The Business Rusch: Writers: Will Work For Cheap

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The Business Rusch: Writers: Will Work For Cheap

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s something that has nagged at me since the start of the indie publishing revolution: writers—published writers—dismissing money as a factor in publishing their work.

The argument goes like this: Traditionally Published Writer A says she’ll never self-publish. When told that her $5000 advance is the only money she’ll make on that book, she shrugs and says, “I’ll sell more copies if I go traditional,” as if that’s a fact rather than a supposition.  And even if she does sell more copies of the book through her traditional publisher than she would in the same period of time if she published the same book herself, the traditional publisher will take the book out of print after a year or two. The indie published book will continue to earn over years, maybe decades.

Americans have lost the ability to look long-term. Most Americans would rather take one cookie right now instead of a dozen cookies tomorrow. There’ve been a lot of studies on this: the most famous is the Stanford Marshmallow delayed gratification study. I don’t know if this trend is worldwide, because cultural differences do have an impact on our upbringing. But I do know that Americans, for the most part, believe getting something now is preferable to getting more later.

This attitude has an impact on everything we do. In writing, it particularly makes me crazy. Because writers are constantly working against their own financial interest, both in traditional publishing and in independent publishing.

Let’s take traditional publishing first. What got me started on this thread for the first Business Blog of 2012 was my Asgard Press Vintage Sci-Fi Calendar. As I turned the pages to January, I passed the page with the months displayed for the entire  year. The piece of art that went with that page (which isn’t on the website, dang it) comes from Amazing Stories in 1929. Prominently displayed on that cover was a short story contest run by good old Hugo Gernsback himself, offering $300 to the winner.

You probably scanned right over that, but you shouldn’t have. Because $300 in 1929 dollars is a boatload of money. There are a million ways to examine how much that $300 would be worth in today’s dollars, but I prefer a good old purchasing power index.   The ones I found always gave me a slightly different number, based on slightly different calculations, but none of them could give me 2012 dollars. I had to settle for 2010 dollars.

In 2010 dollars, that $300 from 1929 is worth $3782.12.

That’s right. More than ten times the amount that $300 is worth now. Yet you still see writing contests that offer $300 like they’re offering gold.

That little poster reminded me of my shock as I read Jack Williamson’s autobiography, Wonder Child: My Life In Science Fiction, at the end of 2008. Jack kept track of all of his writing earnings on index cards, and he recorded them in the book. Most shockingly were the earnings from the 1930s, the Great Depression, when he routinely earned $300 or more per story. He got paid anywhere from one to ten cents per word.

Sound familiar, short story writers?

When I sold my first short story in 1982, I got paid five cents per word. I recently sold a story to an anthology for…you guessed it. Five cents per word.

In Jack’s day, a writer could make a good living on short stories, not just because the pay rate was phenomenal, but because there were more paying markets in need of good material. (That is slowly becoming the case again: see my piece on the new short story golden age from last year.)

In the 1950s, writers moved from writing short stories to make their living to writing novels. Lawrence Block, in his wonderful Afterthoughts, talks about writing novels for $1,000 advances—and writing a lot of those novels.

But let’s talk about my career instead. When I started, a first-time novelist could expect an advance of $5000 for her book. That advance would be paid in two installments—on signing and on acceptance (please note that acceptance meant the same thing then as now: when the novel gets approved by the publishing house and not before).

Now the average advance that a first-time novelist can expect is $5000, which is often paid in three installments—on signing, on acceptance, and on publication.

I sold my first novel in 1989. I received more than the average advance. But let’s use my career timeline, and to make it easy, let’s assume Writer A got her $5000 advance in 1990, in two payments, selling North American rights only (because that was standard) and very few auxiliary rights like audio (also because that was standard).

In 2010 dollars, she would have made $8233.46.  At least 3200 more dollars in purchasing power than if she sold the novel a year or so ago.  And in fewer payments (two instead of three), and selling fewer auxiliary rights.

Publishers have not increased writers advances at all since I started in the 1980s. Not one thin dime. And compared to the 1950s, well, writers are getting miniscule advances. Compared to the glory payment days of the Great Depression, writers are getting next to nothing at all.

Recently, several writers with bestselling careers have received advance offers on their new books of one-half or one-third the previous advances. This trend started during the summer, and continues: I know of at least two writers in December who were told to take lower advances because their publishers “couldn’t make back the advance” at the higher level.

In addition to the lower advance, all of these writers were told they had to sell world rights to the publishers, as well as get 25% of net for their e-rights. And other auxiliary rights were usually in the bargain.

I got one of those so-called offers in August, and said no, quite emphatically. Why in the world, with the rise of indie publishing, would I take less money on all fronts from advance to royalty for the same amount of work?

Other writers simply don’t question this. Nor do they question their agents who tell them that they have no choice in this matter if they want a deal. “Publishers are hurting,” the agents say. “You have to accommodate them.”

Two mistakes in that sentence. Publishers aren’t hurting, and writers should never accommodate their business partners without consideration to the writers’ own business. But writers have had the attitude for years that it’s better to be published than to be paid.

How do I know publishers aren’t hurting? I read the trades. I wrote a blog about third quarter profits late last  year, which showed how traditional publishers are making money on this new revolution in publishing.  But at the beginning of this year, Michael Cader of Publishers Marketplace had this analysis of 2011:

“We’re actually going to wait until all 52 weeks of the year have been tabulated by Nielsen BookScan before reporting their print stats for the year, but the indication of a decline of about 9% in print units in 2011 can be seen as unexpected resilience given the disappearance of Borders and the continuing growth of e-books.

“For 2010 the new BookStats tabulated 76 million ebook units were sold. If that number doubled in 2011, that would mean more units gained than Nielsen says were lost on the trade side. We’ll see.”

You should know that BookScan only tracks about 50-70% of print books sold. And BookStats doesn’t seem to monitor indie e-book sales all that well, so the news is probably even better.

No matter what the statistics end up being, Cader’s entire analysis is excellent. You can find it—along with the examination of increased profits for traditional publishers—here. And a side note: If you consider yourself a professional writer and you don’t subscribe to Publisher’s Marketplace, then you’re hurting your career by failing to keep up with the traditional publishing (and some indie publishing) news.

And you’re probably going to take that stinky advance, selling your “poor” traditional publisher more rights for half the money.

Writers don’t need inflation to eat away at their earnings. Writers have to fight their very natures.

For some reason, writers seem to think it’s better to be published than to be paid.

Before we move on, let’s look at that sales versus money picture that so many traditionally published writers are using as an excuse to sign those awful contracts.

Let’s look at this in two parts. First, money.

Somewhere in the 1920s, writers convinced publishers to give them advances on their royalty income so that the writers had enough cash to write the next book. Let’s not discuss how profligate many of those writers were with their cash—how F. Scott Fitzgerald blew through a small fortune in those years or how Ernest Hemingway always ended up short of cash.  Let’s just assume that advances actually help writers write a book. Because that’s what an advance is for: to fund the writer while he is spending all of his time writing. Not part-time while teaching. Full-time.

So, you folks can live on $1666.67 a year? Seriously?

No wait! It’s not $1666.67. I forgot to remove the agent’s forever 15%.  You guys are apparently so good at money management, you can live on $1416.67 per  year.

Because that’s how a $5000 advance, divided into three payments minus agent, pays out. $1416.67 over three years.

And because no one is paying any kind of interest on savings accounts, you can’t even bank that money and have it earn for you.  Yeah, you might get more immediate sales on that book—it might go out to bookstores at 7,000 copies or 10,000 copies, and on those at $6.99 you will get 55 cents per copy.  But half of those books will come back as returns, meaning you have yet to earn out your advance.

E-book sales might be a lot better, but you’ll only get 25% of net, which some publishers never even define. I’ve been doing the math on every single royalty statement I’ve received since this whole ebook thing ramped up, and no disrespect to those who say that 25% of net equals 17.5% or 14.2% or whatever figure they’ve come up with (in the teens), but on all of my royalty statements, the actual e-book royalty rate I have received is less than 10% of the retail price for that book. And from the so-called Big Six publisher that also routinely underreports e-book sales by factors of 100 or so, I only received 8%.  (And according to that contract, I should’ve gotten 50% of retail. Ooops.)

Math doesn’t lie, y’all. Most of you traditionally published midlist writers—you’ll never earn your measly $5000 advance back, y’know, the one paid in installments over three years? The thing you licensed most of your rights for to get 5,000 or 10,000 or maybe, if you’re lucky, 20,000 copies of your book into stores in the first six months of publication.

