Kris Rusch on Author Earnings

9 October 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

A while back, I promised I would look at the new report from Author Earnings. I needed time to assess the data for the purposes of this blog.

. . . .

I also write this blog primarily for career writers, those who are either in the writing business for the long term or hope to be in it for the long term.

That automatically makes me an outlier among bloggers. I have 30+ year professional career in publishing, in all aspects of publishing except agenting (which is something I never, ever, ever wanted to do), so I have a long term approach to all that I look at, including a historical approach. What is old is often what is new.

And what looks obvious sometimes isn’t.

That said, I have three problems with Author Earnings. Hugh and Data Guy do not work magic. They’re trying to find out information here, and they are limited by the way they have set up their company. They’re aware of the problems I am going to list below, and address them in their report, mostly by saying they don’t have access to that particular data.

My problems with the data? First, Author Earnings measures one day on one bookstore. Yes, it’s the largest bookstore in the United States, but not in the world.

Second, Author Earnings only measures ebook sales on that one bookstore. Not print sales, not audio sales, not outside earnings.

Finally, Author Earnings tries to separate their data into “traditionally published writers,” “self-published writers,” “writers published by Amazon” (which is, by the way, a traditional publisher), and “hybrid writers.” Their categories leaves out the most business-minded writers, those who understand how to set up corporations, how to establish their own small traditional publishing companies, and those who publish a multitude of books in a variety of ways.

That makes Author Earnings data small and specific, not really a snapshot of the industry at all, but a snapshot of the ebook sales on one bookstore in the United States, a snapshot that shoves some of that information into categories where it doesn’t belong.

In other words, like any statistical analysis, it has flaws.

Once you recognize the flaws, however, as Hugh and Data Guy do, you can work with the numbers to make some conclusions. Especially given the last report they released at the end of September.

. . . .

They created a study that did the things they wanted. They wanted to know, specifically, what route a new writer of 2015, with manuscript in hand, should take to have success. Success, as Hugh and Data Guy define it in the study, is hitting Amazon bestseller lists and making a “midlist” income of at least $10,000 per year.

Let’s ignore the fact that most one-book midlist authors in traditional publishing do not hit bestseller lists nor do they make $10,000 per year even if that was the advance.

. . . .

Hugh and Data Guy found that long-established writers, who were publishing before the year 2000and still consistently hit bestseller lists out earned every other writer on the list. But, according to Hugh and Data Guy:

13 out of the 20 authors who debuted in the last five years, and 8 of the 10 authors who debuted in the last 3 years, and who are now consistently earning $1,000,000+/year from just their Kindle ebook best sellers are indie authors.

So the thrust of the study is this: If you want to earn the most money as a writer in 2015, publish indie. Which to me is a well-duh, because indie writers earn at least 65% of their retail prices (which the indie writers set themselves), and traditionally published writers—ebook only—earn 25% of net price paid, minus 15% for an agent.

However, ebooks on Amazon make 70% of retail, and Amazon is what Hugh and Data Guy measure.

So for an ebook priced at $10 (because $10 math is easier for Ole Kris here), the indie writer would earn a minimum of $7.00 for each sale.

The traditional writer earning number is dicey from the beginning. What is “net” after all?

“Net” varies from contract to contract, writer to writer. But let’s assume that “net” is 75% of the retail price (assuming, perhaps falsely, that a traditional publisher will get a better deal from Amazon). That means the publisher gets paid $7.50, and the writer gets 25% of that number, which is $1.875. The agent then gets 15% of that $1.875, and the writer is left with roughly $1.59 per book.

The indie writer earns $5.41 more per ebook sold than the traditional writer.

. . . .

Most traditionally published midlist ebooks sell the same number of copies as an indie published ebook by the same writer, if the books are priced the same. The indie writer will make more money. Significantly more money.

. . . .

When I look strictly at ebook sales, I have to wonder why anyone would go with a traditional publisher any more. (When you factor in paper books sold over three years [as opposed to six months of release], the sales numbers are similar, and the indie writer earns more as well. But that’s a blog for another day.)

