Friday, January 07, 2011

Guest Post by Robin Sullivan

Some incorrect presumptions are just too good to die.

The "JA Konrath is selling a lot of ebooks because of his traditional publishing background" presumption has practically become an internet meme, being parroted by both my detractors and indie authors. This misconception makes it easy to dismiss me as an anomaly, which means people don't have to actually examine the issue and seek more data.

So I'm happy to provide that data.

These are DECEMBER sales figures for some indie authors. In other words, they account for only 31 days of sales.

Are you ready to be blown away?

Blake Crouch - 2500+
Nathan Lowell - 2500+
Beth Orsoff - 2500+
Sandra Edwards - 2500+
Vianka Van Bokkem - 2500+
Maria Hooley - 2500+
C.S. Marks - 2500+
Lee Goldberg - 2500+
Lexi Revellian - 4000+
Zoe Winters - 4000+
Aaron Patterson - 4000+
Bella Andre - 5000+
Imogen Rose - 5000+
Ellen Fisher - 5000+
Tina Folsom - 5000+
Terri Reid - 5000+
David Dalglish - 5000+
Scott Nicholson - 10,000+
J.A. Konrath 10,000+
Victorine Lieske - 10,000+
L.J. Sellers - 10,000+
Michael R. Sullivan - 10,000+
H.P. Mallory - 20,000+
Selena Kitt - 20,000+
Stephen Leather - 40,000+
Amanda Hocking - 100,000+

For a more detailed breakdown, visit Derek J. Canyon's blog This was compiled by him, and Robin Sullivan.

Now, this list is hardly comprehensive. There are many others who belong here, but neither me, Derek, or Robin are going to spend weeks tracking down every independent Kindle bestseller just to prove a point. I think the point has already been proven. To wit:


That's right. On this list, only six people had previous print deals with major publishers. The rest did not. (Originally this article said five, which was erroneous on my part.)

In the upcoming weeks, I'm going to feature several of these indie writers mentioned on this list, asking them to share their self-publishing journey with readers of this blog.

Hopefully it will kill the "only J.A. Konrath can do it" bullshit that continues to circulate.

Speaking of Robin Sullivan, she brings a unique perspective to this. First, she's not a writer; she's a publicist for her husband. Second, they price their ebooks higher than I suggest.

As many have mentioned, having a lot of sales is great. But if they're all 99 cent books, it's tough for a writer to earn a living.

Robin and Michael price quite a bit higher than that. Here's their story.

History of an Indie Published Nobody

by Robin Sullivan

Many say that Joe’s success is a direct result of his traditional publishing foundation and that new authors can’t hope to do the same. Since we don’t have a time machine so that Joe can remake his career, perhaps looking at someone who started with nothing, and is currently selling similarly, can be used as an example for what is possible.

First, who am I? My name is Robin Sullivan and I’m the wife and self-appointed publicist of my husband Michael J. Sullivan. I basically handle all the business aspects for Michael allowing him to focus on doing what he loves—writing. Yes I know, every author wants to have someone like me, Michael gets requests all the time…sorry…after 30 years you can’t pry us apart so you’ll just have to find your own “Robin.”

Anyway…Michael has released five of a six-book fantasy series. It is called The Riyria Revelations and they are all “self-published” and sold through ebooks (Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords for iPad, Sony, Kobo, etc.) and dead tree varieties using POD through CreateSpace. The release schedule looks like this: The Crown Conspiracy (Oct 2008), Avempartha (Apr 2009), Nyphron Rising (Oct 2009), The Emerald Storm (Apr 2010), Wintertide (Oct 2010) and Percepliquis is in editing.

Now why did I use quotes around self-published? If you look at the copyright pages, the publisher listed is Ridan Publishing. Ridan has 6 authors with 18 released books (2 more authors are signed, 4 books are under development), which classifies Ridan as a small press (sometimes referred to as an indie press). Ridan is…well us. I (along with interns and paid freelancers) do the editing, Michael creates the covers and does layout, I convert to e-book formats. Marketing and distribution are handled by myself.

