Wednesday, June 21, 2017

$100K Authors

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Written Word Media recently published a survey titled "What Makes a $100k Author?"

You can read the write-up here.

They shared 8 major conclusions:

1- The vast majority of  authors earning $100k per year or more have been writing for more than three years.

88% of the $100k authors have been at this for over three years. No surprise here. It takes time to build a catalog and and audience. This shouldn't be construed as a negative; only that patience is often required.

While I technically started self-publishing in 2004, the first several years were paperback-only, and then paperback plus Kindle in its nascence. If you include the first year Kindle was open to indie publishers, I was in my fourth year when I had my first $100k year. I was working full-time and busy with family and graduate school at the time, so it's doable even if you have a day job.

2- The majority of $100k authors responding to the survey were indie authors.

72% were pure indie, 28% were hybrid, although the numbers are skewed by the fact that almost all the respondents to the survey were pure indie. None of the traditionally published authors who responded to the survey earned $100k last year.

Struggling writers often like to dismiss the accomplishments of successful hybrids by saying, "You springboarded off your trad-pub career." These results demonstrate that pure indie is a viable path to publication.

3. The Wide vs Exclusive debate continues

Survey data indicates that 64% of 100k authors were in KDP Select, and the other 36% were "wide." This would seem to indicate that Select is the more viable path, but it's difficult to draw that conclusion without knowing other factors. For example, some genres perform much better  than others in Select. What we can say is that both are viable avenues to success, and KDP Select performed well for many authors in 2016.

4. $100k authors pay for cover art, but they don't pay through the nose

42% of authors earning less than $100k spent between $0 and $50 per book cover.
88% of $100k authors pay more than $50 per book cover
68% of $100k authors pay $250 or less for a book cover.
Only 20% of $100k authors paid more than $500 for a book cover and none spent over $1,000.

Some of this is chicken-and-egg. As an author earns more from publishing (s)he can afford better cover art. That said, I recommend at minimum budgeting for affordable, pre-made covers.

5. $100k authors use professional editors, but they don't pay as much as you might think

96% of $100k authors paid for professional editing.
44% of lower earning authors paid nothing for editing.
52% of $100k authors paid between $250 and $500 for editorial services and 68% spent $500 or less.
Only 12% of $100k authors paid $1,000 or more for editorial services.

These data points ruffled a lot of feathers among editors and elicited a variety of angry and or condescending comments. A few thoughts:

All authors don't need the same sorts of editorial support. Depending on the skills you're bringing to the table, your knowledge and experience, and the expectations of your readership, you might not need things like developmental edition. If you write clean and really know the rules, you might not need several rounds of proofing.  I've corresponded with and seen early drafts from successful trad-pub authors who have great ideas, tell fairly good stories, write engaging characters, but absolutely need that kind of support. They leave plot threads hanging, have continuity errors, are clueless about spelling, grammar, and usage. It all depends on what you need.

The average reader in most mainstream genres is looking for a clean, entertaining read with engaging characters. Most will forgive a few errors. Many won't even recognize most errors. (And an annoying few will complain about errors that aren't actually errors.) That's not to say you shouldn't try to make your book the best it can be, but you can enjoy commercial success without paying through the nose for the most expensive editing options.

6. $100k authors handle their own marketing, and use paid techniques

59% of $100k authors purchased paid advertising from Facebook, Amazon, and discount newsletters, as did 45% of lower earning authors. 
Lower-earning authors made 50% more in-person appearances/promotions/signings than did $100k authors.
Lower-earning authors made greater use of book giveaways than did $100k authors.

While the article did not specify, I think it's fair to assume that, while the percentages of authors using paid advertising are not substantially different, the dollars spent are likely skewed heavily in the direction of $100k authors.

It's interesting to me that two strategies I've found ineffective for generating sales (in-person appearances and book giveaways) are favored more by lower-earning authors. 

7.  A surprising number of $100k authors still have a day job

20% of $100k authors reported having a day job to help support their writing.

Earning $100k from writing isn't all it's cracked up to be. Taxes are a killer. You have no health insurance. Those two factors alone take a large chunk out of your income. If you're paying for cover art, editing, and advertising, that's a consideration as well.

There are, of course, other reasons to keep a day job. Some people enjoy their job and don't want to quit. Others like the security of a steady paycheck, given the uncertainty of publishing as a vocation. Some people don't like the solitary nature of the writing life, and enjoy having a job to go to. The findings illustrate that you can have both a job and a successful writing career if you wish.

8. The more hours you spend writing, the more successful you will be.

$100k authors spend 46% more time writing than lower income writers, yet they devote an almost identical amount of time to marketing (12 hours a week compared to 10.)

The average $100k authors has 33 books published, compared to 7 for lower earning authors.

