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.


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.


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




189 responses to “The Business Rusch: Watching The Numbers”

  1. Steven Mohan says:

    I think the criticism of Kris that she doesn’t data mine enough is incredibly wrong-headed. Rather than respond to those criticisms directly, I thought I might lay out some general guidelines re: how businesses handle data. (FWIW, I know a little about this subject because I once worked for a Fortune 100 company doing statistical analysis of six- and seven-figure projects.)

    1. Gathering and analyzing data costs money or time (often both.) Small businesses usually fail because of undercapitalization, so it’s wise to minimize cost as much as possible. IOW, don’t spend lots of time/$ gathering data unless you know EXACTLY what you plan to do with it.

    2. If you only have a handful of sales per title per month you don’t have data–you have anecdotes. As a rule of thumb, I wouldn’t bother with analysis at all until you see 30+ sales per title per month.

    3. When considering whether to do analysis, consider the opportunity cost, IOW the value of what you could be doing INSTEAD. Will the analysis bring you a greater return than writing the next novel or coming out with a POD edition or venturing into audio or improving your covers or etc? In my experience studying data yields a much lower return than any of these other activities. Applying Scott Carter’s brilliant WIBBOW test is a good way to answer this question. BTW, considering how valuable Kris’s other activities are (e.g. writing) it’s hard for me to believe she’d be better served doing more data mining!

    4. IMO, it’s not always bad to look at data daily–but only do it if there’s a specific benefit. For example, I increased my prices and studied the change in the sales on a daily basis to validate that I’d made the right choice.

    5. There’s no point in gathering data unless it allows you to take action. Just LOOKING at data doesn’t help.

    6. The corollary to Rule #5 is that there’s no point in analyzing data on a shorter time scale than you can take action. So, let’s say you see your sales drop. How can you respond? Assuming your not going to reduce prices or engage in tons of promotion, it will take time to improve your blurbs or your covers or write the next book or whatever, so WHY WOULD YOU LOOK AT THE DATA IN THE MEAN TIME?

    I think looking at sales data can be very useful. I hope some of these points are helpful or at least thought-provoking in deciding how to best use it.

    • Debora Geary says:

      Another ex-data analyst here. I agree strongly with everything you’ve said. I’d add two things.

      1) Some of us don’t have 30 years of practice writing every minute of the day. Write as long as your creative brain can function, and then write ten minutes more. After that, instead of hanging out on Facebook or in some web forum, it might be time to look at some data. People assume analysis time is taken away from writing time – I think there are other parts of the day to borrow from.

      2) Yes, analyzing your own data with small numbers of sales can be tricky and hard to interpret. But you don’t need to only watch your own books. I’ve gotten huge value watching other books in my genre – watching sales ranks the first three months after launch, for example. Who is successful/sticky? Why? (There are automated tools to do most of the tracking – the part I have to do is the thinking). This kind of data watching has given me insights that directly translate to actions I can take launching my next book.

      3) Data analysis isn’t some six-hour-a-day job. I probably do more of it than all but a handful of writers out there – and we’re talking about 3-4 hours a week (and that has tapered off substantially in the last six months). It’s not decimating my writing time or anything else. I see it as a high-value activity worth a few hours a week. It’s like checking the weather forecast before you pack for a vacation – sure, you can just pack, but you might be better prepared knowing a little about where you’re headed.

  2. Toni Kenyon says:

    Thanks for a great and informative article. I’m new to the heady world of indie publishing and swamped with opinions and advice.

    You’re helping me forge my strategy to become a self-supporting full time writer.

    Note to self: Bum on seat, fingers on keyboard. Let the work find its own audience – it will!


  3. Andrew says:

    I wanted to add my experience. I’ve been following your advice about a lot of stories in a lot of different formats. The combination of using ACX and other platforms has worked wonders. I’m now selling steadily on all platforms, B&N, Kobo, and Amazon. Add that to my ACX income (also selling steadily) and I’ve had — in units sold and money made — my best month yet. I can’t wait to see what happens as I continue writing and adding my next two novel-length works in the coming year. I don’t want to give specifics of my finances, but instead of infinitesimal income from my $.99 novel (bad decision, I know, but it’s been corrected) I now have something appreciable. All because of raising prices and adding new formats.

  4. Hello,

    just a note from an ESL reader (well, technically English Third Language, because my second language was Russian) – I think that with the wider availability of e-books in English, the translation market might very well change too. I am Latvian, and I am used to reading in other languages because the genre literature I was interested in wasn’t available in Latvian as much as in Russian and later in English. It is still rarely “readily available”. Well, Harry Potter books came out pretty soon after being published in English, and some other series have had a quick turnaround, but mostly it takes a sufficient amount of people to read something in original language before the publisher picks the book up.

    So if I want to read something new, I almost always choose English or (a bit more rare nowadays) Russian. So what I’m driving at is that I think that soon the book will have to be already quite well known in the country before somebody even considers translating it. It’s different from even five or ten years ago when it was pretty common that an author would be introduced to the reader through translation (for example, I learned about Ursula le Guin from Latvian translation). Now, it’s not “oh, this must be something good if it’s translated”, it’s more like “so when are they *finally* going to translate Patrick Rothfuss? And damn I hope the translation’s good, or else!!!”.

    (Sorry if this is off-topic.)

    • It’s not off-topic at all. Thank you for the insight. As a person who reads Spanish, I try to read in the original whenever I can. I’m just a slower reader when I do so (which frustrates me). But there are so many nuances that just don’t translate, no matter how good the translator is.

      I think you’re right about books that get picked up by a traditional publisher for translation. However, I suspect a lot of writers will hire translators to do their works, in some languages, anyway. It’s all changing. And so fast!

      • This “hiring translators” is an interesting subject on its own. Latvian experience lately:
        1) There are cases when Latvian writers pay for translation of their work, especially for stage plays or international workshops. There are grants for prose/poetry translations as well. I paid for translating my play to Russian (plus translated the translator’s own play to English as a part of payment).
        2) There are a couple of Latvian authors writing exclusively in English and some, I suppose, writing almost exclusively in Russian. You might know Tom Crosshill who was a Nebula nominee and WOTF winner; his short stories were translated into Latvian (his native language) for publishing, which caused some controversy when the book was nominated for Latvian literature award–since even though he’s a Latvian writer, the book was a translation.
        3) I am sort of doing it both ways, well, actually a single VERY convoluted way, ie writing most of my first drafts in English, then translating/editing them to Latvian (that’s a brilliant method to do quality edits), and then doing the backtranslation if necessary. (Ie definitely for short stories, probably not for the novel I’m working on.) Perhaps I’m not the only one.

        • Kristine Kathryn Rusch says:

          I know of a writer who is not a native English speaker who is doing the same thing. I think it’s becoming more common. Time-consuming though. Translations are something on my schedule to investigate in the next year or so, and you know there will be a blog about it.

  5. Phoenix says:

    Kris, I respect that you understand traditional publishing. I respect that you and Dean are self-publishing. Part of the issue I see, however, is that the two of you are merely in the game to be in it when it comes to self-publishing. You don’t seem to be in it to actually win it.

    For example, for a book released only 6 weeks ago that you’re attempting to build your DeLake brand with (even though KKR is splashed on it as the actual author) to be ranked at #200,000 in the Amazon store and #600,000 at B&N? That tells me that either you don’t care or you don’t understand how to market ebooks that aren’t publisher-supported in this climate.

    I have to ask: How do sales of your *self-pubbed* titles compare to Konrath’s? You compared your numbers of *overall* copies sold to his numbers of copies sold and clucked your tongue. Then you conceded the money he’s making is fairly decent. From the ranks I see, it appears that none of your (or Dean’s) self-pubbed titles are going gangbusters on Amazon or B&N. What is YOUR strategy around your self-pubbed titles? Simply write a million words a year and somehow they will organically sell? Use them simply to augment your trad-pubbed income in whatever way they can, without trying to actually optimize that income? It’s your business, of course, HOW you conduct your business. But you’re also pretty adamant about how others should conduct their business, else why would you couch it as things OTHERS should do, not simply as things you’ve done/learned that were effective for you?

    If you’re truly trying to educate the newbie self-publisher, I think you’re doing a disservice by not advocating the tools necessary to win in this climate: a savvy understanding of the online etailers, including how current algorithms are influencing the bestselling and popularity lists as well as the recommendation engines in each store; a large email subscriber list that is highly targeted to your readership who will be eager to review new releases and instrumental in pushing them high enough to be visible to help generate more sales; and the ability to cross-promote titles so that sales of any title helps lift the sales of other titles.

    Unless you’re very, very lucky, sales don’t happen in a vacuum. Having 20 titles sitting in 20 different stores isn’t going to get an author noticed any more than the 800,000 books selling less than a copy a week at Amazon are being noticed. Every ebook retailer out there will put their internal marketing to work for you IF you can achieve a certain level on your own. But simply putting more product on the market isn’t going to be enough for the majority of folk you’re instructing. Because that isn’t how sales are made in the indie ebook world. If it were, then KILLER ADVICE wouldn’t be languishing on the virtual shelf not 6 weeks after it was released. Content may be forever, but to suggest sales will be for the majority of books being written today is simply naive. If KILLER ADVICE can’t sell more than a copy or two a week 6 weeks after launch, what long-term evidence do you have to suggest it will provide any sort of significant revenue in the future?

    • Why would I promote a short story? I am publishing more than 100 titles per year, struggling to get my backlist up, and why would I do anything on 99% of the work except to put it out there for readers? I’m not trying to build DeLake as a brand at the moment. That story has the same chacters as the novel, but isn’t in the same genre, so it’s rather dumb to promote it as the same kind of book. And the reason both names are on it? It was previously published under Rusch, before I ever wrote Assassins in Love. I do that kind of thing a lot.

      I have released new books this week, and under different pen names. If I spent all of my time promoting everything, then I wouldn’t have time to write.

      Why on Earth would I tell writers to waste their time promoting when they should be writing? I believe in letting the work speak for itself and building over time. That’s what I tell writers, that’s what I always will tell writers, and that’s what I will continue to tell writers.

      You claim you “work” for a bestselling author. I have no idea who you are or what you do or who that author is, but by the way you’re talking, I’m assuming you’re not working for a traditionally published bestseller. And hiding under a fake name here makes me so confident in who I’m talking to.

      I didn’t slam Joe. I said he’s a midlist writer. And by the standards of an exceedingly large industry, he is. I also said Joe’s numbers will grow. I’ll wager over time he’ll end up with bestseller sales numbers like those that come out of traditional publishing. That’s what I’m working for in some of my series–over time. And I don’t limit my sales.

      It’s not about short-term sales, Phoenix. You miss the point entirely. I really don’t care that Killer Advice is “languishing.” It’s out there, it’s selling comfortably as readers all over the world discover it, and it’s making fans happy. I’m also selling paper copies, and a lot of copies on other platforms–all with no promotion.

      Interesting that you chose only one of my titles and decided to slam me for the Amazon numbers. You call me names and then tell me that I’m not working at my profession, when I’ve been at this probably longer than you’ve been alive. I know what works in old publishing, I’m learning what works in new publishing. And, oh, by the way, FYI, I’ve had e-books of my works available since 1998 when I was one of the first authors to join Fictionwise. So I’m very familiar with e-publishing as a platform, and how it’s been changing. My ebooks have been on Amazon in one form or another since 2003.

      Getting noticed? By whom? Who do you want as your readers? The discounters who only order for free? Or the readers who order every title you have because they love your work? Personally, I want the second.

      • Well, this is interesting in two areas. That first my wife let an insulting post like that first one through. Usually we just deal with those behind the scenes, but you all would be stunned at how many of them we get from writers like this Phoenix person.

        Second, the two posts really, really spotlight the difference between a writer and an author. I talked about this at one time. A writer is a person who writes. An author is a person who has written.

        A writer, like Kris, is always moving forward, doing the best with her written work and then not overdoing anything, but moving to the next story. An author spends all her time looking backwards, trying to push something already written, trying to gain ego and short-term money from something already written. While a writer like Kris just moves forward with more writing and more product.

        A writer is too busy to do much promotion. An author has a ton of time because they don’t write. And thus the nature of the difference in opinion.

        Kris is a writer. That is her perspective and mine as well.

        • Genevieve says:

          I don’t think anyone is suggesting that writers don’t, or shouldn’t, write. But self-publishing is not just about writing, it’s also about *publishing*, and publishing requires an entirely different skill set. I see several people here making very good points about *publishing* strategies, and it doesn’t seem to make much sense to counter that with platitudes about writing.

          For myself? If I can find publishing strategies that allow me to make enough money in the short and medium term so that I don’t have to work a crappy day job and can focus only on writing, improving my craft, and publishing, then I will absolutely grab hold of those strategies with both hands and run with them. I’m totally agnostic about what those strategies might be, Select included, and I think it would be myopic for me to dismiss something out of hand without fully exploring the possibilities.

          There are a lot of people making a lot of money using various methods, Select among them. I think it’s worth listening to them.

          • What makes you think we haven’t explored the possibilities, Genevieve? And lecturing people who’ve started two publishing companies, worked at half a dozen others, and advised even more about the differences between publishing and writing means you haven’t Googled us either. Of course we’ve explored Select, and saw it for what it is: a way to promote Amazon’s brand. That a few writers are making money on it is good for them. But Select benefits Amazon more than it benefits anyone else. Not that that’s a problem: Amazon has the right like all of us do to improve their business. But it is something that writers should realize.

