A Controversial Topic: To Stuff or Not to Stuff?
Unless you're a hardcore follower of indie romance, you may be scratching your head at the title of this post. For the confused, "stuffing" a book is when authors put some of their previously published books in the back of a new release. For example, page 1-160 might be the new book, page 161-250 might be another book they wrote a few months ago, and page 251-400 might be yet another book.
If you're still reading, I'm going to assume you're interested, and if you're interested, there are some things I need to explain before I dive fully into stuffing. The first is how much of a difference there is between an author like myself, someone like Penny Wylder, someone like LJ Shen, and someone like Corinne Michaels.
I think most romance authors fall into one of a few groups.
Average indie: Indie author who is new to the scene without a significant following. These authors can have one book peak at rank 10 and the next could fail to break into the top 1000. There's not a big enough fan base to give them any guarantees, so their success is almost 100% on the book cover, title, blurb, and reviews.
Indie star: Indie author who has been around a while and has a fanbase. These authors still have to hit the magic four to have success, but they have a big enough fan base that you'll often see their books bust into the top 100 or top 200 by sheer force of their fandom. Authors like this won't stick around if the magic four aren't hitting the mark, but they tend to at least show up regardless of how off the mark they are.
Indie blog darlings: Indie author who has been around a while, has a fanbase, *and* shows up on the romance blogs. This group is kind of the big dog group of the indie world. Their books are "stickier" in the ranks, meaning they just linger around at high ranks much longer than books like mine can hope for. The stickiness could be from a number of things, but I believe the biggest part is the buzz and interest generated by all the blog reviews these authors get.
Trad pubber: I'm just lumping all traditionally published romance authors into here. I don't understand enough of their world to really know the subcategories, but I they are essentially playing by different rules than all of us in the indie world.
Okay, so the point of breaking all that down is so I can point out what I've noticed. The only group that seems to stuff their books regularly is the group I belong to. The average indie author group. I feel like I need to throw a disclaimer in here and say that not all average indie authors stuff their books, because some are really against the idea, but if you see a stuffed book, chances are it's an average indie author like myself.
So what is all the fuss about stuffing?
Authors who don't stuff their books often view the practice with a lot of negativity. I'll break down the main arguments against stuffing from both authors and readers before I go into my take on them.
Authors argue that stuffing devalues books. If someone like myself sells three complete books for $0.99, they feel I'm chipping away at the value of their $3.99 or $4.99 new release.
Many authors also think of stuffing books as "scammy" behavior. Essentially, the argument there is that stuffing a book means it's "worth" more pages read if someone borrows it through Kindle Unlimited. So someone who stuffs 1000 pages in the back of their book is going to get more pages read than someone who just launches their 150 page book as it is.
Readers tend to dislike stuffing because it's frankly confusing. They start their book, see they are 30% complete on their kindle, only to find the book just ended. Even though the story was a complete story, there's something off-putting about the percentage complete not matching up if you were expecting to only be 30% through the book.
Another complaint is that the product page lists the page count of a book, so some readers think they are buying a 400-500 page standalone book, only to find they bought three 150 page books packaged together.
Sounds horrible! I know. But let me give my take on all the arguments against stuffing and explain why I still do it.
As far as de-valuing the book goes, there's certainly some validity to this argument. If you are trying to sell hamburgers for $5 each and I'm selling mine for $1 each, then people are going to wonder why my hamburgers are so much cheaper. They may even begin to wonder if your $5 hamburgers are worth it anymore. My argument against this isn't my strongest of the bunch, but if people are happily making a living selling their books for $1 each, then someone who wants to charge $5 for the same product just needs to make sure they really are offering something above and beyond what people are paying $1 for elsewhere. It's also nearly impossible for a brand new author to break into the market at a higher price point than $1 now, so the people who have been around forever and can charge $5 aren't being entirely fair if they want to criticize new authors for doing what it takes to break in.
In terms of the scammy view stuffing generally gets, this is where I tend to get a little worked up. I don't generally let a lot of things get under my skin when it comes to author drama, but I definitely bristle at being called a scammer. In order for stuffing to be a scam, the pages read system would need to work differently. As it currently works, authors get paid fractions of a penny every time you flip a page after borrowing their books. That means if the book failed to grab your interest and you only read 20 pages, they only get 20 fractions of a penny. So if someone stuffs 1500 pages into an ebook, they aren't going to get 1500 fractions of a penny by default. People would need to actually be engaged enough and want to read the extra content for it to be worth *any* money.
However, there is a scammy method of stuffing that I've seen in some books. If someone puts a link to the bank or some incentive to scroll to the back of their stuffed book, that IS a scam because they're hoping some percentage of readers will just flip through the book to get to the epilogue or whatever they shoved at the back.
For the complaint about it being confusing, there's not a ton I can offer, except that I did start listing what percentage the main story will end at and including the word count and page length at the bottom of my blurb. I also included a quick note before the story begins too.
As far as the misleading page counts go, one thing I've done to help that issue is to make sure my paperback copies are not stuffed. After a couple days from publication, the paperback links to the ebook on Amazon's side and the page count will only show the print page count. Beyond that, I'd just encourage people to quickly glance at the table of contents if they really aren't sure whether the book is stuffed, because it should be clear from the preview if it is.
The short version is that stuffing is and probably always be a controversial topic. For now, Amazon allows it, despite what you might hear. I've emailed and called them personally to confirm that it's okay, and it is.
One quick note before I wrap up the post is that this was a pretty technical and kind of behind-the-scenes type of post. I'll continue to bring posts like this to the site, but I'm also going to mix in a variety of lighter and more reader-centric posts that should be really fun to read for people who are just fans of my books and don't care about all the behind-the-scenes drama.