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.

Okay, numbers:

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, 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.)

18 comments to “A very beastly birthday, on which Tessa reveals all…”

  1. Jackie Barbosa
    · May 13th, 2010 at 8:14 am · Link

    I wish I’d kept better track of earnings on my Cobblestone ebooks for some real comparisons, but alas, I’m too lazy for that.

    What’s interesting to me is that your royalties from that one novella roughly match my total annual royalties in 2009 for the six ebooks I currently have with Cobblestone. All of those stories are novella length or shorter, and the last came out in June of 2009. Of those ebooks, the first one, Carnally Ever After, which came out in August of 2007, remains the “bestseller,” meaning I can consistently rely on it to sell 5-10 copies in any given month (the quarterly reporting from some vendors makes this a little hard to quantify).

    I’m not raking in big bucks by any means, but I’m actually comforted by your numbers, because Cobblestone is not as well-known or large as Samhain AND our catalog is not currently available in Kindle (although I hear it will be). I’d expect my sales of individual titles to be correspondingly smaller as a result of those factors, so really, my numbers are looking better and better :).

  2. Leslie Dicken
    · May 13th, 2010 at 7:33 am · Link

    Thanks for sharing these numbers. Since I have a novella out at Samhain, as well as two novels, I can compare to what you have.

    My first thought is that your numbers for your novella are excellent. Much higher than my novella ever sold. Of course a large variety of factors go into sales and why someone buys one book over another.

    However, personally, I do think that your sales numbers for the novella may have a lot to do with your success of your print books. In other words, many people read your trilogies, then go looking for your back list. They know they like your writing and so they purchase the novella.

    Is there a significant time span between your novella release and your first print book? I’d be interested to see the difference in sales figures of that time period.

    I don’t want to take away from your success. I am one of your biggest fans! I just wanted to point out to others that your figure of $800 thus far is not necessarily the average for other ebook novellas. 🙂

    Oh, and aren’t monthly royalties AWESOME?!

  3. Tessa
    · May 13th, 2010 at 7:37 am · Link

    Great points, Leslie – I know I am not representative example for that reason, but mine is the only example I have. 🙂 I will crunch numbers better later, but I would estimate the book earned about $400+ before my print books came out. So..half of the total? Gotta get the darelings to school!

  4. Kathleen MacIver
    · May 13th, 2010 at 7:43 am · Link

    Thank you SO MUCH for this honest information, as well as your goals and motivations, Tessa! I have to say that my miniscule venture into e-publishing earned me essentially nothing…but there are quite a few differences between your venture and mine.

    One, mine was a little less than half the length of yours, and part of an e-anthology, which means my royalties were split between 16 other authors.

    Two, the anthology was a “sweet” experiment on the part of the publisher…and I don’t think they’ve repeated it. (Hot does still sell best on the ‘net, as you mentioned.)

    Three, the publisher wasn’t Samhain or one of the other bigger ones, though it wasn’t one of the smallest or newest either.

    Four, we certainly didn’t end up with a title as catchy and eyebrow-lifting as you did. I’m guessing that your title is responsible for a LOT of your sales, for it DID stand out to all of us out here, who didn’t know who you were, but couldn’t helping remembering the title and wondering what a werestag is, and what its legend was.

    But then…five…I only did mine for the experiment. It was a dual test, of sorts. Could I write a short story well enough to be accepted by one of the not-in-the-big-five-or-so e-publishers? And could I write a romance that would satisfy my own high standards of love (which usually include time passing)…in less than 8,000 words? So I invested two weeks of time in the experiment, and learned that yes, I could…and apparently I did well. I was told that the editors LOVED my story, even though it wasn’t the hot that they’re used to, and it seems as though my story was among the reviewer’s favorites.

    NOW…I’m still working on proving to myself that I can write a full-length novel that will please my own standards…let alone NY’s!

    Thanks again for the information and the marvelous way it was given!

  5. Kathleen MacIver
    · May 13th, 2010 at 7:45 am · Link

    PS, I also considered what I learned about writing concisely to be part of the reward for my two weeks of work, for I DID learn a lot that has definitely helped in other areas as well. 🙂

  6. Jackie Barbosa
    · May 13th, 2010 at 11:23 am · Link

    With regard to Kindle, that’s such an important piece of the puzzle right now when you’re going the digital route.

    Back when I first went with Cobblestone, however, I don’t think the Kindle even existed (April of 2007), and there weren’t many epublishers who would take stories as short as the one I sold. In other words, my decisions about which publisher to go with back then were very different than they would have been if I were starting today.

