Monday, December 29, 2014

Getting Rich by Writing

This post was first published here on Apr 25, 2012.

Let's face it. The prospect of being rich appeals to all of us. That's why millions of people buy lottery tickets and hunt for treasure and prospect for gold. It is the lure of hitting the jackpot, striking it rich that tantalizes us all.

It's not all that different for many writers. They read about million dollar book deals and want a piece of that action for themselves, but the truth of the matter is that those who are really getting rich in the publishing business are only a small percentage of writers. The rest of us are slogging away day by day, perhaps making a decent living, or perhaps just supplementing a partner's earnings, and we will never get rich.

Let me repeat that. Most of us will never get rich by writing.

However, in this era of e-publishing, there are many opportunities for writers to do much better than just making a decent living. Terry Odell already shared her recent success with putting one of her books in the Nook First program at Barnes & Noble here at The Blood Red Pencil, and other authors are going with the KDP Select program via Amazon.

Julie Ortolon is one of those authors. A romance writer with a number of best-selling books published, Julie had a nine year career with traditional publishers before sales of her books in paper started to drop. Not long after that, publishers started dropping her because of the sales record. Fast-forward a few years when Julie got the rights to those books back and published then as an independent author on Amazon.
In evaluating sales for 2011, Julie says that she may have sold more ebooks in 2011 than the total number  of paperbacks sold over the nine years those books were in print. That was a startling revelation.

She is excited about building a bigger readership than she ever had before. "That feels so good after traditional publishers had me convinced that my books weren't selling because readers didn't want what I write. Now I know that's not true. My print books weren't selling because of the realities of print runs, distribution, and placement in the brick and mortar stores. Or lack thereof on all three counts. It's kind of hard for readers to buy your books when they never see them."

It is important to keep in mind that part of the success of authors like Terry and Julie is due to taking a professional approach to indie publishing. This includes paying for professional editing, cover design, and sometimes even formatting. They are also writers who take the craft very seriously and their books are well-written. 

My experience with indie publishing has also brought some measure of success. In 2010, I put my first book up for Kindle, One Small Victory, and it sold a handful of copies a month for the rest of that year. In the spring of 2011, I participated in some promotional events with groups of authors, giving our books away for selected periods of time. In one week I had 30,000 downloads of my book and 1,100 sales. Since then, sales tend to fluctuate a lot. Some months I sell hundreds of books, and other months I'm lucky to sell a book a day, but it does keep selling.

I now have a number of other books and short stories published as e-books, and with the royalties from Amazon and my publishers, I have been making more money these past two years with my fiction than I did in previous years. While I am not getting rich, I am pleased that the increase of sales has been steady, and I anticipate that it will only get better.

Maryann Miller is a novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent release is Boxes For Beds, an historical mystery available as an e-book. Stalking Season is the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series. The first book, Open Season, is available as an e-book for all devices. To check out her editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. She believes in the value of a good walk.

17 comments :

  1. Maryann, I'm not sure I've followed the connection here as to the sudden bump in Julie's numbers. Is it that she was not allowed to do her own promotions by the publisher, or she didn't yet see the need back then? And what is the print run element—was she selling out her print run and they weren't printing more?

    I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not sure how adding brick-and-mortar distribution to the package can hurt. Or is it her ability to control pricing now, in e-book form, that makes the difference? Does she think she'd be as successful with self-publishing if she didn't already have the fan base traditional publishing allowed her? I'd appreciate anything more you can find out, as I'm sure this is a topic many of us are watching closely.

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  2. What happened to many mid-list authors 20 years ago or longer is that publishers cut the print runs from 100,000 copies and up to 50,000. Then when sales numbers came in for those authors, the bottom line was much lower than previous years, so the publisher decided that the author was no longer selling. This happened to a several good friends of mine whose careers almost tanked because of that. Plus, for mid-list authors, publishers did zero promoting.

    One factor in the recent success for Julie was a bit of luck in getting some buzz going for one of her books. That buzz stimulated sales of all of her books.

    Adding brick and mortar sales will not hurt any author. In fact, I still have books coming out in hardback and will for some time. Julie is focusing on e-books because her monthly royalty statements are in the high five figures.