            Also, the posts that are pro-Select as the only way to go fail to consider that the reason books sell isn’t marketing: it’s because the readers want the books. How many sales are being left on the table because the writers have severely limited the market? If a book sells well in Select, it stands to reason that the book will also sell well in other platforms given enough time. And that’s where those folks who only use Select make their mistake. They don’t give themselves enough credit. They give it to marketing, to Amazon, and to algorithms, instead of trusting their work to bring in readers over time.

          • Genevieve says:

            I think everyone can agree that the self-publishing landscape has changed drastically, even in the last 10 months.

            But luckily there is an objective way to measure the success of various approaches to self-publishing: revenue.

            I will go with the strategies that allow me to pursue a full-time career as a writer *now*, especially since they do not exclude strategies that build my brand and my fan base for the long term. But to each his own.

        • Phoenix says:

          So, assumptions aside, my penname actually is Phoenix, which I’ve been using online now for the past 8 years. I’m 53 and comfortably retired after working the last 23 years as a writer/editor in the corporate world. That puts me in a unique situation that I’m not having to earn a living from my writing any longer, although my book sales are paying the bills. That gives me time to help out the coalition of writers? authors? I belong to, which includes a career bestseller. And no, I never said I work “for” a bestselling author but “with” one. I did mention she has 30 million copies in print, so I’m not sure how that gives an impression of being strictly indie. Like you, she’s a hybrid author/writer, putting up her backlist in various etailers and putting out new work in digital format while Mira and Sourcebooks continue to sell her print titles.

          I’m not sure I understand the distinction Dean is making between writer and author. How many hours of writing per day makes one a writer? 8? 18? Does time spent promoting that which has been written somehow negate the time spent writing? Still, under Dean’s interesting definitions, he’s absolutely correct that I am not a writer. I am a self-publisher. That means I take time to write, edit, format, cover, publish out and promote my work. I don’t skimp on any of it. Just as I create the best story I can, I promote it the best I can. My goal is not to create a manuscript but a saleable product – and then sell it. Just as I learned the craft of writing, I learned the craft of promotion. I get the feeling Dean somehow thinks he’s demeaning who I am and what I do by differentiating how I work and how Kris works through the labels he uses. Fine. I’ll own mine proudly. Kris is a writer, I am a self-publisher. Different skills, different goals. And making money in the short term doesn’t mean I won’t make money on the long tail too.

          Why would I promote a short story? Well, if you think of yourself as a writer, then that statement makes perfect sense. If you think of yourself as a self-publisher, I don’t think you would be asking that question.

          Also, please note that in reference to the Audible discussion above, I specifically said the mentioned Audible title is NOT through ACX, which is the point. It means it’s not an indie title and that’s why it’s likely to get additional promotion that an indie would not get. It’s a sales channel not afforded the purely indie writer.

          and if you insult me again, I said that, basically, you’re a hybrid writer and not on the same playing field as many of the indies you counsel. I offered as an example the promotion you’ll likely get through Audible. If that insulted you, I’m truly sorry.

      • Genevieve says:

        Wow. Did anyone bother to google Phoenix Sullivan before making these accusations? Through Steel Magnolia Press she manages Jennifer Blake’s considerable catalog, as well as a number of other successful and well-respected authors. You guys obviously have a difference of opinion, and this is your blog, but I have to say it makes me think twice that you would throw around those kinds of accusations without bothering to do even a cursory search.

        • I did a search after posting, and saw that who she was. Still doesn’t give her the right to call me and the people who work with me and the people who come to my blog stupid. You should also note that she only called herself Phoenix, and didn’t use her last name. No way to know whether she was Phoenix Sullivan or not.

          • Phoenix says:

            I’m sorry, where exactly did I say anyone here was stupid?

            • Here’s the comment, Phoenix: “What’s becoming clear, Kris, is that you and I don’t hang out with the same class of indie author (I seem to hang with the smart, savvy and successful ones), so our experiences are worlds apart.” In case you don’t know it, that’s exceedingly insulting to everyone I know, and everyone who comes to this blog.

          • A reader of fiction says:

            “If that insulted you, I’m truly sorry.”

            It sort of sounds like: “sorry that you feel insulted” rather than “I’m sorry FOR insulting you.”

    • Andrew says:

      Wow, Phoenix. First, a disclaimer that I am not a bestseller. My day to day rankings wouldn’t impress you (not that I care), but I’m following DWS and KKR’s advice and seeing steady growth in income month-to-month.

      Even if I were a bestseller, though, I would never use a service from someone with an attitude like yours. You should have more respect for an author with much more publishing experience than you. You’re not doing yourself any service with a post like this.

      Sorry, Kris, I know you don’t need to be defended, but that comment got my blood boiling. Rankings are a bad way to determine the financial situation of someone who’s published a work in many different formats/platforms. GRRRR.

    • Kingslayer says:

      The post by Phoenix sounds an awful lot like a user named “Breakaway” (among others) from Zen Duck Pond, who always encouraged Marketing First, Writing Second. I was a member there for a good while before I realized it was a marketing forum, not a *writing* forum. So I left, since what I wanted to do (writing) was actually minimized there for the sake of doing SEO marketing. Marketers don’t care about writing quality. They just want to get it out there reasonably free of grammar errors (creativity be damned) in front of a gazillion people. They don’t care about respect and reputation, as most resort to spammy methods to spread their books around by promoting (either on Social Media, Select or other methods). Marketing makes up for sloppy writing, but ONLY short term, never long term.

      I think as a writer, I prefer Dean’s philosophy that long term focus on writing more *quality* fiction has much more stability, sales-wise. So I put writing first and foremost.

      And I absolutely detest Kindle Select. The algorithm change in May reduced the ratio of sales not from 10-1, as many believe, but 100 to 1. It has lost NINETY percent of its previous promotion power because of the lunkheads at Amazon. The sooner I can get ALL of my fiction books out of there (at least from Select), the better off I will be. Amazon wants to be the new Google. And it seems they’re willing to do anything to attain that status.

      • Breakaway says:

        The infamous Breakaway here…

        1) Phoenix and I have similar philosophies, though I had the same philosophy as she did well before I had the pleasure of meeting her. I am not her. Her posts here do come off quite harsh, and while I don’t know her too well, that’s not the same vibe I got from her. Just wanted to clear up the insinuation by Kingslayer that I could be her. That is not the case.

        2) What Kingslayer fails to mention is that I was beating the drum of quality from the beginning on that forum. Marketing of crap can only so far… eventually the free market realizes it is crap, and you can’t do much beyond that to prove otherwise. (Reviews being a main catalyst of this effect… bad reviews will expose the poor quality product eventually. Most products sold via infomercials are no longer being sold anywhere, despite their claims of being the best via that particularly effective marketing channel. The crap is no longer around.) The fact that he/she failed to realize it was a marketing forum blows me away. The attached blog for that forum is all about marketing, the whole forum was setup for marketers, and all of the people there are talking about marketing across many different facets of business, including self-publishing. That would be like coming to this blog and not realizing (for months!) that it is about writing. Seriously, it blows me away that they had no clue that it was about marketing.

        3) Some people on that forum have published crap, tried to market it, and for the most part have failed. They are no longer talking about ebooks, because for them, it was an attempt to get rich quick, make a quick buck with the least amount of effort, and they have failed. Just because they are marketers, painting all marketers with the same brush strokes, that marketers don’t focus on quality, is silly.

        4) Those who claim (in the few comments I did read, as well) that most people won’t read the freebies are 100% correct. Those who do search in the bargain bin will probably always search in the bargain bin, I agree as well. Those who use this as a mark against Select fail to understand the true power of Select. I recently gave away 26k books in 4 days. I don’t expect most who downloaded it for free to ever read it. That is not the goal. I use their bargain bin mindset, to utilize the promotional power of the Amazon algorithms and their calculation of free ebooks, to boost my books in the catalog/store shelves/bestseller lists/popularity lists on Amazon… TO GET MY BOOK IN FRONT OF THE EYES OF THE PEOPLE WHO DO BUY BOOKS, via the bestseller lists. THAT is how I use Select free promotions, to great effect. Not to Konrath or Grisham effect, but to enabling me to make 2x more monthly than I did at my highest-paying job ever, with less than 10 books published total, publishing my first book in March of 2012. That is success in my eyes, even if not compared to a Konrath, a DWS, or others.

        5) Thanks Kris for allowing me to post here. I don’t know much about you aside from what you’ve written in this post. I only came here because someone who knows me pointed out that someone was commenting about me, so I wanted to speak my mind. I do agree with your contention that with hundreds of books, trying to market them all would take a massive amount of time. I don’t think that’s a reason to not pick the books/markets/distribution platform combinations that you think have the best possibility of success, and put some marketing efforts into those few titles you’ve determined could do the best. I utilize Select right now, because it’s working wonders for me. I have very few titles overall, even less on a per pen name basis, and I am working on building a fan base first and foremost. You are in an extremely different situation, an naturally, your marketing efforts would reflect that. I think to ignore marketing, which many writers/authors/whatever do, is silly. It will look different for everyone, but to ignore marketing is ignoring a massive amount of potential, especially for someone with hundreds of books that the right fans may buy every single one of, if you find those fans.

        Have a wonderful day!

        – Breakaway

        (Didn’t proofread… wife has morning sickness… so excuse any typos/errors).

        • Great post, Breakaway. You’re right. Marketing has its uses, when done correctly. And that’s what I’m arguing for. Correct usage. See Steve Mohan’s post below about data mining and the proper use of time for an artist to add to this discussion. Writers must make these decisions for themselves, using the best tools available to them, but they must write first. That’s the key. As I said upstream, I’ll be talking about focused marketing come February and next August after our experiments have results. It’s thought that counts, not haplessly doing what everyone else does. So thanks for visiting, Breakaway. I hope you return.

      • Biff says:

        And I’m an advocate of just WRITING.

        I’m not concerned with “quality” because if I let that little editor on my shoulder I’d never get anything done.

        So I trust in my ability, in my team’s ability to help me, and write as quickly as I can.

        There’s so much to say, and so little time… 🙂

    • This post makes the assumption that a book is a commodity – that one book is exactly like another. And… that Konrath’s success has nothing to do with his work, just his marketing.

      Whenever I hear the words “in it to win it” my BS detector goes off. I’ve been around marketing too long to miss the formula. It’s the snake oil formula.

      And this reflects the essence of the problem here: If you don’t have wide experience, you really can’t tell the BS from the truth. You do something that you read about on the internet. It succeeds. Did it succeed because of what you did, or because of something else?

      Beginners assume that they are successful because of their intentions. People who have been around a while are more cynical.

      Snake oil salesmen know this, and so they go around selling sure fire systems. Some of these people are literal crooks selling something, others are just people who are looking to be seen as an expert. Some are beginners who actually believe what they’re selling because they haven’t been around long enough to know better.

      The question is not whether Joe Konrath is making money at what he does. There are super-performers out there to “prove” every possible scenario.

      The question is about the people who didn’t succeed, or who succeeded less well than they would have. Every process is about that: will it help, or is it just one more distraction that gives the illusion of success?

      IMHO, you can’t know the answer to that for yourself until you let go of the success-demon for a while and learn your business and craft for a very long time. That means try everything, but never invest your heart in a marketing method.

      (The one place where I disagree with Kris and Dean: there are no fatal wounds in this. Yes, you might piss off some readers by doing something stupid, but life is too short for readers to hold grudges. If you think long term, you can build your career from scratch again.)

    • Craig Reed says:

      All I can say is I’ve never seen such a. . . spirited discussion here before.

      But I think its fair to point out that an author doesn’t need huge numbers of sales to seen money. An Ebook, priced right, will earn the same amount of money for the author as three trad publishing books. And a lot more over the (Electronic) lifetime of the book. Sure, an author may never crack the top 1000 Amazon best-sellers, but if they have a large collection of good stories, they don’t need to.

      Amazon Select may work for some — I haven’t rule it out as a possibility myself. But it’s one of the author’s tools, not the entire tool box. Not all tools are right for all jobs — speaking as one who’s used a hammer when I needed a screwdriver — but it’s up to the author to decide.

      And that’s the thing. The author is now in the pilot’s seat, not the publishing companies. If they want to go the Trad route, that’s their choice. Self publishing is now a viable option, but its a new frontier.

      (“Self-Publishing, the Final frontier. These are the storties of the Starship Author. It’s lifetime mission: to go out and seek out new readers and new markets. To boldly go where no author has gone before. . .”)


      We, as authors, now have CHOICES. Not all choices are good for all authors, and what may work for Kris, Dean and Joe may not work for me and vice versa. But it’s our decision, not a New York accountant who doesn’t have our passion for writing. Scary, yes. But it’s a hopeful kind of fear, because it’s the Author’s decision where and when to go, not the Big Six’s.

      Now, I need to get back to writing….


      • The “spirited discussion,” Craig, happens every time I write something even passingly negative about Kindle or Select. You should see the comments that I didn’t post this time. If I hadn’t been in the business a long time, and got used to this stuff on fan boards in the 1990s, I’d be real discouraged by the tone and attitude. As it is, I expect it. In fact, I can time it. I put up the post on Wednesday night. By Friday night, the comments start pouring in from people who have only read parts of this post, who have no idea this is a weekly blog, and have no idea who I am. They call me names, they write vitriol, and then they leave. Mostly I delete. I let a few through if I feel they make good points, but they have to keep the discussion civil. This one is bordering on uncivil, and I’m keeping an eye on it.

        I love your Trek analogy, and I really love your choices comment. Exactly. I think everyone should understand the business decision they’re making and they should also know just how big the sandbox is that they’re playing in. Actually, it is not a sandbox. It’s a beach.

