Indie Authors Represent

It’s that time of year again: the Author Earnings Report is out. I urge you, if you are an Indie author, or if like me, you fall into the “Uncategorized Single-Author Publisher” category, that you go take a look at this report. It’s the fifth quarterly report of its kind, and well, it’s a huge validation.

Only seven months ago, the idea that indie self-published authors and their ebooks were outearning all authors published by the Big Five publishers combined was jaw-dropping heresy. Today, it’s boring — a widely-acknowledged fact among knowledgeable authors, if not industry pundits. Many authors who publish both ways point out their earnings disparity in favor of their self-published titles, and so this data is no longer surprising.

Jan 2015 author earnings In other words, looking at the numbers, Indies are eating Trad Pub’s sandwich. In the graph above, showing the truth of author earnings, not publishers, we see the reality of what going Indie can do for you. Sure, it’s a lot of work, but the reality is that writing has always been a lot of work, above and beyond the act of creation. So the pie chart above is for a quarter’s data. How about the one year data, now that Author Earnings Report is old enough to (you’ll pardon me) show us the money? one year author earning Anecdotally, the commentators on this blog have expressed that they appreciate the affordability of Indie authors, overall. When a trad-pub book weighs in at $9.99 and you can buy somewhere between two to four times as much reading material from Indie authors, the choice seems obvious. But wait, you say, you can’t treat books like a commodity! They are art, and quality counts for more than quantity, surely? I’m going to digress a little. Once upon a time there was a little girl. Yes, she had pigtails, a puppy, and a pony, but that really isn’t relevant to the story. She was also poor. She didn’t really know this, because she was happy. She had her family that loved her, and plenty of outdoors to run around in, and although there were a few bitter drops, a lot of her happy childhood centered around books. But there was never enough money to buy all the books she wanted to read, so she had to take into consideration how long the book would last, before she brought it home with her. So she never read comic books. Trad pubs are like those comic books. The might be bright, shiny, and attractive, but the true readers, the ones like that little girl, who had to read, they want more than quick and done. They want that quantity, and they are learning that you don’t have to sacrifice quality to get it. More and more, through word of mouth, trusted reviewers, and often enough, the friends I make in the industry, I can get more than I can read without breaking a monthly book budget. Yeah, I have one of those, I have had ever since I found Baen Webscriptions, and carefully managed to buy just that, every other month. Fortunately, my budget is a little bigger now (and it’s now a monthly bundle, but still worth the money most months). Switching hats from reader to publisher, I see this as encouraging. Just last week I snarked about the demise of the ebook. These numbers tell me that despite the cooked-book numbers you see through traditional outlets, ebooks are here to stay, and the readers are only just beginning to consume. It’s like a buffet. You see all the variety, go nuts… but the next night, you have a better idea of what to pick and choose. That’s what we are seeing, the slow sophistication of the reader in choosing authors they enjoy, and can afford. Sure, there are a lot of free books out there. I still pick some up for my kindle app from time to time. But increasingly they tend to be old books I am using for research (Aino Folk Tales, anyone? Greek and Roman Surgical Tools?). My reading for pleasure is split between KU, which I like as I can guilt-free pick up a book by an unknown and delete it if it reeks horribly, and buying authors I know and like. And the cherry on top is that every time I visit Amazon, I get this cool little scroll-bar of recommendations for me, based on my tastes. Oddly enough, they seem to think I’d like this Cedar Sanderson person… I’m just a little chuffed at being listed in the same span with Jody Lynn Nye and Chris Nuttall. Who is himself an upstart Indie sort of fellow. You will note, though, there isn’t a book on that list for more than $5 which makes it right in the sweet spot for affordability. recommendationsBut to return to the Author Earnings Report, I wanted to talk about the ISBN thing. Or rather, the lack thereof. Most Indie ebooks (and keep in mind, we are talking ebooks, not print, all the way through here) are sold without the ISBN that traditionally has been used to track sales. The result of this is what the authors of the AER call a Shadow Industry. For more complete data, they went through all 120,000 titles in the report, looking to see which ones had ISBNs. That is a huge amount of work, and I doff my hat to them. All the hats, from reader to author to publisher (I feel like Bartholomew Cubbins!). The results are hardly surprising. Once again, we Indies are eating that sandwich calmly, no muss, no fuss,  just delicious earnings. Below you will see a figure comparing Indies to Indies, based on the ISBNs. Like the authors of the AER, I suspect that the reason is lower prices on the books where the author had not laid out a ridiculous amount of money on an identifier that they did not need. without ISBN   There is a huge amount of material to digest in the AER. I’m still contemplating it. But I’m also doing a little happy dance (very little, because I can’t dance) about this. For me, it validates the decisions I have made, to stay independent and to seek earning my fortune as an entrepreneur when it comes to writing. Persistence pays off. Now, I just have to persevere through finishing the novel in progress, and start the next one, because one thing I’ve learned about readers, you all are insatiable!

