Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How much do e-authors make per hour/word?

Obviously, the answer to the question varies by the success of the author. But, I thought I'd relate my own experiences as a less than mid-level author with just a few novels published.

I started my self-publishing efforts back in September 2010. Back then, I planned to commit to 5 years of writing before deciding whether or not it could become my actual career. By late 2015, I hope to have 10 novels in print. The sales of those ten novels should give me a good idea if I'm successful enough to quit my day job and become a full-time novelist.

It's still a long time to 2015, but how am I doing now? Am I making good money? Could I survive on just writing novels? Not yet.

In about 20 months, I've published 3 full-length novels, 2 short story anthologies, 2 DIY books, and 3 riddle books. I've sold a total of around 15,200 units , earned gross revenue of about $15,200, with net expenses of about $7,000, resulting in about $8,000 profit (or about $400 a month).

Definitely not enough to earn a living, but it is enough to take a nice vacation each year.

But another data point you should know is how many hours I work on my novels. I do not have exact numbers for all my books, but I did keep track of my hours at the keyboard for a couple of them and I spend about 200 hours actually writing/editing per novel. This does not include thinking about the plot or outlining. I bet that adds at least another 50 hours.

So I'm going to assume 250 hours to finish each novel. How much does that earn me per hour?

For my best-selling novel, Dead Dwarves Don't Dance, I've earned a profit of about $4,300. So I'm getting paid about $17 per hour.

But that number does not count how much time I spend on marketing (blogs, facebook, twitter, forums, advertising, etc.). I have no idea how much time I spend on that, and it is spread out across all my books. So, let's say that $17/hour is the maximum I'm earning.

Dead Dwarves Don't Dance is about 74,000 words long, so it's earned me about 5.8 cents a word. Certainly not a king's ransom, but within the range of what you can get for writing for magazines and so on.

Unfortunately, not all my books sell as well as Dead Dwarves Don't Dance.

The story is not as good for my other two novels (The Elemental Odyssey and Where Magic Reigns). These are young adult adventure novels full of magical aliens and fun action. But while I think this series has lots of potential and the books are getting good reviews, they have not yet found a large audience. My profit on those two books is actually a loss of $4000. Fortunately, ebooks are forever and I have no more large expenses for these two books. So that loss will decline over the years, and hopefully become profitable at some point. All it takes is one person of influence to find it and mention it to some friends, and the series might skyrocket. (That's what I'm hoping for, anyway.;)

On the other hand, my DIY book (Format Your eBook for Kindle in One Hour) has sold very well and had very little in the way of expenses (about $7,400 profit). So, let's average all my books together and see what my totals look like.

Out of all my books, I've earned about $8,000 in profit.

With three novels and seven other shorter books, I figure I've spent at least 1,000 hours working on them, for a maximum of $8/hour.

Not enough to live on, alas. But, the good news is there's room for improvement. ;)

Now, what can YOU expect to earn? Absolutely no way to tell. You could might earn more than me or you might earn less. It depends on how good your books are. But, even more, it depends on how much luck you have. Based on the success and failure of other books I've read, luck seems to be the overriding factor.

If you have a terrible cover or blurb, or you write like a 2nd-grader, or your story is pathetic, you probably won't succeed. But if all of that is polished to an acceptable quality, your success hinges pretty much on luck. It all depends on getting discovered, and in the overcrowded ebook market, getting discovered is just luck or thousands of dollars in advertising. Not many of us have $$$$$ to spend on ads, so we rely on luck.

In almost all careers, you have to commit time and earn your way to the upper echelons. Sweat out the low pay early years hoping to improve your results in the long run. Fortunately, I have another career that can support me while I write novels.

My advice to anyone else is, don't quit your day job. Write diligently and in several years you might start earning a wage large enough to support you.

Or, you might be lucky and have a blockbuster on your first try. If that's the case, congratulations! It's kind of like winning the lottery but at least you earned it by writing a book!

If you're an author, do you have any guesses as to how much you're making per hour/word? Put it in the comments.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Crowdfunding meetups - learning about local Kickstarter projects

Last night I attend a crowdfunding meetup where nearly 20 attendees discussed their Kickstarter projects, experiences, or just watched and decided whether or not to back them.

