Home > Writing > Sales: 2011 in Review

Sales: 2011 in Review

Okay, the short and sweet bit: I started in February 2011, and at the close of December I’d made $15,000.

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.

The numbers:

Amazon US: $13,680.49

Amazon UK/EU: $752.37

Barnes & Noble: $436.29

Smashwords: $119.12

Print Royalties: $58.28

Total: $15,046.55

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

  1. January 9, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    I think your breakdown by store could well be typical. As an experiment to see what was involved for when I get my novel ready to roll, I published a novelette called Xenocide on Amazon and Smashwords. Due to my writing process (I use Scrivener), sending a MOBI to Amazon was trivial. I had to export a .doc file for Smashwords, then go through it to make sure the output conformed to their style guide, definitely much more work.

    After two weeks of offering the book for free on Smashwords, the number of (free) sales finally surpassed what I got from Amazon. “Count on fingers” numbers in both cases, but like I said I achieved my goal just getting it available. The real disappointment has been the amount of effort I put into prepping for Smashwords vs. the return. Someone writing in Word would have the opposite prep experience, but I suspect that Amazon would still be 90% or more of sales (you surely realize that Amazon accounted for 96% of your revenue). Those are the kind of numbers that make Kindle Select a no-brainer.

    Thanks for sharing your numbers, and congrats on doing so well! If I clear 1/10 of that this year, I’ll be nearly crapping myself with joy. 🙂

    • January 9, 2012 at 6:11 pm

      Formatting for Smashwords was a pain in the ass for me too, and I write in MS Word. I guess the value to be had for using Smashwords is that you can get your title set up elsewhere, like on iBooks and Kobo. (I’m sure a lot of other folks are seeing some great revenue from those places, but I’m not one of them.)

      I’m waiting to get some ground truth before I enroll any more books in the Kindle Select program, but given the underperformance of my product in other venues, that might happen sooner rather than later.

  2. January 9, 2012 at 9:08 pm

    thats great steve really happy for you. with your talent this should be just the beginning keep up the great work! i am curious did you get my message.

    • January 11, 2012 at 7:48 am

      I got your message, Joe…you’ll have the goods sometime next week! And thanks for the good vibes.

  3. January 10, 2012 at 1:19 am

    OK, thanks to you, I’ve just looked at my numbers. All Amazon – 1 Book in Jan – 2nd added in Feb – 3rd in July – though Dec (using last 6 weeks numbers for Dec) my total royalty for the year was $406.67 – I didn’t include 5 books sold on Smashwords, and depending on how you look at it, I guess I did include my Barnes & Noble income since it was -0- – congratulations – and any time you want to share your marketing secrets I’m open to hear them.

    • January 11, 2012 at 7:48 am


      I’ve done the same things you do…Twitter, FB (you have a page there, right?), Triberr, etc., etc. For me, the big event was writing The Gathering Dead, and to a lesser extent, putting out Left With The Dead a few months later. The zombie stuff outsells everything else I have by at least 10 to 1, even though I personally think the vampire book City of the Damned is a better product. I’m surprised that White Tiger didn’t catch fire as well, but the buying audience knows what they want, and it seems they want zombies.

      Can’t say my advice is for you to write zombie fiction, of course…though if you did, you might find it would be worth your while!

      Edited to add: I just picked up Southern Investigation–even though I’m not a Nam vet, I do know what Fort Rucker smells like, and coming across mention of the long-deceased Fort Wolters in fiction made it an automatic buy. My preliminary advice, though? Get a new cover commissioned!

  4. January 11, 2012 at 11:04 am

    stephen… u should b celebrating big time, terrific success, way beyond what would be expected, even for those going trad. route,, big thanks for sharing those figures, hard numbers are difficult to come by for us indie publishers… by my contacts,running some freebie days via KDP select appears to be a no brainer, but still very early for judgements on this new concept…. congrats…. maybe you’ll b able to get a gulfstream after 2012!

    • January 11, 2012 at 11:26 am

      Thanks much, though my former girlfriends in Japan might be duly annoyed if I ever bought a Gulfstream. After all, it would enable me to make booty calls in Tokyo.