What happens after six months? The paper editions go away. Out of print, out of sight, out of mind. The e-book will remain in print, but you try earning back an advance with inaccurate sales reporting, and some kind of math that turns 25% of net into 8% of retail.  Good luck with that.  If you get any royalties at all, they’re years down the road.

You’ve licensed almost everything you could on that book for an extra 5,000 or 10,000 sales in a six-month period that is rapidly disappearing in your rearview mirror.

And you bestsellers are having similar problems, particularly if you’re accepting lower advances. In another report on Publisher’s Marketplace, Michael Cader examined the Year in Deals, using data reported to them by authors, agents, and publishers to examine traditional book deals. (This data is woefully incomplete. For example, I have never reported one of my traditional book deals to Publishers Marketplace. Most writers I know don’t report, and agents only report when they get a six-figure deal or better, so the data is skewed high from the get-go.)

Still, about the big money deals, Cader writes this:

“In nonfiction, the size of the biggest advances is also shifting, with significant deals ($250K to $499K) rising, and major deals ($500K and up) declining, at their lowest point since we started measuring in 2004. Our highest category fared better in fiction, though major deals declined somewhat. Children’s was even with 2010’s record 28 major deals.” [Emphasis mine]

Cader’s deal tracker doesn’t look at rights licensed, but I can tell you from my discussions with bestselling writers that they’re having the same problem as the rest of us: publishers want to pay less money for more rights. (And if you’re wondering why I use the word “licensed” when I talk about rights instead of “sold,” then you do not understand copyright. Get thee a copy of The Copyright Handbook immediately, and learn your business. I do use “sold” with books and stories [above] simply for ease of communication. No writer ever talks about licensing a story to a magazine, even though, technically, that’s what we’re doing.)

What does Calder’s information show? Writers working for cheap. Writers taking yet another pay cut, just because they’re asked to do so, because writers aren’t smart enough to learn their own business and stand up for their own rights.

But what if the publisher won’t buy my book? I hear some of you whining. You have options now. I wrote an entire blog post about it. Check it out here.

For you midlisters, though, is it really worth signing away so many rights for the same amount of up-front money you would have received in 1990? Even with (or especially with) all of the options?

Are those extra 5,000 or 10,000 sales worth it?

Only you can answer that, but here’s something to consider. You will make a lot more money on a lot fewer sales if you indie publish. And your book will never go out of print. So you might not get those 5,000 or 10,000 sales in the first month of release, but you’ll have those and more in five or ten years.

And you give yourself a chance to have lightning strike. For example, my husband Dean Wesley Smith’s first novel, Laying The Music To Rest, was published in 1989. The novel is set on the Titanic, which wasn’t a big deal in 1989. But in 1997, when the movie Titanic came out, readers bought any and all Titanic-related books they could find. Dean’s book was six years out of print at that point. He would have had a flurry of sales, maybe even become a bestseller because of that lightning strike, but he didn’t even have the chance.

Nowadays, writers have the chance. I saw a significant increase in sales of my novelette G-Men when J. Edgar came out, and that movie wasn’t a blockbuster by any stretch. Surprisingly, the sales of my short story Jackie-O, went way up when the release of those tapes came out in the fall.  The sales of both pieces have remained strong ever since.

Could I have predicted that? Maybe for a novel, and maybe I could’ve convinced my traditional publisher to re-release the book to time with the movie. But for short stories? No.

And when I notified one of my traditional publishers about the release of two TV shows about fairy tales and two upcoming Snow White movies, they shrugged and hoped for a halo effect for my fairy tale romances. No one at the publishing house has made an effort to tie those books into the Once Upon A Time phenomenon, but readers are discovering the books because the ebooks are available.

Back to the main point, however. Is that short-term increase in sales worth the lost revenue? Each writer has to make that decision for herself.

But let me tell you something that surprised me this fall. Because of all kinds of factors, the promotion on my latest novel Anniversary Day, which WMG published in December, changed. We decided to let the book sink or swim on its own and we would put the money into promoting the next Retrieval Artist novel.

Sales figures for Anniversary Day are not yet at the level they would have been at if the book had been released by a traditional publisher. (I’m not counting audio sales here.) But they’re good. And I haven’t even seen one-tenth of the sales figures yet because they’re not in from Kobo or the iBookstore or any of the big international players.

As for the money? I earned more in December than I would have earned on 1/3 of $5000. I earned more than I would have earned if I got the same old advance I had gotten from Roc Books on the previous Retrieval Artist novel.

And that’s just December. We have years to go on this book, years of earnings, years to make money.  Years to accumulate sales.

The best part, as far as I’m concerned? The book will continue to sell. It won’t go out of print.

I’m not even telling you about the sales of all the other Retrieval Artist books. Roc took them out of print within two years of publication, the first book of a series, The Disappeared, wasn’t available after 2004. WMG put it back into print in 2010, and it’s sold fantastically ever since. When Anniversary Day was published, The Disappeared’s sales went up ten-fold.

That’s a halo effect I can get behind.

So is it worthwhile for me as a midlist writer to sell more books to traditional publishing? Hell, no. I see no advantages at all. Is it worthwhile for me to sell a book at what Publishers Marketplace calls “a major deal,”—$500,000 or more? It depends on the rights negotiation, it depends on my financial situation at the time, and it depends on how badly I think I need help in getting to major book markets at that point in time.

Right now, I’d at least consider the offer on the table. Five years from now, who knows? I certainly don’t know, but if I had to wager on it, I’d bet I wouldn’t take the deal at all.

So, you indie writers who’ve self published, you’re feeling pretty smug right now, aren’t you? You’ve read this post, you’re thinking, I’m glad I didn’t walk down that road.

And yet, how many of you have novels selling for 99 cents? How many of you have all of your novels priced at 99 cents? How many of you have a novel up for free somewhere, even though you’ve published fewer than ten novels? How many of you have nothing priced over $1.99? $2.99?

How many of you fled all of the other e-publishing platforms so that you could be in the Kindle Select program, just because they give you five days when you can market your book for free?

In some ways, you guys are much worse than the traditional writers. You have no vision and no understanding of business. Most of you are running around the internet, promoting your one novel, following some kind of crazy Get Rich Quick scheme.  According to Michael Cader’s figures, only 20 self-published ebook authors made the bestseller lists in 2011. Only 20, out of the hundreds of thousands published.

You’re gambling on a wave that won’t ever reach you, wasting all your energy on one or two or three books rather than doing the one thing that will guarantee you more readers: Writing (and publishing) the next book.

And even if you’re one of the fortunate few for whom lightning does strike with your 99 cent ebook, you won’t make much money. The bestselling ebook published in 2011 was by a self-published author, Darcie Chan. Her Mill River Recluse sold 413,000 units at 99 cents, which means she made roughly one-third of that (because under $2.99, most e-book sites only pay 35% or less). In other words, she made about $143,000. Not bad.

But if she had priced at $2.99, and sold half of those 413,000 units, she would have made around $432,000.  (206,500 units times $2.99 times 70%)

Here’s the thing: If the book is good—and clearly that one is or it wouldn’t have sold that well—it would eventually have sold 413,000 copies or more, and Darcie Chan would have made a lot more money. She’s a news story, and the darling of the Kindle Boards right now, but her wave will dissipate, especially if she doesn’t publish another book soon.  Anyone see Amanda Hocking on any bestseller lists lately?

Most books—whether traditionally published or not—never ever ever even sniff at a bestseller list of any kind. To pursue that as your goal is like trying to win the lottery. You’re better off writing the next book, getting a lot of books out there and making money on all of those books over time.

But you guys are typical writers, looking at the business upside down, and as a result, selling yourself short.

It’s as if writers stand on a street corner with a sign in front of them. That sign doesn’t even say Will Write For Food. It says Will Write For Acclaim. Whatever that means. To some writers, it means being “validated” by the traditional publishing establishment. To others, it means hitting some kind of bestseller list. To others, it means getting 5-star Amazon reviews.

Writing is a business. You should be building a career, working on a profession, and building your brand. You should have a long-term view, not a short-term one.

The short-term view makes you sign up for half the advance while losing twice the rights. The short-term makes you sell a novel for 99 cents when you should charge at least $4.99 for it. The short-term view makes you cut off all of your other e-book markets just so Kindle will put your single novel up for free for five days in some random month in the hope of getting on a bestseller list.

The short-term view guarantees that you won’t make a living at this business.  And if you don’t make a living at this business, you won’t write very many books. And if you don’t write very many books, you might never get to the book that makes your reputation, the book that lasts, the book that readers love.

Writers: Willing To Work For Cheap.

I find that ever so sad.

And yet, here I am, putting this blog up for free in the hopes of  paying forward. I can’t pay back all wonderful writers who taught me, so I’m doing my best to help future generations. However, I am mercenary (you got that from the blog, didn’t you?). If I don’t make enough money on this project to justify the time I spend on it, I will shut it down.

