Indypub basics: money

WARNING: Subject to headdesk and foot in mouth.  Please feel free to argue.  This is my learning experience, too, you know.

Okay, to begin with, I’m stealing right and left from Dean Wesley Smith.  If you’re interested in the topic and you’re not reading his (and his wife Kristine Kathryn Rusch‘s) blog, you have problems.  Go read.  He’s bending over backwards to help a whole generation of writers succeed.  Let him.

First, the money.

Dean says, and so far (month 1) this has panned out.  FIRST MONTH.  No name recognition, no major push.  Just announcing things on Facebook and Twitter.  So yes, this is reasonable.

(Presuming posting ebooks at Smashwords, PubIt [B&N], and Amazon [Kindle Direct Publishing].  Short stories at .99, Short novels/collections at 2.99, Novels [50K and up] at 4.99.  Presuming you’re writing at the level of the occasional sale to semi-pro markets in your chosen genres.  Presuming you have decent covers and blurbs, too.  Not GOOD.  Just decent.)

Short stories, novels under 50K, collections:

5 copies per month, across all sites.

Oh, no!!! Only five copies a month?!?

Yes, but that’s five copies a month for the forseeable future.

On average, you’ll make .35 on each .99 sale (35% royalties).

5 x .35 = 1.75 a month, or $21/year.  For what could be the rest of your life (well, probably not, because something will change, either up or down.  But for the forseeable future).

Now, let’s say, like me, you’re writing a short story a week.

If I did nothing but post all the stories that I wrote, immediately, without submitting them to pay markets, I should, on average, make:

50 stories (2 weeks off for vacation and ease of math).

50 x 21 = $1050/year.

However, I can also collect those stories into story collections of 10 or so each, or 5 collections (priced at 2.99, profit averages about $2 each, due to 70% royalties).

5 x 2 = $10  10 x 12 = $120/year  5 collections x 120 = $600.

Again, lowball it.  Writing a story a week for a year, you should make at least $1500/year.

If you have a full-time job, you can still write a story a week for a year.

And, again, lowballing it for ease of math, let’s say that you don’t make ANY sales until the end of the year, when you have 50 stories and 10 collections done.  The first year after that, you’ll make $1500.

The next year after that, you’ll make $3000 (because you’re still writing).

The year after that, $4500.  And so on.

Unlike traditional publishing, the money from the first year’s writing doesn’t go away.  You still make money off it.  It’s like investing in real estate more than it is selling beaded jewelry.  You get something almost like rent from it, every month.

And that’s if you have NO name recognition, and nobody recommends you to someone else, etc…

And also, that’s not counting any money you could make from submitting your stories to pay markets before you post them:  when you’re selling stories, you’re only selling a period of time to the rights for those stories.  Check your contracts; if they say “forever,” walk.


I don’t have any novels out, so I’m just going to take this on faith.  I’m taking it on faith from a number of people, however, people who aren’t famous in any way.

Novels should sell, baseline, about 25 copies a month, and on a $4.99 ebook at 70% royalties, you’re making about 3.50 a book.

25 x 3.50 = $87.50  87.5 x 12 = $1050.

WHAT?!?  But that’s waaay less than a publisher advance.

But, again, it goes on forever:  $1000 year one, $1000 year two, and so on.  Granted, at that rate, it would take longer than your lifetime to make a $100K advance.  However, if you were worth a $100K advance, you’d probably be selling more than 25 copies a month, yes?  Which changes the calculations.

If you’re writing one novel (NaNoWriMo) and 50 stories a year, you’re making:

Year one:  $2500

Two:  $5000 (keep writing!)

Three:  $7500


This is something you can do and still work fulltime.

Now, writing fulltime, you have to figure out how many novels you’re going to get done, edited, and posted a year.  Also, once you sell something to the big publishers, it’s tricky to get it back, so get help before you sign a contract:  make sure they can’t screw you when it comes time to get the book back.

I’m going to shoot for nine + 50 stories over at  Crap, man, I don’t know.  But even if I only get six done and up, that’s still saying something.

I’m not going totally indy; I have four novels out on subs right now.  If they don’t get picked up in six months or a year, I’ll probably epublish them.  I’m also working on WFH projects for cash flow, and that takes time, too.  We’ll see.  It’s only been a month, and it’s already HARD being patient, waiting for sales to come in.  I know, the healthy thing would be NOT to check your numbers on a daily basis, but I’m not necessarily sane.  I’m sure the checking will wear off after a while, but it’s new.  Oh my God I made 40 cents last night has not yet lost its charm 🙂





The so-called publishing apocalypse


Indypub basics: the flood of new writers


  1. I think Dean’s numbers are pretty rosy. I now have 12 pieces up for sale (including four novels) and my sales haven’t approached 5 per month except on one or two titles. Part of that could be the genre in which I write, which isn’t as commercially-appealing as, say, romance and urban fantasy.