  5. January 11, 2012 at 11:19 am

    I’ll give a brief synopsis and a link to my site where I posted a pretty solid breakdown of things. I published my first two books in 2010, then added three full-length novels and six short stories in 2011. Across all those titles I sold or gave away somewhere in the neighborhood of 28,000 books, with a take-home of around $40,000. I’m now averaging better than $3,000 per month and am quitting my day job in March to write full time and continue ramping up my productivity. Amazon is absolutely the 800-lb. gorilla, as my sales on all other markets account for less than 5% of the total.

    More info here – http://johnhartness.com/2012/01/06/2011-by-the-numbers/

  6. January 11, 2012 at 11:47 am

    Now THAT’S a report out! Congratulations on your success, my man–I haven’t read your stuff yet but have been aware of your titles, since we shared the same rarified air on the charts a few months ago. Did your sales increase with Carl’s new covers?

    And many, many kudos to making enough coin to stop slaving for The Man and going solo fulltime. If I could do that, I’d have a new book out every six weeks, and all of them would be full of MV/ASP (Massive Violence/Actual Sexual Penetration). Which might just ruin everything, of course.

  7. January 11, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    hi steve to me a great writer is when you read their books they play out like a movie in your head and stay with you long after reading. your books hit on all accounts keep up the great work. and thank you.

  8. January 11, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    Rock on Steve. No, you can’t quit Wall Street just yet but honestly, averaging 1k$ a month is FAR above the average. Everyone says to lurk on Kindle Boards to learn everything there is to know about indie pub but honestly I’m hardly there these days, too many “woe are my sales” threads.

    How man books do you have up now btw?

    Best of luck in 2012.


    Writing Trip

    • January 12, 2012 at 2:16 pm

      I’ve actually never lurked on the Kindle boards, myself! 🙂

  9. January 16, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    My US Kindle sales for 2011 and the start of 2012:

    September: $89.09
    October: $420.19
    November: $1,667.96
    December: $5,683
    January (as of the 16th): $7,157.20

    Which is roughly $15,000 over those five months. I included September so you could see where my sales were before my books took off. I suppose I’m waiting for it to come to a crashing halt. Really don’t know what to expect next. It’s all been a blur.

    Kudos again on being transparent with your figures and congrats on your success! Keep it up. See you around Absolute Write, I’m sure.


    • January 16, 2012 at 12:12 pm

      Sweet numbers, Hugh! To what do you attribute the meteoric rise? And how many books do you have out, and in what genre(s)?

  10. January 16, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    The rise came from one of my short stories going viral. No publicity on my part, not even a mention on my website, Twitter, FB, anything. It wasn’t a story I thought people would like (very dark and plodding). But it took off. I used NaNoWriMo as an excuse to write three sequels in a single month, and those are getting killer reviews. My older books (mostly SF) also got a bump.

    I think I have 11 titles on the Kindle store. I have four books in the top 20 of Kindle SF !! right now. Which is pretty insane. The clamor for the final book in the WOOL series (the name of my short story) is intense. I’m getting several emails a day asking about it. Never had anything like this ever happen to me before (obviously. It probably only happens once in a lifetime).

    Again, super congrats to you, to me I suppose, and to everyone finding success with the Kindle store. I love what it’s doing for indie writers. I hope your 2012 blows your 2011 out of the water!

    • January 17, 2012 at 9:25 am

      Really! That’s kind of hard to plan out. 😉 Damn, that must be a sweet feeling, though!

  11. July 31, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    Congrats on your success Steve. I just published my book on July 18th and my first blog review is scheduled for tomorrow (and it’s highly positive), but I haven’t gotten much sales over the past 2 weeks. Guess I gotta keep at it. Did you submit to many book bloggers? And if so, did it help? Thanks!

    • August 7, 2012 at 9:27 am

      No, I didn’t submit to a whole lot of bloggers, and a good portion of those I did submit to did not respond. I’m not sure what to make of that–perhaps it was my approach. But getting reviews is almost always a good thing, especially if they’re positive!

  1. January 26, 2012 at 8:41 am

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