Lois McMaster Bujold Answers Three Questions about Self-Publishing

26 June 2016

From Eight Ladies Writing:

Today, we welcome to the blog Lois McMaster Bujold, whose new e-novella, “Penric and the Shaman” came out yesterday, June 24, 2016.

. . . .

MD: You have a long history of publishing. You were writing and assembling a fanzine with friends back in the 60s, you wrote short stories that were published in established magazines like Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, then your novels were published by the well-known SF publisher, Baen Books, and two of your fantasy series were published by HarperCollins’ Eos Books (now rebranded as HarperVoyager)—(HarperCollins is one of the Big Five publishing houses). So, in some respects, you are returning to your roots with self-publishing the novellas, “Penric’s Demon” (July 6, 2015) and now “Penric and the Shaman”. Why?

. . . .

I entered self-publishing piecemeal and cautiously. In late 2010, my agent had been learning about the then-new Amazon and other e-publishing programs that wanted to work with established agents, and I had a backlist book, The Spirit Ring, the rights of which were free of all entanglements. Because I had no intention of writing frontlist sequels to it, it was pretty much unsalable to regular publishers. I also had a career in Britain which was dead in the water, permanently stalled. (Long story there.) We decided to use The Spirit Ring to experiment with this new e-market, since any income would be better than the nothing it was then earning. So I did a new edit (very kludgily, as I’d never had to pay attention to such things as my own under-formatting before—I have since learned-by-doing how to do it better), my agent’s resident art- and e-wizard did the e-vendor-formatting and cover, my agent did the vendor-page copy, and we put it up to see what would happen. All very home-baked.

Its first month in the Kindle store, it earned about $230, which was as much or more as it had been making in six months as a weak backlist paperback. It continued to earn a couple hundred a month for the next few months, and my agent expanded us into the iBooks store and Nook, and they paid some more. In the spring of 2011, Amazon expanded us into the UK e-market, and a bit more came in.

And about this point, I woke up big-time and began looking around for more of my backlist that had e-rights free.

Which was not much, but I did have some novellas that had free rights as singletons. So we got those up and stood back to see how it went. It went well, the prior indie e-sales failed to fall off, and it then occurred to me that while most of my e-rights to my backlist were tied up with my American publishers, this was not so with my late UK publishers. I’d never sold The Hallowed Hunt there so we tried that next on Amazon UK. The Sharing Knife tetralogy had also never sold in the UK, so that went up early, too, by which point we were all getting the hang of this. My agent also got some dead UK rights reverted to us. I spent a good part of early 2011, when I was stalled out on the novel-in-progress by reason of story-line problems and medical distractions, editing my old Vorkosigan-series titles for British and World e-placement, through the new country-specific Amazons and iBooks; one by one, we put up all the available titles.

So that when the really big (and hard and scary) decision came around at the beginning of 2012, when a large chunk of my Baen backlist came up for license renewal, I had accumulated a year and a half of my own data and experience with which to make it a rational one. I did not renew my e-rights with Baen, but instead kept them and put the old e-books up as indie titles. (Baen retains paper rights, as they can handle those better than we can. They may also sell my old titles in their own e-book store, and of course they have regular publisher-rights on my newer titles.) The results have been astonishing, not only because I am now getting e-checks every month that are enough to live on and then some, but because my own financial analysis proved dead accurate.

. . . .

So anyway, last year after I’d finished Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, and thought, “Gee, I’d really like to try indie e-pubbing an original work, not just a backlist reprint, and see what happens,” I wasn’t flying wholly blind. And I had this idea for a character, and I didn’t want to plunge into another novel-length work, but I love novellas. They are long enough for character development, but lack the miserable middle that is such a grind at novel-length. Or at least the middle murk doesn’t last as long. Hence “Penric’s Demon”, which has done very well for me so far.

MD: And so far, how do you like self-publishing? What was the most pleasant surprise? And the worst?

LMB: I really like self-e-pubbing for the artistic freedom, including that of length, the absolute lack of deadlines, contracts, or the need to please other people—or worse, my horror that my work might let them down by not doing well enough to justify their investment in it and me. Also, no book tours, nor any more energy spent on PR than I care to invest. There is very little between me and the reader.

Link to the rest at Eight Ladies Writing and thanks to Krista for the tip.

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Alan Moore Advises New Writers to Self-Publish Because Big Publishers Suck

25 June 2016

From io9:

At an anti-library closure protest, local magician and comics legend Alan Moore had some surprising words for those who hope to break into the wide world of published writing.

