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Fact-checking the E-Revolution

Update: Sullivan recently responded that the errors were part of Konrath’s introduction, and were his mistakes, not hers. Konrath’s post was edited within 24 hours of my post, but looking at it now, it does appear that the mistakes I pointed out are Konrath’s, not Sullivan’s. My apologies to Sullivan for that.

Robin Sullivan had a guest post at J. A. Konrath’s blog recently, wherein she presented a list of successful self-published authors, asking, “Are you ready to be blown away?”  She listed a number of authors who sold anywhere from 2500 to 100,000 books in December, 2010, and adds, “MORE WRITERS THAN J.A. KONRATH ARE DOING WELL SELF-PUBLISHING, AND THEY DON’T HAVE PUBLISHING BACKGROUNDS … On this list, only five people had previous print novels. The rest did not.”

If you’re curious, those five people are:

Scott Nicholson, J. A. Konrath, Lee Goldberg, Stephen Leather, Aaron Patterson, Beth Orsoff, Blake Crouch

Okay, admittedly, I was an English major, but that seems like more than five to me.  You could argue for the addition of folks like  Selena Kitt, whose first book was published by StarDust Press.  That’s an e-publisher, which to me counts as publishing background, even if she didn’t have a print novel.

It’s frustrating.  Knowing Sullivan got that part wrong makes it difficult to trust that the rest is accurate.  The sales numbers quoted are self-reported by the authors in the Kindleboards, collected by Sullivan and another blogger.  One problem – and this isn’t Sullivan’s fault – is that there’s no outside source.  There is no Bookscan for e-book sales, so we just have to trust them.  And I do trust that some of these numbers are correct, but overall?  I’m … skeptical.

Konrath himself presents another list of authors selling more than 1000 e-books a month, “none of who had any traditional publishing background (no deals, no agents).”  Authors like Aaron Patterson–  Wait, didn’t we hear that name before?  He also lists William Meikle, who published with KHB Books. I can’t say for certain, but KHB looks like small press–are we counting that as publishing background?  Then there’s Bella Andre.  You can check out one of her early books from Simon and Schuster.

This post took about an hour to put together, and I didn’t check every single author on the list.  I’m not writing this post to bash e-publishing.  I want to learn more about how e-publishing is evolving, and how I might be able to take advantage of it as an author.  But I want facts, not cheerleading.  Reliable data, not hearsay cribbed from other blogs.  How am I supposed to trust these wonderful numbers if the people putting them forth aren’t fact-checking their own claims?

I’m not going to warn people away from e-publishing.  It’s growing, and while I’m personally happy with DAW, I do believe electronic self-publishing is becoming more of a viable option for some writers.  Neither of the lists above were entirely accurate, but they do include successful e-publishing authors.

Just be careful.  And don’t believe everything you read on the internet.


Two random notes from perusing the lists:

1. Many of the authors mentioned as selling all of those books in December had released one or more new titles in December.  I.e., in some cases this may reflect an initial sales spike, as opposed to long-term sales.  (For comparison, I sold well over 1000 copies of Red Hood’s Revenge in the first week it was out.)

2. A number of these authors were selling e-published books about how to succeed with e-publishing.  I’m not drawing any conclusions from this, but it was an interesting pattern.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 46 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jan. 17th, 2011 03:35 pm (UTC)
Jim, I only have anecdotal evidence, but I will say that since December, just after Christmas I suppose, my three series books have bopped up and down in the Amazon Kindle rankings, but there have been steady sales over the last few weeks. The print editions of those same books have been sinking like a stone.

The first two of that series have almost consistently come up with bigger ebook sales numbers on my royalty statements since publication. I don't have hard numbers on me, but I will say that I do note that just from the royalty statement numbers, I have sold more ebook copies than print copies of both. The third book just came out in December, so I don't have any data on that one yet.
Jan. 17th, 2011 04:19 pm (UTC)
Interesting. Do you mind if I ask whether your books get bookstore distribution? I think, at least for me, that's one of the biggest factors in why print outsells e-books so well.
(no subject) - christinenorris - Jan. 17th, 2011 04:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 17th, 2011 03:44 pm (UTC)
A note, as someone who reads e-books, all of the e-books I've bought are books that are also in print. I think a lot of this is related to advertising and how people find out about books. I usually find out about a book in one of three ways, a)I go to the bookstore, it looks good, I buy it. b)My sister or one of my friend's shoves it into my hands and says, "Hey Margot, read this" or c)Amazon says, "hey you've bought other books by this author, or a similar author don't you want to read them all?"

option a specifically precludes anything in an e-book only format, while b and c don't, it's never happened.
Jan. 17th, 2011 04:16 pm (UTC)
Distribution/publicity is a huge issue when it comes to self-publishing in general, including self-publishing electronically. With a major publisher, you've already got distribution channels. Now as I understand it, e-book publishers are working to improve distribution and discoverability, but that's still a hurdle to overcome. (Not saying it can't be overcome, and obviously some authors do so...)
Jan. 17th, 2011 03:55 pm (UTC)
Jim, this is one of those topics where writers (even hopeful writers) will be extremely interested, and your average "readers" . . . not so much.

