When I started my program of self-repubbed ebooks a few months ago, I promised I’d tell it like it is on the results of the experiment. It is an experiment, after all (one I’m doing along with some of my fellow scribblers at Backlist Ebooks and elsewhere). I was a little leery of going the self-republishing route, I guess because there was always a stigma attached to that—but it is, after all, working for some writers, including some famous and now wealthy writers. I wasn’t making much money directly from the free ebook distributions—though I was enlarging my readership, and some readers made voluntary donations. I finally decided it was time for a new approach, and in September I took the plunge.
First up were the first three Chaos books: Neptune Crossing, Strange Attractors, and The Infinite Sea at $2.99 each. Sales at first were, to put it mildly, sluggish. I followed in December with Eternity’s End at a price that wobbled around and eventually settled at $3.99, and The Chaos Chronicles 3-book omnibus at $6.99. For these last two, I got professional help with the covers, and they both look great.
In late December, sales started to pick up—meaning they went from 2-3 sales per day total to 7-10 per day. Christmas was coming, and a lot of people were getting shiny new Kindles and Nooks and Kobos and Sony Readers and iPads. Sales growth! Yes! The new level of sales continued through the first week of January. Then, whump. Holiday sales bump over. Back to a handful a day. A week went by. You could hear my fingers drumming on the table, day and night. And then…for no obvious reason, things started picking up again, even better than before. For the last ten days, sales have been in the range of 10-18 books per day. Is this a sustainable rate—or better yet, a rate upon which I can build? Time will tell. Some of my colleagues are reporting better results; some are reporting worse.
Also puzzling: Some writers find that the majority of their sales are at Kindle, with the Nook store and Smashwords hardly worth noting. Others, and I’m among them, are finding sales at Amazon sluggish, and the Barnes & Noble Nook store where the action is. Nobody can figure out why. For some of us, the sales are coming where we’re doing less promotion, rather than more.
So…am I making any money? Well, with most sales at 60-70% royalty, yes I am. Not a lot of money, but still. Why don’t I just cut the crap and show you some of the numbers? I generally don’t wave private numbers around publicly. But maybe it would be useful for people to get a glimpse of how much (or not so much) money a respectable but not-bestselling SF writer makes from one significant component of his career, ebooks. Here are some numbers for Kindle U.S. sales:
Sept-Oct (combined) — $84
November — $76
December — $244
January (through the 22nd, the last date for which I have dollar amounts) — $410
My January numbers for Nook are similar (slower start, but now pulling ahead).
Add in earnings (some reported, some estimated) from Kindle UK, Smashwords, Apple, Sony, and Kobo—and I’ve netted a little over a grand to date from my self-repubbed books, since late September. I should see the money in about 60 days. That time-frame of payment, while it feels slow, is practically tachyonic compared to the rate of payment from regular publishers.
Let’s compare these findings to my likely earnings through other publishers. Nine of my backlist books are with E-reads (a respected print-on-demand and ebook publisher specializing in backlist books). Past royalties there have been in the range of $300 – $900, per quarter, for all nine books. Those nine books are selling in many of the same stores, but at a typical retail price of $6-10. Indications are, they’re not selling as well. Is it the price? Unfortunately, I can’t directly compare recent sales of those books to my new ones, because I have to wait for the retailers to close out a reporting period and remit money to E-reads, and then I have to wait for E-reads to close out a reporting period and remit money to me. This means a lag between sales and reporting to me of as much as 6 – 9 months. But still, that’s better than the case with traditional publishing.
As for my three ebooks from the traditional print guys, who knows? They’re selling at $7-10, and are not all well distributed. Reporting is so slow and cryptic that by the time I see the numbers, I’ve forgotten what we were talking about. The royalty rates are lower. And in any case, ebook sales from those books are first applied to earning out the advance—fair enough—but because many books never do earn out, this can mean that ebook earnings serve only to reduce the unearned balance. The money to the author’s pocket may be zero…or little, and late. That might seem like a slam at the traditional publishing model, but it’s not. Remember, the publishers advanced the money that helped make it possible to write the books, provided the invaluable work of my editor, and through their marketing helped build an audience and recognition by way of paper books. You really can’t make a direct comparison of the two models.
In short, I’m not agreeing with the gurus who say, “Traditional publishing is dead! Long live self-publishing!” I don’t see it that way. Traditional publishing is still important. But for backlist sales, which publishers have largely abandoned as uneconomical, self-repubbing is clearly an exciting option.
Have I found the key to mega-sales, like J. A. Konrath and others? Clearly not. But while my self-repubbed books haven’t exactly caught fire, they are selling and at the moment they seem to be making more money for me, and paying faster, than all my other ebooks combined. It’s not exactly a living wage. But now the game is to see if I can build traction and grow my own audience along with the general burgeoning audience for ebooks. (And with luck, these sales will help to generate additional sales of the publisher-issued titles.)
Is it a sales bump, or a snowball? I guess I’ll find out.
Maybe in a future post I’ll talk about the challenges of self-promotion. In the meantime, here’s my quick guide to ebook samples, downloads, and purchases.