. . . .

 Some of his advice is pretty standard: write every day, be self-critical, don’t worry about money when composing. But Moore also breaks out of the old adages and is frank about the publishing world as he perceives it, pointing out that many of the “famous, well-known” authors out there “have nothing to do with writing,” casting shade on popular works like Dan Brown’s and calling the industry a “mess.” So what’s a hungry writer to do? Self-publish, sayeth the wizard:

“Publishing today is a complete mess. I know brilliant authors who can’t get their books published,” Moore says, explaining that many publishing houses are afraid of taking risks on fiction. Moore’s solution? “Publish yourself. Don’t rely upon other people.”

Link to the rest at io9 and thanks to Sariah for the tip.

Timberland libraries now offer access to self-published books

21 June 2016

From The Olympian:

There are two ways to publish a book these days.

The first is through the six prominent publishing companies that are still the recommended route to maximum exposure.

The other is through independent publishing, an approach authors take when they haven’t signed with an agent or a publishing house, but still want their work to be read.

And there was no middle ground until SELF-e became the compromise.

SELF-e is a website that lets libraries distribute the work of independent authors, and offer an array of genres and content for subscribing patrons.

The Timberland Regional Library system has joined thousands of other libraries across the country in providing SELF-e offerings, said Timberland public relations specialist R.J. Burt.

“One of the barriers for writers is being recognized enough to be picked up by a large publishing house,” Burt said. “Libraries have broken down that barrier for writers, so they should certainly use it.”

. . . .

Publishing on SELF-e is not only free but effortless, said Kim Storbeck, a library collections development specialist. After authors upload a book to SELF-e, there is a vetting process that takes roughly a week.

Barring any infractions of its policies — such as plagiarism, libel, or including hate speech — the book will be placed on the “Indie WA” list. This list is featured at participating libraries in Washington.

If a book is attracting an audience, editors from Library Journal will review the work and possibly add it to the national collection. Books added to the national collection, or a SELF-e selection, will circulate through every participating library in the nation.

Olympia author Ned Hayes, 47, published his first novel on SELF-e in 2015. “Coeur d’Alene Waters” went viral and was added to the national collection.

. . . .

“In this new world of publishing, I think these options give authors more flexibility to move outside genre boundaries and seek new audiences for their writing,” Hayes said in an email to The Olympian. “I appreciate the flexibility of being able to control my own publication rights and my own promotions for this book.”

Link to the rest at The Olympian

Think You Couldn’t Possibly Lose Your Amazon Publishing Account? Think Again.

17 June 2016

From author Becca Mills:

There’s this indie author I know a little bit from the forum. Her name is Pauline Creeden, and she’s an ordinary midlister, like so many of us. I remember PMing her some time ago and gushing about how particularly beautiful one of her book covers is — the one for Chronicles of Steele: Raven.

. . . .

Anyway, today I tuned in to Kboards and noticed that Pauline had started a thread. It contained what’s surely the worst news possible for an indie author: Amazon had closed her publishing account. All her ebooks had been taken off sale. Permanently. Here’s the email she got from Amazon:

We are reaching out to you because we have detected that borrows for your books are originating from systematically generated accounts. While we support the legitimate efforts of our publishers to promote their books, attempting to manipulate the Kindle platform and/or Kindle programs is not permitted. As a result of the irregular borrow activity, we have removed your books from the KDP store and are terminating your KDP account and your KDP Agreement effective immediately.

As part of the termination process, we will close your KDP account(s) and remove the books you have uploaded through KDP from the Kindle Store. We will issue a negative adjustment to any outstanding royalty payments. Additionally, as per our Terms and Conditions, you are not permitted to open new KDP accounts and will not receive future royalty payments from additional accounts created.

According to Pauline, she received no warnings. She just checked her email and discovered she’d been banned for life from selling on Amazon. Now, I don’t know Pauline well enough to ask about her sales details, but if this happened to me, 70% of my writing income would vanish. For most of us, Amazon is by far the best platform for selling books. Losing one’s account there would be a career-ending event for many of us.

While the email Pauline got sounds like a form letter, it does imply that her problem arose from two things: promotional activity and Kindle Unlimited (KU) borrows. Most of you are probably familiar with Amazon’s KU program. It’s a subscription service through which readers pay about $10/month to read as many books as they like. It’s a great deal for major bookworms. As a reader, I’m a member myself.

