The Business Rusch: Watching The Numbers

 I should never read the comments on other people’s writing information blogs. The comments discourage me, generally for one of two reasons. If the blog is about traditional publishing, and the authors are traditionally published only with no desire to change, I get discouraged at the amount of misinformation. If the blog is about indie publishing, I get discouraged because successful indie publishing writers think so short term. Both groups think small.

I understand small. I grew up in a small town. The big city was either Minneapolis, which frightened my mother, or Milwaukee, which had changed since my father went to school there.

The outside world came to me only via television and radio, and even then I was naïve. It wasn’t until my first trip to Los Angeles in the 1980s when I realized that the saying in the beginning of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show—“live from beautiful downtown Burbank”—was meant to be a joke.

When I started traveling to non-English-speaking countries, I realized that most people in those countries believed that part of being an educated person was not only speaking English, but reading it as well. In fact, on my second trip to France, I had the rather shocking realization that the folks I spoke to at book signings and at restaurants had read more widely in the mystery genre than I had. And all of us were reading in English.

Yes, I was visiting book people. Yes, I talked with book people. But then I spent more than a week traveling around, often alone, and I’d strike up random conversations with people in my bad French (or when I was in Germany, my terrible German). Eventually others would chime in, discover I was American, and we would conduct a multilingual conversation, all of us talking in our non-native languages for practice.

When these folks discovered I was a writer, we discussed books. And books, and more books. People I met on the train. People I met in cafes. These folks would want to share writers they loved, and I’d want to share writers I loved. On my last trip to Europe, which was to Germany in 2009, most people would haul out their brand-new iPads and look up the authors’ names, to see if the books were available and in what languages.

Yes, I know. Anecdotal information isn’t always helpful. But I’m offering it to point out how I gradually learned that I wasn’t just a citizen of my small town, my county, my state, and my country. I was also a citizen of the world, and the world is both very small and exceptionally large.

So, as I began this, I decided to go for the numbers. I went to Google to discover the number of English speakers worldwide, and I encountered this: It’s the English Proficiency Chart, done in 2011, showing which countries have the most proficient English speakers. According to that chart, in my recent travels, I  visited one country with high proficiency (Germany, ranked number 8 in the world), one country with moderate proficiency, (France, ranked number 17 in the world), and one country with low proficiency (Italy, ranked number 23 in the world).

My travels did not back up those ratings—I always found people with more than a little bit of English in those countries—but my Kindle Direct Publishing sales do back it up.  My KDP English books sell best in Germany, pretty well in France, and rarely in Italy. I have not sold a single title in Spain (ranked 49.1) since that market opened up.

All of that means nothing, however. Because if you look at the Kobo statistics, my work sells well in Japan (ranked 14 with moderate proficiency). If you look at Apple, you’ll find a few Scandinavian countries (all ranked between 1 and 5 with very high proficiency). I’m not surprised by the Kobo sales in Japan since Kobo has pushed hard in Japan. Nor am I surprised by the Apple sales in Europe since it seemed to me in 2009 that there was an Apple store on every single corner of every single town and village I visited.

But let’s get back to English speakers. Just because people speak English doesn’t mean they want to read in English. But a lot of folks do read to practice their English. Just like a lot of folks watch English-language programming on the web to improve their comprehension and knowledge of idioms.

My little search found a zillion ways to measure the number of English speakers. The native English speakers number around 340 million, according to one statistic.  I poked around the statistics for a while, and found that anywhere from 1.2 billion to 1.8 billion people had some English language proficiency. (Anywhere from 24-30% of the worldwide population.) Of course, not all of them read in English.  Nor do all of the native English speakers. But a lot of people who do, and my quick study showed no answer as to how many of them read English for pleasure.

Why? The worldwide marketplace for English language books has changed dramatically in the past three years. Yes, books sold overseas and many companies bought worldwide rights to sell books in the English language. Only one company, to my knowledge, exploited those rights in as many countries as possible, and that was Harlequin. I’ll wager that somewhere in Harlequin’s parent company (Torstar)’s vaults are the statistics I want on worldwide English language sales.

On the website, Harlequin tells me that it has published “over 110 titles a month in 31 languages in 111 international markets on six continents” and has sold (as of 2010) 6.05 billion books. Billion. Books.

But Harlequin/Torstar’s numbers are proprietary, just like Amazon’s are, just like yours are. No one has done a study of how many books sell worldwide, let alone how many English language books sell worldwide.

Yet we know the worldwide box office of various movies, for example. We just don’t know it for books—not even our blockbuster bestsellers.

What we do know is pretty simple: more people than ever read books for pleasure. Brick and mortar bookstores have never penetrated all of America. Many, many, many small towns, even in the heyday of the bookstore, did not have a bookstore.

When Amazon came along in the 1990s, it made money selling books to people in rural areas or small towns who did not have access to books on a regular basis. (Many of these communities didn’t even have libraries.) Then, add to that the rise of the ereader, which has brought even more readers into the fold, partly because of convenience (no walking into a bookstore, no waiting for the mails), and the readership/buyership has grown yet again.

I want to plant all of this in your head as writers because we were all trained to think small about our work. Even (especially?) traditional publishers. The problem with book sales has always been getting the books to readers. The old distribution system left out more readers than it found. There were even shooting battles in the streets in the distribution wars of fifty years ago (I’m not kidding) over who controlled what area to distribute magazines and books. (This was when distribution was controlled by the Mob. This kind of publishing history is fun and colorful, and mostly no longer necessary to understand except in a very vague way.)

Am I ever going to get all of the world’s English speakers to read my books? Hell, no. I’m not even going to get a statistically meaningful percentage of them to read my books. But already, my books are being read in countries where they were previously unavailable, not only because of Amazon, but because of Kobo, Apple, and a bunch of other small companies that partner with Smashwords and such places. My biggest problem as a business person right now? Keeping up with all of the developing markets for my fiction. Making sure my work is available in as many places as possible is something I’m continually falling behind on, as more and more and more markets appear.

Why do I want to do that? Because my audience always surprises me. Last week, I mentioned the surprisingly good sales of my story, “The Moorhead House,” on Barnes & Noble only to have someone chastise me in the comments on someone else’s blog (not mine, of course) for failing to do the data mining to get the reason behind the  numbers. Why haven’t I done data mining on that book? Hello, folks, I have more than 200 titles from various companies, not counting the ones I’m working on for other companies. “The Moorhead House” is an award-winning short story that I put up for a few extra dollars, not one of the novels I focus on. I never planned to data mine it, and I’m stunned at the number.

(And let me say to the people who claim that I don’t know who is buying my books and I don’t do data mining, bullshit. I’ve been doing it for a long time. I know where my audiences are and who they are and how they’ve changed over decades. I also know that it’s impossible, in the arts, to predict sales on any project, even the fifteenth book in a bestselling series. Because tastes change, the audience moves on, or somehow your topic becomes trendy and grows. Often the data mining is irrelevant to future projects, particularly the short-term, minute-by-minute data mining.

(So you data mining folks who believe that writers should examine every number inside out and sideways, leave writers alone. Let them write and publish. That’s how they’ll gain success. We can talk targeted marketing later, and will once I have some new numbers [probably in February]. Until then, stop assuming you understand how I and other successful writers run our businesses.)