So…technically the other 5 authors are published through a small press but Michael is self-published since he was not independently vetted. (Sleeping with the submissions editor, even though you are married to them, pretty much guarantees you’ll get signed).

One thing that I’ve done differently than Joe, and I know he’ll take issue with this, is I set the price of all of Ridan’s ebooks at $4.95 except for Wintertide which I priced at $6.95. (There are many reasons why Wintertide is $6.95 but I don’t want to derail the post). His print books sell between $12.95 and $14.95.

Now I’m not saying Michael is Joe (we all know there is only one of him) but Michael is producing Joe-like numbers for November and December. Now I’m talking only about Joe’s self-publishing numbers (not including traditional publishing sales, and his super-secret (I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you) AmazonEncore sales, prevented by NDA).

Since Joe is so generous with numbers I’ll lift up my…err…spreadsheet and do the same. Ebook profits are $3.46 to $4.97 for US and $1.73 and $2.43 for overseas. His print books make between $3.50 and $3.80. As I write this (12/29/2010) Michael has sold just under 10,000 books for December: 570 print books 9,250 kindles, 85 Nooks, and some unknown number from Smashwords (I’m too lazy to look them up right now). While the US/Overseas division is not known I’ll use a 90%/10% split (which has been typical) so his expected income for December will be…drum roll please while I check the calculations on the spreadsheet…


Wow, is that really right? Had to check the spreadsheet six times to make sure I had not done something stupid.

As for November, I did a lot of playing with price points (believe it or not when I tried $2.99 I actually lost sales – not income but actual number of books was lower). When all was said and done the Kindle Royalty report shows $17,575 and CreateSpace $1,485. That came from 7,860 books of which 450 were print.

So that’s $53,880 in 2 months.

Now for the $64,000 question…is November and December part of a trend? Or is it a blip? Ask me come June 2011 and I’ll let you know. My crystal ball is too foggy for me to proclaim that 2011 sales will be $323,280 (53,880 / 2 * 12). And I still have my day job (Michael writes full time…so yes I’ve been supporting him during the lean months but I think I won’t be able to hold that over his head much longer).

Part of the problem is there are too many other factors in play here, we just released book #5 which was highly anticipated and sold over 1,000 for each month (1036, 1112, 1642). In addition, I did a lot of strange promotional stuff in November (messing with price points and even taking book #2 “free” for a short while).

But now let’s look back in time to get a historical perspective. Prior to October 2009 Michael was selling about 50 – 60 books a month. When Book #3, Nyphron Rising came out in October the sales went as follows: 190, 205, 355, 445, 576. Then March 2010 sees the release of Book #4, The Emerald Storm and the sales were: 960, 1105, 1044, 925, 835, 930. Book #5, Wintertide was released and the sales have been 2420, 7860, 10000.

Now Joe gave me a word count for this post, and I want to stay within it, but I do want to circle back to one thing that was pretty instrumental in Michael’s success (or at least I think it was). I’ve always positioned him as traditionally published even though he was self published. I can’t really describe the techniques I used to do that in this post now (not enough space left) – but maybe Joe will have me back at some point and I can elaborate. (Joe sez: the comment section would be great for that, Robin.) But this is how you can tell that I was successful in doing that…

If you look on the Amazon print books you’ll see down at the bottom a section that is entitled Customers Also Bought Items by. This is a listing of 17 authors that are cross selling to his audience. (NOTE: This is basically a pooling that takes in account those 100 books you see in the customer also bought list). For Michael, you see standard industry names such as Sanderson, Rothfuss, Weeks, Scholes, etc). Nothing unusual there but…

If you go to THOSE authors books and look at their cross lists…you’ll find Michael in the #1 spot for the following: Ken Scholes, Peter V. Brett, N.K. Jemisin, Robert V. S. Redick, Rachel Neumeier, Celine Kiernan, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Jon Sprunk, James Barclay, Mark Chadbourn, Jill Williamson, James Enge, Rowena Cory Daniells and a few more. All respected authors from traditional publishers. In addition, you’ll find Michael on the list (one of the 17) with industry heavy weights such as: Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie, Tad Williams, Scott Lynch, and Guy Gavriel Kay. I have checked these numerous times (and saved the screen shots) and Michael is the ONLY indie on ANY of these lists. What does this mean? It means he sells very well to THEIR audience.

