New Author Earnings Report out!

Interesting times, interesting results. After two and half years of constant growth, this time we see the first contraction for indie market share. Trad Pub’s big five showed a very slight gain in unit sales, but most of the market share went to Amazon’s own publishing arm, and a smaller amount to uncategorized single-author publishers (mostly indies).

On gross revenues, most of the lost market share went to small and medium publishers, with a smaller amount to amazon Pub.

Having the what, we’re left to speculate on the why, and how. Causes may include, but are not limited to: Amazon’s Kindle first program, pushing their own new releases; Bookbub’s increasing percentage of big and medium press slots as opposed to indies (and increased price raising the barrier to the fewer slots left); Amazon’s new promoted/sponsored search ads; consolidation of indies into small pubs; the stars being in the right configuration for C’thulu to rise from dead R’lyeh; other factors unknown at this time.

From a personal perspective, we put out the last book with a small publisher. After negotiating on contract terms, I have to say I was very pleased both with the contract, and their abiding by it. It’s been a relief to have someone else handle the formatting, cover art, even the back end on creating an audiobook edition, while Peter and I were concentrating on surgical clearances, surgery, and recovery. Brings The Lightning has done very well for a western – while not selling as well as his popular military scifi, it has done a lot better than we expected for a genre that’s been declared “dead” for years. There will be more!

How has your summer and fall gone, for sales and discoverability? What have you found that’s helped, or hurt, or simply changed?

34 thoughts on “New Author Earnings Report out!

  1. One should note that Amazon has updated their format requirements document. (It’s been so long since I read it that I didn’t realize they are requiring two cover files.)

    1. Sigh. I need to get back on the blogging horse, I had a series planned out…

      Yes, the format spec does require two covers. No, do not do it.

      What you end up with if you try is a side bar with “Cover / Contents” and so on – unfortunately what the “Contents” goes to is your second cover. The reader has to swipe again to access the Contents (or whatever you put up front right after the cover in the manifest).

      Looks very unprofessional with two identical covers…

      Yes, this is from experience. They don’t enforce it right now. If they ever do start that, what I am planning to do is make the second cover the title page, and hope that doesn’t foul up the site indexing…

      From many years of reading specs, and a bit of head-scratching since I am not (yet) expert on their web platform, this looks like what we call an “orphan spec.” I think the original intent was to allow the publisher to have a nice, loving detailed cover for the actual book – and a second one that would work well as the thumbnail and/or the cover for the book’s sales page. Experimentation, though, shows that this apparently never got down to the programming grunts – the main cover is used for everything on the web platform, the second one only shows up as the annoying duplication in the book.

      Sorry if this is not clear; looking at the beer stein I use for the morning startup caffeination, it’s still half-full…

    2. Okay, looking at this, it is not apparently what you think it is.
      I only upload one cover, and I’m fine. Why am I fine? Because I upload my novels as .docx files. Amazon then coverts them and puts a copy of the cover image in the book.
      Epubs do this too, btw, but on most platforms you end up with two covers and the second looks screwy, which is why I avoid uploading epubs whenever possible, the conversion software on uploads sucks.
      This spec is for those people who wish to upload their book completely formatted and converted themselves, with Amazon having to do nothing to the uploaded files. B&N does this too, and it usually screws up and causes problems there.
      So, unless they’re about to change something drastically. Ignore it.

      The only people who really upload their books in the post converted formats are those doing picture books, and those with serious control issues 😉

      1. Errr… No. Give Kindlegen two covers, and you end up with two covers in the mobi. The spec is just not in sync with the system reality.

        Former web developer here – it comes from spending late nights and early mornings (and the next day, and the next late night, and the next early morning) fighting with converting Word files to anything else. (Admittedly, .doc files – .docx is much cleaner, and they actually specced it out and stick to it reasonably well.)

        So I am comfortable with HTML and XML files – if it is italic, bold, and centered – I know it is going to stay that way in the mobi file, dammit! I can be sure everything will stay in the same order as the manifest (which some people have had problems with – not with .docx, IIRC, but other WP files). I generate a local file that I crossload to all of my devices for testing before Amazon ever sees it (which avoids problems with blearily hitting the publish button at 2 AM when the dag-nabbed thing isn’t quite right yet).

        Yes, I do have serious control issues… (I talk to WordPress in HTML, too – and haven’t had weird issues yet, at least not with the content. Stupidly leaving the blog on the private setting, yes…)

    3. I’ve just re-downloaded the spec (version 2016.1) and checked §4, “Cover Image Guidelines”. There are two cover images, all right, but only one goes in the book:

      4.1 Marketing Cover Image Is Mandatory
      Kindle books must have a marketing cover image provided for use on the website detail page. This is provided separately from the eBook file. […]

      4.2 Internal Content Cover Image Is Mandatory
      Kindle books must have an internal cover image provided for use within the book content. Provide a large, high-resolution cover, because Amazon quality assurance will fail the book if the cover is too small.