We’ve had discussions here on the importance of Kindle Select to people, and I get it, I do. But we’re talking at cross purposes. Because folks who defend Select as more than a business tool, as the only place to put their fiction, are looking at very small numbers over a very short term and thinking that the changes they’re seeing are significant.

Let me say here that all writers are different, and what you choose to do with your career is your business. I put my opinions out here so that you can understand them, not because I’m trying to make you into me. We all make our own choices. It’s better that way.

My perspective comes from 30  years in the business, a long-time career filled with more downs than ups. If a publisher could find a way to screw up one of my books, most of my publishers did. I’ve had two books ship at less than 500 copies because of publisher screw-ups. (I’ve detailed one here.) I’ve had publishers fail to capitalize on success because they had already written off a title that shipped at a few thousand copies, but then had orders which the publisher did not fulfill for double that amount. Why didn’t the publisher fulfill? Because the orders came in after the in-house command had gone out to retire the novel.

And on and on and on. Believe me, I understand the importance of small sales and the importance of big ones. Because of my career and my ups and downs, however, I also understand the importance of looking at the long term.

I hesitate in writing this next part, because so many of you will dismiss what I have to say because of my long career. You’ll say I have a built-in audience, that I don’t know what it’s like to be a new writer (because, apparently, I was born fully formed from the forehead of Zeus), that things are different now, and I can’t possibly understand.

No traditional publisher has ever capitalized on my built-in audience. Not one. Once upon a time, I was a new writer, the kind who had to struggle to get published just like many of you have. But more than that, I was a new writer—the kind who had only one book out—not once, not twice, not three times, but more than a dozen times under various names. In fact, in March, I was a new writer all over again with my Kris DeLake novel, Assassins in Love. DeLake had never published a book before, so everything she’s done has been built off that book.

I understand both kinds of new writer, and the second kind better than those of you who are just struggling with your sales because I’ve been that new writer in every five years since 1991.

It is precisely that experience that leads me to point out something only a long-term perspective can give you. Companies come and companies go. If you don’t believe me, let me quote from an article on just this topic from Vanity Fair. “How Microsoft Lost Its Mojo” by Kurt Eichenwald in the August issue [link] explores how Microsoft went from being the largest tech company, the one no one messed with, to a company that has sales smaller than those of just one Apple product (the iPhone). (From the article: In the quarter ended March 31, 2012, iPhone had sales of $22.7 billion; Microsoft Corporation, $17.4 billion.)

Here’s the important quote from the article—at least as it pertains to this blog post:

“I see Microsoft as technology’s answer to Sears,” said Kurt Massey, a former senior marketing manager. “In the 40s, 50s, and 60s, Sears had it nailed. It was top-notch, but now it’s just a barren wasteland. And that’s Microsoft.”

If you don’t like that comparison, then look at the comparison to IBM, also in the article. In 1980, when IBM approached Bill Gates and Paul Allen to design operating software, IBM was the largest tech company in the world. Microsoft eclipsed them by the 1990s, and now Microsoft is getting eclipsed by Apple.

We can argue cause and effect for days here, and I don’t plan to, except to say, yet again, that companies come and companies go, and sometimes they disappear or lose their mojo with startling rapidity. Look, for example, at the Blackberry which, in the last election cycle, was being called a Crackberry because so many people were addicted to it. Now Blackberry’s parent company is revamping, because sales are so bad.

This will happen to Amazon. Right now, in the United States only, Amazon is the company to beat. It’s the one that moves the most e-books, it’s the one that most people order from, and it’s the one that dominates the market.

But the buying public is fickle and if another e-tailer or retail store or online distributor comes up with a better way to sell e-books—a cheaper, faster, nicer device; a better interface; nicer customer service—the buying public will flee Amazon and go to this competitor. Right now, Amazon Corporate knows this and is acting upon it. Once upon a time, Microsoft Corporate knew it too, as did IBM and Sears.

What this article shows (despite its flaws [and I think there are many]) is that management is important. The vision at the top will keep a company going for years, but if that vision stagnates or changes, then the company will stagnate too. Right now, Amazon is doing well in the United States. But will it do well ten years from now? Only if it remains innovative, ahead of the competition, and flexible. So many large companies haven’t.

That’s one part of the long-term: Companies come and companies go.

And sometimes they disappear fast. In the real world, four years is nothing. Companies often disappear faster than that, seemingly with no warning. Just because a company looks healthy on the outside does not mean it’s well managed. You can’t always predict who or what will go down in any economy, particularly this one.

The other part of the long-term? Your writing career isn’t about this month or next month or last month or even five years from now. If you do this right, your career should last for your entire working life. We’re all different. I’m 52, and I hope to have as many more working years as Jack Williamson had. He was still writing up to his death at the age of 98. That means I get another 46 years of a writing career. On top of the thirty I’ve already had.

I’m planning for that. And, as I’ve said before, I’m planning to have the work survive me, so that my estate will handle it.

Long-term.

And in the long-term, numbers add up.

This past week, J.A. Konrath posted his numbers for his entire career. Fascinating stuff (thank you, Joe!). He’s selling about what I expected, given what I knew of his career and how long he’s been in the business. I’m a bit surprised at how low his electronic sales are, given the hype. However, his sales are in line with the kind of writer he is at the moment, and with the expanded market.

Let me explain the word “low.”

Joe’s lifetime sales of all of his books are over 1,032,612 copies (e-book and paper). I say over because he can’t divulge the sales from Amazon’s proprietary imprints. So let’s say 1.3 million sales. (It might be more, it might be less. We can agree at over 1 million.)

Joe’s lifetime sales for all his books (every title, e-book and print) are about where John Grisham’s sales are for the hardcover of “The Litigators,” released last year. This does not count Grisham’s e-book sales on that book or the sales on the newly released paperback.  If you look at the Publisher’s Weekly list that shows these sales figures, you’ll see Stephen King’s 11/22/63 in the same ballpark, and along with those of half a dozen others. In hardcover only.

Realize these numbers are down from the heyday of traditional publishing, when traditional publishers dominated the market. And before you all start screaming at me, I know that I’m comparing name writers against a midlist writer, writers whose publishing companies put the books in every venue against a writer who indie-published everything and did very little promotion to places that actually sell books, like bookstores. (In other words, he [to my knowledge] doesn’t offer the usual price breaks that traditional publishers give bookstores or develop a catalogue so bookstores have something to order from.)

Joe’s numbers are good, given all that, but they’re small for a lifetime average. Of course, he hasn’t been publishing for ten years yet, so he’s still—by the career standards I mentioned above—a new writer.

I’ve never had the kind of break-out success that King or Grisham have had, and I’ve never had any push from a traditional publisher. My lifetime sales  (since 1991) are more than 9 million paper books. How many more? I have not a clue for a variety of reasons. One of them is that I haven’t counted overall sales since about 2007 when (to be fair) Dean counted both of ours because of something another writer said.

Another reason I don’t have a clue about the actual number is because back in the dark days of publishing, when traditional publishers held all of the cards, knowing my numbers was extremely hard and mattered very little. Joe mentions this when he discusses the fact that he doesn’t have his 2012 traditional publishing numbers “yet thanks to publishing’s reporting system being back-asswards and archaic.”

