Saturday, April 30, 2011

From Obsecurity to Top Seller

Sorry I've been quiet lately. I have been heads down editing Nathan Lowell's Full Share to make sure it is ready for the upcoming Balticon.

But I did want to share a success story. Ridan's two big sellers have been Michael J. Sullivan (husband) and Nathan Lowell (sci-fi author extraordinaire). Marshall Thomas has a six-book sci-fi series that really wasn't moving much in the way of sales.

I wanted Marshall to get the exposure his books so richly deserve, and being tied up with other things at the moment, I did the only "quick fix" I could and changed the pricing. I put his Soldier of the Legion and March of the Legion at $0.99, his next two books, Slave of the Legion and Secret of the Legion at $2.99, and list last 2 books, Cross of the Legion, and Curse of the Legion at $3.99. Well sales skyrocket and he now occupies 6 of the Top 100 Best Sellers on the Amazon Kindle List (Solider #8, March #24, Slave #65, Cross #72, Secret #75, Curse #100).

His first book has shot up to surpass both Michael's and Nathan's best sellers and he sold more than 1,200 copies of that book alone in just a few weeks.

One of the reason I took this move, is in his genre there is a very high concentration of indie authors in the lower price range dominating the top 100 list. So I was not pricing his books consistent with the market.

Now, that's not to say you should just carte blanch lower all your prices. Nathan will sell about the same number of books as Marshall in April and his are $4.95 and only 2 titles as compared to 6 titles of Marshall, but I've done more work promoting Nathan's works. So...the bottom line, at least in this case. If you do a lot of marketing you can maintain the $4.95 price point and be successful. But the $0.99 and $2.99 definitely has a place and gets books noticed as a quick fix.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Recent Developments in the Amazon Top 100

While I've been too busy to do my usual weekly Top 100 posts, I have none the less captured the data so I can do them retroactively. But during my hiatus a few important things have occurred.
  • We finally had an indie break the top 100 with a price higher than $2.99. J.R. Rain's third Vampire for Hire Book, American Vampire sells for $3.99 and is at #43 and has been in the Top 10 for 19 days. I meant to post several weeks ago when it "broke and stayed". It reached it's best rank of #30 from April 14 - April 16. The first book in the series is Moon Dance and with a price of $0.99 has been in the Top 100 for 111 days. It's been pretty routinely "in the middle" of the top 100 ranging from 50 - 80 it's top spot was #40. The second book in the series, also at $3.99. Hit the 100 but so briefly that I didn't count it (only a few hours on one day) but even so Vampire Moon is a very nice seller at #112.

  • David Baldacci's latest book, No Time Left, is in the top 100 (#84) and has been for 4 days. This marks one of only a handful of big-six releases at $0.99. And interestingly enough is the second from Hachette Book Group (#3 publisher as of 2009 rankings). The Orbit imprint of Hachette put Iain M. Banks, Consider Phlebas at $0.99 and it also briefly hit the top 100 but again not long enough for me to count it as a true Top 100. What is interesting about this release is that even though it is still at $0.99 it is ranked 712 which surprises me.
What's this all mean...I'm not sure I know as I'm reporting the facts and not necessarily attributing weight to them. For myself personally it shows that indies are gaining ground at a "respectable" price, and the big-six is experimenting with the bargain basement - and not fairing as well as the indies in this regard.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Why ebook market share is important

I speak quite a bit here about which path to pursue for publication of your book (self, indie press, large traditional). There are a myriad of reasons to select each one but a deciding factor for many is maximizing income. At AW there in a discussion about ebooks and what impact the new AAP numbers means to writers.

For those that don't know the AAP (which gathers data from 82 publishers, 16 of which report ebook sales) shows that 29.5% of all sales (by $ not volume) are now ebook. So if you add up all the fiction and nonfiction (excluding educational and academic texts), including children and adult in formats such as ebook, hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback) almost 30% of those are ebooks. There are a few on the AW site that get upset when ebooks and self-publishing are used somewhat interchangeably. They point out that both traditionally published authors and self-published authors sell ebooks and they want to keep format separated from publishing choice. I'm not sure why they want this but you can't separate them and here is why.

Traditional published authors receive revenues from both print and ebooks. Historically ebooks have represented a small portion of overall sales (3%-8%) so the vast majority of their income is based on print sales.

