Tag Archives: self publishing

29 May

Smashwords says “Amazon’s Hachette Dispute Foreshadows What’s Next for Indie Authors”

When I write this, certain people say it’s because I’m a for-hire servant of Big Publishing and that I have Stockholm syndrome.

I wonder how they’ll explain how Mark Coker of Smashwords is brainwashed by New York publishing?

“The dispute with Hachette foreshadows what comes next for indie ebook authors at Amazon who have grown comfortable to KDP’s 70% royalty rates.

Think about my divide and conquer reference above.  Indies are already divided and conquered at Amazon, but most don’t realize this.  These indies all have direct-upload relationships with Amazon.  They don’t have the collective bargaining power of a large publisher to advocate on their behalf.  As the unfolding events indicate, it’s questionable if even a large publisher has leverage over Amazon.

If Hachette doesn’t have the power to maintain 70% earnings, how will million-copy-selling New York Times bestselling indie authors have any power when Amazon decides to put the squeeze on them?   And how about the rest of the indie community which has even less leverage over Amazon?

How long until Amazon puts on the squeeze? The squeeze may already have started. In February, Amazon gutted the royalty rates they pay for audiobooks, as Laura Hazard Owen reported at GigaOm in her story, Amazon-owned Audible lowers royalty rates on self-published audiobooks. Previously, authors earned up to 90% list. Under the new terms, authors earn from 25% to 40% list. Amazon can do this because they dominate audiobooks.”

(Via Smashwords: Amazon’s Hachette Dispute Foreshadows What’s Next for Indie Authors.)

By the way, Mark nails it here.

Even if Smashwords is a UI nightmare, they’ve been working hard to increase library outreach and work hard for their authors. And Mark has always been good about offering up real data and insight.

I’m sure the usual boosters will keep explaining why the audio royalty cut was good for authors (yes, this actually happens) and why anyone who points out the above common sense is a ‘detractor’ because for them, it’s not a business discussion: it’s an ideological war with only one ‘side’ winning (watch how many times the word ‘side’ is used).

There are no sides, there are just ways to connect with readers and marketplaces. You can use more than one at once, even.

And you can criticize as well.

28 May

Interview about self-publishing and hype up at Telereads

A lot of people try to compare music, film, and book publishing. There are obvious similarities, but ultimately they are different forms and we should realize that. The way things will play out will be different. Music worked by bundling songs together into albums. In books we don’t have that; a book is a long continuous product. Harder to strip out into components (though some novella collections that become a book might be, but the bulk of the business is novels).

(Via A Conversation With Author Tobias Buckell About Self-Publishing Hype TeleRead: News and views on e-books, libraries, publishing and related topics.)

In that quote I should have used the word ‘novels’ more specifically than ‘books’ to talk about those differences. I was moving quickly last night.

I have to say, the response to the post about survivorship bias has been amazing. And mostly very positive (a bunch of people have project onto me that I’m bitter, mad about a lack of success, and a number of people suggested I try self publishing and see how it could change my life, thus proving they haven’t actually read the article or paid attention to my 12 year history of trying all the different ways of publishing. Thankfully the negative nellies have mostly been the minority, or off hiding in places I don’t see them, which is just as fine by me.) Most of the negative criticism always comes from people who keep obsessing about who ‘wins’ and missing the point that no one has to lose.

A lot of people involved in digital publishing groups have noted to me that their hybrid authors sell better. I’m not shocked.

If reporters want to talk to the real interesting folk, it’s hybrids. I’m finding more and more wisdom in their moderate, hard-working voices.

27 May

Survivorship bias: why 90% of the advice about writing is bullshit right now

I love this quote from the recent marketing guide that Smashwords published:

“we cannot promise you your book will sell well, even if you follow all the tips in this guide. In fact, most books, both traditionally published and self-published, don’t sell well. Whether your book is intended to inspire, inform or entertain, millions of other books and media forms are competing against you for your prospective reader’s ever-shrinking pie of attention.”

(From Smashwords — Smashwords Book Marketing Guide – A book by Mark Coker – page 7.)