Trying to figure out accurate numbers using that system is nearly impossible. For one thing, many traditional publishers’ royalty statements are designed to obfuscate the numbers not to elucidate them.

Be that as it may, until about 1998, you could sell books to a traditional publisher by convincing the publisher that he could do better than your previous publisher. In 1998, the buying to net began to occur from chain bookstores (now mercifully dead), and that meant that if your book sold 5,000 copies in their chain, they’d only order 5,000 copies of the next book, no matter how big the publisher’s push was. That destroyed many a writer’s career under a particular name, because there’s no way to build, no hope, and no possible better sales from a different, better written, better plotted, or better designed book.

(In other words, one bad cover, one bad sales experience [like mine with Hitler’s Angel] and after the year 2000, your career under that name would have been over.)

Those 9 million books I mentioned? Those are Kristine Kathryn Rusch books, published in the United States only. Not the UK numbers or the in-translation numbers. Not Kristine Grayson numbers or Kris Nelscott numbers (which would be laughably small, because of how frightened my publisher was of those books. And by small, I mean maybe 100,000 copies. Maybe).

These are also paper books, and doesn’t count the 500,000 copies I’ve sold in e-book (according to Amazon’s list of writers who’ve sold more than half a million copies) nor do they count e-book sales in other venues. Or audio books or…or…or….

I’ve had a solidly midlist career under a variety of names, and I’ve sold over the years  millions of copies. I’m not alone. The longer your career, the more lifetime books you will sell.

Traditional publishers never ever ever look at lifetime sales for an author. It’s a big mistake in their business model, imho, and one that they should (but never will) correct. So as a long-term person in this business, it’s taken me quite a while to wrap my brain around lifetime total sales. The idea of trying to figure out my lifetime traditional book sales is a nightmare. So, quite frankly, are the e-book sales, considering so many of them came out of traditional publishers who keep awful records.

I’m starting, however, to keep lifetime sales figures of books outside of the traditional publishing system, and I hope, someday, to do more than estimate the traditional books published. Because we all need to understand our lifetime sales.

Here’s why:  if you’re looking at the vagaries of Kindle versus Kindle Select, this month’s sales figures versus last month’s, you’ll go crazy. You’re operating on a teeny tiny scale the way that traditional publishers do.  If you use that data to judge how to conduct your career, you will make the same mistakes that traditional publishers do. You won’t wait for a series to take off. You’ll write in the series that sells ten copies per month instead of five. You’ll think that Amazon’s numbers are more important than all the other numbers out there, a mistake that Joe makes in his blog.

Right now, Amazon is the big dog. But we have no idea if that will continue. I see many signs that Amazon’s dominance will be successfully challenged. Joe mentions it in his blog when he calls Kobo a player. Up and coming, of course.

Camille LaGuire has a great post  about Amazon and the numbers game. She believes that Amazon’s immediate feedback on sales numbers makes writers more likely to use Amazon rather than less. I think she has a point.

What’s impressive about Joe’s numbers to me aren’t his sales figures. It’s his income.  The huge potential earnings on indie-published books even at numbers that are small by traditional publishing standards should have all writers sitting up and taking notice.

At our weekly professional writers lunch on Sunday, we talked about Joe’s numbers. The newer writers were impressed by lifetime sales of 50,000 copies, forgetting, of course, the size of the sandbox they’re playing in.

But the thing that surprised even me was this figure: one of the writers mentioned that her friend earned $17,000 in one year on one indie-published book. In the bad old days of traditional publishing, earning 17K in royalties on one book was astonishing if you weren’t a bestseller, especially in some of the genres like sf. It means you earned out your advance and the publisher managed to calculate the royalties to give you $17,000 at 6 or 8 or 10 percent of the cover price.

You sold a lot of books.

However, if you do the math on that $17,000 indie writer, you’ll realize the sales are—in traditional publishing terms—extremely small. For the sake of my math skills, we’ll say that this author earned $5 on each copy of the book she sold over all the various platforms.

That means, in one year, she sold 3,400 books. That’s all.

If you had sold the same 3,400 books in traditional publishing, they probably would cancel your contract. You certainly wouldn’t be earning back any advance. The genre here was romance, so figure a $6.99 cover price which at a charitable 10% of cover means she would have earned $2346 toward her already paid advance on the same 3,400 sales.

Wowza.  That’s a significant difference.

Here’s another difference. The indie book will have made its sales in fits and starts over that twelve-month period. A traditionally published book sees the bulk of its earnings in the first month, and if that month’s sales are slow, then the book will be off the shelf a month later.

The indie book has the capability of selling 3,400 more copies the following year. The traditionally published book might do that now, with the rise of e-books, but the traditionally published author will get an even smaller fraction of the pie from the e-book sales, since most of those are on net amount received rather than cover price.

In other words, the indie book will have continual lifetime sales and significant lifetime earnings. The traditionally published book is generally done with all of its earning potential (for the writer anyway) within the first few months.

From a traditional publishing point of view, Joe’s numbers are extremely impressive in money earned, but extremely unimpressive in numbers of individual titles sold. As it stands, right now, by traditional publishing’s standards, Joe is a pretty standard midlist author. He’s not a bestseller even though he’s earning bestseller royalties.

I’m pretty sure that traditional publishing insiders took one look at Joe’s lifetime sales numbers and immediately dismissed him as a player. They had thought he was, but now the numbers—by the standard that traditional publishers use—prove he’s not.

They miss the most important numbers to their business. He’s earning $37,000 per month on his indie titles. He’s earned nearly 1 million dollars on his indie books since 2009—on sales numbers that traditional publishers will dismiss.

When—and I do mean when—his sales increase, his earning potential is off the charts.

Why am I convinced his sales will increase? Because all of our sales will increase, if we exploit the rising distribution market.

As I said in the beginning of this piece, we were all trained to think small. Regional is small, and regional these days is the United States. The market has expanded and will continue to expand, not just because more people are reading, but because more people have access to books. This access is brand new. E-readers were the big new thing last Christmas in the U.K., just like they were in 2010 in the United States. Other countries are just getting their e-readers and the access to millions of published books.

How, in this mass of stuff, is anyone going to find you? The way they always have, through word of mouth and browsing. Does that mean you should give things away for free? On some platforms, sometimes, maybe, if you can make sure you’re not exclusive forever. But as we all know, most people don’t read the free material when it’s offered. Sometimes it takes years to read a free book.

Better to write and write and write, so that the reader of English in Japan will find your super-hero adventure and the reader of English in Germany will find your mysteries. Put up the outlying short story just because and don’t worry about it. My bestseller in England on one platform isn’t selling a single copy on another British platform.  “The Moorhead House”  only sells in large numbers on Barnes & Noble, which means only on one platform in only one country.   My bestselling book in Australia at the moment is through the iBookstore and is nonfiction. My bestselling fiction in Australia is through a traditional publisher who is having trouble shipping paper books there. I can’t wait until WMG releases a book in that series correctly.

Writers have entered a world where they can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars on sales that are a small percentage of what traditionally published books routinely sell at. Writers have also entered a world where patience is rewarded.

