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The New Midlist: Self-published E-book Authors Who Earn a Living

Everyone knows the superstars of self-publishing, but many others are earning a living, selling foreign rights, and being courted by traditional publishers.

By Robin Sullivan

The author's husband, Michael J. Sullivan, self-published on Amazon and went on to sign a six-figure contract with Hachette.

There have been many articles about self-published superstars like Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath, and John Locke. While these success stories are noteworthy, we should look at them for what they are — outliers in the self-publishing world just as Stephen King and Stephenie Meyer are outliers in the big-six publishing industry. Most authors can never hope to reach sales in the hundreds of thousands for a single month, but there are more than a few who sell anywhere from 800 to 20,000. While selling books at this level would seem extraordinary by traditional publishing standards, the mere fact that so many self published authors have achieved this goal (with more being added each month), indicates that it is not an unusual occurrence.

Not only are these new mid-listers selling a lot of books, but they are also receiving significantly more money from each sale (the industry standard is a 25% royalty of net sales for e-books under contract by a big-six publisher). If a self-published author sells their book for $2.99 – $9.99, then Amazon will pay 70% ($2.09 – $6.99). Compare this to the $1.22 per book income (which needs to be shared with an agent) for a $6.99 e-book sold through a publisher. High volume combined with good revenue is providing self-published e-book authors five and six figure yearly incomes allowing them to quit their “day jobs” and make a living by doing what they love most–writing.

The Tipping Point

I regularly give lectures on the different options for publishing and up until recently my main point about self-publishing was the unprecedented control it provided. Recently I’ve had to change my presentations to also acknowledge that if you wish to maximize income then self-publishing, if done well, could provide the best revenue potential. A year ago I was definitely not making that statement — but a watershed moment occurred in October/November 2010. It was at this time that sales of e-books from previously unknown authors skyrocketed.

To illustrate the dramatic rise in sales for these e-book mid-listers, let’s look at some real data that I’m intimately familiar with: Michael J. Sullivan. He is my husband and has five of six books of the Riyria Revelations published through my small press, Ridan Publishing. The release dates of them were: The Crown Conspiracy (Oct 2008), Avempartha (April 2009), Nyphron Rising (October 2009), The Emerald Storm (April 2010), and Wintertide (October 2010). In nine months, from January to September 2010, his income averaged just over $1,500 a month or around $10,700 in total (Amazon US Kindle sales only). Certainly not a wage we could live off of. After the tipping point occurred he earned more than $102,000 in just five months. For details on his monthly income see the following chart:

Michael J Sullivan Amazon Sales

If it hadn’t had been for Writer’s Café (a section of the Kindle Boards forums), I would have thought Michael’s sales increase had been just an isolated occurrence. But from postings there I found many authors who were experience the same rise. The following chart and graph shows the number of authors who sold books in various quantities (Data provided on Kindle Board):

Amazon author sales data

Amazon author sales over 800

Because authors on Kindle Boards were sharing sales figures and book prices, I was able to calculate March income for the following:

  • Michael J. Sullivan — $16,648
  • Ellen Fisher — $3,915
  • Siebel Hodge — $15,425
  • N. Gemini Sasson – $4,222
  • David McAfee — $6,085
  • David Dalglish — $12,132
  • Victorine Lieskie — $7,281
  • M. H. Sergent — $4,211
  • Nathan Lowell — $9,296

Of these authors, only Victorine Lieskie ever had a book that made the Amazon Top 100 Bestseller List. Most of the authors selling at a rate of 800+ books a month tend to have rankings from 300-6,000. (A ranking of 1001 indicates that 1,000 kindle books are selling better than yours).

You Can Sell Foreign Rights

Many detractors of self-publishing point out that by doing so you close the door to foreign sales and any chance of ever seeing your books on a bookstore shelf. Again, this was true in the past, but times have changed and now being successfully self-published actually opens the door to foreign sales and provides a better chance of being signed by a major publisher since you already have an established audience which is so important in publishing today.

Let’s return to Michael as he is an example that I have real data for. The Riyria Revelations produced $154,000 in foreign translation rights sales in just the last six months. Deals are already finalized for: The Czech Republic, Russia, Germany, France, Poland, and Spain. Active negotiations are ongoing for Holland and Italy. Once more, the Writer’s Café forum demonstrates that this has not been occurring just for Michael. The following are authors who have announced either signing a foreign deal, or being approached by an agent or publisher for foreign rights translations: David Dalglish, Shelley Stout, M.G. Scarsbrook, Tina Folsom, Melanie Nilles, Dawn McCullough White, Victorine Lieskie, Imogen Rose, Lucy Kevin, Margaret Lake, Terri Reid, and Beth Orsoff.

