If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

Here are the upcoming WWK interviews for the month of July!

July 4th Christopher Huang, A Gentleman's Murder

July 11th V. M. Burns, The Plot Is Murder

July 18th Edith Maxwell (Maddie Day), Death Over Easy

July 25th Shari Randall, Against The Claw

Our July Saturday Guest Blogger Schedule: 7/7--Mary Feliz, 7/14--Annie Hogsett, 7/21--Margaret S. Hamilton, 7/28--Kait Carson.

Our special bloggers for the fifth Monday and Tuesday of July--Kaye George and Paula Gail Benson.

Please welcome two new members to WWK--Annette Dashofy, who will blog on alternative Sundays with Jim Jackson, and Nancy Eady, who will blog on every fourth Monday. Thanks for blogging with us Annette and Nancy!

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Annette Dashofy's Uneasy Prey was released in March. It is the sixth Zoe Chambers Mystery. The seventh, Cry Wolf, will be released on September 18th. Look for E. B. Davis's interview with Annette on September 19th.

Carla Damron's quirky short story, "Subplot", was published in the Spring edition of The Offbeat Literary Journal. You can find it here: http://offbeat.msu.edu/volume-18-spring-2018/

Tina Whittle's sixth Tai Randolph mystery, Necessary Ends, debuts on April 3, 2018. Look for it here. Tina was nominated for a Derringer Award for her novelette, "Trouble Like A Freight Train Coming." We're all crossing our fingers for her.

James M. Jackson's Empty Promises, the next in the Seamus McCree mystery series (5th), was published on April 3, 2018. Purchase links are here. He's working on Seamus McCree #6 (False Bottom)

Dark Sister, a poetry collection, is Linda Rodriguez's tenth published book. It's available for sale here:

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

Shari Randall's second Lobster Shack Mystery, Against the Claw, will be available in July 31, 2018.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Author Earnings 3rd Quarter Report: Making an Iceberg from an Ice cube?

Howey sees an ice-cube, and shrieks 'iceberg'." ~ Philip Jones, editor Bookseller

Hugh Howey (author of the Wool series published by Kindle Direct Publishing) published his July 2014 Author Earnings Report. Howey is an unabashed promoter of self-publishing and of Amazon, and why not, he’s done very well by both. However, his success does not mean he is an expert on publishing in general.

Many people have questioned the methodology in his previous reports. Essentially, he pulls data from Amazon’s eBook “bestseller” lists. Given Amazon's "bestseller" lists currently contain around 120,000 books, [and doesn’t that say something about Amazon’s marketing?], Howey estimates that covers about half of Amazon’s ebook sales. Using an ebook’s Amazon ranking, he projects the number of sales for each book. He then uses those figures to “prove” self-publishing is much preferred over traditional publishing.

Looking at sales from 120,000 books sounds impressive. However, of those books, only 40,000 had any sales on July 14, 2014, the day the data was harvested. Of those 40,000, roughly 10% sold a single book that day. Only 15,500 books sold more than 10 copies on the chosen day.

I’ve taken two claims from the latest report and analyzed them:

CLAIM: This makes indie authors, as a cohort, the largest publisher of ebooks on Amazon.com in terms of market share.

Facts, as taken from his report: Indies sold 31% of eBooks on Amazon, Big 5 sold 38%, Small and Medium Publishers sold 20%, and Amazon Publishing (segregated from other small publishers because of its relationship with the Amazon online sales) sold 6%. By calling the collection of thousands of Indie authors a cohort, he asserts they are the largest publisher. EXCUSE ME? Are Indie authors in a profit-sharing plan so they can be combined and share their wealth? How is it possible to consider traditional publishers separately at the same time Indie authors are lumped together? This construct is a fiction of the greatest order.

Malarkey such as this gives truth to the statement that “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Talk about a bad use of data!

Adding the Big 5, Small and Medium Publishers, and Amazon Publications from Howey’s data (no matter how flawed), here’s what he should have concluded: Even on Amazon, ebooks from Traditional Publishers Still Outsell Indie Published eBooks almost 2-1 [64% to 31%].