So if you’re getting a benefit from it, please leave a tip on the way out. I do appreciate it, just like I appreciate the comments, e-mails, and links y’all send. Thanks.

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“The Business Rusch: Writers: Will Work For Cheap” copyright 2012 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.






168 thoughts on “The Business Rusch: Writers: Will Work For Cheap

  1. Chris, I can hear the sincere good will in your “voice” but none of your points are valid. This is actually a good thing because as soon as you let go of those myths you’ll be much happier as a person and writer.

    1) Go back to page 2 or so of these comments and you’ll see your statement about Kris’s celebrity addressed pretty bluntly.

    2) get thee like a demon over to and read “Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing” especially the chapter on “speed.”

    3) Some of your other arguments are whines, to be honest. “I don’t want to do the other work. I‘m an artist not a publisher or editor or marketing team, etc, etc”

    Who cares what lazy writers do or do not want? A lack of motivation the part of the individual reading the argument doesn’t discount the truth of the argument itself.

    I imagine I came across as being overly assertive toward you, and for that I apologize–but if you don’t shake off your mindset you’re going to be missing out on a rather cool world.

  2. “You get what you get, and money is worth what it’s worth.”

    Let me put it to you this way. (DOLLAR AMOUNTS ARE ABITRARY IN THIS EXAMPLE.) I have a day job. Let’s say my boss came to me and said, “You used to make $10,000.00, but now I’m only going to pay you $5,000.00 for the same work.” Should I accept that? Should be happy with “you get what you get?” Or should I find a new employer?

    People who are turning down advances of $5,000.00 are finding a new employer. That employer is themselves, because they are, in essence, starting their own business, which involves risk and low return on invenstment in the first few years. And they are okay with that, because it’s what they have chosen to do.

    Some people are okay with taking that pay cut. That’s their choice, too.

    Regarding short stories: nowhere does Kris say you should not traditionally publish short stories. Short stories are one of the few places in the publishing industry where you can a.) make decent money (even if the pay hasn’t kept up with inflation), and b.) get your rights back in a reasonable amount of time (or sell fewer of them in the first place). TradPub the stories first–several times if you can–then self-publish.

    Traditional publishing and indie publishing are NOT mutually exclusive.

      1. Folks, I’m getting really, really, really tired of this “you don’t understand” comment thread. Especially the “you spent years making your name, we can’t do that” whining. And it is whining.

        THIS IS AN INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS. If you want to work on an international level in any career, you can’t do it in one year or two. You can’t do it without spending hours and hours and hours at it. You can’t be successful at it if you’re not willing to spend years–and I mean years–growing your business.

        Yep, you published one or two or five books online and no one noticed. I’ve published ten or twenty books traditionally that no one noticed. Waaaaa! That’s the profession, people. One of my pen names sells better in France than it does in the U.S. In fact, despite the awards and accolades, I can’t sell that name to a traditional publisher in the U.S. By you guys’ reasoning, I should give up or complain or say it’s not fair.

        It’s not fair. Fair is in August. Fair has nothing to do with international business. If you don’t have time to learn it, if you can’t devote your free time away from your day job to doing your work like I used to when I had a day job, then I can’t help you. No one can. You will not succeed in this business.

        What I don’t understand–what I really don’t understand–is why you think you should succeed if you put such little effort into your writing. That’s insulting to those of us who do put in a lot of effort, whether we’re well known and have been doing it for years or just starting out and are giving up dinners with friends and movies and everything else to have time to write.

        So stop telling me I don’t understand. I do understand. I understand how much work it is every single day known or unknown, beginner or established, to maintain this career. You folks who are making this complaint are the ones who don’t understand. And honest to god, in this blog and Dean’s blog, we’re trying to give you a clue. So if you don’t want a clue, if you want to stay stuck in your myths, don’t read the blogs. It’s that simple.

        Because you’re not going to change my mind, and you’re certainly not going to make me have sympathy for you. I’ve seen too many people like you come and go over the years. I only have sympathy for the folks who work at it, despite obstacles, despite hardship, and despite the fact that they might only have an hour a day to devote to their writing. Those folks are drvien, and they’re the ones who will succeed. They’re the ones this blog is for.

  3. Kris: There are a lot of good arguments here, but there are some important points you miss. Regarding the drop in real payments to writers, both cents-per-word and advance royalties, the same thing has been happening to most people in the US for the last 10 or 20 years. The middle class dream is over. Almost all the additional GDP, the extra economic growth in the US, is going to a small percentage of the population (some say 1%, although you might include the top 10%). Everyone else is getting poorer – whether they are writers, electricians, work in retail, or any other field. Outsourcing started with low skill work, and is gradually moving up into middle class professions such as accountancy or law or marketing.

    Another point is that you base a lot of your arguments on your own experience. However, you have had about 20 years (much of it through traditional publishing) to build a high profile and loyal readership. You can manage to do without a publisher, to go to indies, or to self-publish, because you have enough of a profile to still get attention. The vast majority of writers don’t have that profile, and this is especially true of newer writers. It is very hard to get noticed on the web, because the amount of content – even for sites offering fiction for download – is so enormous.

    Also, you miss the point that you are able, because you are both well organised and energetic, to do a huge amount of work in a year: writing novels, stories, managing your website, following the trades, reading a lot, researching, blogging. Most writers are not that organised or energetic. Many have to work a full-time job, or at least a part-time one, to make a living. Many also have family responsibilities. You are blessed with an ability to cope with the business side of publishing and marketing, but the majority of writers do not have that skill, or if they do, have no time to deal with that on top of writing (and working a regular job to support themselves). Most writers in the sf field cannot write as fast as you. Also, some have made a decision to take longer to write a book to make it absolutely as good as they can, rather than settle for something that is publishable. I’m not suggesting that you do that, just that it is another reason why many writers take longer to complete a work, be it a story or a novel. And it is not a matter of writers being “lazy” or needing to “pull themselves together”; it is a fact that people differ in their abilities, and most who are “creative” are not also good at the business side of things. You are lucky to be able to do both.

    In informing people of the results of your experience, your reading of the trade reports, and all your research into the business side of the book business, your blog is both invaluable and a real way of helping your fellow writers. I’m not in any way running down what you do – on the contrary, I admire you a great deal – just pointing out that your experience and record are not the same as a lot of other writers.

    1. Thanks for the admiration, Chris. I know writers aren’t, as a group, good at business. That’s why I spend so much time teaching them.

      And you–like so many others after this post–once again made the mistake that I have always been known. Please see my “fully formed from the forehead of Zeus” response earlier in the comment thread.

      I built my career one reader at a time. Frankly, people, if you’re not willing to do that, if you’re not willing to take the time to do it, if you’re not willing to put in the work to learn the business, then that’s your problem, not mine. Bottom line.

  4. You know, I feel compelled to repeat a statement my cousin (works in the music industry) told me about an interview with the rapper, Ludacris. Basically, he said, “I got tired of waiting for them to give me a deal, so I gave myself a damn deal.”

    Back in 2006, I queried Traditional Publishers, but it always bugged me that I was A: waiting so long for what was more than likely going to be a rejection, and B: giving up rights and control if it was bought. (Hadn’t discovered you and Dean’s sagely blogs 🙂 ) I’ve always been the type to take my destiny in my own hands, so I gave myself a damn deal…….I just didn’t know enough about the industry or what it was to be a writer to actually succeed. I should have had at least 24 books published by now, but as seen by certain previous comments, I was still unwittingly swimming through the myths.

  5. You know what is frustrating about the people disagreeing with you? It’s not that they’re disagreeing with you (that part makes the comments section more fun to read)–it’s the ass hat logic they’re using.

    If I have to read another post where the person is basically saying “ouch! I ran into a damn tree. Where the hell is the forest again?” I’ll just, just…keep reading.

  6. Oh, wow, James, are you spouting myths. Normally I don’t say much over here on Kris’s blog, but your post just had me shaking my head.

    First off, you said you didn’t understand the “take it out of print in two years” issue. You said, “So what? You can just publish it yourself then.”

    Holy crap, it’s clear that you have never had to ask for a reversion on a New York contract. They take the book out of print, often within months of its “produce” moment on the stands, but they sure won’t revert the rights of the contract for up to a decade. Both Kris and I have books that have been out of print for years and years and yet we can’t get the rights back. So I have NO CLUE what you are talking about with that point. Read your book contracts. Unless you have managed to do what I keep telling writers to do, which is a hard “sunset” clause on a contract at four or five years, you won’t get the books back.

