Ebook Revolution

The Reality of Publishing

Welcome to your e-book education!

Thank you for joining me on this journey of discovery.

Without further pause, let us begin.

The Reality of Publishing

It’s time to rip the grand illusion of publishing off like a band-aid stuck to a hairy leg. This is the reality of the industry as it stands folks. Hopefully this will free your mind to the possibility of making good money from your e-book online. The publishing industry is going through a forced (and much needed) overhaul. The way some publishers talk, you would think that they were being held at the literary equivalent of gun point! One thing is for certain, many challenges face the traditional publishers to whom we turn to release our long nurtured work. Traditional publications are expensive to produce, promote and distribute and as such the cost is passed onto the consumer (the average book costing $25), who let’s face it, needs to be pretty convinced to spend $10 these days let alone $25. While publishers have the luxury of dictating what they believe the public will read, this more often than not results in difficulty in predicting demand. Publishers cannot afford large budgets to promote the majority of their list, which leaves many authors to be their own publicists. The feeling that you had made it and could relax? Yep, that goes up in smoke. Because if you don’t help speed the sales along yourself then your book, your labour of love, is going to have a much shorter life than you thought.

Novels only have a limited geographical distribution, generally restricted to the country in which they are published. Shelf space in bookstores is limited and a book has only three months on the shelf to prove its worth against the other midlist books before being returned to the publisher and pulped (destroyed). There are no more print runs of your book and that is the end of it. This is a danger for every published author. For example one of Garth Nix’s famous books, Sabriel, only sold just enough copies to keep getting small print runs. It took 7 years until it had gathered enough popularity to be placed prominently on bookstore shelves rather than shoved in a back corner.

Right, there’s half the band-aid, now to how authors make their money. If this has demoralised you, just take a deep breath and rip the rest off with me. The hair will grow back…

One of the burning questions we all have is, are e-books profitable? It appears through all the research I have done, and successful e-book authors I have talked to, that e-books can be MORE profitable for an author than traditional runs.

Let’s take a look at the traditional publishing mouse wheel. A first time author is lucky if they get a $1000 advance. Now that is an advance against royalties, so you must make over $1000 worth of royalties to start receiving more royalty money. The average royalty payment for an author is about 40cents per book. This means you must sell 2,500 copies to make your $1000 and start getting paid ANYTHING. To get another $1000 in royalties you must sell 5,000 copies in total. If this book is sold for $15 a book (we’re going low brow here), they make $75000 for 5000 copies and you get $2000 of that. That’s 2.6% of the total earning that you receive. For potentially several years of work by the author, that’s a little steep. Most first time books will sell under 5,000 copies. The only marketing done for 1st time authors is generally a mention on the publisher’s website/newsletter and a local book launch and, well, that is it. How your novel sells is entirely dependent on where the bookstore owner decides to put them on the self. It’s not based on keywords or searches but biased opinions about what will sell.

Now look at the profit when selling an e-book. Even if you sell your book online for $7 a copy and you only sold 2,500 copies you get $17500, a damn sight more than you would through a traditional publisher.

Are those ripped follicles starting to feel better now?

TOMORROW: Why publishers reject perfectly well written and engaging books.

19 Responses

  1. Emily

    Revenue stats like these are hard to argue with. Am I excited by the smell of a new book? The texture of the crisp pages, the ability to give them as gifts, the magic of signing one to impress one’s enthralled friends … blah, blah, blah. Nope, nothing doing. That’s all vanity and ego.

    Lack of royalties is a heavy price to pay for ego. Just show me the beef. (Translate that as ebook royalties) :)


  2. A very informative piece on ebook publishing over the traditional way. Makes one wonder if publishers feeling the heat, might start giving more profits to writers for their work!

  3. EmCraven says:

    Hi guys,

    Glad you enjoyed it. The reality is, if you want to do a little book signing to impress your friends, you could just do a print on demand as something special to give them. Print on demand, after your book has proved itself online, should always be on the cards for a self-published ebook author. There are a lot of people who love a good solid book in their hands which you can cater to, but for authors to just cater for the print book market these days is silly.