Commanding Larger Advances

As for seeing your books in the bookstores…it is true that most brick and mortar stores will not carry self-published printed books, however, major publishers are very interested in authors with an existing fan base. What’s more, they have to offer larger advances than those paid to debut authors in order to woo them. A self-published author already has a pretty good idea what they could make from the works if they continue to stay independent. For a debut fantasy author, several surveys indicate an advance of $5,000 – $10,000 is standard. So a three-book deal would warrant $15,000 – $30,000 advances. In comparison, Michael was offered a six-figure contract from Orbit (the fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group). Other self-published authors who have recently been signed include: H.P. Mallory (six-figure advance from Random House), D.B. Henson (who was approached by agent Noah Lukeman -– that’s right she did not query him…he queried her) whose Deed to Death sold at auction, Stephanie McAfee’s Diary of a Mad Fat Girl, Jerry McGill’s Dear Marcus, R.J. Jagger, and a book by Quentin Schultze & Bethany Kim.

The publishing industry is certainly changing at the speed of light. There used to be only one choice if you wanted to make any decent money writing novels: spend months (or years) querying for an agent, waiting months (or years) while that agent shopped the project around, and then if accepted, waiting up to two years for the book to actually hit the store shelves. If your book wound up on the midlist (which by definition most did) then low volume and a small cut of the books total sales price made it financially impossible for authors to write full time as their sole source of income.

There was a time when self-publishing produced little to no revenue, and doing so was often the last resort for a project that had been rejected by everyone it had been put in front of. Now, in the post digital revolution, the model has been turned upside down. Authors are going to e-books first based on earning potential and a quick time to market. If they do well, then they leverage their sales for larger advances and favorable contract terms. Of course self publishing is not for everyone, but at least for those that decide to go this route, they won’t have to be that one in a million outlier—if they can achieve the e-book midlist status, they stand a good chance of telling their boss, “I quit, I’m going to stay home and write for a living.”

DISCUSS: Self-Published Books and Foreign Rights Deals

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114 Comments

  1. Steven
    Posted June 27, 2011 at 5:38 am | Permalink

    Great article. I really enjoyed reading about real people who are managing to make their own way through the publishing world, entirely on their own steam.

  2. Olwyn
    Posted June 27, 2011 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    Wow, probably one of the most interesting pieces I’ve read in a while.

  3. Posted June 27, 2011 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    Great post and like you said, more are achieving this every month. This month, it was my turn. I was fortunate enough to have the first book in my series hit as high as #15 in Amazon’s top 100 this month, and it hung in top 100 for 21 days before falling out. Even though I have only two books, and one is 99 cents, the other $2.99, I’m looking at a $16,000+ payday for the month. As you can imagine, I’m hard at work on the third book! lol.

  4. AmyShields
    Posted June 27, 2011 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Why no Amanda Hocking in this list? Hers is a wildly compelling story re: ebook self publishing success. Her absence here is strange.

  5. Posted June 27, 2011 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Wow…finally someone who’s spent time in the trenches tells it like it is…thank you.

  6. Posted June 27, 2011 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Amy, I believe Amanda Hocking is listed at the top, along with the superstars like Locke and Konrath. She can’t really be considered mid-list, but is definitely a success story.

  7. Posted June 27, 2011 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Good article, Robin, but since I’m mentioned, I have to point out that February and March were exceptional months for me. B&N changed some things around, and after that my sales slumped off over there. Had I continued to sell at the rate I was in those months, I could indeed say I’m “making a living,” but as it is the most I can say is that I’ve been paying my mortgage all year. This month, I probably won’t even quite make that (and a lot of other authors have reported a “summer slump” in sales, too).

    That being said, I am doing much better with indie publishing than I ever did with traditional or small press publishing. And I hope to do better this summer, as I get a few new titles out. But I do want to point out that peaks and valleys happen to most writers, and that one can’t conclude I’m “making a living” based on my March numbers… alas for me:-).

  8. Posted June 27, 2011 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    @M.P. – I’ve been watching the ranking of No Good Deed – congrats on all your success and proving my point. It’s not just a few.