KU authors get paid as readers make their way through the books they borrow. So, if someone borrows your 300-page novel and reads the entire thing, you get paid for 300 page-reads (about $1.50). If they only get though half the book, you get paid half as much. When authors self-publish on Amazon, they have to choose whether or not to participate in KU.

. . . .

Amazon’s email to Pauline suggests that the KU accounts borrowing and reading her books were not legitimate. They’re implying, basically, that she paid a click-farm to borrow her books and race through them, so that she would get paid for pages that weren’t truly read. There are outfits that do this kind of thing. Someone in a developing nation will open twenty KU accounts, which are free for the first month, and then use those accounts to borrow books and either page though them at high speed or skip directly to the end, generating a pay-out for the author. This is a known scam plaguing KU.

. . . .

Pauline says she hasn’t used any shady promotional sites. The ones she says she’s hired are those most of us have used. They’re well known and, so far as we’ve heard, they’re perfectly legit, advertising real books to real readers.

Pauline does report that she saw a one-day increase in page-reads on one of her books (Raven, actually) in May — from the usual 80 per day to 25,000. (That’s a big spike, but not a terribly lucrative one. The payment rate for April was $.005/page; if May is similar, 25,000 page-reads will generate $125. Not enough to risk your KDP account over, that’s for sure!) Pauline doesn’t know what caused the spike. She hadn’t promoted the book recently. Did a click-farm hit her book by accident? Did someone with a grudge target her? Was it just a glitch? Was the one-day spike even the problem? The problem is that we don’t know what the problem was. No specifics have been shared.

Amazon has been “looking into” Pauline’s situation for ten days, now. They’re not telling her anything, and her ebooks remain offline, their rankings getting worse and worse. It’s got to be a terrifying situation for her.

. . . .

Taking career-destroying action without warning, in the shape of a form letter; offering no explanation as to why; sitting on the issue for day after day with no response … this isn’t nice or fair. It’s the way you treat adversaries, not partners. We want to be Amazon’s partners.

Beyond the issue of simple decency, there’s also the question of the damage this kind of thing will do to KU. Who’s going to put their books in the program if doing so makes one vulnerable to this sort of devastating blow?

Link to the rest at The Active Voice and thanks to Donna for the tip.

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

5 Ways Independent Authors Can Advocate for Themselves

11 June 2016

From The Huffington Post:

Earlier this month I moderated a panel at the Bay Area Book Festival called “The Future of Book Publishing.” We had an esteemed group of panelists from all areas of the industry, with Jack Jensen, publisher of Chronicle Books as the traditional figurehead, and Mark Coker of Smashwords representing the self-publishing contingent.

A question surfaced from the audience: Do some people avoid self-publishing because they don’t qualify for awards?

Jensen was the first to respond, telling the earnest woman that anyone can submit to contests — just submit. I almost felt bad to have to inform him of his industry’s bias — that no, you can’t just submit, and that countless awards programs bar self-published authors (and any author, in fact, who’s invested in their own work) from entering.

. . . .

Other industries celebrate independence and creativity in a way that book publishing does not. Musicians and screenwriters/producers are rewarded for investing in themselves, honored by their industries and given equal and fair treatment based on the quality of their work, not who laid down the money for the album or the filming and production.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

In PG’s inordinately humble opinion, a great many awards have little real meaning beyond the fact that people like to receive them. During his long and not always dissolute life, PG has received a number of awards and regards most as of only transient significance. For the record, he did receive an award for being the fastest typist in his high school class.

However, in the interest of righting the pervasive injustice of the literary awards business, PG has created a new award:


Here’s a link to a Powerpoint file so, if you want to recognize someone besides Terrice, you can make appropriate changes.

From Trad-Pub to Self-Pub–Tips and Observations

10 June 2016

From author Elizabeth Spann Craig:

This is the second time I’ve gotten the rights to my characters back from a publisher and taken a trad-published series to self-pub.  The last time I did this was five years ago.

There were some big differences between this time and last time.  The first time I’d had only one book released in the series before taking it to self-pub.  This time the series had five books in it.

This latest series had a nice following but I found that many of my readers for the Penguin series  seemed unaware of my self-published series.  They would email me asking when the next Southern Quilting Mystery was coming out and I would tell them…and then ask if they knew about my Myrtle Clover series.  Many times they didn’t.

One reason they didn’t is because Penguin didn’t want any non-Penguin books included in my author bio.  I can understand this.  So not only were my self-published books not included in my bio, the original trad-published book in the series (from Midnight Ink) wasn’t, either.