    I have no doubt that publishers are feeling the heat. I like to take the stance of Chris Meade from Ifbook UK, let the publishers work themselves out while they try to catch up to the authors.


  4. alanpqs says:

    Absolutely right about print royalties, Em. I’ve even come across writers in the NYT best-sellers list blogging about how they’re struggling to get above the breadline.

    Care with your royalty calculations for indies though. Remember that your ‘distributor’ is going to take a cut too. 2500 copies @ $7 with Amazon would probably net around $12,250. And not everyone’s going to sell 2500 copies. You have to really work for sales … as I’m sure you’re going to tell us.

  5. The only problem I’ve come across so far is that it’s REALLY easy to e-publish on Smashwords and Amazon if you’re from the US. If you’re not, however… Not so easy. I think it’s still possible on Smashwords, though there’s a whole tax thing one has to work out, but with Amazon I can’t even finish setting up an account properly because I don’t have a US SSN and a US bank account!

  6. EmCraven says:

    Alan you are completely correct, you do have to take the commissions into account (more on that in the next couple of days) around 15-20% commission to Amazon and around 10% to Smashwords. Again you are also correct with the observation that not everyone is going to sell 2500 copies. I will be talking about the global numbers game tomorrow. But basically, if your book is going to sell less than 2500 copies, there is bugger all chance in hell that you will get a traditional contract anyway. However there are various ways that you can leverage your book so that you reach the most number of people and get the most sales, and ultimately get paid more per book then a traditional publishing royalty, even if you’re not going to be a best seller:)

    It’s all about realistic expectations, if you have listened to the free interview with Sheila, you will know what I mean. Know you’re market, know how many people are out there and let your book reach the ones that care rather than sitting unread in a draw.

    As to the tax issue if you’re from another country I think I shall look into that for the blog Rachel. I took a brief look at the Smashwords affiliate page and it talks about there being a tax agreement between the US and Australia. So there might be an avenue that can be explored and unravelled from there.


  7. I really endeared this kind of thing! Superb Em! Because I was one of the Editorial and Staff of our Publication in our University. Gaining profit out of your E-book online is a hard thing to do on my part. Perhaps becoming one of the author is indeed a great privilege and a great recognition no matter how painstaking it is to undergo.

  8. Karen Cote says:

    Very exciting! Thank you. My e-book will be released by an e-publisher in October. I’m already branding myself via my website in preparedness for my launch. This is great and encouraging information.

  9. It’s not as cut and dried as one would suppose – the Big 6 publishers have entered the digital market with some force, and they have done it very well. New independent authors have to compete with The Hunger Games series and the “Girl” novels by Stieg Larsson. They must also do battle with Joe Konrath’s books and those in the top 100 at Amazon. True, they are all in there together, but the playing field is not as level as one would suppose.

    It is just as hard to get your eBook noticed among all the 970,000 already on Kindle today as it was getting your manuscript noticed in a pile of 30,000 yellow envelopes last year.

    The only difference is that the ones doing the choosing are the people with the credit cards who want to spend $2.99 and get value for money and a good read. How are they to distinguish your book among a heap of similarly categorized eBooks?

    Mine are lumped in with Dan Brown, Daniel Silva and Lev Grossman. My short story collections battle with Neil Gaiman, Raymond Carver and Andre Dubus. Yeah, right.

    A realistic view of what is really possible, and that a manuscript does not really constitute a book, must accompany the author on the journey from scribbled notes to eBook creation. The chances of selling even 200 books are still as slim as they were before all this started. The stories about exceptions reinforce the understanding that choices are still being made, only by different gatekeepers, and it’s more than just a matter of getting a ‘book’ out there.

    There is no notional editor standing in the way of acceptance any more – but acceptance must still come before we can worry over figures and percentages as if we had a choice in altering the bottom line.

  10. mikevoyce says:

    I started completely unaware. This article therefore has great value.
    Thanks to all those who have commented, especially Rosanne, the rounded picture and sense of community are invaluable.