CLAIM: We can now say that self-published authors earn more in royalties than Big 5 authors, combined.

First, let’s put some (implied) qualifiers in here: (1) we’re talking ebooks only, and (2) we’re restricted to Amazon sales. Now, to the facts from Howey’s report. To determine royalties, he takes the imputed sales data based on Amazon ranking, applies the known book price to the sales, and imputes author royalties based on assumed rates. Although self-published authors can choose from two royalty scales, for eBooks most will choose the 70% rate, and that is what he uses. For the big 5, Howey assumed a 20% royalty. (His calculations show Amazon takes 20% off the top, the publisher pays a 25% royalty on the remaining 80%). While 25% is an “industry standard,” I have read that some best-selling authors (just the sort of people included in Howey’s report) have negotiated higher rates. Therefore, it is possible that the Big 5 author royalties are understated, but I have no way to quantify by how much.

I know some small publishers pay higher royalties than 25%. My own royalties for Kindle books have averaged 33% of list price—that’s 165% of Howey’s assumption . I feel quite confident when I say the royalties computed for small and medium publishers are understated.

Howey’s calculations show Indie authors earned 39% of total royalties paid, the Big 5 authors earned 37%, authors with small and medium publishers earned 16% and Amazon published authors earned 6%. Depending on how understated the big 5 royalties are, the report might have been reasonable to claim that “Self-published authors earn more in royalties from ebooks sold on Amazon than do the Big 5 authors,” although even that could be a stretch.

Using even this modified statement to crow about Self-Publishing’s superiority misses several large points.

Point one: Many self-published authors only publish ebooks and limit their distribution to Amazon because of certain marketing advantages Amazon offers them for exclusivity. Howey’s reported royalties for these authors represents their total royalties for the book (with the possible exception of audiobooks). Big 5 authors sell across multiple ebook platforms. I am not a Big 5 author, however Amazon only accounts for 70% of my ebook sales. Not that this is appropriate, but if we do as Howey does and project from one instance to impute the whole, we take my 70% and apply it to all the Big 5 authors and get significantly different results. Instead of producing income at a level equal to only 95% of Indie published authors, Big 5 authors would be earning 135% of what Indie published do. [This is wrong on so many levels, but it does highlight the point that for many Indie authors Amazon is the whole enchilada, and for Big 5 that is not the case. Also, between writing this and its publication, I found an article that indicates that in the U.S. Amazon represents 60% of Hachette’s ebook sales. In the UK it’s 78%.]

If Howey took into account all ebook sales regardless of vendor, his beloved comparison falls flat. When we also realize that all Big 5 authors are selling hard covers or follow-on paperbacks that generate royalties as well, not to mention what might be happening in international sales, to make any statement about royalties for Indies vs. Big 5 is specious.

One further point: Howey’s purpose of these studies is to highlight to individual authors why Indie publishing is superior to traditional publishing. An individual author is not a class of authors, and it is important to disaggregate the numbers. Here’s a different way of looking at some of Howey’s results.

Average Author Revenue per “best-selling book” based on Amazon ebook sales:

Big 5     $27.26     Indie     $17.58     Small and Medium    $3.96     Amazon     $122.18

Of course, if we removed the 80,000 books with no sales from the equation, results change and voilà, now Indies do beat Big 5.

Big 5     $49.87     Indie     $53.22     Small and Medium     $15.18     Amazon     $163.60

However, Amazon tops both Indie and Big 5 by a 3-1 margin. So, shouldn’t the real story be that Amazon knows how to promote its own or knows how to pick ‘em or something trumpeting Amazon’s superiority?

I am not saying Indie is better or worse than traditional publishing. Nor am I saying that having Amazon publish your book is the best of all worlds. I am saying that Howey’s data shines a narrow beam of light on one small area of author income. It is an ice cube in an ocean of data. Howey’s conclusions are flawed and unusable.

