I've been following the latest RWA issue with interest (and now I am officially a member, so I feel more entitled to talk about it). I have to admit, I'm inclined to side with the RWA on this one (and not just because I'm now a member, I swear:-). When I told DH last night about Medallion Press' letter, he said, "Aren't they automated?" Which made me stop and think. Is it really that hard to pull all this info together? Shouldn't a publisher have its sales info more or less at its fingertips? I mean, they DO have to pay royalties, right? I'm not sure it's unreasonable to expect pubs to requalify every so often-- this prevents them from qualifying on one fluke and then selling ten books per year for the rest of eternity, thus presumably protecting authors.
I was, however, struck by something Sienna said on Sylvia's blog. She wrote, "I am all for choosing multiple avenues in which to become published, BUT, the RWA was founded for writers pursuing publication with the intent on making a living at it–which firstly means selling to a major publisher. Even though in todays market, an author writing for Elloras Cave can make more than an author published by an NY publisher, selling to NY is considered to be a better stone to step on in terms of making a living. "
Okay. Let's walk through this. Sienna is saying that the market has changed, and that an EC author can make more than a NY author. And yet "major publishers" are still a better market. Um... I'm not sure I necessarily agree with that. If authors are making decent amounts of money for a publisher (and not just on a fluke, but regularly), then RWA oughtn't to have a problem recognizing the publisher. EC isn't on the "unrecognized" list, so I assume they have at least some authors selling the minimum amount of copies.
Which leads to my next thought-- who cares how many books an author sells? Is that a reliable way to estimate an author's income nowadays? (Based on Anonymous' very valid comment, I've removed references to RWA here... let's just talk about money, and if it's worth it to write for an epub.)
Let me try to clarify my thoughts. (I was up late last night, so bear with me if I'm incoherent.) The problem with comparing e-pubs and large presses is that you're comparing apples and oranges. Authors writing for epubs frequently sell smaller books, often novellas of around 30,000 words, and they generally get paid between 35 and 40% of the cover price. For New York presses, conversely, authors typically write about 100,000 words (yes, anthologies are getting more prevalent, but novellas are rarely released as standalone books from New York) and get paid about 8%. Add to this the fact that novellas are faster and easier to write, so many e-pubbed authors are able to turn out many of them a year.
Let's say that I sell 1000 units at 35%, and the NY pubbed author sells 5000 units at 8%. Both books are (for the sake of simplicity and my highly limited math ability) priced at $5.00. I get $1.75 per book, and the NY pubbed author gets .40 per book. I make $1750, and the NY author makes $2000. My earning per word is 5.83 cents per word, and the NY author's earning per word is 2 cents per word. I've made almost as much as the NY author, and my book is much shorter, so I'll be able to turn out more titles in the course of a year.
I will admit this is wildly oversimplified. NY books generally cost closer to $7.00 now, and the cost of ebook novellas can vary from $3.50 to over $5.00, depending on the publisher. I'll confess outright that I haven't yet sold 1000 units of any ebook, but I'm not a particularly good seller. There are e-authors out there selling this many units on a regular basis, so it's not an absurd number by any means. I don't know what normal sales are in New York anymore-- 5000 is doubtless low. I may well be comparing apples to oranges here myself, using an unreasonably high number of ebook units and an unreasonably low number of NY units. I don't know enough about other authors' sales figures to make a better guess, unfortunately.
But the point is, does it really matter how many units of any given book a publisher sells, or is the actual income more relevant? Going back to Sienna's comment, making a living is making a living. It doesn't really matter who I'm writing for if I can make a living doing it. I think Sienna's point is that one is more likely to make a living writing for New York. Perhaps that's true... now. I'm not sure it'll be the case a few years from now. But no one really knows for sure.
Trying to write for a living is like walking on a tightrope... you never know when you might slip and find yourself in freefall.