To begin with, you need to write. This seems axiomatic because it is. The only way to amass a pile of words into a book is to shovel some every single day. No days off. You have to form this habit; without it you are screwed. My best advice on how to form this habit is twofold: Get comfortable staring at a blank screen and not writing.
This is a skill. Secondly, learn to write rough. Stop caring about spelling and sentence fragments and plot holes and grammar. Get the story down. Listen to the dialog and try to keep up with your fingers. Get to the end of your manuscript and THEN worry about the quality. If you can master the art of powering through to the end of your story, you are on your way. When I finished my first novel, I was on a complete high. This feeling lasted a few days. I told him I had my entire life to promote my works.
I stuck to that principle for years, writing and publishing several novels or short stories a year. I wrote a variety of genres and with a slew of styles and voices. I also read a wide variety of works, but hardly ever in my genres. I read literary fiction and history, non-fiction and science. I try to read the newspaper every day. My father now agrees with this approach and sees the value of having a dozen titles available. This is going to sound strange, but you are MUCH better off with your 10th work exploding than your 1st work. Be patient. Now would be a good time to explain the advantages of self-publishing over traditional publishing.
When writers ask for advice, they are often asking how they should proceed with their completed manuscript. Bear with me. This is the biggest logical fallacy I see in the self vs. The idea seems to be that if you self-publish, somehow your work drops in quality. Know your gatekeepers. Appealing to readers is the endgame. They want story over prose, so concentrate on that aim for both, but concentrate on story. Agents and slush-pile readers are often the opposite, which is why they bemoan the absence of literary fiction hits and cringe at the sale of Twilight, Dan Brown, and 50 Shades.
You are writing for the reader, who is your ultimate gatekeeper. Publish Forever. Working at a bookstore was a dream job but also a sad job. I saw how books sat spine-out on a shelf for six months, were returned, went out of print. Your e-books will always be available.
You can keep writing and promote later. You are building your backlist. Think about this for a moment: The self-pubbing revolution is in its infancy. The people writing and publishing today have had no time to be discovered. Own your work. The chances of a book blowing up are slim whichever way you go. I would say the chances are minimally the same, and the odds may now be tilting in favor of self-published works.
If you blow up, do you want to own your rights or have someone else own them? Do you want to be making Traditional publishing will not increase those odds. You are the Publicist. Houses have too many authors to promote all of them. They choose a select handful based on the excitement around a debut manuscript rare or the perennial bestsellers more likely, but still rare. Know the industry.
Not everything. I understand algorithms and Amazon categories. I understand the importance of metadata. You want to be a writer for the art of it? Forget the industry. You want to earn a living? Study it. They advertise how many bestsellers and blockbusters they have. Stay tuned. Be a pro. The writers who take this seriously are the ones making money. They do all the things above, but they do something more. They approach this like a little more than a hobby.
Pros read up on grammar. Five years from now, these pros will have works available. They only need to sell — books a month to earn a supplemental income. Ten books a day across twenty titles. Network and be nice. Just being around other writers will inspire you to be a better writer. Join a writing group in person is better. Go to writing conferences. Go to writing camps. Take classes at your local university or community college. Join a forum or two. Participate in NaNoWriMo. And be nice to your fellow writer. The last thing we need to do is make it harder on each other.
You are a start-up. I just participated in SXSW Interactive in Austin, a place where everyone is looking to start up the next great business. The next great business is you. Invest in your book with editing and great cover art. There are two ways to think about these expenses, and both methods make the costs seem trivial. Your neighbor will buy a camera, parachute, gaming PC, scuba gear that costs more than your book. Will their hobby ever make them a penny? Yours will.
The other way to look at it is from a business perspective. You are creating a product that never rots, never rusts, never expires. It is distributed worldwide by the largest retailer in the mulitverse. You control the price. Shipping is free and immediate. You can market it forever. The stigma is gone. Self-publishing is the beginning.
For many, it will be the end. The moment the stigma disappeared among traditional publishers i. Think about it. Self-publishing used to mean the death of a book. Now, traditional publishing is the more likely death of a book.
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Follow along. The vast majority of books traditionally published never earn out their advance. They go out of print. They are now dead. This never happens to a self-published work. The top-down approach is one where you leave options open. The day self-published bestsellers were mined for traditional deals, everything changed.
Those with the most experience in this business often have the worst advice. Beware those who think they do. More obvious advantages. Traditional publishing pays Self-publishing pays monthly. Traditional publishing pays twice a year and after quite a bit of initial delay. If you own your material, you can give it away, a huge advantage in building readership. You are now their competition. But do it from a postion of power. Give your work a chance years and decades to be discovered.
Enjoy a trickle of earnings in the meantime how many hobbies are free to engage in and buy you a coffee now and then? Love them. But their contracts suck because there has never been a reason for them not to suck. That reason has sprouted in the past two years. We are winning small victories over non-compete clauses. Scalzi recently beat back a Random House imprint and made some change.
Bella Andre got a print-only deal from Harlequin. Real change is happening, which will alter this debate once again. Maybe enough to pay a bill every month. Maybe enough to get out of debt. Maybe enough to quit your job. Thousands of writers are doing this, and we are welcoming all comers with open arms.