~ Jim


E. B. Davis said...

One aspect of sales that indie authors lack is exposure by reviewers in the mass media. I look for reviews in The Washington Post. I've never seen them review an indie book.

Online reviewers are more apt to review indie books, but their readership is limited. Without the help of traditional reviewers in large publications, such as the Post, People Magazine, Oprah, etc. I doubt indie authors will be able to compete. Of course, those authors featured in those mass media publications are a fraction of authors, and their sales skew results.

There's no indie author who can compete with Evanovich, Kidd, and Silva, etc. I find claims such as those you present, Jim, flawed as you've pointed out.

James Montgomery Jackson said...


The Washington Post probably does not review many books from small and medium sized publishers either.

However, despite Howey's emphasis on the Big 5 vs. Self-published, where he and Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler play, most authors should be more interested in understanding the comparison between Small and Medium Publishers and Self-Publishing.

~ Jim

KM Rockwood said...

As in any other field where public opinion (and sales) are a major factor, financial success for an author is a combination of luck, hard work and talent, probably in that order. An author does have to have the product before he/she has a shot at it, but for every million good books published, one will hit the "big time."

If anybody knew the secret, they'd be either selling it or hitting the big time themselves continually.

I think the old saying, "Figures lie and liars figure" applies to the statistics you quote quite aptly.

Gloria Alden said...

Interesting topic, Jim. I just heard it discussed on NPR yesterday. Since my goal was not to be a household word or have great reviews,etc, but only to write something I enjoyed writing and to have at least a small audience, I'm quite content with the route of self-publishing that I chose. Actually, I think this will be the year I break even with the IRS for the first time since I started claiming my expenses.

As for indie published not making big money and selling huge amounts of books, have you forgotten that woman, who from what I heard wrote a book poorly written and edited and still made a huge amount of money? I'm speaking of the Shades of Gray person. Of course, that is almost as rare as anyone actually seeing the real Big Foot.

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Gloria -- it's great when any author finds themselves on a path they, as you have done.

I never said nor implied that Indy authors did not or could not make big bucks. Howey (Wool) is as good an example as any (50 Shades was written by EL James, and of course is another) of those who have succeeded big time.

But so did a friend of mine who sold a debut three-book deal at auction for 7 figures (to the left of the decimal point).

Those anecdotal instances prove no point other than that people can still make bundles as authors.

My point is that Howey's hype is at best misleading and at worse dangerous to people who believe the hype without understanding the reality.

~ Jim

Warren Bull said...

Thanks for the information. There are so many claims and counter-claims it's hard to know what to think.

Polly Iyer said...

Good post, Jim. Just as a point, there are many indie writers selling lots of books, making good money, and getting good reviews. Yes, they might be within "Amazon World," and you wouldn't know their names, but they're there. They just don't advertise it and beat their chests like Howey does. I know quite a few.

Howey started as an indie author, unlike those who moved from trad publishing to Amazon and brought their name recognition and backlist with them. I'm glad any author does well, but it's kind of disingenuous for them to act like they're just now being discovered, and they owe it all to indie publishing and Amazon. Many of them make money on the sheer volume of their work, and their stats are included in Howey's report, skewing the numbers.

Indie authors are still measured by a different yardstick when it comes to validation, no matter how much money we make or how we're ranked, but many of us are happy with the control we have over our careers. The idea that one publishing platform is better than another is pure rubbish, due to the many variables. You can always make the numbers do anything you want to prove a point, whether the end result is right or wrong.

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Polly, I agree that many Indie authors are generating lots of reviews, selling lots of books and doing well. I am delighted for their success.

As you say, "The idea that one publishing platform is better than another is pure rubbish, due to the many variables."

That applies equally well to the malarkey from Howey as well as the shills for the Big 5.

Each author needs to determine what is best for them and do it again for each book as the publishing business changes. Facts, not hype and anecdotal evidence, are useful in making decisions.

Unfortunately, we get too much of they hype from everyone, and too few useful facts.

~ Jim