. . . .

They write:

There are fewer than half as many traditionally published authors as indie authors who debuted in the last 3 years and are now earning consistently at the $25K/year level or $50K/year level from Kindle ebooks.

Numerically, Hugh and Data Guy are correct, but the situation is worse than they allow. They make it seem like they’re doing an apples-to-apples comparison for writers whose work released in the past three years, but the comparison isn’t apples-to-apples.

What’s the difference? Traditional publishing does not (yet) allow for a writer to release more than four books a year under the same name and in the same series. Yeah, there are a handful of exceptions, writers who release more than four books per year traditionally, all in romance. There are also exceptions who are forced to publish only one book per year traditionally, mostly in mystery or literary mainstream. So it balances out. That four books per year is me being generous.

Assume, though, that the debut traditional writer is “fast” and working in a genre other than romance. He’ll publish one book per year, no matter what his genre. So at the end of three years, he has at bestthree books. In many cases, because of the vagaries of a publishing schedule, he’ll publish two at the end of three years, with a third coming “real soon now.”

A debut indie author can publish as many books as he wants in that period of time. If he’s really fast, he can publish a book per month. But let’s give him two books per year. Not really a huge advantage, but still, he’ll have six books out (or five with a sixth coming out) in three years.

Readers like it when an author has a lot of books to choose from. That indie author will double his e-book money simply by doubling the books published.

. . . .

But if you add in what I just mentioned above, that the indie writer who debuted in 2012 will already have a career while the traditional writer is still finding her sea legs, you can extrapolate forward. For writers who debuted in 2010 or 2012 or 2015, indie is the way to go.

Indie writers earn significantly more money. They’ll publish more books. They’ll have a career much faster, and one that is sustainable. A traditional publishing career requires the writer to be flexible and write under many names–if the writer signs the proper contract. Most don’t.

. . . .

But if you want a career as a writer, if you don’t want to have a day job, if you only want to write, then it seems to me the safest path to take is the indie path. You’ll have more opportunity. You can work hard and publish a lot and make money doing so.

Will every indie writer make six-figures per year? Hell, no. Nor will every traditionally published writer. But what this particular Author Earnings report shows is that if you want the chance of making six-figures or more per year with your writing, the best publishing path is indie.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Stephen for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

PG says Kris has, as usual, focused on the key point for most authors – Do you want to make a career as an author? If so, the rational choice is to go indie.

Yes, it is still possible to make a career as an author by being traditionally-published, but it’s much less likely you will succeed. It’s not the safest route. It’s the riskiest route. In the first place, you have to run the find-an-agent then find-a-publisher gamut and most people get shut out there.

Then, you’re in the slow lane for getting your books to readers – one per year. Five books in five years (if everything goes perfectly because you’re not in control of the publishing process).

You have to hope the readers who bought your first book remember you one year later. Most won’t, particularly enthusiastic readers who read lots of books. If I read one book per week, I don’t remember the names of all 52 authors I’ve read in a year. Absent huge, huge sales (which very few traditionally-published first novels or second, third, etc., generate), promoting a traditionally-published author’s second book is almost as much work as promoting their first.

Plus the large majority of the sales revenue generated by tradpub books goes to support the publishing/distribution/retail sales structure. You have to sell many, many more books as a tradpubbed author to make the same money an indie author does.

PG did some math (always a dangerous thing) to compare indie vs. tradpub earnings based upon the concepts Kris discussed.

