New Author Earnings Report Out!

Yeah, when a new Author Earnings Report comes out, that trumps all else I’d talk about – because hard data on the state of the market is far better than any speculation or advice!

This report is in far greater depth – not only did they crawl the top 100 in subgenre, but print, audio, and also-boughts as well. It’s tracking over 1 million titles, to shine a light into the previously dark unknown of who and what isn’t on a bestseller list but is still selling, and how, and where. And the results – are impressive!

In discussions at Passive Voice, Data Guy answered questions with two more links that may have slipped by you – but contains some really important data.

First, a hard data snapshot of who in the market is charging what price points, and how much they’re earning (what price points are selling, and how much).

Second, the Big 5 are charging higher prices for their debut authors than their established. No, really, check it out.

Even if you weren’t following Kris Rusch’s series on contract clauses ( ) that make her want to shower just from reading them, this makes it very, very hard to come up with any reason to go with a major publisher – and to watch the small ones’ contract language and advantages vs. disadvantages carefully!

37 thoughts on “New Author Earnings Report Out!

  1. I read about the AE report on the Passive Voice, and have been mulling over all the information in it. Very illuminating. At this point there is no way I could even contemplate going with a traditional publisher. The risk versus potential reward ratio seems to only be getting worse with every passing year, as trad pub tightens its grip on writers.

    I couldn’t in good conscience recommend that a new writer (specifically, any writer in a ‘genre’ like SF, mystery or romance) spend (or, most likely waste) time and money going the regular way. The odds remain abysmal (it doesn’t matter how bad publishers treat would-be authors, the supply of submissions is always going to exceed demand by orders of magnitude), and the potential payout is no longer competitive. When you throw in the years it usually takes before a writer finds an agent, let alone a publisher, years that could have been spent publishing multiple books instead of waiting for a response that in most cases will consist of a form rejection letter, the choice seems pretty clear.

    Yes, if you happen to be the next J.K. Rowling or James Patterson, going trad will pay you more – you’ll have access to the 5-book-a-year readership that is much larger than all other markets combined. But that’s like saying that buying lotto tickets is a sounder investment than getting a job. The odds to find an audience and generate a decent income as an indie are far better (not great, mind you, not even all that good, but better), and you are far less likely to have your hard work exploited by others without your getting a fair share.

    There are exceptions, of course. ‘Literary’ and mainstream fiction writers seem to have a very hard time in the indie market, at least for now. The current indie consumer base is dominated by genre readers. So in that case you might as well roll the dice and hope you become the next Eat, Pray Love or whatnot. Nonfiction also seems to have a harder time carving a niche. And of course, if what you crave most is fame and recognition, the indie market is still short on those. You’ll always have detractors like Mickey ‘Will Troll for Food’ Kozlowsky looking down on you and claiming anything that didn’t pass through the validating fingers of trad pub is useless trash. In that case, submit away. But don’t quit your day job.

    Me, I’ll cash the checks from Amazon and continue writing, because that is my day job.

    1. I wonder if the success of “genre” fiction as compared to literary and mainstream as independents is market. People who read genre fiction seem, as an aggregate, more interested in content (story) and volume (moar books now!!!!!) and are not as concerned with where the story comes from (indie, niche press, Trad Pub)*. People who prefer literary fiction, in general, seem a bit more interested in reading things that have already been vetted and approved (“If it is published and in stores, it must be good.”) I know there are lots and lots of exceptions and individual preferences, but I wonder . . .

      * And if you’ve been told for Y years that what you like is “unworthy”, why should you give a fig where it comes from? The less “reputable” the better, even!

      1. The desire for vetting from tradpub houses reminds me of blind taste tests done with wine: When people aren’t told what the wines are but are told what they cost, the most expensive wine is almost always chosen as the best. This suggests that people aren’t confident in their ability to choose quality literary fiction, or perhaps buy literary fiction as a sort of sophistication signaling, sometimes just to leave the books lying around their livingrooms for visitors to see.

        1. This may explain why mainstream literary eBooks from traditional publishers don’t do as well genre eBooks from the indies….. you can’t leave an eBook out on your coffee table to provide sophistication signaling for your visitors.