  11. Natalie says:

    I have always been skeptical about e-books. I recently purchased a nook color. I love how easy it is to click on a book and have it within minutes to read. But what really opened my eyes, is there is a bestsellers list now for e-books. In the New York Times. I’m convinced of what I need to do. I’m trying to learn all I can. Thank you for this article. :)

  12. I think Lenard and mikevoyce might be spamdrones, Em – you’d think an “Editorial and Staff of our Publication in our University” would be able to write a sentence that makes sense.

    Better check your settings!

    As for your advice – golden. Many thanks.

  13. EmCraven says:

    @Rosanna: Nothing is ever clean cut :) As with all things worthwhile it takes effort, patience and strategy. Yes the Big 6 have entered the digital market, however their prices are still equal to that of a print book, and that is not the sort of price the average consumer is expecting for a digital download. And the fact still remains that publishers do not know every genre or interest group in the world, and are likely to pass over best sellers because of their narrower view of market and trends.

    While independent authors must do battle with the big names, with e-book legends such as Joe Konrath, they only have to deal with the ones in their genre, not all of them at once. Only those dealing with a particular type of horror would have to distinguish themselves from Konrath, and at the same time Konrath can only put out so many books a year, readers are always hungry for new material. It’s not about reaching everybody; it’s about reaching the readers who want what you have. And the number of readers in each field will vary significantly from one to the next. The new ‘gatekeepers’, if you will, have much more varied interests then editors in publishing houses so in that regard at least we stand more of a chance. We, as writers, need to realise there is a smart way to brand and market your book that puts you above the rest, eg. carefully chosen keywords. Things like creatively interacting with your community puts you above everyone, including the big wigs. This is a new age of digital interaction which we can merge with our written text to do some truly tremendous things, and THAT is how indie authors can distinguish themselves from the masses.

    Never easy, but there is a smart way to go about things that means you never have to touch a publisher but you can still be a success. In terms of best sellers I might also point you to people like Brian Pratt, who have never made it above 50 on ANY best sellers lists and he makes around $20,000 per month on his ebooks.

    @Madam Morgana, Thank you for your concern. I’m not as concerned about them being spamdrones, Lenard merely sounds like someone from a country where English is not the first language (I get visitors from all around the world which is very exciting!) and mike appears to have read and responded to the comments above without posting a link so I reckon he’s ok too :) Again thanks for looking out for the blog :) and thank you for your compliments.

  14. tedkrever says:

    The tricky thing, Em, is that if you’re an unknown writer with an ebook (or several), you’re not selling them for $7.99 or even $2.99 and selling any number of copies.
    My most expensive book at the moment is $2.99 – the big seller so far is 99 cents and that seems to be the sweet spot right now for writers in my position. So you’re back to making that 40 cent royalty and doing your own publicity.
    However, nothing stops me from popping the book back up to $2.99 on a couple of hours notice once it starts to sell-or even just to maintain $2.99 as the ‘regular’ price between sales. It’s up to me.
    The biggest difference, as Mr. Konrath never stops mentioning, is that my book is up there forever. I don’t have to worry about the three month window. I can build momentum over time and let word of mouth build, without that arbitrary deadline pressing on me.
    And I’m my own boss. If I want to change the cover design or offer free beer if you buy a POD trade paperback (that’s one of my promotions at the moment on http://www.tedkrever dot com), I can do it the minute the idea comes to me. That doesn’t mean they’re all great ideas, necessarily, but we learn by doing (I’ve sold several paperbacks – at much better margins than the ebook – this week and no one’s claimed the beer yet, so more for me).
    Just my two cents but on balance, I’m happy on this side of the fence.

  15. EmCraven says:

    Hi Ted,

    It’s true, all writers start at the bottom, whether it’s with e-books or with print books. But as with every writer in this profession, success comes as you build up your body of work. I remember talking to Brian Pratt, and he was saying his first quarter check was for $7.65. But he kept adding more and more books to his series and he is now making something along the lines of $20,000 per month with his ebooks.