Another indication that I’ve been successful in aligning Michael with the other traditional fantasy authors is the following: Fantasy Book Critic (a well regarded review site for his genre) named Wintertide and Emerald Storm to the 25 best books of 2010 (every other book listed was…you guessed it from a traditionally published fantasy author). Also, Michael’s Emerald Storm was picked as one of 15 books in the Fantasy Category for the 2010 Goodreads Choice Awards (again no other indies). Lastly, Avempartha won the 2009 BookSpot Central Tournament of books where 64 novels of the previous year are pitted against one another in a March Madness competition voted on by the readers (guess how many other indies were there? Yep same as before…none).

So that’s my story about a little indie that could. I’m at 1308 of my 1500 words so I’ll wrap up. I just want to say Michael and Joe are not unique. There are hundreds of authors that are doing the same. Take a look at the Top 100 lists on Amazon and you’ll find a lot of indie authors there just like Michael, who started with no sales, no platform and are now selling thousands and thousands of books a month. I want to close by thanking Joe for allowing me to tell Michael’s story. I hope you found it both interesting and inspirational, and as always thanks Joe for being “you” and helping to light a torch that other indies can follow. Outside of the Dan Poynter (who I consider the father of self-publishing), you’ve done more than anyone I can think of to promote this publishing revolution.

Joe sez - This is an eye-opening post for many reasons, the first of which is Robin and Michael made $10k more than I did in December, even though I sold more books. It certainly makes me rethink my "$2.99 is the magic price point" stance.

But when I read this post, one thing jumps out at me: this is only the beginning.

Ebooks currently account for 10% of book sales. What happens when they're 40%? 60%? 85%?

What happens when, in a world economy, Amazon begins selling Kindles to China, India, Japan, Russia, and all the other countries?

There are perhaps 15 million Kindles now, and 70 million Kindle apps.

I foresee a day when there are billions of ereaders.

When that happens, I predict I'll be earning a wee bit more than I am now. And so will the other indies smart enough to jump on this bandwagon.


«Oldest   ‹Older   201 – 221 of 221
bowerbird said...

ok, pricing appears to be
"the stupid issue du jour"
in e-books these days...

some of you are new to it,
but i've been playing the
e-book game for decades,
and it's been marked by
a continual evolution of
"stupid issues du jour"...

for instance, the question
of whether readers would
embrace e-books was once
"the stupid issue du jour"...

and speculation about the
nature of the hardware
needed for e-books was
"the stupid issue du jour"...

then later the question of
whether publishers would
embrace e-books became
"the stupid issue du jour"...

and then the position that
only _beginning_ authors
benefit from e-books was
"the stupid issue du jour"...

and then the position that
only _established_ authors
benefit from e-books was
"the stupid issue du jour"...

and all along the long way,
people bellowing about how
they liked the look and feel
and the touch and smell of
paper-books and how they'd
never accept e-books was
"the stupid issue du jour"...

and now e-book pricing is
"the stupid issue du jour"...

all of these issues were
tremendously _heated_.
and if you weren't here
to witness it all yourself,
you'd be simply _amazed_
that they stirred so much
dialog, debate, and dissent.

because, in the long run,
each of these "issues" just
simply vanished into thin air.

bowerbird said...

as i was saying...

these issues simply vanished.

technology and its march
seem to inspire such issues.

back in the early 1980s,
i started word-processing.

for me, this was _magical_.

drafting stuff on paper was
a nightmare of cross-outs
and arrows and twisty type.
it involved countless rewrites,
and re-types, all of it painful.

but in a word-processor?
magic. my "sheet" of "paper"
was always clean and neat,
and writing became _easy_.

so i started telling people,
like fellow grad students,
professors, and secretaries,
about this writing miracle
called word-processing...

almost uniformly, at first,
they just pooh-poohed it.

i thought they didn't get it,
so i persisted, only to find
their resistance increased.
they _refused_ to hear it!

