Thoughtful Question

by wjw on August 24, 2016

kcbullI had a lovely Worldcon, held in Kansas City, a town which I’ve always found congenial.  The event was full of friends, many of whom I don’t get to see nearly often enough, and the days and nights were full of bustle, chat, drinks, and fun.

I also got to eat some really good steaks, which you might expect in a city that builds statues to cows.

I met a number of new readers, which I’m always pleased to do, and one sent an email with an interesting question.

He’s working his way through my backlist, and he asked which of my ebooks earn me the most money, so that he can order them instead of those controlled by someone corporate entity or other, which might or might not pay me a lesser royalty.

Now it struck me that this was a right considerate question, albeit one that raises other questions, so I’ll answer it right away and then get on with a more complex response later.  If you see one of my ebooks priced at $4.99 or less, then it’s marketed by me, and the money goes straight into my account after Amazon or Google or whoever takes their cut.

If it has a higher price, then it’s marketed by one of my publishers, and I earn a royalty, which (like all royalties) can be delayed for years.

I earn more money from a $4.99 ebook than from a $30 hardback, mainly because there’s only one middleman taking a cut, not three or more as in the case of traditional publishing.  (Agent, publisher, and distributor, if you’re interested.)

That said, I’m perfectly good with all my ebooks, whether they’re marketed by me or by someone else.  If they’re marketed by a traditional publisher, it’s because I signed a deal with that publisher, and I wouldn’t have signed it if I objected strongly to its terms.

So what you should do is read the books you think you’re going to like.  I wrote them all to be read, after all.  I’ll be fine no matter which one you pick— and you’ll have the reading experience you’re looking for.

bkd69 August 25, 2016 at 12:24 am

As an aside, books bought through a publisher stand as a vote of confidence, and (theoretically) should encourage traditional publishers to keep Our Gracious Host on their rolls.

pixlaw August 25, 2016 at 7:31 am

A related question: I had somehow picked up the notion that in buying an e-book, it was more profitable to you if I bought a book from Smashwords rather than a big river company. Am I correct, or was this a misapprehension? Do you care if you make another 3 cents (if indeed, this is the difference)?

mark August 25, 2016 at 11:35 am

The other big issue here is that if you buy it from a publisher, it increases Walter’s sales numbers, which in turn will interest them in buying more of his books, and putting more into promoting them.


wjw August 25, 2016 at 3:01 pm

We can see from the above arguments that the issues are really complex and essentially unsolvable, which is exactly why you should read what you want. I’ll be fine however you look at it.

Smashwords does give me 35 cents more for a $4.99 ebook than does Brand X, so that’s the preferred way to go as far as I am concerned. (This only applies if you buy directly from Smashwords.) But the electronic market is all about convenience, so if it’s convenient for you to order from Amazon or Baen, feel free to do that. The 35 cents isn’t going to make or break me either way.

Sheila August 25, 2016 at 4:48 pm


Now you are making me feel terribly guilty about not doing ebooks. I might someday, especially if I go off on a long ocean or space voyage, but right now I like the real thing.

Maybe I should buy you a drink at Bubonicon to make up for not buying ebooks.

wjw August 25, 2016 at 11:41 pm

No need to apologize. My books are readily available in paper formats, and if that’s what you enjoy, that’s what you should read.

The last thing I want it someone reading my books out of duty.

wjw August 26, 2016 at 2:46 pm

I should also point out that when I am traditionally published, I get an advance, which means =I have already been paid.= Royalties only come when the advance earns out, but that’s because I’ve already got money in the deal.

pixlaw August 26, 2016 at 3:19 pm

OK, screw it. I’m so confused now that I’m never buying another one of your books again. You hear me? NEVER!!!

Well, at least until another one comes out.

But until then, NEVER!

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