    And not worrying about the size of an advance??? Well, that’s like not worrying about what your hourly wage is at a job. Sure, might be fine for you to work for fifty cents per hour, but I kind of like a working wage and I honestly have more respect for my work than to give it away to a big corporation for next to nothing.

    And your last statement has to send Amanda Hocking to the floor laughing. You said, “But indie publishing can stop a writer from making really big money in traditional publishing.” Yup, you want to tell her accountant with the four million plus she made in advances over four books that were indie published first.

    In novels, Indie publishing is another way into big money in traditional publishing. But you sell for no money to a traditional publisher, they control your books for six to ten years, if not longer, and you mostly will make no more money. Sorry, James, you are just backwards on all this and I couldn’t let it stand, even over here on another blog.

  7. I still believe tradition publishing offers more advantages than indie publishing for the average writer, and even for the average pro.

    It’s true that few traditionally published novels ever come near the bestseller list, but it still happens a heck of a lot more often that it does with indie publishing.

    I really don’t understand the “They’ll take it out of print in two years” issue? So what? I won’t be idle during those two years, and once the book is out of print, good. It’s mine again, and I can indie publish it, just as I would have without the traditional publisher.

    It seems to me that foregoing traditional publishing, being unable to let a book do whatever it can with a traditional publisher before indie publishing it, is really a case of wanting something right now.

    I also think worrying too much abut the size of an advance is wanting it right now. Sure, the original intent of an advance was to allow writers the freedom to quit the day job and support themselves until the next novel sold. In the real world, it seldom happened this way, even back in the “good old days”.

    I don’t understand comparing today’s dollars with 1929 dollars. You get what you get, and money is worth what it’s worth. The money you get from indie publishing is also 2012 money, and most writers won’t make any more indie publishing than by traditional publishing.

    Not one heck of a lot of people seem to be reading indie short stories, either, even at ninety-nine cents.

    Anyway, it may be that a book will never earn more than its five thousand dollar advance, but to say categorically that it won’t is just wrong. I’ve seen a lot of books published with tiny advances go on to make the write a multi-millionaire. I want to give my novel a chance to do this. I can always indie publish the thing later.

    Most who indie publish simply are not going to make five thousand in the first couple of years, and probably never will.

    I feel much teh same about short stories. Now, I seldom write SF, and I’ve never received less that $159 for a short story. Only half a dozen or so have sold for less than $300, and a few have sold for $1,000 plus. Worrying about what I would have made in 1929 seems pointless. I worry about how much I make per hour, and even in 2012 dollars, I earned a good wage from these stories.

    I’ve actually sold only one story for $15o, and that story took three hours to write. That’s twenty-five bucks per hours. Almost three times minimum wage. Two of the thousand dollar stories I sold took four hours to write. Even in today’s money, $250 per hour isn’t bad money. Most of my short stories have earn me around fifty bucks per hour from traditional publishers. Maybe I’m just a dumb old country boy, but I’ll take that, and gladly.

    And all of them are mine, all can still be indie published, just as if I wrote them yesterday.

    But the thing is, I’m in no hurry. Even with novels, I’m in the Isaac Asimov camp. I just don’t worry about the size of the advance. I’m more concerned with giving the novel a chance to make a lot of money, and with royalties. Instant gratification has nothing to do with it. Giving myself, and my novels, as many opportunities to succeed as possible is what it’s all about.

    I don’t mind waiting a couple of years to indie publish a novel that fails to stay in print. It isn’t like I’m sitting around doing nothing, waiting for that two years to pass. I’m continually writing more novels for traditional publishers, and working to get those already ut of print into the indie world. I even have a couple of out of print novels that I’m taking a chance on by not indie publishing now. Like Titanic, I think there’s a possibility of waiting until I can find a big tie-in.

    And $500,000? Yeah, right. I don’t care what rights they want, or what my financial situation is at the time, I can’t see any situation where a no would make sense.

    Traditional publishing stops no one from indie publishing, if they’re willing to be patient, to wait just a bit. But indie publishing can stop a writer from making really big money in traditional publishing. From my point of view, indie publishing is the instant gratification route.

    1. James, the fact that you can’t understand why I put the 1929 numbers in there tells me we don’t speak the same language. I’ll try again. If a doctor got paid at the exact same rate today that he got paid in 1929, then there would be no doctors, because no one would afford to be in the profession. Unlike every other professional in the world, the amount that writers have been paid has not changed for more than 80 years. What was a living wage in 1929 is laughable today. That’s my point.

      As for the rest of it, I’ve been blogging about these topics for over a year. If you want answers to your points, start with Writing Like It’s 1999, and continue to read every blog after that. I am not going to rehash a year’s worth of material here. If you’re truly interested in my point of view, check out that information.

  8. You’re quite prescient on this one, Kris. Seems that in the last 48hrs I’ve seen over half a dozen announcement from other authors (friends) who, after seeing a sales goose on one title over the holidays due to KDP Select, are pulling ALL their titles from ALL markets so they can rotate them through the Select program and “protect the Amazon income from 3rd party discounting.”

    Got my blood boiling–which means I mouthed off a bit about it on my blog. Such bad business, and for reasons even more profound than the ones in this post and thread.

    For anyone interested in seeing a complimentary take (from a different angle) on why going Amazon exclusively, check out the post here:

    ::goes off shaking his head::

  9. Like Chrissy above, I felt bad, Kris, that you received those responses.

    You and Dean have been at this a lot longer than most who tune in to your blog; why would anyone be pissed when you’re offering such wonderful FREE advice? It’s not something you *have* to do, after all.

    But I thank you for it. And I thank you again for helping me get over my short-term nerves or whatever it was that made consider Select. I think I’ll wait until I have 10 novels/shorts/whatever uploaded/ published before I even entertain the thought of a loss leader.

    Now I have to go and write my (at minimum) 500 words for the day. 🙂

  10. Actually, Amazon DID go after people who set prices lower two years ago.

    In the bad old days, people would put a story up for 99 cents, and then later raise the price to 2.99. But Kobo and others would insist on keeping the price low.

    Amazon was never fully consistent about how they responded to this — and I didn’t see it happen to enough people to find the patterns — but they would always send a warning letter, and they would either lower the price or unpublish the book.

    Then they experimented with free books for indies themselves one fall (I think it was 2010) and liked what they saw, so they changed the rules that January and announced that they would be price matching random free books from then on. (Yes, they did officially announce this.)

    Since they lost a chunk of money in the fall, (because the books they offered free were under the 35 percent option, and they had to pay full price to the authors) they changed the contract to say that if they price-matched a free book under the 35 percent option, they would not have to pay for it.

    Which oddly, infuriated some folks on KB – though everybody else reminded them that the language was still in place that they agreed not to set a lower price anywhere else, so they had nothing to complain of.

    I haven’t been on KB in a while, but if and when Amazon changes the price matching policy again, and starts dinging authors for it, you will hear it fast on KB.

  11. Hi I read an earlier blog post that mentions you use a company to both edit your book and design the cover for a flat fee, may I know the name and contact info of that company, thank you for your assistance.

    1. I don’t use a company, Harb. I work with a local company that I have ownership in and which isn’t taking new writers. However, I do know of a very good company that I’ve referred friends to repeatedly and they’re quite happy with the work done there. (So am I.) That’s Lucky Bat Press. They work on a flat fee for everything. It’s a menu service, so if you only need covers, you only pay for covers. You can find them at They do fantastic work.

  12. Thanks so much for the clarification Kris. I couldn’t see it in Amazon’s language. Need to work on my contract reading skills!
    I did include the ‘free’ story at the end of the 1st. novel and intend to put it up on my website when I figure out how. So much to learn.

    1. Not only so much to learn, Linda, but everything keeps changing or improving all the time. So the ground is literally shifting under our feet. 🙂

  13. Love reading your blog!
    I have a question about Kindle freebies though. You mentioned that messing around with getting your work free on Kindle (other than through the sanctioned Kindle Select, etc. programs) would come back to bite people. I’m confused as to why. I went through and read the ‘contract’ for publishing with KDP and from what I could see, the minimum price is $0.99. But KDP reserves the right to sell a book for whatever price THEY choose. So if they’re matching a price with B&N or istore, then they’re making that choice – right? Or am I wrong.
    I haven’t had a free story on KDP, but was considering putting one up as a loss leader for my series which is making its way online, and I want to make sure I’m following the contract. I’m working on it, but contactual language still confuses me. If you could take the time to clarify, I’d really appreciate it.
    I really get the part about being paid appropriately for your work. All my novels are $4.99 and only the short stories are $0.99. I was thinking of the free story as a preview and a tease. And pretty much the only publicity I’m willing to do. Other than right the next book of course!