Self-publishers have a more limited print distribution system (mainly limited to online) their print sales are nothing compared to ebook (2% - 4% for my authors).
  • An author at AW said...."Whether a writer chooses to pursue commercial publishing of self-publishing (or both) is a DIFFERENT SUBJECT from paper books vs e-books" I couldn't disagree more. If you are analyzing the decision from the financial perspective then the print verses e-book ratio is the CRITICAL component in deciding which way to go.

  • Traditional published authors receive income from print sales and ebook sales. Historically ebooks have been a small % of the overall picture (3% - 8%) so the majority of an author's income has been from print.
Self-published authors have very limited access to print distribution (usually mainly online outlets) the vast amount of their income comes from ebook sales (in most of my writer's cases print is 2% - 4% of overall income.

Now let’s look at the authors cut for ebooks in the two models:
  • Traditional: author: 14.9%, publisher: 52.5%, distributor: 30%, agent: 2.6%
  • Self-published: author 70%, publisher: 0%, distributor: 30%, agent 0%
If we look at how ebooks are priced (we'll use Kindle as they are the market share leader) We'll see the following generalities:
  • Traditional: Usually price from $6.99 - $14.99
  • Self-published: Usually priced at $0.99 or $2.99
For the most part, books (or anything) at a lower price sell more. When deciding price you are always trying to see the total income which is # of sales times price. Its hard to determine exactly which will produce the best income - low number o high priced books or high number of low priced books - for the rest of this discussion I'm going to remove this component because both traditional publishers and self-published authors are free to experiment with price/sales and I'm going to assume that they do whatever they need to from a pricing decision and found that "magic number.
Getting back to the task at hand. If the question is...from a financial perspective which should I choose, traditional or self I think the single biggest factor is what is your thoughts on ebook dominance.

If you feel ebooks are for only the elite and most readers will remain in print - then the large disparity in author share (70% vs 14.9%) is not an issue because a larger % of a small number doesn't effect the overall income much.

If you feel ebooks are exploding and print will soon become a subsidiary right - then you MUST focus on maximizing ebook revenue and the 70% vs 14.9% disparity plays a huge role.

When I look at the data I see #2:
  • Borders closing
  • Amazon sells more ebooks then paperback or hardcover
  • AAP reports 29.5% ebook/print ratio
  • AAP reports triple digit increases in ebooks with each sales report press release while simultaneously reporting declines in hardback and mass-market paperbacks (trade paperbacks have in most reports remained flat)
So again if only judging financial aspects, then I contend that you MUST come to grips with what you think is happening between ebook and print ratios. Where you come down SHOULD allow you tally that one item of decision making for one or the other column.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

AAP February 2011 data is in and...

The full press release can be found here. eBooks hit a major milestone:
"For February 2011, e-Books ranked as the #1 format among all categories of Trade publishing (Adult Hardcover, Adult Paperback, Adult Mass Market, Children’s/Young Adult Hardcover, Children’s/Young Adult Paperback)"
  • ebooks 2010 to 2011 rose 169.4% to $164.1M
  • combined print books 2010 to 2011 declined 24.8% to $441.7M
  • ebooks sales = 29.5% of total ebook/print sales
What is even more important is these numbers come from:
  • data provided by 84 U.S. publishing houses representing major commercial, education, professional, scholarly and independents
  • Data on e-Books comes from 16 houses.
Many have been thinking that ebooks will account for more than 50% of the market by 2015 - I think that date will be adjusted dramatically in the coming months. Remember just 2 months ago when the 2010 numbers were released. Here is a chart from then:

In just two months (data for December vs February) we went from 8% to nearly 30%!!

2009-2010 Reader Survey...

