Typewritten stories for fundraisers. A pricing conundrum.

typewritten story I’d like your opinion. I do this thing, sometimes, where I take a typewriter and write one page flash fiction on demand. At the opening of Volumes BookCafe, I wrote five during the course of the evening. They’re fun, light, and take me about fifteen minutes. That’s a photo of one of them. (I’ll post a transcript down below, minus the typos.)

Here’s how it works.

  1. I ask the person to give me a genre. Like SF, or romance, or murder mystery
  2. I ask for a character job/role.  For instance “IT guy” or “piano student”
  3. I ask for a location like, kitchen, the Philippines, or the boudoir.
  4. If they want to give me a character name, then I’ll use it, but no pressure.
  5. Fifteen minutes later, I give them an original typewritten story. (I keep the carbon copy. And yes, actual carbon paper.)

So… if I were to offer this as a fundraiser at a convention, what seems like a reasonable suggested price per story?

On the one hand, it’s 250-ish words, so at minimum pro-rates, that’d be $15. On the other hand, it’s a one-of-a-kind thing AND for charity.

Which good cause? Depends. I just figured this might be more fun than offering an ARC or a manuscript critique. You know, watch Mary sweat as she tries to make your suggestion into a story and all that. Anyway, point being, I have no idea at all what to suggest for pricing.

And, as promised, here’s the transcription of this goofy little story.

The cable for his BrainBuddy had jammed in the socket. Normally, Tom just used the wireless to upload content to his in-brain interface, but he hadn’t wanted to wait. He was already running late and a wired upload always went faster with big files. His own damn fault for wanting to impress his date with French.

He pulled on the cable, trying to wiggle it free from the socket. The skin around it twinged with the movement. He accessed the time. Damn it. He should have left five minutes ago. Okay. He could tuck it into his shirt. Or something. Tom pulled the collar of his shirt away, and threaded the cable down. He glanced in the mirror. The bright red cable gleamed like a thread of blood. Perfect.  Okay. A turtleneck. But even as he reached for it, he knew that the cable would still show. Tom licked his lips, thinking. Okay. His dad always said that if force didn’t work, you weren’t using enough.

He went into the kitchen and pulled a pair of pliers from the drawer. Setting his jaw, he placed the jaws of the pliers around the socket and yanked.

Light flared in his eyes, across his brain and seemed to pour out his ears. He dropped to his knees, pliers clattering to the floor. A drop of blood spattered on the linoleum next to his hand.

“Shit.”

Well. At least he had a damn good reason to be late.

PS You should click on the photo to look at the type. It’s a sans serif from the 1930s and is really gorgeous and Deco.

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31 thoughts on “Typewritten stories for fundraisers. A pricing conundrum.”

  1. Nathan Beittenmiller

    For a charity thing like that, signed, I’d be willing to do $25-30 easily. Yeah, it’s above pro rates, but it’s an exclusive, original piece based off the person’s input. That’s worth more than pro rates in my opinion. Plus charity.

      1. Nathan Beittenmiller

        Aye, and this is where the business calculations come into play. How much is your time worth to you? How much do others charge (if there are competitors)? How much do you think someone would expect to pay? What makes it an affordable impulse buy? How much do you want to raise for charity? And so on. And so on.

        $25-30 is in the impulse buy range at an event for me. While I can afford $50, I’d have to think about it. I’d probably go for it, but I don’t know about others. If you only hope to sell a handful and still raise a couple hundred bucks, then $50 would work. You could probably even sell a few for $100. It’s an interesting question, which is why I’m sure you asked. 🙂

  2. I agree with Nathan, above, and for all the same reasons. $25 is a nice round number, and you could probably get a lot of takers at that price. But considering the charity aspect, I think it is not unreasonable to ask $40 to $50.

  3. I’d pay more for a one-off story from a favourite author*, particularly for charity. They look so good I’d imagine getting one framed. Say $50-100. Would you consider auction?

    (*I should point out that you are a favourite author)

  4. Because it’s an on-demand, live (performative), personalized thing and for charity, I don’t think that short fiction rates should have any bearing on the thinking that goes into pricing. A good hourly pro rate for a true professional in a range of fields is at least $225. Divide that by 4, and you get $55. So I think that $50 is a good starting point. Of course, it all depends on who the audience is and what people are willing to pay and how many you are doing at a particular event.

  5. I think that an auction for for the chance to get a personalized story like this would help raise more money for charity. I also think a $50 starting point wouldn’t be to high. The real value for me is watching you turn a few sentences into an off the cuff peice of fiction. I have taken your classes and seeing how your process works is a price above rubies for the budding author.