The event was hosted by Melody Brown of Atomic Chimp games, and you can read about the meetup here. There are meetings in Seattle and the Eastside highlighting local projects. It was quite informative and lots of advice was available. If you ever get a chance to attend such a gathering, I encourage you to do so! I'd like to thank Melody for inviting me and running these events. I found it very helpful.

I thought I'd give some plugs to the Kickstarter projects that were presented:

Ever want a café where you could also play games, then if you like the game you can buy it? That's the idea behind the Gaslamp Social Games Café, which will be located somewhere in the Bellevue/Redmond area (Eastside of Seattle area). You should definitely watch the video to get a better look at this if you live in the area and want a place to play games, sip coffee, etc!

A 15 foot cubic piece of art that lets you interactively control 216 balls of flame!!! This is a piece of art that will be at Burning Man. So, if you you're going to attend Burning Man and want to firebend, you should definitely check out this project!

This is me! And you likely know all about this one already. If not, check it out. Looks like I got some additional pledges based on the meetup last night, so woot! One person at the event said he'd download Dead Dwarves Don't Dance, so I even got a sale! That's a 5% conversion rate, which is really good.

Kind of like a tinkertoy system for big kids. If you're an engineer you'll probably love this! The project was successful, earning triple its goal. But you should still check it out to see if you'd like to place orders Terence Tam.

Unfortunately, I missed a couple prospective project presentations because I had to leave. I hope to plug those when they go live.

I foresee crowdfunding having a significant impact on all sorts of entrepreneurial activity, manufacturing, and jobs. I think it's a great thing. If you've never checked it out before, why not do so now? You might find some project that you really like!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Getting readers to help promote your books

I've been doing something like this in my ebooks, and I thought I'd provide some similar boilerplate content that you can use in your ebooks.

Independent authors need ways to promote. I agree with David that word of mouth is the best path for us indies. This might be off-putting to some, or even sound like begging. But publishing is changing and we must adapt and persevere. Am I ashamed to ask readers for help getting the word out about my books? Not at all! And you shouldn't be either. In fact, if enough of us indies start asking, we might instill a new default behavior in readership to write reviews at a much higher rate than they do now (Dead Dwarves Don't Dance has sold about 8,000 copies and gotten 37 reviews, or about a .4% review rate).

So, feel free to use the following boilerplate in your books (I put it at the end of my books). Use it as is, edit it, take snippets, add to it. Whatever. You'll probably want to change a few bits to align with your own genre/books.

Want to read the sequels sooner?

If you loved this book (or any other book) the best thing that you can do for the author is to help promote it.

The vast majority of independent authors also have full time jobs and earn only a few thousand dollars a year from our novels. Unfortunately, we do not have enough time to promote nor enough money to advertise. We just write our books, publish them, and then hope readers find and hopefully buy them. For most of us, that doesn't mean a lot of money unless we get lucky and sell 50,000 or more books (most of us don't sell anywhere near that).

So, the best advertising for us is our fans telling their friends and family about the books.  For us, word of mouth is the best advertising. In the age of the internet, word of mouth includes reader reviews, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, forums, and so on.

Writers don't have the time to find and frequent each forum, blog, review site, and so on. But, collectively, our fans might know about a many such sites. And if you love a book, it's a great idea to mention it in one of those places.

But, why should readers shoulder the burden of promoting? Isn't that the job of the author?

Yes, it is.

But posting on forums, updating blogs, sending out emails, trying to get interviews and reviews on big websites, and so on takes a LOT of time. Every hour of promotion is one less precious hour the author has for writing the next book in the series you love.

An indie author's promotion efforts actually make it take longer for the next book to get into your hands.

Would you like the next book sooner?

Again, the very best way to help make that happen is to promote the book yourself. I'm not talking about being militant and getting into anyone's face, commanding them to buy the book. But there are a few simple things that can really help, and if enough readers do it, other people might be convinced to buy the book:

1.    Write a review for the book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or wherever you bought it. Reviews don't have to be long, but you should mention a few things that you especially liked about the book so people who read your review can get a better idea of what it's like. You might say: "I really loved how this book merged magic and aliens into an exciting adventure story." See? Simple and short and it says something about the book.