This just does not get emphasized nearly enough. And it’s something I’ve been thinking about a great deal since I published The Apocalypse Ocean. One, because so many rah rah eBook advocates have been indicating to me that if I’d only just publish digitally first I’d keep 70% of the profits and *obviously* make more than I would with ‘traditional publishing.’

Since 2001, I’d been involved in selling eBooks. I initially began with stories being sold through Fictionwise. I did this to test the waters, and begin understanding what I felt was going to be a new way of reading. I also have been reading eBooks since the same year. I’ve since switched to selling a portfolio of short story collections, individual short stories, novellas, and a novel via various eBook outlets.

I lay down my bonafides, because usually the first thing I get is a lot of ‘booksplainin,’ by which I mean people lecturing me about what to do as if it’s self evident, obvious, and usually based entirely on their own anecdotal experience.

In fact, the self assured expertise of anecdotes drives me nuts.

Here’s the data. Mark Coker, looking at sales of *all* the books self published at Smashwords, points this chart out in a recent slideshare of information and best practices (for all that he’s been an initial booster, I’m grateful to him for sharing some raw data, unlike the other venues which highlight, boost, and act as if the superstars’ stories are average):

NewImage

The problem, right now, in eBook direct sales, is that everyone is paying and listening to people in the green area. They’re listening to everything they say, and sifting everything they say as if it’s a formula for success.

Like in most cultish behavior, if you follow the rules and don’t get the results, you’re either ostracized, ignored, or it’s pretended you don’t exist. Many who don’t get the same results just shut up and go away. Thus creating an environment where people are creating massive amounts of confirmation bias by continually listening to the top sellers.

In an interview recently, David Kirtley pointed out that in business school there’s this point made that if you interview rich people who have won the lottery, you might come to believe that playing the lottery is the only way to become rich. I thought that was interesting. One of the things I’m constantly trying to point out is that we’re not doing nearly enough to highlight both median and failure modes, because that’s where the real lessons lie. As for myself, I find message boards where new writers struggle to sell more than a few copies interesting, and where I harvest data about the low end.

That survivorship bias is useful to understand, and I just read a very large article that I think should be required reading for authors.

If failures becomes invisible, then naturally you will pay more attention to successes. Not only do you fail to recognize that what is missing might have held important information, you fail to recognize that there is missing information at all.

You must remind yourself that when you start to pick apart winners and losers, successes and failures, the living and dead, that by paying attention to one side of that equation you are always neglecting the other.

and

Survivorship bias pulls you toward bestselling diet gurus, celebrity CEOs, and superstar athletes. It’s an unavoidable tick, the desire to deconstruct success like a thieving magpie and pull away the shimmering bits. You look to the successful for clues about the hidden, about how to better live your life, about how you too can survive similar forces against which you too struggle. Colleges and conferences prefer speakers who shine as examples of making it through adversity, of struggling against the odds and winning.

So here’s how survivorship bias affects people. Here’s a chart from Smashwords of how all the books do in their system:

NewImage

Guess where on this tail-like chart above the books and authors with the most articles, blog posts, and largest followings sit?

Mark helpfully takes out the top 100 so we can get a better look at it. But remember, the people in the top 100 are the ones that everyone points to as if those results have some meaning for the rest of everyone else.

NewImage

Does this mean I’m somehow against direct digital publishing? No, obviously I’m a hybrid player and have been for over a decade now. But my refusal to damn either version of publishing means I don’t get lauded by certain parties, ink isn’t spilled over me, I’m not some vanguard. I’m just a working stiff, a mid list writer with a decent but passionate audience. Both methods have benefits and drawbacks, and I’m fully aware of both and try to communicate that.

I am trying to say ‘please approach this with some rationality.’ I’m slowly building up a portfolio over time of work that I hope will offer me an additional income stream. There are some benefits to this form of publication that I like, but to be honest, in a direct apples to apples comparison, I’m making more off the much despised traditional publishing still. By a large margin. This piece of anecdotal data means that the formula for each writer is different, and the constant ‘us vs them’ battle going on is harming artists who are losing a chance to make more money, or get a larger audience, who are being led astray.