i was stunned. here i was,
telling them about _magic_,
and they insisted that they
liked writing the old way...

i knew this was just stupid,
but some of them persisted,
for a very long time. they all
came around _eventually_,
mind you, but it took a while.

it was the same with e-mail.
i saw the potential right away,
but it took others a long time,
even to just give it a little try.
they liked old-fashioned mail.

then, over the course of years,
they experimented and found
that it was extremely useful,
and eventually all of society
came to discover the utility...

in each of these cases, i knew
the answer was _inevitable_.

but the dialog was _heated_.

in the end, i should've known
just to avoid the whole thing.

so i'm gonna opt out of
these pricing discussions
from now on, or _try_ to.

because the answer is
inevitable, whether you
or anyone else, knows it
or not. it is _inevitable_.


Bev Morley said...

To "bowerbird"...

You really like the sound of your own voice don't you?

My understanding of the comments sections after blog posts is that it is an opportunity to pass opinion on the topic/content of the post itself (In this case, a very interesting post by Robin Sullivan). It's not supposed to be an opportunity for narcissistic wannabes to jump on their soap boxes and bleat.

Do you actually have anything constructive to say about Robins guest post or not?

Bev Morley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bowerbird said...

"bev" said:
> Do you actually have
> anything constructive to say
> about Robins guest post or not?

surely it can't be that difficult to
find something "constructive"
in what i have already posted...

but, since you asked so nicely...

i believe that robin's remark that
amazon's recommendation system
will link _similarly-priced_ books
was a rather astute observation...

now, on reflection, it's not really
surprising. it's essentially saying
"people who buy some books at
$5.99 also buy others at $5.99".

or, to put it slightly differently,
"people who buy $2.99 books
tend _only_ to buy $2.99 books".

thing is, it seems like there are
a whole lot more of the former.

either way, it tells us something
about _positioning_, which is
something that robin is wise to,
since she does the marketing...

if you're attempting to do such
"positioning", then i'd guess you
could learn something from that.

and i think many writers here
_are_ wondering how they can
"market" their work, which might
include doing that "positioning".

you want any "edge" you can get,
and this might be such an edge...

because it is difficult to convince
people your $6 pastrami sandwich
is better than the $3 pastrami
being offered by your competitor.

and not just a little bit better,
but fully _twice_as_good_.

and if you can do that convincing,
maybe you should do advertising,
not book-writing. i'm just sayin'.

but i'm not sure i'd agree that
"marketing" makes a difference,
not when a customer is able to
read a long sample of the book.

seems to me that the proof had
better be in the pudding itself,
rather than in any "positioning".

if the customers can take a bite,
a big bite, from both sandwiches,
they won't listen to "advertising",
or pay attention to "positioning".

anyway, "bev", i hope all that was
"constructive" enough for you...
oh, and hey, what did _you_ think
of robin's post. because i guess i
must've missed the "constructive"
part of your comment up above...


bowerbird said...

so "bev" deleted her comment.

i don't delete mine.

(any deletions you see by me are
posts where i corrected a typo, or
posts the system issued twice.)


bowerbird said...

oh, i guess her comment
is still there. it looks like
she deleted a duplicate too.


Bev Morley said...

Especially for "bowerbird"...

Firstly, I deleted a comment only because it was a duplicate.

More importantly...

I found Robins post to be absolutely inspirational. As someone who has recently given up their day job to finally pursue a lifelong ambition the alternative option of Kindle publishing is massively attractive to me.

One of the things I find most scary about the whole writing thing is the publishing side of things. The thought of being at the mercy of someone (agent or publisher) and their lengthy processes is quite daunting. I'd looked at Lulu as an option for self publishing but there are so many negative opinions around about "vanity publishing" and avoiding deals where you have to pay to be published.

In effect, Robins article (along with others Joe has written about publishing via Kindle) has vapourised my biggest fears about the transition from writer to Author. Knowing that I WILL be published has massively boosted my confidence and given me just the push I needed to take the next step, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Thank you Robin and Joe. :o)

bowerbird said...

dear "bev"-

i'm glad that robin inspired you,
vaporized your biggest fears,
and get your eternal gratitude.
onward and upward.