So that’s officially my favorite thing about taking this series to self-pub. I loved, loved, loved being able to advertise my self-pubbed series in the back of the book.

. . . .

And now for the curiosities from this release.   Print sales have been very strong…I’ve ranked as high as in the top 15,000–18,000 for printed books on Amazon.  It’s also selling well through IngramSpark, which tells me that bookstores are ordering it for customers.

The oddest thing about that to me is that the book clearly isn’t competitively priced in print–it’s running at $10.99, which I think is pretty high.  But when you’re doing POD (print on demand) with CreateSpace and Ingram, that’s the kind of price you have to set to make a profit.

So…why are the readers buying it?  I suspect that’s because these readers always did buy this series in print.  They went to the bookstore and purchased them there.  They want the print edition.

. . . .

The ebook sales have been even stronger than the print.  I suspect this is because I set the ebook price at $4.99.  Other releases in the series are at $7.99.  I’m undercutting my other books and the releases of trad-published cozy writers.

Link to the rest at Elizabeth Spann Craig and thanks to Deb for the tip.

Stealing Books in the Age of Self-Publishing

6 June 2016

From The Atlantic:

In the world of self-publishing, where anyone can put a document on Amazon and call it a book, many writers are seeing their work being appropriated without their permission. Some books are copied word-for-word while others are tinkered with just enough to make it tough for an automated plagiarism-checker to flag them. (Though the practice is legally considered copyright infringement, the term “plagiarism” is more widely used.) The offending books often stay up for weeks or even months at a time before they’re detected, usually by an astute reader. For the authors, this intrusion goes beyond threatening their livelihood. Writing a novel is a form of creative expression, and having it stolen by someone else, many say, can feel like a personal violation.

. . . .

There are pages on sites like Goodreads dedicated to identifying fake books, including plagiarized novels. Most of the plagiarism is happening to romance novels, which accounts for the largest proportion of ebook sales, but new cases are popping up in other genres as well, from cookbooks to mystery novels. Even public-domain classics like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Dracula have been adapted and passed off as original works.

For authors, finding out their book has been plagiarized can be traumatic. This was especially the case for the best-selling author Opal Carew, who learned her serial romance Riding Steele had been plagiarized the same day her sister died from cancer. An hour after her sister passed away, Carew got an email from a friend saying the novelist Laura Harner had changed the genders of the characters in Carew’s work and published it under a different title. Apparently, Harner had done this before, stealing Becky McGraw’s novel My Kind of Trouble, switching genders, and calling it Coming Home Texas. For Carew, the news added surreal stress to her grief. “All my writing friends were sending me condolences about plagiarism, and all I could think about was my sister,” she said.

Unlike most offenders, Harner was well-known in the self-publishing community as an author of male/male romance novels. She has publicly acknowledged her actions, saying that “personal and professional issues … stretched me in ways that haven’t always been good for me.” The cases against her were settled for undisclosed amounts.

Some observers believed Harner resorted to plagiarism to keep her rankings up, Carew said. Before she was caught, Harner was considered unusually prolific, producing 75 novels in five years. Amazon rewards writers who come out with new books quickly by putting them higher in the rankings, which in turn means more sales. This policy also puts pressure on authors to write more to maintain visibility and to offset the dropping price of ebooks. “This may sound crazy, but I have 18 releases planned for this year,” Carew said. “In order to survive, I have to put out as many books as I can … If you’re living on your writing like I am, the stress can get to you.”

When a reader buys a self-published book, Amazon keeps 30 percent of the royalties and gives the rest to the authors—meaning the company makes money whether the book is plagiarized or not. A traditional publisher is liable if it puts out a book that violates copyright. But Amazon is protected from the same fate by  federal law as long as it removes the offending content.

Amazon regularly complies with this rule, and plagiarized books are removed from the site. However, it can take a while for the company to respond to complaints, which can be maddening for authors, since every day a fake book is up is a day they’re losing sales. The company spokesperson Justin O’Kelly said Amazon has a team dedicated to stopping plagiarism, but he wouldn’t go into details about their methods for fear of giving plagiarists ideas. “In the rare instance when plagiarized titles make it through, that same team makes sure they are taken down quickly, and repeat offenders are blocked,” he said.

. . . .

