Sales: 2011 in Review
Damn, I’d better start looking at color swatches for my new Gulfstream 650!
All right, back to reality.
The real deal is, 15k in my first year is pretty outstanding. I know other writers with greater skill when it comes to avoiding split infinitives and the like who can spin a better, tighter story in their sleep or while going through the morning ablutions…and they haven’t broken the $1,000 barrier yet. A lot of those works have great covers, fantastic descriptions, awesome characters, and storylines that practically crackle with energy…but buyers generally ignore them. So with that in mind, I’m not going to bitch a lot about what I wound up with.
But what if I’d published traditionally? Gone the distance with the whole agent/author route? Others are better with numbers than I am, but I’ll let the irrepressible Kristine Kathyrn Rusch speak for me in this regard:
Let’s look at this in two parts. First, money.
Somewhere in the 1920s, writers convinced publishers to give them advances on their royalty income so that the writers had enough cash to write the next book. Let’s not discuss how profligate many of those writers were with their cash—how F. Scott Fitzgerald blew through a small fortune in those years or how Ernest Hemingway always ended up short of cash. Let’s just assume that advances actually help writers write a book. Because that’s what an advance is for: to fund the writer while he is spending all of his time writing. Not part-time while teaching. Full-time.
So, you folks can live on $1666.67 a year? Seriously?
No wait! It’s not $1666.67. I forgot to remove the agent’s forever 15%. You guys are apparently so good at money management, you can live on $1416.67 per year.
Because that’s how a $5000 advance, divided into three payments minus agent, pays out. $1416.67 over three years.
And because no one is paying any kind of interest on savings accounts, you can’t even bank that money and have it earn for you. Yeah, you might get more immediate sales on that book—it might go out to bookstores at 7,000 copies or 10,000 copies, and on those at $6.99 you will get 55 cents per copy. But half of those books will come back as returns, meaning you have yet to earn out your advance.
E-book sales might be a lot better, but you’ll only get 25% of net, which some publishers never even define. I’ve been doing the math on every single royalty statement I’ve received since this whole ebook thing ramped up, and no disrespect to those who say that 25% of net equals 17.5% or 14.2% or whatever figure they’ve come up with (in the teens), but on all of my royalty statements, the actual e-book royalty rate I have received is less than 10% of the retail price for that book. And from the so-called Big Six publisher that also routinely underreports e-book sales by factors of 100 or so, I only received 8%. (And according to that contract, I should’ve gotten 50% of retail. Ooops.)
Math doesn’t lie, y’all. Most of you traditionally published midlist writers—you’ll never earn your measly $5000 advance back, y’know, the one paid in installments over three years? The thing you licensed most of your rights for to get 5,000 or 10,000 or maybe, if you’re lucky, 20,000 copies of your book into stores in the first six months of publication.
What happens after six months? The paper editions go away. Out of print, out of sight, out of mind. The e-book will remain in print, but you try earning back an advance with inaccurate sales reporting, and some kind of math that turns 25% of net into 8% of retail. Good luck with that. If you get any royalties at all, they’re years down the road.
You’ve licensed almost everything you could on that book for an extra 5,000 or 10,000 sales in a six-month period that is rapidly disappearing in your rearview mirror.
And oh yeah, she’s Dean Wesley Smith‘s wife, so she’s probably got it all right.
So I guess the answer is, if I’d gone the traditional publishing route, I’d be sucking wind. But I didn’t, other than licensing the print rights for The Gathering Dead and Left With The Dead (which I won’t do again), so I guess this makes me a winner. Somewhere. Somehow.
Amazon US: $13,680.49
Amazon UK/EU: $752.37
Barnes & Noble: $436.29
Print Royalties: $58.28
So for the first year (of which I was only active for ten months), I guess it’s not a bad haul. And I’ve only accounted for money that was actually transferred to me in 2011–I did not pad with royalties from November or December 2011, as I haven’t received those yet, so in actuality, I’m accounting for eight months of sales.
I’ve had expenses, of course…cover art, editorial work, buying ISBNs, printer setup fees, miscellaneous software and hardware purchases,
the occasional hooker or two, all that good stuff. But I still end 2011 squarely in the black. One thing about the numbers–it’s pretty clear that Amazon is king, and that it absolutely blows everyone else out of the water. If this trend continues, I might have to seriously reconsider the whole KDP thing. If Barnes & Noble and Smashwords can’t generate more market penetration, then I might have to pull the plug on ’em so I can participate more fully in Amazon’s offerings.
Speaking of which, Left With The Dead just came off the freebie list at Amazon this morning, and it went through over 1,700 downloads (for which I receive nothing, hence the “free” download). I haven’t seen that number since the title first came out, and I did accumulate two more five star reviews. I can’t really tell if it had any impact on other sales or not, but if I look really, really hard, I might see about a 2% increase in The Gathering Dead sales and maybe a 1% bump in City of the Damned. Was it worth it? I’m not sure yet. Answer hazy, try again later.
Would love to hear about other authors’ performance over the course of 2011. Post your numbers in the comments, if you dare.
And with this, I leave you now to return to The Rising Horde…