Note: I meant to post this yesterday, but realized I was missing some data. I have remedied that, and now it’s complete.
The Werestag is having his birthday! My e-novella The Legend of the Werestag was released from Samhain Publishing exactly one year ago this week.
Digital publishing is changing rapidly (understatement alert!), and has changed a great deal even in the past year. At RWA National Conference this summer, I’ll be on a panel titled “Digital Publishing for the Print Published Author” with some Samhain editors and authors. I think one of the themes of our panel will be that digital and traditional print publishing can mesh together as two parts of a viable, growing career.
One stumbling block authors run up against, however, is that it can be very hard to get sales information for digital publishing. How much can a writer reasonably expect to earn, if she decides to e-publish?
In many ways, this is an impossible question to answer. Because most digital publishers pay only a nominal advance or no advance, most compensation comes in the form of royalties–and there’s simply no way of knowing how well an e-book (or any book) will sell. In addition, there’s no such thing as an “average” performing e-book. They can sell copies in the thousands or in the teens.
In the hopes that it might help other authors considering digital publishing, I am going to publicly post my sales and royalty information for TLOTW, to date. (Below the fold, because it’s long)
First, some caveats. Making money was not my only goal with this novella, or even my primary goal. Most importantly, I wanted to build name recognition in advance of my print releases. Second, I wanted to provide readers with something extra to glom, if they’d already read and enjoyed my print books. An insta-backlist, if you will. I seriously considered just making the novella a free read on my website, but decided it would get much more visibility (and potentially, reviews) if released by a well-known e-publisher like Samhain. I was glad to make money on it, of course. But if my top goal was to maximize royalties, I might have done some things differently. I might have made it hotter, so it would qualify for Samhain’s “Red Hot” label. I might have changed the title to something more mainstream and appealing to readers, but my primary target was actually bloggers and reviewers, whom I hoped would lift an eyebrow at “Werestag” and be enticed to see just what the heck was going on. I might have advertised more–instead, I bought only one $50 ad space, and that was the sum total of my promo.
My point is not that I didn’t care about sales or royalties, but that I saw the ebook as one part of a larger campaign to build name recognition, as a debut author. This is not to say anything against those authors for whom e-publishing is an end goal and primary income–I’m just being honest about my own motivations and decision process, for context. Anyhow, it worked pretty well – the weird title did catch attention, and the book did get reviewed on many romance blogs and review sites. It would have cost me hundreds of dollars, if not thousands, to purchase that kind of visibility.
All that said, I’m also pleased with the royalties I’ve made from it. This was a 19K word story, which made it a “novella” by Samhain’s standards, and it sold for a retail price of $3.50. My royalty earnings per copy depended on where readers bought it. A copy sold by My Bookstore and More, the Samhain-affiliated bookstore, earned me a straight 40%, or $1.40. Copies sold for Kindle earned me $1.05 each because of the discounted cover price, and this was also the case with most of the other e-retailers. I received a $100 advance, which I earned out and then some in the first royalty period, and have received monthly checks ever since, ranging from $30 to $150. The variation is mostly due to the fact that sales from some outside vendors are paid quarterly.
How “typical” are my sales? I have no idea. I don’t think there any such thing as “typical” ebook earnings. What I can say with certainty is that my experience does not reflect either the top or bottom of the spectrum. There are e-published authors making much, much more than I did, and e-published authors making much, much less. At the Samhain bookstore, TLOTW was not a runaway bestseller by any means – it barely cracked the top 10 for a few days, but quickly fell off. Respectable for a debut author, but not stellar. On the other hand, my Amazon Kindle sales have stayed at a steady level over the year, no doubt boosted by the releases of my print books, so my sales in that area are probably higher than they would have been, were this just a one-off story I released.
As of 4/30/2010, I’d sold 248 copies through My Bookstore and More (Samhain’s store), for a total of $347.20 earned. My reported Kindle sales thus far (and these lag a few months behind in the reporting) are 275 copies, for $288.75 earned. And my other sales from miscellaneous e-retailers (includes Sony, All Romance, Books on Board, BN.com) added up to 215 copies, for $234.15.
So my grand total to date: 738 copies, $870.40.
My actual first-year total earnings are probably a little higher, since this number doesn’t include a few months’ worth of Kindle sales. And I expect that the book will continue to sell copies as my new print books release this summer – hopefully I’ll have netted over $1000 by the end of the summer, which was my original earnings goal for the story. Add in the value of the publicity it garnered, and I am most definitely happy with the experience.
Would this kind of a project be worth it for every author….? I don’t know. That would depend on the author and her goals. Would I take time from my writing schedule now to write another e-published novella…potentially. It would depend on the nature of the story, and whom I wanted the story to reach.
I hope this is helpful to someone out there, and I am happy to answer any other questions. (I’m pretty sure I’ve got it set up so they can be asked anonymously.)