Looking Backwards

I’ve just read a list of tips from an author on how to help that author be successful. It boiled down to ‘buy the hardcover at a brick and mortar store the week of launch because only sales of physical books the week of launch contribute to NYT bestseller list. And ebooks don’t count as much for royalties, so please please buy paper books instead/as well’.

Which, well, okay. They know their own contract and royalty statements.

But I was bothered when, in the comments, a supporter said, “If an author doesn’t make good sales figures, they won’t be able to sell their next book to anyone!’.

That was true once, I’m sure. I’ve certainly read enough stories about authors needing to switch names and reinvent themselves in order to keep publishing.

That was true once.

I’m pretty sure these days any midlist author (with a solid readerbase) who made an effort could sell their books directly to readers if publishers decided to ditch them. It might not be as hands-off for the writer, and it might not be as many copies sold,  but I suspect they’d get a lot more money from each book,  including those elusive poorly-reported author-cheating ebooks.


I’ve been tracking the sales of 40 or so semi-randomly-selected novels in the Kindle store, via http://www.novelrank.com/ for more than a month now.

I’m hesitant to make too many declarations based on this casual study…

…but it is vividly clear to me that midlist authors published via the Big Houses in the Traditional Way aren’t selling as many ebooks as either the big names in fiction, or the big names in ebooks. So I can understand why they may not believe in ebooks. It’s actually really interesting to me, and my not-quite-a-conclusion is that there’s somewhat different audiences buying the indy ebooks and buying the trad. ebooks. (Although midlist authors generally have something I’ve observed as crucial to ebook success: an extensive backlist.) But the midlist books are selling solidly, all the same. You know. Midlist.

I do wonder how much price figures into it. I haven’t seen a shockingly-successful indy book at the $7-$10 price point yet– but a lot of the midlist backlist books are less than that, too. I’m sure buying a book for $3.99 is satisfying for many– for older readers (like me) it feels like old times, when that was the standard price of a paperback. And for younger readers, heck, it’s a blended coffee drink of your choice.

But the math is not hard. The royalty rates on Kindle-direct-published books are standard. There are observably ways and means for authors to earn income from writing without being Amanda Hocking. There are certainly ways for your favorite author to sell you books even if their publisher doesn’t renew a contract.


The only physical books I buy these days are for my son, or otherwise full of pictures. I’ve been known to say that I actually think an ebook is more valuable than a physical book. I can’t lose an ebook as easily as I can lose a paper book. I can’t damage an ebook as I can damage a paper book. Paper books are very nice for people who are organized, who are themselves gentle with their books, and only live with pets and children who never, ever damage books. And paper books are very nice as gorgeous, well-made luxury items. But comparing a cheaply-bound paperback, with a cover that will fade in the sun and paper that will crackle to pieces in 10 years (if the binding lasts that long) to a collection of electrons that I can read on my device of choice? Please. For me, the choice is clear.

So I only buy ebooks. I’m excited about the way bookstores are starting to try to get in on this action, with both Google Books and B&N, because I also like bookstores and for a long time it pained me to abuse them as I did. I’d like to buy from brick-and-mortar stores, but I’d like to buy ebooks from them. And I hope all the authors with contracts that allow them to be cheated of ebook sales get those sorted out in the future. I’m pretty sure the benefit to them will be enormous.

2 thoughts on “Looking Backwards

  1. Haven’t stopped by for a while, but wanted to comment. I ran a retail bookstore for almost ten years back in the ’80s-early ’90s. It was a lot different then, but one of the authors I met through the science fiction conventions I started going to as a result of my job was Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Her Business Rusch blogs (kriswrites.com/2011/05/11/the-business-rusch-writing-like-its-1999) have stirred up some stuff with a lot of other “mid-list” authors, because she’s been checking sales on Amazon and other platforms too. What she and other authors have found is that publishers are grossly under-reporting and paying royalties on eBook sales. There’s going to be a HUGE shake up soon, because she’s enlisted several of the professional groups, like RWA, SFWA, Novelists Inc., etc. This is a huge transition period and a lot of business practices will have to change. Isn’t it interesting? Take care and watch the fireworks over the next year or so!


  2. Your post reminds me of the publishing boom in the U.S. in the 19th century. It was like the Wild West of stealing, publishing, and writing all different kinds of texts: writing reviews, writing for magazines, writing short stories and serial novels. Poe basically threw everything he could at the wall and found a whole genre that stuck. All the other biggies charted new courses, too. Very exciting stuff!


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