The Cost — Part One

News Flash!  Bubonicon is this coming weekend.  Theme is Women of Wonder.  Guests of Honor include Tamora Pierce, Catherynne M. Valente, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Ruth Sanderson.  I’ll be there all three days, and hope to see many of you!

One, Two, Three, More?

One, Two, Three, More?

Last week I solicited questions from Wednesday Wanderings readers.  This week, I’m going to tackle at least some of Louis’ very complex ones.  And, yes, I’m still interested in hearing from you about what you’d like me to talk about!  Either put your suggestion in the Comments or e-mail me at

For ease of reference, here’s what Louis said: “Well, my immediate reaction was to wonder how much we’d have to raise on Kickstarter to  pay you to write the 4th Breaking the Wall [hmmm… should I maybe be taking that series title literally, or at least more so than I have so far?] book. And no, you don’t need to answer that, or even think about the answer. But it did lead me to something that might be answerable: what does it cost you to produce a new book – in terms of time, of resources, of blood, sweat, toil and tears? And how do you judge that you’ve been fairly recompensed for your labour?

Probably not the same answers every time, of course.”

Let me start with Louis’ “answerable” question.  Then, I’ll see if I can touch on the rest.  Some of this will inevitably repeat what I’ve said elsewhere, but I think it has value in a new context.

Also, Louis is absolutely right that the answer isn’t the same every time, but I’ll try to make my answer broad enough to give you a sense of how different situations will change my assumed “cost.”

In the past, I have budgeted a year to write a novel from start to finish, that is, to create a manuscript ready to hand in to my editor.  Please note that last bit…  I’ll be coming back to it.  However, this “a year” is a deceptive statistic.

“Idea” is the most difficult element to which to assign an assessment of “time.”   In all cases, I don’t start a novel until I have a clear idea of what I want to write about, so in that sense, it’s a non-element.  Or is it?  In a very real sense, I may have spent years, even a lifetime, coming up with that idea.   One reason I read widely and eclectically is to “feed the Muse” for future ideas.

Even if I have a solid “idea,” still I need to lay some foundations in setting (which may include world building), character (ditto, since characters do not exist in isolation from their setting), and some of the bones of plot.

A new novel in a series presents an additional challenge – that of keeping the material consistent with what was presented in previous books.

I know several authors of highly popular, multi-volume series who actually rely on assistants (either paid or volunteer) to help keep track of the details in their increasingly complex series.  The author is focused on the newest project, not all the small elements from earlier ones.

I don’t have such an assistant, so, if I were going to write another book in an on-going series, I would need to re-read all the previous books first: not casually, as one does when revisiting an “old friend,” but with razor-sharp attention to detail.  I suspect the need to do this is a reason that, when some authors have picked up with pervious series after a long time lag, the new books take place in the next generation or at least after a suitable lapse of time so that mistakes in characterization or setting can be passed off to the passage of time.

I know that as a reader I’ve usually been disappointed by Whatever The Next Generation books…  If I’m reading in a series, I want to rejoin my fictional friends and learn how what happened in prior books might influence their lives.  Based on the questions I’ve received from readers of my various series, I suspect that’s what they would want from a new book in a series – especially if they’ve remained interested in the series over the years it has been on hiatus – so taking that time to re-read would be essential.

Therefore, even before I started writing, I would need time to re-read, take notes, and, most importantly, wrap myself in the “soul” of that place and those people.  So, tack that onto the “year” to produce a book that you could read.

Let’s pause here to address the question of length of a book.  Since Louis used a fourth “Breaking the Wall” book for his example, I’ll start with that.  Each of the “Breaking the Wall” novels ran between 650 and just under 700 pages.    I can’t give you a precise word count, because I don’t currently have complete manuscripts in electronic form, but let’s estimate 150,000 words.

(Oh…  And compared to the Firekeeper novels, these were “short.”  Most of those ran at least 200,000 words.)

I’m assuming that a reader would like a new book in a series to be about the same length as the previous ones in the series, offering the same level of complexity of characters and plot.  As was shown by my experience with writing the “Artemis Awakening” novels (which the editor insisted be not much over 100,000 words), when I write a shorter novel, I can’t provide as much story.  This is because I never write “fat.”  I always try to make every word, every scene, count, often double.