  6. Phoenix says:

    Ironically, none of you seem to notice I’m doing just that with Audible right now on Blowback. It’s a business decision. Audible has a 90-day exclusive. Then the book goes everywhere. Would I do that with all of my books? Hell, no.

    Probably most of us didn’t notice because you’re working through Audible (their Frontiers imprint). The bestseller I mentioned earlier who I’m working with has 37 titles that Audible is producing and will be releasing over the next couple of months. I don’t know what your arrangement with Audible is, but I know that the arrangement this author has with Audible is far different than the general indie author gets through ACX, and that Audible will promote Audible titles over ACX ones, just as the Amazon imprints promote their books over others. It does surprise me that under the imprint you’re able to choose exclusive (which includes Audible, Amazon and iTunes) or non-exclusive. I would have assumed Exclusive would be mandatory for that first 90 days at least. In any case, I have no doubt that Audible will give the title a push they won’t give an ACX title, so of course you’ll see better sales during your period of exclusivity. And you’ll see better sales than most indies will.

    Despite what Konrath tries to do to pass, and you do to a certain extent as well, the truth is not all indies are created equal ;o).

    You want a loyal customer who will pay full price for your item because they love your brand, not because you do cheap paranormals or low-cost mysteries. That’s also what I’m trying to get at here.

    Now it seems you’re equating Select with “cheap.” Many savvy authors have books in Select that are benefitting from cross-sales of one or two books that go free or are put on short-term sale and/or they are in it for the KOLL borrows. Many of their books sell readily at full price. Of the books I manage that are in Select, only about half have ever been free. There are no plans for about 50% of the titles that are still to be released to go free. Select Free is a stimulus, not the end-goal. And many successful authors — those making several thousand dollars a month from Select books — are doing it through cultivated lists of rabid fans who exhibit quite fierce brand loyalty.

    What’s becoming clear, Kris, is that you and I don’t hang out with the same class of indie author (I seem to hang with the smart, savvy and successful ones), so our experiences are worlds apart.

    • Such assumptions, Phoenix. The exclusive book is not through ACX. And they’re doing quite a bit of promotion to the Frontiers readers and to Jay Snyder’s fans (he’s the reader).

      Am I doing ACX? Yes, but not under Rusch.

      I never said all indies are created equal. I also see that you have a second comment, and if you insult me again, I’m not posting it. I haven’t yet read it. But the insults stay off my blog.

  7. Lisa Grace says:

    Thanks for writing your blog. It is a great resource for all writers.
    I skimmed all seventy-two comments to see if anyone mentioned the point I wanted to address, and towards the end Debora Geary and Phoenix both touch on it.
    quote: If the blog is about indie publishing, I get discouraged because successful indie publishing writers think so short term.
    then: Quote: 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.
    And then the main point I disagree with: quote: 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.

    I agree you tend to dismiss those who are new to the game of ebook self-publishing, but then, if you truly are looking at the long term, we’re all new.

    On the contrary, those of us who choose to sign ninety day exclusive contracts with Amazon or Nook are thinking long term, not short term. In the long term it benefits us to build up loyal fan bases now. Amazon is responsible for what, 85% of the ebook market? In that case it is short-sighted not to sign a ninety day exclusivity contract if it will greatly increase sales. Ninety days is nothing in the long term.
    Why not goose numbers?
    Why sell only ten books a month when you can sell a hundred, or two, or three, then make additional sales on the rest of the books in a series?
    If it doesn’t work, or the sales slow down, you can then distribute to a wider market. Again, ninety days is nothing in the long term.

    What’s wrong with a free ebook? How is that different from offering free fiction Mondays?

    Yes, I’m new to the game, double digit months behind you. Nothing in the long term.

    I plan on releasing four to six ebooks a year, a pace I’m happy with. I’m in this for the long term and all my decisions are geared with that in mind. But I think it would be unwise not to take advantage of strategies that work today to help build for tomorrow.

    I haven’t seen any proof that self-publishers in Select are not thinking long term. I see that they are open-minded to exploring all avenues, including goosing sales that help the immediate bottom line. Surfing on top of the waves is a great strategy. You’re less likely to fall off the board if you stay on top rather than riding it down.

    • Lisa, you quoted me, but missed my qualification: “Because folks who defend Select as more than a business tool, as the only place to put their fiction…”

      It sounds like, from your post, you are using Select as a business tool. Nothing wrong with that. But most of the Select people who post elsewhere talk as if it’s a religion. Mark Coker had a statistic last year about the number of writers who pulled stories from Smashwords (and worldwide distribution) to go to Select. That’s just foolish. Use Select for future projects, for the current project, for whatever, and go exclusive for 90 days.

      Ironically, none of you seem to notice I’m doing just that with Audible right now on Blowback. It’s a business decision. Audible has a 90-day exclusive. Then the book goes everywhere. Would I do that with all of my books? Hell, no. But I have a loyal Retrieval Artist audience on Audible, and this rewards them. I won’t do the exclusivity thing on most of my other titles on Audible ever. But the last two new RA books got quite a boost from doing it.

      It was a business decision. I did not pull Blowback from other markets to do so. I am not dissing other markets as too hard to reach or impossible to work with or not worth my time. I realize that 15% of the market (which is growing) is very, very valuable, and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

      That’s how you make business choices. Too many (most) indie/Select people see Select as the only market because they believe it is the biggest market. Amazon is the biggest market, not Select. Not everyone who buys from Amazon belongs to the program that allows the benefits of Select, so even within Amazon, those deals go to a smaller number of customers–which benefits Amazon not the writer.

      As a business decision–one book at a time, made for business reasons–promotions may or may not work. As a dogma and a Select-is-the-best! attitude, Select will hurt your business every single time. The problem isn’t with the program. The problem is the way that 99% of its indie practioners use it.

      And you should scroll through the comments and see how Select works in other countries–as in, not well.

      Finally, bargain hunters are rarely long-term clients of anything except the bargain store. Wal-Mart has done hundreds of studies of this. It’s found that customers who shop at Wal-Mart want the lower prices, not the brand names. So if the brand doesn’t show up at Wal-Mart, the discount customer buys something similar.

      You want a loyal customer who will pay full price for your item because they love your brand, not because you do cheap paranormals or low-cost mysteries. That’s also what I’m trying to get at here.

      Build your brand, not Amazon’s. Sometimes you might use Amazon to help you, but not all the time. That’s what I’m talking about here. The folks who do Select at the exclusion of everything else.

      • Debora Geary says:

        “But most of the Select people who post elsewhere talk as if it’s a religion.”

        Most of us using Select as a smart business tool don’t have a lot of time to be commenting on random blogs :). I don’t think the universe of blog comments is a good sampling of successful indies.

        “That’s what I’m talking about here. The folks who do Select at the exclusion of everything else.”

        I’d be one of those people. Every book. All in Select (and yes, I pulled books from elsewhere to do it). I’m certainly not the only one using it very successfully to build a loyal reader audience and my brand (I’m in absolute agreement with you that those are the foundations of a long-term career).

        You might not agree with my strategy. But I’ll ask you to consider the possibility that it’s a well-thought-out, viable, business-minded choice by a writer with a firm gaze on the long term :).

        • I don’t know your personal situation, Debora. I know that everyone makes their own choices for their business. We’re all different.

          That said, I don’t see how limiting your audience to one gigantic company in one country, with only fingerholds in others, telling your readers they must buy a book only through that company ends up long term building your brand. It just doesn’t. It might be what you want to do and you might have very good business reasons for you, but in a career that spans decades, it makes no sense for brand-building.

          • Debora Geary says:

            I do very well in the UK. I do nicely in Germany, and I have a trad-pub translation launching there in three months that I think will help build the audience for my English books as well. I have a respectable number of fans in a bunch of other countries and a growing audiobook fanbase. So even with my ebooks only in Select, I’m not limited to one country, and neither is my brand.

            My short-term goal was to get to a place where I could reliably support myself and my family with my books. When you have that goal and start with zero books, it’s important to spend a lot of time writing :). Select allowed me to do that – it increased revenue from my books much faster than I was seeing them grow in other markets. It freed up more time to *write* – and I can’t imagine anything better for my long-term career than that.

            Select is still offering me some extremely nice benefits in terms of audience growth – and I think that audience will be useful when I decide it’s time to move to other markets and other vendors. The size of my current audience has already helped land foreign rights deals, it helped get good promotional opportunities with audible, it brought a very interesting print-only deal to the table.

            I have no intention of ignoring the non-Amazon universe for the rest of my life – that would be silly. But establishing myself very solidly in one market has been the most efficient use of my “publisher” time. I assume the point will come when that’s no longer true – and that will be a very nice time to diversify. That could be next month, or ten years from now.

            To me, at least, it makes very good sense.

      • Lisa Grace says:

        Thanks again for responding. I know how busy you are and that this takes time away from your writing.

        The part of your response I wanted to address: [quote] bargain hunters are rarely long-term clients of anything except the bargain store. Wal-Mart has done hundreds of studies of this. It’s found that customers who shop at Wal-Mart want the lower prices, not the brand names. So if the brand doesn’t show up at Wal-Mart, the discount customer buys something similar.[/quote]

        My books (just the first in two series, plus a book of flash fiction)that I have placed in Select sell for $2.99, $5.99, and yes, the flash fiction for only .99 cents.

        My novels priced at $2.99 and $5.99 after a free run have helped me to sell in the one thousand to four thousand dollar range in the months following the free run.

        And yes, sales on the rest of the books in my series which have never gone free and are not in Select, pick up dramatically after a free run.

        So a free run can positively affect the sales of all books in a series and enable a new self-publlished author a chance to make real money.
        There is nothing bargain priced about my books. I sell several hundred (and one month broke a thousand) of my titles.

        For the sake of conversation let’s say there are a million ebooks out there. The internet bookstore is like walking into a warehouse with books stacked to the ceiling. A hoarder’s book room. Lining the walkway are short stacks maybe ten books high. A reader is only going to look at those short stacks. If your book is in a row five back near the ceiling, chances are the reader will never know it exists.

        Discoverability is key.

        Select, if used correctly, can assure your book is in several of those short stacks on the front row. Hot new releases, also boughts, best sellers in your genre, popularity, Koll Lending Library, suggested for you, and emails of the top ten best sellers they send out to genre buyers.
        The chances of making these lists goes up when releasing a book through the Select program. Making any of these lists increases sales because suddenly a reader has your book in front of them at full price after the free run.

        If my emails are any indication, I’m building up a loyal fan base for both my series. Select does help bonafide buyers “discover” books after a free run because now they’re on the lists.

    • J.A. Marlow says:

      There are no hard numbers in the ebook industry, but it’s been a while since Amazon was 85% of the market. I keep hearing estimates of around 60%.

      What does fluxuate is what percentage of sales Amazon is for each author AND each book. Kris mentioned that. She has stories that sell on one platform and not others. I’m the same way.

      As for my catalog, Amazon is between 50-65% of sales with rare months rising to 70%. Some stories are 100% other channels with 0% Amazon. I’m not the only one like this, and I’m hearing more reports all the time from other Indies who are the same. Amazon is not the end-all and be-all of the ebook business. In cases like this ninety days would be short-term thinking, as it could block you from riding a wave with a particular story in a particular country in a particular channel.

      And the thing is, we never know where that wave will appear. If you miss it, you’ll never know. At that point it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy (there are no sales anywhere else because the books aren’t there. Oh look that means only THIS place sells most ebooks). It’s like time-travel. The more you think about it; the more it tangles your brain into knots.

      So, personally, I distribute everywhere I can that is reasonable and see what happens. I would rather put my brain-power towards producing more product than trying to second-guess it all.

      Each author is different. So is each book. I wanted to emphasize that last part. EACH BOOK IS DIFFERENT. Let the mind-bending commence with trying to decide what platform to go exclusive with each book with each genre. Select is working for fewer authors now with the changes in algorithms. The golden-age of Select was December 2011 to around March 2012. It’s now another ‘hope-to-get-lucky’ situation with all the assorted complications.

      Contact enough people? Contact the right free-ebook blogs? Get the right outside support? Catch the whim and fancy of the browsing free-ebook downloading crowd that day/month/hour? Schedule for the best days? Does it go through glitch-free or did Amazon mess it up? (I’ve heard of that last one happening a lot lately) Ready emotionally for the types of negative reviews that seem to come with the freebie download crowd? (I suggest not even looking.) Have enough backlist to make it financially beneficial?

      Can it be done? Can it be beneficial? Can it help discoverability? Yep, if the circumstances are just right and you hit all the right factors in the right combination (and that combination and the individual factors are always changing and might depend on the angle of the moon and exactly how you swing that dead cat). But, it’s harder to plan and have happen. If it doesn’t work out, then you still have to wait out your time in Select with the same selling numbers without hope of another sales channel picking up the slack.

      So, consider carefully about what you do decide to put out there as an exclusive. Make it for a really good business reason and don’t make it forever like I’ve seen some do who become accustomed and addicted to nothing but goosed numbers.

      (Trying really hard not to talk about the limitations of the afterglow of sales, and the sudden drop-off at 30 days, and the algorithm changes, and the downloads-to-rankings percentages, and the circumstantial evidence of crashes when coming out of Select, and the brain pleasure-center experiments, and and and…)

      Ugh, this is too long. Sorry about that. I only meant to talk about the Amazon percentage of the overall ebook market. Back to revising!

  8. Thomas K Carpenter says:

    Okay. The part of this that blows my mind is that even at ridiculously low estimates, when you look at the life of the copyright, each book is a gold mine.

    At 100 sales a year, for one hundred years of sales (thirty years of writing plus seventy of copyright), at $5 profit on each book, that’s $50,000 for each book during its life. These days I’m writing around 350k words per year which is a four book a year pace. So every year I’m making $200,000 in books (though I’m not realizing those sales until later) for me and my family.