Some great things come out of forums (even those that frustrate me like Absolute Write Water Cooler). One such gem was this survey by the ABA (American Booksellers Associton). Some facts about the study:

  • 9,300 respondents
  • Picked from a pool of 110 million internet users from 5,100 websites
  • Conducted Nov 2009, Dec 200, Jan 2010
  • Adults 18+ (Males 48%, Woman 52%) - to match US population

Hours per week reading:

  • 10.6% - not sure
  • 19.6% - less than 1 hour
  • 21.3% -1-2 hours
  • 20.8% - 3 - 4 hours
  • 14.8% - 5 - 9 hours
  • 12.9% - 10 hours or more
If Avid Readers are defined as >= 5 hours a week
  • 63% female
  • 37% male
Number of books bought in last 12 months

  • 16.2% - not sure
  • 12.0% - none
  • 12.7% - 1-2
  • 14.9% - 3-4
  • 15.0% - 5 - 9
  • 29.3% - 10 or more
Principal Reasons for Buying books:

  • 2% - Other
  • 32% - Entertainment/relaxation
  • 22% - Education/self improvement
  • 14% - Gift
  • 11% - Business/professional
  • 11% - Historical/current events
  • 8% - Children/grandchildren
NOTE: I think this was a stupid question as most people fall across all those categories but I guess the "principal" covers that -- but in addition I think children/grandchildren probably fall into a "gift" situataion.

Shopping Location (all/avid buyers)

  • 0%/1.6% - Not sure
  • 12.1%/0% - Other
  • 22.0%/27.6% - Chain bookstore (B&N, Borders)
  • 23.0%/27.3% - Local independent
  • 21.1%/19.0% - On-line Retailer
  • 11.7%/14.1% - Big-box retailer (Wallmart, target)
  • 10.1%/10.4% - Book clubs
Primary Factor in Book Purchase Decision: % deemed VERY important*
  • 52% - Author reputation
  • 49% - Personal recommendation
  • 45% - Price
  • 37% - Book reviews
  • 22% - Cover artwork/blurbs
  • 14% - Advertising (including online)
*This was the best question in the group (IMO)

Probability of buying ereader in 6-12 months**

  • 17.1% - not sure
  • 6.8% - already own one
  • 8.2% - very likely
  • 15.7% - somewhat likely
  • 52.5% - not at all likely
**This is over 1 year old data at this point - I would love to see this number for 2010/2011

Of ebook owners - planned ebook purchases/planned paper purchases***

  • 16%/13.5% not sure
  • 22%/13.2% - none
  • 13%/14.9% - 1 - 2
  • 10%/13.5% - 3 - 4
  • 14%/17.2% - 5 - 9
  • 25%/27.7% 10 or more
***Again - old data so not much relevance now other than to note that a year ago people who had ereaders were still buying a significant number of paperback books. I for one always choose an ebook over paper book.

Primary time for using ereader

  • 7% - other
  • 13% - not sure
  • 27% - reading at home for leisure
  • 14% - reading in bed
  • 24% - traveling or commuting
  • 9% - during breaks in the workday
  • 6% - studying or school reading
NOTE: This survey had a $ willing to pay but as the "cheapest" was "less than $10" I don't think it has much relevance. I would rather see a: $0, $0.99, less then $3, $3-5, $5-9.99, Over 10$. This suvey had: less than $10, $25 or more, $20 - $24.99, $15-19.99, $13.00-$14.99, $10.00 -$2.99.

Regarding piracy (Torrent services) - from ereader population -How many times in 12 months you downloaded a book from Rapidshare, Megaupload, Hotfile, etc.

  • 8% - Not sure
  • 63% - None
  • 13% - 1 or 2
  • 7% - 3 or 4
  • 3% - 5 to 9
  • 6% - 10 or more

Choice, Change, and the eRevolution

I've been thinking recently about the magnitude of change in publishing and trying to make sense of it all. The most striking aspect to me in what is going on is the importance that there are now more choices....more choices for the authors...and more choices for he readers.

Up until recently (Fall 2010) traditional publishing really was the only game in town. And more specifically if you wanted to have a serious writing career that meant being published through a big-six. Yes, I know there are exceptions to this but if we apply the 80/20 rule or even the 90/10 rule (and possibly even 95/5) this was the case. This is not to say that I don't like or appreciate small presses (I run one after all) but most small presses offer small or no advances and are happy if a few thousand books sold.

Advances in technology (ebook and POD) has brought to the stage successful self-publishers and small press publishers that are now able to get their books in front of thousands, and tens of thousands of readers. I've noticed a recent trend in the Top 100 List where there are now a few small-press entries there (which was once dominated only by big-six, then big-six and some self-published, and now all three). The most recent success story is Vincent Zandri, who joins Amanda Hocking, John Locke, and JA Konrath in he top of the list. He has two books put out by Stonegate Ink, The Innocent at #5 and Godchild #70).