To be fair to Amazon, copyright infringement also occurs with other self-publishing retailers, including Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, Kobo, and Smashwords. Google Play has been accused of “rampant” piracy, with spammers selling books by Malcolm Gladwell, Sidney Sheldon, and Ellery Queen for $2.11 each. Still, Amazon has the biggest chunk of the self-published ebook market, with some estimates putting it at 85 percent. Without Amazon, few authors could make a living self publishing.

. . . .

Amazon reimburses royalties if the author can prove plagiarism, but it’s not a straightforward process. Even in cases where the company has removed books for copyright infringement, the author must provide further documentation to receive royalties. Luckily, O’Hanlon had the email from Clancy admitting guilt, which she forwarded to Amazon to receive payment. Still, most authors won’t be lucky enough to get a confession from their plagiarist and will likely have to hire a lawyer to get any royalties they’re owed.

Because plagiarists are driven more by financial motivations than creative or artistic ones, they tend to be repeat offenders.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic and thanks to Bill for the tip.

Of course, plagiarism and copyright violations were unknown before Amazon and indie publishing.

Martin Luther King plagiarised part of a chapter of his doctoral thesis. George Harrison was successfully sued for plagiarising the Chiffons’ He’s So Fine for My Sweet Lord. Alex Haley copied large passages of his novel Roots from The African by Harold Courlander. Princess Michael was accused of plagiarism over her book on royal brides. Jayson Blair, then a reporter for the New York Times, plagiarised many articles and faked quotes.

In 1997, less than six months after winning the Booker prize, Graham Swift’s Last Orders was at the centre of accusations that the author had crossed the line between inspiration and plagiarism by “directly imitating” an earlier work, the 1930 novel As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. Confronted with the accusations, Swift said his book was an “echo” of Faulkner’s.

Link to the rest at A History of Plagiarism

Certainly, a modern-day traditional publisher would never publish a plagiarized manuscript.

How about Barnes & Noble and other physical bookstores? Do they refund any part of the proceeds received for selling a plagiarized book like Amazon does?

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal. Bad poets deface what they take.” – T.S. Eliot

From paying the bills, to £2,000 a day: making a killing from self-publishing

6 June 2016

From The Guardian:

“Could you murder your wife to save your daughter?” That’s the hook for a novel that has enabled self-published author Adam Croft, writing from his back bedroom, to pay off his mortgage in just 20 weeks, selling 150,000 copies and winning a book deal with Amazon.

Croft, who lives in Flitwick, Bedfordshire, was running an internet marketing company when he wrote his first novel, Too Close for Comfort, in 2011. At first, he wasn’t sure what to do with the thriller, in which new recruit DS Wendy Knight takes on a sadistic serial killer. “It didn’t cross my mind to send it to a publisher – I thought it was my first one and it wouldn’t get picked up,” says the 29-year-old. He looked into Amazon’s self-publishing programme Kindle Direct Publishing, which offers royalties of up to 70%, depending on pricing. “I just wanted someone to pick it up and read it. I didn’t know I could self-publish until two weeks before I did it.”

Sales “trickled” in at first, until they took off enough for Croft to decide that he would write full-time. Croft has since self-published eight more books, seven of which are parts of his Kempston Hardwick and Knight and Culverhouse series. Amazon does not release sales figures, but Croft says he had sold around 350,000 books in five years, until the gamechanger: his most recent novel, Her Last Tomorrow. This thriller has sold 150,000 copies in just five months, and Croft estimates that he’s on target for £1m ($1.4m) of sales in 2016, compared with £20,000 ($29,000) in 2015. To put this in context, a 2014 survey of almost 2,500 working writers in the UK found that the professional author’s median income was just £11,000 ($16,000), while a 2015 survey of US authors found the median fell below the poverty line – a plummet attributed to “several factors related directly to Amazon’s role in the current publishing landscape”.

. . . .

Croft’s success comes in the wake of a new report from Enders Analysis, published by the Bookseller, which found that 40 of the 100 top-selling ebooks on Amazon US in March were self-published. Self-publishing is “only going to grow more attractive” as an option for writers, said the report, which went on to warn that it was “the largest threat to incumbent publisher businesses in the medium term … and publishers cannot be complacent”.

. . . .

“I’m happy enough for the traditional publishers to be sniffy about self-publishing – they’ve been sticking their heads in the sand for years and it’s to their detriment,” says Croft. “Publishers have had it very easy for a long time – since presses were introduced, there’s been very little change. For years we’ve been saying that this is the way things are going, that they’re changing. We’re not saying this for our own benefit, because we’re already embracing the change.”