It is only by trying lots of different methods, and paying attention to real data, not cherry picked anecdata, that you will best succeed.

If you’ve been successful, good on ya. I’m thrilled when any artist breaks out to making a living. But genuinely understand that survivorship bias means there are plenty of people plugging the same formulas and not getting results that look even similar.

This is not bitterness on my part. I’m actually thrilled with where I am, which is far ahead of many. Over half my income comes from writing fiction (and if I weren’t in debt from having a medical crisis in 2008 I’d likely be able to make a living just on my fiction). I’ve been slowly building my career since 1999, since my first tiny sale. Each year my readership grows, my blog audience grows, the money I make off my fiction grows. I use eBooks, traditional publishing and crowdsourcing all as tools to survive. I’m playing the long game. And maybe I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m pretty open to that, but I’m always happy to report on what’s going on. Each successful career I’ve seen, though, requires a ton of hard work, and many people I see trying any method with a focus on shiny and new and ‘beating’ some system often flame out and fall away. Lots of people who’re doing the right thing and working hard flame and fall away too.

Making a living off art is hard.

But that isn’t a sexy sell.

That isn’t to say you should give up. Fuck that. But I am going to say: get ready to work, don’t expect riches. Focus hard on the art.

And pay attention to those charts and adjust your expectations accordingly.

There’s a lot of snake oil sales going on. And a lot of well meaning people who won the lottery telling everyone to go buy lottery tickets while financial advisors shake their head.

Pretty much the same as its always been…

PS: this survivorship bias also works for writing advice about ‘how to write’ if you think about it…

09 Apr

Nook Press announced

I find the collaborative features interesting, but that’s assuming I would use Nook for my primary book creation process. I’m going to have to look to see what kind of ePub quality it makes, and whether I can take them with me once made easily.

Seriously though, it seems they might want to focus more on making the readers happy with features. I still can’t find half the titles I know exist by just typing the title into the search bar at BN.com.

That’s kinda a bigger deal, guys.

“NEW! One-stop Publishing Solution: Write, edit, format and publish your eBooks in our web-based platform, instantly reaching millions of NOOK customers within 72 hours.

NEW! Easy ePub Creation and Editing: Upload your manuscript file and make changes directly in NOOK Press. Editing and previewing in one session saves you time and effort.

NEW! Integrated Collaboration: Collaborate with editors, copyeditors, and friends, allowing them to review and comment on your manuscript without ever leaving NOOK Press.”

(Via nook press™.)

Addendum: you know what, I look at something like Pressbooks here and wonder why B&N just doesn’t buy them or engage in some coopetition with them instead of just doing something that can already be done pretty well elsewhere.

09 Apr

What best route to publishing?

Chuck Wendig, as usual, brings the wisdom down on us hard:

“We’re possibly on the cusp of a golden age for writers. We have so many paths up the mountain. Let’s celebrate that. Let’s cheerlead not one option but all the options — and let’s embrace the fact that each path has strengths and weaknesses that’ll suit some authors and repel others. We don’t need to shut down or shout down options. We don’t need to suggest one way is superior. Or that others should feel inferior for their choices.”

(Via “Indie First?” What Is Best In Publishing? « terribleminds: chuck wendig.)

06 Apr

Self publishers: Read the Taleist Survey

So some self publisher wrote on Slate that he didn’t make shit off his attempt to self publish a book. For a rebuttal, Hugh Howey came in to say the opposite.

This has ignited the usual firestorm.

The KDP forums read like a cross between a big tent revival and villagers getting pitchforks out.

I’m a huge fan of data, so here’s what I recommend. Either direction, get your hands on data.

Here’s the Taleist. They did a survey of 1,000 and actually got some decent data. Buy it, read it. Notice the title: Not a Gold Rush.

No matter what direction you chose, try to avoid cult-like belief and mentalities, you’ll be okay. Follow data. Avoid anecdotes. Work on being a better writer.