Another small-press offering which has been on the list for some time is Live Free or Die by Jessie Crockett put out by Mainly Murder Press which only recently fell of the list after months in the top 100.

Making self-publishing and small press publishing more successful is without a doubt a huge boon for the author but it is maybe even more important for the reader. When traditional big-six publishing was the only game in town the reader only had options from books that they put out. Sure that still was hundreds of thousands of titles but each and every one of them was carefully analyzed not by "how good" the book was but by "how much" they thought it would sell for. This skewed many of the offerings toward those with mass appeal. One of the major problems with big-six traditional publishing (imo) was that limitation of the number of slots available for any given catalog period. Orbit just released their Fall 2011 Catalog (in which my husband Michael received a very nice two-page spread) but there were only 20 or so titles coming out in this period. This meant that many "worthy" books had to be turned away and can now be free to find their own audience. With the gatekeepers gone readers will now have a larger pool to draw from.

Katherine Rusch said it very nicely on her blog:
What all of this means is that readers now control what kind of content they consume. Instead of easy access to the bestsellers and blockbusters, limited access to all other titles, and no access to the quirky unusual title, readers can now read whatever kind of book they want.

What is even more important than the choices, is the convenience factor afforded by ebooks. I've seen a tremendous amount of Michael's fan mail that repeat themes such as:

"As soon as I finished the the book, I immediately downloaded the next. I tore through all five of them in just a few weeks and am no anxiously awaiting the final book of the Riyria Revelations series."

The ability to immediately read the next book in a series is definitely coming into play with authors like Hocking, Locke, J.R. Rain (who is the first to have a Top 100 that is priced over $2.99 (The third in his Vampire for Hire currently sells for $3.99).

This brings me back to thinking about the big-six. Many are predicting its decline and eventual doom. There is no doubt that the viability of small presses and self-published books will certainly cut into their monopolistic hold of the industry but I don't think they will vanish completely. In fact, I'm counting on their ability to expand an author's brand by having Michael sign with Orbit.

I think the big-six need to wake up and realize that they are no longer the only game in town and adjust their business practices accordingly. This means

  • Shortening the time to market for a book -

  • Shortening the wait between books in a series

  • Using low-cost ebooks as audience builders

  • Developing a fair e-royalty split (52.5% to publisher and 14.9% to author is not fair)

  • Encouraging writers to write more (not less) by doing away with non-compete clauses

I'm happy to say that Orbit is proving themselves to be one such publisher. While Michael still hasn't officially signed yet (just received the official contract a few weeks ago - after 4 months!! - and his agent (who has been at the London Book Fair) is just now sending back the revised edition. Some things they've done:

  • Fast tracked his release (editing, covers, catalog, arcs are already done (well still a bit of editing but the "major edits" are complete) if we sign in May that means his time to market will be 6 months - much quicker than the 15-18 typical cycle for a newly acquired author.

  • The entire series will be out in 3 months rather than 3 years. Book 1: Nov, Book 2, Dec, Book 3, Jan

  • They recently put Iain Bank's Consider Phlebas at $0.99 and got it into the Amazon Top 100.

  • Still using industry standard of 75%/25% but their contract does concede that if the industry standard changes then Michael's share will increase to that new number

  • Jury is still out on the last point - their non-compete severely limits Michael's ability to put out other books but this was boilerplate language that is being countered and based on their willingness to allow a Percepliquis only version of the sixth book, I'm confident we can get a contract that works for both them and Michael.

So things are changing...and choices are greater. I've sad it before and I'll say it again - now is a great time to be a writer.

Publishing in the Black

I was encouraged by this Publisher's Weekly article showing some of the major houses reporting good results for 2010. The most amazing part of this is how a single author can have a dramatic effect on an entire multi-million dollar publisher - as in the case of Stephanie Meyer and Hachette. The best piece of information in the article was:

While the improvement in the economy helped all publishers in 2010, companies where profits improved all pointed to two main contributing factors—cost controls and skyrocketing e-book sales.

Ebook sales for major houses:

  • Random up 250% - 10% of sales in the U.S.

