Posted in New Author Series | Posted on 29-07-2013|
I’ve gotten a lot of nice email since Forged in Blood II came out, but I’m woefully behind in my responses. A lot of them are related to my books, but because of this blog, I often get questions related to self-publishing and book promotion too. I thought I’d try to whack two birds with one stone (if you’d seen me throw, you’d be snickering at this notion) and share some of my answers here. Then the next time someone emails with one of these questions, I can point them to this post. (If you have any questions of your own, feel free to leave them in the comments below.)
Lindsay, I found your old post on earnings (here: March 2011 or here: “What Does It Take to Become a Full-Time Author?”) and was wondering how you’re doing now. It’s been a while since you posted sales numbers. Are you able to make a living writing now?
The short answer is yes. Because I’m writing quite a bit and publishing frequently (three novels and a novella this year), my earnings have continued to grow. My sales per individual books aren’t necessarily any better than they were a year or even two years ago, but I’ve managed to keep them fairly steady (about 400 sales per novel per month at Amazon, with another 100+ from other stores). Naturally the sales on a new release are higher and will be so for a few months, but it’s the steady sales of one’s back list that keep the income up between releases. For that, I credit my perma-free Book 1, the occasional advertising stint, and word-of-mouth recommendations from my awesome readers. For more details, check out my post on “How Do You Keep Your Book Sales Momentum Going Over the Months and Years?“.
As I often point out, I’m a mid-list author who writes books that appeal to a specific audience (those who enjoy female protagonists and an action-heavy mix of swords & sorcery and steampunk). You don’t have to chase the hottest genre or write for mass appeal to make a living as an indie author; you do have to write well enough to appeal to the people who enjoy your niche, and you do have to publish regularly to keep your name out there, especially when you’re first building up your fan base.
I don’t think I’ll be sharing exact sales/earnings numbers anymore, because my readers would probably stop sending me chocolates if they knew, but I’m making more now as an author than I used to in my day job. I’m sure sales would drop off a lot if I slowed down with the writing and publishing, but I enjoy telling stories, and I feel like quite the slacker on days where I don’t knock out any words.
I appreciate the time people like you and JA Konrath take to update your blog and offer advice to new authors, but you guys already have a fan base. I don’t know how helpful your advice is to those who are starting out new today.
I got a kick out of this comment, because the person mentioned me and JA Konrath in the same sentence. He was a big author earning six figures a month when I got started, and I’m not in his league, but I get the gist of the comment. And here’s my response:
Trust me, I get it. When I published my first book in December of 2010, Amanda Hocking had made her bazillions, JA Konrath was raking it in, and Michael J. Sullivan was about to make a big deal with Orbit. Even though I’d just gotten my first Kindle, I realized I was coming into the game late. The 99-cent price point wasn’t working the magic it apparently had six months earlier, and there was more competition in the Kindle Store than when Hocking and the others first uploaded their ebooks. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but the whole idea of self-publishing appealed to me so much more than playing Agent Hunt and Wait, so I got started anyway. I sold about 30 ebooks that first month, most to people I’d begged or bribed to pick up a copy. A year later, I had four novels out, along with some short stories and novellas, and I’d hit my first goal (1,000 ebook sales in a month). I was starting to think I could make this my full-time job.
For those of you starting now, the tricks that worked six months ago don’t work now, and there’s a ton of competition in the Kindle Store. Sound familiar? That’s because it is. But I promise you that the same core things I did to gradually build a fan base still work. I never used KDP Select or any tricks to get ahead (it’s not because I’m above that sort of thing — it’s just that I wasn’t willing to go exclusive with Amazon, and none of the iffy gimmicks seemed wise to pursue to one who wants to make a career out of this).
My core marketing philosophy has been to give away stuff for free (on Podiobooks, on Wattpad, on Smashwords, on Amazon, and anywhere else I could), to make sure the free stuff is an obvious lead-in to my other books (AKA a Book 1 in a series), and to promote the freebies through advertising, guest blog posts/interviews, and social media. If you’re trying this and it’s not working, get some outside advice on your cover art, blurb, and novels. And keep writing. I published Book 3 in my series before I really started gaining some traction.
If you need more inspiration (and marketing ideas), check out the interviews I’ve done with folks who published for the first time this year (2013) and sold tons of books right out of the starting gates:
- How Leeland Artra Is Rocking the Amazon Sales Charts with His First Book
- How Sue London’s First Novel Became an Amazon Bestseller in a Couple of Weeks
It can happen. Not everyone is going to hit it big with their first book (most won’t), but I know that a lot of the people who are starting this year will be making a full-time income by 2015 or 2016. You can be one of those people, or you can take a defeatist attitude that it’s too late now to jump in.
How many ebooks do you have to sell a month to make a living?
How much you need to “make a living” is a different number for everybody. If you’re single without any debt and live in an inexpensive part of the country, it’s not going to be a very big number. If you’re married with children and want to support a spouse while you live in a coastal metropolis, it’s a different story.
You can do the numbers for yourself pretty easily though. For ebooks at 2.99 and above, you earn about 70% at Amazon (it’s less at Barnes & Noble and more at Smashwords). So 1,000 ebooks a month at 2.05 gets you a little over $2,000. Sell your books for $4.95 and you’ll make more than $3,000. Get up to 3,000 ebook sales a month, and now you’re talking.
That can seem like a ton of ebooks when you’re getting started, and it is if you only have one title out. It’s less daunting when you start thinking in terms of having 10 or 20 ebooks out, and if you want to make a career out of this, that’s probably where you’ll be eventually.
But as far as feeling like you’ve “made it” and you’re ready to quit your day job, it’s more important to cultivate your 1,000 true fans than have a good sales month here or there (as many who’ve been there can tell you, success can be fleeting if it came as a fluke and you didn’t take advantage of it by turning casual readers into true fans). When you have a certain number of people who will buy anything you publish, that’s when you can start to feel secure in your continued ability to write for a living. Publishing tends to be a cyclical business, but when you start to know that a book release is good for X sales, then you can predict what your income will look like for the next and beyond.
That’s enough for this post. Any comments or questions you’d like to see addressed in the future? Please chime in below!