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.