It’s been roughly a year since I started making my backlist available in epub formats, so this seems a good time to shuffle through the records and come to some kind of conclusion.
And the conclusion is this:
Thank God for Amazon!
Even if Amazon is yet another megalomaniacal Internet company bent on annihilating all competition and achieving total world domination in its chosen field (250 points!), Amazon has still provided more options for writers than anyone since Gutenberg. The Kindle broke open the world market for ebooks, and created opportunities for people like me, with considerable backlist, to find new readers for their work.
So far I’ve made 11 novels available, along with two novellas and a novelette. Books are available on Amazon, via Barnes & Noble, and on Smashwords, which distributes to Apple, Kobo, and Sony, among others. Sales have been growing month by month.
Sales have grown even during months in which I’ve uploaded no new content. I expected sales to fall off after the December h0lidays, but that didn’t happen. Sales have shown a slow but steady climb.
Probably about 80% of the sales are through Amazon. Barnes & Noble sales, alas, are fairly anemic, which I suspect means that I have an audience of early adapters who’d already bought Kindles before Nooks became available. At present I’m actually selling more copies via Smashwords than through Barnes & Noble, though since Smashwords acts as my intermediary for Apple, Kobo, and Sony, that may not be surprising. My books regularly turn up on Smashwords’ best-seller list, though I think that has to do more with Smashwords’ pathetic sales figures for science fiction than for any sudden popularity of mine.
Does that mean I can now earn my living exclusively as an indie author?
Not yet. The extra income is nice, and would have made me ecstatic back when I was a 25-year-old neo-author, but since then I’ve acquired a mortgage and some moderately expensive habits, such as eating regularly and driving a car that isn’t utter crap. For these purposes I’ll still need an advance from a traditional publisher.
But still, the trends are encouraging. And I’ve got six novels and lots of short fiction still to upload.
Also— and let’s be frank, here— being a publisher is a lot of work. To publish my work in e-formats I’ve got to do everything a publisher does. I don’t have to hire an editor, since my backlist comes pre-edited; but I still have to pay for scans and copy-editing when necessary (Kathy helps with much of the copy-editing), I have convert the text into different formats, buy or find cover art, design and create the covers, write flap copy, buy an ISBN for each work, and upload them in different formats to different online locations. The expense in time and sometimes money can be daunting. But I know that the books will all earn out eventually, because they’ll be available forever, and I’ll make some money month after month.
Which books do well? Hardwired, above all. Its sales numbers are far and above anything else. Which pretty much mirrors my royalty statements from that era of my career.
You might ask if I’m annoyed that a thirty-year-old book remains my bestselling work, when I’ve written a lot of worthy fiction in the years since. My answer is simple: What— are you nuts? I wrote the hell out of that book. I’m proud of that book. I’m delighted and capering with glee to know that people still want to read it thirty years later.
In the second tier, saleswise, come Angel Station and Aristoi, with roughly two-thirds of Hardwired’s sales. Not far behind these come Voice of the Whirlwind, Solip:System, Metropolitan, and City on Fire.
Are there losers? Unfortunately yes.
Knight Moves isn’t selling particularly well. I haven’t earned back the money I spent on the gorgeous Stephen Hickman cover. But it was a gorgeous Stephen Hickman cover created specially for that book— how could I resist? And the money will come in eventually.
Sales for the Maijstral books suck, except for The Crown Jewels, which I have listed as a loss-leader for $0.99. But then the sales for those books sucked when they were first released. They’re just too unlike my other work.
(Since the low price for The Crown Jewels isn’t doing the job of selling the other books in the series, and since I make only pennies on each sale, the price will go up next week, probably to $2.99. So if you want The Crown Jewels for under a buck, buy it now.)
The real loser is Days of Atonement. Sales of DoA are downright pathetic. Which I find odd, because when it was originally released it sold as well as anything else.
Maybe it’s the cover. I’ll create a new one when I’ve got the time. More science-fictiony, which is ironic considering how much I railed at Tor for putting a science-fictiony cover on it originally. (Of course, that was a bad science-fictiony cover.)
So what have a learned from indie pub during Year One?
Duh. To keep on doing it. (More money each month. Lots of uses around here for money. Walter likes money! Go, Walter!)
Are there lessons in my career for anyone else? Should I be encouraging eager new authors to go all indie-pub?
I’d say, No, not yet. It’s an enormous hassle to deal with the traditional publishing scene right now, but unless you get into the indie scene with a built-in audience— and preferably with a backlist— your brand-new indie book is going to run the risk of being buried in an enormous electronic heap of millions of absolutely crap books. Your odds of making a million bucks from indie publishing are probably less than the odds of your being hit by lightning, and it’s a lot of work, and that’s time spent that you should be spending writing fiction.
But this may change. And it may be different for you. But right now, if I were you, I’d at least try the traditional route first.
One other note: who are the losers in the epub revolution?
I suspect that’s a generation of writers somewhat older than me. They’re still alive, or maybe recently deceased, but either they or their heirs aren’t hip to the changes that have occurred in the industry in the last few years, and they aren’t making their works available in electronic formats. Or they’re just too tired to deal with all that— like I said, being a publisher is a lot of work.
If you’re old enough to be a “classic” writer— and out of copyright— your stuff will be made available electronically. But if you’re still in copyright, and you or your heirs are oblivious to the possibilities of e-formats, then you could be forgotten.
And that’s the sad lesson.