So what are writers doing? They’re goosing numbers that don’t need to be goosed, making short-term decisions to go exclusive, either with a traditional publishing house that limits what they write and who they write it for or with a single distributor like Amazon, whose terms in Select are getting increasingly restrictive on what Amazon considers to be a competitive work.

Writers are thinking small and short-term and hurting themselves in the bargain.

They also fail to realize the implications the worldwide marketplace  and the continually expanded distribution through dozens of platforms.

A commentor on one blog complained about how long it took to upload books to the various platforms. Yep, that’s time-consuming, but once the book is uploaded, it’s done. Take the time. Take the time. Slow down. Have patience. Remember that you’re in this for the long haul.

Stop trying to tweak your numbers on one platform in one or maybe two countries on a daily basis, and write more books. Publish more books. Use all of the opportunities available to you.

Stop watching the sales numbers and start watching your personal production numbers.

I wrote one million words last year, despite a pretty serious illness, some major personal setbacks, and problems of others that my husband and friends are still dealing with.

The million words are under my control. The number of sales, once a book is released, is not under my control. Not when you look at the worldwide market, at all of the distribution channels. I can get the work out there, then I have to trust it to sell.

Write more. Fret less. Stop watching your sales numbers. Beat my million words this year.

Because I completely disagree with one of Joe’s conclusions. He writes, “Talent and hard work can help you get lucky, but it still all comes down to luck. Keep at it until luck strikes.” As my friend, the New York Times  bestselling writer Kevin J. Anderson says, “The harder I work, the luckier I am.”

Yep. Write more, improve your craft, publish on all available platforms. Rinse, repeat. You’ll have success—in the long-term. If only you’re patient enough to get there.

I hope you were patient with this blog post which went waaaaay longer than I had planned. So I’ll just thank you all for reading it and remind you that the blog must remain financially self-sustaining. As is usual when I write about contract and  monetary items as I have for the past few months, my donations drop off. So please, if you got anything of value from the last few blogs, leave a tip on the way out.

Thanks!

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“The Business Rusch: “Watching The Numbers,” copyright © 2012 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

 

 

 

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189 Comments

  1. This has been a great discussion with some great insight. I decided to raise my prices and forget about them, except to go back and fix any typos discovered. I would be a liar if I didn’t say I’m a little nervous, but I believe this is all sound advice and opinions from folks that know a lot more about than I do. We’ll see what happens. :)

    It’s going to be interesting to see what happens this holiday season.

    Reply
  2. I saw that you write more than one work at a time. Can you talk more about your process when doing this?

    Do you separate the work by hours, time of day, days of the week, weekdays vs. weekends? Do you separate the planning or just jump into a new story/work when you finish another?

    This is one thing I want to try doing, especially since I’m distracted by that new shiny story idea.

    Reply
    • Finishing is important, A.R., so I try to write one work at a time. But sometimes the work gets stalled, for whatever reason. Then I move to something else for a while. There’s no such thing as writer’s block, just project block. The problem with this method is that most folks who use it finish nothing. So I make sure I finish something every week.

      Primarily, I work on fiction during the day when I’m fresh, and nonfiction (which I find easier) at night when I’m not. This is pretty fluid, however, and if a project is going well, I stay on it until I’m done. Also, I work seven days a week most of the time, so I’m not the most reliable person on how to sanely schedule yourself. :-)

      That’s a short answer on a long and complicated topic, so don’t take it as gospel. It’s just what I do.

      Reply
      • Thanks for the response.

        I’m trying to revamp a lot of things with how I go about writing. Some of the habits haven’t begun to stick yet, but I’ll keep plugging away until they do.

        Reply
  3. “Stop watching the sales numbers and start watching your personal production numbers.”

    Love it! That one’s going on my dry erase board!

    Reply
  4. Yes, another comment.

    I find it sad that the Select debate took over when there are so many other points in Kris’s post to discuss.

    Such as production numbers? I find it interesting the various ways writers use to track those production numbers for themselves to keep motivated and moving forward. What is the average yearly word count of the people reading the post?

    How are people organizing or reorganizing themselves to produce more? What kind of fun stories are they going to tell in this new world where we have a (potentially, if you don’t block them) global market?

    Or how about what new opportunities are opening up that are so new that most of us don’t know about them? What companies, what languages, what countries? What stories are selling more in one than another (I always find tales about that fun to read)?

    “No traditional publisher has ever capitalized on my built-in audience.” <– Now that's an interesting comment. So, how about discussing that? What are people doing to do this themselves beyond the obvious of writing more similar stories?

    What are the long-term plans of those who read here? How are you planning to remain flexible for the changes that are sure to come in the business in the next 5-10 years? Those changes will come as the business is in flux. That's something I would like to see more examples of and discussion. To see what others are doing, to learn and observe so I can tweak what I'm doing to make my plan stronger.

    So many other things to discuss. :sigh:

    Reply
  5. The comment threads have been most…entertaining, but apparently few people caught the one piece of data in your post, Kris, that slammed me back against my chair.

    I wrote one million words last year, despite a pretty serious illness, some major personal setbacks, and problems of others that my husband and friends are still dealing with.

    Of course, that set me off to figure out how many words I’ve written in the past year…

    I’m a part-time writer with a full-time job. Between my own blog posts, my published works, my unfinished but started works, and the extra stuff I cut out of my published works, I managed 218,581 words from last September to this one. Give or take a word or two.

    In two years’ time I retire and can move to writing as my full-time career. You’ve given me a target to shoot for. Thanks, Kris!

    Reply
  6. I read this post on Thursday, then planned to come back and comment at length later. But wow, this discussion has really gotten heated in the meantime.

    Anyway, I agree with you and I have never put any of my books in Select. What annoys me most about the Select evangelists is how they dismiss any objection one might have to exclusivity and Select. Point out to Select evangelists that Select excludes all of those readers who use e-readers other than the Kindle (and the Kindle is not nearly as dominant outside the US), that the Kindle is apparently worse to use for visually impaired people than other e-readers, that Amazon charges customers outside its favoured zone of approx. 20 countries two US-dollars extra for the same book, that Amazon refuses to sell e-books altogether in many countries, including most of Africa and parts of Asia and the answer you get from many of them is, “Those people don’t matter. There’s only two million (insert number here) of them and they don’t read English anyway.” I don’t so much mind people who use Select to give a newly released book a push, but the dismissive attitudes of many Select evangelists drive me nuts.

    I’m German, but I have been reading mainly in English since I was fifteen, for much the same reason that Ieva gave above. The books I wanted to read had often not been translated into German (and we do have a big market for translated fiction) or if there were translations available, they were just plain bad. Nowadays, the only books I read in German are books by German authors and the occasional book that has been translated from a language I don’t speak. I’m far from the only one either – plenty of Germans read in English at least on occasion.

    Here in Germany, e-books are still a tiny percentage of a very large market. The latest figures we have are 1% of the total German book market in 2011. And while Amazon is certainly a significant presence, it’s not nearly as dominant as in the US. Here in Germany, the vast majority of books are still sold in brick and mortar stores. And while the percentage of books sold via mail order has grown steadily, online bookstores like Amazon and its local competitors only surpassed traditional book clubs (yes, book clubs!) in 2010.