> I'd looked at Lulu as an option

lulu's prices are a bit too high...
at least last time i checked 'em.

might want to try createspace...
consider lightning source too...

but keep in mind that physical
product is an albatross today,
since the cost of reproduction
and distribution is just too high.
it's _great_ we can do one-offs,
with customers bearing the cost,
but it's still not the best way to
make money, especially at first.

> Knowing that I WILL
> be published has
> massively boosted
> my confidence

in time you'll take it for granted.

but it's nice that, at least now,
you appreciate the struggle that
always presented as the _first_
major obstacle for writers, one
that stopped many (if not most)
of them from going farther --
i.e., pleasing gatekeepers, for
the benefit of _being_heard._

in an age where production and
distribution was _so_ expensive,
it was understandable. but gee,
thank goodness we're past that.


Old Hindi Songs said...

Nice post...its interesting

keep posting..!

Andrew said...

Just an FYI about Kindle:

BigZ7337 said...

Very interesting post, I enjoyed reading it (and I also picked up book 1 of your series). My standpoint on the pricing of ebooks is that I will never ever pay as much for an ebook as the retail price of a paperback book. Simply because there is no physical cost or product with the production and purchase of an ebook. If the price is any higher, I'll either buy the book at borders, or I'll download a "free" copy of it through a torrent site. I love reading, and I love supporting the authors, but I don't want to be put through the ringer.

wannabuy said...

@JT"If Amazon had initially pegged their 70% royalty at 3.99 (or any other price), then that would be the benchmark considered "fair", because indies would have priced at that level in order to take advantage of the higher rate. "

100% true. But the 'cat is out of the bag.' I wonder if there woudl be more $0.99 though (if the minimum price was $2.99) or if it would have slowed (even a little) ereader adoption?

@JT"I rarely see bitching over 3 to 5 dollar pricing on ebooks."

True. There is a 'slowdown' above the 'benchmark price.' I don't complain until $6.49. To me, that seems a fair price for a MMPB equivalent.


Robin Sullivan said...

Today is my "catch-up" day for this blog and I've enjoyed reading all the comments.

I wanted to thank those that thanked me for posting. Truly it is my pleasure...I love sharing experiences so thanks again Joe for the opportunity to share mine.

Also I'm glad to see my "higher than bargin basement" pricing strategy is resonating with a few. I recently finished by $0.99 price test and the results was a loss of $9,000 a month. You can see the full results of my test here.

Granted this was for a book that was already positioned at $4.95. I'm thinking of doing another $0.99/$2.99 with another author in our stable to see if I can get their book "kick started". I'll of course post the results of that.

Robin | Write2Publish | Michael J. Sullivan's Writings

Cynthia said...

Thank you so much for this post. I knew some e-book authors and some e-publishers were doing extremely well, but not so many! I'd love tips on marketing. I started e-publishng my own books around 1998. I have my books up at and now am adding them to smashwords. The books I have published, mine and my family members have very good reviews, but they are old reviews. Please, everyone come and give me some marketing advice at my blog:

Mano said...

Awesome! I wanna see my name in the top 10 best seller kindle authors list. :) Anyways, the blog and the post are very interesting and inspiring. Thanks for this.

Anonymous said...


Tks very much for post:

I like it and hope that you continue posting.

Let me show other source that may be good for community.

Source: Office associate job description

Best rgs

Liam McCurry said...

Wow...we need to form a "Wives in charge of promoting author husbands!" would be a powerful group, right? Haven't read all the posts, and will..but enough to know my wife Margie and I are in the same relationship ... all comments re are welcome!

Thinkhappy said...

J.A., I should be on your list, I sold 60,000 copies of just one of my books in October:-)

Melissa Foter

Jennifer Silverwood said...

This was super encouraging! Thanks for posting this and having Ms. Sullivan as your guest spot! Was just what I needed to hear :)


art courses said...

It feels awesome to read such an informative and unique articles on your websites. Keep blogging!! Thank you.

«Oldest ‹Older   201 – 221 of 221   Newer› Newest»