“What the top earning self-publishers have in common
What marketing seems to be working
How much the average self-publisher is earning in royalties
What types of outside assistance really make a difference”

(Via Self-Publishing Report: The Taleist Survey – Not a Gold Rush.)

And again, I think Chuck Wendig has the right of it:

Hey, self-publishing is cool!

Traditional publishing is cool, too!

Both have strengths. And also weaknesses.

Not everybody is fit to be their own publisher.

Not everyone is fit to deal with a traditional publisher.

Something-something Kickstarter! And Amazon! And literary agents! And small presses! And big presses! And this genre and that genre! And Wattpad and Book Country and Goodreads and Bookish and Twitter and iBooks and Smashwords and Simon & Schuster and Barnes & Noble and blargh and flargh and zippity-motherfucking-doo-dah!

The reason we don’t put all our eggs in one basket is because broken goddamn eggs!

05 Apr

Amazon developing a cover creation tool

A smart move on their part, there are some truly horrendous self-made covers in the mix out there:

“Amazon is developing a cover creation tool for its Kindle Direct Publishing self-publishing platform, dubbed KDP Cover Creator. The tool is currently being tested by a limited number of KDP authors but the company expects to roll it out to all its KDP authors soon, an Amazon spokesperson told Digital Book World.”

(Via Amazon to Launch Cover Creating Tool for Self-Published Ebooks, KDP Cover Creator | Digital Book World.)

20 Mar

Faster royalty payments from Amazon will put the pressure on larger publishers

Smart. While authors haven’t begun a mad rush over, they’re doing a lot of smart things. If I was planning, say, a post on 6 things larger publishers are going to have to do eventually, this is probably #2.

I know *why* publishers wait six months. The returns system (where in bookstores can return a book if it doesn’t sell and get credit) mean that the true nature of how well a book did can take a while to establish. But, with many books getting up to 50% of their royalties from eBooks, and since publishers hold back a portion of the money in what is called ‘reserves against returns’ a faster payment schedule will become something that attracts author attention.

There is no reason eBook sales should have anything to do with a system that uses reserves against returns and waits six months.

“Amazon Publishing said in a letter to literary agents Monday that it will start paying its authors royalties on a monthly basis, up from every three months.

‘In this digital age, we don’t see why authors should have to wait six months to be paid,’ Amazon’s VP of publishing Jeff Belle wrote in the letter. ‘Beginning with our March payment cycle, we will move to paying our authors on a monthly basis. More specifically: each month’s royalties will be released within 60 days of the end of that month, every month.  For example, royalties for sales in January will be released by March 31, royalties for sales in February will be released by April 30, etc.’”

(Via Amazon Publishing promises authors faster royalty payments — paidContent.)

16 Apr

DOJ vs epublishing link dump

A few people were surprised I hadn’t weighed in on the DOJ vs 5 publishers thing. Again, it’s sausage making. Readers should buy books where they like to buy books and not worry. It’s not their job.

The other reason is that I’m really focused on, you know, writing right now. I just crossed the 40,000 word mark on The Apocalypse Ocean today. Now that my issues with vertigo and having trouble reading off screens are improving, I’m buckling down. There is work that needs done! Believe me.

That being said I’ve been following some of it from the sidelines. The following links are ones that I found interesting reads:

What happened? SFWA has a good roundup:

Unquestionably, the big publishing news of the week was the US Department of Justice’s lawsuit filing against Apple and five major book publishers—Penguin, Macmillan, Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon and Schuster—for alleged ebook price fixing. At the root of the dispute: the agency pricing model for ebooks, which the publishers adopted in 2010. Under the wholesale pricing model that until then had been the norm for both ebooks and print books, publishers sell to intermediaries—such as bookstores or distributors—at a fixed discount off the list price, and the intermediaries are then free to re-sell to consumers at whatever price they choose.

What Amazon’s eBook Strategy means, by Charles Stross:

I submit that, as with all other large corporations, you cannot judge Amazon by the public statements of its executives ; they are at best uttered with an eye for strategic propaganda effects, and at worst they’re deeply self-serving and deceptive. Rather, you need to examine their underlying ideology and then the steps they take—and the actions they consider legitimate—in order to achieve their goals.

