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.


  1. Thanks -- this was a good counter balance to all the hoop-la about self-publishing. I wonder, though, whether having a significant number of books in your arsenal (so to speak) creates better odds? I've got at least six I could bring out as ebooks (previously published nationally, but with rights now reverted to me.

  2. Well, I try to aim my advice to the aspiring-published rather than the published, because my first novel is still six months from actually hitting bookstores.

    However, a significant number of the authors who are selling a lot of e-books are authors who have been traditionally published in the past, including Konrath, Prescott and Barbara Freethy.

    There may also be some veteran authors who are doing well selling books at $2.99, a price point that I don't think is viable anymore for new authors. If you can sell 20,000 e-books for $2.99, you make more than an author who sells 100,000 at $0.99, so there may be some authors outside the very-small 100k club who are making real money.

    This is a question you may want to ask your agent. Also, Bob Mayer!/Bob_Mayer has done well selling a bunch of his reverted sci-fi and military fiction titles on Kindle, and I think he may be pricing them at $2.99.

  3. Dan,

    Thanks -- very helpful.

    Your novel sounds like it may mesh nicely with my hoped-for NEXT novel, called THE RABBI'S MOTHER, which is about a seventy-five year Jewish femme fatale in NYC, who begins solving crimes in the Orthodox community. I'll buy your novel as soon as it's published!

    Finally, I was once represented by Stephanie Kip Rostan, who is an agent in your literary agency. If you know her, give a wave!

    Again, nice to meet you.


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