Self Published Authors Testimonial – Jon Climie and “Rescue”
This is a published rough draft of my advice. Please comment with suggestions or advice. This is such fantastic advice. I just want to give you a big old bear hug. But more fundamental than that is the dream to get paid for doing what you love. Next month that job is going part-time because it no longer makes financial sense to go there 40 hours a week. I have two books out and because of my readers I get to stay home and write and pay the bills. How freaking crazy is that?! I have been banging away and am about 45, words into a novel. Honestly, in the last week I have majorly gone off the boil and am not sure what comes next a downside in a novel!
Have to say I found your comment inspiring. Having already published two non-fiction titles on Amazon and having them NOT set the world on fire or even really lit it! I must admit to feeling a little disillusioned with the whole self-publishing game. Namely chilling the fuck out, forgetting about the future and filling the blank page with words on a consistent basis. The future will take care of itself if I do my part for long enough. I know that logically, but its hard to remember that sometimes when my mind is as blank as a blank thing with a dash of blankness added in for good measure.
It is however good to know that some people do actually sell some decent amounts of books at some stage though! Thank you so much for this post! Thanks, Hugh! I do the occasional freebie on Amazon, but that pretty much covers it. Maybe you should set up a poll on your blog? A simple set of ranges with radio buttons to click would be easy to respond to and I think you would get a pretty good sample from the indie crowd. On any given month, I range from two hundred bucks to being able to cover the mortgage but I could easily project a simple average. Being in the mindset of wanting to become a published author myself, this entry is great.
I have read similar thoughts over the years. Hearing it once again helps drive it home. Then I continue by writing a mockup of the story, as if I would talk someone through the whole story. No Shakespeare or enthusiasm, just the hard facts of the story. I can turn a lot of my story upside down in one sitting without the hassle of a rewrite everytime. Now all I have to do is to actually write the damn thing and, well, add in all the test-writes. I also have a question regarding self-publishing. Anything else would make for a trite read, even if it narrows down the list of potential readers quite dramatically.
In addition, Norway, while generally being in the forefront of anything involving the use of gadgets, has yet to embrace e-books and e-readers. Of course, there are Kindle users such as myself, reading English stuff bought off Amazon, but Norwegian e-books are few and far between. Amazon does not shelve your ebook on a display for passers by to see once you have uploaded it for the Kindle. The world will not know your book exists until YOU tell shout it out from the mountaintop. If you want to have your work read, you need to find where the readers for your genre are and tell them about your book, individually if you have to.
Each and every reader you find is a wonderful thing. Not for the two dollar and something cents in royalties, but for their voice. You want them to enjoy the experience of reading your book, and this assumes you have done your very best to write an enjoyable, clean, and professional appearing book. To gain their voice you must tickle that nerve. Once you have, and it may not happen, as Hugh says, until the 10th book or more. On the eve of releasing my third book I can see this now, and I am not saying that I am there—though for a few precious first readers I am.
I made something they enjoyed. Their gift to me is their voice. They may take the time to write a favorable review. They may post about your book on their blog or facebook page, or to their reading group. They may tell some personal friends about your book, some may even put a copy in their friends hands for you—or lead them to a point of sale for your work.
That is what gets you read. This is the start of your network. Treat these readers well, be accessible to them. Ask them if they would like to beta or alpha read for your next book, but make sure you tell them to pull no punches. Spend a few minutes of your day looking for more of these readers.
Make one announcement for your book on any given forum that allows you to do so, follow their guidelines to the letter. If it is allowed, be sure to make working links in your announcement that take readers directly to a point of purchase for your book. Once you have made your announcement, introduce yourself—most all of these forums have a place to do this as well. Do not, under any circumstances, start plugging your work. You are there to engage with these people. Some will be readers, some will be other authors doing what you are doing. Solid advice.
I had sold about 70 titles total of all my other words 2 novella sized books and 4 short stories. Readers find books at the places they go to buy books. I found books at bookstores when I was younger, and then on Amazon myself. Then they tell the not-so-regular readers all the good stuff to go looking for. Thank you for this great advice.
One thing woke me up: your comment that you have only now to write, and you can promote later. And I have ideas for about a dozen more stories. But I have been so focused on marketing my little collection of books, that I have shoved my writing to the back burner. I blog, and comment and review, etc. So I know what I need to get back to.
Thanks for the lengthy post, Hugh. Great information here. The bit about mid-listers making small income is especially worthy of attention. I wonder if it would possible to take an opposite approach: writing a number of books in various genres which stand alone, but which each lay the groundwork for a new series?
Similar to the way in which a TV studio might order a block of pilot episodes. And then whichever book achieved the most success, the author would run with. If they read it and like it, the additional books in the series are going to get bought and I get full freight on those, and otherwise it raises my profile as a writer. Maybe you could write a whole bunch of novels and release them at once. Turn it into a big publicity thing.