    That’s not at all to imply I’m unhappy with Cobblestone Press and my sales there–I’m pleased enough with how I’ve done there that I still plan to finish out my Gospel of Love series with them. And I’ll be very interested to see what happens to the sales volume when my books with them do become available on Kindle, which I have heard IS going to happen.

  7. Tessa
    · May 13th, 2010 at 10:32 am · Link

    Okay, I’m back. Thursday is classroom volunteer morning for me. 🙂

    First, regarding averages – I hope I made it clear in my original post that I in no way mean to represent my experience as “average.” I really think there is no such thing as an “average” experience in epub. So many factors are in play – word-of-mouth, promotion, an author’s previous books, the publisher’s reputation and reach, the genre and heat level, etc. I would never say, “Here is what happened with me – this will likely be the case for you.” It’s just impossible to say, and indeed–this very uncertainty is one reason some authors don’t like the epub royalty-based model.

    But at the same time, I know when I was trying to decide whether/how to publish this story, I found it very hard to make informed decisions, due to the general lack of information out there. Print published authors have Bookscan and PubLunch for example, and there is really no analogous data pool in epub (that I know of, at least. I know there are some anonymous surveys, but I feel those are of limited use.) I understand that a lot of people would not feel comfortable sharing their information publicly, and I actually kind of went back and forth about it myself. But in the end, I believe Information is Power (that’s my librarian training showing!), so I decided to throw the numbers out there, in the hopes they might help someone like me, trying to make the same decision.

    As for how much my print books helped sales…

    I looked back at my statements and tried to figure out how much of my sales happened in the first few months, before my print books released. That’s definitely when the bulk of my MBAM (Samhain) sales occurred – they dropped off sharply after the first few months, and it’s been mostly Kindle and other retailers from there on. But my best estimate is that I made about $425.05 from all sales sources, on sales through the end of June 2009. In other words, a little less than half of what the book has earned, total.

    Leslie, you are absolutely right that those continued sales over the rest of the year are no doubt fueled by my print releases. Some may have been people who read the print books and just wanted more – other may have been people who were on the fence about reading the print books and wanted a shorter, cheaper way to sample my writing. But even if I had kept publishing exclusively with Samhain, I would hope that would help sell my backlist over time.

    And maybe someone who has e-pubbed several books, then gone to print, will chime in and let us know if the print releases have helped sell their digital backlist similarly.

    Kathleen and Jackie – thanks so much for adding your thoughts and experiences to the conversation! That’s what I hoped, that this would start a dialog amongst authors. Your stories really go to show what a range of factors are in play. I think that information would also be of use to any author who is trying to make decisions about whether to e-pub and which publisher to choose.

    Kathleen, obviously there was an experimental nature to this for me, too – which is another reason I want to share the results. And if I decided to do something similar again, I might try a different tactic, just to see if the data changed. And as for my title. LOL, I think it likely cost me some sales as well as gaining me some. 😀 *shrug*

    Jackie, without Kindle, my sales would be significantly lower (obviously, from the data above). That is one of the reasons I went with Samhain as a publisher–their distribution is wide, they don’t use DRM, and they’ve really worked to give the company visibility and build relationships with readers, retailers and reviewers.

  8. Jackie Barbosa
    · May 13th, 2010 at 11:54 am · Link

    Believe me, Tessa, I know you weren’t dissing my publisher ;).

    But as you alluded to, one of the things that makes it SO difficult for authors to navigate the e-market isn’t simply that it’s hard (if not downright impossible) to predict how much money you’ll earn, but also that the targets are always moving. The publishers change their submission guidelines (today, I could submit Carnally to Samhain, but back in 2007, the minimum length was 20k, IIRC), new publishers crop up, existing publishers gain or lose market strength, etc.

    Honestly, the other day we were talking on Twitter about the fact that exclusively epublished authors are perceived as not “needing” agents, yet with these almost daily shifts in the epub market, it seems to me more and more that authors who are looking to epublish really DO need agents. The trouble is, there aren’t many agents out there with both the willingness and the experience in epublishing to do the job, and the money in it is so unpredictable that it’s hard to see many agents jumping on the epublishing bandwagon any time soon.

    Ah, the conundrums…

  9. Leslie Dicken
    · May 13th, 2010 at 11:10 am · Link

    I still think the $400 you made prior to your print success is fantastic. Earnings in epubs run the gamut from a few dollars a month (which is what my novella sells for me now) to what you make or more.

    Now that I think about it, I haven’t done any promotion on that story since it first came out. Many people don’t even realize I have an alter-ego and other stories, so — in a way — the blame is mine.

    At any rate, I am glad you were willing to share your earnings. Like you said, information can always be of use!