But I have to tell you that I feel relief that you are "talking" about this. Almost no one is talking from "this side" of the issue. I'm a good friend of Dean Wesley Smith, and I think he is a highly intelligent person, but a few things he's been telling hopeful writers on his blog do make me nervous, and the folks on his side of the fence seem to be the only ones doing the talking.

If you want to have a completely silent post (no responses at all), ask your professional writer friends if they have concerns about how e-sales are being reported/listed on their royalty statements or if they've been able to figure those sales reports out or find some way to verify that those numbers are correct. You will meet with stone silence. NOBODY talks about that.
Jan. 17th, 2011 04:07 pm (UTC)
fwiw, once I have numbers, I plan to talk about it.

(My book came out from Tor this past October, so I won't have a royalty statement for a while. Right now, all I know is that both print and e-books are selling at a steady rate, with e-book percentages being noticeably higher than what I had previously heard from other authors.)
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 17th, 2011 04:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - beth_bernobich - Jan. 17th, 2011 05:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 17th, 2011 04:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 17th, 2011 04:06 pm (UTC)
If I ever decide to experiment with e-publishing, then I'd go with Lulu.com anyway. They have more reasonable rates.
Jan. 17th, 2011 04:13 pm (UTC)
What are the rates they give for e-book sales? When I did mine through Kindle/Nook, I basically get 70% of the cover price, which I thought was pretty darn good. (Would be even better if I sold more books, but that's a different post.)
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Jan. 18th, 2011 06:12 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Jan. 18th, 2011 06:13 am (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 17th, 2011 04:27 pm (UTC)
It seems to me that Konrath is becoming quite the publicist for many of these writers, and all they have to do is tell him what he wants to hear.
Jan. 17th, 2011 04:50 pm (UTC)
Whatever else you might say about him, Konrath has done an amazing job of positioning himself and getting his name out there.
(no subject) - burger_eater - Jan. 17th, 2011 06:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mtlawson - Jan. 18th, 2011 03:34 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 18th, 2011 01:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mtlawson - Jan. 18th, 2011 01:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 18th, 2011 06:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mtlawson - Jan. 18th, 2011 07:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 17th, 2011 05:40 pm (UTC)
I agree that we need hard data. Then we can judge. I won't be seeing a royalty statement for the new series until Jan of next year (sigh) so I'll quiz my editor on the stats for trade vs. electronic until that point. I'm very interested to see how those numbers differ since the e-book and the trade are exactly the same ($9.99).
Jan. 17th, 2011 05:49 pm (UTC)
I'll be curious to hear how it goes. And yeah, I hate waiting for royalty statements.

On a tangent, one of the nice things about e-books is that you generally don't have to worry about the publisher holding back a reserve against returns!
Jan. 17th, 2011 05:40 pm (UTC)
I think the reason she said five is to the best of my knowledge, JA Konrath and Blake Crouch are one and the same and I think that it's the same for one of the other names on that list of "five" there, but I forget who and I can't find the link right now.

In all other regards, I very much appreciate the time you take to talk about these things with a critical eye. It's very much appreciated.
Jan. 17th, 2011 05:47 pm (UTC)
I didn't know that, thank you. Though if that's the case, it feels a bit misleading to put them forth as separate data points.

ETA: Are you sure? Looking at http://www.blakecrouch.com/about.shtml and http://www.jakonrath.com/bio.htm if these are the same person, Konrath is doing a lot of work to keep them separate. From a little digging, it sounds like they're represented by different literary agents, too.

