The Indie Files, Part Three: All About the Money

I actually hadn’t intended to post this quite this soon, but I figured with the noise surrounding the Digital Book World survey, I probably should.

The thing to remember about that particular survey is the number of aspiring writers (i.e. those who haven’t published) is high, skewing the data. Had DBW been smart, they would have requested that unpublished authors not take part in the survey (I mean, duh. C’mon.)


There’s always been a debate about whether you can make money self-publishing, and with the prominence of a large handful of self-pubbed authors landing major deals with traditional houses, one might think there’s quite a bit of money to be made. This is not entirely incorrect. It is possible, it seems, to make money self-publishing your books. But your financial success will likely vary widely.

I’ve got a whole raft of links to share, so prepare for some clickity click goodness.

First up is probably my favorite, a post by Bree Bridges of Moira Rogers and Kit Rocha. In it, she lays out the money she and her writing partner, Donna Herren, have made in the last year. Then she points out how long they’ve been at it – five years.

What I love about her post is it makes the goal of supporting yourself with a career as an author plausible. The pair worked their asses off and wrote some fantastic stories, utilizing a digital-first publisher (Samhain) and moving into self-publishing. It wasn’t instantaneous. They haven’t gone Big 5, or made any of “the lists”. It’s a great reminder that it is possible to succeed, and do so without much fanfare. And really, five years isn’t so long to wait.

Over at Jane Friedman’s Writing on the Ether series, Porter Anderson dissects the DBW survey in detail, and it’s fascinating and informative and drives home another big point, made by author Hugh Howey: they’re looking at the data wrong. Not just who answered the survey, but what books are counted and from which sources. It’s a worthwhile read before you start thinking about how many millions of dollars you’re going make when you sell that NYTย best seller to New York.

I’ve read a few of Laura Kaye’s books, including the one she mentions (Hearts in Darkness, and good god, do you need to read that like yesterday). I loved her response to the Kensington CEO’s article in the Huffington Post, and she provides links to several other articles, and way down in the comments, a number of other authors chimed in with their self-publishing experiences and income. This is one of the times when I love the transparency of self-published authors – they’re not bound by contracts and can choose to disclose however much information they wish about their experience, hopefully providing more and more authors with a springboard for their own decisions.

Probably my second favorite link is from Brenna Aubrey. Again, transparency FTW! Not only does she disclose how much At Any Price made in its first month of publication, she breaks out how much she spent on getting the thing published. And that, my lovelies, was something I’d been searching for. I knew self-publishing meant spending money to make money, but without a manual to follow, I was left to sort of gather the pieces together and hope they’d fit into some sort of discernible picture. And they do. If you’re budgeting for your self-published book, it’s an excellent map to follow. She also links to this post by Courtney Milan on what your book rights are worth, and it’s a must read when it comes making a decision between a publishing contract and self-publishing.

On the opposite end of the publishing spectrum, Wendy Higgins’ post on money in traditional publishing has since been deleted, but included information on the advance she received, how it was split out, and the amount per book sold she ended up receiving…and it was small. Which was all to say that when people send her requests for free books, she usually declines because she’s just not rollin’ in it.

Finally, some information on how to price your titles. While Laura Kaye goes into this a little in her post as well, Jami Gold asked her readers which price point they felt most comfortable with when it came to purchasing ebooks, and which ones would cause them to back away. Common knowledge is the sweet spot is $2.99-$3.99 – this allows the author to actually make some bucks and the reader to feel like they’re getting a good deal, and I’d agree. I have a difficult time spending more than $2.99 for a book, although there are certain authors that I will gladly spend $5.00 or more on.

The point of this post was two-fold: to have a single place that gathered a few very informative links on the money behind self-publishing. And to discourage you from thinking you’re going to wind up like Brenna Aubrey.

Wait, what?

I think, for every three, five, ten authors who self-publish a book and make enough to keep them in lattes, you’ll have a Brenna Aubrey success story. I’ve read her book, and enjoyed it, but I think she got lucky. While she did promotion before the release date, she herself said she didn’t have any readers (which I interpret to mean there were no pre-release or release date reviews, a huge gamble for any author). I bought the book because agent Pam Van Hylckama Vleig tweeted about it and I bought it the week it released. She’s since stated the next two books in the trilogy will be released shortly, so she’s keeping to a tight release schedule, which will make readers happy. Time will tell how successful her books continue to be.