2.    Mention the book on your Facebook page with a link to an appropriate website. Quick and simple like: "I read this exciting book.  Check it out: www.talesofzura.com."

3.    Rate the book or post your review on Goodreads or similar sites (such as librarything.com, shelfari.com, books.google.com, anobii.com, weread.com, chapters.indigo.ca, revish.com, reader2.com).

4.    Mention the book on appropriate forums where you are a member. You wouldn't post about a spy novel on a gardening forum, but you could post about a kid's outdoor adventure book on a Scout forum, for example.

5.    Post your review on your own private blog. Sure, you might only have a dozen readers, but you could be the pebble that starts the avalanche of interest that would eventually help the author sell enough books to quit their day job (or maybe even turn it into a movie).

6.    Tweet about the book.

I bet you're thinking "Sheesh! That sounds like a lot of work! I'm not going to do that!"

And, of course, you don't have to.

But if you don't, the book you love might not sell well. For us independent authors who don't get any advances or have publishers backing us, we have to pay attention to sales. Most of us aren't rich. If a book doesn't sell well, the author probably won't write any more like it. Instead, the author will write a different storyline or genre to see if those sell better. Or the author might stop writing books.

If there are a lot of sales of a book, an author is encouraged to write more like it.

So, if you love a book and have some spare time, write a review. And if you have more time, tweet or blog or like or Facebook or chat or whatever you feel comfortable with.

Who knows? If enough readers do that, authors might be able to quit their day jobs and write novels full time. You could get the next novel in your favorite series two to three times sooner!
Let me know what you think of this, and if you use it. And if it works!

PS: Don't forget about my Kickstarter project where you can get a signed poster of the cover to Dead Dwarves Don't Dance!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Amazon sales rank = how many books sold?

The Passive Guy over at the Passive Voice asked some questions, including these:

So, here’s question #1: Is this a fair way of evaluating how well an ebook-only or mostly-ebook publisher performs for authors?

Question #2: While we’re discussing Amazon Best Sellers Rank, has anyone seen any credible discussions concerning how sales rank translates into dollars for indie authors? If you’re at 20,000 with a $2.99 ebook, are you making $500 per month from that book?

Or is Amazon’s algorithm too volatile to make it a useful gauge of the dollars coming in the door?

Question #3: Everybody knows that lots of ebooks have experienced sales spikes immediately after Christmas as new ereaders and tablets are packed with ebooks. What about other sales patterns? For example, do sales go up on the weekend when many people have more leisure time to read?

I've never had a publisher, so I don’t have any information to answer the first question. However, I do have 18 months of daily sales and rank data to address the second two questions.

So, first off, how many books sold does a given Amazon sales rank indicate?

Unfortunately, due to the hourly fluctuation of Amazon sales rank, we can't pin it down precisely. But I have enough data to make some generalizations for ranks between #333 and #100,000.

All the following data is for Amazon US sales rank only. Also, Amazon changes the ranking algorithms, so my results from six months or a year ago might not equate to what is happening today. I don't sell enough books in other markets or through B&N to have a sufficient data set.

Here's a chart of my Amazon Sales rank for my best selling novel, Dead Dwarves Don'tDance:

And here's a spreadsheet with sales and rank data for each month:

What can we determine from this data? Here's a table with some guesses:

Again, this is based on historical data over the last 18 months. Other author's results might be different.

Also, the estimates for months that showed a lot of fluctuation aren't as reliable as my months where my rank range was smaller.

As for Passive Guy's 3rd question about sales patterns, I have not detected any daily patterns. The only yearly pattern I've seen is better sales around Christmas and a slump in Summer. I have not been able to identify any sales increases from any paid or free advertising, such as reviews, articles, and such.

Do my numbers align with yours? Do you have any other information about rank to sales and patterns?  Comment below if you do!

PS: And don't forget my Kickstarter project. If you want a signed poster of the cover of Dead Dwarves Don't Dance, please check it out. You'll be helping me commission another great cover for the sequel.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Kickstarter experiment to fund cover for sequel: poster for you

One of the biggest hurdles for a self-publishing author is the initial monetary investment to get an ebook published. I’m talking about cover art and editing. Costs for these range from $50 to $2,000 or more. But you can often tell the difference between the cheap path and the expensive path.