        2. An even better example was Penn and Teller doing a segment of Bullshit! on bottled water which ended with them serving up LA tapwater from a hose to a bunch of water snobs and getting their enthusiasm on video. Then the prep video was shown… 😎

      2. That makes a lot of sense. It may also explains why a lot of literary best sellers are bought and never read to completion. The purchase is its own reward, so people can see the book on the shelves and know the buyer is a person of refined taste 🙂

  2. Kris’ series is a must-read, and it was about half the reason I gave up on tradpub and went full-barrel indie last year. (The other half was Sarah’s gentle persuasion.) My books have reviewed well and are making money. Why is tradpub necessary again? Remind me; I keep forgetting.

    I’ve begun to wonder if tradpub is now becoming a farm team for indie publishing. (For a few years it seemed to be the other way around.) The scenario would be this: The few newcomers who are chosen and then do well in the market abandon tradpub and go out on their own. I suspect that this is the reason that contracts have gotten so devouring: Tradpub houses know what’s possible and know people are doing it. They’re fighting back the only way they can, and may or may not understand that those awful contracts are only accelerating their inevitable demise.

    1. Or a consolidation and restructuring in publishing. What does Baen offer now that we could not get on our own? What does Castalia offer? We can answer these questions, for now. A publisher interested in competing will make sure they will have answers.

      1. What they can offer us is exposure, if welded to contract terms that are not insane. BTW, a lot of us define “tradpub” as “Manhattan-based print publishing houses,” with all that that implies. Baen is an outlier, and Castalia is a *serious* outlier. Unless we start seeing a few more such outliers, I’d guess that print publishing is doomed.

        1. Baen and Castalia look like they may count as ‘small and medium publishers’. Which is holding fairly steady in market fraction of gross ebook sales. I had deleted a statement where I had drawn conclusions from misreading that as gross book sales.

          ‘Big Five’ are definitely tradpub, but ‘small and medium publishers’ may be significantly more mixed. I suspect it may include sensible outliers covering other genres. Not that Baen and Castalia can keep the market for print scifi alive singlehandedly.

          I am in general optimistic. I think this change might be a good opportunity for new businessmen to get in and figure out new ways of making money.

          That may just be because I think I have discovered such a couple weeks back.

        2. Maybe not doomed, but certainly likely to contract significantly. From a purely “make the last quarter look good” perspective, it might make sense to focus on mega-bestsellers (the books the huge market of people who only buy a few books a year and can be found cover out in the choice spots of bookstores) and fads like coloring books or the Jersey Shore Pop-Up-With-Soundtrack singalong coffee table book (or whatever). Which could mean abandoning the mid-list. Smaller publishers could step in to fill in the vacuum left behind, or indies might end up moving in and completely taking over entire sub-genres.

          Not sure if such a move would be in the Big Five’s best interests, but their past performance doesn’t lead me to think they have any idea what their best interests are, let alone how to look after them.

    2. I expect writers trapped in mid-lister hell will migrate in large numbers to self-pubbing. The top 10% writers are probably doing well enough that switching wouldn’t be good for them (or would involve more non-writing work and less perks, which may be worth more than the extra income). But over the long term, those top writers are going to age out of the system (i.e., die/retire) and the replacement bench will be rather sparse…

  3. Wow, so there’s only a little over 800 other indies making the same or more than me?
    Thats… rather shocking. I had no idea I was doing that well. Maybe one day I can break into the 6 figure club.

      1. I personally suspect that’s pretty low, because they’re not adding or or any of the others, as well as missing the other retailers, and, last but certainly not least, not accounting for multiple pen names.

        1. Amazon sales in the foreign market tend to not be that big of a deal. I sell okay in several of those markets, and I find myself ranking fairly high (as in the top 100, even the top 20 or 10) in many of them, but the numbers really are just a fraction of what I sell in the US store.
          However, a 25K income in most other countries goes a lot farther than a 50K income does here.

          1. The pen-name issue is probably the biggest factor for throwing off the numbers. The older the indie market gets, and the more time people have to publish in multiple genres under multiple pen names, the more this’ll be an issue.

            1. Indeed. Who knows how many writers have two-three different “imprints” under different names, each maybe making less than the $10,000 cutoff point but when combined going well over it?

        2. I’m also not sure that foreign language markets aren’t carrying a lot more than English language. If Author Earnings could tell us how the likes of Qidian are doing, I’d have an opinion.

    1. Yeah, it is a bit sobering to see how few people there are making a middle-class income from writing. I’m in the three-year bracket, and the first two years I wasn’t even in the $10,000 category. The odds are still against writers; they are just much worse playing the old “agent-publisher-crappy contract” game.