    As to your last question. I do believe that authors like Julie who already had a significant fan base do have stronger sales than someone like me. It also helps that she has been on the NYTimes best-seller list. It also helps that she writes a very good book. I have seen other authors with books of less quality get a lot of hype and sell a lot, but I don't think they will sustain that if they keep turning out poorly written and poorly edited books.

    Later today I will see if Julie will stop by and make some comments.

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  3. Kathryn, there are all kinds of industry complications getting into brick & mortar stores having to do with how retailers buy books. Many won't buy direct from a publisher, and if your small indie isn't getting into distribution channels, you may as well just self-publish and keep a larger portion of the sales. In reality, some small indies are the kiss of death. I think print runs for untried authors is more along the lines of 5,000-10,000 these days, Maryann. I think the biggest boon to an author is steadily writing one book after another and getting at least one into the pipeline every year. A good book, of course. After that, online marketing. Build those Facebook and Twitter lists as fast as you can and use your blog to engage potential readers.

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  4. Who wants to edit that last comment? LOL. Did I mention I quit drinking coffee last week? :D

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  5. Interesting post. I am still trying to get myself sorted to get my detective series ebooks on Amazon. They've been published in print, some doing better than others, but I luckily kept the ebook rights. My big problem where I am is finding a professional cover artist. I hired someone who is taking forever.

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  6. It seems like everything that needs to be done falls on the author, even hiring out covers or formatting. It's a huge learning curve. On the other hand, the author gets the profits -- and doesn't have to wait a year to see those.

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  7. Ive said it on my blog several times: It's a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time. Looking at my Amazon sales over the past 8 months, I've seen a steady increase in sales. Where I was selling an average of 7 books a day last September, I'm now selling nearly 100. You have to provide a good product, and keep providing more of that good product. Also, the more widely it's distributed, the better your chances of hitting more readers.

    I was at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference and have shared my notes from some of the publishing panels I attended. I'll be recapping more over the next couple of weeks. They're on my blog (link in my sig line)

    Maryann is right about the demise of the mid-list author. Publishers used to give them several years and several books to build a readership, but now, it's pretty much a one-shot deal.

    (I have a cover artist who's reasonably priced and is quick. Plus he works until you're happy. I think we must have done 15 or 20 "possibles" for Saving Scott before we selected the final cover.)

    Terry
    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

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  8. Well, I finally figured out how to make a small fortune as a writer ... start with a large one.

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  9. LOL, Christopher. We can always count on you to lighten the conversation.

    Thanks for mentioning you cover artist, Terry. He does a great job. People can find a link to him on your website, right?

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  10. Helen, more is falling on the shoulders of the writer, but you are right about the rewards from a careful marketing plan. Dani hit one important part of that plan, and that is to consistently put out good books and get them out at least one a year. Wish I had more backlist books to put up.

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  11. Maryann, I'm not sure I have Dave's information on my website. I'm switching to a new site, and not everything is finished.

    His site is http://designingebookcovers.blogspot.com/

    Terry
    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

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  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  13. I would definitely love to be able to make a living doing something that I love so much, but even when I've distributed works for free, there's a certain 'high' (if you will) that comes from receiving positive feedback from people about the experiences that they had while reading a story I constructed. But yes, especially in this economy, getting a little change on the side would be quite nice!
    tlcurtis.us
    facebook.com/readtlc
    twitter.com/tl_curtis

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  14. I certainly haven't gotten rich, but my work is out there, gaining fans, and I hope helping writers, instead of molding in a drawer. It is sad when I see people think they will be able to pay their bills right away if they just put a book out. There are so many variables that make a book go viral. Genre matters. Romance and Mystery, and,YA fantasy/Romance have built in fan bases. Being able to market yourself matters. Then it is up to luck. I've also seen several brilliant writers denied entrance through the golden gates of traditional publishing because they've become skittish about publishing anything but a sure bet. The publishing waters are choppy right now, but I'm eager to see how they evolve.

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    Replies
    1. Which really just underscores the point that success can be a crapshoot in some ways, but also means perseverance.

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  15. As reality has set in over the years, I've lowered the bar from 'getting rich' to 'covering costs of postage' ... and the saddest part is that I still haven't been able to get over the bar. Good thing I like peanut butter.

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    Replies
    1. Sometimes we all eat a little peanut butter. Better than having to eat crow. LOL

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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