Decide my next series! Lindsay Buroker says this is how she started. She wrote two books and the one that did better, she continued. You can read about it on her blog. This is one of the very exciting things about self-publishing—the ability to experiment with anything. I really appreciate your honesty and forthrightness. It must be exhilarating and sort of scary to be on the cutting edge of a mass-industry change. Just downloaded the Wool Omnibus last week; really enjoying it!
So how do I market myself if I want to be the center fielder for the Yankees? Go become a. Same with writing. Write a good book. Congrats, Hugh. You have tremendous talent and deserve all the attention you receive. Fabulous post, Hugh, with so much eye-opening information! Your enthusiasm, humility, and willingness to help fellow writers is just tremendous.
I would say the chances are minimally the same, and the odds may not be tilting in favor of self-published works. Please make sure to get some rest as you continue with your whirlwind WOOL tour. Your fans care about you. What a helpful post for new writers looking to find their way in this crazy new world of e-publishing. When I started writing my first book a year ago, I still had no idea about this revolution. I was all set to write my book, drum up a query letter, try to find an agent, and then pray they could sell it to a publisher. What a relief this was! This knowledge instantly lit a fire under my ss and I churned out the novel in 7 months.
I decided to learn as much about the KDP publication process as I could by releasing a short story into the world and was stunned when people actually started reading my book! That fire became a blaze and now I need to keep going in order to feed this wild new addiction.
Writing is a drug, and people like Hugh are the enablers. Thanks for the awesome trip! Great post. Plus, I want to get back to the mainland, which is still a couple of years away. The rest are things that I will look to implement shortly. Thanks for this great advice. I think your advice about treating writing as a business is something I hold fast to. Pay that money for a great cover and professional editing, it will make a big difference and bring professionalism to self-publishing.
It was ridiculous. And great idea offering free review copies on your website. Has anyone taken advantage in a bad way I mean? If it ever got to the point where it seemed out of hand, I would just remove the offer. Great advice! If anyone wants to try it out I would suggest starting sooner rather than later. Absolutely yes! Even before I had decided to take the leap into self publishing, I had been reading and studying and watching the treads online.
Meanwhile, I was furiously writing after a decade-long hiatus from fiction. After much research, I taught myself how to format, create a cover, upload, etc, and thank goodness I already had my part-time art business and an online social network in place. I never cared about being rich or famous; I just wanted my work to be appreciated by readers outside my friends and family.
And now I can have that and maybe a few nickels to rub together too! Thanks for an awesome article, Hugh. Timely, indeed. I called your advice a standard operating procedure for an updated world of publishing. It just made sense given all the changes now facing us. Thanks gain, and good luck with your tour. I love the fact that you recognize this as a start up, because I realized you need to think like a publisher, which is the business side of it.
You better believe a sequel is coming in April. With two more right behind it. Sometime in summer. I shake my head when I hear writers bemoan the business side of this. I agree that writing the next work is utmost importance, but I think some marketing helped my cause, people seemed to rally around the book on Facebook and that seemed to have gotten the ball rolling.
But yes, supplementing your income is very doable when you approach this professionally. Keep it up, man. Thanks so much for writing this. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with the rest of us. Readers are giving me their precious time and enjoying. Oh, what a feeling! Next one will come out late this year, and a third early next year. Thanks much. Hi Hugh, Great post, thanks. I was especially heartened by your comments about the marathon! My first work went live on smash words and my website two weeks ago and this was a timely reminder of my needing to be patient!
It was also nice to read yet another successful author speaking of the importance of writing, constantly. My New Years resolution, of writing every day, has so far been met and keeps me positive and moving forward through the less fun editing, formatting and assorted other pleasures of self-pubbing. Thanks again Mike. Thanks to the economy this is the sole source of my income. Holy crap, man!
- Das Heideprinzeßchen (German Edition).
- HELP! I’m a Self-Published Author;
- A New Zookeeper!
- Bunny Meets the Monster in the Rockpile (Bunny in the House series Book 10)?
- Stop asking permission. You don't need it. Stop waiting to be chosen. Choose yourself..
- Cómo vivir y comprender la eucaristía (Spanish Edition).
- Kerala - Blue Guide Chapter (from Blue Guide India).
After about I have smoke coming out of my ears. Reach around and give yourself a pat on the back. And big thanks for helping out those following along in your tracks. Really great advice, Hugh. One thought on the post—your comments about the royalties, etc. Would it be worthwhile to add in some thoughts as to the ability to sell books on your website, and what options there might be should Amazon decide to change their rates and so forth.
Huge props Hugh. It changes the meaning deg so I thought it was worth asking. Thanks for putting out some of the most honest reflections on self-pubbing that I have seen. Since I stumbled upon you, I have found your experience to be invaluably insightful. I also find articles like this one to be both encouraging and validating of my direction toward self-publishing. And I am a long time believer that writers, write. However, one issue that could probably use a new disruptive model, is discovery. Type Science Fiction in Amazon and there are 10, books to choose from.