-This probably doesn't need explanation. More books=more products for sale=more income. 
-An author needs to earn a little less than $274 a day to make $100k. That's a lot more attainable with 33 books than it is with 7.
-Before you freak out and wonder "How am I going to earn $275 a day?" remember- your new releases will have substantial sales at launch, meaning your back-catalog doesn't need to earn nearly that much a day, especially if you are publishing regularly.
-Remember that $275 figure includes all formats: ebook, audio, paperback.
-The article doesn't specify, but based on my observations, it's likely that the $100k authors with 33 or more titles are writing a lot of novellas and short novels. They aren't cranking out 30+ epic fantasies.

In summary:

I'm a big believe in patience and determination. It might take time to achieve commercial success, but you can do it. And, you can do it without breaking the bank. Don't be discouraged by those who will tell you that you have to spend thousands on cover and editing for your first book or subsequent books. Depending on your strengths, skills, and resources, you can work within a budget and improve your product as you go. Keep writing, and keep striving to improve.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Greedy Authors?

In my circle of authors, we sometimes discuss the negative emails and comments we receive from readers. Again and again, no matter how low we price our books, how many we make permanently
free, how often we offer special discounts, we are accused of  "being greedy."

One of the oddities of today's publishing world is an author has a choice:

Your books can be available on all the various ebook platforms, and you get to enjoy nasty emails from readers who accuse you of being "greedy" because they can't borrow your books via the Kindle Unlimited program.


You can have content that's exclusive to Amazon (Kindle Unlimited, Kindle Worlds, Amazon publishing imprints) and enjoy nasty emails from readers who accuse you of being "greedy' for making the business decisions that will best support you and your family.


You can split the difference, have some exclusive content and some non-exclusive, and enjoy complaints from both sides.

Maybe the problem isn't with "greedy authors," but with readers who will drop $4 on a fast food meal or a cup of coffee, but balk at paying the same for an ebook?

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

2016 Earnings Breakdown

Listen to the companion podcast episode.

It might be a little late in the year for this, but I thought I'd take a look back at my 2016 earnings and break down how much each vendor contributes.

As expected, Kindle was, by far, my most lucrative channel, accounting for more than three times what I earned from all other formats and platforms combined. It breaks down like this:

Kindle: 77.7%
Nook:     6.2%
Kobo:     5.4%
Audible: 4.4%
iBooks:  3.7%
Print:     2.0%
Google: 0.4%
Other e: 0.1%
Translations: 0.1%


-Though my non-Kindle earnings seem small by comparison, I still earned a great deal more on my non-Kindle sales than I did in my previous day job.

-Nook earnings slightly declined over the course of the year.

-Kobo earnings generally held steady.

-iBooks earnings were up and down, but ended the year on an upward trajectory.

-Paperback earnings include both Createspace and Ingram (LSI and Ingram Spark).

-Since print-on-demand paperbacks are high-priced compared to their mass market counterparts, I generally price my paperbacks as low as possible. It might be worth experimenting with higher price points.

-I didn't join Google Play until the beginning of the year, and at first, I found their interface confusing, so I was lazy about listing my books. I think I finally have it down. That said, even the best months at Google Play barely surpassed 20% of the other, non-Amazon, ebook retailers.

-I sell almost nothing through small etailers such as Scribd and Smashwords. (When I say I sell almost nothing at Smashwords, I'm referring to direct sales to Smashwords customers via their site. SW remains a valid service to distribute to/sell on iBooks, Nook, etc...)

-I have been using Bablecube to sell translations of my books. Unless I can develop some effective marketing strategies, it might be wiser to hold on to rights and wait for translation offers.)

Looking Ahead
-Several of my author friends tell me they are doing very well on iBooks. I'd like to increase my sales and visibility in that store
-I'm curious to see whether or not the lending program Kobo is beta testing will have an impact on sales.

-Rumors are circulating that Audible plans to roll out an audiobook lending service, which will also be interesting to watch.

-With the launch of the Dane Maddock Kindle World, I expect Kindle income to continue to rise in proportion to the other vendors.

-I am strongly considering going exclusive with Createspace, as the paltry sales through Ingram mean the annual listing fees for all books in my catalog aren't worthwhile.

 On the whole, 2016 was a solid year. I was disappointed that, for the first time in many years, my units sold decreased, as did my income. I can attribute this to a lack of new releases in 2016, especially no new Dane Maddock main series book, which is my bestselling series. (Xibalba almost made it in at the end of the year, but I wound up publishing it the first week of 2016 instead.) 
 I also had to wait for Cohesion Press to publish Primordial. Had it been an indie book, it would have been out in early 2016.

