Posted in E-publishing | Posted on 02-04-2012|
About this time last year, I wrote up a blog post detailing how I was doing, financially speaking, on my new e-publishing endeavor (I got my start in December of 2010). When it came to ebook earnings, my grand total for March of 2011 was $724. At the time, I had two novels out, a couple of 99-cent short story collections, and the first Flash Gold novella (it, and my first Emperor’s Edge novel, are free in case you haven’t checked out my work yet and are dying to do so).
I didn’t think that $700 was too shabby considering I hadn’t been at the e-publishing thing for long. But when you look at how much time I was spending on promotion and writing, it wasn’t exactly a huge income either.
A year later, though, things have continued to pick up steam. I have two more novels out, two more novellas, and a new stand-alone short story. In March of 2012, I sold more than 4,000 ebooks, not including downloads of the freebies, and will earn over $5,000 (my ebooks range from 99 cents to $4.95).
Those are estimates, since the month just ended, and Smashwords can’t offer real-time reports from their partner sites (I’ve been selling decently at iTunes, in particular, since I made my first novel free over there), but I’m tickled with the growth in sales (and readers!) over the last year. I decided to officially make this “the day job” in December, though I’d been neglecting the old day job and writing and promoting nearly full-time long before.
I’m sure my earnings will continue to go up and down (as you’d expect, one tends to do best in the months that new releases come out), but I’m happy that, thanks to the current e-publishing paradigm, making a living as a self-published author (and not a best-selling one at that) is viable.
Who else is making a living self-publishing?
As I mentioned, I’m not a huge seller compared to some (for most of March, my non-free novels weren’t even in the Top 100 of their sub-categories at Amazon), so I know there are a lot of indie authors making good money right now. Of course, we’ve all heard of JA Konrath and John Locke, but I promise you many others are earning $X,XXX to $XX,XXX a month.
If you browse the indie authors in your favorite Amazon Top 100 category and find some with multiple ebooks in there, especially multiple ebooks priced at $2.99 or above, you can bet they’re doing well.
What impresses me is just how many indie authors are in there, going neck-a-neck with well-established Big 6 authors. That we’re able to sell our books less expensively certainly doesn’t hurt, but the big boys don’t have as many advantages in online stores as they do in brick-and-mortar establishments. Publishers can’t buy table space or display stands at the front of the store, and Amazon’s algorithms will help anyone who’s selling well, regardless of publisher (the more books you sell, the more often Amazon automatically recommends those books to readers who enjoy your genre).
Here are a few authors in my genre (fantasy) that are doing well now and have been for a while (links go to their author pages at Amazon, so you check out their books):
Secrets to self-publishing success?
Now that you’ve taken a peek at some of those successful indie authors, let’s see what common things they’re all doing. The web is full of advice from book-promotion gurus, but, in the end, it probably makes most sense to simply see what successful people in your niche/genre are doing and emulate them. The folks I listed up above are all selling better than I am, and I’d guess most of them are in the midst of six-figure years.
So, what are the common threads?
- Lots of books out — Careers aren’t made on one or two books. Being prolific counts for a lot. At the risk of stating the obvious, the more books you have, the more books people can buy. If you’re working your buns off on promotion, and you only have one book out, you’re only going to be able to make 35 cents to a couple of dollars (depending on your book’s price) from each customer. But, if you have an eight-book series, and that same customer you worked so hard to get enjoys your work enough to go on to buy all of them, the earnings potential is much higher. Also, more books means more ways for people to stumble across your work. (Note: Don’t get bogged down thinking in terms of full-length novels — some people are having success serializing long books and others are doing novellas or shorter-than-average novels. With ebooks, there are no rules as to length.)
- Professional cover art — There aren’t too many best sellers out there with hokey cover art. It’s odd that it matters so much with books — digital books at that — but cover art is what catches someone’s eye in the Amazon listings and first gets them to click on a book to read the blurb.
- Series, series, series — Most of these authors not only have a series, but they have multiple series going. You’ll see that some of their series do a lot better than others — the more work you have out, the more likely it is that you’ll have a book or series that takes off. And the advantage with writing in series format is that there are a lot of readers who enjoy following the same heroes for multiple books, to that extent that they’ll automatically buy sequels, regardless of the premise (I’m one of those types of readers, so I definitely get that).
- Free or 99-cent first books — These guys are all kicking off their series with inexpensive lead-ins. Speaking for myself, my overall sales went up significantly when I dropped my first Emperor’s Edge book to free, at Apple and Barnes & Noble as well as Amazon. I thought it would be a temporary boost (I did this around Thanksgiving), but I’ve continued to do well with the second and third novels in that series.
- Not big names in the blogosphere — Some of these guys don’t blog at all and are practically non-existent on social media sites. I think a blog can help, and it’s something I enjoy doing, but having a popular blog on writing or publishing won’t necessarily make you a fiction best-seller. Getting more books out is probably more important than blogging regularly in the grand scheme of things.
- Publish regularly — I’m sure some of these authors started out with a “trunk” novel or two, but if you look at their publication dates, you can see that they’ve all been putting new work out on a regular basis for the last couple of years. I’ve seen some authors work the system and get to the tops of the Top 100 lists only to gradually fade away into obscurity after a few months. The simple matter is that it’s easier to stay on people’s radars if you’re putting out new stories every quarter or so (I can’t write novels that fast, so this is one of the reasons I’m trying to work in novellas and short stories between bigger projects — that and because I like having multiple projects to work on at any given time!).
Does all this mean that there’s no hope to make good money self-publishing if you can’t put out a lot of books on a regular basis? No, I’ve come across people who are doing phenomenally with one book (this tends to happen more often in broad-appeal genres such as thrillers and romances rather than things like epic fantasy and science fiction), but I have found those folks to be the exception rather than the norm.
In the end, you have to find what works best for you, but I think it’s important for one’s sanity to make sure sales and financial goals make sense relative to the amount of work we’re able to get out there. Expecting to knock it out of the park with one or two books is asking a lot. If it happens, great, but if it doesn’t then that’s okay too. You haven’t set yourself up for disappointment by having unrealistic goals.
In the meantime, keep writing!