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

May 2016 Author Earnings Report: the definitive million-title study of US author earnings

2 June 2016

From Author Earnings:

Data in the publishing biz is hard to come by. Without widespread sharing of data by retailers, publishers, agents, and authors, we are all left like the blind to describe different parts of the same but seemingly disjointed elephant. Two years ago, AuthorEarnings released its first report on a new part of this elephant: E-book sales on Our report stirred controversy, as it described a formerly unseen world of publishing data.

Over the past two years, we have worked with industry insiders and data-savvy authors to refine our approach. This year, our up-to-date methodology and conclusions were presented in a Digital Book World 2016 keynote to an audience of prominent traditional publishers, agents, and retailers — many of whom deemed the AuthorEarnings keynote and hour-long Q&A with Publishers Lunch to be a highlight of the show. (The complete DBW slides can be found here).

Nowadays, even those who still fundamentally disagree with our conclusions generally acknowledge the accuracy of AuthorEarnings’ numbers. Their objections, these days, focus on what our reports *don’t* cover, rather than what they do. There is much more of the elephant to describe, and we relish that opportunity. Slowly but surely, the overall picture is being filled in. With each report, we uncover something new. This report is no different. In fact, it may be our most shocking.

. . . .

Instead of just looking at Amazon’s bestseller lists, we had our spider follow links to also-bought recommendations and also through each authors’ full catalog. This resulted in a million-title dataset, our most comprehensive and definitive look yet at author earnings. We were able to tally up precisely how many indie authors, Big Five authors, small/medium press authors, and Amazon-imprint authors are currently making enough from sales to land in a number of “tax brackets”.

But first, with our shiny new May data included, a quick look at the prevailing trend-lines. Over the last 27 months, how has the distribution of ebook unit sales, gross consumer $ spending, and author earnings changed among publisher types?




The only noteworthy highlight here is that the Big Five’s year-long plummet in overall ebook unit sales appears to have finally leveled off, leaving them with roughly 23% of Amazon’s ebook unit sales. A factor in this leveling-off *may* be lower Big Five ebook prices (the average price of a Big Five ebook dropped from $10.31 in January 2016 to $8.67 in May 2016, which warranted a closer look.). But on the other hand, the Big Five’s loss of market-share in gross consumer dollar terms — and, more importantly, the ongoing decline in Big Five authors’ ebook earnings — have both continued relatively unabated.

. . . .

We ended up with daily sales data on a million of Amazon’s Kindle ebooks — nearly a third of all titles listed in the US Kindle store. We captured practically all of the titles selling with any frequency whatsoever, the vast majority of the infrequently-selling titles, and many, many of the non-selling. Our dataset includes:

  • Nearly every single Kindle book selling 1 or more copy per day. (98.5% of them)
  • 90% of all Kindle titles selling at least 2-3 copies a week
  • 81% of all Kindle titles selling 1 or more copy a week
  • 64% of all Kindle titles selling 2 or more copies a month
  • 32% of all Kindle titles listed in the Amazon US Kindle store.

With this report, Author Earnings is now capturing and breaking down a full 82% of daily Amazon Kindle ebook sales. Even better, we’ve been able to capture the majority of the previously unmeasured “dark matter” sales — whose composition we had before only speculated about. Well, now we know.

Only 18% of Amazon’s daily ebook sales remain unaccounted for in our data — and every last bit of that remainder is coming from titles selling less than a copy a day, the overwhelming majority of it from titles selling less than a copy a week, and most of *that* coming from titles selling less than a copy a month. Even more notably, all of the remainder comes from the very lowest-selling authors on Amazon, who have no other titles making any significant sales either.

. . . .

While we were at it, we pulled accompanying Amazon sales data on 900,000 top-selling print titles and 67,000 top-selling audiobook titles, too — including every format of every single title by any author who had even one title of any format on any Amazon bestseller list.

The significance of that — of capturing each author’s entire sales catalog: all books they have for sale, in every format — cannot be overstated. It means that this is not just our deepest and most comprehensive cross-sectional look at author earnings ever. It is…

. . . .

[T]he hard numerical reality of US bookselling today — the rarely-mentioned elephant in the room — is this:

More than 50% of all traditionally-published book sales of any format in the US now happen on

That’s just the traditionally published books, though.

In addition, roughly 85% of all non-traditionally published book sales of any format in the US also happen on

In other words, a comprehensive cross-sectional snapshot of’s sales, like the one we are describing here in our May report, is a definitive look at more than half of all daily US author earnings, period.

. . . .