How do I find the few I might like? Almost all the lists at Amazon and Goodreads all contain the same titles in pretty much the same order? Is the selection of good titles that few? Surely there must be a few gems out in the self-published masses. Is the only way to find them blind, random luck? Wait, I just thought of an idea. That would encourage people to purchase Amazon self-published books. It would encourage people to write reviews on Amazon. How can they lose? Pretty simple. But how to write with moderation? So much here to agree with. Fantastic advice. Thank you very much for sharing your experience.
I will share this in the group I created on Facebook for people writing their first book. Thank you so much for the post…and for being awesome: I bookmarked the interview with HuffPost and I listen to the interview you did with Self pub podcast quite a bit. Stalk much? I was very excited to hear about your success. You do deserve it. I know you said you wrote parts or is it Nano style, but I was wondering if you could give a little more detail.
Did you do an outline first, and if so, how long did that take before you jumped into writing it? How many beta readers did you have to help with finding story and structure issues? You did an exceptional job with this story for it to be written so quickly. Thank you for this post, and thanks to everyone else who put in their helpful advice. Great, bang on advice, as always.
Others hit the lottery with a single book. I absolutely agree that hitting it big with a large backlist is so much better. Every author should read this. Thanks for taking the time. Chimera Company is my new science fiction adventure told in the form of serialized novelettes published every week starting April 30, Each issue is 0.
Artwork by the inestimable Vincent Sammy. For those who like season collections, you can have one by the end of the season. And for those who like to listen to their sci-fi, the season 1 audiobook is in production. If you want to find out more about the universe of Chimera Company, including free prequel series to download, you can do so here. I was forcibly reminded of this about three weeks ago, a week in which two things happened of note in my journey through the world of SF publishing.
By which I mean science fiction, not San Francisco publishing. Which is a thing. Congratulations to the Mighty One and all those who have labored under his direction to deliver comic book thrills since Feb 26 th I was seven when my mum bought me prog one. I will be writing more about Chimera Company and its influence soon, but for now, thanks for all the thrills, AD.
I suggested in my last post that in the announcement of Nebula Award finalists we were seeing a small milestone in the evolution of short SF in the English language. Within hours of posting, the matter had blown up into an online spat, which cooled surprisingly quickly after about a week. Let it remain that way. I would say that when people first encountered the dispute, there is some accuracy in the idea that they learned of it in one of two distinct directions, depending on whether they were newer SFWA members and their friends, or more established ones and their supporters.
Having discovered the issue, people then made up their own minds regarding what they thought of the matter. For example, one of the most heated exchange of views was between a SFWA insider who is primarily self-published, and an outsider who is primarily published by one of the major publishers. There were notable calls to avoid the indie vs trad divide because to do so is poisonous to SFWA. This is admirable and very true, but of more interest to me personally and I suspect of greater long-term significance is the belated realization at least a few that in , it no longer makes sense to view English language SF publishing in terms of self-published authors and traditionally published authors.
Fox came to prominence a few years ago with the success of his self-published Ember War novels, and very highly regarded they are too, not least by myself. Myself, for example. I publish my own work, I am published by a variety of publishers, and I publish other authors, paying some of them enough to themselves qualify as SFWA members. Actually, scratch that. When I first had dealings with them, Podium only ever worked directly with authors; I believe this is largely still the case, although I messed things up for them a little with JR Handley. The day after Going Dark was announced as a finalist, the audio was available on popular site Audfans.
Self-Publishing Success Stories You Need to Hear About - PublishDrive
I think the most pertinent categorization is to label Podium as a successful publisher, and for that matter, Richard Fox as a successful author. In my last post, I wrote about how short SF at least in the Anglo-American markets was experiencing a change of direction as new readers and new authors enter the field. A major factor in this are successful novelists and their publishers seeing online sales of short science fiction as a means of selling their novels.
Take the Going Dark audio, once again. Novelists writing short fiction to promote their novels is not new, but I believe the extent and intensity with which this is happening is. That was inevitable given that the tendency of many readers to cloister themselves within discovery channels where they feel most comfortable, but which are limited in their outlook. Like I said last time, the list of Nebula Award finalists is but a minor milestone along a journey that has a long way to run, but I did see a little mixing of the waters, at least in the sense that two major streams in the world of largely American science fiction publishing became slightly more aware of each other.
To help me, I get copies of the finalists to read, which is great. But on what criteria am I going to judge them? And so, after I read the first few candidates, I decided to step back and marshal my unstructured thoughts: what are my criteria for greatness?
Science fiction and fantasy enjoys a plethora of awards. The Hugo, Dragon, and Arthur C Clarke are just a few more out of scores of awards, most of them tied to a convention or club. No doubt the motivation for eligibility posts includes the pride of summarizing the work published over the previous year. Beneath Ceaseless Skies is a respected online science fiction and fantasy short story magazine. Here they list their award-eligible stories and highlight a few as most likely contenders.
At some point, it was felt by a number of people that the exercise had morphed from a passive listing of titles to active campaigning. It is not on accusing or defending villains and victims. Comments concerning the perceived rights and wrong of the matter will be deleted. For a more detailed account by one of the participants and one that does have comments on the matter you could start here and follow some of the connections, should you choose, to a range of points of view:.