Basic assumptions for the comparison:

  1. Ebooks Only
  2. Indie Ebook is $2.99, Tradpub Ebook is $8.99
  3. Both books sell 10,000 copies per book in the first year and 2,000 per book per year thereafter as backlist
  4. Both books are in the 70% royalty category on Amazon
  5. Indie author publishes 3 books per year, tradpub author publishes one
  6. The comparison covers a five-year period, beginning with the first year an indie author and a tradpub author publish their first book
Ebooks Sold Price Royalty % Earnings
Indie (per book) 10,000 $2.99 70% $20,930.00
Traditional (per book) 10,000 $8.99 17.5% $15,732.50
Five Year Earnings Total First Year Average Annual Earnings (first year only, no backlist)
Indie (3 books per year) $313,950.00 $62,790.00
Traditional (1 book per year) $78,662.50 $15,732.50


Backlist Sales (20% of first year sales)
Indie Backlist Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 Total Backlist
Total Backlist Books 0 3 6 9 12
Backlist Earnings 0 $12,558 $25,116 $37,674 $50,232 $125,580
Traditional Backlist
Total Backlist Books 0 1 2 3 4
Backlist Earnings 0 $3,147 $6,293 $9,440 $12,586 $31,465
Five Year Earnings (First Year+Backlist) Total
Indie $439,530
Traditional $110,128


This isn’t perfect because the indie author won’t release three books at the beginning of each year, but as you move forward and the number of books in the backlist for the indie author grows so much more quickly than a tradpub author’s backlist, PG thinks those differences will be smoothed over.

An essential fact that Kris points out is that, so long as each author keeps writing at the assumed pace, the indie author is going to have many, many more titles in print than the traditionally-published author.

Additionally, it’s well-known that publishers ignore the large majority of their backlists and put no promotional effort at all into them while indie authors can and do promote their backlist books in a variety of ways.

This comparison is based on ebook sales only at Amazon royalty rates. It does not include any estimate of bookstore sales. PG will note that, for most fiction titles, bookstores are focused on new releases and a great many (most?) tradpubbed authors won’t find many of their backlist titles in most bookstores. If you’re a tradpub author, check your royalty statements for the number of hardcopy books sold for your titles that are three, four or five years old.

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Too many books? What ‘Super Thursday’ tells us about publishing

7 October 2015

From The Telegraph:

In his new book Power of Reading, the sociologist Frank Furedi talks about “the Gutenberg Parenthesis”. This is the idea that the age of the book was, in fact, a 500-year blip; that, thanks to the internet, we’re moving from a written culture back towards an oral one.

It’s the academic version of an argument you often hear. No one buys books. No one reads books – in print, anyway. No one makes books – at least, not the good kind, the kind they used to make before publishing became commercial and commoditised.

But is any of that actually true? I came across the Gutenberg idea because I decided to engage in an experiment: to take the temperature of the book market by looking at every single book published on a particular day. And not just any day, but this coming Thursday, October 8. This is “Super Thursday”, the busiest and most important date in the publishing calendar, when the big firms and big names launch their assault on the Christmas market, accompanied by a three-day promotional blitz under the banner “Books Are My Bag”.

. . . .

And if you look at the data, what do you find? For starters, you find the book market in rather better shape than most people expected. The number of books is up – The Bookseller’s Tom Tivnan estimates that there are 20 per cent more top-tier titles than last year. And so are publishers’ profits: after years of fretting about the impact of the internet, sales of print books have risen this year for the first time since 2007. Partly, says Tivnan, this is because of the resurgence of Waterstones, but it’s also because publishers have become savvier about what works online, and what reads best in print.

. . . .

A-list celebrities, says Tivnan, “bring in revenue, but they’re a gamble – if you pay high six figures or even low seven figures, you have to sell a lot of books to earn that back”. Over the past couple of years, there were as many misses as hits, including such seemingly safe bets as Stephen Fry and John Cleese.

The celebrity market now is smaller and safer: lower advances, less risk.

. . . .

In fact, the picture that emerges from the full list is not one of commercial conformity, but bewildering variety. Of the adult titles published on Super Thursday, roughly 50 are academic, from critical portraits of Kierkegaard to a study of Adolf Hitler’s domestic interiors. Another 50 are educational or vocational. That leaves just over 200 “general” books for adults, of which fewer than a 10th are memoirs of any kind.

