Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Long thoughts on a blog post

Someone on Kindleboards pointed out this post, called Pouring Cold Water on the Kindle-ing. The author is moving some books on Kindle, but he still feels that success on the Kindle is limited to a few outliers, and that it's a bad way for unpublished authors to go:

And yet, I'm writing this blog post to say, if you are an unpublished author thinking of self-publishing your novel to Kindle, my current advice would be: Don't.

Here's his reasoning:

I have a fifth title on Amazon, my short story "Final Flight of the Blue Bee." Last month, I sold 4 copies of this title. And, on average, FFBB has a sales ranking somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000. I think I can safely extrapolate from this that the vast majority of Kindle titles, roughly half a million of them, sell fewer than 4 copies a month.

True, but as Moses Siregar points out in the comments, there is a ton of crap on Amazon that no one ever looks at. Terrible self-pubbed work that wasn't written by a serious writer, badly formatted public domain works, ancient obscure backlist titles... this does not mean that a well-written book with a good cover is necessarily likely to sell fewer than four copies a month. You can improve your odds of selling by creating a good product. (No disrespect meant to this author's short story-- many of us have books that don't sell for some reason. My book Farthest Space regularly sells fewer than ten copies a month, even while most of my others sell hundreds.)

Right now, if you google "kindle success stories," you'll find a dozen authors who kept getting turned away from traditional publishers who self-pubbed to ebooks and are now making thousands of dollars a month. It's easy to want to emulate their path to victory. But, the important thing to remember is that the people who put out books and find themselves unexpected bestsellers are of course going to jump on their blogs to write about it. It's easy to talk about success. But the thousands of writers who self-pub their ebooks and sell less than 4 copies a month... they aren't blogging about their failure.

Possibly. But how many of those "failures" are people who just threw random crap up on Amazon with no real intentions of selling or promoting it? How many of those selling four copies a month are just getting started, and will be selling a thousand books a month in the not-too-distant future? There's really no way of telling. It's comfortable and easy to label those of us doing well as "outliers," but if you'll look at Kindleboards, where people discuss their numbers, you'll see that there are more indie authors selling a thousand or more copies per month all the time.

So, if you've written one novel and want to publish it to Kindle, don't. If you've written three novels and are thinking of publishing to Kindle... maybe.... Also, the revenue of one ebook selling 20 copies a month might not pay your power bill, but if you have ten titles selling in this range, you'll probably have enough income to cover your mortgage.

Talk to Victorine Lieske *shrugs*. But it's true; in general you have a better chance of selling if you have numerous titles (and as he points out, writing many books probably means you've honed your craft and are a better writer). However, assuming your writing is worthy of publication, why not put up your first book on Kindle while you're writing your second book? Maybe it won't pay your mortgage, but it's not going to make less money than it would sitting there on your hard drive, is it?

He acknowledges that the publishing world is changing quickly, but goes on to say:

But, for now, if you are a new novelist, I strongly advise trying to find a traditional publisher.

Does he really think a new novelist has a better chance of finding a traditional publisher than of selling a decent amount of books on Kindle? Because frankly, finding a traditional publisher is hard. I've spent years on the agent and publisher merry-go-round, and that was with a traditionally published book I could mention in my query letters. You can query fifty or a hundred agents without ever finding one who wants to represent you, even if your writing is solid. And now we have the loss of brick-and-mortar stores, and the probable future shrinkage of publishers, to contend with as well. All of this will make it even more difficult to sell to traditional pubs.

Yes, if you can sell to a trad publisher, you may sell more than you would by Kindling your book (though then again, you may not). But that's a mighty big if, IMHO.

Also, he adds:

Maybe ebooks will be all your future revenue, but you at least want that first "real" book to be on paper, something you can show your mom and say, "Look! I'm an author!"...Looking at my sales data on Kindle is pleasant....But gazing at my own bookshelf, with all the various editions of my novels and anthologies I've been in, is a much, much deeper satisfaction.

As someone who's been mostly writing ebooks since 2003, this kind of thinking annoys me (and I'll add that this kind of thinking causes authors to get taken by so-called publishers like PublishAmerica, because they've let themselves be convinced that the only "real" published book is a print book). I've said this a million times, but I'll say it again: Ebooks are real books. If you desperately want a copy for your shelf, then you can make a POD copy. But don't think that an ebook is any less real to your readers than a paper book is.

He concludes:

Don't throw away your shot at this (traditional publishing). The wait is worth it.

Given that numerous indie authors have scooped up agents or publishing contracts lately, you're not throwing away anything by Kindling your book. If anything, you're making it more likely that someone in the publishing industry will take note of you and offer you representation or a traditional publishing contract (assuming that's the way you want to go). Furthermore, you'll be selling books (even if it's only four a month!) and building an audience for your writing.

Where's the down side here?


  1. Excellent blog, Ellen! I agree 100%

  2. Well said. Thanks for a great post.

  3. Great Post Ellen. Of the three choices in publishing: self, small press, large press. The "easiest" and "fastest" one to "living wage" is self. That's not to say that any of them are easy by any stretch of the imaginagion but self offers the following advantages.

    1 - Unsurpassed time to market (other routes could take 12 - 18 months (or more) from date of signing (and you have to get an agent first which can add 1 - 2 years)

    2 - Initial advances for new authors is low all studies I've read cite $5,000 to $10,000. It may sound difficult to make thosands in sales on Kindle but there are hundreds of authors who sell 1,000 books a month or more and at those sales levels you can make $5K to $10K in short order.

    3 - Higher % per book. In traditional you are geting 14.875% of book price verses 70% (assuming greater than $2.99 pricing). At these levels you have to sell 5 times as many books traditionally to make the same money as indie.

    Self publishing is not for everyone - some don't have the entrepreneur spirit, but if you do...then self-publishing is the hands down favorite.

  4. Thank you for the comment, Robin. I would add that in trad publishing, the advance will tend to vary depending on your genre-- a new romance author would probably expect less than a new thriller writer.

    But for me, the big clincher is that it doesn't HURT to self-publish. If your book is good, it may be picked up by an agent or a publisher. (If it sucks, you were never going to sell it to a trad publisher anyway.) We've seen this happen with quite a few authors, including your husband:-). So the either/or dichotomy presented in the blog post I quoted just doesn't seem to be the case any more. Why NOT self-publish? What have you got to lose?

  5. I have been working on my novel for, oh say, ten years now (along with other things etc etc).

    After a year of trying to find an agent, I put it up on Kindle and Smashwords and you know what? People are READING it. Someone, somewhere is reading my book. I have a sense that I've completed something. Will I get rich? Will the monthly nut cover my son's hot lunch at school? I don't know. But I am going to market it as best as I can, give it away free if I must, and know the one story I had to tell before I died is being told.

  6. Thanks for commenting, Xtine. Best of luck with your book!