  • Penguin up 182% - 6% of Penguin's worldwide

  • Simon & Schuster's up 122% - 8% of revenue,

  • Hachette Book Group - 10% of HBG's sales last year.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

If there’s one thing I can safely say about the business of publishing books, it’s that it is hard. Writing a good book in the first place is a monumental effort. Finding an agent usually requires dozens, if not hundreds of rejections. Landing a publishing contract is achieved by only a small percentage of the writing public. Self-publishing requires a whole skill set that requires you to wear multiple hats and “do it all”. Once your book is out there you might think, “I’ve made it.” But that just means you’ve graduated to a whole new world of challenges. You need to find an audience, suffer scathing reviews, and balance promotion time against writing time.

With all the challenges that writer’s face, shouldn’t we celebrate and support our fellow writers and the choices they make in their path to publishing?I’m speaking particularly in the “traditional” verses “self-publishing” rhetoric that seems to be dividing the writing community. Depending on which of my posts you read, I’ve been accused of being singularly focused on self-publishing or too naïve about the horrors of the traditional publishing world to know better just how terrible a choice it is. People on both sides proclaim theirs is the only “right” path and the other side is misguided and misinformed.

I have a foot in all three avenues. I’ve successfully self-published my husband’s Riyria Revelations (The Crown Conspiracy, Avempartha, Nyphron Rising, Emerald Storm, and Wintertide) selling more than 60,000 books and earning enough that we can both quit our day jobs and live off his writing income. I run a small press, publishing works by Nathan Lowell, Leslie Ann Moore, Marshall Thomas, and Todd Fonseca, just to name a few. I’m working a 3-book six-figure deal with the fantasy imprint of a big-six publisher (Orbit Books of the Hachette Book Group). This gives me an interesting perspective as I see advantages and disadvantages in each option. I FIRMLY believe there is no “right path” just a path that is right for a particular individual and each person should be free to choose their road without the ridicule of others who “know better.”

There’s no doubt that the times they are a changing, and it’s both exciting and frightening. I love seeing the passion that the ebook revolution has sparked. I don’t think there has ever been a better time for someone who wishes to make a living by writing than now. Regardless of the paths any of us choose, we should all be grateful that there are now legitimate options for writers. The continued success of self-published authors will ultimately benefit everyone, even those publishing traditionally, as contracts will need to shift to be more author friendly in order to attract or retain talent.

People are excited and this is a good thing. I love that people share their opinions and experiences in an attempt to make sure people are well informed. But let’s not place ourselves as “our brother’s keepers” or “catcher’s in the rye” as the only defense against what we think is a terrible mistake they are making if they chose a path you would not decide for yourself. Celebrate their decisions and wish them success. After all, this business faces enough challenges from the outside without tearing at one another from within.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Show me the money....

One of the things is I love authors who are transparent about their sales as it provides others coming up in the industry to see what is possible. Each month on the Kindle board we have a "Who is brave enough to post their sales for xxx month". And I just got done scouring it and analyzing data from it. If you want to see the data you can here.

I've mentioned at Water Cooler that the people over here are not 'extra-ordinary' - well let me take that back they are extra ordinary as people - but as writers they are not the "outliers" that only a few can achieve - i.e. Hocking, Locke, Meyers, King. The people there for the most part are good solid "middle of the road" people who have found that self-publishing can be more lucrative than traditional. In the link I posted only 1 - (Victorine Lieskie) had hit the Amazon Top 100 (Michael got close with 102 for a few hours ;-)) Everyone else are just showing "good solid" sales.

I'm amazed by each and every one of these people as they show what is possible with the key ingredients to success: a) Talent b) Skill c) Perseverance d) Hard work I congratulate each and every one of you. You deserve all the riches you are achieving.

Interesting move by Amazon...

I came across this article that mentions that during the bidding war for Amazda's new series Amazon was in there fighting with other big publishers.
Executives at several houses said they knew of no other instance in which the company had competed with major publishers for a high profile commercial author.
The article also mentioned that they made a deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to provide the print version of her books to "sweeten" their offering. And also this little tidbit...
St. Martin's Press ended up winning the auction, paying $2 million for the series of four novels, but Amazon actually made the highest offer of the six bidders, according to insiders. Amazon had insisted on exclusivity for the e-book edition, said a high level publishing executive familiar with the deal. That made the offer less attractive to the author and her literary agent.
I find this fascinating...