Yes, there are 11 books categorised as “humour”, and 10 books about football (Liverpool are top of the table, which isn’t a sentence you often hear, but Tivnan explains that they and Manchester United are the only guaranteed sellers). But taking a random set of titles yields a smorgasbord of topics: “Dogs as pets”, “Human geography”, “Dictionaries; crosswords”, “Poetry anthologies (various poets)”, “Historical maps and atlases”, “Formula One and Grand Prix”.

There is something else that leaps out from the list. These are not, in fact, books for the nation – they are books for its dads and grandads. There’s no chick-lit, for example, and the handful of novels tend to surge with testosterone: Martina Cole on crime, Harris on Rome, Bernard Cornwell on the Vikings, Melvyn Bragg rewriting the Peasants’ Revolt as a saga of blood, sex and pox.

. . . .

There’s a parallel here with television. For years, people fretted that online competition and shorter attention spans would see TV become a cultural wasteland. Instead, the big worry now is that we have reached “Peak TV”, with just too much good stuff competing for our attention. The same is true of publishing.

Yes, in the era of “Peak Book”, some worthy titles that hope to make a splash will struggle to muster a ripple.

Link to the rest at The Telegraph and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Stephenie Meyer Swaps Genders in New ‘Twilight’

7 October 2015

From The Wall Street Journal:

Twi-hards, settle into your reading chairs and brace yourselves for the news: there’s a new book out.

In honor of “Twilight”’s 10th Anniversary, author Stephenie Meyer appeared on “Good Morning America” today to announce a new addition to the vampire romance canon, which has sold over 150 million copies worldwide. Behold “Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined,” a, well, reimagining of the same story updated with a female vampire and human teenage love interest. Clocking in at 442 pages, the novel challenges the common interpretation of Bella Swan as a “damsel in distress,” Meyer said. “That’s always bothered me a little bit… I thought, what if we switched it around a little bit and see how a boy does?” Answer? “It’s about the same.”

Readers, bid Bella Swan and all her lovelorn neuroticism adieu, and meet Beaufort (“Beau”) Swan, a warm-blooded teen with less of a “chip on his shoulder.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)
Twilight Tenth Anniversary/Life and Death was #1 in all books when PG put up this post.

Ransom Rigg’s Book Trailer

17 September 2015

Created in 2011 for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.  Movie to be released in 2016.


Nora Robert Interview

16 September 2015



William Boyd: my advice for budding authors

16 September 2015

From The Guardian

With 17 novels, a James Bond reboot, short stories and multiple screenplays under his writerly belt, is it an odd question to ask why William Boyd writes? He answers quickly and wryly: “It is a good question and a hard one. Basically, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”


At a Guardian Live event for his latest book Sweet Caress he spoke to critic Alex Clark about his career, peppering his reflections with advice for would-be writers.


1. Can you write?

So far, so obvious. “You have to be able to write well,” Boyd said. “Not stylishly. You have to be able to express your thoughts in a manner other people can understand. You could write simply – something like James Joyce’s Dubliners, with a very limpid prose – or you could write a Finnegan’s Wake. But you have to be able to write: if you can’t, stop.”


4. Do you have the stamina?

“There are rare examples of authors nailing it on novel one, but a whole creative career is a long haul. It takes so long to write a novel, so if you don’t have the stamina, don’t do it,” Boyd said. “I know a lot of poets who think about becoming novelists, but then say: ‘But I can write a poem in an afternoon.’ You can’t do that with novels.”


But I write with confidence – I never wonder what will happen next. Iris Murdoch said there is a period of invention and a period of composition – I have borrowed that for myself.”

Read the rest here.

From Guest Blogger Randall

Lee Child interview by Stacey Cochran

15 September 2015


by your guest poster Barbara Morgenroth

Barnes and Noble results and the latest news from Perseus

15 September 2015

From Mike Shatzkin

The most recent Barnes & Noble financial results — which appear to have discouraged Wall Street investors — aren’t good news for the book business. They show that the sale of books through their stores is flat at best, as is the shelf space assigned to books. And it would take a particularly optimistic view of their NOOK results to see anything but an accelerating slide to oblivion for what was, for a time a few years ago, the surging challenger to Kindle.