    I think a bigger portion of the why has to do with volume. In January when I uploaded my first Smashwords books, they had about 1.6 billion words published. Now they’re over 1.9 billion. So in three months, people have uploaded 100 million words worth of ebooks to Smashwords. That’s 10,000 short stories of 10k words each, or a thousand 100k-word novels. That’s a lot of competition for buyers to sift through. I suspect my sales are coming from people searching for specific tags, like “superhero” or “cyberpunk” first. The number of indie-published works is increasing at a staggering pace. I think individual sales will drop as the pool gets larger, and I don’t think repeat business is a given at all in this industry. People are fickle.

    Given my sampling-to-purchase ratios, I think on average, people only buy five percent of what they sample. That number is, I believe, consistent in many aspects of the retail world. The best way I can see to earn money at this is, as you said, lots and lots of volume.

  2. De

    That could be a factor. I’ll watch for it. But keep in mind that this burst of indy authors will pass as they weed themselves out.

    However, I also humbly submit that you look at your blurbs and covers. The blurbs explain the story but aren’t nearly up to the quality of your actual writing. And the covers are generally hard to read at postage-stamp size, which is how most people will see them.

    “Bulletproof,” I think, works as a blurb, but the others don’t do much for me. I like a bunch of the cover images (esp. “Graceful Blur”), but the text is too freakin’ small on a lot of them.

  3. Loved this post. It makes me so optomistic about my e-publishing projects. But I agree with Ian about indie authors and the growing pool.

    What worries me is that we (e-pub authors) are selling ourselves right out of publishing. Say you publish a novel at 2.99. Great price. I’d buy it. People start thinking all books should be priced accordingly. Again, not a problem. Maybe they should.

    So what happens when one of your novel submissions is picked up at a traditonal house? They’re going to want to pay you nothing for your work. In a lot of ways we are helping tradional publishing screw us out of advances.

    In this indie model can you see yourself making enough money to strictly write for a living? What’s the point at which you have enough stuff in the world where you can make a living? 20 books? 30? 100?

    I think a big problem with indie authors is an all or nothing mindset. Authors can and should publish both indie and traditional. But those e-publishing gurus are brainwashing authors right and left with the promise of 30,000 in sales a month. Yeah, it sounds nice but I don’t know any indie author making more than a couple hundred a month in sales.

    End long winded rant. It was great to see the numbers laid out. Thanks!

  4. De

    I stick by what I said before – a lot of the writers now will bail. They’ll do one or two or three projects and bail, because it’s hard. Most people are not cut out to be professional writers, even with such a low entry cost as epublishing has. Also, ereader markets are just getting going and will increase. I can’t see any way that they won’t. So ride it out. It’s not like your talent is going to dry up.

    Pricing…I don’t know, should I do a whole blog on that? Again, I think the market will work itself out here. From my experience freelancing, there will always be the people who will work for free or damned near. Those are not the people you necessarily want to hire, unless they’re just getting started and need to prove themselves. Get enough fans at .99 or free with a novel, then charge 4.99 on the next one in the series…with epublishing, you can cut your novel off at a freaking cliffhanger in a way you can rarely get away with in big publishing. “Each novel must stand alone…” Nope! Cliffhangers it is, just like in the pulp serials. As the actress said to the bishop, “The first one is free.”

    If the trad house doesn’t want to pay you what you want…epublish it. Or take a loss, like Amanda Hocking, for the name recognition. I see she TOTALLY got screwed her on her advance. I would think that having a solid track record as an indy could only work to your advantage in the big-publisher world: you have a platform. Plus, you’re not completely ignorant of how the business works, so you’ll be easier to work with.

    I’m extremely fortunate to be mostly supported by my spouse at this point. My goal, however, is to be able to support him in the modest slackerdom he deserves. I hope to be able to do that in ten to fifteen years, or about 100 books, either indy or big-publishing.

    I don’t see gurus promising 30K sales in a month. Send me links…I want to see where they’re getting their numbers. I don’t know any purely indy authors making all that much, either, but I know a bunch of mixed-type (indy/big) who are. I think that’s the sweet spot. Nice work if you can get it 🙂

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