But I think there’s going to be a lot of people who see that first-month number and think they can make that kind of money, too. Which is why I posted the Moira Rogers link first and please please pretty please if you haven’t read it yet I urge you to go back and read it now. I said it before, and it bears repeating (hence the reason I’m doing it): I think it is possible to make a living at being an author, more so these days than in the past. If you want to pick a career path to model, I think theirs is a viable one. Step one: write well-written, entertaining stories people will want to read (I picked up Crux a while ago, the first in their Southern Arcana series, and loved it. Their Last Call series? Fast, smexy reads.) Step two: pick a publisher with a solid reputation in the business (in this case, Samhain, which has been around since before digital-first publishing really took off). Step three: amass loyal readers and consistently deliver the type of product they crave, enabling them to go Kermit-flailing to their friends about this fabulous new book they read by one of their favorite authors. Step four (I’m probably skipping a couple of steps, but whatever): Befriend readers, reviewers, and other Names In Publishing. I’ve noticed that their promo tweets are more like, oh, hey, I’ve got a book coming out! or Lookit the pretty cover! and less things like taglines – and they also trust that their readers will know where to find the books (though links are available on their website). Having your friends tweet about your books is a side benefit. True story: I bought Beyond Shame on a rec from Angela James, and I haven’t regretted it since. I’ve read every book in the Beyond series twice. I get ARCs from them and I STILL buy the book on release day.

More, though, Bree points out that self-publishing and digital-first publishers are a path, and it may not be a make big bucks fast path. While I appreciate Aubrey being so candid about the money she made in the first month, I think it perpetuates the myth that you, too, can make shit-tons of money self-publishing!

At this point, I’m totally losing my train of thought and probably ought to stop writing. So I will. Go forth and educate yourselves!




12 thoughts on “The Indie Files, Part Three: All About the Money

  1. Awww, I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Amanda. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I’ll be honest here–I gave our Moira Rogers numbers because I feel like they’re more representative of a moderate outcome. The stories & novellas were reissues, which somewhat balanced out the fact that we had an existing fanbase (many of them had already read them) and fell across a wide range of barely-selling to doing modestly-but-steadily okay.

    In 2013, we made 50% of our money on Moira Rogers and 50% on Kit Rocha. On one side we had 40-ish backlist titles split between epubs and self-pub, on the other side we started 2013 with one Kit Rocha book and published two more during the year. So if you do THAT math, it’s pretty significantly different return per-book.

    There are lots of reasons behind that. The Moira books WERE reissues, we got to draw on all of our experience, contacts and knowledge to launch Kit “right”, etc…but I also think it’s a good cautionary tale. The same voice, the same strategies, the same people behind covers, editing, marketing…

    Sometimes it’s just about writing the right book at the right time and having the right people enjoy it enough to tell the right friends who tweet the right rec. (Or to have Angela James flash your series logo in her avatar for a year or so. I swear she has no financial investment in the series! LOL)

    Anyway, you can’t bottle timing. But if you don’t give up, you always have a chance of hitting it the next time. And while you’re waiting…a backlist never hurts, as long as it’s full of awesome books.

    And look, I almost wrote you a second blog post! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Forgive the blathering.

    1. By all means, blather away!

      And thanks for your candidness on your earnings for 2013. That was actually a bit of a surprise to me, how well the Beyond series did – I mean, I adore them, and it seems a lot of other people do, too, but seeing the numbers to back it up kind of makes it really hit home. Thanks for writing such fabulous books!

      1. Well, I could definitely spin a different sort of story if I just leaned on the Kit numbers. And I in no way want to undermine that–Beyond Shame has sold over 30,000 copies, and that’s pretty exciting for us. But it still doesn’t feel like the “real” story of our career, because we’ve also had the opposite happen. The quiet, reliable middle is the part that amazes me. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. It definitely did ๐Ÿ™‚ It was a good book. But there are plenty of good books out there that don’t take off like yours did, so yes, I think luck’s a factor. I think it is for every author.

  2. Amanda,

    thanks so much for the great post.

    I’ve also been with Samhain since 2007, and am now diving into self-publishing with my thus-far most popular sub-genre of sci fi romance.

    Sales are awesome and It is truly interesting to compare the amount I keep. So far, my 2 self-pub books have earned out as much or more each month than the several digi first available. Can’t wait to get #3 self-pubbed.

    This does seem to be shifting as my new BDSM series emerges at Samhain. But that’s 10 books balanced against 2 paid and 1 freebie on the other side of the scale.

    I do think having a ready-made audience for my sfr books has been a big factor.

    PS, I LOVE the Kit Rocha books and am thrilled for their team that the series is selling so well!

    1. I’m glad to hear you’re doing so well! It seems to me that if you’re going to go out on this limb of self-publishing, having a ready-made audience makes it a little less scary. And thanks for sharing that detail about your self-pub books versus your digi-first books.

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