Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Rob Schneider Query (With Apologies to Trey Parker)

Dear Sir or Madam;

Derp De-Doo is a derp-da-derp da deedily derp who deedily-deedily derp-de-derp.  But she's about to learn that derp-dee-derp de deedily-dee.

Now she's got to derp-de-derp de dumb-da-dumb.  But when deedily-dee, she'll need to dippity doo or she'll be dumbity dipped.  And with deedily dumb-da-dumb, she's really got her hands full!

Will dumb-ba-deedily dee before doodily dumb-da-dumb, or will Derp De-Doo be deedily-duh?  I bet you can't wait to find out!

DERP DE-DOO DEEDILY DUMB is a YA paranormal romance, 76,000 words in length.  I've enclosed the first five pages, and I hope you'll be interested in looking at more.

Dippity Q. Dee

Friday, December 16, 2011

Have E-books gotten more expensive?

Digital Book World conducted a survey of Amazon's top 100 e-books after the Wall Street Journal published an article saying that readers will face "sticker shock" over the price of books.

DBW compared the average price of a bestselling e-book last Christmas to the average price of Amazon's current top 100 e-books, and noted that the average price has declined over the last year, and that the price of bestselling e-books is significantly lower than the average price of the top 100 print books.

But averaging prices is a perfectly useless piece of data.  There is no interpretation or analysis performed to give this number any meaning.  In fact, the way this discourse is framed by both of these outlets is like a case study in how useless and misleading data points such as averages can be.

What is happening with e-book pricing is several separate, distinct phenomena, and by averaging them, you come up with a number that fails to tell you anything about any of them.  It's like mixing up the audiences for HBO premium series, Bravo reality and ESPN sports, and then drawing blanket conclusions.

As a reader, the averaging of e-book prices tells you nothing about what you might expect to pay for books, or how that's changed since last year.  Instead, averaging prices obscures what's actually going on.  The numbers don't show a downward trend in e-book prices, as DBW suggests but, rather, the segregation of two discrete e-book audiences, which are served at two distinct price points.

The important numbers to take out of the DBW survey are these: last year, there were 22 titles in the top 100 priced above $10.  This year, there are 32.  Meanwhile, last year, 17 titles on the Amazon top 100 cost $2.99 or less.  This year, there are 35.

Here's what's going on:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Good News About Self-Publishing is Actually Bad News For Authors

A USA Today article that talks about how self-publishing has changing the world notes that author Michael Prescott had 5 books in the USA Today bestseller list for 42 weeks, and earned $300,000 in a year by selling 800,000 books.  Once again, that's a lot of money, but on a per-reader basis, authors have never had such poor compensation. Prescott he is one of only 30 self-published authors to sell more than 100,000 books.  Remember, if you sell 100,000 books at $0.99, you earn $35,000.

In 2009 and 2010, J A Konrath and Amanda Hocking made real money selling e-books for $2.99 at a 70% royalty rate, but those days are over. Market competition has pushed the price-point for "indie" books by unknown authors down to $0.99.   You cannot sell these books at a price that yields a respectable per-copy royalty.

In the USA Today article, Konrath notes that it's tough to find an audience for self-published e-books, but he argues that it's also tough for traditionally published books to find their audience.  But the legitimacy of being backed by a publisher and stocked in bookstores is a big help toward reaching the audience, and there's a better chance to get noticed among the few thousand books in the bookstore than there is to be noticed among the 133,000 books that were self-published in 2011.  Further, the audience a traditionally-published novel has to reach in order to be remunerative is much smaller than the audience an "indie" author must find.

If you sell 25,000 copies in hardcover, you earn a hundred thousand dollars.  Is it easier to find 300,000 people willing to pay $1 than it is to find 25,000 willing to pay $16?  The dearth of authors who have actually found a mass audience selling self-pubbed books suggests that it is not.

Under the current traditional publishing model, you can earn real money writing a book for 10,000 people.  If you self-publish a book that reaches the same audience, you get $3,000.  Anyone who says that e-publishing is reinvigorating the midlist must necessarily be relying on false assumptions, such as the common misperception that unknown, self-published authors can sell their books for $2.99.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Crunching The Numbers Behind Self-Published Bestsellers

When proponents of self-publishing talk about the indie-publishing revolution, they mention the same names over and over again: J. A. Konrath, Barry Eisler, Amanda Hocking and John Locke.

There's a good reason for that; there are very few bestselling self-published authors.  According to this Wall Street Journal article, which postulates that "self-publishing is upending the book industry," only thirty self-published authors have sold more than 100,000 copies, out of more than half a million books self-published since 2006 and more than 133,000 books self-published in the last year.

In light of that data, the success of Darcy Chan, whose self-published "Mill River Recluse" has sold 400,000 copies should properly be deemed an anomaly, rather than evidence of a trend.  And this anomaly isn't especially lucrative. As the article points out, Chan's book, like most successful self-published titles in the last two years, sells for $0.99.  Amazon pays a 35% royalty on books sold at that price, or about 35 cents per copy, so Chan's earnings on her 400,000 sales total about $130,000.

That's a lot of money, and, as the WSJ notes, it's much more than an average debut author would get paid for a traditionally published novel.  But this is an extraordinary self-published novel; Chan is one of only twelve self-published authors to sell more than 200,000 copies.  When compared to extraordinary advances for traditionally published books, Chan's earnings seem less princely: author Erin Morgenstern got a "high six-figure" advance for her "Night Circus," Chad Harbach got $665,000 for his debut novel "The Art of Fielding," Stephenie Meyer got $750,000 for "Twilight" and Reif Larsen got a reported $900,000 for his "Selected Works of T.S. Spivet."

Traditional publishers also pick up the cost of professional editing, proofreading, formatting, typesetting, jacket design and marketing, while self-published authors like Chan must bear these costs themselves.  According to the WSJ article, Chan paid $575 for a review from Kirkus and an additional $1000 for online advertising.  And traditionally published authors also get bookstore distribution which is still a huge advantage.  Nearly two thirds of books are sold in bookstores, and, despite exponential growth, e-books only represent 20% of book sales.

A traditionally-published author would need to reach fewer than fifteen percent of Chan's audience in hardcover, or fewer than one-fifth in paperback to earn the same royalties.  The self-published e-book would have the benefit of a much lower price-point, but the traditional book would have access to the 80% of the market that e-books don't reach.

A self-published $0.99 book that sells 100,000 copies (remember, only 30 authors have done this in the last five years) earns $35,000 in royalties.  That's a great windfall, but it is not extravagant compensation for producing a book-length work of literature, nor is it particularly spectacular when compared to advance payments for traditionally-published books.

By comparison, an author who sells 100,000 copies in hardcover earns more than $350,000 in royalties (assuming a $25 SRP and a 10% royalty with an escalator to 15% after 10k sales).