Sorry I had writing deadlines and thanks for those kind souls who asked when my posts were coming. Many of these authors have not followed the development path that was common a decade ago, and as a result they approach short fiction in a different way. The trend is continuing, and this week we are seeing a small milestone along the way with the announcement of a list of Nebula Award finalists that includes several of these commercially successful novelists turned short fiction writers.
For example, one of the Nebula Award finalists is my friend, Yudhanjaya Wijeratne. Is he an indie? Is he TradPub now? But when you consider the state of publishing as a whole, there are trends. And they fascinate me. Back in the 30s and 40s, short fiction periodicals were the powerhouse of science fiction, but over the decades, short prose science fiction has declined. When I started buying current science fiction periodicals in the early s, short SF was in a state of semi-retirement, largely forgotten by the general SF reading public. In fact, despite being a lifetime reader of science fiction, when I discovered in my 30s that short SF was still being written, I was astonished.
This trend is less pronounced than with novels, but a significant proportion of the most popular writers of short SF had never been published a decade ago. This week saw one of those rare occasions where the denizens of each version of science fiction glimpsed their alternative realities. The cause was the announcement of the finalists for the Nebula Awards. It carried on in almost complete isolation. And yet it is with short fiction that many of the new worlds of publishing have been colliding for years now. People are starting to notice. A good way to see these changes play out in real time is in the science fiction anthologies bestseller chart on Amazon.
This is an example of why I study the bestseller charts: I can see successes such as Star Force and use it as a benchmark to get a realistic idea of possible sales and income. As usual, there are collections of the steamy end of science fiction with covers that feature men with no shirts but a plethora of abs. When I started off working in publishing, I had a sideline formatting eBooks for other publishers, notably NewCon Press, a well-respected British small publisher that specialized in science fiction anthologies. Their An Odyssey in Words was a success last year, but of course people who pledged money in return for a copy of the book would not then go on to purchase additional copies from Amazon.
Some crowd-sourced anthologies sell at levels that would be scarcely believable a few years ago. A low score. Shared world anthologies: This is very popular at the moment: authors open up worlds built in their novels for others to play in. Deceased-author collections: There has a been a big trend of major publishers monetizing their backlist.
Anne McCaffrey features heavily. We also have Octavia E Butler, whose backlist of novels has sold very well in eBook over the past couple of years. Not-yet deceased single-author collections: The trend is up for these. Indie novel boxed set: Still very popular but not dominating the anthology charts as much as a few years ago. NewPub vs OldPub. This is also a significant change.
OldPub is fighting back, but largely through a mix of dead authors from the deep IP backlist, and superstar authors who are popular far outside the core science fiction audience authors such as Brandon Sanderson and GRRM who between them had five titles on this list.
Take those two classifications out and NewPub has twice as many chart positions as OldPub. Traditional small press:?? I used to make some of those books myself! When I started reading contemporary SF short fiction in the early s, these were the perennial mainstay of SF anthologies. I even used to see an example or two at my local WH Smith store.
I tested the cover art where it featured humans ignoring photos of the author by removing my glasses and seeing who I thought was featured prominently on the cover. This has obvious problems about the assumptions I make, but where I thought the cover artist was clearly intending to indicate a gender for the characters, the ratio of women to men was , and the ratio of white to not-white was almost Like a lot of professional novelists, I like to choose writing projects from time to time because they are fun, or to stretch my writing muscles, but I also have to put food on the table and that primarily comes from sales of my novels.
Not always for the better, but sometimes I think it is. The most common difference I see is that indie novelists turned short story writers often approach short fiction as a miniature commercial novel, rather than see it as a distinct writing mode with different emphasis and possibilities. I have mixed feelings about the results, and over time, this distinction is becoming less marked, but the question of whether the story is successful is best measured not by critics or reviewers but by the readers themselves.
And this is where it is interesting because people are buying short science fiction and consuming it as eBooks and audiobooks in ever-increasing numbers. They buy it because they enjoy it. Therefore the writers have succeeded. The money that feeds back to the authors is often in very healthy amounts, which is a signal for successful novelists to write more and better short stories. Despite the name, the membership is international.
Indeed, I decided to join myself this year. The SFWA membership requires a test of professional status, but the bar is set low for authors writing for a living. A few years ago, SFWA began opening its membership up to the newer parts of science fiction publishing, starting with self-publishers. The finalists for the Nebula Awards were announced earlier this week , and it was noticeable that there were indie authors in the short fiction categories. Sorry, Amy.
Nonetheless, they are first and foremost professional novelists who also write short fiction. By contrast, if you look at the finalists for the short fiction and novelette categories who have traveled a more traditional route, their professional focus is generally not as novelists. To put this another way, if you were to sort the Nebula Award finalists for the various prose fiction categories, ordering the entries by total book sales of all formats through Amazon.
Of course, the Nebula Awards are about acknowledging the best stories of the year rather than who sold the most which is its own reward. I think having a mixture of authors at different levels of sales success is a very healthy sign. The series seeks out new and up-and-coming writers and matches them up with established names. There are award winners and award-finalists here. The artwork is professional. So is the narration for the audiobook which is released March 5 th and would make a fine home for an Audible credit. Most of the authors have stories in several anthologies currently in the top, and have been mainstays of the anthology scene on Amazon for years.