    Mind. Blown.


  9. Cynnara says:

    I’m a huge fan of your work, but reading this blog has made me a bigger fan of how much knowledge you have about our publishing industry as well. Thank you for this. As someone who is stepping out by not just epublishing with publishers, but also self-publishing- I’m looking at this for the long term, the ability to sustain myself and my family for the long haul. So I love when people take the long view of things. Thanks so much for this blog, it was exactly what I needed when I needed it most!

  10. Erin Ivy says:

    Wonderfully informative post as always. Thanks!

  11. Phoenix says:

    I work with a bestselling author with 80+ trad-pubbed titles in 20 languages and more than 30 million copies in print over her 33-year career. Her agent made her backlist available in ebook form way back in 1999, with distribution to all the major outlets as they opened up. She got rights reverted to the digital versions of 36 books in June. We’ve been putting her backlist titles up on Amazon through Select a few at a time and marketing them “by the numbers.” She’s made the same amount on 1/3 the number of titles in one month than she’d made previously on all the books in three months’ time.

    For some, watching the numbers works — and works well.

    Why should anyone give up short-term sales and the money that’s on the table today? This post seems to say that an author has only two choices: sacrifice tomorrow’s sales by concentrating on the short term or sacrifice today’s sales by concentrating on the long term.

    The plan for my books and the books I manage for others is to capitalize on short-term gains without sacrificing long-term goals. When Select is no longer an effective tool, the other distribution channels will still be there. When optimizing sales via point-in-time data no longer produces the desired results, letting the books ride without further intervention will still be an option. It’s not an either/or game. It’s exploiting both avenues that will, imo, lead to the greatest success tomorrow without leaving money on the table today.

    • Ahh, Phoenix, you make some assumptions that are not in evidence. The biggest false assumption you make is that your readers will be there after you are done cutting them out and insulting them by telling them they are not allowed to buy your books because they bought a Nook or a Kobo Reader and so on. Word of mouth is the best sales tool any of us have (studied and proven over the years) and word of mouth does not work in a Kindle Select world because of how many readers are cut out. Once a reader is lost, they are lost forever.

      Kris and I both say it is smarter to keep readers happy as much as possible and think long term and build an audience. That does not mean cutting out short term sales, but it also doesn’t mean cutting out long term readers by going after short term sales only.

      • Phoenix says:

        It’s not really a false assumption until it’s proven false. We are only 10 months into Select. There isn’t much long-term proof either way and the platform wars are far from over…

        I was around during the Beta/VHS war. I don’t recall VHS customers boycotting the studios that had chosen Beta when that platform collapsed. They might have been upset when they couldn’t get a product on the platform they owned while Beta still existed, but when Beta-exclusive content became available to them, most were quite delighted to buy it.

  12. Kris, another thought-provoking post! In this world of near-instant gratification (or a media that tells you it should be that way),it’s hard to think sometimes of the long haul.

    I’m 54, and judging by of health and age of my parents and their siblings, I’ve got at least another 40 good years left to write. I hope to improve my craft, make a living (midlist or better) and I plan to win the Hugo someday. And the Nebula, and an Oscar, and… 🙂

    Blanche, I know where you’re coming from, having been basically forced out of a job myself. I know it’s scary right now, but you have to hang on. I know, easier said than done, right?

    Maybe you could look for a part-time job now, and take some of the money worries off your shoulders. Even if you can only write an hour or so a day, that’s still a lot of words, and they add up nicely.

  13. Debora Geary says:

    “I hesitate in writing this next part, because so many of you will dismiss what I have to say because of my long career.”

    Kris, I read your blog regularly, and I very much respect the wisdom of your long career. I have to say, though – I think you dismiss some of us and how we approach writing and publishing simply because of our short careers.

    I’m doing very well as an indie. I’ve been at this less than two years, I have 8 novels and some shorter work up, and I am making ridiculous scads of money by my standards. I’ve walked away from some big publishing contracts largely due to the hard-earned wisdom you share on your blog.

    I’m also making a lot of the choices you dismiss. I’m enrolled in Select. I look hard at the numbers and the algorithms. I data mine, and then data mine again. I focus on what will sell more books this month, next week.

    But none of that precludes a very firm long-term focus. I have a special needs little boy who will probably require care his whole life. It would be criminal of me to do this with eyes only on the short term – I plan to have a very long writing career. But I say successful writers can focus on both. I’m well aware the markets could change next month – and if they do, I’ll adapt. I am working hard on building my most important *tool* – lots of books – and I have an email list that I suspect very few authors, even those who’ve been around for decades, can match.

    I suspect my view on this won’t matter to a lot of people until I have another decade under my belt ;), and I’m just one person, but I’m not thinking small. There are plenty of writers who do, in all streams of publishing – but I’m not sure it’s fair to categorize us based on our choices.

    • Took the time to think about this, and so maybe nobody’s reading by the time I say this, but, oh well….

      If I were twenty years younger, I’d be doing things exactly as you are doing it. But not because I think you’re doing the exact right thing in the details — frankly I think you’ve been lucky in a few things, not the least of which is the blessing of common sense — but rather that you have the absolutely perfect approach to what you’re doing.

      The problem with old fogey advice is that you don’t gain wisdom second hand. You might gain knowledge — “Don’t do X!” — but the real fundamental understanding of X comes from … doing X.

      The other problem is that there are so many people who want to indulge in blind faith. And 99 percent of old fogey advice is aimed at those people. If you’re not a person who indulges in blind faith… you’re already there. And for you, the old fogey wisdom is just another helpful point of view. (No matter how stridently phrased.)

      For me, though, the big issue is this: I am Kris’ age. I am not as prolific, and I have a HUGE backlog of stories to write. So, aside from the wisdom of watching numbers or playing marketing games, I simply have no time for them.

      When I was younger, I didn’t have a shortage of ideas, but they were not pressing in on me with the kind of urgency I feel now. I had time and room to maneuver and make mistakes.

      Also, now that I’m older, I’ve been through a whole lot of financial and life events that I am a lot more relaxed about financial matters, not because I have money but because I know what happens when I don’t, and how to deal with it.

      Age and experience changes the subtext and understanding of everything. If the old-fogey advice doesn’t click, maybe you need to be an old-fogey before it’s relevant.

      I was thinking about writing another blog post on this one, but I think I already did with that Hatchlings and Neo-pros one. (And I’ve got to get back to those stories or I’ll never get done….)

      • Debora Geary says:

        I’m still reading. And still listening :).

        I think one of the big differences here is that for me, watching the numbers and marketing don’t take away from the writing. I’m new to writing. Three hours a day *exhausts* me. I’m still training those muscles. I’ve tried longer stretches, and they work for a few days, but I produce the most work when I consistently write every day – and not for too long.

        So that leaves me time to do those other things – and if they can get more copies of what I’ve already written into reader hands, then that’s a very good use of that time, I think.

        • Yep, that’s what I meant, though my brain is full and words just sorta flow out at random these days: but you nailed what I meant.

          Depending on where you are in the your career arc, you have different opportunities.

          Your best choice when you’ve got all your ducks in a row may not be your best choice while you’re busy chasing the little fuzzies all over the yard.

          Me… I keep acquiring more ducks. (And none of them want to get in line….)

  14. Stefan Mommertz says:

    Kris, another great post.

    Seeing that you stress the worldwide market, I thought I might add some thoughts from my perspective (a German living in Hungary reading mostly English books, with a small sideline as translator from English into German).

    There is another reason against KDP Select if you want to reach international customers in non-Amazon countries (i.e. countries where Amazon hasn’t set up business yet): the surcharge.

    I won’t go into details (David Gaughran has written a couple of insightful blogs on the topic), but the basic thing is that Amazon adds $2 and local VAT (sales tax) on most e-books for customers in non-Amazon countries. So $3.99 for me translates into $7.61… (5.99 + 27% VAT).

    Now, I’m not willing to pay this surcharge, so in case I’m interested in a book and notice the extra costs, I search elsewhere (i.e. Smashwords or even Kobo). If an author is Select, I won’t find the book elsewhere, which usually means a lost sale for him/her. (Incidentally, one of the few ways to avoid having the surcharge applied to one’s books seems price-matching. But of course, that’s only possible if you’re not Select.)

    On the other hand, sales of e-books I translated into German picked up mainly because of using Select (and the free days). In contrast to Mars’ opinion above, my impression is that Kobo is far from being a serious competitor for Amazon in Germany yet, especially as far as self-/indie-publishers are concerned. That might change in the future, but from a customer’s point of view there are still too many problems with usability at Kobo. Other bigger local sellers are definitely not indie-friendly. Anyway, the German market is still about two years behind the US, so it is comparatively small but growing, and Christmas will bring another upsurge.

    On the whole, I totally agree with the long-term view, but also think that one should weigh the pros and cons in a specific situation from the business perspective you never tire to stress, and those pros and cons are probably never the same for different people anyway.

    And to add a final observation about “internationalisation”: recently the electronics chain store in my town in the Hungarian backwoods has begun to stock not only the cheap Kindle, but also, of all things, the Nook. Knowing how anti-international Barnes & Noble is (obligatory American credit card), I still cannot make sense of that.

    • Kristine Kathryn Rusch says:

      Thank you, Stefan. Very interesting. And I’ll go look at David’s posts. I’m really interested in how everything is changing in other countries.

  15. Blanche:

    I don’t know if this will help or not. Certainly more of us are in your situation than the situation Kris is in now. And her words are correct: there isn’t a writer out there who hasn’t been in that situation.

    But here’s something I’ve learned: for your own sanity, do not treat your writing like a financial life preserver. No writing career has that kind of stability. And the desperation you feel when you think it can dig you out of a hole — and then it doesn’t — is incredibly painful.

    It’s also destructive.

    A lot of us are grasping at straws right now, or have been in the recent past or will be soon. Separate your writing from that. You need to grasp at straws that will help … and your writing needs to be nurturing you right now, not frightening you and frustrating you.

    Writing, in the short term, is much more suited to being your emotional and mental life preserver than your financial one.

    Financially, writing is like an investment which you can’t convert the capital to cash — you can only collect the slow trickle of returns. Build up enough capital, and that trickle of returns is enough to sustain you, but it’s not a job with a wage. It’s not an immediate cash-flow sort of instrument.

    I wish you the best of luck in getting through these hard times. We do tend to find a way, eventually.

  16. Ramon says:

    If I may ask an opinion, Kris. 🙂

    So, I tried an experiment, and dropped my prices:

    .99 for my first fantasy novel (120k words)
    2.99 for second fantasy novel (over 200k)
    3.99 for third fantasy novel (over 200k)
    2.00 for both vampire novels (85 and 90k respectively)

    The first fantasy books sales have increased, and to a smaller degree, the second book. much smaller difference in the third book
    First vampire book jumped a bit but not second.

    Now my numbers are hysterically small. The first month of this experiment, I sold a total of 23 books. (16 Nook, 7 Kindle)

    This month, numbers are far smaller. I know Dean would probably shoot me if he saw this. *grin*

    My issue is this: I got feedback from a reader and she said she found my books browsing on BN and loved the covers and prices. She bought all three. Loved them all but said she found a number of typos. She said she loved the books enough to ignore them.

    So should I keep my prices low until I can find and clean up the typos that slipped through the cracks? I don’t plan on selling low forever, but I’m wondering if I should be charging $5.99 for books that I know have errors I and a beta reader happened to miss.

    Thanks for taking the time to help us all out, and have a great weekend!


    • Ramon says:

      Correction. That’s 2.99 for both vampire books. 🙂

    • Kristine Kathryn Rusch says:

      I think you need a few anal readers, Ramon. Have them look for typos for you. Even that woman who mentioned the typos might appreciate a free book or two if she tells you where the typos are. Then fix the typos, fix the book, and raise prices.

      Over time, you will need to hire a copy editor. But in the short-term, anal friends help.

  17. Blanche says:

    Pardon me, Kris, for responding with a very big whiny post here. I’m even using a fake name because I don’t want any of my readers to ever stumble on this and hate me. (Although Kris will have access to my actual email, so I suppose it’s not entirely anonymous.)

    It’s easier not to worry about your sales numbers when you have a day job or when you’re established enough to have enough income saved up that you don’t depend on them for rent.

    I went into this year with four months of income saved up, and I’m very good with money. I’ve done the best I could with what I had. I made budgets and I stuck with them, even when it looked like I had more money that I could spend. I saved it. But it doesn’t matter how much you save when your sales dry up and they don’t revive. When they keep getting worse. At some point, there’s just not going to be enough money.

    I wouldn’t have quit my day job when I did if I’d had better choices, but my boss essentially pushed me into it, and I hated working there. I thought it was the universe telling me to take a chance.

    I support my boyfriend as well, who can’t get a job.

    The economy is crap, and I’m frightened that I won’t be able to get a job either.

    I have enough money until January. I don’t know what will happen after that. I need my sales to improve, and I check them every day, just hoping they’ll tell me that everything will be okay for a few more months, and that I’m not a crazy person for pursuing this stupid dream of mine.

    I’ve written five books this year and eight short stories. I wrote two of those books while I was suffering from carpal tunnel, and I had to DICTATE them. (I lost my voice.) In the past eight years, I’ve written twenty novels. I plan to write three more before the end of 2012. I keep hoping that if I work hard enough, I’ll get lucky again. But sometimes…

    I know I couldn’t quit writing. I’ve been doing it my whole life, although I didn’t start finishing things until eight years ago. I know I’ll never stop. No matter what happens.