33 thoughts on “Indie Authors Represent

  1. Reblogged this on Cedar Writes and commented:

    I’m talking about Indie over there today, so you might want to take the time to look not only at my highlights, but the deeper data of the Author Earnings Report. I’ll do a short post later today on other topics. Have to think of something, but I am prepping for a gig this morning.

  2. I think when the first AE report came out, July 2014, showing the sales shares of indie vs trad pub genre books, was the moment I realized that the Tra Pubs were in deep, deep, pre-processed grass and oats. Not in all areas, mind, because non-fic is a whole ‘nother thing, but certainly in non-literary fiction. The book cost is one reason, but I suspect the “curating” and long production delays also don’t help their market share. And certainly don’t help author incomes.

  3. I have absolutely no interest in KU as a reader (and after seeing some initial results, have pulled my books from KU as a writer–I’m not ideological about it, I just didn’t like the figures), because the last thing in the world I need is ANOTHER source of books! I’ve got an iPad full of a gazillion -affordably-priced- ebooks I purchased and haven’t read yet; a house full of hundreds of print books I’ve yet to read; an ongoing addiction to big, old, dusty secondhand bookstores; and I belong to two big local library system with excellent print and ebook selections/services.

    Anyhow, I’ve written a number of times about ebook pricing in my NINK column (Ninc is at, including the Feb 2015 issue, and it keeps coming back to: Publishers have yet to make a convincing argument in favor of higher ebook prices, though they keep advocating for them.

    Readers (mostly) care about writers being compensated fairly for our work and earning enough that we can keep producing. I think most readers are happy to pony up a -fair- amount of pocket cash (whatever that means to the individual reader) to go directly into the author’s pocket in exchange for a good read, and another, and another.

    What most readers don’t care about at all, though, is compensating big corporations and their stockholders. Or even small-to-midsize companies. (But especially not corporations, global conglomerates, and stockholders.) Some publishers (Baen is a good example) create brand loyalty among readers, but most publishers have no identity at all among readers; and despite escalating disintermediation in the digital era, still haven’t shifted in that direction and away from their decades-long marketing strategy in which distributors, major chains, and head buyers were their audience, not readers.

    The ebook pricing structure among publishers is still based on a model of compensating and profiting a lot of people who aren’t the writer. There are actually writers who see that as a good argument for higher book prices; we heard from many of them during the Amazon-Hachette standoff. But I’ve yet to meet a reader who thinks compensating lots of people who aren’t the writer is a good argument for a $9.99-$12.99 ebook price point. (As you can see from their comments when heard from, readers who expressed support for Hachette during that standoff did so on the basis of believing that -writers- were being hurt, NOT because they were concerned that the big corporation, its global conglomerate ownership, or its stockholders were being hurt).

    The other problem that publishers continue not addressing, besides the shift to the reader as target market (rather than distributors and head buyers), is their own overhead. It is perfectly possible, as anyone with functioning brain cells knows by now, for a indie author to make a good profit when pricing a book $0.99-$5.99. Anyone still posing the question, “How can you possibly make money pricing a book at $2.99?” is either an idiot or being tediously disingenuous and willfully ignorant (which is a lot like being an idiot, so I’m being redundant there, I guess). Because the question clearly is NOT how can you or I make a profit at that price point, but rather, “How can a low price-point support the NYC-based large corporation that publishes an ebook?”–whose overhead is a lot, LOT higher than that of an indie author who’s outsourcing flat-fee services (editing, packaging, formatting) and doing her own marketing (hi, BookBub!), STILL producing that ebook far more cheaply than a publishing house can, and getting 35%-70% of gross on each digital sale rather than 25% of net, in a market where (according to editors, agents, and publishers I quizzed about this in October) print format has become so unprofitable that print-only deals have gone the way of the dodo.