My costs are $500 for cover and about $1000 for editing. That's $1500 per book up front, and it can take months to recoup that (at least for me).

One of the best things about getting a publisher is that they foot those bills instead of the author.

But what about us self-publishing authors? What if we don't have a couple grand laying around. That means we have to cut corners, and maybe settle for a cover that we don't really like.

Well, I'm going to conduct an experiment for my next book. I just started a Kickstarter project for the sequel to my cyberpunk novel, Dead Dwarves Don't Dance. I want to see if Kickstarter is an effective way to get some upfront funding without having a publisher.

The goal of the campaign is to raise $1,350 to get the cover art for the sequel. That amount includes $500 for the cover and $850 for the reward fulfillment. Any pledges above the goal go toward paying for the editing. If there's even more than that, I'll try some advertising maybe.

Anyone who pledges $1 or more will get a reward. There are different rewards for different pledge levels, including $1, $5, $10, $25, $30, $50, $100, and $200. Each reward level includes the rewards from the lower reward levels.

The primary reward in my project is at the $25 and is for a signed poster of the cover of Dead Dwarves Don't Dance. If the project succeeds, I'll get 250 of these printed up. That'll most likely leave me with a bunch to use at any conventions I go to.

But there are several more rewards available.

$1 - Computer wallpaper
$5 - Your name in the sequel's acknowledgments
$10 - 8.5"x11" signed print of Dead Dwarves Don't Dance cover
$25 - 19"x27" signed poster of Dead Dwarves Don't Dance cover
$30 - Nook or Kindle version of sequel
$50 - Signed paperback of sequel
$100 - Your name in the sequel's dedication page
$200 - Your name used as the name of a character in the sequel

Each reward includes all the previous rewards.

If 54 people pledge $25, the project is a success!

You can get more details on my Kickstarter project page.
This project lasts until July 2, and you'll only be charged if it is 100% funded. IF the total pledges do not meet or exceed the $1,350 goal, then no one is charged and I receive no money.

So, if you're interested in Noose the genetically engineered dwarf mercenary, cyberpunk, science fiction, or this Kickstarter experiment, you should go check it out!

Click here to visit my Kickstarter page, see a video of me and some of the rewards, and maybe even make a pledge!

And I certainly won't mind if you retweet or link to this blog or my Kickstarter project page. I'll need all the help I can get to make sure this is a success. Thanks!

After the project is over I'll blog about the results.


If you haven't heard about Kickstarter, it's a crowd-sourcing service for almost any kind of project. There are projects for music videos, films, board games, video games, festivals, and all sorts of other products like (lucid dreaming masks, made in America underwear, wine racks, wristwatch ipod controllers, etc.)

There have been some really amazing success stories on Kickstarter., for example:

The Pebble, a wristwatch to control your iPad/Pod, had a goal of $100,000. But so many people loved the idea that it raised over $10 million from 68,929 backers!

The Flint and Tinder men's underwear project, which promises to product made in America quality underwear, and create 1 new job for every 1000 pair they sell a month, they hire an additional factory worker (they asked for $30k and got over $290k in pledges from 5,578 backers).

The Shadowrun Returns turn based video game, which I unfortunately missed out supporting. They asked for $400,000 and got $1.8 million from 32,276 backers.

Lots of successes up there on Kickstarter. So much, in fact, that I foresee crowd-sourcing services like it will have a significant impact on product development and manufacturing in the future. Entrepreneurs and inventors won't have to go find some rich person or company to fund their project. Instead, they'll get thousands of ordinary folk to pledge money.

A Kickstarter project is an all or nothing deal. That is, each project has a monetary goal (mine is $1,350). If the total pledges do not equal or exceed that goal by the deadline (usually a month or so), then no pledge money is given, no money is charged, and the project owner gets nothing. It's either 0% funded or 100%+ funded.

That's right. The pledges can exceed the goal, and for most projects this unlocks stretch goals or additional rewards.

But what do you get if you pledge money and back a project?

All projects have "rewards" that will receive based on how much you pledge. Higher pledges usually get you better rewards.

If this sounds like a cool deal to you, please check out my project, especially if you want a signed poster of the cover of Dead Dwarves Don't Dance. And, tell all your friends! I just need 54 people to pledge $25, and with your help I can reach that.