Mike Shatzkin, where do we stand:

I would summarize the situation this way. Amazon (which includes any other player largely dependent on Amazon) and the most price-conscious ebook consumers have won. Everybody else in the ecosystem: authors, publishers, and other vendors, have lost. The reaction from all quarters seems to confirm that analysis.

The biggest question going forward is how Amazon will react to this. Cader’s unique and invaluable analysis says that Amazon will have a “pool” of about $113 million for discounting and incentives in the coming year. B&N, with half their market share, would have about $57 million.

Baldur Bjarnason:

I believe Amazon’s current path leads them to either destroy their own standing in the market by alienating their suppliers or to cannibalise the entire ebook market once their shareholders have turned on them.

John Scalzi exhorts us to chill:

Amazon is not on your side. Neither is Apple, or Barnes & Noble, or Google, or Penguin or Macmillan. These are all corporations, not sports teams, and with the exception of Macmillan, they are publicly owned. They have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders to maximize value. You are the means to that, not the end. The side these companies are on is their own side, and the side of their shareholders. This self-interest doesn’t make them evil. It makes them corporations.

What does this mean for readers:

As soon as the new contracts are in place (and Justice will be holding onto a copy of each of those contracts), let the discounting begin. Forrester analyst James McQuivey told Digital Book World last week that he expects Amazon to discount e-books slowly and strategically, starting with bestsellers. Publishing industry consultant Mike Shatzkin, on the other hand, believes Amazon “will do the splashiest discounting they possibly can, making the point as loudly as possible that they deliver the lowest prices to the consumer and daring their competiton to match them.”

Lots of people assume agency pricing means higher pricing. And no one has actually supplied any data about that, it’s just asserted. Mark Coker at Smashwords actually has studied trending data, and says agency has moved prices down:

Although Smashwords is not a party to this potential lawsuit, I felt it was important that the DoJ investigators hear the Smashwords side of the story, because any decisions they make could have significant ramifications for our 40,000 authors and publishers, and for our retailers and customers.

Yesterday I had an hour-long conference call with the DoJ. My goal was to express why I think it’s critically important that the DoJ not take any actions to weaken or dismantle agency pricing for ebooks.

Even before the DoJ investigation, I understood that detractors of the agency model believed that agency would lead to higher prices for consumers.

Ever since we adopted the agency model, however, I had faith that in a free market ecosystem where the supply of product (ebooks) exceeds the demand, that suppliers (authors and publishers) would use price as a competitive tool, and this would naturally lead to lower prices.

My preference is that agency remains, because so far Mark is the only person to actually, you know, bring data to this discussion. Everyone else has just asserted that it raised prices.

So, read all that and you’ll have a good glimpse of what’s rattling around my head about this development.

But the truth is, I really have a book that needs finished, and that’s where 90% of my brain power is being invested. I’ll have time to think harder about all this later on. Right now I have a vague ‘oh come the fuck on, I can’t follow this all right now’ sort of response and am glad to see that the quality of thought about this in those posts above has been very interesting.

Oh, and if you use the word gatekeeper I automatically start laughing and ignore anything you have to say on the subject.

Addendum: Actually, Chuck Wendig probably nails it right here:

Publishing pinballs drunkenly between the bumpers of optimism and the flippers of holy fucking shit-hell the meteors are coming fairly regularly. The Internet is good for this: we get to see every moment as it happens and we have zero time to process it. All our processing is done out-loud, together, and mass hysteria runs rampant. Every shadow that passes over our prairie dog heads seems like a hungry hawk when it might be nothing more than a harmless vulture or a passenger plane. Or, y’know, Underdog.

01 Apr

A year of selling Tides From The New Worlds

Cover

I’ve been selling my short story collection Tides From The New Worlds for a year now, and I’m going to share that data with you. I’m going to hang it all out there and show you my stuff.

