Last updated on September 23, 2011
I am seeing a lot of articles now about self-published success stories. Sometimes, they’re called the “99-cent Amazon millionaires.” Short explanation, for those who haven’t been keeping up is that these authors have moved away from the traditional author->agent->publisher->distributor->bookstore->reader method of publishing and have instead moved to a more streamlined author->distributor/bookseller->reader stream. So where do the millions come from?
In this case, Amazon, Barnes & Noble.com, and/or Smashwords serves as distributor and bookseller. The author acts as publisher, and the reader is still the lucky one with only one job to do. If you’re at any way at all following publishing, you will already know that the bulk of authors who write whatever kind of fiction is your greatest literary love do NOT live the life of Richard Castle. Most writers make anywhere from 4% to 35% per copy of a book sold.
That’s not to say that publishers are keeping the lion’s share of the profits. Honestly, the length of the stream having so many hands in the pie means that, unless the book is a runaway hit bestseller that came out of nowhere, most everybody gets a tiny crumb of a small pie.
So the self-publishing stream (author as publisher, one single entity as distributor and bookseller) shrinks a five-step process into a three-step one. Only two entities need receive a slice of the pie. Bigger slices all around. But perhaps with a smaller pie.
99.9% of Kindle self-pubs don’t see the sales numbers of a bestseller, or even a modestly respectable mid-lister (whose largest audience is reached through discount retailers like drugstores and discount department stores in between milk and nail polish remover). But more modest sales don’t translate into more modest profits. The almost-direct-to-reader stream of Kindle or Nook publishing means a larger piece of the pie for an author. Each sale nets the author somewhere from 35% to 70% of the purchase price.
Now to be sure, whether it’s 4% or 74%, any percent of nothing is still nothing. Something has to drive the sales of a book no matter where it comes from. The millions (or more likely for 99% of all books, the tens. Hundreds or thousands if you’re very, very lucky and very, very savvy) come from readers buying the book.
The hardest work an author has to do is to a.) craft a story that engages the reader and delivers a satisfying entertainment experience, and b.) reach the reader. Everything else…is just crumbs.