    @Ellen – Sorry that the changes have made a dip in sales…but you’ve sold a ton of books and I’m sure they’ll spread by word-of-mouth. For an author, paying the mortgage all year is quite an accomplishment and as you said you’re doing much better than if you had taken a different route.

  9. Posted June 27, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    In re-reading some of the posts from the thread where I got my data I found this from Joe Konrath….

    “When I began posting numbers two years ago, no one else did. Sales figures and writing income were secretive, speculative things, and no one knew what anyone else was making, and kept their own numbers hidden.

    Now there are entire threads where writers share their numbers. That’s pretty amazing.

    The best way to combat fear and superstition is with facts. In the legacy model, everyone was so worried about upsetting the status quo, that no one knew anything.

    But knowledge is power. All of you who post your figures, your growth, and shining light upon the darkness. You’re inspiring others with hard-won facts, and your generosity in sharing them is helping accelerate the indie movement.

    Good on you.”

    I want to echo what Joe said…knowledge is power and I’m so grateful for the openness of people posting their sales so that others can see the facts of what is possible.

  10. Posted June 27, 2011 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    You’re right, Robin. I felt funny sharing my numbers on my blog and here in this thread, but it was Konrath’s initial sharing of his numbers that spurred me to self-publish in the first place. So while it may seem like ‘bragging’, my goal in posting it, and it seems everyone’s goal who have posted their numbers, has been to give those considering self-publishing the knowledge they need to make a decision. Just as long as they realize it rarely happens overnight (took me exactly a year) and there is a lot of work involved. Most people reporting success are also the ones I see who are working the hardest. There are also many busting their butt who haven’t yet broken out, but if their books are good, it’s just a matter of time.

  11. Posted June 27, 2011 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Count me as another midlister earning a very nice income from my monthly ebook sales. Since February of this year, I’ve sold 20,000 ebooks – mostly due to my hardboiled supernatural Lawson series. June stands to be my best month thus far, and even with a noticeable slump on the Amazon side – it was countered by Barnes & Noble picking my psychic suspense thriller Parallax as a great choice for summer reading and sold 1,000 extra copies of that title alone. Making a consistent monthly income is a wonderful change to my career, and I fully expect my sales to skyrocket once the TV series starts filming this Fall.

    Great article, by the way!
    -Jon F. Merz

  12. Don Linn
    Posted June 27, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Great news about Michael’s sales but a couple of thoughts:

    First, does everything have to be framed as “Publishing Type A” vs “Publishing Type B”? I think most of us know by now that self publishing works well for some and traditional publishing works well for others.

    Second, just as in traditional publishing, there are (sales-wise) successful authors and unsuccessful authors. Michael is a successful one; there are thousands of unsuccessful serf-published one.

    Without disparaging this (and other) success story, let’s not be too quick to draw general conclusions.

  13. Posted June 27, 2011 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    @Don, personally, I’m happy straddling both realms. I still do traditional deals (if they make sense) and yet maintain my indie stuff as well. I have had almost two dozen books come out through traditional NYC houses and am in no hurry to abandon them provided the deals are a good move. I think a savvy writer can straddle both realms to great success.

  14. Posted June 27, 2011 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Don, I’m not sure why you think the article was “A” vs “B”. As seen Michael has used “A” to get to “B”.

    As to there being unsuccessful self-published authors as you noted there are also unsuccessful traditionally published authors, but the entire point of the article is a growing number of self-published authors ARE making it work and you don’t have to be Hocking, Konrath, or Locke to do so. Self publishing “used” to be a waste of time and money…now its alllowing authors previously locked out (mainly due, in my opinion, to limited bandwidth)to find an audience. The reason I wrote the article is that times are changing – and authors need to watch what is going on in the industry.

  15. Posted June 27, 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Robin, this is a story that needs to be told–the new model of the working class writer. Most people just hear about lottery winners, because we all understand the lottery. That’s not reality, that’s a lottery. But hard work and creative entrepreneurship can pay off and reinforce the joy of creation, and everybody wins (well, except some people who can’t adapt).

    However, I am not sure NY can keep gobbling up the indie success stories. As you said, limited bandwidth, and the hot kindle star of the moment turns over ever faster–which is a great thing, but they can’t all get six-figure deals, because publishers will not have the slots, and neither will the vanishing bookstores. Like Jon said, you just have to take the best deal you can make right now and be prepared to adapt as everything changes. Good article.