    As you (and Joe) said, they are there forever, ebooks are a slow build but great promotions, like your giving away a beer with your book, can be tried and tested because they don’t have to be run through the publisher gauntlet. Sites like Pay With A Tweet and be trialled (good luck getting a publisher to do that one!) and as you gain more popularity you can finally start inching up that 40c per book royalty!

    It’s great to hear from other indie authors, keep up the good work!


  16. I’ve been self publishing since 2009. I got on board with Ebooks this year with all three of my novels and have seen good results. The reality of self publishing for me has been to drive my novels into the market my own way and create a strong brand in the process. I know too many writers sitting on great projects waiting, waiting, waiting and waiting for a positive response from an agent they’ve never met or a publishing company they know nothing about. I say, “Go got it!”

  17. EmCraven says:

    Hi Joe,

    Thanks! Go get it indeed. Life is too short to hang out for a one in one thousand shot. A book doesn’t need to be from a publisher to make it’s way in the world, just like a music artist doesn’t have to have a lable to make a bit of money off itunes. As writers, we perhaps need to put just a smidgen (can you read the sarcasm there?)of thought into editing, characters, plot etc etc


  18. Roy says:

    Hi Em,

    I have been writing a book for ten years, I have wanted to write a book for many more, this year I hope to complete my book (I have been saying that for the last 4 years, but other projects always seem to get in the way). My book is autobiographical, I’m not famous, or ever likely to be, don’t even want to be, so maybe nobody will want to publish or read my book.

    The inspiration behind my book is a combination of things including: the boring autobiographies written by famous people, the fascinating stories of everyday people and that I truly believe that everyone has a book in them and that includes me. My book title has changed a few times, Memoirs of a Nobody, The life and Times of Jo Bloggs, Adventures of Mr Average, Never Judge a Man until You Have Walked Two Moons in Their Moccasins etc. You get the idea…..

    Anyway, that’s the background, the questions are:
    You can probably tell from my writing (grammar, punctuation etc.), that my grasp of written language probably isn’t up to ‘published author’ standard. I presumed that if I wrote a book and managed to find an interested publisher, they would assign an editor to help me get the book to a publishable. If you write an Ebook, who edits it?

    I have written a series of four children’s books, but they need to be illustrated to make the stories really come to life. I have contacted many illustrators, but feedback I get is that publishers allocate illustrators to children’s books, how does it work with Ebooks.

    Personally I don’t like to read from a digital device, I love to ‘smell the pages’. I would be happy to publish my book as an Ebook, it’s a fantastic idea, for all of the reasons mentioned above, but I would like the option to eventually hold the book in my hands. What do you think is the likelihood of eventually getting a book into print if it is a successful Ebook?

    I’m new to your blog so I haven’t taken the time to read through it, I’m just responding to an email you sent, which took me to this post. Where would you start if you wanted to write and publish an Ebook?

    I don’t need to get rich, I just want to tell my story and encourage others to tell theirs, although it would be nice to earn something from the hours of work.


    • EmCraven says:

      Hi Roy,

      What we go through here in this blog is self-publishing your Ebook. So in answer to your questions who edits your work: You do! And then you join a writers’ group (you may have to join a couple until you find one you like) and then THEY edit your book. Then you go onto a freelancing website or get your local writers center to recommend and editor to you. That’s an editor, not an apprasal service. If you don’t have much money get them to go through the first chapters to give you an idea of what writing boo-boos you make, that will take you a long way.

      If you were to do your children’s books in ebook form, you can pick your own illustrator, whom you will have to pay, or if you are pursuasive you can convince them to do it free at first and then give them a split of the proceeds. This means though that you can pick who YOU want, someone who suits your style and can produce your vision.

      As to going from ebooks to print that has happened, see Amanda Hocking for example. However the way I see it, you need to prove there is a market out there for your stories. Though the children’s books you put up as ebooks might not be picked up in print, you can prove they are popular to a publisher and the publisher may publish your newest book in print. You wouldn’t get as may royalties from that though. Also you could self publishing in print if you wished through places like CreateSpace. It’s truely up to you!



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