I've been a working writer for 25 years now, the last 20 as a novelist.
My salary consisted most often of 6% of the cover price of my books (if sold in the US in a regular retail outlet, less for lots of other reasons. Sold direct from publisher -- less. Sold overseas -- less. Sold overseas, direct from publisher -- less-less).
But extraordinary things happened over the last few years that all came together to create a market in which I get paid 65-70% of what readers pay for my book.
For the first time, authors are publishing their own work and actually making money at it. It's a wonderful, powerful feeling. (Also, making the power-elite publishers freak out, which is really nice for a change.)
One thing that's struck me is how the revolution in publishing has mirrored the whole Occupy movement. We -- the masses of authors, at least relatively speaking -- do the work of creating the product, and a handful of publishers' make the money. It's been that way forever.
Editors, agents, booksellers... they earn a living working in publishing. Not a great one, if you merely work in the bookstore, but still, a living. But often, the writer did not. Typical advance for a first-time writer in hardcover fiction -- $5,000. You were lucky if you ever saw another dime on top of that in royalties.
Now, the people creating the product are cutting out the publishers and keeping more of the money you pay for books.
Kindle Million Club
"Amazon.com, Inc., today (Nov. 9) announced that David Baldacci, Amanda Hocking and Stephenie Meyer are the latest authors to join the Kindle Million Club, selling over 1 million paid copies of their books in the Amazon.com Kindle Store. They join 11 other authors in the Kindle Million Club: Stieg Larsson, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Charlaine Harris, Lee Child, Suzanne Collins, Michael Connelly, John Locke, Kathryn Stockett, Janet Evanovich and George R.R. Martin....
"As with John Locke before her, Amanda Hocking sold the majority of her 1 million Kindle books independently using Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)....
Think about that. Amazon's self-publishing arm launched in 2007, but this year, it came into its own. Fourteen authors joined the Kindle Million Club this year, and of those fourteen, 2 authors put themselves there with self-published titles. That's a path to the bestseller lists we've never had before.
For years, traditionally published authors made fun of self-published ones. They were people who couldn't sell their books to real publishers. (Much as we bitch about publishers and their bad decisions, we held even more disdain for the self-published.)
"In addition... 12 KDP authors have sold more than 200,000 books and 30 KDP authors have sold more than 100,000 books."
Now, a lot of us are enjoying being self-published.
Granted, we have another giant (Amazon), potentially very dangerous beast to contend with, but for now, it's Authors and Amazon working together, publishers on the other side. I'm sure once Amazon wrestles as much power as it can from Publishers, Amazon will come after authors next. So for all our sakes, please support Barnes & Noble and any other online booksellers you can.
The Way It Used To Be
I heard a stat years ago that more new people got elected to the US Senate than made it onto the New York Times Bestseller List in the same time period. Sorry, have no idea where I heard it or if it's true, but it's too good not to use on this site.
It's always been hard to get published.
A 95% rejection rate is probably a generous stat. I've heard editors who say it's as high as 99%. There were rigid gatekeepers -- not just the editors, but the agents who can help you reach an editor's desk at all. Ask anyone who's tried, how hard it is to get an agent to represent your work.
If you can get past all that, you still have to face the fact that a lot of the people in publishing --- not the editors, but the people on the business side -- just aren't very smart. They can kill any trend that turns hot. I mean, how many Vampire novels are out there right now? Because if one is a massive best-seller, we should convert half our line to Vampire books for the next five years. They sell, after all.
Remember, these are the same people who gave Sarah Palin a huge book deal. Bristol Palin. Bristol's baby-daddy. Need I go on? These decision-makers would be in charge of your career.
The Way It Is Now
But now, anyone can publish. (I'm not saying anyone should, but anyone could.) And the process of actually doing the publishing is incredibly easy.
Register with Amazon and Barnes & Noble, literally ten minutes or so on the computer, and within 24-48 hours, your book will be for sale online around the world.
What you write, how you write it, how you market it, title it, what your back cover copy is like, what your cover is like, how much you charge for it... all up to you, the author. We have never had this kind of control before, and it's a great feeling. A little scary, a little overwhelming at times, but great.
Want to Publish a Book?
I won't even tell you how to try to write one. That could take years. But publishing, I can explain.
First, get an editor. A real editor. Not your friend. Pay someone to edit your work. There's a lot of crap out there. Don't add to it. I have a couple of friends who do free-lance editing for small print houses and one who's been an editor for years at a big New York publishing house. (No, I did not know them before I became published. No, I was not published because of them. Sorry, but no, I will not send your book to the friend who works in the giant New York publishing house.)
I know the two small print people do editing work on the side for individuals, and if anyone wants e-mail addresses, just ask me privately and I'll put you in touch. Not sure if the New York editor is doing free-lance stuff or not, but I could ask.
What will you pay?
You'll find people online begging for editing work for $1.50 a page. Others for $2 a page and up. A lot depends on how clean the manuscript is and how much work needs to be done. Expect to send a first chapter and let the editor look at it and quote you a rate. Query two or three people. Look at the chapter they send back and see how you feel about what changes they made. Find someone you can work well with, who can make your work better.
You'll need a cover. Unless you have experience with design, pay someone to do your cover. You can get one for $75-$100 or so. Look over the designer's portfolio. Someone who does book covers. A lot of book covers. Find someone who does work you like. If you find a cover you adore, write the author and ask who does his/her covers. They'll probably write you back and tell you. There may be a cover credit line inside the e-book.