The real failure we see at B&N, which almost certainly affected the NOOK business as well as the stores, was that the customer knowledge within the dot com and NOOK operations apparently has never been used on behalf of the store business. This might be blamed on organizational silos that ran these three components as separate businesses. The failure is otherwise hard to explain. How hard can it be, really, to dig up email addresses of people who bought a book by a particular author to let them know s/he’ll be autographing books near where they live sometime soon?

Or, putting that in terms Barnes & Noble should relate to, might you not be able to charge the publishers a promotional fee for doing that? (AND you’d drive more traffic and sell more books!)


The people who own and run B&N are plenty smart. Before the game changed and was complicated by the online option, they had organized their supply chain to give them real competitive advantage over Borders and all other book retailers. But they were tripped up by a combination of Amazon’s longer-term view as an upstart in the 1990s and early 2000s when B&N was an established and profitable company. This was a classic “innovator’s dilemma”, failing to employ a new technology to maximum advantage because a legacy position was being defended.

Amazon was willing to lose money for many years to build its customer base. That was how they could build their stock price. B&N was a profitable company at the top of their category. Profits were how they grew their stock price. This not only discouraged deep investment in the early years of online bookselling, it discouraged the kind of discounting from their online store that Amazon did. Both of them knew that discounted books online put competitive pressure on the brick-and-mortar business. That was fine with Amazon. It was not appealing to Barnes & Noble.


When B&N decided to go after the ebook market with the NOOK, organizationally they did it with a dedicated and largely independent effort, not an integrated one. That might have been necessary. But it also might have been B&N’s last chance to build on its one distinctive advantage: having a strong store base and a real dot com business. (Borders never had the latter and Amazon, of course, doesn’t have the former.)


But the time B&N has to change the reality that they can’t seem to grow their market share continues to shorten. The one big advantage they are likely to retain over their competitors in Seattle — who are certainly growing theirs! — will be a cooperative attitude from the publishers, who live in fear of Amazon’s growing power. But even that advantage has its limits.

Link to the rest here.

As a long time reader of Mikes blog I have to say this is one of his better posts. Some of this will no doubt be read by many here as information they already had, but the break-down is spot-on.

As for the changing landscape of B&N and its effect on the Big Five Randall views it as self-fulfilling. The dwindling shelf space at B&N will eventually lead to only the bestsellers being available. This will reduce the mid-list titles to an even smaller portion and effectively lock the Big Five into the blockbuster model for the remainder of their existence.

However, if you find yourself in sudden need of a birthday card, stuffed animal, calendar, scented candle and cup of coffee, B&N is your place for one-stop shopping. 

E-book readers’ guilty pleasures revealed

1 September 2015

From The Telegraph:

It is a familiar sight on the beach or daily commute: readers brandishing a hardback copy of the latest acclaimed literary fiction.

However, the books they choose to download to the privacy of their e-readers are a different story.

A newly published list of’s biggest selling e-books of the year features psychological thrillers, misery memoirs, Mills and Boon and a book by the Tory MP Nadine Dorries, whose first work was memorably described by a Telegraph reviewer as “the worst novel I’ve read in 10 years”.

Notably, 18 of the top 20 authors were women, including thriller writers Angela Marsons, Fiona Neill and Rachel Abbott.

. . . .

However, a parallel list of physical books compiled by Waterstones to cover the same period is significantly more highbrow and features four times as many male authors.

They include Richard Flanagan, author of the Man Booker Prize-winningThe Narrow Road to the Deep North, and Anthony Doerr, with his Pulitzer Prize-winner All The Light We Cannot See. There are also books by Colm Toibin, Ian McEwan and Victoria Hislop.

Link to the rest at The Telegraph and thanks to Dave for the tip.

NYT Bestseller Lists

20 August 2015

In case you missed a comment from Smart Debut Author to an earlier post:

The NYT “Best Seller” Lists are a work of serial fiction, published weekly.

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