    Scott

  16. Posted June 27, 2011 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this article- it’s so encouraging. My debut novel,an indie YA Paranormal Romance, debuted at the end of April. June will be its second full month on the market and I am on track to sell over a thousand copies by the end of the month. That’s astounding to me, something that I never would have imagined. Indie publishing is working for me and I’m so happy that it is an option.

    In my opinion, you are definitely correct. Everyone knows that the industry is changing…and who knows what it will bring… but I’m with you. The new midlist will be Indies who sell enough to make a living.

    And for the record, I also agree that there should be no A vs B or Us vs Them. There is room enough for everyone in the industry. One way works for some and the other way works for others. We’re all writers, just looking for an audience. Have a great Monday!

  17. Posted June 27, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Robin, this was an encouraging article many of us need to read.

    I only have novellas and short stories on Amazon and Smashwords right now, but I am actively searching for an agent or publisher for the horror novel I just finished.

    I am realistic, I am not a YA paranormal romance writer or a fantasy writer so I do not expect my work to sell like such online. So, I am using the new eBook movement to help build a platform that might make it more likely an agent or publisher will take me seriously.

    Happy for all those who made the midlist. Very encouraging.
    AL Fetherlin

  18. Posted June 27, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    As someone who is just entering the publishing world, the idea that there are a fair number of self-published authors who are making a fair living is very encouraging. I am also grateful to see that more authors are sharing real numbers on their sales – it makes it easier to know where my own books are falling in the spectrum. It also makes it easier to fend off well meaning, but discouraging friends and family who keep telling me that “no self-published author will ever have any success or earn a living that way.” Sure I wouldn’t object to having sales like the superstars mentioned above, but for right now I am aiming for consistently paying a few of the monthly bills and taking the edge off our budget. Good to know that there are more than a small handful of people who are doing just that. I’m watching people like Jon Merz above who are using all of the available outlets for their books, and hoping to learn the same dance.

  19. Posted June 27, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Count me in. I’m earning a nice living from ebook sales of my Detective Jackson series and standalone thrillers. I used to have a publisher, during which time I didn’t make any money. I’ve also sold audio book rights and Turkish language rights, and I’m working on more foreign language deals. Thanks for this post.

  20. Posted June 27, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    It’s often overlooked that sales figures are a continuum. Yes, we hear about the superstars in this new world of indie publishing, but there’s also a growing awareness of those who – although they may not be selling in the millions or even tens of thousands – are building a readership and earning a respectable income. I’m on track as an indie author to earn as much or more as I would as a teacher. So, um yeah, I’m staying home to write.

  21. Posted June 27, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    When I published my first book in 2006 I was fully ready to back it up with an ebook, but the technology had not caught up with the demand yet. True, selling a PDF was a good alternative, but at the time that was all there was. Now, with the development of programs which convert a simple Word document into various other formats of ebook, the increase in selling choices has opened up our prospects for profiting from our work. Though I don’t sell as many ebooks as anyone listed, sales are improving day by day. The only think I lament is that sales of ebooks don’t necessarily translate into sales of hard copies. The day I can link the two will make me a happy camper, indeed.

    Others speak of quitting their jobs. For me there was no such choice, but I turned my idle time into a productive and potentially lucrative business. You can’t beat the freedom to write and publish, and have some control over your margins. But along with that comes the freedom to write better and more entertaining books. That is what we all strive for.

  22. Posted June 27, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    What a great, pragmatic, information-filled post. I’m starting to believe…

  23. Posted June 27, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    @Rebekah James – the “well meaning people” that are telling you this are just “caught in the past”. Times have changed which was a big part of why I wanted to get this story out.

  24. Posted June 27, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    This is super encouraging. For such a long time working as an artist, writer or musician has been all or nothing as far as creating an income. It’s nice to consider that it might be possible to do what we love and live a middle-class life.

  25. Posted June 27, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    The times have changed and they’ve changed very quickly. A year ago, this was a very different market place – as Robin’s charts demonstrate. My own sales paralleled Michael’s in pattern if not in volume. Every new ipad, smartphone, and kindle or nook sale is a potential new reader and that’s an amazingly large number to an industry where a successful title might sell 10,000 units in its multi-year lifetime.

    These numbers are also a bit dated now with four more months of market shifting. The Bigs are beginning to pay a little more attention, and Amazon is playing heavily in the 99 cent space with email promotion and special events (like the recent Sunshine Deals for summer reading). It’s been interesting to note that – for the most part – Amazon has been pretty even-handed about who gets on the list, including books from The Bigs as well as indies.