    And even in the realm online bookstores, Amazon has several local competitors, all of which now sell e-books and e-readers. And in online market share, Amazon actually ranks behind Thalia.de, the online arm of a big brick and mortar chain, and just ahead of Weltbild, the online arm of another brick and mortar chain. Both Thalia and Weltbild sell their own e-readers. Thalia’s Oyo has been available in Germany a lot longer than the Kindle and Weltbild had the cheapest e-reader on the market last Christmas. The Kobo reader is sold via two big electronics chains and is actually cheaper than the equivalent Kindle. Sony readers have been sold via electronics stores for years and brands like Trekstor or Pocketbook, which few people in the US have ever heard of, are very common in electronics stores as well. Amazon is pushing the Kindle in Germany via its homepage and via TV ads, but people who do have an e-reader are just as likely to use another brand.

    As for myself, I’m lucky insofar that I don’t have to rely on my writing income and therefore have the leisure to let it build slowly. I’ve been indie publishing since July 2011. My first year was pretty stagnant, but then sales steadily began to climb in spite of the summer slump, probably because I have more books available now. And I’m still not out of backlist. What is more, I translated two of my short stories into German (I write in English) as an experiment and sales are a lot better than I expected, so I’ve hit upon a new income stream. One of these days, I should probably look into audiobook, too.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Cora, for the update on Germany and your reading experience. I haven’t investigated the pricing issues in other countries, even though I know they exist. That’s something I need to do.

      I’ve never heard of Thalia.de or Weltbild. Do they work with Kobo or any of the other interenational services? (If you know, of course.)

      And thanks for the discussion of sales.

      Reply
      • I posted a lengthy reply that apparently got eaten by the system, so here’s the short version.

        Thalia and Weltbild are two brick and mortar bookstore chains with significant online presences. Their online stores sell e-books and e-readers (both have their own e-readers, too), but they are not partnered with Kobo or any other international e-book retailer, but are supplied via Ciando, which is an e-book distributor created by German wholesale distributors. It used to be very difficult and costly for indies to get into Ciando, but maybe it’s getting easier now. I’ll contact them about their current terms and conditions now that I actually have German books to sell.

        Reply
        • Thank you for the information, Cora. I hadn’t heard of them or Ciando. Much appreciated.

          Reply
  7. After all this discussion I think I can add this:- A sustainable income comes from many income streams. Diversify.
    The old adage of ‘not putting all your eggs in one basket’ remains true.
    Amazon Select is a basket with a time lock on it.
    To maximise book sales income use all the avenues you can to reach your readers. I’m not a Kindle Select fan, I’m not really an Amazon fan because despite their sterling service – not selling to most of the planet’s readers is a massive FAIL on their part.

    I’m in my 50s, best selling author in NZ and Australia because I wrote books which Penguin commissioned me to write. The kind of books I personally wanted to write weren’t what they or anyone wanted to publish.
    I spent ten years discouraged and disillusioned because even though my novels were in print all this time, yet I wasn’t making enough money to live on. I realise that giving their authors a living wage isn’t what a publisher is for, giving themselves generous wages is their real purpose.
    No one I offered my other books to wanted any of them. I haven’t counted the rejection slips.
    So when the ebook self-publishing opportunity arose I joyfully embraced it.
    I haven’t sold a lot of books but I celebrate each sale I make because for every book sold I net twice what a publisher would pay me for the same sale.
    I’m learning all the time, how to do the nuts and bolts of publishing. I’m writing novels – what I want to write, rewriting and publishing my half finished books, finding others who have written cool books and encouraging them to publish. There aren’t enough hours in the day.
    A couple of months ago Penguin wrote saying they want to re-publish my books to stand alongside the 50 Shades series. Well they are about 8 months too late in NZ, but hey, why say no to anything?
    I thought about it, and about the sterling advice Kristine has given us over the past 18 months regarding contract negotiations and went for what I wanted.
    I demanded a new contract, I demanded a higher percentage and I debugged their ridiculous contract into a workable collection of words which nails them firmly down to what they do well:- selling print books in NZ and Australia.
    I got everything I asked for – and this will – in 18 months time or so, give me more income.
    What it also did was give me solid paperwork so I know where I can sell my novels in print internationally and so therefore get them up for sale in POD avenues.
    There are many authors who are in a muddy mess because of their old contracts, with good books like starving children languishing in remainder piles and backlists. It is discouraging to even try to think about it.
    Let me encourage you to get out of your beds and write new things and begin negotiating to get your rights back.
    If you don’t ask you don’t get.
    I repeat – A sustainable income comes from many income streams. Diversify. Look at your subsidiary rights – get to know movie producers, comic book publishers, merchandising specialists.
    The old adage of ‘not putting all your eggs in one basket’ remains true.

    As always Kristine, thank you for your blog, your unflagging encouragement of all authors at all levels.
    There are many of us who aim to be writing for another 50 yrs – we have some good company on your blog!

    Reply
    • Christine, congrats on renegotiating those contracts!!! Great job!!!! That just made me smile.

      I love your subsidiary rights comments. Exactly. Income streams are extremely important. I feel another blog post coming on. (I’ll have to put it on my list.)

      Thank you for this.

      Reply
  8. Kristine,

    Thank you for your long blog – excellent. I think what you described is analogous to trading: the differences between scalpers, day traders, and long term/more positional traders. I need to conduct more research/due diligence, but based on your blog, I think I’ll skip Kindle Select and follow my original plan to publish simultaneously on Amazon – and either on Smashwords or each pub platform directly over a few weeks so I don’t overwhelm or tire myself.

    In regard to the global marketplace, I’ve always thought in that context – and now capabilities are catching up to make my frame of reference achievable. I’m also considering creating my own translations so I don’t have to screw around with foreign rights, etc. Then I’d pub to the same platforms I am listed on in English. Why not? It’s akin to tapping maple trees. The more you tap, the more syrup you end up with – eventually. And I love maple syrup.

    When I’m not on Starbucks wifi and have my password handy later today, I’ll leave a couple bucks in in your tip jar.

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Fascinating analogy to day trading/regular trading, etc. I hadn’t thought of it that way, although someone a few blog posts back (in August) mentioned that each story is an investment that can earn a bit at a time, like a stock or a bond. If you look at the monthly (or daily) numbers, you go nuts. But if you look at earnings over time, then you realize how your investment is paying off.

      (And you made me hungry too. )

      Reply
  9. In the immortal words of George Takei: “Oh my!”

    I saw this quote: “Select allowed me to do that – it increased revenue from my books much faster than I was seeing them grow in other markets.”

    And I wondered how this is possible? How limiting yourself to a share of a share (though the largest share) increases your revenues faster? Maybe it’s the “other markets” part, considering most other markets are smaller than Amazon’s… but wouldn’t being open to more markets increase revenues faster?

    It’s like the NFL Sunday Ticket being exclusive to DirecTV, because they’re trying to sell DirecTV products and service. Similarly, Kindle Select is good for… say it with me now… selling Kindles. You as the reader want the benefit? Buy a Kindle. Sure they make it enticing for authors, but ultimately it’s not really viable long-term, I don’t think. And if you’re making a killing at it, why wouldn’t you make a killing selling everywhere? Is there some sort of nuance I’m missing here?