      Do not add cover images to the content in any way other than those described in this section or the cover might appear twice in the book. […]

      (And I’m pretty sure you can use the same image file for both.)

    1. Yep. As part of my own Tiny Publishing Bidness, I am offering a service to other local indy authors: I’ll walk them through setting up at LSI or Ingram Spark as their own Tiny Independent Publisher, and for a reasonable fee, provide editing and formatting, and a cover which will meet LSI/Ingram Spark specifications. Wave of the future, as I see it.

      1. I know a number of other authors who are doing this, either setting up authors with their own imprints or publishing other authors. I expect this trend to continue.

  2. I don’t know if I’m counted at all, let alone as an Indie or a one author publisher. But summer was looking dismal until I released a bunch of stories in quick succession. That got it up for two months, now sales and down again. Meh. It’s a long term thing. There are bound to be ups and downs. So long as the long term trend is upward I’ll be happy.

  3. Sales this year stayed about the same as last, but not coming close to what I did in 2014. That being said, I haven’t seen the royalty statement for the Baen anthology I’m in yet nor the advance for the second antho. Counting the next release (should be December) this year should eclipse last by a decent margin.

    1. My sales were a bit off this year, but I think part of that was I missed a deadline earlier in the year, and I tried to expand my writing market (and one of those attempts failed miserably).
      Also a lot of people are very wrapped up in the current election. I suspect things will pick up about midway through November.
      I do realize I need to also expand my advertising methods and take on the dreaded google adwords. I am considering approaching Castellia house and seeing if perhaps they might want to work a deal. I tried Baen, but didn’t get a response there, so I surmise I’m not the right fit for them (which is fine btw).
      As in all things, the market will tighten up as time goes on, and it will be harder for new entries to make a name for themselves, especially if budgets tighten due to harder times. Most post election years are recession years as well, and as we’re already in a pretty severe recession, I’d expect Feb thru May next year to be positively brutal.

      1. Regardless of how the election goes, I think there will be a very healthy market for affordable escapist fiction of all kinds (gritty political thrillers full of corruption and betrayal, maybe not so much. The key is “escape”.) Even during Depression mk. 1, movies and entertainment did well if it wasn’t too pricy. People wanted a few hours of fun, even then. I think we can both do well and do good, if we make clear what we offer. (Human Wave! Adventure with heroes, daring deeds done dirt cheap!)

        I suspect there may be a bit of market overcorrection with indies. Note that the legacy pubs did NOT really recover market share. Indie as I define it, meaning non-legacy, kept its share. Perhaps the indie writers who were in it for a quick easy buck are seeing diminishing sales and quitting. Readers are getting more firm about indie production standards, and Amazon is landing on many of the scam book tricks. Readers still want a good story and that takes time to produce.

        1. True on all counts.
          I do (constantly) see people on some of the forums who think indy writing is the key to riches and they usually go over the things that they’ve ‘discovered’ to help make them rich and famous.
          Most of those tend to crash and burn. But you always get one or two who do well, and maybe one of those does more than well.
          There are also, still, a lot of people who play fast and lose with the rules, some get away with it, some don’t. It is just the nature of humanity after all.

  4. Summer sales have been lower than I expected, but this has been a very unusual year for me, so it’s hard to tell if it was the normal summer slump or something else. I had two releases (June and October) and they’ve done well, although the 30- and 60-day cliffs were fairly steep for the June release. My growing mailing list continues to be my most effective tool – without any other ads or promos, sending a mass e-mail and posting on Facebook and a couple of newsgroup generated over 100 sales on release day, which got me on the first page of the ‘Hot New Release’ list for a couple sub-categories, at which point Amazon did a good deal of marketing for me.

    One interesting change this month is that book purchases have overtaken KU borrows, accounting for 60% of my October revenue (until then, it’s usually been the reverse). Might have been due to the issues KU was having, or because I raised my book prices. Still not unhappy with sticking with KDP Select.

    A data point to consider: I searched for Smashword’s yearly sales; the only year I found some data for it was in 2012, when SW reported $12 million in gross sales. ( . Note that KU’s *payout* to writers exceeds that number every month. Assuming Smashwords hasn’t grown exponentially in the last four years, and that other aggregators aren’t much bigger, it seems to me that KU’s borrows alone comprise a bigger market than all of them combined. Obviously, things aren’t the same across genres and I’m sure plenty of people can do better going wide, but I still think beginner writers (at least those who concentrate on 100K+-word fiction works) would be better off trying their luck in KDP Select first.