    But I’m so terrified. And I wish I could believe that I could stop looking at my sales numbers and think long term and that everything would be fine. But I’m too scared. I’m losing faith. I know I’ll keep writing, but I did kind of like it when people were actually reading the things I wrote. Nowadays, it just kills me to release something to crickets.

    I sound like an ingrate. I get that. And I know that people will shrug at me and say, “Get a job, you bum. You aren’t entitled to any kind of success.” And they’re right. But it’s a heck of a lot harder to think you’re on the way to something and realize you’re actually right back where you started.

    Maybe if I didn’t look at my sales numbers, I’d be blissfully ignorant. But how could that possibly be a good thing, when I’m trying to manage an ever-shrinking budget? And all I hear about are people who aren’t doing well at all and people who are doing absolutely amazingly. I suppose it’s because you don’t want to announce it to the world that you achieved your dream really briefly, but then it fell out under your feet.

    Okay, I’m done now. That had very little to do with your post, which was sane and rational and wonderful–as always. I just have been feeling like I’m going to burst lately if I don’t get this out. So.

    Once I start doing better again, I’m sure this bitterness will fade. The uncertainty of all of this, though… It makes me crazy. I don’t know how to deal with it. Looking at numbers might be maddening, but at least once I’ve done it, I KNOW how many books I’ve sold. What’s happened is at least certain. I don’t why, but that’s a little bit comforting to me.

    • Unfortunately, Blanche, what you’re going through happens to all writers at various stages in their careers. Sales drop off for unknown reasons. Read Lawrence Block’s essays. He couldn’t sell a book into traditional publishing for (I believe) two years, after years and years of making a living at writing. I’ve gone through those downtimes. Other writers have too. Back when we taught the Master Class, we had writers participate in a role-playing game that showed them the ups and downs of a freelancer’s career. There are always periods of no money, periods of too much money, and almost no periods of steady money.

      I wish I could be more encouraging than that. The key is to get a part time job to go through the lean times and to keep writing. You’re right to have only one career–writing–but sometimes you must support it with supplemental income. If you read back through my blogs, you’ll see that I considered doing the same thing as recently as six or seven years ago. It happens. It’s hard.

      You might also watch a lot of back episodes of A&E’s Biography series. That stuff where they say, “And he didn’t have another record deal for five years,” and then they jump to commercial is the stuff you’re going through right now. Programs like Biography think such periods are irrelevant, but actually, they’re what make a long-term survivor in the career rare. If you can weather the tough times, then you will have a life-time career. Many people simply can’t emotionally weather the ups and downs. Others can’t because of life issues. A friend of mine was a single mother working three jobs for fifteen years. She didn’t have time to write, even though she’d had modest success early. Now that her children are grown, she’s come back to the career, but she’s still struggling with the uneven income. It’s only her now, and it’s still hard for her. Just like it is for all of us.

      I wish I could say that your sales will rebound in time. But they might not. You need to plan for that. And you need to figure out how you can keep writing. Because only the long-term will get you through this. Waiting for the sales to rebound may or may not happen in a timely fashion. It’s hard, but that’s freelancing. Good luck.

      • Gerhi Feuren says:

        Starting out in writing you have no idea what up or down looks like. You are low down, everything seems up and 10 sales versus 5 sales is a 100% difference. And can make a 100% difference in your emotional state, at least for that day.

        Self-publishing looks easy. And crunching anybody elses numbers is a cool way to convince myself that I too can be a millionaire.

        But that leaves out the hard work. Makes the days of slogging ahead when nothing happens heroic. And only the heroes keep slogging ahead.

        A couple of years ago it became the thing to start a blog. Everybody had a blog. You could make millions writing a blog. Now it seems all like hype and you only have the people really making money from blogs, or the people writing blogs for other reasons.

        Millions still start blogs. Most don’t slog through the lean times. Millions now self-publish. In future millions more will. Most will not slog on.

        You say “Good Luck” but luck has nothing to do with it. Maybe it should be “Work Hard” or “Suffer Onwards” or “For Better for Worse…”

        Just don’t stop. Just by doing that you are already outlasting millions.

      • Blanche, thanks for sharing, and Kris, thanks for the additional wisdom.
        It’s true, people love sharing success stories, and you just have to vent the misery sometimes, but the “in between/I had it and now I lost it” is sort of a lonely middle ground.
        Dean has also mentioned that everyone goes through dry spells, but the question is how to survive them, right?
        I just wanted to mention that Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and fan subscriptions are also options nowadays, in addition to the day job. I love this column and columnist:
        Good luck, Blanche.

    • Noire says:

      Blanche, thanks for sharing this. While my financial pinch is less urgent than yours, it does snap at my heels. I’ve been feeling similar discouragement about reaching readers. And I’ve been feeling alone in my discouragement. Naturally most folks don’t whine online. I generally do not myself. But this means that all I see are writers who are really happy about their living-wage-plus sales or else writers who are philosophical and accepting of slow sales, confident things will get better. I certainly hope things improve for you, but I feel less alone in my own discouragement.

      And thank you, Kris, for your reply to Blanche. Your understanding, your matter-of-fact lack of pity, and your calm realism are very steadying and helpful. I’m feeling calmer and less discouraged just from reading both of you here. Somehow the flat statement that maybe things will *not* get better, at least not in a timely manner, is refreshing and steadying. (Better than facile assurances that *of course* everything will work out.)

      I do understand that my career is in a different place than Blanche’s. I’ve just started. But I’m still finding that my invisibility to readers wears on me at times. Hearing from sister travelers helps.

    • L. M. May says:

      Blanche, I’m so sorry to read about his. Kris has already covered the most important points, but I’ll toss in some more reading material suggestions to add to the Lawrence Block books on writing. You should be able to get what I list either online or through a public library:

      1) I highly recommend James Lee Burke’s essay on writing, “Seeking a Vision of Truth, Guided By a Higher Power,” at his website. He went through a dry spell that lasted for 13 years, until his novel “The Last Get-Back Boogie” sold after 110 rejections over 9 years of submissions.

      2) The essay “On Becoming a Brand Name” in Secret Windows: Essays and Fiction on the Craft of Writing, by Stephen King. Even more so than in his book on writing, in this essay King gets very blunt about just how *BAD* things got for him (the rejections of novel after novel; the grinding poverty; the despair) before the breakthrough with Carrie, and discusses how Carrie was not an overnight success by any means.

      3) The essay, “How I Wrote a Novel on the Train and Beside the Kitchen Sink,” by Sinclair Lewis. You can find it in Great Writers on the Art of Fiction: From Mark Twain to Joyce Carol Oates. Lewis had a day job, and he writes in the essay about how he was able to keep going as a fiction writer while doing that job.

      4) The book “102 Ways to Earn Money Writing 1,500 Words or Less.” Great to skim through for brainstorming ways to bring in extra income.

      5) Lawrence Block’s friend, freelance writer & novelist Jerrold Mundis, wrote a book on money management that contains lots of tidbits on how to recover financially from a dry spell (since he went through horrible dry spells himself). The book is “How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously.”

      Best wishes to you. Hang in there.

    • Blanche says:

      So glad I dropped back in. I was mortified about an hour after I posted this and came back to see if I could delete it. When I couldn’t, I told myself, “Well, you can just never come back to this page, and it will be like it never happened.”

      But I’m glad I decided to check back in. Thanks. I really appreciate all these responses.

  18. Thanks for mentioning my post! The traffic driven to my blog from here has given me a record day (and pushed the overall hits for September into record territory for monthly hits).


    Now I’m watching my blog stats instead of my sales stats.


  19. John Brown says:


    Your covers have taken a massive leap in quality over the last four months or so. Maybe it’s been over the last year. But everyone of the ones I see on your site look great. Who are you using to do your cover work?

  20. J.A. Marlow says:

    “The million words are under my control. The number of sales, once a book is released, is not under my control.”

    Oh noes! I’m sure a mailing list I’m on just exploded with a few ‘lucky’ writers grousing about that, and gloating that your and Dean’s rankings on Amazon prove you’re full of it!


    This reminds me of how Dean once defined a ‘dream’ and a ‘goal’ when he did his writer business plan posts a few years back. The one you have NO control over. The other you DO have control over.

    Same way with what you are talking about. Sell a ton of books? Get lucky? Sell so many a month? That’s a ‘dream’ as it’s mostly out of your control (yes, yes, the typical standard disclaimer about having the basics down: cover, title, price, book description, sample, good distribution).

    The goal? The amount of work you do, and for writers that means words and completed projects. It’s the one thing in our control. The one thing we can do to make a difference in our careers (As Kevin says, “The harder I work, the luckier I am.”). It’s also the most fun part about the process. 😀

    I haven’t hit 1 million words in a year, and it certainly won’t happen this year with how life is crashing, but I am over 560,000 for the year. All things considering, it’s a great number, and I was able to tell a lot of great stories in those 560,000 words.

    As an aside, a few ten thousand of those words were spent writing sequels to a short story that is one of my worst sellers. I couldn’t help it. The stories needed to be told! But, once they go up, they will be up for years! Who knows if they will take off in a particular country or distribution channel at some point.

    (And yes, I’ve considered getting off that mailing list, but there are just enough good information tidbits that I stay on. But, some of the short-term thinking there drives me batty.)

  21. Colleen says:

    Tangential to this discussion, but relevant IMO, is something no one ever talks about: used books. Why? Well, two reasons, I figure: the numbers are untrackable, and the authors get no revenue from them. BUT – as soon as the ebooks come available, the impetus for buying used books goes away, at least partly.

    I was always frustrated to discover a “new to me” author, only to realize I had to search – sometimes for years! – to find most of their books. I won’t start a series in the middle, at least not knowingly, so gradually I’d find the earlier books, always shopping the used bookstores with a long list. Occasionally I’d abandon a series after finding quite a few of them, but never the first one. Now I don’t need to squander my few book dollars on hard-to-find-but-not-the-first books, as I can go directly to the first one, see if I like it, and if I do, get the next in the series immediately. Published in 1980? Who cares! WOW. Bonanza!

    You’ve sold 9,000,000 KKR books – to the first purchaser. But how many times have those books been re-sold?

    This speaks loudly to the idea of a LONG VIEW PERSPECTIVE. As numbers for backlisted books do become available, I think a lot of people will be surprised, and it can’t help but build readership for future works.

    What is happening to traditional publishers now will trickle down to used-book dealers in the future as more and more writers get their backlists up in e-format. Readers will soon be able to find ALL of a writer’s work easily. Then the money will flow to the writer instead of the middlemen. And that’s the way it should be.

  22. Russ says:

    Very interesting post as always, Kris. The numbers game drives me a little nuts because as a former government employee I’ve seen numbers manipulated so many ways. In publishing I believe you must take a longer term view to detect trends.

    Let me explain. In May 2011 we started our indie publishing company and sales have been steady but no breakouts. The sales occur everywhere on the planet that e-books are sold so no trend has yet appeared there yet. The mystery fiction seems to be the most popular of ours based on the numbers so far. No other particular trend has appeared at least that we can see from the sales numbers so far.

    I think the real key is patience and hard work. With both sides of publishing longer term thinking is the only way to look at things. I’m not investing my time and energy in analyzing every sale and trying to detect trends that may take years to appear this seems pointless to me.

    I agree, there is no such thing as luck in this or any other business. I do believe there are occasional breakouts when the skill level of the writer suddenly hits an indefinable something. This happened to me in a small way one day when my wife was reading one of my stories and she said I had broken through some invisible barrier to another level. Of course I as the writer had no idea this has happened and there is no way to bottle this development. I wish there was because then I’d be very rich.

    I think I’ll just continue trusting the process and enjoying the ride.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences and the numbers. Your wealth of experience is a deep well and much appreciated by all of us.

  23. I loved this post. I have long puzzled over your recommendation to “Dream big,” and this was one of the keys.
    The answer has always been to write a lot and learn the business, but your post shows how you could focus on “the business,” as in your personal sales per month, and completely miss the bigger picture: that most of us are still focusing on playing in a tiny sandbox, instead of becoming world class.
    I saw Joe Konrath’s numbers and said, “Wow, he’s a millionaire.” It blew my mind that you categorize his sales numbers as mid-list and it’s just the difference in percentage that goes to the author/publisher that makes up the monetary difference.
    Mid-list numbers are doable. That means we can all be millionaires.
    I’ve fallen into many traps: I think too small. I have hyperventilated over my numbers. I occasionally try to write what readers seem to want, even though I really have no idea what that is. But I work hard and I try to learn the business. So after indie writing helped me accomplish two of my goals (making over $10,000 in one calendar year from my writing, then making over $10,000 in my first year from indie writing alone), I was able to step back and say, “Okay. What now?”
    In my case, in 2012, that mean focusing on producing a new medical thriller while getting my backlist out in print–and not worrying so much about the numbers. It’s exciting to think of the bigger vistas ahead. Thanks, Kris. The Paypal’s “in the mail.”

  24. robert says:

    I was actually one of the commenters on Joe’s post that said I found it fascinating so many writers had great success with Kindle Select, tried their titles elsewhere for a few weeks or a month, found no immediate rush of sales, and pulled their titles back out and placed them back on Select. As I said there, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I know I could be making more money currently if I had all my titles in Select, but I hate having to then tell readers sorry, my such-and-such book isn’t available for your ereader. Granted, all my titles are DRM-free, so they could buy from Amazon, reformat, and then transfer over to their devices, but honestly, what average reader wants to spend the time to do that?

    I have high hopes for Kobo, as they seem to be ambitiously staking claim in the ebook market, though their author portal could use a lot more work, and I’ll be curious to see how Nook does in the UK.

