Tag Archives: Self-publishing

The Three Month Published Author Introspective

A couple months ago I wrote a One Month Published Author Introspective post, where I tried to share some of the insights I’d gathered in the brief month during which my first two self-published books had been available for purchase. I think it was a useful exercise, both for me and for others, so here I am with the three month update. I might also do the same thing at six months and a year, depending if I have worthwhile information to share. In the first installment, I used an unorthodox approach, describing things I was excited and disappointed about. Here, I’ll take a more traditional approach and discuss things I’ve learned along the way.

1) It can be done.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably an author, maybe an indie-published one, or you aspire to be, and you’re thinking, is self-publishing worth it? Can you really find success that way? Can you make it in the current environment?

Yes. You can.

I wondered the same thing when I started. I mean, there’s over 3.2 million books for sale in the Amazon Kindle store. How is someone going to find yours, and why would they buy it? But you’re not just selling a book. You’re selling your book, and your book is unique, isn’t it?

The one that started it all, Red Hot Steele.
The one that started it all, Red Hot Steele.

Take Red Hot Steele. It’s not just a book. It’s a mystery—a fantasy mystery, in an urban environment. That’s different. But there’s more. It’s not a typical urban fantasy, rather a mystery set in an urban setting with fantasy elements, if that makes sense. And it’s filled to the gills with humor. And elements of noir. And even some sexual tension. Now we’re talking. It’s not a book. It’s my book. And if it’s the sort of thing you’re looking for, you won’t find it anywhere else.

Why does that matter? Because most people who are searching to buy a piece of fiction are looking for an experience, and if you can offer them an experience they can’t get anywhere else, they’ll come back to you for more. And they’ll tell others about you, too.

I think word of mouth, to a large degree, has helped me achieve success so early on. And I’m not going to lie—it’s come very quickly. In the two weeks of October that my books were available, I sold 60 copies, which I didn’t think was particularly good, but other people might see it differently. Then my books sold quite a bit better in November. And they sold much, much better in December. And they’re doing even better so far in January. If things keep going the way they have been, I’ll make a living wage from my writing this year, maybe a really good living wage. But, I don’t want to count my eggs before they’ve hatched, which brings me to my next point…

2) Visibility is key.

There’s a lot of reasons I think my books have done well, first and foremost being that they’re really well written—by which I mean, in this case, funny, interesting, and exciting, right off the bat. Great characters, great plot. I also have a fantastic cover that makes people want to click on it when they see it, and I wrote, in my humble opinion, a really engaging sales blurb that makes people want to see what the fuss is about.

Cold Hard Steele
Book #2, already a #1 best-seller!

But I can’t stress enough the importance of visibility to readers in my success, and here I mean placement on Amazon lists. I put Red Hot Steele, and later Cold Hard Steele, on a fairly small Amazon list—Psychic Mysteries. That let Red Hot Steele get visibility right away, first on the Psychic Mysteries Hot New Releases list, and later at the tail end of the main list itself. People saw Red Hot Steele and started to buy, and bit by bit, it rose up the list, until, sure enough, it got to the number one spot. And the number one spot of an Amazon list, any list, no matter how small, means good sales. Really good. Honestly, anywhere in the top three means really good sales.

I realized this, and so I rejiggered my book’s categories so that it would show up on two lists—Psychic Mysteries and Psychic Suspense—and sales rose even further.

I’ll say it again: visibility is key. If you can, place your book in an Amazon list where it will get some.

Of course, the fact is, if you don’t have a great book with an awesome cover and an enticing blurb, your book won’t sell well enough to get visibility. So doing all that is a given. But on the bright side? If you do all that well, and your book sales slowly improve, it’s really hard to lose visibility. Amazon’s algorithms have a long tail, meaning they take into account past sales to a fairly large degree. If your book sales grow organically, you’ll be hard to displace by someone else who, say, has a 99¢ book promo and sells a tons of copies over a few days.

3) Don’t Sweat the 30 Day Sales Cliff

I mentioned this is my one month post, the idea that sales drop off a cliff after thirty days. I suppose it must be true for some authors otherwise the myth wouldn’t exist, but the only reason I can think of must be that for these folks, their only real visibility on Amazon comes from the Hot New Releases list, which lasts for thirty days. But if your only visibility comes from those lists, chances are you’re probably not selling particularly well anyway.