  4. Here’s my only question: If I publish e-book with Amazon, will a certain favored tradpub (whose name starts with a “B” and whose top editor got robbed by Noah Ward last year) get all mad at me and refuse to publish my book?

    It is of some concern, because I’ve got two books in the can now and the third one is rolling out. I seem to be on a tear. Not bragging, it’s a pain in my ass really. But I figure it would be nice to get paid after all the typing.

    1. Well, Ms. Hoyt herself publishes with Baen and also self-pubs, so it’s certainly being done without people being blacklisted. I guess it depends on the contract you signed. Some contracts don’t allow you to write anything in the genre of your published works, frex.

      1. I’m in the “waiting for rejection letter” stage, but good friends stuck their necks out for me and I don’t want to see them get cut off. More a matter of manners than legality at the moment.

        1. I would talk to those friends, as they’re the ones sticking their necks out, they probably can advise you on the best course of action.

        2. Publishing a book that was submitted to another publisher is a definite breach of trust, and that will have consequences. The last time I checked (via my copy of the 2013 Writer’s Market), Baen took 9-12 months to respond to a submission; don’t know if that response time has changed. If enough time has passed, I’d start with a polite inquiry email about the status of the submission. If you don’t like the answer, a notification you are withdrawing the work in question should precede any further action.

    2. While I certainly don’t represent Baen by any means, I can note that their editors don’t appear to have any issue with authors publishing with other houses or indie. Not only does Sarah Hoyt publish indie, but so have Dave Freer & Michael Z Williamson (with Travis Clemmons), and Lois Bujold also has republished her backlist and put out new novellas through Spectrum Literary Agency.

      Baen has always struck me as wonderfully mercenary, ready and willing to publish anything with great plot and characters, and not too fussy about anything outside of whether or not the book will fit in with their brand, and make money. They’re wonderful that way, eh?

      1. They were always my first choice when I was thinking about going the traditional way, both because they’re usually well ahead of the curve when it comes to the changes in publishing and because most of the books I enjoyed came from their stable of authors. The only thing that deterred me was the 9-12 month wait, but I’m old, ornery and impatient 🙂

        1. C. J., if I wrote “longer” I’d certainly be thinking about them as a possibility. That and if my muse didn’t love putting genres into a blender and pushing “high.”

          1. I totally understand about the genre-blending. My first self-pubbed novel was superhero-alternate history, not exactly the kind of thing trad publishing is going to jump on, which probably explains the form rejection letter I got. The cool thing is that there is a market for every genre out there, some of which may not be big enough to be worth a publisher’s time but plenty to provide a nice income to a writer willing to cater to it.

  5. For those of us not in the top 800 of indie earners, this is still very interesting information because it shows where we can go. It also shows that tradpub is not the growth opportunity. There’s enough out there about the contracts and agent practices in tradpub to give a sensible person pause before pursuing traditional publishing markets, and the lines on the graphs show that the money doesn’t necessarily make up for those risks.

  6. The conclusion I draw is that tradpub is good only for some people getting their paychecks from tradpub. Not so sure, given the way things move, if tradpub will continue to be a good thing for the OWNERS of tradpub, including stockholders.
    BUT! It was a fine system for quite a long while for reviewers. Want to know what to review? Look no further that the ‘just published’ list, and yer work is done for you. And every so often you could toss in the lovely little work of poetry published by your alma mater.
    Now? Now it’s bloody chaos for reviewers if you actually try to get THROUGH what is coming your way. I can’t even keep up with THIS group, which is my prime allegiance, much less my affiliations through Facebook, and I’m half afraid Toni is going to slide a knife in my ribs at Libertycon for letting so much Baen go unreviewed.
    My complaint is that I am drowning in brilliance. I am at the bottom of an avalanche of well-written books with interesting characters, and I feel GUILTY when I take ANY time off for family maintenance or to read through my email.
    It’s a real problem: despite their best efforts, tradpub was NOT able to spay and euthanize dozens and hundreds of prolific authors, and they keep reproducing, and I can’t say no because I don’t WANT to say no. I’m turning down swag items they want me to review because I don’t have TIME.
    Summary: this environment has given me what I regard as my perfect job; only that I did not know that it was perfect until I started doing it. And I simply cannot keep up. We need more reviewers, I think.
    The writing kitties are pouring down the dry creekbed, and they need and deserve to be told that what they write has been seen, digested, and that it tastes like THIS.

    1. How does one apply for this position? My wife reads a lot of Baen and a way to help pay for it would be good.

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