? Isn’t the point of indie publishing to write what you want and shed the yoke of tradish publishing?

    If it ends up 35k instead of 40k or 50k as long as it tells the story should the length be a huge factor for a writer?

    • djmills on

      Yes, writing a good story is better than a certain length. 🙂

  2. Angela/Curiocat on

    Oops! Forgot to add this link, it has yet another version of word lengths and what flash fiction is. Nice post, Diane.


    • djmills on

      Thanks for the link, I bookmarked it. 🙂

  3. Amber Dane on

    You have a great blog & good informative links!

    • djmills on


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