Stock art is cheap ($10 an image or so -- see Istockphoto.com , Shutterstock or Dreamstime) There is a ton of images available. It can take some time to find what you want, to figure out how to search and find what you want, but you can do it.
You want royalty-free art, which means you pay a set fee, like $10, for the art and can do basically whatever you want with it. Not a royalty -- a percentage every time the work is used, say when someone downloads your book. There's a ton of royalty-free art available.
Remember most people will see your cover before anything else. If it looks cheap or amateurish, they won't look any closer. (Look through covers on Amazon. You'll see some really bad ones, some cheap ones, and some good ones.)
Also, realize most people will see your cover first in thumbnail size.
It really needs to look good in thumbnail size. You need strong images and big type. Otherwise, it looks like mush.
If you know nothing about creating a cover, hire a designer who does book covers and listen to the designer.
Same thing with back cover copy. I feel like I can do it, but I've been at least suggesting back cover copy for my own work for 20 years. I would hope most people who could write a book, could figure out how to write good back cover copy. There are tons of examples out there on published books. Go look at them.
Coding is supposedly pretty easy, maybe a bit annoying and time-consuming, but something most anyone can do, and instructions are available to help you at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. I don't do my own. My hands hurt a lot most of the time -- too many years on the computer -- so I save my computer time for writing and some surfing of the net.
But there are companies that will code your book for a fee. Others who will code the book, do the cover, proofread, basically send you a file that's ready to upload.
I'm paying $230-$260 for a company to take a print copy of one of my previously published books, scan it (expensive machine involved) proofread it, code it, do a cover, and return it to me ready to upload. I think that's a great bargain. I really don't want to tell you the company's name, because it's now taking about 5 weeks from start to finish for them to do that. They get busier all the time.
But they do a great job, and the site is ebookprep.com . Plenty of other companies doing this. This is just the one I use. Great company. (Closed until New Year, doing computer upgrade.)
Most people load their work directly to Amazon, and as long as the price is $2.99 or above, you get 70% minus a small download fee, 40 cents or so, depending on the file size. If you price it from 99 cents to 2.98, you get 35%. Amazon is trying to keep prices from getting too cheap.
You can upload directly to Barnes and Noble and get 65% royalties, less if the price is below $2.99. But a lot of people upload to Smashwords instead, which will take a small cut of royalties and upload the book to B&N, Apple store, for Kobo, for Sony's e-reader, etc. It's a lot less of a hassle for you to have someone handle all these different venues, and the bulk of sales, I'm told, are at Amazon anyway.
The company scanning and coding my work has started its own Smashwords-type company, and I plan to use them in the future. Haven't had time yet. Just got my first two self-published titles up before Christmas. But their distribution company is: Epublishingworks . Again, closed until New Year, doing computer upgrade.
So, do all that, and you'll have a book. It's never been easier.
Make Any Money?
I don't know yet about earnings yet. I just uploaded my first two books within the last three weeks. I've heard you need 5-6 books to get any real traction with sales. So that people will buy one, like it and buy others from you.
A friend of mine has just finished her very first survey of self-published authors' earnings. You can see her results at Show Me The Money . For books out on average 7 months, backlist titles republished by author are earning an average of $4,100. Original titles, same publishing time, an average of $12,500. That's not bad. I think my bestselling print published book earned about $22,000.
Very early in the game still. Who knows what will happen, except that more and more people will be publishing their own work and more and more people will own e-readers.
Amazon said last week that it's been selling Kindles at a pace of 1 million per week and expects to sell 6 million total this holiday season. That's a ton of new readers.
If this market is like any other in publishing, a handful of people, relatively speaking, will get out there early, establish themselves and sell well for a long, long time.
And tons of people will follow and not do nearly as well. That's the way it's always been in publishing. Right now, it's the early days, the Wild West of epubbing, one author said. Get out there and grab your territory while you can.
Want to find good, cheap books?
I won't write about how much I love my Kindle. Too many people already have, and I'll just say I do love it.
Told myself I'd spend less on books, because they almost always cost less in e-book form. And that's true. They do. But like everyone else who owns a Kindle, I'm buying more books than I used to, trying more new authors, getting those free first chapters and liking them and then buying the whole books.
You will spend more money, I swear. (Sorry.)
There is a fabulous website and subscription e-mail list called DailyCheapReads.com , full of titles, the bulk of which are free - $2.99 . Get it by e-mail, because a lot of the books are on sale only for a day. Great stuff here. Lots of different genres.
There will be a huge glut of books for free or 99 cents in the push to capture all those new e-reader owners at Christmas. One of the sites to which I belong, many authors, many genres, is having a big 99-cent sale starting Friday. You can check it out here: BacklistEBooks.com .
Amazon has a list that shows bestselling paid and free titles in tons of different genres. See the overall store Paid and Free Bestseller List here. Tons and tons of free books and 99-cent books.
Want A Job?
There are new jobs available for people to help authors publish their own works. People who are editing and copyediting. People who are coding work for upload to Amazon and B&N. People who are designing covers. People who are helping market. People handling the uploading to various sites for authors.
Could you do those things? Get out there and give it a try. Good luck to you.
Shameless Promotional Plug
It's a sweet, touching story about an infertile couple whose marriage is falling apart when a social worker shows up at their door asking them to take in three abandoned children at Christmas. It was a Rita finalist, which is the romance writers' version of the Emmys.
Selling it at 99 cents, I get to keep about 40 cents per book. When my work originally sold in print for 6.99, I got 56 cents.
So this system is a great deal for self-publishing authors and for readers.