  26. Posted June 27, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Robin, thank you so much for posting this! It is so encouraging to see these kinds of results and success stories. It’s information like this that will further alleviate the stigma of being “self-published.”

    I’ve only been writing for a short time, but I’ve had more than my fair share of rejection letters from agents and publishers alike during my attempts to go the traditional route. That doesn’t diminish my respect for them, though. I knew from the start that the literary world is extremely competitive. But that’s what makes the alternative of self-publishing so wonderful. It gives the rest of us an outlet, an outlet that has the potential to be very lucrative.

    At first, I was hesitant to self-publish and it was out of sheer frustration that I jumped in, head first, and just did it. I knew nothing about it, I was completely unprepared in every possible way, I had no marketing strategy, and I knew no one in the industry. But I did it. And I couldn’t be happier.

    In the interest of being as transparent as all of the posts above, despite my slow start, I have sold 15,000 books in the last three months and now have five books up on Amazon. Though it’s not a figure as high as many others, I am more than pleased by my numbers. I feel very blessed. I have absolutely no regrets about my decision and I’m more grateful than I can express for the opportunity–no, the privilege of self-publishing my work. I’ve found the most incredible world of readers out there that are challenging the status quo, and I’m thankful for each and every one of them:)

    ~Michelle

  27. Posted June 27, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    EXCELLENT article! As a previously traditionally published author who was considered mid-list, I am much happier as a self-published mid-list author who is currently averaging $15,000.00 for the past two months when my books found the tipping point. I am super pleased they did and want to thank you for this article.

    Cheers,
    Michele

  28. Posted June 27, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    Robin,

    Thank you for a superb article. I have three military non fiction published, or in the pipeline with traditional publishers, and the advances are pitiful. Today I published a first novel on Kindle and made a first sale – which is good for moral.

    Your words have given me a real lift.

    Regards,

    Rob S

  29. TF
    Posted June 27, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    This is great. I’ve been a proponent of digital self-publishing for a while, and it’s nice to have these numbers to back me up. That said, I’d like to know what types of promotion successful self-publishers undertake. Can you point me to any sites or offer tips? I’m guessing proper promotion makes a huge difference in who’s successful and who isn’t.

    Thanks!

  30. Posted June 27, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    Great article, Robin. I guess I’m included because I’ve passed the 800 books a month mark, although my sales are divided among five books. My biggest seller, White Seed, is the only one of those five which has not been previously ‘traditionally’ published, and it averages about five hundred sales a month. I want to second all the formerly traditionally-published folks who feel that Indie is a better deal. I want to emphasize that the greater control over the book’s presentation, launch, and arc is the biggest thrill for me now. I’ve often felt that I could do a better job than the folks who were assigned my books and now I know that I was right. I know what you mean by ‘tipping point,’ but I would like to read more from others as to what that means to them, and what they believe ‘caused’ that. Best to you and Michael!

  31. Posted June 27, 2011 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for an insightful and encouraging article. Thank you also to all those indie authors who are willing to be open about their numbers and their approach to the e-bk business. I am wavering between waiting for that publ to finish reading my manuscript and give me an answer AND just going ahead and doing it…putting my YA bk our there into the e-world. This article has certainly given me plenty to think about and nudge me into the – Just do it – decision!

  32. Posted June 27, 2011 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the great post, Robin. While I haven’t yet quit my day job, I have cut back my hours so I have more time to write. I never could’ve done that on the advances I received from traditional publishing!

    And Amazon and B&N pay monthly. I don’t know of any traditional publisher that does that.

  33. Posted June 27, 2011 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    TF – The Writer’s Cafe at Kindle Boards is a place where a lot of writes share all kinds of infomration including what they are doing from a marketing perspective. I also have a website called Write2Publish which talks about all ‘business side’ of writing and marketing is a big part of that. You can find it at http://www.write2publish.blogspot.com. On that blog is a resource page with a bunch of other links to tools and other blogs to watch.