Friday, April 1, 2011

Midlist Authors – Traditional or Self Publishing – a Comparison

I participate regularly in two very different forums where writers (or writer wannabes) discuss various aspects of publishing. I’m going to speak of these groups in generalities (of course there are people on each that have different opinions but I’m talking about the “average” poster there.

  • Absolute Write Water Cooler – this group seems to be populated with people that are very dedicated to the legacy publishing model. They generally feel that self-publishing is very difficult, sell only a few books, and only a very few outliers can make this work for them. They’ve set their goals by querying agents and their goal is to be picked up by a traditional publisher. The majority of the people on this forum who are published are usually signed by a small indie press as opposed to a big-six firm.

  • Kindle Board’s Writer’s Café – this group is populated with people who are “going it on their own”. They have a wide range of backgrounds including never published through anything but self, some have a foot in both worlds as they offer a mix of books some produced by traditional publishers and some they are selling on their own. Then there is another group who used to publish traditionally and have decided that for them self-published is a better choice (usually due to control, better money, and faster time to market).
When I post at the Water Cooler I hear over and over that comments (regarding successes in self-publishing) are “not typical” and that most self-published authors are delusional and will never sell more than a few books or make more than a few dollars. They mention that hundreds of thousands of authors publish books so the chances of making it big this way is nearly impossible. My counter to this is that the hundreds of thousands of authors that submit queries are in exactly the same boat. They won’t make any money and they won’t find a readership either. Let me be very clear about this post. I’m not talking about the “typical writer”. I’m sorry to say, just based on sheer numbers, the “typical writer” is someone who will never really make it regardless of which way they go. Nor am I talking about outliers such as Stephanie Meyer or Amanda Hocking. What I’m focusing on this post is someone who has the “right stuff” for a good “middle of the road” writing career, in other words they write well enough that they could land publishing deal with one of the imprints of a big-six publisher. Those who are familiar with me, and my husband’s writing, know that he was picked up by Orbit Books (fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group USA - #2 or #3 (depending on the list you look at) publisher in the world). Michael received a much higher than normal contract (six-figures for 3-books with an accelerated release schedule – 3 books published back to back starting 8 months out (typically the first book goes to press in 15 – 18 months with subsequent books released 1 year after the preceding)). His deal would be classified as a “high midlist” so I won’t use him as an example in this case as I think he would be classified as an outlier. I think it’s pretty safe to assume that every writer has at least the following goal…to make enough money writing that they can quit their day job and support themselves through their writing. What I’m going to do in this post is to concentrated someone who has talent, skills, persistence, and what is the most likely way for them to make a living wage. For this classification of writer there are a few things that I think will be common regardless of which route they take.

  • In general, the author will have to a pretty substantial amount of self-promotion. The amount of assistance authors at this level get from the publishing company is not very much. Generally they will create and distribute ARC’s (Advanced Reading Copies) for reviewers, work with sales teams to get the books in stores, but they really won’t be “marketing” to readers. While this is more than the self-published author gets, any “brand recognition” of the author by the reading public will be built by the author himself not the publisher.

  • In general, one book will not be enough. For people in the midlist they really need multiple titles both from a standpoint of additional revenue, and for helping to generate additional sales as each title is released. I’m most familiar with the fantasy/science fiction genre where series are common though there are also series with thrillers, police procedurals, and romance. While there are some that can make a living wage with one book – I contend for the narrowly defined parameters I put forth above multiple books are going to be required.

  • In general, most people will not be an overnight success. To get your skills to the level required for the definition I’m proposing will take multiple initial books (that aren’t ready) and years of working on your craft. Think of it is an apprentice program where a wood worker doesn’t make a perfect violin the first time. I’ve seen some reports that say that it takes about 1,000,000 written words (about 10 novels) before you develop the proper skills to write a good book that is worth publication. We’ll be referring a bit to a survey done by Jim Hines (247 responses by authors who have “professional deals” (defined by the SFWA of an advance of $2,000 or more)). In this data he notes an average of 11.6 years as the average amount of time they have been writing before getting their first book deal. In addition, he saw that the average number of books written before being signed is three or four.
Now let’s look at some things specific to each path.