So what? These are NewPub storytellers, and authors like these are responsible for bringing a new readership to short science fiction. I love it! Short SF fiction will rise again!!!! Author incomes have been in the news a lot recently. Look in one direction and you see a fresh influx of new full-time authors piling into a booming publishing industry in which pay rates for authors have dramatically increased over recent years. Look in another, and you see the grinding impoverishment of mid-list authors far below any prospect of ever achieving minimum wage levels.
In these articles on modern adult science fiction publishing not YA — that works differently , I share some insights on the UK and US because they are the markets I understand from the perspective of somebody who has feet in multiple camps being an SF author gives me license to extrude a multiplicity of limbs. I have not the slightest interest in persuading anyone that this way of writing is better than that, or that one publishing strategy is superior to another. I write them because science fiction publishing is such an exciting industry experiencing rapid change that sometimes I need to articulate what I think is going on.
Constant calibration collaboration is a feature of modern SelfPub and NewPub publishing. Last month, I spent the day with one of the major new talents in British science fiction with the intention primarily of meeting them rather more than comparing notes on publishing.
Yet within an hour or two, we were logging on to our Amazon publishing accounts and waving the graphs on our smartphones at each other to better discuss trends and strategies. Neither excessive optimism nor pessimism helps me here. My family relies upon me to earn a decent living from my book sales, and I need to know how realistic it is for me to continue to do so.
And so I test my working model. Constant calibration. Since my income is derived from SF book sales, and not training, personal appearances, or Patreon, then my benchmark is the number of people I think are earning at least the national median income from selling science fiction books into the US and UK. This works in a similar way to the ranking for individual titles, but sums up sales for a particular author. And since I will be looking at the science fiction author rank, Amazon will only combine the titles published under my name that have been categorized as science fiction.
It only considers sales from Amazon. Before we jump into some graphs, I will note another change I spotted in science fiction publishing over the past six months. For many years now, if you looked at the science fiction authors whose book sales have reached a level that they can quit the day job and become a full-time writer I emphasize again through sales rather than Patreon and other non-sales income you will see that traditionally published authors have been outnumbered by self-published ones. A while ago, I explained the failure of the terms self-publishing and traditional publishing to describe a major new form of publishing that I call NewPub.
In the past six months, of the authors quitting the day job to go full-time with whom I am personally acquainted, most are primarily NewPub. I find this an exciting moment that very few people are talking about. Right now, if you are becoming a full-time traditionally published science-fiction writer and, again, I emphasize you are doing so through your book sales and not Patreon et cetera it seems that you are less likely to be doing so through OldPub imprints such as Tor, Gollancz, Angry Robot, Harper Voyager, Transworld and the like; you will be doing so through the likes of Chris Kennedy Publishing or LMBPN.
The comparison is not even close. Nonetheless, if you want specific takeaways that we can learn about publishing today, you can skip to the next section and the graph from July Although I had several books published on Amazon between and the end of , my primary focus was publishing other authors through my Greyhart Press business. The author rank reflects my sales as Tim C. Taylor, and not the books from other authors that I published. That was when I turned my focus from Greyhart Press to publishing myself and the launch of the first two Human Legion novels within days of each other over Christmas I spent the first half of January as the fourth bestselling science-fiction author on Amazon.
PublishDrive’s Own Self-Publishing Success Story
That equated to an average of about 1, sales per day on Amazon. I then spent almost the entirety of the first six months in the top The answer, BTW: A. You can see another peak at June That was the release of Renegade Legion , the third novel in my series, which brought a big uptick in sales of the first two books. The next peak is from the release of Book4 and the Empire at War anthology. OK, you ge the picture… a new release comes out, and you can see the author rank rise. But by the time the fifth Human Legion book was released early in , my co-writing experiment had broken down completely, and the wheels had temporarily come off the Human Legion cart.
You can barely see the release in this chart. Fast forward to the end of and things looked dire indeed. I was earning nowhere near enough to pay my cost of living, and my efforts to create a new successful series Revenge Squad been a commercial disaster. With the earnings in still in my back pocket, I decided to call it a day. I also resolved to have a little fun by answering some of the many requests I get to write short fiction for anthologies. However, the author rank graph belies my expectations. So what does this tell us?
It shows time and again the huge benefits if you have a deep backlist and can reignite interest in your earlier books. I am proud to have written fantasy, young adult, romance, hard SF, and philosophical science fiction. But most of those examples I have now removed from publication, and if I write in those styles again, I would do so with a pen name. The graph here is very spiky. Amazon has been making dramatic changes in their sales reporting in recent months. The effect on me is to see my sales reported in fat chunks, where previously it had been a steady near real-time reporting.
Back in , I could tell you that Monday through Thursday, I would see a surge in sales as East Coast America bought my books at lunchtime whereas West Coast America surged more when people got home from work. So, what are we seeing here exactly? And how have I used this to calibrate my model of science fiction publishing?
