Sunday, August 19, 2012

Independence

Joe sez: Before I begin a major rant about why I'm quitting the legacy publishing industry, I'm handing the blog over to my friend, Melinda DuChamp, who has something interesting to say. Here's Melinda...

Melinda: I've written more than fifty novels in my career, most of them romances, and have been published by just about every major publisher. While I'm not a bestselling author, I have several million books in print, and I've had multi-book deals where I've gotten six figure advances.

Fifty Shades of Alice in Wonderland was the first erotic book I've written. While I've done graphic love scenes many times, they were always there to provide characterization and further the plot. In Fifty Shades of Alice, the love scenes were the plot. To be honest, I didn't know if I could pull it off. But, like many of my peers who have watched the sales of EL James with awe and more than a little envy, I thought I'd give it a try.

Joe suggested this guest blog when I told him how much I've earned on this book, because he thinks his readers might benefit from the knowledge. I've benefited often from the things Joe has disclosed on this blog (Joe is the reason I began self-publishing) so who am I to say no?

On July 23rd, I self-pubbed Alice on Amazon KDP, and enrolled it in the Select program. After two days, I'd only sold two copies, one to me (to check to see if it downloaded okay) and one to some stranger. Then I made it free for five days, from the 25th to the 30th of July.

The only promotion I did was the interview on Joe's blog. NYT bestseller Ruth Cardello was also kind enough to include Alice in a contest for her fans. Joe also was sweet enough to mention it on the Facebook page "What to Read After Fifty Shades of Grey" because I'm not on Facebook yet (I know! I know! I need to get on Facebook. I'm trying to become more like Joe and Ruth and get into social media, but I'm a Luddite and I was on a deadline for another book.)

Other than that, I didn't do anything to promote Alice. I figured it would sink or swim on its own merit.

So how did it do?

During the free period, I gave away 22,740 copies in the US and 10,255 in the UK and hit the Top 10 free list in each. That surprised me, because I'd done free promotions before but had never given away that many.

Did that translate to sales?

Alice has sold 3560 copies in the UK, and 2540 in the US (plus 1275 loans in the Kindle Owner's Lending Library) priced at $2.99.

Assuming the loans are $2 each, Alice has made close to $15,000 in the last 20 days. That's more than many of my advances. How did this happen? Was it Joe's blog? Ruth's contest? The Kindle Select free program? Carl Graves's amazing cover art? Piggybacking on EL James? All the good reviews it has gotten? All or some of the above?

Alice peaked at #194 in the US, and #56 in the UK. It is currently #643 and #208. At its peak, it was earning over $1,000 a day. Things have slowed down, but it is still outselling all of my other novels on Amazon.

So, naturally, I did what any smart writer would do. I wrote a sequel.

Fifty Shades of Alice Through the Looking Glass is now available in the US and the UK for $2.99.

At the height of Alice's sales, I was fantasizing about money. What if I had twenty ebooks doing well instead of just one? Making $20,000 a day is almost impossible to comprehend. But is it really impossible?

I'm working on the third book in the Alice trilogy. When finished, I'll release it as a stand alone, and also package the trilogy as a set. So I'll have four ebooks (each individual title, and the combined collection.)  If I did this four more times with four more trilogies, I'd have twenty ebooks for sale. With twenty for sale, I could have one ebook always free on KDP Select. Twenty ebooks at five days per free promo is one hundred days of free promo. KDP Select resets every three months, and then you can use the free promo again.

Writing twenty ebooks might seem like a daunting task. But remember, five of those are box sets, and each ebook is only around 30,000 words.

So in order to have 20 erotica ebooks, and one title always free, I only need to write 450,000 words. That's less than five full length-novels. Writing 2500 words per day, that's only six months of writing.

Half a year to write twenty ebooks? It sounds crazy, but it is entirely possible, even though I really believe $20k a day is a fantasy that can never happen. It's just too big a number. And who knows when the mommy porn bubble will burst?

Anyhoo, thank you everyone who has read the first Alice, and I hope you give the sequel a try! Also, thanks to Joe for the blog, and to Ruth Cardello for her unprecedented kindness to a complete stranger. BTW, Ruth is self-published, and recently hit the NYT Bestseller List with Bedding the Billionaire. Pick it up, it's fantastic!

Joe sez: First of all, congrats to Melinda on her success. I know how she's had some tough knocks during her long, legacy publishing career, and it's nice to see her make money.

(Also, congrats to Ruth Cardello, who just turned down a seven figure offer to stay indie. I'm sure that decision didn't come lightly. It took a lot of guts, and a lot of smarts, and Ruth has my highest respect. If my blog readers haven't bought her ebooks yet, they should.)

While I don't agree with Melinda that the mommy porn bubble will burst (because ebooks aren't a bubble) I do think it is unrealistic to plan on any ebook earning $1000 a day for an extended period of time. But I have made many times that amount per day, as has Ruth and many others, so I think Melinda might be onto something.

If she wrote 20 ebooks (15 titles and 5 collections) and each one earns only $150 a day, that's a million dollars a year. That's just 75 ebook sales and loans a day per title, and I've hit that number many times and for extended periods.

What I haven't done is hit that number on an ebook that is only 30k words long. My bestselling ebooks are full length novels. Readers don't buy my novellas nearly as frequently. But after studying erotica on Amazon (reviews, rankings, prices) for a few hours, I'm shocked by how many of these titles ebooks are doing well while still being short.

