Wednesday, September 14, 2011

You Can Be a Successful Writer Without a Bestseller


To make a living at indie publishing, you must have a decent number of books and stories for sale.
This is the point Dean drives home in his latest blog post: The Money is All in the Numbers. Dean acknowledges that there are people like Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking who have made a huge amount of money off of one or a few books in a relatively short period of time, but these good folks are the exception not the rule. Dean's point: you don't need to write a bestseller to earn a comfortable living as an indie writer.

Dean writes that
I have, at my last count, just over nine million copies of my books in print, yet I have never had any big splash. Just a book here, a book there, and a lot of books selling over decades. And none of that counts any ghost-written novel or indie-published title. (The number would be a ton higher if I counted those.) Just traditional novels through traditional publishers under one of my own names.
Traditional publishers, Dean says, make their money "not so much on sales-per-book ... but on numbers of different titles that are for sale". It is all about control. A publisher can't control whether one of their books will become a best-seller, but they can control how many titles they have for sale. The more titles they have for sale, the more money they will make month after month, year after year.
Some books lose money, some make more than expected. But the hope and goal is that the average over a line of books over a period of time will be around the 4% figure, give or take. If the book line loses money regularly, the editor is eventually fired or the imprint or publishing company is killed. Just business.
If these big publishers were only publishing one book (or even only one hundred books) per month, they sure couldn’t afford the big buildings.

Quantity in numbers of titles is everything.
Here's how all of this applies to indie writers:
Indie-published writers got all the money that publishers used to get for building those huge buildings in New York.  Instead of getting 14.8% on electronic sales (25% of 70% – 15%), that publishers were offering, we got 65-70%. Period. And we could put books on our own web sites for sale and maybe even make 100%.

And even more importantly to us midlist writers: All our backlist suddenly had value again. (This is huge!!!)
On top of that, indie writers have more freedom. Not only can we write what we want but we can also write to the length that's right for the story.
Even if you are a novelist. Remember the one-hundred-thousand word novel was an artificial creation of the publishing industry over the last forty years to justify price increases. Let your stories go natural lengths. You will discover that most novels are fine around fifty-to-seventy-thousand words. Sometimes shorter. Just write the story you want to write.
I have only discussed a few of Dean's points, I would highly recommend that anyone interested in writing or publishing go over to his blog and read his article, The Money is All in the Numbers.

Then, write, and build up that backlist! :-)

4 comments:

  1. Freedom is the critical point. The only fear I have is too much freedom and not enough editorial discipline- on my part as an independent writer.

    What sounds good to me in my head, and even on the page, might fall flat to readers who don't have the benefit of the fine details that exist only in my head.

    I think independents have to always remember that freedom is fine when used with intelligence and forethought. Otherwise, we can end up with a huge backlist that no one wants to read.

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  2. Excelling point MT! If I could make just one recommendation to a beginning indie writer I would urge them to seek out a critique group, whether local or virtual. Just knowing that other folks are going to read your work helps keep a writer grounded.

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  3. Excellent point and excellent advice. We all need an entourage- and to me, virtual is better because then I don't have to feed them. :)

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  4. LOL, excellent point! Though me and the gals usually go to a cafe/chocolate shop. Chocolate makes everything better. ;)

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