    1. Linda, I don’t have time to look up the exact language in the agreement, but essentially, when you click “agree,” you’re saying that you will not set your price in any bookstore lower than the book is on Amazon. So just by putting your book for free and clicking the lower price elsewhere button, you’ve violating the agreement, because you set the price. If the other bookstore decided to give away the book for free, then it’s not a problem. The problem is when you do it. Also you can’t control how long the book is free. Because Amazon’s bots are always trolling the net, if you set your book at a lower price or free and the other bookstores (like all of those affiliated with Kobo) don’t raise the price, you might end up with a permanently free book, even though that’s not what you intended.

      And with all the changes this year, I’m not sure it’s going to be worth doing a free promotion for some time. Everyone’s doing it, and that means “free” is a lot less special than it used to be. You can always put the free story on your website, you know. That way, you’re controlling the content and the price, and you’re just doing it as advertising, which is different than setting different prices for different bookstores. (Favoring the others, in Amazon’s POV.)

      But so far, Amazon hasn’t gone after anyone for doing this. Dunno how long that will last. If you’re willing to take the gamble, then it’s your choice. I’m not going to do it. My only free short story isn’t available at all on Amazon, so I don’t have to worry about it. (That’s another strategy, you know. Offer it free on the places that allow you to set the price at free and pull it down from Amazon that week.)

  14. Ohhhhhh. (Shudder.)

    William, you just gave me another flashback – this time to the “get rich quick” schemes that were advertized in the back of magazines and comic books when I was a kid, and the things you hear today on places like Kindleboards.

    One of the things that bothered me about one of last year’s advice books (about how to sell a million ebooks) is that it was almost word for word the same as books I’d see back in the 1960s on how to make millions with a mail order business: it was 80 percent dreamy testimonials, 19 percent sales pitch for the system, and 1 percent common sense info which could be covered in a page or two.

    But for the most part all those schemes boil down to Steve Martin’s old routine “You can be a millionaire and never pay taxes.”

    Step one of the plan is “First you get a million dollars….”

    In other words, it glosses over the stuff you need to do to get there — the stuff you actually need to concentrate on.

    So much of the advice you hear on KB or in the unnamed book was: “first you write a great book, and then…” And it goes off on the testimonials and the marketing and how it’s all that magical thing “Passive Income!” The fact that you have to not only write one good book but many good books is just glossed right over.

    They also tend to pay lip service to how long you have to wait… but that vanishes in all the glorious testimonial talk that miraculous moment when you open your mailbox was just FULL of envelopes with checks!

    And the worst thing about it is that when people don’t get the rankings/money/adulation they want as quick as they expected? They are angry and humiliated and they declare that running your own business is impossible and only a fool would do it.

  15. Who needs reality TV when you can watch the “I need to be famous now” versus the “work hard, work long and make a good living” battle in the comments. I made my money in my first career by working and thinking hard for many years, I expect it to take the same kind of effort with writing.

  16. So you had me until you started saying things that just aren’t true. While Fitzgerald and Hemingway did get decent advances for their novels, they were never enough to live as a professional writer–and not just because of profligate spending on the writers’ parts. In fact, most of Fitzgerald’s money was made through short story publication–especially int he years between Gatsby and Tender is the Night. He wrote for the pop-culture rags like the Saturday Evening Post (which paid him an incredible 30k for one story at the height of his popularity). Fitzgerald was probably the first American author to make his living solely through writing, but it was the magazine publications that paid for that–not the novels.
    Hemingway never had to deal with any of that because he always managed find a rich wife who financed him. They wrote novels (and you can see this again and again in their correspondence–especially their correspondence with their Editor Max Perkins and their agents) because novels were considered high culture, or ART. They had a cultural prestige that both sought as writers that never actually paid all that much. Heck- Fitzgerald never sold that many copies of the Great Gatsby until AFTER he did–in the 1970s, when they issued it in paperback. And there’s a reason Hemingway was writing pieces on hunting and fishing for Esquire– it wasn’t that he was blowing through huge advances, but that advances on novels (even at the height of his stardom) weren’t that much. Heck, even Faulkner took a writer in residence position at UVA right about the time he won the Nobel Prize for extra income.
    Now genre fiction–that’s another beast all together and one I don’t know as much about.
    It makes me wonder what other “facts” you cite her might also need to be reexamined.

    1. Yes, the history of Fitzgerald et al is very complicated, Lisa D. and I simplified to make my point, but you exaggerate too. Fitzgerald was not the first American writer to make a living off his writing. Have you heard of Jack London? Hart Crane? Mark Twain? And of course these men wrote short stories. Back then, you could get paid as much or more for a short story than for a novel. But you are ignoring that the major magazines of the time were owned by the major publishers of the time. In the 1920s, Fitzgerald wrote many of his stories for Scribners Magazine who also happened to be his book publisher–and he got that money up front too. Besides, have you done the math on 30K when 300 dollars in 1929 equaled nearly 4K today?

      We can argue all day about details. I used broad strokes to make my point. So sue me. But on the modern stuff, throughout, if you’ll bother to go back and read previous posts or even this one, you’ll notice that I link to nearly every fact I put in, except for the ones I get in confidence. So question the details all you want. I’m secure in them. It’s so much easier to pick on details than to think about the broader points that I made.

  17. You really did hit a nerve, Kris. It’s been a while since the comment section of the blog has rolled over to a third page. I’m seeing people argue about your post al over the place including some of the mailing lists I’m on.

    It seems to break down into two groups just about everywhere: Those with a long-term patient view who are watching and seeing some of the potential pitfalls and then the ones who will do anything for short-term gain.

    I can guess which ones have a higher likelihood of being around in 5-10 years.

    On a personal note, I don’t know if it’s a case that my books aren’t competing with as many books with thousands of ebooks being pulled to go into Select, or all the new Nooks out there (or a combination of the two), but I just had the best 7 days I’ve ever had at Barnes & Noble. Including selling multiple copies of my $4.99 novels. I hope that trend continues.

    1. Thanks, JA. Yeah, I know I hit a nerve. You should see my mail. 🙂 As for the Nook, I too had a spectacular week. Or rather, Kristine Grayson did. So, we’ll see how the rest of the year pans out.

  18. Kris —

    I think you’re on to something with the Amadeus analogy. There’s a deep romantic strain in human nature that idolizes the approval of the powerful. In most businesses, the discipline of the market quickly whips some sense into the entrepreneurs when they notice that the ones who do not take responsibility for themselves wash out. In the arts, perhaps because our business is romance, this romantic notion still dominates the game for the majority of the field. If you’ve got a potentate (a producer, a publisher, an agent, etc) who thinks you’re “good enough” they’ll take care of you, and you’ll be secure forever, and you can be free to create beautiful things!

    Of course, it doesn’t work that way. It never worked that way. Even in the days of patronage, the most successful artists were the ones with the most persistence, the most business savvy, and the most concern for money. In real life, Mozart was a profligate spender–but he was an even more dedicated worker. Contrary to the movie, he didn’t die broke, he died on the wealthy end of the middle class even though he blew through money like no one else in Vienna–he was only buried in a mass grave because they were a fashion of the time that he and his wife heartily embraced for philosophical reasons (i.e. they believed that the body did not matter after the soul departed, and should be returned to the earth rather than being an enshrined object of vanity).

    We don’t live in a monarchy anymore. There is no patronage. Just like the baker, the chef, and the engineer, we’re exploiting our strengths to make a living (i.e. to make money) in a thriving, tumultuous, ever-changing marketplace, and nobody is gonna save us if we don’t learn to ride the waves.


    1. That’s what I remembered, Dan. I remembered that Constanza had a lot of money after Mozart died. But I didn’t want to look it up. Besides, who cares about reality when the myth is so much more fun? Only in this case, it’s harmful. Thanks for the update.

  19. Interesting reading, thank you. The possibility of a $5,000 advance wasn’t enough to make me consider traditional publishing. At the time I had no fan-base established, so it wasn’t as if I could expect more.

    As far as indie ebook pricing goes, I agree that there’s very little point in selling a novel for 99 cents unless it’s as part of a marketing strategy (i.e. subsequent books in the series are higher priced). People get too wrapped up in sales rankings and bestseller lists, IMO. Unless you’re at the very tippy top (i.e. Top 100 on Amazon), I don’t think that stuff matters.

    I do see a point in using the free price point. I usually have one or two ebooks out there for free (sometimes novels, sometimes short stories), but that wasn’t something I chose to do until I had other work out there for people to go on and buy. I’ve tested, and the freebies dramatically increase the sales of the non-free ebooks, and I end up making more overall. I don’t know what the future will bring, but right now I’m able to write for a living (making far more than — ouch — $1400 a year) with four novels and two novellas out. I don’t know if things will continue to go as well, but I’ll definitely keep writing!

