Friday, 21 June 2013

The Tesco approach to publishing eBooks: Every Little Helps.

The Tesco approach to publishing eBooks: Every Little Helps.

"I've got the brown bar on five regions on KDP."

"My books aren't selling well."

"Is $2.99 too much for dystopian YA that's only 50k?"

All three are complaints I've seen on twitter in the last 24hours. Sure, I follow more writers than most so this mentality may not reflect the whole, but I think it's indicative.

May, June and July are slow months for many authors. It's sunny (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) and people don't buy so much.

What people fail to keep in mind is that:

·         eBooks sales vary - by title, by time of year, by genre, by luck, by visibility, by release schedule etc etc.

·         eBooks are a long term value proposition, not a get rich quick scheme.

So how do we avoid feeling down about our numbers?

·         Concentrate on the AVERAGE. Long term. Across all sales platforms.

·         Think about how much you'll make in TOTAL.

Let me illustrate the point with some real life figures, because this isn't a "do some work, get paid immediately" industry. Writing is a business venture. You spend time writing, you spend money on editing, proofing, formatting or art. Some may do some or all of these tasks themselves, but it comes down to input.

·         INPUT = TIME + MONEY

·         OUT = ROYALTIES

Ladies and gents, this is all simple maths. Take the time it takes you to write, multiply that by an hourly rate you feel is fair then add your labour costs. For example:

·         Writer A takes 10 hours to write a short story, edit it and buys a $30 pre-made cover. He values his time at $10/hr. Total input = $130.

·         Writer B takes six months (or about 1040 hours based on 40hrs/week) to write a big epic fantasy novel. He spends $1000 on editing, and a $500 cover. He values his time at the same $10/ hr. Total input = $11,900.

These guys are going for different markets, but neither of hypothetical authors is an idiot nor are they a genius. If your business model is that you need a break out novel selling tens of thousands of copies then your business model is completely flawed - bestsellers are the exception not the norm. Aim for the stars, but plan for mediocrity.

But, back to Mr A and Mr B.

Mr A is a bit nervous. He isn't confident in his abilities, and picks a 99c price point. He makes 35c a sale. To get his input back (i.e. be paid the nominal $10/hr) he's got to sell 130/0.35c or 372 copies.

Mr B is more confident. He's got a bigger book. It's been pro edited, and his art is amazing. He's going to try $4.99 (which is in the right ballpark for a novel). After delivery and amazon's cut, he'll get $3.48 or thereabouts. To get his input back, that needs 3420 sales.

Both authors are looking at their sales. Mr A is pissed off "Why am I not selling? Do people hate short stories?" He's on 5 sales a month.

Mr B is likewise, "Wrong genre. Bad timing. Not enough reviews." He's on one a day.

Both make all the usual excuses. It isn't a lack of work (no one gets to live off one book or short story, and you'd be crazy to expect to be able to). It isn't mediocre storytelling (These are both first timers - not big household names gone indie).

Their problems are twofold:

1. Not enough products to sell.

2. They're thinking short term, and very narrowly.

A reader only buys a book from an author once, except in rare circumstances (e.g. buying a paperback after ebook, or buying a short story collection containing one story they already own).

Both of these hypothetical authors fall at the first hurdle. They've got some potential readers. They've come back. They want more. But they have nothing more to sell them. So the readers leave, and not all of them will come back. The longer the interval between books 1 and 2, 2 and 3 etc the greater the chance they'll be forgotten.

Secondly, they're being too narrow and too short sighted. Both my hypothetical authors have uploaded just to Amazon. It's a big store, but it's not the whole shebang these days.

Where should they be looking?

·         Amazon

·         Kobo

·         Nook

·         iTunes

·         Overdrive

·         Smashwords

·         Createspace or Lightningsource

·         ACX

·         Anthologies

·         Collections

·         Gaming rights

·         Foreign language rights

·         Movie rights

·         TV rights

·         First publication rights

·         Reprint markets

·         Library payments

·         Handsales

Within each of those, you've got multiple income streams. Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Japan, Brazil, Italy, France, Germany. Foreign language books do still sell,  even if not many.