I’m a lover of data and charts to help solidify somewhat complex discussions. I’m in favor of keeping data and experimenting in order to try and learn my landscape. I hate discussions that are basically ‘do this… profit’ where ‘…’ involves assertions. I’m a businessman, once I’m done with the part where I make my art.

Due to being involved in making eBooks and because I’ve talked to a number of people who are selling them, and because I lurk in self publisher forums and track data wherever I can find it, I have in my head a rough model of what kinds of sales people are seeing off eBooks. And its not just Amanda Hocking’s millions or JA Konrath’s hundreds of thousands. Those are outliers, I’m curious about what people in my genre are making, for example. I’m curious as to what people who don’t spent every spare moment flooding places online with a constant rattle of self promotion and ‘please Dear God buy my book’ tweets and begs for retweets make up the bulk of their public persona. I’m tired of people who talk about ‘revolutions’ (being a survivor of a real world one, with consequences and all) and act like priests, or inflexible new guides.

One reason why people focus on the big successes is people who make middling or small sales are embarrassed to talk about it. There are also a lot of people who tell me all about their plans to become rich on the Kindle edition of their first book evar, and then never, oddly enough, follow up with raw data three months later after spending so much time arguing with my assertion that you’re probably not going to make a lot of money off online sales. My bet is that if you can clear $50 a month as a genre writer (remember, we have a smaller potential niche market) on a Kindle edition with your first book, you’re doing really well.

A very common assertion is that if you just drop the price to 99 cents, people will flock to the deal and ‘volume will make up for the lost margin.’ It’s a mantra that’s very strongly believed. To be honest, I think that works somewhat, because it boosts discoverability (it’s cheap to try a new author), and I think having something as a 99 cent ‘lead in’ discovery book/title is a good idea, but I don’t think its a strategy to depend on.

So a year ago, I made the eBook version of Tides From The New Worlds, and I’ve been experimenting with covers and price to test how it effects sales.

First of all, I’m a strong midlist author, with a reasonably well known name but not exactly a super-famous dude. I have a well known blog, but due to my British upbringing and midwest location, I abhor continuous self promotion. I just like to have fun. I do lots of interviews because they’re fun. I certainly, however, really do try my best to not push push push. I wanted to see how Tides would sell in that sort of environment. So I made notices about prices changes, but other than that, I was really pretty quiet.

My expectation was that, at $2.99 and with the 70% royalties, that I would probably make about $40/month off a short story collection. A number of writers with the same number of books I had out talked about making $100-$200/month in royalties off of novels, and since novels sell better than collections, I figured $40 was a reasonable expectation. Collections are hard to sell in print, and I know from some discussions that many collections sell for $500 – $1,000 advances to medium or small presses, if you can sell them at all.

In April we launched Tides. I offered, via my website, copies to anyone who wished to review it. There was no big push other than that.

The price was $2.99: as low as I could price it and still get that 70% royalty.

Out of the gate, I was pretty happy with the results. Copies sold were 25 in the first month and 27 the second month:

Tideslaunch

Even better, the second month the copies sold jumped a bit. I was wondering if, like some intimated, it only got better from there on. It was the opposite of my experience with print books, where the sales always tapered after a while, but hey, who knew?

I waited for the results to come in for the third month, and then… there it was: the tapering off.

Threemonths

Sales halved in that third month, and I made less. Now, this is the point where people would have been out there shouting ‘buy my book,’ but I was really trying to see how the natural, no-effort, digitally-easier method would work.

The trend continued into the next month:

Fourmonth

Over the summer and following months, this pattern of 7-9 copies a month and the corresponding royalties settled in:

299

At this point, I had a few conversations with people I would classify as ‘digital advocates’ who had all manner of advice. But I decided to do something different. I wanted to see whether the 7-9 people who purchased Tides a month were buying it because it was something they wanted, or whether all they cared about was price.

I did the unthinkable, I raised the price to $4.99.

I was told I would alienate readers and lose sales.

Here is what happened: I made more money.

Priceincrease

I was making just shy of $30.

But here’s what didn’t happen, the number of copies sold didn’t change in any way:

Copieswithincrease

My guess that people were interested in the book, but not nearly as price skittish as the peanut gallery claimed, was borne out.