Since Louis asked about “cost,” this is a good place to mention that the longer the novel, the more expensive it is to produce.  Yes.  This is true even with e-books, since the distributors charge according to the size of the file.

(And before you ask, “But do you need to bother with the distributors?” the answer seems to be “Yes.”  In all the years I have been selling e-books via my website bookstore, I have had fewer than ten direct purchase requests.  Almost all of these have been from “foreign” markets, where, for one reason or another, the reader has difficulty accessing marketplaces like

The cost element becomes an even more serious element with print-on-demand books, since the cost for these is based on size, yet book buyers (who don’t balk at buying groceries by the pound) want to pay roughly the same amount per book, no matter the size.  Major publishing houses manage to keep prices in the same general range by offsetting projects against each other, but for a one-author operation, this isn’t an option.

Surely you’ve noticed that those bright-eyed self-published authors you encounter in increasingly large numbers at conventions almost always have very slim books?  Cost is one of the reasons.  Another is the awareness that they’ll make more money from several short books than from one long complex book.  This is one of the reasons that, after nearly going extinct, serials are becoming popular once more. They’re a way to write short, sell more often, and yet tell a more complex story.

So, right off, my contemplated 150,000-word original novel is a bad idea in the self-publishing world…  But let’s say I’m going to go ahead with it, maybe because that Kickstarter campaign Louis mentioned has shown me there’s an audience.  What else goes into the project?

This seems like a good time to stop (since I need to do various things to get ready for Bubonicon this weekend and the National Book Festival the following weekend) but I’ll pick up the rest of the complexities of producing a book next time.

Meantime, remember that I welcome your questions!


5 Responses to “The Cost — Part One”

  1. Heteromeles Says:

    150,000 words is a slender novel? I thought the publishers were bugging out at 100,000 words. The page count gets weird too. We’re on the receiving end, so I, at least, am thinking in terms of mass market paperbacks, trade paperbacks, or hard covers, not in terms of manuscript pages. Which page count were you referring to?

    One other bit of weirdness is that with ebook files, the text part of the file size is trivial, at least in the ones I’ve made (even in a marked-up word file, the text of a 400-page manuscript is just over 1 megabyte). Most of the file size on an e-book is actually the cover art and any illustrations included.

    Probably the bigger thing to talk about is risk. With Kickstarter, you take less risk, because you put up your sales pitch, get the money, then write and produce the book, knowing that you’re under contract to produce copies for your subscribers. Your profit is in fulfilling the contract efficiently and effectively once you’re funded, and then in selling surplus copies thereafter.

    With self-publishing, you have to put in your time, your editor’s expenses (if you’re hiring (an) editor(s)), your cover artist’s expenses (if you’re hiring a cover artist), your book designer’s expenses (although, to be blunt, Word produces a perfectly reasonable POD book design if you work with it and do some research)…Then you’ve got to pay for your sales campaign. All this before you start getting any money coming in, let alone cover expenses and make a profit. If you’ve got no track record from which to sell a project, this can be the only way to go, but it is riskier.

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      To clarify… I was talking about manuscript length.

      “Slender” was for me, as the next paragraph should have made clear.

      Yes. You’re right about file size, but it is still an element.

      I’ll be talking about many of the other things in more detail next time…

  2. Paul Dellinger Says:

    Glad Bubonicon is featuring prominent women in the field as major guests. It may need to be reiterated that women have always been part of the SF field (and Mary Shelley may have even started it). Documentation can be found in Eric Leif Davin’s book, “Partners in Wonder.” That’s quite an education about launching a book. It is indeed a formidable task.

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      I’ve read that book. It’s really great…

      The Funnest Thing about the Bubonicon guest list is that they didn’t plan it that way. The con com just asked the sponsoring club who they’d like to see, and the guests available this year turned out to be women.

      That’s the next step toward true equality… Having it happen “just because,” rather than “woman’s day” or “blue person day” or whatever.

  3. “Incipient”? | Jane Lindskold: Wednesday Wanderings Says:

    […] several weeks, Louis Robinson’s question gave me plenty to talk about.  (See “The Cost” part One, Two, and Finale.)  However, that doesn’t mean I forgot that “heteromeles” had tossed a few […]

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