Then you've got 28 iTunes stores, more at Nook.

Then the smaller ones - Waterstones et al.

You wrote a book - use all the rights. If Mr A turned 5 sales a month on one stream (or $1.75) into 5 sales a month per stream (100+) he'd suddenly be making $175 (100 x $1.75) per month - on a short story.

If Mr B did likewise and made 1 $3.48 sale per day at 100+ steams he'd make $9744 a month.

AUTHORS DONT NEED BIG SALES TO MAKE MONEY. Mr A has his whole life to earn form the book (and his estates will getting paid after death!). That's huge money.

Even at his original rate he'd make $1.75 a month for 40 years ($840) which is a great income for 10 hours of work and a cheap cover. If he comes anywhere near 5 a month on 100 streams then he'd be talking $84,000.

Mr B is already making $3.48 a day. That's $1270.20, or $50,808 in 40 years. Again, fantastic income for a 6 month project with minimal outlay. If he started exploiting all the other streams then he'd make far, far more.

Add in the bump from the next book, and the next book and it all snowballs.

So don't check your sales every day. Total all streams once a month - then multiply that by how many years you will be earning for. If you're one of the younger authors it could be 60 years+, and that makes eBooks a fantastic income, even if you don't have a huge amount right now.


  1. Hi there.I totally agree with your analysis and I think it's a very realistic and accurate appraisal of indie publishing, but you are missing one aspect of the whole e-book 'business' ; Author C - Author C is the person who writes for enjoyment regardless of sales or readers, and may have been writing for along time, as a hobby and for fun. Author C isn't trying to make money out of e-books, just likes the idea of publishing the work and having people read it. Author C is the gifted amateur and hobbyist. Author C edits his/ her own work, creates his/ her own covers and produces books as and when he/ she feels like it. For author C the writing is not a business, it's a creative hobby. So for author C giving books away for free is a way of having people read his/ her work, which until e-publishing wasn't going to happen, though author C did send work to agents and publishers. Anyway I very much enjoyed reading this article because it gave me an insight into what indie publishers/ authors A & B are expecting and I agree with you on everything you say. However I'm author C, I've been writing for 30 years, I really enjoy it, it's a lot of fun, I've got lots of rejections from years gone by, but now thanks to Amazon I have readers and I make the occasional £30 or so from e-book sales with no investment whatsoever, apart from my time writing and that's my free time, and I'm happy to give my work away free just so that I can share my work. Thanks for the insight and I'll share this on facebook and twitter because I think there's a lot of A & B authors out there who need to think the way you suggest.

    1. Hi Rich,

      Many thanks for taking the time to comment.

      We totally agree that if you don't want money, then free is fantastic for exposure alone. Author C probably isn't looking to make the most money (or, any money if it's purely a writing for enjoyment scenario). Author C can still benefit from the exposure of being on multiple platforms. Amazon's KDP select can be wonderful as a short term shot in the arm, but if money is not a consideration then perma-free via pricematching will lead to the greatest number of readers and allows Author C to cater to all markets.

      (As an aside, perma free on one title can serve A and B very well too if they have a good backlist).

    2. I see what you're saying. Maybe I should think about this. In fact you know what, maybe I should review this and put a little work in on this. I ought to actually look at the number of copies I've 'shifted', free or otherwise, over the whole time I've been an e-author and then run down the KDP 'lock in' on the one I've 'sold' most of and then put it out on multi-platforms just to see how many more readers I can get. I think 'we' just talked me into this. Thanks. Anyway it's a bit of fun and it will make it interesting to see what happens. Thanks very much. I just read your 99c blog article and I totally agree. I do like your blog as it's a good mix of analysis, comment, advice and yet has a non preachy, helpful tone to it. Thanks again.