  10. Tessa
    · May 13th, 2010 at 11:41 am · Link

    Yep, Jackie – of course I don’t mean to be down on Cobblestone [the first e-book I ever bought (not yours) was from them!] but it’s just another illustration of how these factors keep changing, and authors really have to weigh a lot of considerations.

    And the genre/length considerations are just another one.

    If my novella had been rejected by Samhain, I’m not sure what I would have done with it. There really aren’t that many established e-pubs that take non-erotic historical romance novellas. Now there’s Carina, but they weren’t around then.

    Leslie!!! I did not know that you write under another name. So yes, please talk it up more! (like now? pretty please?)

  11. Tessa
    · May 13th, 2010 at 12:32 pm · Link

    Yes, Jackie – the agenting issue is tough. Even when there’s enough money to make it worth their while, the monthly royalty checks that we love so much are a paperwork PITA for them.

  12. Estara
    · May 17th, 2010 at 11:08 am · Link

    Totally interesting to read this insider comparison ^^. I just wanted to throw in as a reader that I heard of Legend of the Werestag first in connection with the Dear Author/Smart Bitches April fools joke website and that’s why I bought it when it showed up on Books on Board (and because reviews were positive).
    I then tried to buy books of yours in ebook, but couldn’t as you are with print publishers who didn’t want to sell your book as an ebook to Germany. I’m not buying much in print since I got my e-Reader two years ago.

    ~ here via link from DA

  13. Jackie Barbosa
    · May 17th, 2010 at 2:17 pm · Link

    Just FYI, my novella, The Gospel of Love: According to Matthew, came out the same day as Mr. Anthony’s short story. I’ve earned considerably more than $100 from it. Of course, since it had a cover price nearly $2 higher, that may not be surprising, but I seem to recall hitting the bestseller list that month, while Mr. Anthony did not.

    I’m not saying that to be snarky or anything. I love many of Piers Anthony’s books. It’s just that I don’t think Mr. Anthony’s fans are regulars at Cobblestone and that those who are regulars are probably not as likely to buy his work in general. It’s really just another piece of evidence for the theorem that sales in the epublishing world are incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to predict.

  14. Lori
    · May 17th, 2010 at 2:07 pm · Link

    Thank you for sharing this information. Piers Anthony wrote (as I remember) that his novella with Cobblestone netted him under $100.

  15. Tessa
    · May 17th, 2010 at 5:14 pm · Link

    @Estara: Thanks for stopping by! And thank you for reading the novella. You are not the first non-North American reader to tell me this, and I’m not sure what to say. I really wish my Random House e-versions were available for purchase worldwide. I hope someday they will be. There is a German translation of Goddess of the Hunt coming out in October, but I have no idea if there might be a concurrent ebook release–I haven’t heard of one.

    Lori and Jackie, that’s interesting about Piers Anthony. I hadn’t heard about that. Like Jackie says, there are so many factors, and has that been few years ago now? I suspect he could do much better than $100, if he tried again and went about it in a different manner. Authors with an established readership have had good success directly publishing to Kindle, for instance.

  16. Izzy
    · May 18th, 2010 at 11:57 am · Link

    Thank you for sharing.

  17. Kristen Painter
    · May 18th, 2010 at 12:26 pm · Link

    Great, interesting, valuable post. It was great to meet you at RT – especially since we’re on that Digital Publishing panel at RWA together!

  18. Moira Rogers - Bree
    · May 27th, 2010 at 1:20 pm · Link

    This is interesting, Tessa! Thank you for sharing!

    I think that you’re right, and that there is no such thing as a standard epub earning. Not even within one author’s backlist.

    I’m always happy to share numbers, so here’s my anecdotal proof of how impossible to predict it is. 😀

    My October 2008 Samhain debut title (a 47k paranormal) will break $4,000 in royalties next month. It did reasonably well for its first year or so, but has taken off on kindle recently and is selling 400+ copies every month. Why? I couldn’t begin to tell you. (I don’t have a NY audience to convert, so it can’t be that!)

    On the flip side I have a book that came out in early 2009 on which I’ve barely managed to earn out a $50 advance and might break $100 on soon. It’s also on amazon and probably doesn’t sell more than 10 copies a month.

    I have friends who make a good deal more than I do in epublishing, and friends who make far less. The ones making more do tend to be at the larger pubs, writing in more popular genres. And prolific.

    Even my best new releases don’t beat a backlist–and backlist is where I think ebooks are the money makers. Your digital backlist never goes out of print and is always sitting nicely on the cyber shelf right next to your newest release. Of course, the downside is that a nice backlist takes time to build, which means epublishing isn’t any more of a get rich quick scheme than traditional publishing.


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