  • In general, the self-published author will see only a small percentage of their income from print books. The vast majority will be sold through ebooks. Presently the ebook market is the fastest growing market for books but still amounts for a minority share of total books purchased. Reported figurers vary from 8% to 20%. If your dream is to see your books on the books store shelf self-publishing will ONLY be for you as a means for leveraging your self-publishing work to a traditional deal (as Michael did).

  • In general, the self-published author will have to “do more” – just as being self-employed means you have to be the chief cook and bottle washer so it is in self-publishing. Now many of the services you need (cover design, formatting, editing) can be hired out and since I want to keep this apples to apples I’m going to put a pretty “debit” the self-publishing author for paying for these services even though they could attempt them on their own and get them for free. For people who want to budget this in their calculations I would account for $350 - $1500 per book if you do hire others to do this for you.

  • In general, the traditionally published author will get an advance but it is woefully small (especially for new authors). I’ve done a ton of research on this and it really hasn’t changed much over the years but generally ranges from $5,000 - $10,000. Thomas Buckell did a survey similar to Jim Hines and his had respondents. You can read the details at the link but his data also confirmed this number.

  • In theory, the advance is the “first payment” and an author will make additional money once they ‘earn out’. However, industry standards are that only 20% of authors earn out their advances so in many cases the advance is the ONLY money they will see.

  • Time to market can be a considerable factor between the two options. Typically when published through a traditional publisher a book can take 15 – 18 months to be released and they generally stagger offering from an author at 12 month intervals. For those who write a great deal this can be problematic.
Okay, now that the ground work is laid let’s look at the various financial implications. The following numbers are pretty much industry standard so good to utilize. Traditional Publishing Numbers:

  • Hardback: 10% of first 5,000; 12.5% of next 5,000; 15% all copies over 10,000

  • Trade Paperback 7.5% of retail price

  • Mass Market Paperbacks 8% on first 150,000 copies, 10% all above

  • Electronic Books 25%
*NOTE: In general, to land a traditional deal that we are mentioning here requires an agent so 15% of the above information needs to be taken off the top to pay for their fees. Self Publishing Numbers:

  • 70% of list price for books priced $2.99 - $9.99

  • 35% of list price for books priced lower than $2.99 or higher than $9.99

  • 40% Amazon cut for selling print book

  • 20% Channel cut for selling print books through CreateSpace

  • Printing Cost (POD) = $0.85 + .012 * pages for Create Space

  • Setup Fees: (assuming print ready book) Create Space: $39 (pro plan) + $6-$8 for proof, $127 ($75 for setup, $30 for proof, $12 for annual fee) if using Lightning Source
Okay now it’s time to introduce our two contestants. I picked my traditional published person first: Jim Hines – mainly because he is one of the few traditionally published authors who is willing to expose his income figures (most play this VERY close to the vest). NOTE: When I picked Jim I did not realize that he has started to dip his toes into self-publishing waters, this is a recent development for him and should not have significant impact on this analysis – but I will “take a closer look going forward” at how his self-published work does verses is traditional offering.

I then picked David Dalglish, a self-published author that is similar to Jim in both genre and number of books. David started out by self-publishing and to my knowledge has no traditional publishing deals in his past.

Jim Hines by the Numbers

  • 2007 Income: $16,000 ($7,000 Foreign Sales) $2,500 Expenses, Net: $13,500

  • 2008 Income: $54,000 ($44,000 Foreign Sales) $3,00 Expenses, Net $51,000

  • 2009 Income: $28,940 ($20,200 Foreign Sales) $1,750 Expenses, Net $27,190

  • 2010 Income: $25,718 ($15,876 Foreign Sales) $2,000 Expenses, Net $23,718
So when I saw Jim’s numbers two things struck me hard.