    Best wishes to all authors out there.

    1. Excellent, Linday. Thanks for the report. And I agree, free has a purpose when you have inventory. If you have no inventory, then you’re not boosting sales, you’re literally giving your work away.

  20. “At the end of the day, it is all about the readers,” the agent said to the audience, packed with authors competing for the chance to be published. The myth of the starving artist, also seems to have a powerful hold on the imagination of authors. Money should be the last of your considerations. You should be ashamed of yourself for dirty little motives. The message could not be more clear to me as I sat in my chair. Good authors obey agents and corporations, and are thankful for whatever little bit of pay they get, and for the opportunity the publisher gave them, because after all, what money you got is probably too much. Bad bad authors care about money. Greedy authors should feel ashamed of themselves.

    I am impressed with the ability of these corporations to keep this myth alive, and get the buy in of the writers who provide them the work to publish. It is a great gig for them.

    I have noticed that even when Indie authors take some pride in their own success, there have been others who attempt to shame them or put a guilt trip on them that somehow they owe the publishing industry for their own personal success. Comments on blogs, or facebook continue this idea that a true author, is above money.

    1. Exactly, David. It has really benefitted both agents and publishers to think this way. But it happens in all of the arts, and has from the beginning. Look at the message in Amadeus sometime. The artist who made money and did well was “mediocre.” The one who couldn’t handle his finances and was always broke was Mozart.

  21. To Peter Winkler —

    Go here:, read my comment (it’s #2) then come back.

    That’s what a Darcie Chan could have done. Here’s some other things:

    1. Have a day job. I wrote a novel, a short novel, a novella, and several short stories while working a high-stress, long hours, little pay job with homeless people. I also have a special needs teen. It’s hard, but doable.

    2. Write short fiction for the semi-pro and pro market. This works well if you are a SF author, but I’ve written non-fiction for regional magazines that paid me 14 cents a word for flash stories that took me 20 minutes to write. $200/hr is a nice earnings (note: most short fiction does not pay this well and is closer to the $2/hr range).

    3. After selling the short fiction to various anthologies and magazines, resell those reprint rights in other places. Free advertising and they pay you a few dollars.

    4. Once you’re sick of sending out the story, self-publish it. Oh look. A bit of money.

    I can keep going.

  22. Ms. Rusch’s advice is ridiculous. You can’t expect to self-publish one book and have a hit. So far, I agree. So, Rusch advises writers to write several novels. And what do you do for an income while you’re writing those novels, especially since you won’t be getting even the admittedly small advance doled out by traditional publishers? Rusch doesn’t say. I also find it amusing when she advises that Darcie Chan would have made much more money if she’d priced her book at $2.99 instead of $.99. Did it ever occur to Rusch that one of the reasons Chan’s book was so successful was because a $.99 ebook is an impulse purchase for readers and presents little or no sales resistance.

    1. Peter, really, seriously? You think $2.99 is not an impulse buy? What planet are you from? Study after study after study of retail businesses, which is what this is, show that $5.00 and under is an impulse buy.

      And where do you get the income while you’re writing your other books? Gosh, Peter. Let me see. You do it like every other writer in the history of time has. You get a day job.

  23. @Kris

    “But I do know that Americans, for the most part, believe getting something now is preferable to getting more later.”

    Correct. This is not accidental. It is the deliberate result of our education system. The old fashioned non-compulsory education system in this country encouraged the development of individual character and capitalist values including delayed gratification, the new fashioned compulsory education system encourages the development of group think and socialist values including immediate rewards.

    See the works of John Taylor Gatto and Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt for details.

    1. A Critic, I’ll have to check those works out. I’m sure there are other factors involved as well, and I’m truly uncertain whether this is just an American problem or a Western world problem or a human problem. I plain old don’t know. I do know that in the U.S., it’s a problem which is why I hedged my bets.

  24. Just a comment from one reader: I have noticed that I seem to have a “size affects price” mentality. I don’t often read short stories; I most usually like something that’s going to take me more than one evening to read. So, when I’m scanning for a new book, I *always* skip right past anything less than $2, assuming that it has to be a short story. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book for .99. I assume that it’s people like me who drive the sales mentioned above, by those who reported higher sales when they raised their prices. Fascinating post as always, Kris.

  25. Kris, you mentioned about the big English-speaking-reading market in India. I thought I would share some information from my experience here in India. Surely, there’s a big market here, especially in big cities. Plenty of bookstores and their chains (not as big as Waterstone in UK, or Borders in USA for that matter) but what they normally sell is bestsellers – Kings, Koontz, Grisham, Rowling and others. The market is currently open only for bestsellers, and like anywhere else people queued up early in the morning when there was release of last Harry Potter novel.

    I was aware of your work – I have read your short stories in some of the Best of the Year anthologies over the years while I worked in UK, but I could not find you or other midlist writers I was looking for once I visited those stores. I could only find one of your short story collection in the World Book Fair. I guess this scenario would change with digital bookstores as they don’t lack space and all the books could stay together. But that should take some time. I don’t see it happening in next year or two, but who could guess really!! It could be anytime soon.

    Another curious thing I noticed is that books are not sold in direct proportion of the currency – normally cheaper. My guess is that these are the books that are returned unsold from bookstores when shelf space is used for new ones and then shipped to other markets like India. Don’t know how this is going to impact future e-book market but I guess this would be good for indies as indie published e-books are more reasonable priced compare to traditionally published e-books.

    1. Actually, Dinesh, India is a closed market to all but a few outside books right now. They do it to protect the Indian culture. So there are tariffs on foreign books that are so high the only cost-effective way to put a book into India is to put in a bestseller, which will earn out the money quicker. There are negotiations to change that for the e-book market. We’ll see what happens. Such tariffs and taxes exist in many countries to protect the regional work. The various e-book companies are working to break that down, but when it will happen who knows.

  26. Sarah, if you’re not wasting time promoting your book, you’re probably not doing yourself much harm (not that I can think of at the moment)….

    However, the thing that drives old timers nuts is that you think you’re doing yourself some _good_. That’s an illusion. 200 vs. 20 books doesn’t mean squat unless you are building something on it. And you have nothing to build on. Heck, 2000 vs 2 doesn’t mean anything.

    If you don’t have a slate of books, then no amount of giving away books makes you more findable — those people have already found everything they can find, so all they can do is forget you.

    What increases your discoverability is a broader footprint. The main way you can do that is by writing more. Writing lots and lots and lots more. Have a big bookshelf. Give readers lots of entries into your body of work.

    Where I differ from Kris is that I think it would be a good idea to write free poetry and fiction and jokes and anecdotes on your blog — and leave it there. (I do agree with Kris and Dean both that you should submit your best work to commercial publications first. Paid credentials are always good. Keep your rights and you can publish on your blog later — and self-publish all of it as ebooks too.)

    If you’re going to do FREE, you need a strategy. Putting work on your blog is good for search engine optimization. It’s especially good for microfiction and quick, easy reads, because that’s a way to not just let people find you, but help get you in their memory.

    When you put an ebook up for free, it doesn’t make you more discoverable. It just means hoarders will grab a copy which nobody else will ever see. Some of them will read it, and if they’re charmed, you need to have someplace for them to go immediately to cement you into your memory.

    In other words, discoverability doesn’t help you one bit, until you have memorability. And free books don’t even give you discoverability. Furthermore; no matter how good a particular book is, people will forget if that’s all they’ve got. As advertisers never tire of telling us: a person needs seven exposures to remember a brand or name.

  27. Chrissy: Yours is a very inspiring success to people like myself that only have three novels and currently writing a forth. I have only two sales so far (laughing as I type this) but I remind myself that it takes time and stop looking at my sales. (this is a temptation I fall into about once or twice a week.

    Thank you for sharing that. It really is encouraging, and further reinforces what Kris and Dean have been saying for so long.

    And thank you, Kris, for taking the time to do this. Thank you so very much. I can’t express how much you’ve helped me personally, and so many others, I’m sure. I cannot yet donate to your blog, but I will, and soon, For now, I just really thank you for taking the time to help us. 🙂

  28. I’m sorry to hear about all the angry responses, Kris. Money, and financial decisions, seems to be a lot like talking about nutrition or politics where people get their backs up against the wall if you suggest something different than what they do/think. But if you never listen, or just hear someone else’s opinion out, how can you ever learn? How can you grow and improve? If the advice doesn’t work for each individual, let it go and move on. There’s no need to light the torches. Gosh knows if years ago when I read Dean’s blog about agents, if I hadn’t kept an open mind I wouldn’t be in the wonderful writing position I’m in now.