This time around, our census of author earnings includes author income from Amazon hardcover and paperback sales, too, as well as audiobook sales. And it includes revenue from every single title each author has for sale: best-selling and barely-selling alike. Unlike our September 2015 census, this is a cross-sectional study rather than a longitudinal one — it’s based on a single-day snapshot of Amazon author earnings. But having done the longer-term study back in September, we can now say with confidence that a million-title, 200,000-author cross-sectional snapshot such as this one will give us a statistically reliable proxy for the average distribution of author incomes throughout the quarter, i.e. for Q2 2016.

Let’s start with those authors currently earning at a run rate $10,000 a year or more from all of their sales combined:


The 4 leftmost bars include every author who debuted anytime in the last century and is currently accumulating income at a rate of $10,000 a year or more from their Amazon US sales alone. The good news here is that we can see almost 9,900 such authors, although a small fraction of that represents multiple appearances by the same authors under different pen names, and another small fraction ascribes revenue to a single author that in reality gets shared with one or more co-authors: as in James Patterson’s case, for instance.

Comparing this 9,900 number to the roughly 5,600 authors earning 10K+/year that we found in our September 2015 7-quarter longitudinal study is a bit of an apples-to-oranges proposition. This is a cross-sectional study, after all, rather than a longitudinal one, so we have to take any like-for-like comparison with a slight grain of salt. But even so, that September study only considered each author’s best-seller-listed Kindle titles. The inclusion here of each author’s non-best seller listed titles, too, and all of their Amazon print sales and audio sales as well, appears to have nearly doubled the count of authors currently earning in this $10K/year “tax bracket”.

. . . .

While $10,000/year is hardly a living wage in the US, it’s a nontrivial supplementary income. Especially for doing something you love.

And don’t forget this is a tally of 9,900 authors who are making that much or more on Amazon. Almost half of those 9,900 authors also appear in the $25000-or-better bracket above, and some of them in the brackets beyond that. So, onward.

Let’s take a look at publishing’s much-decried mid-listers next, to see how they are actually faring on


Once again, when we look at the leftmost set of bars, it’s encouraging to see a sizeable, healthy midlist represented there — more than 4,600 authors earning $25,000 or above from their sales on 40% of these are indie authors deriving at least half of their income from self-published titles, while 35% are Big Five authors deriving the majority of their income from Big Five-published titles, and 22% are authors who derive most of their income from titles published by small- or medium-sized traditional publishers.

But this includes traditional publishing’s longest-tenured and most recognizable names, including thousands of authors who have been actively publishing for the last several decades. When we consider only those authors who debuted sometime in the past ten years — who appear in the secondset of bars in each graph — a sharp dichotomy starts to become apparent.

The vast majority of traditional publishing’s midlist-or-better earners started their careers more than a decade ago. Their more-recently debuted peers are not doing anywhere near as well. Fewer than 700 Big Five authors and fewer than 500 small-or-medium publisher authors who debuted in the last 10 years are now earning $25,000 a year or more on Amazon — from all of their hardcover, paperback, audio and ebook editions combined. By contrast, over 1,600 indie authors are currently earning that much or more.

The gap becomes even more pronounced when we look at those authors who first debuted in the last five years, or during the “ebook era.” And when we look at just the most recent debuts from each publishing path, only 250 Big Five authors and 200 recent small or medium publisher authors who debuted in the last three years are earning a midlist-or-better income from their Amazon sales.

By contrast, there are over 1,000 indie authors who debuted in the last 3 years who are doing so.

We see the same dichotomy play out in the $50,000/year “tax bracket”, which tallies up authors earning what would be a living wage in most parts of the US:


On the one hand, it’s fantastic to be able to count over 2,500 authors who are currently earning at a living-wage run rate — $50,000/year or more — from just their Amazon sales. But once again, among the traditionally-published contingent we see predominantly authors whose careers began decades ago, including all of traditional publishing’s longest tenured best sellers and most recognizable names.

Out of more than 10,000 Big Five author debuts in the last five yearsfewer than 220 are currently earning $50K/year or more on Amazon. Despite all the countless small and medium publisher debuts over the past five years, the tally of those authors earning a living wage is even more discouraging: barely 100 non-Big Five traditionally published authors launched in the past 5 years now earn $50K/year or more from all of their books on Amazon.

. . . .

When we look at authors who debuted anytime in the past decade, and apply that handicap, we still find more indies now earning at a $25K and $50K run rate on Amazon than either Big Five authors or Small/Medium Publisher authors.