    1. Agreed. $50 is a good starting point for a charity sale, then auction it up from there. People expect to pay higher than normal prices for charity items.

      1. Same suggestion I was going to make – auction with $50 starting point. Don’t undersell yourself, especially when you’re doing it for a good cause.

  6. Before reading any of the other comments, I thought “I’d drop $30 without hesitation on something like this.” Now I think I was being too cheap.

    I agree with Jeremy – if you auction off the privilege of giving you the ‘seed’, maybe setting the opening bid at $40 – $50, I bet for many of them you could get $100 for a Good Cause™.

  7. if you can auction and there’s a decent sized crowd I’d recommend a low starting bid like $15-20, because what leads to a high final bid isn’t a high starting bid. It’s several bidders who have started to think of the item as theirs, and are unwilling to lose it. That combined with “it’s a charity auction so the money is going for a good cause” can be potent.

    That’s been my experience anyway. Ahem.

  8. I’d agree that $30 sits for me as the best impulse-buy price-point, but $50 also feels reasonable—that’s around the price of a new video game.

    That type is absolutely fantastic. All my parents’ machines just do your bog-standard Courier. What beautiful machine did that?

  9. It seems to me that one key factor is how much time do you want to spend doing these. Pricing will have a direct impact on how many pages you end up writing. I suggest $50. If time is limited and the audience is large enough, higher would net more for charity, which is always nice.

  10. I think (and it seems the general consensus seems to be) that $50 is a pretty good starting point, though some venues may be more conducive to a $30-ish starting price. Factoring in the “performance art” aspect, something in the range of $150 doesn’t seem unreasonable either.

  11. I think it depends on how much time it takes to make one, and how many you think you’d be capable to make in the time frame.

    30-40$ sounds good for an impulse buy kind of thing, 50-100$ if you’re going for a smaller number and/or exclusivity. Fans will be willing to spend a little more on an MRK original than random people who’d like a flash fiction but don’t know you in particular.

  12. I think $50 would be totally reasonable, even $75. And I think I’d potentially pay even more if it were for a good charity function. I suppose some folks might pay more if it were signed (I’m not much of a “collector” personally so it’s cool when I get something signed, but not a $ motivator).

    Love the idea, certainly.

  13. Me too for $50. Original, on-demand fiction while you wait? Plus it’s for charity? $50 is really a good price.

    Under no circumstances less than $30.

  14. I would not be comfortable with less than 35. 50, as many other commenters have noted seems far more reasonable a starting point for something both fiction and performance. I would also be interested in throwing some bills into a tip jar if I was even just witnessing your performance.

  15. I do nonprofit fundraising, so my gut reaction is to compare this to the sorts of premiums organizations often give to donors. My org sometimes offers a stainless water bottle at $35. A t-shirt is usually $50 or above. And those are both mass-produced items, nothing particularly special about them. Flash fiction on demand is pretty special! (I love the idea, by the way.) Depending on the charity, I’d ask for at least $50, possibly as much as $100. You could even go fancier and add levels – at $50 they can choose the genre and occupation, at $75 they can also choose setting, etc, to encourage them to give more.

  16. Not much to add, I think the price ranges all sound good. Depending on the audience and how much time you have is probably the biggest factor in going to the higher or lower end. Personally, I would go with $50+. It does price out the impulse buy, but unless you want/are able to spend hours typing dozens of these, you probably don’t need impulse buying anyway. Alternatively, if this is a situation where you will be at a convention booth/table doing these off and on for an entire weekend, then it may work out best to under price a bit and go for volume.

    The only other recommendation I would make is to have a donation/tip jar out. People will easily impulse donate to charity, however, with whatever small bills they have on them. You can get the “I don’t really want a story, but here’s a five or a ten” crowd which can sometimes wind up raising even more money than the item you are selling. We learned that real fast selling girl scout cookies with my daughters. Some days they raised more with the jar than the cookies. 🙂

  17. I’d pay $25 for this, easily. More than that, not unless I knew it was going to be available and planned ahead. Which I might do.

  18. Well, we’re looking at an original and unique story, which will forever have a story around it’s creation. Written by a Hugo-award winning author. For charity.

    It’s typewritten, beautiful and can be framed. Great conversation piece.

    Anything less than $100 is just giving it away.

    Also, Ken Marable’s idea about the tip jar is excellent.

  19. Hi!

    I agree with the $30 starting price. I would drop that much in a moment for one of these!

    On another note, I would really LOVE to know what happens with this story, if anything does. I found it super interesting and creative!

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