  25. Mercy Loomis says:

    Awesome post, Kris. I’m part of a local romance writing group, and some of the tradpub authors are asking more questions about selfpubbing, and they look very doubtful when I’m honest about my numbers. But I’m less than a year in, and I’m figuring on a five-to-ten (probably closer to ten) year plan. They have a hard time thinking in those terms. But I’m happy to report that more and more are thawing to the idea.

    You mentioned estates again. I hope you or Dean can get around to the “estate-planning for writers” post soon. I don’t have anything set up for that and it makes me a little nervous. I don’t have kids and probably won’t, so I definitely need to get something official done before I kick off.

    I had a sale in Demark the other day. SO. COOL. I love this world. My Smashwords sales are on track to eclipse my Amazon sales, if this keeps up.

    • Thanks, Mercy. Keep nagging on estates, because honestly, it’s a big topic and I keep putting off tackling it for that reason. The more nags I get the more I’m likely to get off my duff. 🙂

      • Mercy Loomis says:

        I’m just hoping to figure out something other than a trust to make sure control of my stuff doesn’t end up with my sister-in-law if I die before my husband. I hate trusts, and I don’t make enough yet to make a trust worthwhile.

      • Diana Hunter says:

        adding my nag to the pile…

      • Patrick Reynolds says:

        My nag, too. Might be good in small bites – ownership; ways to hold; tax (revenue & capital); inheritance; cash-flow; different businesses; groups and separation; and, if Important Others and/or next generation not educated on IP and Long-Term then sharks will circle…cheers! Pat

      • 😉 I’m adding a nag in here for estate planning. Always love your posts, but don’t comment because I’m a Lurker Diva. I have a special needs grandson and have been trying to figure ways of helping him in the future. Have discussed it with son #2, but he doesn’t realize the possibilities. Thank you for teaching us so much. Blessings to you & Dean. ~ Aithne

  26. Excellent blog as always, Kris, thanks. I agree that it’s super-early days yet in the foreign markets, and so exciting! My Apple and Kobo sales grow monthly, and in interesting places like Norway and China.

    Looking at the long-term, yes. More authors need to do that.

    I’m coming up one the one-year anniversary of digitally publishing my second short story, a regency romance that came in at 14k words (ok, so it’s a ‘novelette’) and that has, in one year, made me over $2200. For a short story. Sales are tapering off now, so I may drop down to ‘only’ making $400 a year on this one. Which is another 2k in just 5 years. And guess what? I don’t have only one short story published. And in five years, how many *more* titles will I have up?

    Fun times to be a writer.

  27. Jason says:

    Thanks so much for this.

    Your blog and that of your husband Dean’s, are the best of the very few writing blogs I follow.

    You guys consistently encourage and focus on helping out newer writers, and I’m incredibly grateful for that.

    I’ve been writing for around twenty years now, but I’m ashamed to say I took about ten years off because I got discouraged. I got discouraged after spending too many years trying to write my first novel, and then spending another 5 or so years collecting over 300 rejection slips.

    Then I spent a few years feeling sorry for myself. Then I put up a couple of my novels independently and wasted another couple of years feeling sorry for myself again because I got no sales to speak of. Less than a few hundred of each.

    Then I found Konrath’s blog and yours and Deans, and in hindsight I’m grateful I never got picked up traditionally, because I see the potential LONG TERM. The potential that the new found knowledge I have gained regarding self publishing and cherishing my work and more importantly writing more will offer over time.

    Not to say I’ll put my nose up at traditional publishing, but I’m better informed to make better decisions for myself.

    Over the last few months I’ve started to get serious again about writing. I’ve stopped looking at sales, except once a month as Dean suggests, and I’ve started to write more. Not a million words per year, but I’m on track for half a million+. From there I’ll work up to the millionaire’s club with you 😉

    Long story short, thanks so much for your kindness in sharing and encouraging new writers and arming them with good information as they start out.

  28. Mars Dorian says:

    Wow, what an epic blog post.
    I’m from Germany, but I mostly read English fiction since my whole online biz is in English. I luv my Kindle, and read at least 5 books a month.

    Now the States, and Europe has always been slow in adapting “new technology”.
    What’s happening right now in Germany is interesting:
    The book market here is ginormous, the second biggest in the world, right after the States. You see peeps reading everywhere.

    But it’s going to take at least 2-3 until ereaders totally take off here – most prefer to buy the physical version. Still, when I’m in the subway, I see more and people using them already.
    A lot of my friends speak fluent English, so I agree lots of people from non-English speaking countries will buy your stuff too.
    Kobo is doing an excellent stuff on spreading worldwide – since it’s owned by a Japanese company, it’s clear they’re getting more awareness in Japan.
    But they really push it here in Germany as well – their presence seems to rival Amazon.
    That’s why I think you’re right – you don’t know which company will dominate in the future. If Kobo plays it small, they can be a serious contester to Amazon, especially outside of the US. That’s why every indie author should be on many platforms as possible, and say NO to any exclusive deals that limit them to only on one.

    I think the future is so diverse in book selling, and you should almost think like Hollywood – creating stories for the world, stories that many cultures can appreciate.

    That’s certainly my goal.

    Thanx for this rich and interesting blog post, Kristine !

  29. Craig Reed says:

    Again, great post Kris….on two subjects.

    That’s something that hasn’t been talked about in E-publishing. It’s not just the US — it’s the entire world an author can appeal to. A friend of mine was just offered a job in Japan. She’s has a degree in Japanese language and culture and likes translating Maga from Japanese to English. And the job? Teaching English to Japanese citizens. English is the second most spoken language in the world, and that’s only because there’s over a billon Chinese citizens. It has become the diplomatic language of choice (Much to the annoyance of the French), and it’s the hardest language for a non-native speaker to learn because of it’s complexity.

    (I have a T-shirt with a quote on it (paraphased) “English doesn’t borrow words from other languages — it follows them down dark alleys, hits them over the head, and rifles their pockets for any useful vocabulary.”)

    The wide-spread use of English leads into the second subject. In today’s market, a good author doesn’t need to sell a million books over a short period of time to make money. Post an Ebook and if it finds an audience, it’ll have a longer payback period, (Decades, assuming there isn’t another major advance in technology)and the author makes more money per book means that the book has to sell only a fraction of the books to get the same amount.

    In today’s Emarket, an author with ten novels online and modest sales (say, 10/month/per novel), who makes $4.50 a book, can make $450 on those books. Not a huge amount, but makes a nice second job. Move books and better sales would increase the amount, of course, but no legacy publisher would keep an author with those type of sales.

    Of course, any author dreams of have a “Fifty Shades of Gray” breakout novel, but in the Ebook world, authors can make a living on sales no legacy publisher would stand for. And with the world as the marketplace, if the novel is any good, an author will find their audience and a good income.


    • Thanks for the comment, Craig. I have the same t-shirt.:-) And exactly on all of your comment.

    • “it’s the hardest language for a non-native speaker to learn because of it’s complexity”

      Really? I’d always heard Arabic was the hardest. Interesting…

      • Joe Vasicek says:

        Arabic grammar is fairly complicated, but once you know the rules, there are very few exceptions.

        Also, the rules actually make a lot of sense. Every word has a three or four letter root, which roughly corresponds to a broad concept–for example, ? (“kaff”) ? (“ta”) ? (“ba”) roughly corresponds with the idea of writing or writerly things. Different types of words (nouns, verbs, places, active participles) all take certain a certain type of form, so by extrapolating the root from the form, you can get the meaning of the word.

        For example, ??? (“kataba”) is the form I verb, the most basic verb form, and means simply “to write.” ???? (“kaatib”) is the active participle, and means “writer.” ???? (“kitaab”) is the passive participle (I think–my Arabic may have gotten rusty), so it’s the word for “book,” ie something that is written. ????? (“maktaba”) is the place noun, meaning “a place of written things”–in other words, a library.

        So yes, Arabic is complicated, but once you get a feel for how the language patterns work, you can very quickly figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words by extrapolating the root and plugging it into the particular form.

        The primary challenge of Arabic isn’t the grammar, it’s the fact that there are SO MANY @#$! MORE WORDS than we have in English. No matter how much Arabic you know, unless you’re a native speaker, you’re constantly running into new root combinations that you’ve never seen before.

        Sorry for the tangent, but I hope it was interesting. Arabic is a beautiful language, and I wish I knew it well enough to write in it.

      • Cora says:

        I strongly doubt that English is the hardest language to learn for a non-native speaker. German, French, Finnish and Chinese are almost certainly harder and that’s just the languages about which I know enough to comment.

        English does have some spelling and pronunciation inconsistencies, which can be problematic for learners. However, it does not have case endings or grammatical gender, comparatively few exceptions and English grammar in general is fairly simple compared to what other language dish up.

        • In my lifetime, I have studied Spanish, French, Mandarin Chinese, Hebrew and yes, Arabic. I gave up on only one: Arabic. I love the fluid calligraphy, the elegant combinations, the sound of it. But it’s a very difficult language, partly because of what Michael says, and partly because there really is no such language as “Arabic”, any more than there is a language called “European”. There is Gulf Arabic and Maghreb Arabic and Egyptian Arabic, etc. They are sometimes nearly unintelligible to one another. I finally quit my class when my teacher explained that there are no rules for forming plurals in Arabic, you just have to memorize the plural for each noun. What???

  30. Nancy Beck says:

    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.

    HAHA! That is TOO good! Of course, every writer is new once. D’oh!

    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.

    That is awesome…and I hope that’s me too. In fact, I’m working on that (we’re around the same age, Kris). The idea of being a writer into my 90s sounds so wonderful! 🙂

    Fantastic article. As usual. Thanks, Kris!

  31. Geoff Burling says:

    So, to summarize a post which rambles a little — but I definitely found worth reading — an author should focus on two things to be successful:

    1) Write the best book/short story/essay/whatever she/he can; &
    2) Make it as easy as possible for readers to find it.

    All the gimmicks & tactics thrown out in blogs, printed books, etc. to get published simply are a means to accomplish #2. If they don’t accomplish that, they aren’t helping either the writer or the reader.

    I hope that doesn’t oversimplify your point.

  32. Steven Davis says:

    Another great article! Thank you!

    A clear implication of this is that every book you publish should be a “portal” to recommend, refer, and sell into the rest of your catalog. This should affect the layout of both paper and ebooks.

    Also, a book should send your readers back to you to connect with you and your community. A link and a QR code to sign up for a mail list to keep up. Links to community sites to discuss, book clubs, etc.

    The publishing industry never thought about connecting to readers since their customers were really retail book stores. Now, publishers and authors are interacting directly with readers, so each book is its own book store, as it were.

    … which would imply we may want to look at the ePub and kindle standards to ensure that they are designed to serve the author’s business interests as well as just presentation of material.

    • Kristine Kathryn Rusch says:

      Exactly. Although, again, if you have to choose between doing all that and writing the next book, write the next book.

  33. William Ockham says:

    Because this post seems to be, at least in part, a response to some comments I made on PG’s blog, I would like to clarify some points I was trying to make there. Everyone seemed to take the opposite meaning from my words than what I intended, which means I did a really poor job of communicating. Looking back over my comments I understand why that is. Let me try to do a reset here.

    You and Dean (and Joe Konrath) have worked harder than anyone else to understand and explain the new market for writers. You all have provided actionable advice to other writers (write, write, and then write some more) that I totally agree with. I would be a fool to think I know more about this business than you do. And I believe writers are handicapped by a profound lack of tools and services that would allow them to follow that advice while reaching new markets and readers.

    These tools and services don’t exist yet because there was no market for them until a couple of years ago. I am not talking about data mining. Unless you are J. K. Rowling running Pottermore, you will never generate enough data to do data mining. I’m talking about tools to help you build a successful career as a writer by building relationships with readers.

    There is one really important line in this post that I want to call out:

    No traditional publisher has ever capitalized on my built-in audience.

    That is exactly right. It wasn’t in their interest to do that and therefore they never built the capacity to do that. It isn’t in Amazon’s (or any other retailer’s) interest to do that either. Unless you sign with one of Amazon’s imprints. In that case, it is and they can, but only as a side effect of their other business.

    Of course, as a writer, it most definitely is in your interest to take advantage of your built-in audience, but how can you do that with the tools and information available today? Right now, it is way harder than it has to be. Let’s take “The Moorhead House” as an example.

    Despite how it sounded, it wasn’t my intention to chastise you for failing to figure out why that book is doing better on the Nook than on the Kindle. As you point out, with 200 titles, how can you justify spending time on this one anomalous short story? But what if knowing why was “free”? What if knowing why this story is selling on that plaform helped you sell this story on other platforms? Or sell more of your other titles on that platform? It might be really useful information. The real questions are whether or not it is even possible to answer this question and, if so, is the answer useful for advancing your career.

    Today, no one that I am aware of is trying to answer this question for any titles except the blockbuster hits. Perhaps you could answer the question if you had access to data, but you don’t. But that’s not the only way to answer the question. The other ways involve experiments. Experiments that you don’t have the time or inclination to conduct. These investigations have to be rigorous and they take time. Not all of them yield useful information. But if we can start doing these experiments we can learn things that no one has ever known. That was my only point in bringing up that story.

    I am firmly convinced that however it might appear to most writers, these things are not random. There are discoverable causes for these effects. Understanding why will help sell more books in the long haul which, as you point out, is what really matters.

    But even more important than understanding these causes and effects is identifying and growing your fan base. What came across in my previous comments as an argument for data mining and trying to predict what will be popular in the future was really my attempt to argue something completely different. The readers who are most likely to buy the next Kris DeLake novel are the readers who bought Assassins in Love. Do you really know who all of those readers are and how to contact them by email? Does SourceBooks (the publisher)? I’m assuming the answer is no. Is anyone trying to build a fan base for this pen name or series? That’s a real question. There’s a lot about the way this business works that befuddles me. What value do folks put on building a community of fans around a mid-list novel?