Once more, with feeling: visibility is key. Find a category, somewhere, where you’ll get some—just be sure that category really is a fit for your book, otherwise readers will be upset with you.

4) It’s True What They say About Book Two

There’s an adage that nothing sells book one like book two, and even with a book like Red Hot Steele that had quite a bit of success early on, this has been absolutely true. It took Red Hot Steele two months to reach the #1 spot on its first Amazon list. It took Cold Hard Steele a week to do the same. They were even both #1 on separate lists at the same time. Still are, in fact. And the release of Cold Hard Steele boosted Red Hot Steele, which had been flagging slightly, higher on the Amazon best-sellers lists than it had ever been.

RHS and CHS Both #1
What’s better than an Amazon #1 bestseller? Two, of course.


The fact of the matter is, people love series, but many people aren’t willing to dive in until there are multiple books available. For one thing, you need to convince people that you’re not a one shot wonder—that you really will write a book two and a book three, and that they’ll hold up to the first. And people love to binge read. When was the last time you read a great book one and immediately bought the rest of that series?

So don’t worry if your book doesn’t take off right away. It might be frustrating, but there’s time. Each book you release will help the profile of the ones before it, which brings me to my last point.

5) The Launch Doesn’t Matter

It may be hard to convince yourself of this point if you release a book into the wild and it bombs, but it’s true. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s great if you can have a successful launch. You should try and drum up support for your book by any means possible: through social media, by sending an e-mail blast to your mailing list (you have one, right?), and by talking to people in person (a time forgotten art, I know).

But even if you don’t sell any books right away, remind yourself: it doesn’t matter. In this day and age, with e-books and print on demand, your book is eternal. There is no such thing as a new book—just a book that a reader hasn’t read yet. You have all the time in the world. So sit back, relax, work on your craft, write another book, one that’s better than your last, and hope that somewhere along the line, people start buying your stuff.

Well, that’s all I’ve got. Hope it was of use to you. If you have any questions for me, please feel free to start up a conversation in the comments.

Windfall or Boondoggle?: An Objective Look at Genre Fiction Publishing

With the rise of the e-book revolution over the past few years, any emerging author nowadays has to thoughtfully consider a serious question: should I pursue the traditional publishing route with New York publishers, or should I self-publish?

The answer in large part depends on what kinds of literature you write. Non-fiction sells extremely poorly on e-books, so self-publishing is not a viable option. Fiction, however, sells fairly well on e-books, and genre fiction in particular sells very well digitally, making self-publishing a potentially prudent choice for genre fiction authors.

Sometimes, the decision on how to publish is made for you. If no agent or editor is willing to represent/acquire your novel, then self-publishing is the only avenue left to you. But let’s assume that you are lucky enough to land an agent and have a chance to publish with one of the Big 6 publishers in New York? Should you?

The answer depends in large part on money, and here, I’ll try and take an objective look at what avenue will earn the average author of genre fiction more.

The way I plan to do this is to calculate the average amount of money an author is likely to earn per books sold. Since self-publishing is easy, let’s consider it first:

Self Publishing:           

There are a few different self-publishing marketplaces out there on the web and most offer royalties to authors in the range of about 70% (B&N is at 65%, Smashwords has a sliding scale), but the big elephant in the room is Amazon. Their rate for Kindle sales is: 70% of (Digital List Price – Delivery Costs), where the delivery costs are $0.15/MB. The average genre fiction book is right around a megabyte in size, so let’s say this will cost you 15 cents.

According to a recent Smashwords survey, the price point that both sells the best and earns the author the most money is $3.99, so we’ll assume this is what you would price your e-book at.

Then, we can calculate the average earnings per self-published book sale: 0.7*($3.99-$0.15) = $2.69

Now, what about going the traditional publishing route?

Traditional Publishing:

This one is more complicated because you have to consider multiple types of print books, both hardcover and paperback, as well as e-books. First, let’s look at royalty rates:

Hardcover author royalty rates tend to be around 10-15% of cover price (10% for low sales numbers, 15% for higher sales). Cover price of a new book in genre fiction is about $25-30.

Paperback books can have widely varying royalty rates, but ~7.5% of cover price is normal. Cover price for these varies from about $8-10.