If I switched to erotica, I could put out four ebooks in the same time it would take me to write one thriller novel. I could do one 90k word thriller novel, priced at $2.99, which takes two months to write. Or in that same two months, I could write three 30k word erotica novellas, priced at $2.99 each, and price the collection at $7.99.

It seems like a no brainer, doesn't it? Same time to write, but I could more than quadruple my profits by writing mommy porn.

Now, I'm not suggesting everyone chase the erotica trend and start writing smut, especially since it isn't easy. I say this as a man who wrote sex scenes in many of my books, but those don't come close to what Melinda did. Chasing trends doesn't usually work, because readers can tell when the writer's heart isn't in it.

But if you think you can write erotica, now seems to be the time to give it a shot. I've written in many different genres, and each time I try something new it's a learning experience. It's always worthwhile to experiment, even if it is just to learn your limitations.

Something else seems to be happening in this business that I find interesting. In the recent past, no legacy publisher would ever touch a self-published book, claiming it had already burned through its audience. But more and more indie authors are getting legacy offers. In the past, writers would spend months querying agents and publishers, hoping to get a book picked up. These days, agents and publishers are trolling the bestseller lists, looking for indie books to buy.

While it is tempting to take a seven figure deal a legacy publisher might offer, think long and hard about what your goals are before taking the money and running. A million bucks seems nice, but if it is for three books, and your agent gets 15%, you're only taking home $283k per title. Sure, that's a lot of money. But then that legacy publisher owns those books forever, while only giving you 14.9% royalties. Instead you could own those books, forever, making 70%.

If you  average selling 57 copies of an ebook, per day, you'll make $250k in six years. In a global market, that's entirely possible. And if you somehow managed to get on the bestseller lists as an indie, a hot title can make $50k a month.

Let's break it down another way. To make $250k on your own, you need to sell 125k ebooks at $2.99. To make $250k as a legacy pubbed author, you need to sell 500k ebooks at $6.99 (that's making 14.9% royalties, or 17.5% of the list price minus agent's commission.) Guess which is easier to do?

But Joe! Legacy publishers also print books!

Yes, they do. But print sales continue to fall each year, while ebook sales rise. Legacy publishers have begun "ebook only" publishing lines. As more bookstores close, fewer and fewer print books will sell, both the number of titles and number of copies per title. If Barnes & Noble goes under in the next 5 years, do you want your book held hostage by a legacy deal that will never earn out?

For that nice advance, you're giving up control over your title, your cover, and your price, forever. And it will be much more difficult to earn out that advance when you're making 1/4 of what you would self-publishing, especially when your ebook is priced too high.

Know your goals, know the risks, and act appropriately. I've been turning down foreign deals because I realize I'll lose money in the long run. It makes more sense for me to translate those titles myself.

So would I ever take a legacy deal? Let me put it this way. If a legacy publisher made me a giant offer, it would only be because I had a huge hit self-pubbing. There is no way in hell I'd ever sign over the rights of a hit book to a publisher. I've worked with three legacy publishers. I'd rather get my teeth drilled out than work with those folks again, because that would be less painful, even with a million dollar check.

Bullshit Joe! You'd take the money and run!

No, I wouldn't. In fact, if I haven't burned all of those potential bridges already, allow me to do so right now:

When in the Course of publishing events, it becomes necessary for writers to sever their ties with the industry that is supposed to have "nurtured" them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that we should declare the causes which impel those writers to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all writers should have an equal chance to find readers. That their successes or failures should be dependent upon their own actions and their own choices. That they should be paid fairly for their work. That they should have control over the works they produce. That they should have immediate and accurate access to their sales data. That they should be paid promptly. That they should not be restricted from reaching those who may enjoy their work. That whenever a publisher becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of Authors to abolish all connections with the offending parties.

The history of the legacy publishing industry is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over writers. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

They have given us take-it-or-leave-it, one-sided, unconscionable contracts.
They have failed to adequately market works they have acquired.
They have artificially inflated the price of ebooks.
They have refused to negotiate better ebook royalties for authors.
They have forced unnecessary editing changes on authors.
They have forced unnecessary title changes on authors.
They have forced crappy covers on authors.
They have refused to exploit rights they own.
They have refused to return rights they aren't properly exploiting.
They take far too long to bring acquired works to market.
They take far too long to pay writers advances and royalties.
Their royalty statements are opaque, out-of-date, and inaccurate.
They orphan authors.
They orphan books.
They refuse to treat authors as equals, let alone with a reasonable measure of fairness.
They make mistakes and take no responsibility for those mistakes.
For every hope they nurture, they unnecessarily neglect and destroy countless others.
They have made accessories of the authors' ostensible representative organization, the quisling Authors Guild, and are served, too, by the misleadingly named Association of Authors' Representatives.
They have failed to honor promises made.
They have failed to honor their own onerous contract terms.
They've failed the vast majority of authors, period.

This blog has documented nearly every stage of these Oppressions, and in many cases offered solutions to publishers, and has been answered with only silence and derision.

But that's okay. Because now authors have a choice.

I don't need legacy publishing, and I will never be taken advantage of again. I declare myself independent of the entire archaic, broken, corrupt system.

And I won't be the last to do so.