    Your point about companies coming and going is also well taken. That is exactly why I’m interested in understanding how stories are sold to readers. Writers and readers are essential to this business, everyone else is potentially expendable. Being dependent on a single vendor, especially when its interests don’t align exactly with yours, is dangerous. That is why I think developing better ways to connect writers directly with readers is a great business opportunity.

    I don’t intend to criticize any writer’s approach to their career. I’m trying to express my disappointment with the status quo with regards to selling books. Everyone is leaving money on the table, but it isn’t just that. Millions of times a day, readers are less happy than they could have been because our system of matching readers to the books they will like is so much worse than it could be. Before ebooks there were all sorts of complex logistical problems with getting the right books to the right people. Now it is a much simpler problem of selling the right books to the right people at the right time.

    • Thanks for clarifying, William. I’m on the road right now and can’t really answer in-depth, but I fully plan to let my various audiences (that I know about) know when new books are out. I will capitalizing on my audience. That’ll be a post in February, when I have more data.

      However, knowing more than who likes what isn’t really helpful to the creative process and it’s not good for producing future books. Writers should write what they want to write even if no one wants it. Because the latest break-out book is always a surprise. We readers never know what we want until we see it. 🙂 More later.

    • Kristine Kathryn Rusch says:

      Okay, William, no longer on the road.

      Yes, I know who my readers are for various series and pen names, and plan to take advantage of that. I have decades of information, and plan to use it when a new book comes out by that pen name and I want to goose the sales a bit. Using it on every book/story would just annoy the readers. But I’m working of a large inventory. Most writers who’ve gone indie aren’t.

      The problem with knowing why a story like “The Moorhead House” which is a one-off that I’ve written nothing else like sells is that it’s not that relevent to my career. Better to use those tools on series books, or short stories that are truly similar to other things I do. Then it’s good to know.

      But knowing that information from daily numbers isn’t helpful. Better to wait a year or so and see if the sales slow down, increase or stay the same. If it’s a one-month spike, then consider it a blip. But if the story sells consistently or is growing, then it might be something valuable to know.

      However, that knowledge should not influence what I write. If I never plan to write another story/book like “The Moorhead House,” then the information is irrelevent, no matter how well it sells. I’m better off using that same information time to figure out who is buying my Fey series or my Retrieval Artist series, because that’s where the future work lies.

      I don’t think we disagree about figuring out audience. I think we might disagree about how much time a writer should spend doing so. Our writing time is very limited, and we need to protect it, so the rest should happen after writing, and only if the information is relevent.

  34. R. L. Copple says:

    Thanks for confirming my “business plan.” I’m no where even close in sales of my six novels, but it is getting better, and I’m working toward getting more work out. Big issue is keeping my nose to the grindstone.

    At 52, myself, I realized just starting out that I could have many good years writing, even though I’m just 7 years old in this business. Thanks for all your input into my goals and direction. It is helpful.

  35. There you go again, Kris, with the “glass half full”. 🙂

    Just when I was starting to fret over my numbers (which I allow myself to do for one day every three months), I discovered not only sales in Indonesia for a story, but feedback from readers. Let me tell you, though I may sound like such a n00b saying it, I sat back and goggled when I realized I had reader in Indonesia.

    In Indonesia.

    Still can’t get over that.

    So now I have two things to keep writer’s depression/block at the door: Kris’ unbounded optimism, and a reader in Indonesia. 🙂

  36. I think this post was just what I needed today, and I appreciate it. I’ve been too short-term thinking with my publishing lately, and this will help me get back on track with my craft. Thanks a bunch.

  37. Mary Sutton says:

    As a new writer I find this incredibly inspiring and helpful. Thank you! The more I read, the less attractive a traditional publishing deal looks – and the less my goal is to “quit my day job” and more “to get my work in front of as many eyes as possible and see what happens.”

    • Funny, I find the notion of a traditional deal to be…rather unappealing…as well. And yet I find myself thinking about sending my next book out of the query-go-round just to prove that I can do it (and without all the things that all the “gurus” say you need – an agent, etc). Not for validation or any of that crap, mind you. Just as a personal challenge.

      But then, I’m weird. 😉

      • Marc Whipple says:

        Pfft. I can outweird that.

        It is my firm intention to sell exactly as many items to tradpub as it takes to be admitted to the SFWA, and then never do a first sale to tradpub again. (If they want to offer to take one of my epubs tradpub, I’m open to discussion.)


        To be obnoxious. No other reason.

        • wgc says:

          This raises an interesting question: Will org. like the SFWA change to consider self-pub. work as counting if it generates a minimum number of sales. The SFWA has a minimum dollar amount ($50) for a short story to count toward its requirement of three published stories. What if you make more than that on a self-pub. story?

          Have they considered this issue?

          • Marc Whipple says:

            They have. As of now they are not interested.

            I’ve made way more than that on every short I have in publication. (They’re all sci-fi or fantasy.) But since I’m my own publisher ’tis for naught.

            I think they will probably have to break eventually, but I bet it will require documenting number of sales, not gross or net revenue.

          • At the time I quit SFWA, I was told that they were not able or interested in dealing with the kinds of legal and business issues faced by self-publishers. That was before Scalzi’s tenure, though, so perhaps things have changed. I haven’t checked the site lately, so I’m not sure what benefit an indie writer would derive from their membership fee these days.

        • LOL

          I like it. Well played, sir. 🙂

          • Interesting about SFWA. I hope they will update their criteria. We’re not going away any time soon *g*

            On a side note, Romance Writers of America are now taking self-published book sales into consideration for PAN (pubbed author network) approval. The criteria are different (higher royalties required) for self-published books however, but it’s a step in the right direction. And nice to see the self-pubbed books being included for the first time in the “Sold!” section of the Romance Writers Report, too.

  38. A.J. Stewart says:

    right on the money (pardon the pun) again. From reading your an Dean’s stuff I realized that I had to apply the same forecasting principles to my writing as I did to my previous business life. I projected my income based on output over 5 and 10 years, allowing that each book would be “dead” after 10 years for business purposes, and therefore I needed to keep developing new product (yep, that means keep writing). Of course in this new environment my books won’t be complete dead after 10 years, but then they will just be the cream on top of everything. All this served to take the pressure off expecting or needing to make thousands of sales from day one. It doesn’t mean I don’t market my product, but it means I can build my business without the false expectation that my product will come out of the gate fast, which is what kills 9 out of 10 small businesses and I expect, 9 out of 10 writers.

  39. Dan Thompson says:

    Great post!

    So, a million words in a year? I’m pretty impressed, especially since I’m still not there even for my lifetime stats of words written. Is that purely work for publication (traditional or indie), or does that also include blog posts and other non-publication writing?

    I guess I’m trying to wrap my brain around it, in that it seems like the equivalent of 10-12 novels per year, and I think I’m stretching to do 2-3 novels per year.

  40. Mike Zimmerman says:

    Sales numbers are an addictive cocktail of crack, heroin, unsolicited oral sex, and a Walking Dead marathon. Once you’ve had a taste, you want them all the time.

    I fall into that trap, too. I tend to look, sometimes every day. But I learned a tough lesson this year: As much as you want to obsess over sales numbers, they’re fool’s gold. Oh, yeah, they mean money in your pocket, don’t get me wrong. The whole point is to make money. But obsessing over sales, especially indie sales, is a major time suck and generally frustrating. Here’s what I mean:

    I coauthored a nonfiction book that came out this past March (traditionally pubbed). The only sales numbers I had to go on at the time were from Bookscan, which tracks a good chunk, but not all, of sales out there. It’s about the best tool we have, but it ain’t perfect.

    So the book goes out with 2600 on Bookscan the first week, 2700 the second week. Because sales figures can be cocaine and oral sex-like in their allure, I went and looked at the Bookscan numbers of the lower half of the New York Times bestseller list that week. We CRUSHED the lower section of the list, not by a few copies, but by 300 to 800 as you went down the list.

    The book never made the Times list. My coauthor couldn’t understand this. He thought we were totally robbed (his word was stronger). We OUTSOLD titles on the list. We should’ve been at #7. But that was based on Bookscan numbers only. Most folks in publishing know that the NYTimes list is cobbled together in an arcane way from various “secret” bookstores across the country. They don’t look at Bookscan.

    Flash forward to this week. A colleague of mine hit the list this week with Bookscan numbers of 1600. Another colleague hit the list, too, but three slots BELOW, and they sold 2300 Bookscan. Logical people would say, “Explain, please,” but folks in publishing know there is no explanation other than, “that’s the way it is.”

    Now you see how watching sales is not just frustrating, but maddening, especially when you’re talking about hitting the NYTimes list and other goals that have more to do with prestige than performance.

    Kris is right, folks. It’s just not worth your time to obsess over sales numbers. Check them, yes. But finding answers or secret information in them that will let you sell more? Doubtful. My bestselling indie title is a story I wrote 23 years ago and was never able to place at a magazine. Go figure, cuz I sure can’t. And I don’t have time to try.

    Hope this helps,

    Mike Zimmerman

    • Great post, Mike. About twenty years ago, a list of the NYT bookstores leaked, and one writer I knew tried to goose his sales through them. It got ugly, and caused all kinds of trouble. Now the NYT uses a variety of bookstores at different times. It measures nothing, except a few stores. Maddening.

      Plus many lists won’t count certain types of titles because they’re not exciting or snobbishly appealing or something. So there’s that prejudice. (This is why the children’s list developed in PW and NYT, because the J.K. Rowling numbers were offending the Powers That Be, and had to be relegated to children’s where they belonged–and so that it wouldn’t interfere with “real” books. [sigh])

      Great post.

  41. Thanks, Kristene! What a great essay. You always open my eyes a little wider in the morning when I read your business posts. I’m trying to think long term and you help keep me on that path.

  42. Alan Spade says:

    Great article ! It made me realize I’m not a small player. I’m a microscopic one. No, an infinitesimal one. 😉

    More seriously, Joe said in his blog that his Amazon sales are 14 to one for the competition. Here in France, we have a very short experience, and maybe it’s not relevant yet. People are mad about iPhones and iPad, (they have millions of them) but I don’t sell so many ebooks on that platform (like 10 to 15 on mediocre months and 20 to 30 on good ones, compared to 20 to 30 on mediocre months with Amazon and 60 to 80 on good months).

    My sales with Kobo are lower than with Apple. And I’m not a very representative french player because I do not use the Numilog platform, who could perhaps double my numbers : I have an anti-DRM policy and Numilog (formerly owned by Hachette) imposes DRM.

    But I’ll stick whith all of them except Numilog : as you said, we have to look at the future. Big electronic corporations are giants with clay feet, so one never knows.

    If it were not for the refusal of Amazon to homogenize its format and sell epubs, and for unfair practices like KDP Select, AMZ would be my favourite company, though. Why ? Because they were the first to open themselves to self-published authors. That weighs.

    I have studied the Kobo website. I have seen the big publisher’s books displayed prominently and totally eclipsing self-published, no matter the number of sales. I have seen the same inequity I see on bookshelves in brick-and-mortar stores repeated on the Kobo website.

    Yes, they have recently implemented charts, but believe me, the philosophy of their website is still very, very traditionaly oriented.

    As for Apple, for me they are not a pure player because they do not deliver a specialized device, with e-ink. So our ebooks are competed by many, many other things, like videogames or websites, or applications.

    We have yet to see an Amazon competitor who will bet on indies. I already know it won’t be Google : Google books has the same fails than Apple (not specialized)and Kobo website (inequity).

    It does not diminish your points, Kris, I agree with you, it’s just that the time has not come yet that competitors in the ebooks field treat everybody on the same level. And thank you and Dean to help us thinking in the long term.

    • Don’t worry about how Kobo advertises books, Alan. Lots of companies do that. If indie books become successful, they’ll get more attention down the road. Just be patient.

      Your numbers, looked at over time, are excellent, by the way. You need to read some of Dean’s posts on how to make money in the new world of publishing. It’s hard when we’re trained in the old world to think of monthly sales in the thousands. But then the book goes OP within three months, and the sales period is over. Now you can make more money on fewer sales. Sounds like you’re probably at 1,000 sales per year. That’s what you would have on many traditional books as well, only within three months and then no potential for future sales. It’s all about perspective.

      And thanks for the update on the French situation.

      • Alan Spade says:

        Thanks to you for your kind words, Kris. I’m currently at 650 ebooks and 580 paper books for year 2012. The best news is now that I have reduced my signing sessions from 4 to 2 by month, I write twice more (signing session are 10:00 to 19:00 for me, but they involve time to obtain and to recover payments, and beside, there is the psychological aspect of thing like feeling like a VRP and not so much like an author).

        Yes, Dean posts are very interesting too.

  43. Gosh, why are you so pessimistic, Kris?

    You left out Asian English readers. Indians and Chinese need English to do business outside their countries, and with lots of other Indians and Chinese, because there are so many native languages in India and China. That’s only two billion people. And not counting small countries such as Thailand and The Philippines where all school children are taught English.

    Randy Ingermansoll just comes right out and says the first writer to make a billion dollars from one book will be self-published. The Da Vinci Code sold, what, 80 million copies, I’ve heard. What if Brown got $4 or $5 per copy? Add in movie rights. World availability. And near-eternal demand.

    Gosh, it might take 5 years to make a billion, and nobody except your bank will notice, because the media’s attention has already moved on.