E-books sold by traditional publishers are an interesting case. Currently, most authors get 25% of the publisher share, which is 70% of the digital list price, or a royalty rate of 17.5% of retail price. Retail prices vary wildly, from $5-15, but the average price has dropped dramatically over the past couple years in the wake of the publisher collusion scandal. Based on numbers I can find online, I’m going to say a typical genre fiction novel sold by NY publishers is currently going for about $7.

Now, let’s consider sales:

E-books constitute about 30% of all book sales but sell at a much higher rate for genre fiction. Some genre fiction novels are actually making about 60-70% of all sales to e-books. Let’s be conservative and assume that 50% of genre fiction sales are now e-books.

Exact print book sales numbers are unknown (at least to me, anyway), but sales revenue is comparable between hardcovers and paperbacks. Seeing as hardcover novels cost roughly three times the price of paperbacks, let’s assume a 3:1 ratio of paperbacks to hardcovers sold.

So in total, let’s assume: 50% e-book, 37.5% paperback, 12.5% hardcover sales.

Combining that data with royalty rates, we can estimate an average earnings per book sale: 0.5*(0.175*($7))+0.375*(0.075*($9))+0.125*(0.12*($28)) = $1.29

But don’t forget that if you have a NY publisher, you probably have an agent who takes %15 of your earnings, so, your actual earnings are: $1.10

So to recap, a self-pubbed book earns you about $2.69, while an average traditionally-published book earns you about $1.10.

But average earnings per sale isn’t really the same as total earnings, so…

Let’s talk about marketing and sales numbers:

Book publishers want to sell the books they acquire, and so they will commit some marketing budget to promoting them. Chances are, a NY-published book will sell more than a self-published book, all things considered. That said, the age of high NY publisher support is over. I’m seeing lots of sentiment from authors who have landed agents that the agents are expecting the vast burden of marketing to be on the author’s shoulders, and some agents won’t even represent a book from someone without an online following, even in genre fiction.

So let’s ignore marketing for a moment and talk about sales.

Your self-published price is $3.99. Your traditionally-published e-book is priced at $6.99. According to data from Smashwords, with all other things being equal, the book priced at $3.99 is likely to sell about 4 times as many copies as the book priced at $6.99.

But what about sales from print media, you ask? Well, if we assume the prior numbers, e-books are 50% of all your traditionally-published sales, which means, assuming equal media exposure and marketing, your self-published book would still sell twice as many copies as your NY-published work earning you 4.9 times as much money by self publishing.

Now, I should mention some major caveats to these numbers:

First of all, NY publishers give out an advance, and many new authors do not earn out the advance. A not terrible but not great advance for a novel from a first-time genre fiction author might be $10,000, but remember the agent gets %15, so you only get $8500. You’d have to net $11,764 in royalties to actually earn $10,000 after your agent gets their cut.

But self-publishing has sunk costs that NY publishers will take care of on their own. If you’re self-publishing, you’re probably going to need to pay an editor, cover designer, and possibly an illustrator too. This means you’ll have to shell out your own cash for these services. If you’re getting the job done right, you’re probably looking at about $3000 (give or take, depending on novel length and quality of editing/cover design) to get this all done. That means to earn $10,000 after expenses, you’ll need to net about $13,000 from sales.

So to earn $10,000 in profits, a self-published author would have to sell about 4800 books, each priced at $3.99. To earn that same $10,000 in profits, a NY-published author would have to sell over 9100 books priced at anywhere from $7 to $28. Which seems more likely to you?

Of course, it’s worth noting that you could never sell even a single book with the NY publisher and still get to keep the $10,000 advance, but that probably wouldn’t bode well for your long-term writing career.

Now, there’s far more factors at play than just price when determining whether or not to self-publish or pursue the traditional publishing route, but one thing is clear: authors can earn more money selling fewer books at lower prices though self publishing.

Draw your own conclusions.

*To my author readers: if you see anything blatantly wrong about my analysis, please let me know in the comments. While I tried my best, I’m still a novice at this, and there could be some very obvious issues I’m ignoring. Thanks!

Image credit: Featured image by By OscarUrdaneta (CC-BY-SA-3.0), via Wikimedia Commons.