    From my viewpoint as an indie writer everything you’ve said is spot on. You made some very clear, very upfront points about running a business and making smart business decisions – and I’m happy to say I found myself nodding my head all the way through your points. It makes me feel great knowing I’m still flowing my compass north and heading in the right direction, which is to make this a viable, successful business. And it’s working.

    I started publishing in May 2011, writing and publishing 1-2 short stories a week, and I’m happy to report this is the first month (and months here on out) I can pay for my expenses – rent, utilities, cover art (and commissioned ones). I can even afford to regularly donate to you and Dean, as well as subscribe to Publishers Marketplace. I’ll even be able to pay for a huge chunk of the expenses for the upcoming workshops through my business. Granted, I’m still working towards my goal of paying myself the full salary I want – but paying straight up expenses and something small for me is really, really nice. It means my business is working.

    I’m definitely a no-name writer, writing under two names, and one genre pays way better than the other – but I have readers, every month, paying for MY stuff. It’s…amazing. My novels are $4.99, with collections and short stories going down from there – and yet people are buying. Even with the crazy sales and free stories in December, a ton of people still bought my regularly priced stuff (and no, I won’t know the correct number for several months). I’m moving along just fine at the bottom, no home runs or bestsellers, but because I have nearly 50 titles up (with more on the way), all those sales are adding up.

    So, in the midst of all the upset writers who may be contacting you – I wanted to share my still small, but growing success story. Writing more and patience are two of the most important qualities I think writers need. And because I believed this I wrote over 600,000 words in 2011 and am now paying for expenses and computer upgrades through my writing. That is WAY cooler than being stuck in a day job.
    Thanks so much for constantly beating your drum.

    1. Wow, Chrissy. That’s incredibly impressive. Good work. And folks, I can vouch for the fact that those books Chrissy put up are good. I’ll be recommending one of them in my December Recommended Reading list, a book that probably never would have sold to NY because the book is about sports and we all “know” that sports books don’t sell. Great stuff. Thanks for the support and the note.

      1. Folks, honestly, don’t worry about me. Yes, that comment that because I’m Kristine Kathryn Rusch, I sell better than all of you always makes me mad, and always will. It’s unrealistic for one thing. I probably don’t sell more than some of you. And Kris Nelscott hasn’t even bothered to put up her stuff yet. Kristine Grayson has completely different numbers. And Kristine Dexter would do a lot better if she had more than one book. The name that outsells us all, though, is one of my pen names with a one-shot short story (and no I won’t tell you who that is). That story outsells everything by a long, long, long way–and you haven’t heard of her. No one has. She’s doomed to failure because I can’t imagine writing anything else like that story (which I did for a now-defunct publishing company on assignment). All of those names are mine. And they all have very different careers.

        So make your choices. Chrissy’s model is the one I believe in: write a lot, publish a lot, and build. Forget about the promotion. Think of all the books Chrissy would’ve lost if she’d been promoting her first one. And she didn’t offer one for free.

  29. Great post, Kris, and I can’t spend too much time on Kindleboards and many writer blogs for that same reason: the hurry-hurry-hurry mindset, and the senseless freebie/bargain basement sales mentality so totally unlinked to proven business tactics that so many writers have.

    I used to be a clueless newb, but thanks to the generosity of writers like you and Dean, I’m starting to catch on. I can’t believe how insulted you and Dean must be every time you hear “but you can do it, because you’re a *name*” instead of realizing what it took to *earn* a name and keep the brand going: work. Lots of hard work, over a long time.

    Two important points in my writer’s journey are: 1) the first time I identified myself as a writer, and 2) the time I told someone (who wanted me to dash off a quick business letter): It took me considerable time and effort to learn to write well, and I don’t work for free.

    The guy’s attitude changed immediately to one of respect, and he offered a meal. Cheaper than the $50/hour I used to charge for web work, but a small victory at the time nonetheless. 🙂

    I’ve always known that people treat you the way you *let* them treat you, (along with “begin as you mean to go on”) but it’s amazing what results you get from growing a backbone and putting that into practice.

  30. Okay, read Ric and Camille. And I have no argument with either of them, both of their comments strike me as true (especially readers having no memory). But neither in any way contradicts my basic point which is that at this moment in my “career,” ( ie, less than a month in) my expectation would be to have sold approximately 20 books, and instead I have sold over 200. And that this matters because it improves my find-ability, both in the short term and in the long term. I don’t intend to start doing anything to promote my book but I do think that giving it away has been valuable for me — even if the value winds up only being the $400 I’ve made so far from sales that I had no reason to expect. But also, please take this as just a data point, not an argument. I feel like I have reason to believe that kdp select has been a good experience for me, but obviously, that reasoning was based on numbers I got from other people to begin with. For all I know, Dean’s blog post about reasonable sales expectations for first-time writer’s first novels was completely wrong and I would have sold 1000 copies by now if I hadn’t given so many away. 🙂 impossible to say, right?

    1. It is impossible to say, Sarah. Just write the next book. Each book is unique and each book will have different sales figures. And that’s the real truth of the matter, no matter what your name is or who you are. And you’re right: It is your career and it’s all your choice. But my advice to every writer is simple: Write the next book.

  31. Kenneth Guthrie:

    “Is it actually possible to apply to be a recognized as a traditional publisher? How would that actually work?”

    May I suggest you check out Dean’s “Think Like a Publisher” series?

    And Dean and Scott Carter’s “Think Like a Publisher” workshop?

    I don’t recall if Dean answers your specific question in there; but he has a lot of advice on how a small press can play in the bigger leagues.

  32. As stated before, folks need to get the instant gratification out of their system and build. Nothing worth doing is easy or comes quickly. (there is the occasional home run, but I BET you, they STILE did a lot of work before that home run hit) The media often sells people who ‘breakout’ as overnight successes, but I would have a hard time believing any of them didn’t put in countless hours at their craft.

    Nothing can stand without a foundation. Nothing. It’s called building from the ground up and paying your dues. Do the work, the rest will come.

    And that said, I’ve got 6000 words to go write. Have a great night!

    1. Thanks, Ramon. George R.R. Martin is an overnight success. Of course, he’s been publishing for at least forty years, maybe longer. So that night was a long one….

  33. Kris,

    I just waded through the comments and had to write this after your little rant toward Indies a few comments up.

    Frankly (and no offense meant to you and Dean or anyone else at all), you are not famous. Not even close. Coming from the perspective of a guy who just over a year ago was only just toying with the notion of writing a book, and who up to that point had never even thought of being a writer before (I studied Engineering and Business and work as a Naval Officer, if that tells you anything), you’re not, anyway. Seriously.

    A year and a half ago, if someone had mentioned your name to me, I’d have said, “Who?” Hell, last February sometime, when I was starting to read writing blogs to learn how things worked (since I started writing my first novel over Christmas and then in January decided that I needed to know how the publishing business worked if I was writing a novel), I read or heard someone mentioning some guy called Neil Gaiman in their blog, or on their podcast, or something. My first thought? “Who the F^&K is Neil Gaiman?” I had never once, in my then 35 years of life, heard of the man or read anything he’d written. Nor had I heard of Dean. Or you. Or any number of supposedly famous writers. And I read a lot of books.

    Shoot, over the past year I’ve begun to think I was a total Philistine, because how could I have missed so many big name people? I could because those people, in the grand scheme of things, are not big names.

    Seriously, writers know who the more successful writers are because they’re writers, and they hang out in writers’ circles and listen to what other writers do. Normal people do not. Normal people know the writers they’ve read before, or that their friends and family have read. Maybe they see a writer’s name on a movie credit and think to pick them up. Or maybe they just find someone at random. But aside from 4 or 5 HUGE writers (King, Patterson, et al), most people have no clue whether a writer is a best-seller or a brand new nobody like Michael Kingswood. 🙂

    Of course, I know you know this. I say this to reinforce your point. The fact that you are Kristine Kathryn Rusch or Dean is Dean Wesley Smith means precisely $%$& to the average person on the street who’s looking for a new book to read, because they’ve probably never heard of you. That puts the lie to the “I can’t do it the way you say because I’m not you” mantra that so many people voice. By that mantra, you should be putting all your books out for free, or at $.99, too, because most people in the world have never heard of you.

    But of course that would be stupid.

    Thanks for taking the time to educate the rest of us, Kris. Not all of us newbies are pissed at you for telling it like it is. 🙂


    1. Well, Michael, you sure put me in my place, didn’t you? Of course I’m not famous. Duh.

      Most people don’t know who any writer is, from J.K. Rowling to Nora Roberts. Even if that writer has had many movies made of their work. Writers don’t become famous-famous. But we do become well known in our niches. Although we have to renew these niches every year or so or we get forgotten. Anyone here ever hear of Edna Ferber? She was THE bestselling writer of the 1920s. And if you’ve seen Showboat, then you know her work. But anyone ever hear of her? Naaaah. Not unless you’re studying the field.