When we look at just debut authors from the past five years, we find more indie authors now earning a$50K-or-better living wage than all of their Big Five and Small/Medium publisher peers put together… even after we throw in that overgenerous 2x multiple for traditionally-published non-Amazon revenue.

. . . .

In the past year, we’ve seen a rash of media articles decrying the shrinking prospects and worsening incomes of authors. Most of those articles are based on self-selected surveys, which solicit data exclusively from society-dues-paying traditionally published authors. Those articles are only reporting half of the picture. Here’s what they aren’t saying:

More than 1,080 indie authors, most of them brand new debuts from the last five years, are currently earning at a $50K/year or higher run rate from just their Amazon sales.

It’s not the death of the midlist that these one-sided “author poverty” surveys are measuring, and that the publishing media is lamenting. Rather, it’s a changing of the professional-author guard.

Over 1,000 indie authors are already making a living wage from Amazon sales alone…

And even better, more than half of those thousand are earning six figures or more.

The $100,000+ Club: Authors Earning Six-Figures or More


1,340 authors are earning $100,000/year or more from Amazon sales. But half of them are indies and Amazon-imprint authors. The majority of the remainder? They come from traditional publishing’s longest-tenured “old guard.”

Fewer than 115 Big Five-published authors and 45 small- or medium-publisher authors who debuted in the past five years are currently earning $100K/year from Amazon sales. Among indie authors of the same tenure, more than 425 of them are now at a six-figure run rate.

The author earnings gap between publishing paths is so wide among these six-figure-earning authors that once again brick-and-mortar print sales and the like cannot significantly alter the picture.

. . . .

The higher we set the author earnings bar, the starker that contrast between publishing paths becomes.

Here are the tallies of authors earning $250,000/year and $500,000/year on Amazon:


Once again, when we exclude traditional publishing’s longest-tenured household names, there are more recently-debuted indies earning a quarter-million a year on Amazon, or even half a million a year, than Big Five and non-Big Five traditionally-published authors combined.

And finally, let’s take a brief look at:

Authors Earning Seven Figures

Link to the rest at Author Earnings and thanks to Patrice and others for the tip.

PG says this Author Earnings report is devastating for traditional publishers, large and small.

Why would any talented new author who is not entirely innumerate choose to begin a career with a traditional publisher? The odds against catching the attention the gatekeepers are already very long. To that problem, we now add the even longer odds of making any real money as a traditionally-published author.

The unspoken assumption in assessments of the future of traditional publishing is that publishing will continue to capture the lion’s share of future bestselling authors. If that assumption is false, if most or all of the really talented authors avoid traditional publishers, the future of Big Publishing is bleaker than even the most pessimistic of the industry prognosticators’ public forecasts.

PG has commented before that in the future, the contracts of all traditionally-published authors will be owned by hedge funds who undertake no publishing activities other than hiring Ingram to fulfill a diminishing number of hardcopy orders and booking the income from the backlist without the overhead of editors, publishing executives, sales reps, book promotion people, etc.

Booming Amazon Publishing imprints take seven places in top 10 best-selling Kindle ebooks

2 June 2016

From Roger Packer:

The massive growth of Amazon Publishing imprints is illustrated vividly this week as they took seven of the 10 top spots on the Kindle ebook best-sellers’ list while indie publishers had two entrants and traditional publishing had just a single book on the list.

New release The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison was No 1, published by Amazon’s very successful mystery/thriller imprint Thomas & Mercer.

Second was We’re All Damaged, by Matthew Norman, from Little A, which is Amazon’s literary imprint.

Trad publishing made its only entry in third place with Penguin’s Me Before You by JoJo Moyes, getting a sales boost from the release of the film of the book.

. . . .

The rest of the Top 20 continues in the same vein, dominated by more indie and Amazon titles, with trad publishing making only a couple of appearances, perhaps only one if you consider JK Rowling’s Pottermore to be an indie.

What’s really notable when you look down the best-selling list are the ebook prices. Amazon imprints generally publish at $4.99 or thereabouts while self-publishers tend to go somewhere between $0.99 and $2.99 and the few trads stick out a mile at $8.99 or higher.

The next time you read a so-called news article proclaiming ebook sales to be falling, take a closer look and you’ll find the ‘survey’ is based on uses figures just from trad publishers, who are, as you can see, losing the ebook market to Amazon and indies.

Link to the rest at Roger Packer and thanks to Lexi for the tip.

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