Almost all of the sales you see reflected in this author ranking came from just ten titles, seven of which I self-published, and three were traditionally published. All right now. Over the day period, my self-published titles under my own name sold copies and had , Kindle Unlimited KU page reads. Now, KU causes no end of problems with the numbers.
Whenever I talk about sales, I mean a loose definition in which someone reads my book and I get paid for it. Bear in mind that this will significantly undercount both my number of readers and my eventual revenue. Anyway, add together conventional sales and KU reads, and I come to 92 sales per day that I can see in my sales reports. When I look back over several years of my own sales data, I see that Amazon. Of course, as we saw from the earlier graph, an authors ranking goes up and goes down, but those who successfully develop depth in their backlist do often see a smoothing of the rank. In fact I spent considerably more money on adverts last month than in the preceding seven years.
Two of the adverts. I tried out over 50 adverts with variations of text and images. The advert above with the spaceships outperformed this red one by 3 to 1. I came into this exercise with a working assumption that there were around science fiction authors earning at least the national median income for a full-time worker through book sales to the Anglo-American science fiction market, and that of this group, indie authors outnumbered their OldPub colleagues by about 4 or 5 to 1.
If anything, this exercise in calibration leads me to think that I may be too conservative in my estimates. At a rough guess, I would say an indie science fiction author who typically spends their time ranked — maybe little lower even than that — but has significant peaks during major new releases, is probably bringing in a six-figure gross income from Kindle sales, and in many cases a significant amount on top from audio sales. But you can also see author rank across all formats i. How does that change things, especially given that traditional OldPpub imprints place much greater emphasis on print sales?
It would be tempting to think that if we switch to the all-formats ranking, that the indies who we know excel at Kindle sales would be displaced by a cohort of frontlist OldPub authors of the caliber of John Scalzi, N. Jemisin and Alistair Reynolds. In fact, what we see is very interesting. If we look at the top , then we do see little of this displacement effect as the big publishers muscle in with their hardback and paperback sales.
This is especially true of any titles linked with a major motion picture or TV series. But this only goes so far. Top indies will typically see their ranking drop 10 to 15 percent when they switch from Kindle-only to all-formats author ranking. And for that I want to try to estimate how big the market is.
So this is not good news for me. Especially when combined with the claims that last year Amazon. There is an alternative explanation. Many of the top indie science fiction authors have extremely healthy audio book sales. Perhaps there are more science fiction paperback sales at Amazon.
In terms of revenue, I cut mine by putting almost an entire series on a deep temporary discount. I cut even more significantly by reinvesting most of the sales in advertising myself and JR Handley. But most are not. An SF novel of only 60, words is now commonplace as it has been at various times in the past, such as the s whereas mine tend to come in at around , The first Human Legion novel, for example, is a meaty tome. However, hold your horses! Which trend is stronger? According to my back of a beer mat calculations, roughly speaking they cancel each other out.
Kindle Science fiction is booming but not as much as romance. Thrillers and fantasy sell very well too. I could believe maybe of those over-a-thousand science fiction authors were grossing six figures, but get much higher than that and you start to contradict Jeff Bezos, and Jeff really does know the data. But we are doing a rough reality check here. I started with the assumption that maybe to people earn a full-time living solely from their science fiction book sales. I never said they earned that solely from Amazon book sales. But some authors find their author rankings fluctuate significantly over time, slipping back after the uplift of each new release.
Anecdotal evidence is that an increasing number of indie authors are spending serious money on advertising. I reinvested most of my income from my sale into advertising, after all. And yet there are others for whom all the advertising they ever needed to become million-selling authors is to write the next book. This is where I move into conjecture.
The data are noisy. We must make educated guesses. My next big project. Talk to different science-fiction author communities and they will give you wildly different views on the health of current SF publishing. One thing everyone agrees upon is that it is very difficult to sustain a career as a science fiction author where sales and royalties are enough in their own to earn you a decent living wage.
Even though it seems that more authors are earning a living writing adult SF than at any time in history, there is also more intense competition than ever before. And I reiterate: I have no interest in championing one group of authors over another, or in suggesting that any other author should follow the strategies and tactics that I have chosen for myself. So I know the distress is real. I do not seek to diminish it by pointing out statistics that suggest other authors are currently enjoying a boom. And there are a lot of these people earning a living.
With a handful of notable exceptions, commentators from this legacy side of science fiction are largely ignorant of and uninterested in indie SF, and never were much interested in tie-in novels and certain publishers who worked a different way, such as Black Library, and to an extent Baen Books. And why should they? None of these publications and societies have a remit to represent all of science fiction. Most full-time authors are content to sit on the outside. This is part of a series of posts about recent developments in English language science fiction publishing in the US and UK that have caught my eye.
Data Guy, with the support of Hugh Howey setting him up at authorearnings. His stats are by no means the only source I use, but with his methodology open to scrutiny, comment, and change or it was until recently , it has been one of the most trustworthy. Last night he gave his latest report into the state of science fiction and fantasy at the SFWA Nebula conference, which is a prominent group of science fiction and fantasy writers.