  34. Posted June 28, 2011 at 4:13 am | Permalink

    This is very interesting, as I have just self published on both Kindle and as print on demand. However, I have made virtually nil sales so far (accepting it is early days). I have made an effort to get good endorsements for the book (including from Harvard and Oxford Universities); have sent out about 50 free copies to local and national press; and have a local book launch event planned. I timed the publication to coincide with the Cheltenham Science Festival so I could give copies to high profile people such as Tanya Byron and Kathy Sykes as well as the Times science writers and the Cheltenham marketing director, all in person, and all of whom were very enthusiastic about it. I have, last week, had an article published on Action for Happiness web site which has a following of 14000. My local daily newspaper is sending a photographer out to meet me tomorrow so hopefully it will get some coverage there.
    I would really welcome any feedback from any readers here (you can see the book on Amazon – called “Keeping Your Spirits Up” by me, Sarah Dale) as to what I might be doing wrong. Or am I just being too impatient? I need to sell about 200 copies to cover my costs and so far have sold 9. All bar one to friends and family.
    I am very much on a learning curve with this so all the links above are very useful thanks and I will follow them up.
    Help! Sarah

  35. Posted June 28, 2011 at 4:35 am | Permalink

    Sarah,
    Don’t fret – you’re not doing anything wrong — and yes you are being too impatient. Non-fiction does not sell as well as fiction for ebooks and you have a very “niche” book. But the cover is attractive the Amazon page looks good. I think you are a bit high on the price side but considering non-fiction not too bad (I just try to keep first books below $5 so $4.95 is a good price imho)

    As Joe Konrath is fond of saying, “ebooks are forever.” so you have plenty of time to get the sales – don’t fret about “breaking even”. One of my authors, Nathan Lowell thought his self-published books would sell maybe 500 copies. He sold 3,600 copies of his third book in the first week of release.

  36. Posted June 28, 2011 at 4:46 am | Permalink

    Thanks – will bring out further reserves of patience. I thought as much but it’s good to hear that from an experienced person in the field.

    I have a plan for the next book too – and as you say it is important to keep going. The other absolutely important thing is that it’s easy to get swept away with some kind of mega-urgency about all this whereas it’s not like selling tickets for an event when you really do have an end-date. The book has already got me invited (and therefore expenses paid) at the next European Coaching Conference in December so I will calm down now and go and have a cup of tea!!

    Thank you,

    Sarah

  37. Posted June 28, 2011 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    I started out blogging my poetry and gained a large regular readership. I then made the decision to publish and, together with my husband, used my poetry books as a testing bed to learn the ins and outs of running a small press. Endaxi Press was born. My first poetry paperback got to #31 inthe UK poetry bestseller list on Amazon in its first month and my poetry ebooks regularly get into Amazon’s bestseller list for poetry and/or poetry anthologies both in the UK and US.

    We now publish a handful of authors, both e-pub and paper. We have to be extremely innovative to do the best for our authors in terms of marketing etc We don’t take submissions but ‘find’ our writers who we then adopt into our family.

    I had no idea how hard publishing was going to be. We’re banging our heads against a brick wall with Lightning Source at the moment. They are like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead – when they are good they are very very good, but when they are bad they are HORRID!!!

    Hope you don’t mind me putting a link here to a YouTube video I made yesterday in response to Adam Mansbach’s Go the F*** to Sleep. It summarises what everyone who has ever tried to sell books goes through at some point in the process. :) It looks like it might have the potential to go viral – so if you like it please share it :)

    The poetry is mine, the humor is mine and two drawings in it are mine, the books are Endaxi’s. People have said ROFLMAO, LOL, Brilliant and other good things about it. Don’t drink and watch simultaneously if you value your keyboard.

    http://tinyurl.com/VideoFrombanana-the-poet

  38. Posted June 28, 2011 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    @paul clayton:

    “I know what you mean by ‘tipping point,’ but I would like to read more from others as to what that means to them, and what they believe ‘caused’ that. ”

    As a beneficiary of that shift, I think that some kind of convergence occurred.

    First, Amazon started pushing the ebook reader for the Christmas season. At that point there was some buzz about how well they were selling and Amazon was pushing them as Christmas presents. I think people started buying the devices to see if they’d make good presents. Of course, they needed books to test them with …

    Second, If I remember correctly that was about the time the number of books available on the kindle platform went over 750,000 (it’s currently around one million). That was about 10% of the books available through Amazon at the time but there was enough interesting (and varied) stuff that I think the viability of the kindle bookstore became significant to potential buyers. I think that’s important because one of the factors in dropping $150 on a reader is “What can I read on it?” The lock in with Amazon is pretty drastic for a lot of people so having an extensive catalog is a key element.

    Third, the K2 came out in March, 2010. That was a significant design change and by late September/early October, the word of mouth from the early adopters was filtering into the public consciousness. This kind of information needs some time to develop and six months is just about right.