    Since I operate through a LLC, I’m probably counted as an uncategorized publisher. So my sales growth this year is probably counted there. 2016 has been a life-changing year for me, through some combination of luck and hard work, so it’s hard to get a feel for the overall market from my perspective.

    1. C.J., that was going to be my point after a few more people chimed in. I was and am willing to bet that anyone with an LLC or corporation printed on the spine gets classified as ‘uncategorized publisher’ and anyoen whose son has published under their corporation , say, gets classified as ‘small press’. Literally to make indie look smaller.

      1. Pretty much. It also wouldn’t surprise me if several indie writers (especially ones making high-five or six figures in sales) have switched to a corporate model (far easier to account for expenses and handle taxes that way), which would remove them from the “self-published” category. Even a few dozen big earners switching modes would affect the market share/earning stats.

        Now, if the trend continues for another quarter or two, it might be worrisome. In any case, the best course of action remains to Write Moar!! ™. But unlike Veteran Publishing Consultant Mike Shatzkin ( I think it’s a bit too early to dismiss indies and assume trad publishers are just fine. Mostly ’cause they really ain’t.

  5. My spring sales were good, my summer sales tanked. I’m below last year, although not badly, even with releases in three different series. The newest Colplatschki book is not moving the way previous ones have, which may mean that if you interrupt a series for a (relatively) extended period of time, people don’t come back to it as easily (BUT – new part of the world, new characters could also be the problem/lack of appeal). I’m hoping things ramp up over the fall through into next spring.

    1. Somewhat related, I think: When Pam switch perspective from the Kingdom to the Empire, I got the books just because they were part of the series; I wasn’t particularly looking forward to them (they were good, but different). The new Directorate sub-series (set in the Empire) is brilliant and I’m looking forward to more.

      So, there is reader-resistance when you change things.

  6. Do KU downloads count as unit sales? I suspect not. In which case the increasing market share of KU, which is mostly indies and their “small press” names, depresses the reported indie market share by a factor of about 2.

    1. KU Downloads affect sales rank, but you only get paid after they sit down to read it. My sales are isolated enough I can tell when that happens. I can see a jump in rank, with no sales or pagereads in the report, and then weeks later, I’ll see page reads after my rank has already settled back down into the netherworld.

      (What I don’t understand is seeing 62 page reads when the book weighs in at 64.)

  7. I didn’t do very well, but then I didn’t expect to – first novels are first novels.

    What has been perplexing is that, after a nice start where those people who started Pride’s Children in KU would entertain me (okay, I was watching) by reading the whole long thing in a day or so. I could tell – because the borrows were maybe one a week or two. But, as of this summer, all I see are 6 starts – with no one reading past the initial 1-8 KU ‘pages.’ Like a switch clicked.

    I read on TPV that there was this thing called a page-flip mode which caused a similar phenomenon (people went to page-flip mode, read from there, and never came back, so supposedly the algorithm never registered pages actually read). I thought – maybe that’s it? Accidentally? But then someone also reported that Amazon had corrected that, including going back to the ones that had been ‘read’ that way, and calculated the pages correctly. And I haven’t seen that happen to PC.

    Other than that, the best I do is hand selling to people I meet on the internet who for some reason or other I think might ‘get’ my novel – and that is going very slowly, too. And takes a huge amount of work. The official sales have done dismally. I’m starting to think I can’t write (more likely, am a total outlier marketing-wise), and that I’ve exhausted my tribe. 25 reviews isn’t peanuts – but the last one of those was a while back.

    And now, with John Scalzi’s post today, I realized that politics have ALSO been depressing the heck out of my writing. Once I learned I’m not alone in that, I was able to dump my angst – maybe tomorrow will be better. I’m not quitting.

    1. As KU only tells you how many pages have been read, not by who, and not where in the book (or even how many people have actually borrowed) how are you determining that they’re only reading 6 and then stopping?

      1. Because I have zero for days, then 6 one day, and none for a week.

        If I hadn’t had the other pattern before, several times over, I would have just assumed several someones over the course of 2 or three months tried a few pages, didn’t like PC, and moved on.

        Patterns and pattern changes.

        Plus, once, when the 950+ pages in one day pattern happened, I happened to mention it on GR – and made a new friend when she said she had been the one who did that the day before.

        When you’re new at this, you watch any and all indications that anyone is reading – and you can see things which you won’t see when you have more than one read a week.

        I’m not positive, just pretty sure.

        I find newbies annoying, even though I’m one, so I don’t usually mention these things, but it fit the topic – and there has been the odd change in pattern.

      2. Well, it actually only knows “Furthest page Read”, so if someone skips to the last chapter and reads a little more, it counts as if they read all the intervening pages. That’s why they clobbered all the books with the TOC at the end, because jumping to the table of contents marked the whole books as read, and the scammers of KU2.0 took advantage of that.

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