When is an indie doing well?
I was going to write about the latest payout numbers from the Kindle Unlimited Program today — and I will get to it shortly — but a member of my critique group asked a question Sunday that had me sit back and think. Several weeks before, instead of our regular meeting, we held a mini-workshop. It was something we’d planned for more than a month. We hadn’t advertised it because I was building the workshop around the needs of our group members. During the course of the session, a newcomer came in. That was fine. We invited her to stay and tried to make her a part of the workshop.
Now, during the course of her time with us, she referred to the book she had just self-published and kept telling us it was “selling well”. No explanation. Nothing more than a repeat of the same mantra of it was “selling well”. So, fast forward to this past Sunday and one of our regular members asked, “what does selling well mean to an indie author?”
When Kyle asked me that, I had to think. My immediate response was that it depends on the author and that author’s personal goals. I know there are some authors who are happy just being able to say they have published something. They don’t really look at what their sales are and look at any monies coming in as found money. But that answer sort of cheated, at least in my mind. So I thought for a moment and then asked myself what it meant.
To me, an indie is doing well when she can say that she earned out during a year on one title what she would have made as an advance from a traditional publisher. My response, based on that, was that when I make $5,000 in a year from a single title, I’m selling well. But was I right?
Another member of the group, one who has experience in the romance side of the industry, said my figure was a little high. She said that for some, that figure would be $1,000. So, I did what I often do, I asked our own Sarah what she thought. Her figure was more in line with the $3,000 mark. So there is no set figure, not really. You have to look at what the average advance in your genre for authors of your level happens to be. That means, for most of us, if we earn anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 for a title in a year, we have just earned out an advance. In other words, we made as much money as most traditionally published new authors would make for their first few books.
Keep in mind, if you earn that much money and keep earning on a single title, you are doing better than a lot of traditionally published authors who don’t ever earn out their advances.
So, how does this fit in with the new Kindle Unlimited payouts?
That’s simple. As a writer of long fiction, my payments under the new KU rules jumped dramatically over the previous months. From what I’m seeing, I’m not the only one to have this result. J A Konrath blogged about his numbers this past Saturday. He noted the upswing in monies earned under the new program and made some interesting observations about the revamped KU program. I’ll come back to those observations shortly.
Hugh Howie has also weighed in on the new payouts.
Before I get to their observations, here is what I saw with my titles in the KU program. In June, I earned $1.35 for each title downloaded and read past the 10% mark. It didn’t matter if it was for a 10 page short story selling for 99 cents or a 300 page novel selling for $2.99. That old program was great for short works priced at 99 cents. You made more for a borrow than you did for a sell. But it sucked for novels priced $2.99 or more.
Under the new program, I earned approximately $.005779 per page read. Taking the number of “pages” read for Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1), my latest novel, and dividing it by the number of “pages” Amazon says Sword has, I made approximately $3.88 for each “download”. (Here I made the assumption that everyone read the book all the way through. Unfortunately, at this time, we have no way of knowing how many times a book is downloaded under the KU program or how far a reader goes before he stops reading. Hopefully, Amazon will correct that in the future.) That is a different of $2.53 per book read. That’s a huge jump in royalties and a welcome one.
Going back to Konrath’s post, a 23 page short story that earned him $1.35 in June earned him 16 cents. Yes, this is why those writers of short fiction — and those who had been gaming the system — were screaming when the new rules were announced.
So what does this new system do, really? What is its purpose?
Both Konrath and Howey agree that the system rewards authors who put out good work and hook their readers. If you are write a good book, they will continue reading. If you continue putting out good work, adding to your list of available titles, they will continue buying or borrowing your work.
I will add one more thing that I have been seeing. I’ve seen — well, I’ve heard from some of my readers — they they first try my books on Kindle Unlimited and then, once they liked something, they went ahead and bought it as well as the next titles in the series. That is a win-win for me as an author because it means I have found a new fan, I have received royalties from the KU program and then from the sale.
So, to get back to my initial question. What does it mean when an indie writer says they are selling well? It is a personal call, one made by each author. For me, it is making as much as I would if I had received a traditional publishing contract and, looking at my numbers for last year and this, I can say I am selling well. But it also means I have to keep writing and improving my craft and figuring out better ways to market my work because I want to improve my sales. After all, I’m not one to suffer for my art. 😉