    Last, is this youtube ad. Note that the date uploaded is Sept, 2010, and it’s had over 2million views. If you look at all the other kindle ads, it’s got at least 10 times the views of the older ads. Add that to the extensive stop motion ads that were hitting the TV at that time (even I remember those and I watch about an hour of TV a month), and you’ve got what has to be a killer message penetration.

    In short, I think the market was ready and those of us with books on the charts were positioned to take advantage of the inflection point when kindle adoption went over 16% penetration — not in the general population but in the serious book buying public, those people who read a book a week or more.

    Just my opinion, but those all seem to be factors to me. What it means is that I’m a full time author now. I’m not self-pubbed (Robin’s press is my publisher) but the publishing model that Ridan uses means I would have to long and hard at any mainstream offer right now. In a panel at a recent convention I said, “I can’t afford to be a successful mainstream midlist author.” I know some of them and there’s no incentive for me to take that kind of cut in pay.

    Don Linn up there at the beginning of the thread points out the A vs B polarization, so I want to be clear. I’m not saying that one is better than the other for everybody. For me, in order to accept a mainstream offer at this point — particularly with some of the contract terms that are floating about — they better come with seven digits and the first one has to be bigger than a one or I just can’t consider them. That’s not likely to happen and that’s fine with me.

  39. Posted June 28, 2011 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    Very interesting post. Glad to see so many innovative authors getting out there and doing it. I thought you might just be interested in this “counter-intuitive anomaly” (Shatzkin) from the UK who set out to self-publish traditionally (ie in print). Formed company, Raven’s Quill. Ltd. First book is an author-illustrated (80+) children’s nonsense quest story ‘Curd the Lion’(for short) publ. as hb 176pp. at £14.99 in UK Oct 08, and has now sold around 7,000. ISBN 9780955548611 (ebook 9780955548642)
    Second book, ‘The Flight of Birds’– an adult gothic ghost tale of 400pp Pb with flaps at £9.99, Nov 10,– has sold 1,300 copies so far. ISBN 9780955548628 (ebook 9780955548666)
    Numbers may seem small compared to ebook sales, but as author/publ. takes min. 42.5% of retail sales (at retail £105,000 Curd and £13,000 FoB) making £55,000 minus printing £20,000 and other costs (warehousing tiny – distrib. Gardners wholesalers hold books in quantity saving on that) plus travel costs, that doesn’t seem too bad for starters. I also illustrate for other publishers (Penguin, Hachette, Osprey military and others in UK)
    Sold translation rights to South Korea and Israel so far. Have agents Big Apple
    for Far East, Ilustrata (Spanish & Portugese)and Amo (Korea).
    Have not yet sorted ebook pricing/marketing – open to suggestions from those more experienced in this field.
    Blog is http://alangilliland.blogspot.com and twitter thing, onundtreefoot.

  40. Posted June 28, 2011 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    A great post, as always, from Robin. She’s a real facts and figures gal! And thanks so much for the mention.

    I think it just highlights that anything is possible if you take a chance. It may mean you have to go a different route than you originally planned, but if you’re determined enough and believe in yourself, you can overcome any obstacles. I had an amazing 200 rejections from agents and publishers. Agh! When the first wave of Kindle Direct Publishing was going on, Amazon didn’t allow non US authors to publish direct, so I waited and wrote another book. All of that changed last year – I haven’t looked back since.

    All my novels are consistently in the Amazon top 100 genre categories for humour, contemporary romance, comedy, and romantic suspense. And the highest sales ranking on Amazon are as follows:
    Amazon US Amazon UK
    Fourteen Days Later 553 136
    My Perfect Wedding 715 145
    The Fashion Police 1546 1197

    So from 200 rejections to Amazon top 200 is not bad! :)

    Sales have slumped in the last month or so, partly I think because it’s summer and people are buying less books, partly it’s a natural tail off to the huge sales trailing off from Xmas.

    I’m amazed at the success I’ve had so far as an Indie – it’s pretty mind-blowing, and I’m sure I’ve had more than I would’ve had being trad-pubbed. But, of course, you can’t just write a book, publish it, and hope to sell a ton of them. Being an Indie means having to work more at marketing, promoting, and building a buzz about your books, which does take up time you could be writing, but also allows you to interact with fab readers and other authors.

    I’m sooooo happy that my fellow Indies are doing so well, and I wish everyone lots of success in their writing endeavours.