I expect this year to  be better. I've been more productive, my co-authors are working hard, and the Kindle World has done very well. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Reaching New Readers Part 2- Paid Advertising

Listen to the Companion Podcast



  • Biggest and Best
  • Good for free or discount
  • Probably the only one that will directly pay for itself
  • Usually get a boost in other titles, especially if it's not book 1 of a series. 
  • Expensive. Cheaper for free, price goes up depending on genre and price point.
  • Difficult to get selected
 Getting selected:
  • The more reviews the better
  • Bundles better than single titles
  • Wide is better than KU
  • Free easier than discount?
  • Keep trying. Selections are seemingly arbitrary.
  •  Don't do it until you have 2-3 books in your catalog, otherwise you're wasting your visibility with no other books for the reader to buy. 

Bookbub Sponsored Ad
  • Works like Facebook ads- choose your target and pay for clicks
  • Seems best for free. 
  • Some results for 99 cents.
  • Not effective for full-price.
  • Good part of a launch strategy if launching at a discount.
  • Set a budget, know what you can afford to spend.

Other Newsletters
  • Lots of options
  • Most are not effective for anything other than free.
  • Can have some effectiveness if you stack them or if you just want to reach a few new readers.
  • Some only advertise Kindle books.
  • Easier to get accepted, especially if you're in KU.
  • Some have restrictions like: minimum number of reviews, only first book in series or standalone, only certain genres.

Newsletters to consider:

Freebooksy (great for free)
Robin Reads (also great for free)
Bknights (operates through Fiverr. Minimal results, but okay for the price.)
Booksends (some results for 99 cent books, good for free)
Kindle Nation Daily/Book Gorilla (not as effective as they once were, but okay)
Book Barbarian (SFF only, some restrictions. Okay results for the price.)

I know there are some effective Romance-only newsletters out there, but it's not my genre.
Lots of other bargain newsletters, but most are ineffective. Check the forums in places like Kboards, ask other authors about their experiences before spending your money.

Only for books you've published through your own KDP dashboard. Can't do it for books published by someone else.
Can have a sponsored ad, can have Amazon auto-select keywords, or you can choose your own keywords.
I prefer custom keywords, loaded down with titles and authors from the genres I'm targeting.
Can refine keywords and bid amounts on keywords based on their effectiveness.
Can have up to 1,000 keywords.
Pay for clicks.
Results are not huge put tend to pay for themselves.
Very much worthwhile, especially at launch.

Facebook Ads
Diminishing results
Targeting specific authors and vendors.
Pay by click.
I use them sparingly as a part of my overall strategy.
Mark Dawson is the expert.

On a budget?
If your budget is limited, AMS ads are great, as well as in inexpensive newsletter like Bknights.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Reaching New Readers Part 1-Strategies and Practices

You’ve published your book (maybe two or three). You’ve used best practices. You’ve done everything you can to get off to a good start. Now your sales have stalled. How do you go about reaching beyond your existing audience and reaching new readers? 

Visibility is the key.
  • A reader can’t buy your books if (s)he doesn’t know it exists.
  • Even with Amazon, which is better than its competitors in terms of providing visibility, you won’t get much attention if your books aren’t selling.
How to get visible?
  • Write multiple books in the same genre (readers don’t tend to cross over), preferably in the same series. The more titles you have, the greater the chance someone will discover your work.
    • Make sure each book links to the next in your series.
  • Offer your first book at a discount or free.
    • Price pulsing- strategic, short-term price changes as a way of gaining visibility on bestseller lists or moving up on also-bought lists.
    • Be sure to spread the word when you do this.
  • Write a prequel and give that away for free (a short story could work in this case.)
    • Put a “call to action” right after “The End.” (Try my next book, join my mailing list.)
  • Write Kindle World stories for other authors in your genre.
    • Don’t need permission
    • Gets your name in front of readers in your genre
    • You can make a little money.
Social media

  • Facebook
    • Images perform better than just text.
      • Posts with hyperlinks are suppressed.
    • The more engagements (likes and comments) the more likely it will appear in others' feeds.
  • Twitter
    • Use an image.
    • Search out appropriate hashtags. 
    • Separate links for different stores, use their handle and hashtag.

Cross-promotion with other authors in your genre.
  • Announce one another’s new releases or special sales/giveaways.
  • Newsletter "swaps."
  • Boxed sets of your own books
    • Good for short-term promos.
    • Always have something at full price- don’t put everything in the set.
  • Boxed sets with other authors (not short story collections.)
    • Mutual promotional efforts
    • If you curate it, have a plan in place before you approach other authors.
  • Bundle Rabbit

  • Insta-Freebie- give away free ebooks, bring in new subscribers to newsletter, gain new readers. Free or paid options.
  • Goodreads giveaway- don’t give away more than a copy or two. Limited effectiveness.
  • Amazon giveaways- jury is out.
  • Wattpad- probably not much potential here, but some authors have had modest success, especially in YA/NA.

Next time- Paid Advertising