    Price competition won’t go away, and with a by-now huge and-still-growing market of indie books that practice price competition -and- which are (no matter hows publishers and pundits try to deny it) increasingly indistinguishable from traditionally published books in terms of packaging and writing/editing quality, publishers need to come up with an argument in favor of higher pricing that -readers- find convincing, or else lower prices. The third alternative–keeping prices high for reasons that don’t convince readers–isn’t a winning business strategy for selling their products.

    And now I must go clean cats.

    1. Laura, a point or two about KU.
      From the reader’s perspective: I am retired and disabled, and get by on a fixed income. I have LOTS of time to read, but I don’t have a lot of budget. There are at least three other sources, besides Amazon, for me to check books out electronically, but as far as I know, none of those compensate authors for borrowed books the way that KU does. I don’t know how many people there are out there like me, but I was born at the end of the Baby Boom (1953) and I expect the non-mobile, fixed income population to increase. I can afford to budget the $9.95 per month that KU charges me, but that’s about it. If it doesn’t make sense for you to put your books in KU, okay, but are you sure? Since I signed up for KU, I made it my goal to read and review all the works by MGC authors, and I have 28 reviews posted since then. Don’t reviews and ratings benefit your sales?
      The benefit to ME is clear; I do not have to load my crippled self in a car and get hauled down to a library, and I am very, very grateful for that.

      1. Pat, I suspect a lot of KU readers are like you. People that need to read, without the ability to get out and find books at a library (Overdrive is very limited, and can be difficult to find). The numbers on the Author Earnings report about the amount of KU borrows was very interesting: over 8.5 million books were borrowed in this last quarter. So there are a LOT of you out there.

      2. Pat, I understand and appeciate that there are readers who have good reason to belong to KU and value it. And I’m generally in favor of experimenting with new and with more ways to connect readers with books, and opposed to trying to return to the old way, where so many readers lived nowhere near a good bookstore, where so many other people would never BECOME readers because they lived nowhere near a good bookstore, and where book prices kept escalating beyond the reach of most wallets.

        However, people who buy ebooks at regular price on Amazon, who buy them during the author’s sales and promos on Amazon, and who “buy” them when they’re temporarily offered for free on Amazon can all leaves reviews for those book on Amazon, so reviews alone are not any sort of incentive for keeping books in KU. There are to be other value for the author.

        This is -particularly- true so long as Amazon maintains an exclusuvity policy in tandem with KU–that is, a writer’s ebook cannot participate at all in KU unless it is -completely unavalable- at all other ebook vendors/outlets besides Amazon. This is a big drawback, and I agree completely with the many writers who want to see Amazon change this policy–a policy which, btw, they are NOT apply to traditional publishers, only to indie writers. Again, the inability to sell books anywhere -but- Amazon means that reader reviews from KU readers just isn’t enough incentive.

    2. Good luck with the cleaning cats… Like you, I have a houseful of books, a library I haven’t got time to go into, and used bookstores are always a passion. I have a few favorites, none of which are in Ohio, though!

      The pricing of books is something we’ve gone over on this blog many times, and it’s changed over the last three years. For right now, I think I’ve found a good place for it, based on my sales, although I’m thinking about dropping the price of the first book in the series when I release the last – loss-leader marketing.

      Like you, I see that I can put out a very nice product without a lot of overhead, and I am not about to add to my prices just because I could. I’d rather stay low and not even try to compete with trad pub, because I don’t need to. I can grow slow and steady without panicking if my sales are enough to make the next round of cuts at a publisher. If I have to take a year off from writing to finish school (or any life event) I can do that without falling afoul of a contract. Being independent has a lot of upsides.

    3. well said, but one minor quibble — aren’t you supposed to ROTATE cats? As a more experienced writer, you shouldn’t confuse the fledgelings 😉
      Again, well said. I’ve been saying this at panels where people look at me like guppies and then inevitably some newby lip-trembles and says “but my publisher spends 100k to get my” generic, mass paperback with no publicity “book out.” and I can’t say “No darling, they don’t. They’re just costing to you a portion of what they spend to push the big boys.”

      1. I cleaned AND rotated them. I multi-tasked!

        Also released one for a pre-approved adoption, which I was excited about (very sweet, very shy adult cat–harder to find a home for them than for extroverted kittens charmingly demanding attention). (I was off feeding and cleaning the Cat Adoptions Team’s cats, not my own. And then my own cats interrogated me when I got home and they smelled OTHER CATS on my clothes… Tense afternoon here.)