    Personally, coming from the guy who can’t seem to make the time to do the all-important writing part, I don’t have a dog in this fight yet. But something’s not jibing with the logic of the “Select only” crowd. I didn’t realize this had become a sacred cow!

    (See what I did there? Huh? Huh? Is that funny or… okay it was lame.)

    Lastly: Ooh, Jennifer Blake, wow! Name drop FTW! (this has been sarcasm)

    Reply
    • Actually, Indian Jim, here’s how it happens. The writer writes a very good book. He puts it up on Select, gets great word of mouth, and gets lots of other readers from Amazon/Select to find/read his book. Then they go to other books by the same author.

      Here’s the problem. The book is what’s causing the growth in sales, not Select. If the writer used Select as a tool, and then dropped Select after 90 days and went to other markets, the writer is using Select correctly. But if the writer says the sales are because of Select, and then throwing everything into Select, the writer is making a mistake.

      The writer isn’t crediting his good work, and isn’t believing in it, letting it grow over time. Sure, he jumpstarted it, and then he’s driving around the neighborhood and never seeing the world. If readers on Select are buying it in large quantities, then it stands to reason they’re discussing it with readers not on Select. Those readers will want the book and won’t be able to get it causing a loss of sales.

      And that’s what I’m arguing against. Essentially writers are crediting Select when, in fact, it’s their own work that continues to bring in the readers–not the platform.

      Reply
      • In my experience, there is a very clear impact of Amazon (not specifically Select) that is far beyond word of mouth. I had a pretty decent measure of my word of mouth sales watching what my books were doing on vendors like B&N and iTunes, where there aren’t very useful “discovery” tools for readers.

        But on Amazon, particularly for books ranked in the top 10,000 or so, Amazon begins to make those books visible to readers browsing the site (or in inbox recommendations) in a way that often dwarves word of mouth sales. It’s almost like Amazon is functioning as a megaphone for word of mouth… “hey, other readers who like what you read also liked this book”.

        Based on a very informal survey of my readers on Facebook, Amazon recommendations far surpass word of mouth as my number one source of new readers (and I get pretty good word of mouth, I think).

        A good book matters – but so does the ways a retailer decides to merchandize their store. It’s no different than being buried in the stacks at a brick-and-mortar store. Yes, some people will find even the buried books – but those books with good visibility will get bought more often. What Amazon does is vary some of the “visible” books based on your buying patterns. You have to “earn” the right to be displayed (by hitting a certain level of sales without this help from Amazon). But if you can do that, the upside is quite large.

        Reply
        • Which is why we should have our books on Amazon as well as in other e-formats and paper formats. That way if a woman discovers the book on Amazon and recommends it to a friend with a Nook, that friend can buy the book as well and start the less-sophisticated chain on B&N.

          Reply
          • That’s absolutely one way to play it. I know that I leave some of those word-of-mouth readers hanging, although paper formats and phone/tablet apps take care of a lot of that. Select allows me to put more people into the top of the funnel (the lending library is a significant source of new readers for me), so net, it’s a win for audience building, but people will choose lots of different ways to play that.

            But the important part is realizing that Amazon is proactively helping people find your books. It’s not the whole reason people read them, but it’s not insignificant either. I think people who ignore that tool are as blindered as those who think Select is the whole reason for their book’s success.

          • I can see the temptation of using Select for the 90-day period, using free downloads as both a promotional tool and to get your book into Amazon’s recommendation algorithms, then once the 90 day period is over you release it on all platforms. But at some point I would think if you build up your brand enough that people want your books, you’re going to want people to actually pay for them. At that point it seems the free downloads becomes a disservice.

        • But imagine using Select as Kris suggests: 90 days and then out. That would force you to keep writing product at a quicker pace so you could keep using Select for 90 days and out. And you would also be increasing your catalog and opening yourself up to other platforms quicker.

          Less reliance on Select, more writing. I’ll bet you’d see the best of both worlds.

          Reply
    • Jim, I’m the author of the first quote you mention.

      For me, it’s a matter of focus and efficiency. Being in the largest possible pond isn’t always the best answer. If I can work hard on learning to swim the best I can in a smaller pond, then I might outperform people in the large and chaotic ocean beside me.

      I’ve learned how to do things that work very well in the Amazon pond – release frequency, launch strategy, book endmatter, categories, how to optimize my visibility in that pond (I use free very little).

      You are correct that being in all markets is the best strategy, *if* all those markets are similar. I don’t think they are. Amazon is quite unique in how it can work on a writer’s behalf, matching a book with a potential audience. I don’t believe it’s interchangeable with anyone else right now.

      A couple of simple example… Other vendors lack good search functionality (I went through six months on B&N where searching on my name resulted in zero books. I had readers contacting me to get a direct link because they couldn’t find a specific book using title or author search. Who knows how many readers just gave up). Other vendors lack good categorization (Amazon’s isn’t perfect, but it’s much more granular that several others). For example, my books would fall in B&N’s SFF category. 82,000 books, no drill-down into contemporary fantasy or any other subcat. On Amazon, a reader can get to contemporary fantasy with 8,400 books. I’m much more likely to make a bestseller list in this smaller category, the readers reaching that category are more likely to want my kind of book (vs. the latest hi-tech sci fi release), and you can find my books a few pages in on the browsing list instead of buried hundreds of pages in.

      And a smart author can impact how visible they are on Amazon with specific actions that are quite useless anywhere else. I don’t have time to learn what works everywhere – that would be a large distraction from writing. But learning the unique tools available from the biggest piece of the pie and how to use them well – I do believe that grows my sales, revenues, and reader base faster than any other approach.

      /really long-winded answer :) (that’s what happens when my kiddo has me awake at 2am!)

      Reply
      • Sorry, Debora. I’ve seen lots of people make this argument, and it entirely forgets readers, consumers, and how people actually buy product, not just on Amazon, but around the world.

        Stop telling readers that their chosen way of reading is the wrong way by making your book unavailable to them. Take the extra few hours/days, put your books up in all formats–including Amazon–and write the next book. The rest is attempting to control something you can’t.

        Writers whose books sell well do so because the book is good. You can put a crap-ass book in Select and that book might sell the first day or two if it has a good cover and blurb, but if the quality of the book is bad, then the book won’t continue to sell.

        If the quality of the book is good, then the book (and others by that author) will sell. I hate that writers credit their marketing for their success when it’s the quality of their writing that makes them sell. Yes, the sales are slower on other venues. What’s wrong with that? What’s the hurry? That’s old-fashioned, traditional publishing thinking, and there’s no need for it in the modern world.

        Believe in your work. Put it up on Amazon, yes, maybe even use Select to jumpstart a new title, but don’t let Amazon/Select take credit for the sales of your book. You did that–and not by marketing it. You did it by writing a good book.

        And that, folks, is all I’m saying here. Be patient, for heavens’ sake. All the stuff that Debora put in her post is irrelevant to writers. Just get your book out there to the most readers possible, and write the next book. Believe in yourself and your work. If you’re having success, realize it’s because you write well, not because some algorithm put you at the top of some list.

        Reply
        • I agree wholeheartedly that the book needs to be good and the writer needs to write.

          On the rest, we’re just going to have to professionally disagree :).

