Care and Feeding of Authors: Diminishing Returns

A few years back, I was at the Romantic Times convention in DFW, and a writer friend (I’ll call her CK) was complaining to us about her sales. “I used to earn $30,000 the first month a book came out,” she told us, “but now it’s $7000 at most.”

After my other friend and I managed to close our gaping mouths, we got more into the nuts and bolts of this situation.

You see, indie authors have one big problem…fluctuating income that’s totally at the mercy of an outside vendor.

Now, this is not a post about the evils of Amazon. After all, most of us make the bulk of our indie money via Amazon, and it’s one of the vendors that you can actually be certain will still exist this time next year. However, because they have the control over our fates, we end up losing our shirts periodically.

 

My friend who is suddenly making $23,000 less on her book debuts? Well, she’s being killed by Amazon KU. KU, while it makes some people lots of money, it makes others lose money. This is a basic feature of any innovation.

And while $7K is NOT small potatoes for one month (it’s more than I made off my novels with Penguin), for someone who was making $30K, it’s a pretty stark difference. It’s painful to see what was a lucrative business slashed down to a percentage of its former glory.

But this is the problem that all indie authors have to deal with.  The algorithms change.

Yes, for some reason, the rules from various publishers (not just Amazon) keep changing. It’s written into the contract that you have with the vendor, for the  most part.

Here’s an example, from way back in 2012: I went on vacation and, for no reason that I knew, downloads of Iron Shoes via Amazon suddenly exploded. I looked at my numbers, and saw that Amazon had set it to FREE. Without warning me.

It’s in the contract that they can do things like that.

Over the next two days, about 15,000 copies of my novella were downloaded, and then a bunch more after it went back to .99 cents. I MADE MONEY! More than I ever had before….but…

It’s important to keep in mind that Amazon made twice as much as I did then due to the royalty structure.  Hmm.

And I had no control over that incident. I was away from home and really couldn’t promote it, either. I just had to sit and watch it happen. 

In the same way, authors have little control over who sees their book on Amazon. We don’t control the “Also Bought”s, we don’t control the “Sponsored Products” (we can buy ads, but I don’t have the resources to track things), we don’t control the order things come up on searches.  These things all control whether people see our books…but there’s little (other than pay for ads) that we can do about it.

The pay part is important, because I’ve paid for ads in the past on Amazon, and spent more on those than I had in resultant sales.

I will pay for an ad when Overseer is about to come out, too. And probably lose money. 🙁

(This is, by the way, true across most advertising platforms for me. I honestly don’t think that any ebook ad I’ve tried has really been profitable.)

My point is that with…

a) traditional publishers becoming more conservative, and

b) ebook publishers regularly changing the rules,

…it’s very hard for authors to make real money. I’ve seen the statistic that only 40 indie authors are ‘profitable’, but that’s for a very high standard of ‘profitable’.  On the other hand, the AVERAGE statistic is that authors who indie-publish a book, only ever make $200-300 off it. So the vast majority of us just aren’t making money, a rather depressing note when most of us have put months’ or years’ worth or work into those books.

The average reader can help with that, but it’s by doing the same things we always ask: Pay for the book, recommend it to friends, and leave a nice review.

And thanks if you do! (I will now go post a review myself.)

 

 

 

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