    It might even take some of us two or three books to make it 🙂

    And why do you think you’ll die at such a young age as 98?

    As an SF writer, you ought to know if you survive the next 10 or 20 years, you may well see centuries or millennia.

  44. Hi Kristine.

    Quoting you…

    “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…. 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.”

    You nailed it with this. Just… nailed it.


  45. Ferran says:

    Hum… since you’ve been here, you’ll have realized that the European for “small” (or “narrow”) is different to the US use of it… by several orders of magnitude. A narrow street. A small range (or car, or…).

    For example,

    “Brick and mortar bookstores have never penetrated all of America.”

    Ok… Rebooting my brain from culture shock in… 3.. 2.. 1..

    See what I mean about the difference in US’ “small” vs. the European definition? As in “small” distance from the nearest bookshop. I think one of the reasons survivalism has never really entered Europe is that there’s no *place* to practice it, here.

    Also, my personal experience with English in Europe (and I’m biased towards a good conversational level, I admit) is below par. Clerks in main information offices who have to ask the college student at the refreshment parlor for help, international simposia with under 10% English presence (this, in a Tier-1 country in the statistic you pointed)… I have to wonder how that statistic was created. If it means half of Spaniards can hold a conversation in English, then I have to disagree. If it means that half of us have been tortured under (British) English classes… I have to disagree. Too high / too low. is pretty new (about a year, I believe), and I don’t think English books will take off any time soon: people who comfortably read English have been used, for a while, to Amazon-US/UK and some other venues, which are way cheaper. As a general rule, it’s 20-30% cheaper to get my books through UK/US than it would be to get them here through Amazon (and over 50% in any other place). That’s a rule of thumb _average_.

    Then, Amazon refuses to sell ebooks to Spaniards through their previous accounts in offshore branches. You have to create a new ES account, download the Cloud software (which sometimes just won’t work… I’m usually unable to read previews in either my android or my Cloud: they disappear from the device *).

    And now you can add the fact that book prices here are regulated (I’ve written about it before; I _think_ this might not apply to ebooks, but I can’t prove it). A couple of publishing houses are trying to break this trend, but e-book prices for fiction used to be in the 30+ USD range. I don’t know if they still are, nor do I care.

    Basically, I believe Spanish readers are *way* more likely to buy your English ebooks through smashwords or equivalent (B&N and others have the same location problem). Again, anecdotal evidence, but I have 29 of your Smashwords ebooks, 3 of Pyr’s paperbacks, and no Kindle titles. If you count the rest of my e-library, that’s some 300+ ebooks and a single, technical, Kindle book.

    From what I can see, none of your current PBK books is available at the ES branch. So, if I’m a new reader (of your _English_ books) I have to get your physical books through US/UK and your ebooks through another venue that makes me register all over again. For the same hassle, smashwords (or baen, or others), allows me to step in… allowing me to chose my format (html/epub/…) and reading your books in whatever computing device I have available at the moment.

    Your “troubles” with expanding markets sound like you should have a marketing/sales branch. What’s the chance that several writers could join in and hire some sort of tech-savy guy to explore what’s needed to enter those venues?

    WRT statistics… I’ve had my wannabe arguments with people who claim they understand stats when the only thing they understand is the math of them (and much better than myself, BTW). People who’d claim, for example, that since the world’s food output per capita exceeds 2000 cal *no one* dies of hunger. If you push, they’ll admit to some exceptions at the end of the bell curve. Sigh. And don’t get with the whole correlation vs. causation thingy.

    Sometimes I like to quote about the dangers of the seatbelt: 70% of deaths related to car crashes in Spain had their seatbelt on. Should we consider seatbelts a hazzard? (Dibbs on the dukedom).

    WRT publishing houses and orders: I’ve been having discussions on that, here in Spain, of late. The more someone knows about warehousing (of any kind), the more difficult it is for them to understand POD. Things like CreateSpace help because they become a “black box” that does logistics for them (and may, or may not, have its own warehouses).

    “Regional is small, and regional these days is the United States.”

    There was some discussion at David Weber’s about his ebooks not being available in Europe. While people where “only” angry at Tor… his latest e-book was on P2P not 24 hours after release. Months before UK release, months before PBK. Sigh…

    “I can get the work out there, then I have to trust it to sell.”

    Aiee! Actually TRUST *your* (own) Work?

    Also, “luck favors the prepared pen”. Or wordpro, I guess.

    Take care.

    Ferran, BCN

    (*) Having to load a Cloud browser, or whatever, or a different piece of software so that Amazon will be satisfied is simply DRM by another name. And annoying as hell when you’re not using Wintel.

    • Thanks, Ferran, for all of this. I appreciate it, especially on the Europe/Spanish connection. And yes, the pricing is very different.

      Dean and I are starting up a sales arm that’s worldwide. Initially it was through WMG, but it’ll be its own company with an employee coming on in the spring. Then I’ll really have numbers. (That’ll probably be in August.)

      I love “Luck favors the prepared pen.” Niiiice. More later when I’m not borrowing restaurant wi-fi.


  46. Gerhi Feuren says:

    As far as I know the “more I practice, the luckier I become” quote originally came from Gary Player, the golfer.

    At the same time I made a commitment to write, and publish, more, I also made the commitment not to check sales numbers unless I have to.

    The figures you talk about above really puts things in perspective. Luckily I could have another 53 writing years ahead of me.

  47. Joanna Penn says:

    Kris, you are seriously wise and wonderful. I love this post, and have loved many of your others. I have 2 novels and about to publish the 3rd so I am at the beginning – I do try everyday to re-adjust my perspective to the long-term, to think that I may have 50+ years ahead of me writing – but it is hard to think that way. It’s like one of those images that flip perspective – you have to actively look. It’s too easy to focus on that next check – so thank you, I needed this today!

  48. Great post. Totally agree.

    One point I believe bears emphasizing is that when you speak of lifetime earnings, the lifetime you are refering to is not the lifetime of the author, but the life of the copyright. At 70 yrs after the author’s death, that means a book that continues to sell will pay to the author’s children, grandchildren, and possibly even great-grandchildren.

    That’s something authors rarely factor in when considering traditional contracts now, when digital release means books never die. Even books that aren’t bestsellers now have significant lifetime earnings potential.

    Pre-digital, you had to be a bestseller – or your books had to be ones large number of readers in successive generations wanted to buy, like Tolkien, Heyer, Christie, Sayers, etc – for publishers to keep the books out there long enough for the long tail to become a reality. Now, for every book put up there, the prospect of significant lifetime earnings is an automatic reality. Not that it will automatically happen, but now the only thing that defines whether it will happen is the reader-engagement of your writing.

    • Thank you, Stephanie, for reinforcing the estate part of this. I hope to do a post on estates down the road, but haven’t got there yet. What you’re saying is very, very, very important. Even if you’re only making a few dollars per month right now, extrapolate that over your lifetime plus 70 years, and realize how much money that is.

      Also, excellent point about reader-engagement. Write good stories, folks, and the readers will come. Trust the process. Thanks, Stephanie.

  49. J.J.Foxe says:

    Hey Kris

    First off, really interesting post. Lots to think of for us fledgling self published writers!

    I have a question for you if that’s OK. For me the most interesting line was this:

    “Write more, improve your craft, publish on all available platforms.”

    This is something Dean says too – my question is this: do you do any ‘practice’ specifically designed to improve your craft? Or do you work on the gradual accumulation of abilities based on writing a million words in a year?



    • I’m always reading different books, stealing techniques, practicing something hard, reaching for things I think I can’t do. I figure if I fail, I’ll fail spectacularly. So yes, I’m always practicing something and hoping to improve. Thanks for the comment, James.

  50. Suzan Harden says:

    Dean said this would be an interesting post. *grin*

    It mirrors an ongoing discussion I have with a writer friend. Currently, we’re both self-publishing.

    She recently uploaded a novella. When it wasn’t selling at the numbers she believed it should be selling at its original $2.99 price at the beginning of the summer, she dropped the price to $0.99. Yes, it hit the NYT BS list. But for only three weeks, then sales plummeted again.

    I’m pricing my short stories at $2.99. She complains my shorts aren’t long enough, and I’m charging too much. Her opinions are mainly based on the 1- and 2-star reviews she receives on Amazon for the stories she’s dropped the price on. Yet, my shorts sell at a pretty consistent level every month.

    She thinks I’m nuts for NOT wanting every Dick, Jane and Sally reading my stories, but I’m well aware that my style is very niche. I’ll only harm myself in the long run by seeking readers that don’t like my material. (That doesn’t mean I’m not distributing as widely as possible to potential readers who like snarkalicious zombie heroines. *grin*)

    In her case, I do understand that her short-term goal is paying for her daughter’s college since she knows her ex won’t provide any financial help. But when I asked what happens after the next four years, she looked at me like I’d grown a second head.

    Like you, Kris, I’m looking at doing this for the next forty-plus years. And given that many in my family lived past 100, it may be even longer!

    • Zelah Meyer says:

      I’m sure a large chunk of my fellow Kindleboarders think I’m insane for not pricing low, joining Select, and doing free promotions. However, I don’t mind if it takes someone twenty years or more to buy my book. I’m not interested in how many sales I can make this month, I’m interested in how many sales I can make over life of copyright.

      I currently only have one $2.99 novelette out (soon to be followed by a novella.) With no publicity, it has predictably sunk into obscurity. However, I expected that. I expect the next half dozen or so titles to do the same thing.

      However, based on my observations of what happens for other authors in my genres who have well-edited work with good covers – I expect things to start picking up around the eight to twelve title mark, as long as I have several novels and a series in there. How much they pick up seems to be a matter of luck – but people seem to be getting at least modest sales once they reach that mark, unless their titles are very different from each other.

      If a reader doesn’t discover my work until I have thirty or forty titles out – well, it just means that I will have thirty or forty other titles to sell them if they liked it!

      Thanks for another encouraging post. 🙂

      • Tom says:

        You “expect” to fail?? Therein lies your obscurity problem. Always expect to succeed in everything you do.

        • Zelah Meyer says:

          I don’t expect to fail, I just have realistic expectations about what it will take to succeed!

          Hope for the best and prepare for the worst (and the best, in fact, prepare for everything!) – that’s my approach. 🙂

          • Tom says:

            Prepare for the best, not the worst.

          • J.A. Marlow says:

            Oh great. Now I’m on a quote binge. Everyone duck!

            “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” Proverb, English (Mentioned in Kris’s “Freelancer’s Survival Guide: Emergencies” – )

            “Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.” Denis Waitley

            “Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Capitalize on what comes.” Zig Ziglar

            Time and the human experience have upheld the top one. It’s why the proverb has stayed with us for so long.

            Kris talks about how conservative most long-time successful businesses are in her other past posts. Positive thinking only goes so far no matter how hard we plan or wish the results into being. As Mario Andretti says, “Desire is the key to motivation…” but then continues to say it’s not the key to making your plans a success. That part needs hard work.

            Recognizing the market and the odds and working with it is not a bad thing to do. Having a balanced view keeps us from making unrealistic choices (I have relatives that do this. Jump in, expect the absolute best without thinking it can be anything else which means not preparing for it, and then CRASH). It also keeps us from becoming too downhearted when we don’t “succeed at everything [we] do.” Because we don’t. Not in this imperfect world full of imperfect people with imperfect events.

            “First ask yourself: What is the worst that can happen? Then prepare to accept it. Then proceed to improve on the worst.” Dale Carnegie

            Plan for what can happen at all stages including the worst without the stars in the eyes. Have a contingency plan. Know what can happen on the worst side, then have plans to make it better. Expect the worst to happen and put into place your plans so you continue to have food on the table and a roof over your head and clothes to wear.

            If something better happens? Then break out the chocolate and celebrate! Murphy and his dratted laws, the odds, the market, and the other invisible aspects of your business you can’t see or respond to (“The only true wisdom is knowing that you know nothing.” Socrates) didn’t just land on your head with a gooey stinky sticky splat.

            And about expecting the worst? Failure, the dreaded “F” word? The one we are taught from children to avoid at all costs? “Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it, So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that’s where you will find success.” –Thomas J. Watson

            Failure is not the end unless you allow it to be. Zelah doesn’t come across as believing it will be for her if a certain method turns out to be a ‘failure.’

            Zelah is doing fine with her attitude.

            And finally (as it pertains to Kris’s post):

            “Make your product easier to buy than your competition, or you will find your customers buying from them, not you.” Mark Cuban

          • Kristine Kathryn Rusch says:

            JA, thanks for the quotes. Good discussion here, y’all. 🙂

          • Zelah Meyer says:

            Thanks J.A. – yes, that’s the approach I’m taking.

            I’m actually pretty optimistic about my chances of success in the longer term. However, I expect to have to put in a lot of hard work before I get there. It’s the fact that I’m willing to put in that work and stick at it that makes me confident that I’ll get there in the end. 🙂

    • Marc Whipple says:

      If you really want to make their faces go all funny-colored, just point out that if you double your prices and it costs you half your readers you have either lost nothing or come out way ahead. (Depending on whether that kicks you into a higher royalty tier.) It’s simple enough math that most people who could conceivably write a book can follow it, but it causes a very strong cognitive dissonance which is great fun to observe.

      “But… but… HALF MY READERS!”

      Yeah. The cheap half. Good riddance. (And to those who are in genuinely tight financial straits, no offense, and that is why I post the occasional freebie. I’d rather give it away than sell it for next to nothing.)

      • Kristine Kathryn Rusch says:

        Honestly, when we raised prices, sales went up on all books except one in England. And that may have more to do with the international pricing, making the book go up in price significantly. Even then, that book sells 2/3rds what it sold at the lower price.

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