          Reply
          • Which is what writers do. We do what’s best for each of us, after we’ve looked at all the options. At least, that’s my hope. Thanks for your side, Debora. :-)

        • This is the last I’ll say here, I promise.

          I’ve seen the sales for nearly 40 digital books – nearly every one a bestseller in print – that were put out on just about ALL ebook sales venues for the past 12 years and left to find their audience. Yes, they sold. Yes, they made a tidy sum. Enough that one could become complacent about the extra revenue rolling in.

          Pulled from those venues and put into a single store and using the tools provided by that store to help proactively find an audience, these books are outstripping their previous 12 years’ worth of sales by a wide margin.

          This isn’t theory. It isn’t anecdotal. And it isn’t the strategy for everyone to follow. I get that. But I can look at the numbers for these books and see clearly that a scattershot approach to selling them is now less effective than a targeted approach (although I will concede the scattershot approach might well have been the right approach for those first 12 years.) Will that continue to be the case in a year or two or three? Maybe not. But some — probably not all — of those other markets will still be there later on. Better yet, the stores that do survive will do so because they became more effective at marketing product to their customers. I’m looking forward to that market growth, as I’m looking forward to Kris’ results from her own targeted marketing campaigns.

          Reply
    • Jim, responding here to your last post in this thread, because I can’t reply to that one.

      I use Select free only rarely, and then only for some of my shorter works. I use my existing reader base and a careful launch strategy to get me into the recommendation algorithms. Then I reap Select benefits because I am also visible in the lending library, which is an excellent source of new readers for me (over half of people who borrow one of my books go on to buy others, even though all of my books are available in the lending library).

      Not everyone is in Select for the free days – it comes with other nice audience-expanding benefits as well, and some, like the lending library, don’t lose value even to an author with a substantial existing audience and brand.

      Reply
  10. Some of the long term things that I would like to see discussed in future thread(s):

    Developing tactics for maintaining clean copies of your books so that you can regenerate e-books and POD from scratch when your vendor goes out of business, and as technology changes. This not only applies to the next few decades while you are alive, but after your death as well.

    - Every vendor will fail, over time. Are your books held hostage by that vendor during their bankruptcy? BTW, I will be happier when CreateSpace is not the only obvious POD vendor. HA!

    - The word processor you use 10/20/30/40 years from now, that includes software and hardware, will be utterly different from today. The software you wrote the books on will radically change making it impossible to open the files if they are not routinely updated and translated to current software. Future hardware may not even let you load your files, much less read the media you have stored them on. Harlan Ellison has dozens of old typewriters stockpiled so that he can still work. You can’t do that with word processors. Yikes!

    - What happens to all your books when you die. If all of your books are under your personal tax id, the vendor will simply delete your books from their system since there is no living person or accounts to pay. They literally can not keep your account active. I can see creating an NGO that would manage the estates of dead authors, keeping the books alive(maintained and in print) since the family will probably be clueless(along with their attorneys) when they gain control of the estate.

    I try not to make short term decisions with long term negative consequences, and if I do, I try to have fallback options to recover, but I need more information. No hurry though, I’m taking the long view on all this. HA!

    Reply
    • Excellent post, allynh, and the changes happen faster than 30 years. I haven’t put up some of my award-winning backlist because it’s in paper or in a format that I can’t access from my computer. That means figuring out how to convert or scanning, which I haven’t had time for.

      In February, I bought a new computer, and couldn’t convert my files (or my calendar program!) from my 6-year old writing computer. I had to move those files to my 3-year old laptop and then to the new computer, just to make them work. It’s a problem, and one all writers should consider.

      Right now, WMG is fixing the titles it put up in 2009/2010 because the files are so “old” in e-pub world and have incredible glitches. WMG is now building into its systems a review of old files every few years or so because the tech is changing that rapidly, and complaints will increase. Yep, it’s a lot of work, and it’ll continue.

      And yeah, the whole estate thing. I really need to blog about that. It’s becoming even more critical than it was in the past, since our books can remain in print for decades. We writers need to plan for that.

      Reply
      • Yes, the speed of changes are deeply scary. I started with a Commodore 64 and have been in Future Shock ever since. HA!

        I did not upgrade my iMac to Lion or now Mountain Lion, because in the small print it was revealed that 90% of my production software would cease to work. The OSX upgrade only cost a few bucks, but it would have cost me thousands to replace what I have.

        I’m transitioning to free or next to free software so that in time I can replace my computer. The big problem I see coming, is that everyone is moving toward tablets(i.e. the end of PCs), and systems that do not handle “files”, so who knows what I will be using as a word processor even in the next five years.

        Their belief is that with “no files” there is no “file sharing”, so they want everyone to move to the Cloud. Yet in the next 20 years there will be at least three CloudFails wiping out everyones data, along with YouTube being wiped and refilled multiple times as well.

        I suspect that we will need to keep clean paper manuscripts of all books, and deal with the OCR hassle when the time comes, as the only effective long term archival system. Yikes!

        Reply
        • There are a couple tricks to long-term archiving, and I should probably do a blog post or an article detailing them, but here’s the short version:

          1) Always and only store your masters and source files in open file formats–which means “file formats that are openly documented.” This means that anyone, at any time, can write a conversion program even if your software vendor goes under. HTML, PS, ODT, PDF (so long as you don’t use proprietary extensions), EPUB (ditto what I said about PDF), and suchlike are open format. DOC is not, nor is MOBI, nor AZW, nor inDesign files, or dozens of other formats we’re all using all the time. Open formats exist for all media, so whether you’re doing text or graphics or video or audio, when you finish a project, make sure you prepare open-format masters if your software doesn’t already work natively in an open format.

          2) Keep your old software and operating systems. Don’t throw them away. Keep the install discs in a fire-proof safe if you have to. VM software (Virtual Machine–basically it’s a computer simulator run on another kind of computer) means you can run all those old operating systems on new hardware if you need to, but you need those install discs to do it. If you’re using open formats and keeping good archives, you’ll *probably* never need to set up a VM and recover old work (or pay someone else to do it), but it’s still good practice. Belt-and-suspenders, right?

          3) If at all possible, whenever possible, keep hard copies. In the event of a cosmic ray storm or nuclear attack or massive power surge, the EMP could erase all your electronic storage media. If such an awful thing were ever to happen, you can rest assured in the knowledge that, while civilization may collapse (at least in your town, for a little while), your stories will live on until there are computers again where you can re-type them.

          -Dan

          Reply
  11. Thanks for taking the time to write out this awesome blog post, Kris, it was amazing. I’ve been following you and Dean and Joe for a couple of years now, and while I’m generally a lurker I thought I’d speak up to say that this was really encouraging and came at the right moment.

    As a new writer (as you well know every five years) it gets really discouraging trying to figure out what strategies to employ, which numbers to look at, which mediums to connect through, etc. The short game is really appealing when it’s all you can see, and having no track record doesn’t give you much else to look at.

    I’ve given away tens of thousands of copies of my books via Select over three giveaways, but the sales figures are paltry in comparison (read: a comparable 3%). However in the short term it’s enticing because instead of making $60 this month I’ll make $400!

