Author Earnings

So, have you seen all the babble the last week or so about self-publishing phenom Hugh Howey’s latest project? He recently launched a website titled Author Earnings. Here’s the statement from their About page:

Welcome to AuthorEarnings, where our purpose is to gather and share information so that writers can make informed decisions. Our secondary mission is to call for change within the publishing community for better pay and fairer terms in all contracts. This is a website by authors and for authors.

Apparently a tech-savvy friend of his created a software program that can crawl websites and gather data about e-books. Howey published the first report here…and boy, you’d have thought the sky was falling by the avalanche of responses. Trad-publishing gurus have tried to tear the report apart, and self-publishing advocates have posted some scathing responses.

I fail to understand the big deal. It’s one day of data grabbed from one website, Amazon. Sure, Howey says he intends to publish more reports, so I imagine that in the future, it will be useful to authors who like to scroll through mounds of data. But I’m not convinced that it means that self-publishing is an gosh-awesome-sauce-gold-mine like some. Neither do I think that it’s a demon-spawned conspiracy like others. 😛

So, have you read the report and the subsequent kerfuffle? What do you think?


About H. A. Titus

H. A. Titus is usually found with her nose in a book or spinning story-worlds in her head. Her love affair with fantasy began at age twelve, when her dad handed her The Lord of the Rings after listening to it on tape during a family vacation. Her stories have been published in Digital Dragon Magazine, Residential Aliens Magazine, and four anthologies: Alternative Witness; Avenir Eclectia Volume 1; The Tanist's Wife and Other Stories; and Different Dragons Volume II. In December 2013, her short story "Dragon Dance" won Honorable Mention in a Writers of the Future contest. She lives on the shores of Lake Superior with her meteorologist husband and young son, who do their best to ensure she occasionally emerges into the real world. When she's not writing, she can be found rock-climbing, skiing, or hanging out at her online home, hatitus.wordpress.com.

5 comments on “Author Earnings

  1. I’m with you. I keep seeing Hugh Howey shone in two different lights: (one) as this giant swashbuckling defender of self-pubbers, claiming it’s The Only Way to Go, and (two) when he gets razzed for creating unrealistic expectations, people backtrack and say how he admits so much of it is luck and most people won’t make it, self-pub or otherwise. Either way, this kind of stuff just ends up being used as ammo against traditional publishing. Which, while it has its issues, is not Some Great Evil.

    What I want to see is a comparison of the royalties earned by self-pubbers vs trad-pubbers – AND – the expenses output by the AUTHOR for each.

    Now compare *what’s left over* (royalties minus author expenses) between self-pub and traditional authors who have sold the same number of books.

    (And I don’t mean the outliers either–I don’t want included the oddball person that plopped their converted fan-fic up on Amazon just for fun and invested nothing and hit the proverbial literary lottery by selling millions of copies with no marketing. Apples to apples, royalties minus *author* cost, and I will start paying attention to the charts and graphs.)

    • And author costs need to include a timeshare breakdown as well. You may pay $200 to an artist for cover art. But you have to also factor in the cost to you of 10 hours of conversation and review of the artwork. So at minimum wage that cover art is actually costing you $280.

  2. As much as that data would be nice to have, I bet we won’t see it. Why? Because in order for said data to be collected, someone would have to keep records. I would bet the traditional pubs can tell you to the cent how much they spent on marketing. But the authors themselves? Pshaw!

    First of all, much of it isn’t monetary. We put out blood, sweat, and tears that will never get counted. Do self-pubbers put out more of that than traditional pubbed? It depends on how one measures it. Some may, as Katherine suggested, convert it to time spent at minimum wage, or even time spent at the “going rate” for whatever skill it is,.I suspect either method is flawed because my time is never “on a clock”. I spend countless hours doing things like “brainstorming” or “daydreaming” which no employer on the planet would ever pay me for, but without which fiction-writing becomes all but impossible.

    However, I doubt Kat even suggested non-monetary aspects be compared. What she wants is to see the hard numbers for hard dollars. I’ll tell you right now, I didn’t keep records. On purpose. Because I know that I spent too much. When I had a freebie promotion for a Kindle Select book, I went around to all the blogs and websites who promote such things and I listed my freebie dates. At first, they were all free. But as time went by, more freebies got added to the mix, and then Amazon changed its affiliate rules. More and more independent bloggers started to charge money to authors to advertise their freebies.

    So it was $1 here, $5 there, and I could easily spend $50 over the course of a month, just to get the word out that my book(s) would be free. In order to keep my sanity, I didn’t tally it up. I likened it to how others spend money at Starbucks every day on fancy coffee. If they thought about it too much, they might just have to admit how lazy/foolish it is and stop doing it. If I had to factor in how much money I laid out to see any kind of sales, I’d see just how UN-profitable it was to be in this business, and I would have quit much sooner.

    I did finally admit to myself that Select was no longer working for me. The market got saturated. Free downloads dwindled off. The boost in sales that followed the free promo (which was the whole reason to DO the promo in the first place) stopped happening. Even without numbers, it was patently obvious that the “gravy train”, such as it was, had ended. Had I kept better track, I might have quit Select sooner, but then again, I became quite used to throwing money down the drain on a regular basis, without any tangible proof it did anything at all.

    I have been CONSTANTLY reminded that my efforts would NOT pay off in dollars, but that I had to keep plunking down cash as an “investment in the future”. Give away books on Goodreads to “get your name out there” and “create buzz”, the benefits for which may not come for decades, or may not translate into sales, but into something intangible, like “name recognition” or whatever.

    I don’t keep records of how many times I “treated” my readers to free books any more than I keep records of how many times I treat my son to frozen yogurt or a DVD rental. It’s not about money, it’s about love. If, after all my regular bills were paid, I had some “pocket change”, and I spent it on book promos, I didn’t write it down. To me, that would be like giving one of my children an itemized bill for every speck of food or every item of clothing, toy, and toiletry I ever bought them for the 18 years of childhood. If you had to think about it that much, you’d probably go insane and want to quit parenthood before they’re out of diapers.

    Maybe there are people out there who do keep records. Maybe lots of them. Maybe they don’t treat their books like beloved children, as I do, but more like annoying tenants on whom they are collecting dirt as a prelude to the inevitable eviction. Maybe they’re just more practical than I am.

    I’d like to see those numbers, if they exist. I really would. But even if other people kept them and shared them, I’m not sure how well I would be able to use their data, because the very fact they kept the records means their books were closer to “business assets” than children, and I don’t seem to possess that level of detachment to my craft yet.

  3. Randy Ingermanson did an analysis of Howey’s data, and — I am grossly oversimplifying an article in which most of the math goes right over my big fat head — finds that the 80/20 rule applies, which is to say that 80% of the money is made by 20% of the authors.

    Here’s the article, if you have a head for numbers:

    I only have a head for hats.

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