Edited at 2011-01-17 05:53 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - angela_n_hunt - Jan. 17th, 2011 07:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - jimhines - Jan. 17th, 2011 07:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - angela_n_hunt - Jan. 17th, 2011 08:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 17th, 2011 06:15 pm (UTC)
I write NF books on modern Witchcraft, and while I am starting to see ebook sales showing up on my reports, they are still miniscule. (Maybe most pagans can't afford ereaders? Or they're not marketed that way much...dunno.)
Jan. 17th, 2011 06:19 pm (UTC)
I'm afraid I'm clueless on that one. I've been trying to figure out what's going on with fiction, but haven't been studying the nonfiction side as much. Glad to know the sales are starting to increase, at least.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 17th, 2011 06:29 pm (UTC)
With Goldfish Dreams, it's that last piece I ran into -- needing multiple formats, which then need to be uploaded to multiple outlets... I know people are jumping through the hoops, and I suspect it gets easier with practice, but it's frustrating nonetheless. I would absolutely love to see some universal standards, along with guaranteed backwards compatability.
Jan. 17th, 2011 06:33 pm (UTC)
I am wondering if ebooks will contribute to more of a long tail rather than an up-front sort of thing, for those of us NY published.

My first two books came out in Dec/Jan of last year. I got my first statement (for about 2 months worth of sales?) in September. I will say that ebook sales were less than 500 apiece for each book, and my print sales were a LOT higher, to the point that I had a WTF moment. I'd been expecting to see a LOT more ebooks on the statement based on all the hubbub about epublishing. But again, this is romance, and we depend on a lot of impulse buys at grocery stores and Wal-Marts and such.

My next statement comes out in the next month or two and I'll be really curious to see what kind of long tail the ebook sales have, or if they were all clustered right around my initial sale (which means the next statement will be even worse).

So it'll be interesting to see if there's an uptick, or if it remains a teeny tiny portion of my sales.
Jan. 17th, 2011 06:42 pm (UTC)
My e-book sales have been about 3-5% of what I'm selling in print (mass market fantasy paperbacks), and from everything I hear, that's not at all unusual. I haven't broken things down to see how it looks over time vs. right after the release, though.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 17th, 2011 07:28 pm (UTC)
Grumble. LJ ate my first response.

Yours was one of the names I recognized on that list. I've read your blog and seen some of the work you've been doing, and nothing I've read from you gave me any reason to doubt any self-reported numbers. Scott Nicholson is another one -- I've known him for a decade, and have seen the work he's done to transition from commercially published author to successful e-published author.

December seems to be a very good month for e-published writers, with everyone getting gifted with e-readers and gift cards. And hopefully a new batch of e-readers will mean an ongoing increase in sales for you!
Jan. 17th, 2011 07:40 pm (UTC)
I'm getting two books, and hopefully several short stories, epublished this year. However I got picked up by two small presses. They are traditional publishers except that they publish the ebook first and then if there is enough interest the stories will go to print.

I'm still in the editing/revising stages, but so far it seems to be going ok.

There are advantages to small press and advantages to big press. I'm looking forward to my novels being out in print, but this is a start.

I'm very interested in seeing how the e-revolution will affect self publishing in the long term. And traditional publishing for that matter.
Jan. 17th, 2011 08:02 pm (UTC)
Congratulations, and good luck! I'll be interested to hear how it goes!
(no subject) - phoenixfirewolf - Jan. 17th, 2011 09:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 17th, 2011 09:16 pm (UTC)
Well, for one example where you can see the numbers without having to rely on "self-reporting"-

She's never had a traditional publishing deal.

It is interesting to watch the development of this stuff. I think that e-publishing your own work is still a lot like getting it published traditionally... if it is very good, you'll find your audience. If you don't have the writing chops yet, you won't go anywhere.
Jan. 17th, 2011 09:26 pm (UTC)
That's a fascinating snapshot of the December surge, too. She says she sold about 100,000 books in December ... and a *total* of about 150,000 books since April. Meaning 2/3 of her total sales for the past 8 months were in December.

I have no idea what to make of that, but it's interesting. Thanks!
(no subject) - nobu - Jan. 17th, 2011 09:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 18th, 2011 03:40 am (UTC)
I'm thinking about e-release for one of my older backlist that hasn't yet sold* to fill the hole in my publishing schedule this spring. I've got a new series launching at xmas, which will be on a six month release schedule, but that leaves me with an 18 month hole between books.

I'm interested in whether I can catch the sweet spot when folks will be looking for a new book from me but my main publisher won't have one out. It's also the first of what could be considered a three book set, so if it sells well enough I can drop two more backlist books in to follow it pretty easily.

It's currently under submission, but if the editor who's looking at it passes, I may pull it out of the submission queue because I really do want to experiment with epub and I've got a good sized heap of spec books to play with. If I do, I'll happily share data once I've got it.

*I was told by at least one editor that they'd have bought it if they hadn't just published something in a similar vein.
Jan. 18th, 2011 01:11 pm (UTC)
If you do end up e-publishing, I'd love to hear how it goes! From what I've heard, adding the other two should help. It seems like the more of the backlist you make available, the better they all do -- call it the e-snowball effect.
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