    The allure is misleading, I realize, and having you guys call it out is wildly helpful. I was reading an interview with Steve Martin tonight that hinged on his idea to “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

    I don’t know how much I believe Joe’s theory that good stuff will float to the top, regardless of how subjective the term may be, and I may only limit myself as a method of curbing my hopes. But as you said I can’t control what happens after the book is out there, I can only control what happens before.

    All that to say that I’ve been reminded and reinvigorated to put my effort into growing into a real author and letting the rest come as it may.

    I also love the idea of writing to 98, how ridiculously romantic.

    Thanks Kris.

    Reply
  12. Thanks for this, Kris. I largely avoid writer talk these days because it seems people tend to project their personal experience (or even mere opinion) to a universal truth.

    I agree that diversification is the key to the long term. So I have a few books in Select, most books everywhere, a couple published by Amazon imprint, one from a trad pub–so I am getting a lot of data on what is happening. That data may not be useful to anyone else, but it’s useful to me and my books, and I can make decisions that aren’t ruled by the ego.

    Another important point mentioned in the comments–foreign editions in a worldwide digital market. It’s easy to see that no single entity is going to dominate all markets. I suspect Kobo will end up winning this one, but Amazon and Apple are fighting hard for the worldwide share (just watch Brazil this Christmas a microcosm of the larger war).

    I have never been a “digital day trader” cracking out on my instant numbers. It wasn’t until I sat down and did my first full year of indie numbers, month by month, that I realized, “Wow, if this was a business, it trends like something you could take to a bank for a loan.” And I went in the next day and gave my boss my notice.

    But the takeaway is the income wasn’t from the books I was writing at that time–it was the books that had reverted, and the newer books I’d written that agents could not sell, and it was books I’d written that no agent or publisher could tell me “No, that won’t sell.” It wasn’t just the books, it was the WRITING–the lifetime of writing, and my career has just now entered its second decade (and in many ways has only just become a real career.)

    So yes, five more decades would be nice. Good luck for your reaching 98!

    Reply
    • Thank you, Scott. Exactly. When you look at the larger picture (and you factor in the history of business), you simply can’t put all your eggs in one basket. And that includes one book as opposed to a career, one vendor as opposed to all other vendors, and on and on and on.

      Like you, I’m excited about the way this is trending and about the growth to all the markets. I love the fact that we writers can build a body of work that people can read fifty years after we die because that work will remain on virtual shelves–and no one will say no to us because we don’t fit some “niche.” This is a very exciting time to be a writer, and it frustrates me that excellent writers are limiting themselves, replacing the publishing companies with personal rules that often have no bearing in the real, actual world of business.

      Am I frustrated because writers should do what I do? Hell, no. They can do what they want. But as a reader, I want books available when and how I want them. I just got a free book from the University of Chicago today, and the download process will take me an hour to figure out. It’s not worth downloading because I have a better use for that hour. So that free promotion ended up frustrating me instead of making me want to buy more books. That’s me the reader not me the writer.

      Thank you for this comment and for sharing your experience–and hope to see you around for the next fifty-plus years as well. :-)

      Reply
  13. It’s been educational to read everything related to your blog post, Kristine.
    However, just as interesting has been to enjoy all of the analogies and metaphors we all have used to discuss the subject.

    It’s been a creative discussion about how we all are navigating the global publishing sea change, even if some routes seem more risky or limiting than others. At least none of us has bragged about our deck chair on the Titanic or a bunk on the Lusitania.

    Reply
  14. I figured I should point something out for everyone saying how good Amazon is with its algorithms at getting things noticed, etc.

    I don’t doubt the effectiveness of Amazon to sell me things I want and to make it easy for me to find things I want.

    However, even Amazon can’t make things sell in quantity long term just by using their own powerful tools. How do I know this? I went and wasted some time looking at many of the books published by Amazon under their various imprints. You’d think that all these books would be doing quite well, after all, who else has the power to make sure things are maximally visible if not Amazon itself?

    Yet, those books’ rankings are all over the map. Some are doing very well, some seem to barely sell at all. Even Amazon can’t get its own titles to sell long term without readers wanting the product and voting with their dollars. So while I appreciate what Amazon’s interface and recommendation system does for me, I don’t see it as the all-powerful machine that some seem to think it is.

    It’s like Kris says, good books will, given enough time, sell themselves. Books no one wants to read will sink, even with the power of Amazon behind them.

    Reply
    • “Even Amazon can’t get its own titles to sell long term without readers wanting the product and voting with their dollars”

      and…bang!

      Well part of my saying bang was because I had noticed the same thing when I looked into the Amazon publisher program–but I couldn’t quite articulate my consternation. You did, so thanks, Annie.

      Amazon is in business to make money. Their investment in their own line vs. the % off an indie author’s sales is obvious.

      Yet their great and powerful OZ magic doesn’t make those titles perform any better than other kindle titles.

      This has massive implications for the marketing+promo crowd vs. the volume+craft crowd.

      It is in fact, all you need to know if you think about it.

      Just because you won a bet at roulette and won big by betting on the double 00 doesn’t mean that’s a good strategy. It’s always going to pay off in the longer run by betting either Red or Black.

      Roulette is a sucker’s game which is precisely why I use the analogy with marketing & promo of ebooks–as industry knowledge stands *now*.

      Amazon is the monster. Amazon is the smartest guy in the room (at the moment, as it serves the purposes of the analogy)–if they haven’t figured it out enough to beat the guys without their toolbox than you (yes, you too smart guys) aren’t going to either.

      Write. Publish. Repeat.

      And ignore the obnoxious drunk telling you about how his progressive outlay overlap deluxe ultra-hyper-super smart guy system is a better way to go than sticking to fundamentals.

      Security’s going to throw him out when he barfs in the ferns anyway.

      Reply
  15. A quick tangent. One of the reasons we get box office figures is that so many different people and organizations get a slice of the box office: the writers, director, and actors all get payments based on the gross. In addition, several unions (like IATSE, the stagehands’ union) get a small slice of the gross, paid into the union health plan. With so many people getting a piece, it would be impossible to keep it a secret. With books, it’s just the writer (and agent, if applicable) that get a piece of the gross, so they can keep it under wraps.

    BTW, although I’m not a writer, I enjoy your blog – and my wife is a big fan of the “Fey” series!

    Reply
    • Great points, ech. And thanks for the kind words on the blog and the Fey. It’s nice to know the blog works for non-writers too. :-)

      Reply
  16. Kristine,
    I discovered you as a writer when Audible.com gave away the first book in your Retrieval Artist series. I had never heard of you before, and never seen copies in the bookstores, even though I live in a big city with lots of book stores. I loved the book, and immediately started buying the rest of the series. Then, when I had bought and read them all (some on Audible, some in paperback or eBook), I started on the Diving the Wreck series, then the Fey. I just finished Blowback and hope it won’t be too long before the next one in that series comes out. The Retrieval Artist is still my favorite.
    I know you didn’t probably didn’t paid for that first audio book I downloaded, but you gained a fan and a dedicated buyer in audio, print, and eBook. I really like your work.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Carol. The free giveaway on Audible really helped the Retrieval Artist. Audible asked me before doing it, and I was one of the few authors to say yes. The giveaway was limited in time, and I had a series, so the first book would be the logical one to do it with. I’m so glad the promotion worked with you and you enjoy the books!

      Reply

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