The various panels have been recorded and are viewable on YouTube. Obviously I am interested, because this is principally where I earn my living. The UK statistics are more patchy, but every time I look into British science fiction sales, it does seem to be following very similar trends to the US. I suspect Data Guy will post something official to authorearnings. Was Data Guy going to drop a bombshell and contradict my own assessments? Fortunately, we matched pretty well. Consequently, there are significantly more full-time professional science fiction authors than ever before although still only a small fraction of those writers who would like to earn enough to write SF full time.
But before I can comment on them, here is a cut-out and keep caveat regarding book classification. Some books get as many as five categories, and so their sales are split five-ways for the stats. So too will the fact that categorization is a means for publishers to put their titles in front of the audience they want to buy it today. That might mean a different audience from last month as publishers move their proposition in front of fresh eyes. Those caveats aside, here are a few of the standouts for me, and these came through specifically eBook sales:.
Military SF is overwhelmingly the most popular category of eBook sale. No surprise there, but the degree of its dominance was shocking. Military SF eBook sales are overwhelmingly dominated by indies, as was space opera. I think if we had seen a trend then 47 North would appear more dominant a few years ago. Anthology eBook are no longer predominantly traditionally published. When I started eBook publishing in , a lot of science fiction and fantasy authors were selling short story collections and multi-author anthologies. And the vast majority sold only a handful of copies.
That seems to have changed. These still sell, but have been overtaken by new anthologists and new publishing. Nonetheless, I feel I speak with some authority here. It is as Data Guy says: they are mostly indies. And overwhelmingly these are NewPub and SelfPub published.
Furthermore, going very roughly by the charts, about Add in huge-selling books in YA and mainstream categories that could be regarded as science fiction and fantasy, and the results would be completely different. For example, at its peak, the Hunger Games series was selling a comparable amount to the entirety of adult science fiction according to official stats. Tim C. Taylor is a British author of popular science fiction who quit the day job in For a free starter library of exclusive stories, which make great jumping off points into his multiple book series, and regular updates about the Human Legion Universe and more, join the Legionaries by following THIS LINK.
Join a mercenary company and give the galactic bad guys what they deserve in his latest novel, The Midnight Sun , published by Seventh Seal Press on April 27 th , and currently free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers. If pulp adventures facing cosmic gods and Cthulhu cultists is your thing, back the Kickstarter for a Lovecraftian pulp anthology in which Tim has a story, set in Birmingham, England in The campaign closes May 25th. On Monday nights, I write in the local village pub. In the dark days before I wrote full-time, starting the first evening of the working week on a high was a key part of my psychological strategy for surviving the next four days.
I was surprised to discover when I attended the excellent 20Books London conference back in February, that I was old all over again, but in a different way. I was made redundant from my old job the first day back after New Year When I got home, I looked through the bios of the bestselling science fiction authors on Amazon. The answer is clear: surprisingly recently. Now we move to the part of this article where I commit extreme conjecture. I would go so far as to say that most authors who write English language science fiction for a living today had never written a science fiction story when I went full time at the start of , let alone had one published.
Admittedly, I grabbed the lower section because I recognized them as all being predominantly self-published authors. In terms of debut novel, the full SF top is: , , , , , , , , Margaret Atwood stands out as the veteran in that list. Across the hall in the top bestselling fantasy authors, we have , , , , , , , , , , J.
Tolkien perhaps a lesson in why sometimes medians are more telling than means! Still lots of new faces, but more veterans than with the SF. My background is more conventional or was until a few years ago when it flipped from conventional to old-fashioned. I came up through creative writing courses, critique workshops, and submitting short stories to magazines. Although I gained enormously from this experience, I also learned a great deal of limitations: all those things I was informed I should not do, because… reasons.
I think my personal revelation about the freshness of contemporary SF writers helps to explain why I enjoy the latest crop of SF novels so much more than the books of a decade or two ago.
Some of those writers go on to connect with an audience that thinks they write great stories with great skill. Of these, some are rewarded with successful writing careers. There are no guarantees in SelfPub and NewPub science fiction; no arbiters to say that this author deserves to succeed over that author other than readers themselves. Well, perhaps it is up to a point.
These whippersnapper new authors never learned the old lessons about what not to write. And as a consequence, for a legion of new readers, science fiction literature has recently become a lot more relevant to them. Where will the publishing youngsters lead us in the coming years? Who can tell? It was given for a number of reasons, and in the days before Amazon KDP some were entirely valid. I remember an experienced agent and former acquisitions editor discussing this at a convention. Essentially, the argument was that trad publishers only had a limited number of publishing slots, and for any significant audience they could define, they would have already filled them before you could get your book published.
Join a mercenary company and give the galactic bad guys what they deserve in his latest novel, The Midnight Sun , published by Seventh Seal Press on April 27 th , The event was a great success for me personally, and I heard nothing but praise from the other writers there. Since a lot of busy people gave up a great deal of their time to make this possible, I thought the least I could do is write up my experiences, and maybe persuade someone who would get a great deal out of these conferences to attend a future event.