  1. Just how little he made in US ($11 K first year, $10K second year, $8.7K third year, $9.8K fourth year). And this is with multiple books from a major US publisher

  2. How much more he made from foreign sales $87K over 4 years 220% more than his US sales
To be honest I don’t know if Jim has “earned out” his advances but let’s pretend that he has so we can see how much he makes for each book he has out there:

  • Ebooks Publisher: $7.99 yielding ($1.18 per book), $6.99 ($1.04 per book)

  • Ebooks Self: $2.99 yielding ($2.09 per book)

  • Print Books: $7.99 yielding ($0.54 per book)
David Dalglish by the Numbers

  • Ebooks Self: $3.99 yielding ($2.79), $2.99 ($2.09 per book), $1.99 ($0.70), $0.99 ($0.35)

  • Print Books: (WOB: $9.99 yielding ($0.54 per book), COB: $12.99 ($2.86), DOP: $13.99 ($3.10), SOR: $14.50 ($3.51), DOC: $14.99 ($3.51)
David has been at this for a shorter period than Jim, so I don’t have year over year numbers as he does. But I can pull a few “sample month’s income. David is a regular on Kindle boards and once a month we have a post where people post their sales. Yes, these are self reported numbers but I can tell you that I have had books both below and above his in rankings during the same periods and that numbers he reports are verified by the numbers I myself have seen. Let’s look at some of them:

  • August 2010: Weight: 370; Cost: 200, Death: 173, Omni: 47, Dance: 45 (570 x 0.35 + 218 X 2.09 + 47 X 2.79 = $786)

  • October 2010: Weight: 478; Cost: 378; Death: 252; Shadows: 333; Omni: 105; Dance: 459; Guard: 132 (810 X 0.35 + 1222 X 2.09 + 105 X 2.79 = $3,130

  • November 2010: David played with price a bit and had a $1.99 offering his numbers are as follows: Weight: 425 (@ 0.99), Cost: 252 (@ 1.99), Death: 181 (@ 2.99), Shadows: 357 (@ 2.99), Omni: 225 (@ 3.99), Dance: 716 (@2.99), Guardian: 130 (@ 0.99), Ash: 80 (@ 0.99) = $3,647

  • December 2010: Weight: 746, Cost: 348, Death: 282, Shadows: 466, Omni: 606, Dance: 1725, Guard: 162, Ash: 300 (1556 X 0.35 + 2473 X 2.09 + 606 X 2.79 = $7,404)

  • February 2011: Weight: 761; Cost: 412; Death: 364; Omni: 656; Shadows: 672; Sliver: 1113; Dance: 2150; Guardian: 220; Ash: 1334 (2727 x .35 + 4299 X 2.99 + 656 X 2.79 = $11,770

  • March 2011: Numbers are not in but David did give me some data as of 3/29/2011. He expects more than 8,000 sales and $12,000 in revenue Taking into consideration just these six-months David earned $38,737. He now earns over $10,000 a month in sales and with his next book coming out I see no reason for that not to continue. His earnings went from a modest $800 a month to $12,000 a month in a VERY short period of time.

Conclusions Both authors have six substantial books out and a number of ancillary works. I’ll be watching the numbers (Amazon Rakings) on both of their new releases that are due to hit pretty close to one another and I’ll compare/contrast those as time goes on. Jim’s six books has taken him 4 ½ years and he still is not earning a living wage. His income is impacted substantially by his foreign sales (which are much easier for a traditional published author to get than a self-published) and without that his income would be dismal to say the least. David’s six books took 1 year to get to market and while his income initially appeared to be modest within 10 months he has grown to a substantial six-figure income that certainly would classify as a “living wage”. David is quickly gaining ground on Jim’s income and if the current trends for both of these authors continue there will be a significant gap with David outperforming Jim by a substantial margin.

04/05/2011 Edits: A few points I'd like to make - first I had a typo relating to a survey above it is Tobias not Thomas - I apologize for getting your name wrong.

Second, from other musings in the internet this post has been taken as some declaration by me that I did not intend. I'm not saying that this PROVES self-publishing is better than traditional. I was just trying to demonstrate that self-publishing CAN produce a good income. But yes it does take a specfic skills set that is not right for everyone. My point was...that if DO have the skill set then from a purely MONETARY standpoing I think self-publishing will produce more income. There are other benefits of traditional - no I'm not anti-traditional. That may be worth taking a "lower income" to receive. I'm not tring to extrapolate these two individuals to some sort of statistical average. I'm just showing TWO examples. Yes there are going to be other authors in BOTH areas that do better and worse then the two people I've mentioned here. I'm just trying to present some in the past there has been very in regards to what type of income writers can and do make.