  41. Posted June 28, 2011 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Excellent article. After years of pursuing “traditional publication” and being told again and again “I can’t sell this,” my self-published romantic comedy, THE FROG PRINCE, has steadily sold 800-1,000 copies per month for $5.99 on Amazon since November. My book royalties exceeded the income from my “day job” months ago. Unlike hardcopy books in bookstores, indie e-books have no “shelf life.” And the customers just keep coming… Very excited to see what happens when I release my follow-up SLEEPING BEAUTY in July. Thanks for the inspirational post!

  42. Sylvia Paisley-Gee
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Very insightful and encouraging. Thanks

  43. Posted June 28, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    This is an encouraging post for writers who have taken the leap into the wild west of self-publishing. My own decision to take my work down the ‘indie’ route was based in large part on the favorable math made possible by the Amazon royalty structure.

    Even at a low price point of $2.99, at 70% royalty I won’t have to sell many copies to cover costs, As Konrath points out, ebooks have a long tail as the market expands with every new ereader sold. I would dare to guess that authors enjoying 800-1000 copies per month will see those numbers double in another twelve months. The announcement that the Harry Potter series is coming this fall to ebooks will sell a lot of readers, and that will benefit all of us looking for an audience.

  44. Posted June 28, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    I’m currently making more from self-publishing than when I was a traditionally published NY Times bestselling author.
    What I’m wondering is where are these foreign publishers? I got the #2 science fiction title on US and UK Kindle. I’ve got ten books on bestseller lists for ebooks, but I can’t seem to get any response from foreign publishers. Seems like a bit of a no brainer.

  45. Posted June 28, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Excellent article and inspirational stuff for all us writers who are currently struggling in the lower regions of eBook sales.

  46. Posted June 28, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Very encouraging article, thank you!

    I have one short story collection up on Amazon, and keep struggling to stay motivated as I work on getting a novel and more collections into publishable shape. Data like this helps me to keep focusing on the long term rather than getting discouraged by the short term.

  47. Posted June 28, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Bob, I’ve sent an email to you and Michael’s Foreign rights agent – maybe we can get something going for you ;-)

    Science fiction is doing very well from the “indie authors” (self-published or from the small pressess). Everytime I look at that list it is dominated by that audience. For instance right now:

    - #1 Containment by Christian Cantrell (self-published)
    - #2 Atlantis by Bob Mayer (self-published by his own indie press)
    - #3 Odyssey One by Evan Currie (self published)
    - #5 The Frozen Sky by Jeff Carlson(self-pubished has titles traditionally published)
    - #6 Soldier of the Legion (originally self-published now published by small press Ridan)
    - #7 In her Name by Michael R. Hicks (self-published by his own indie press)
    - #8 Season of the Harvest by Michael R. Hicks (self-published by his own indie press)
    - #10 Temporary Duty by Ric Locke (self-published)
    - #11 The Bear That Fell From The Stars by Keith C. Blackmore (self-published)
    - #13 The Chronological Man: The Monster in the Mist by Andrew Mayne (self-published)
    - #14 Full Share (originally self-published as audio book now published by small press Ridan)
    - #15 Last of the Chosen by Lawrence P. White (self-published)
    - #16 Knights of the Chosen by Lawrence P. White (self-published)
    - #17 March of the Legion by Marshall S. Thomas (originally self-published now published by small press Ridan)
    - #18 Siege of Titan by Michael G. Thomas (self-published)

    Thats 15/20 (75%) which just goes to show how prevelent the self-published author movement is these days. Note that while many of these are low priced ($0.99 or $2.99) 5 of the 15 (33%) are priced above $4.95 and above which makes some serious money for the authors selling at this ranking.

  48. Posted June 28, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Very inspirational article. What would you and hubby consider to be the best way to increase kindle sales?

  49. Posted June 28, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Great article. Just confirms more and more what I’ve been reading, seeing and even going to workshops to learn (thanks to Elle recently). If you edit thoroughly and get an amazing product out there, this can work. It is my new goal, and the fact that Michael J. Sullivan is succeeding in Fantasy? Even better!

    Suggestion for your next article/interviews: I noticed the repetition of “by his/her own indie press” on the list. What about these Indie Presses? Advantages of starting your own, of using one? How to open one? Better results if you do/don’t use one? Thanks!

  50. Posted June 28, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting. I’m getting ready to query agents. I may have to think again after reading your article…

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