      So thanks for the post. 🙂

  34. Well, that just killed any chance that I would ever take part in KDP Selects. While I was considering writing something for them, or at least delaying publication elsewhere of something I might publish on Amazon first….

    Excerpts are critical to sale of oddball works like mine. Clamping down on excerpts completely kills the idea for me. Too bad.

    One thing I have noticed about Amazon is that one hand seldom seems to know what the other hand is up to. Price matching: they more or less forbid you to lower the price elsewhere, and then they send out official announcements on how to use the price matching feature.

  35. I haven’t waded through all the comments, so forgive me if I repeat others’ sentiments.

    From the perspective of an unpublished, unemployed new graduate who’s been searching fruitlessly for work for the past six months, an immediate $5000 advance would indeed seem like a gift from the gods. It’s a lot easier to think long-term when you’re not worrying about how to pay for tomorrow’s packet of ramen. That’s not to say that established writers like Kris didn’t earn their status with years of sweat and perseverance, but that your perspective changes a lot along the spectrum of stability to desperation. The stable side can talk about delayed vs. immediate gratification; from the desperate side, it’s delayed vs. immediate /relief/.

    However, even though I’m desperate, I know there are smarter ways to handle my situation than to sell myself for half price. Since I can’t count on writing to make my living right now, I’m still pursuing employment elsewhere to take care of the rent and student loans while I build up my stock of e-novels for a trickle of earnings on the side. It’s not as romantic as suffering in a run-down apartment like a true “artiste,” living off of pennies while waiting to be discovered and become an instant household name, but I believe it’s the smartest choice for me right now.

    1. Tamara, I was glad to get to your second paragraph. Believe me, I’ve been desperately poor ($50 to make it through 4 months, when rent alone was $250), and I still never signed a bad contract or gave away my work. I understand desperate. I graduated in the last huge recession (1982), and couldn’t get work either. It’s a really crap place to be and a tough part of life. But you’ll make it through–especially with your wonderful attitude. It’s best to make the right decision, even in hard times. And it sounds like you are. And like you realize that $5000 advance won’t come to you in your time of need–it’ll be spread over three years (starting six months from the sale). So it sounds like you’re doing great. Good luck with all of it.

  36. Hi, Kris! Thanks very much for fleshing out your opinion re: Select. I really appreciate you sharing your thinking.

  37. Another note about KDP Select that has come up recently. At first, when Amazon was calling successful Indies to include them in the program before they opened it up to everyone, the repords were that posting excerpts of the included works was okay as part of promotion.

    Now that has changed. The customer support for KDP is saying no, no excerpts are allowed at all. Not on your own website, not in newsletters, nowhere. In essence, Amazon owns pretty much everything you can do with your book for that 90 days.

    On my previous comment about using Amazon price-matching, we have a situation where KDP customer service when asked to help with a promotion is to say use it. HOWEVER, if you read the KDP contract it is not allowed.

    In business, contract law rules, to beware and be careful. Yet another case, though, where what KDP Amazon support says cannot always be trusted (which is sad).

    1. JA, truly excellent point. I see a lot of writers ignoring Amazon’s terms of service, and at some point it will bite them. That goes for KDP Select as well. Best to read the fine print before you make a business decision–in all cases.

  38. JR – I suppose using the word “series” clouded my point.

    What I said absolutely applies to you too. (Although for some reason I thought you had more books, and were talking about others…)

    To a reader, an author of stand-alone novels is still a series.

    That is, they approach it the same way: it’s a tough sell to get them to buy a book by itself, but once they’ve identified your name as something they remember and like, it because a series they are loyal to.

    I’m not going to repeat what I said before — just to reiterate, it’s relevant to all authors. Being impatient does do harm.

  39. Is it actually possible to apply to be a recognized as a traditional publisher? How would that actually work?

    I actually did a double take when I read your comment and they were the first two questions that came to mind.. I’d never thought to ask Amazon that, even though Lunatic Ink Publishing has hundreds of titles up right now. Did you and Dean manage that with WMG?

    Sorry about the off topic question.

    1. Kenneth, of course it’s possible. How do you think small presses or regional presses do it? Go look up the information and see if you qualify. If you don’t, then find out how you can qualify or if they can make an exception for you. Good luck.

  40. I don’t know the exact statistic, but I’ve heard that most small businesses of any type fail after a relatively short number of years, and most of those fail due to cash-flow problems. A small business owner must have enough capital to survive for several years before he/she can expect the business to start really making money. People who open dress shops or auto repair businesses or jewelry stores (my parents) have to hang in there for a long time before things start really looking good. You have to have some nerve to stick it out, too. And you have to have inventory. How much money do you think a jewelry store is going to make if they have one pendant and a single style of earrings on offer and nothing else? (Yeah, I know books are not pendants, but still . . . ) As writers, we’re lucky we have almost zero overhead and we don’t have to manage a storefront, but we still have to think about building that ground-level of the business, where people start to know our names and what kind of work we do, and that takes time. There’s no way around it. This is what I remind myself of when I start to lose my nerve and engage in short-term thinking.

    1. Tori, spectacular point. Everyone, please read Tori’s comment. You are a small business operator, after all. Time to act like one.

  41. What, Kris, what? You didn’t descend fully formed from the mount on high? You don’t just pass your hands over paper and have novels magically appear? You actually have to sit down, think of a story and characters and setting and write it down like the rest of us lowly humans? And you’ve had to do that all along?

    What is the world coming to?

    I haven’t really spent all that much time thinking about KDP Select, mostly because I do see some nice sales from Apple, Kobo and B&N. I even had someone in Denmark buy one of my short stories and I can’t wait for India to open up.

    Also, I’ve been a little busy writing. I wrote 400,000 words last year and want to hit at least 450,000 this year. (I’m already over 10K and it’s only Jan. 6th.) Guess I’ll just keep writing and publishing my work. Someone somewhere in the world will read it!

    1. LOL, Rebecca. Sorry to burst your bubble. 🙂 Great attitude.

      Steve M., you’re welcome.

      Camille, thanks for adding that and for the earlier posts.

  42. “Why not? You’re alienating readers. For some reason, indie people, you think the US is your only market. Amazon doesn’t have great penetration overseas. The best penetration there is the iBookstore and Kobo. Why are you limiting your markets? Why are you cutting out Nook readers? Why are you cutting out any readers at all? You’re selling yourself short, which is exactly what this post is about.”

    Well, in my very limited case, I have two titles. One is a 99 cent short. Nobody in their right mind is going to use their one borrow per month on a short from an unknown author. I didn’t put that one in Kindle Select.

    My other is a $9.99 software development comic strip formatted especially for Kindle Fire and full of hyperlinks (including some Amazon links with my Amazon Associates ID coded in). I’m going to have to reformat that one for other platforms anyway. So 90 days on Kindle Select gives me time to do that job and do it right.

    But yes, you’d better believe I’ve marked my calendar with the 90 day mark! It will be exclusive for 90 days, and not a day more.

    1. Martin, it seems to me that you’re thinking about how best to leverage all of the tools available to you, while working on the project. I have no trouble with that at all. It’s the folks who are running to Kindle Select for “free” and “promotion” that I have problems with. 6,000 titles pulled down from Smashwords. {shakes head)

  43. Thank god there will NEVER be seven novels in the series I am currently writing, Camille. 🙂

    I have 2 novels out in the series and will have another out in March. I tend to write stand alone novels rather than series, so that may make some difference.

  44. I don’t see what the big problem is with Kindle Select. If I read it correctly, the exclusivity is only for 90 days. If I’m thinking about long-haul sales as you advise, I’m not going to lose many sales on other platforms during those 90 days; and during those 90 days, there’s a chance for people to discover my book through the lending library. To me, that’s more valuable than the 5 free days, really. And then at the end of 90 days, I have my book ready to launch on all of the other platforms. The 90 days was simply a warm-up for the major launch.

  45. What a sobering post, Kris! Thanks for sharing.

    Sarah McCabe, in her comment above, describes perfectly what I see and hear every day. It’s a serious battle trying to undo decades of training to get writers to not panic and trust in their own work and to value their career over the careers of people they don’t even know.

    And I understand the battle all too well. Even though I see every day the truth in what you wrote, I still find myself second-guessing what I know to be true. I’ve never quite understood why — until I read Sarah’s comment. Bam! Reality check. Thanks Kris AND Sarah!

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