Here is how that continued to play out:

Copiestofeb

Copies seemed to actually remain slightly higher. And the royalty profit settled into a $40/month area.

Royaltytofeb

So how about volume and a 99 cent price? This was my next experiment, started on the first of last month. Tides dropped in price, and copies sold jumped accordingly:

99copy

Holy crap, from 11 copies to 117 copies! Woo, break out the champagne I’m… well, not rich… I made just slightly more than 11 copies sold:

99royalty

Furthermore, the bulk of those 99 cent copies sold in the first week, well, the first three days, of the sale. Since then, they’ve dropped. The last three weeks the rate has returned to… 2-3 copies a week.

Even at 99 cents.

So take from that what you will, but my take was that I have returned the price to $4.99. Someone asked me why I wouldn’t want to keep reaching more people with the 99 cents, but there’s no guarantee it will do that based on the latter week sales. I’m pretty comfortable betting that $4.99 is the ‘sweet’ spot that’ll keep trucking in $40-$50 a month reliably.

Here’s all the data again:

date copies sold profit price of book
May-10 25 52.325 2.99
Jun-10 27 56.511 2.99
Jul-10 13 27.209 2.99
Aug-10 8 16.744 2.99
Sep-10 7 14.651 2.99
Oct-10 8 16.744 2.99
Nov-10 8 27.944 2.99
Dec-10 11 38.423 4.99
Jan-11 9 31.437 4.99
Feb-11 11 39.92 4.99
Mar-11 117 47.228 0.99

And here is a cleaned up chart:

Tides

What do I take away from all of this?

Well, for one, I’m looking forward to a point where I would be able to take a backlist novel to try this with, as short story collections don’t sell as well. I’m betting I’d sell more like $100-$200 a month.

I’d also like to test selling novellas/novelettes directly, as I’m seeing some evidence they sell at these levels.

Eventually, I do think having a 99 cent item for sale, as an entry point into your backlist, a good idea. If I do another short story collection, I’ll price one at 99 cents and another at $4.99.

Obviously getting more titles into the pipeline will help, it would be steady money. And I’ve been encouraging authors to get their backlist up, with smart looking covers, for sale, so that they can benefit. 3-5 extra titles you own the rights to, making $50 each a month, is a car payment. Or more if any of the titles take off.

As to why some titles sell better than others, that’s as much a mystery as it is in print. Some authors explode. Saying that you should focus only on digital books because JA Konrath is doing it is like saying you should focus on writing books about kids with magic power so that you can be a billionaire. In SF/F, with our smaller market share of titles sold, it also means you can expect smaller sales.

But as for putting front list titles up there? Right now my agent is shopping my second short story collection ‘Mitigated Futures.’ If it doesn’t sell I’ll turn it into an eBook, sure, but Tides has made ~$380/year. So obviously a print sale for it looks more attractive to me than jumping straight to digital right now.

Will this always be true? I don’t know.

Will this be true for every author? I don’t know.

To understand whether to go digital only, or print, or some combination there of, means being a business minded person and evaluating the data as best we can.

I know some people will point to me and consider me a lagging failure. I’m not shouting that I’m on my way to making millions off the Kindle and joining the hype. I’m not down on it either, I think its an exciting time, and a great way to leverage your backlist. A short story collection normally wouldn’t be making me anything as a midlist writer in one of the smaller genres out here. There’s opportunity here, when thoughtfully applied and approached. And I fully intend to, and have been, leveraging it (my recent collection/how to write book Nascence came out as a digital only release to experiment with figures, and to target a larger audience, which so far has meant a very different launch and sales patterns that hint at more sales than Tides has seen). But print is still a bigger money maker for me. It puts me in front of more buyers, lets me stand on the shoulders of giants, and to leverage exposure to a larger audience.

I think I will continue playing all the fields I have access to. Audiobooks are exploding, and I love working with Audible. eBooks are growing, so I am involved in that. Print is still selling, so I’m involved in that.

Smart businesses diversify. And I intend to keep diversifying.