        1. OOO, dat is SO TRUE! Whenever I come back from visiting my grandsons, my bad ol puddy tat SugarBelly the Manx immediately interrogates me and then punishess me by hiding.

        2. I used to foster orphan kittens. Am waiting for move and other complications to get resolved to have them again. I love doing it, though the bottle feeders are a LOT of work and lost sleep.

          1. I fostered two kittens this past autumn, who’ve been adopted by a family so nice, I wish those people would adopt ME. (The kittens have their own Tardis booth, with little kitty hammocks inside.) My 3 cats (all youngish and all adopted last year from the same organization where I volunteer now) were very good about having Strangers In The House and treated the kittens well (though only 1 of the 3 really LIKED them), so I’ll foster again this year.

  4. OK, I definitely have got to get the rewrite finished on The Steel Breeds True and get it out there.

    But first I’ve got to get the tax figures pulled together for last year on the bookselling business. Argh.

  5. Told someone about this at a shop today.

    51% Amazon, Indy, or otherwise single.

    That much penetration into the market this quickly seems like it should be impossible if the big 5 were doing a competent job.

    The times are a changing.

  6. Oddly enough, they seem to think I’d like this Cedar Sanderson person…

    Kind of a blow to the “all knowing Amazon” notion, isn’t it?

      1. I get emails telling me I’d probably like my own books regularly. I think we writers must be a small enough percent of their accounts that they don’t filter for “if account name is the same as the author name, eliminate from recommendations.”

  7. The production delay is my biggest bugbear. Take the Kirov series, I’ve just finished book 16, published on January 15, book 17 will be out in March!
    Trad? I’d be waiting till 2016.
    As for Chris Nuttall, I only found him last September and haven’t caught up with the backlist, the man is a writing machine.
    As for spelling mistakes with indies, yeh, some but no more than I’ve found in the trad published books.
    I’m a reader, story telling, plot and lots of explodey goodness, I’ll leave the polished turds to the lit croud.

  8. The part that I don’t understand is IF publishing is a business that wants to make money WHY then are most of them located in some of the most expensive cities in the world? New York? London? Really?

    They have to know that if they moved operations to somewhere like Arkansas, or Tennessee, they’d hugely lower their overhead while raising profits and also raising the standard of living of those who work for them (pay of say 50 000 bucks in New York is close to poverty level as I understand it, but in some other states that would be a pretty good living).

    All of their infrastructure is completely transportable, as their infrastructure is essentially people (managers, publishers, editors), and it’s not like they rely on business meetings that have to take place in a certain location in order to sell books (you can always fly in for those meetings, or if you’re the big dog then maybe all the little dogs that you deal with will eventually relocate with you).

    The question of why they don’t move would honestly baffle me if I didn’t think I already knew the answer: Prestige and Contempt. The prestige of being in a prestigious industry in a prestigious city, and going to prestigious parties. Not for the editors or the like, but the owners and the top managers, the publisher. And as for the contempt? The contempt is for the other, the not prestigious, the ‘lesser’ address.

    As always, I could be wrong, there could be other reasons backed by sound financials, but I wouldn’t be surprised if those reasons were more of a rationalization of a strong desire to not decamp.

    1. Because it USED to be important to be near sources of services (printing, warehousing) that were cheaper because there was a large market THERE. As with other things, the book market is not designed to move fast and they can’t catch up.

  9. That earnings report is a wonderful source of information. That said, does anyone have an estimate for indie vs trad publishing shares in brick and mortar bookstores?

    Also, if trad publishing has a much larger share in brick and mortar bookstores, why is that? Is the game rigged for shelf space, or are indie authors simply not trying enough, or are there advantages of scale at play?

    P.S. I just submitted this link to r/books at reddit, but it might not get seen by very many people because it is already being voted down. 😦

      1. Thanks for your reply and the informative link. I should read there more often….

      2. Was going to mention Kris’ recent posts, but you beat me to it. She’s got some damned good stuff in there, including about the Traditional Publishers showing higher than expect profits because of lower costs.

        Yep, the Traditional Publishers are messing over their writers by paying crappy royalties on ebooks.

        Who’da thunk it.


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