In the interest of “paying it forward” to all the honest and open independent authors who have gone on before me, I feel this post is an obligation, on my part. Had they not blazed the trail, returned and reported that everything is fine on the other side, I could never have made the decision to turn down a New York book deal to become an indie author. I’ve therefore decided recount the so-called “indie-coaster” ride that was my first month as a self-published author.
AT ANY PRICE released officially on December 9, 2013. My first month as a published author has been full of ups and downs—mostly ups! The book has been very well received. By the one-month anniversary of publication, the book had 100 reviews on Amazon, 66 of which were 5 star reviews.
A heartfelt thank you to all the wonderful readers who made this possible by reading and taking the time to post an honest review. I’m so truly grateful to you.
By now, you might be wondering about that New York deal and whether or not I am regretting turning that down.
I’ve been exposed to some heavy criticism over the past few weeks from the online author community, since posting “the blog post heard round the publishing world.” Okay, maybe it’s a slight exaggeration, but getting one hundred times the normal website hits and being championed by such indie author giants as Hugh Howey, The Passive Guy, Courtney Milan, the Indie Voice Authors and H.M. Ward is a big deal for a little fish like me.
Recently, on a major writing forum, aspiring authors who are pro-trad publishing accused me of lying about the auction and book deal. In their minds, there was no good reason for doing what I did. They called me a lot of other choice names, dug up personal info about me, insulted my writing, etc. Needless to say, it was a frustrating and discouraging experience.
Fortunately, I’ve also been subject to a great deal of kind encouragement and support by my fellow indie authors. And that helped. A lot.
To answer the above question, in spite of all of that: Do I regret turning down the deal? And all I can say is: Nope. Not one little bit.
Here’s a little bit of a recap of this first month before I get into nitty gritty about sales numbers and royalties.
The book soft-launched on Amazon on December 5, 2013. Exactly one week later, it hit its all-time highest ranking, #137 in the paid Kindle store. Unfortunately that high rank happened early in the morning while I, on Pacific Time, was still sleeping, so by the time I woke up, the best screen shot I could get was this one.
The #137 spot in paid Kindle store was the highest it went. It hasn’t made any of the bestseller lists (Except for Top 10 Bestselling New Adult and Top 5 Contemporary Romance). Not the New York Times or USA Today lists—not even close. After that heyday, and another week in the top 500, the book has mostly been camped between the 500s and the 1000s in rank, drifting back and forth from one side to the other as the tides of the Amazon algorithms allow.
The below figures will show that all of this is to say that you don’t NEED to make any kind of big list to make money as an indie author.
I did not have any readers before this. I did do advance promo for about a month before release (which I’ll briefly describe in the expenses section below) and there was a lot of footwork and time spent on my part to get the advance word out about the book. Fortunately, it’s a book that a lot of people got excited about.
So before I crunch the numbers of my first month of indie publishing, I’d like to share a word about the New York deals that I turned down.
Three of the editors who wanted the rights to AT ANY PRICE were from Big 5 publishing houses. The fourth was from a major romance publisher. Two of the houses (included on this list) entered into an auction while the other two opted out. The offers made were structured differently but were virtually identical in terms of overall monetary value (though the range of rights varied).
What were the offers? In a nutshell: A three book deal. Print distribution (Trade paperback). $40,000 advance per book. $120,000 in total.
That’s a lot of money. And you are now probably scratching your head and questioning my sanity again. It’s okay. I did it several times myself before the book released.
As per contract terms, the payout from trad publishing houses dictates that one half of the total advance be delivered to the author upon signing.
So I would have received 85% of $60,000 upon signing (15% goes to agent).
The remaining $60,000 would have been parted out into six equal payments distributed upon delivery of edited manuscript of each novel and again upon publication date of each novel. So, 85% of $10,000 distributed throughout 2014 and 2015, when the novels would have seen publication.
Assuming I got a fantastic cover, wonderful promotion and awesome distribution, I could have sold through that advance in a year or so, maybe more. And once I did, I would receive royalties of 7% on print books and 25% of the net on ebook (which, as we know, equals, in reality, approximately 12.5% of the gross on ebook).
The above would be my royalty rate for the life of the copyright (about 35 years). Given the most common terms for reverting rights, I probably would not have gotten those back sooner than 35 years.
Instead, I chose to keep my rights, because I figured out what they were worth.
So without further ado, here are the actual costs, sales numbers and royalties from the first month of publication for AT ANY PRICE.
Expenses for Publication of AT ANY PRICE
Cover Design $450
Bowkers ISBN Number x 2 $10
Formatting (in house slave labor) FREE
Various other publishing costs (print book template, proof copy, etc.) $52
*Blog Tour (Cover reveal and Book Blitz), Netgalley, Teaser images/art, Giveaways
Total expenses: $1,827.00
Sales and Royalties for AT ANY PRICE
From 12/5/13 (soft launch on Amazon) – 1/8/14 (1 month from official release date)
Breakdown of sales per week at all the Amazons, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, ARe, Apple (where the book went up 2 weeks late) and then total:
Total Sales: 9,129 books
Total Royalty: $18,415.79
Average Royalty per book: $2.02
Percentage royalty earned from full sales price: 68%
Total Profit after expenses ($18,415.79 – $1,827.00): $16,588.79
I was never guaranteed this result, of course. I would have been guaranteed the money from the publisher had I signed the contract. But in exchange, there were other things I couldn’t guarantee: control of my rights, control over my covers, marketing and placement, creative control, etc.
So there’s my first month as a published author. In my wildest dreams, I had not suspected it would go this well so fast. Even if it hadn’t, I would still feel it was worth it.
Thank you to all those who sent me kind words of moral support. Thanks to all the readers who have sent me wonderful messages about how much you loved the book. I’m so glad to be able to return the favor and publish the follow-up, AT ANY TURN, much sooner than I would have been able to otherwise.
Here’s wishing everyone a wonderful, prosperous and fulfilling 2014.
Afternote: Yesterday, 1/11/14, I sold my 10,000th book!
Brenna, congratulations on your wonderful book. May this be the first month of a lengthy and jubilant publishing career. Thanks so much for being so honest and so willing to share with all of us.
Carey, you’re adorable. Thanks for all of your support. xoxo
The willingness to share data among indie authors is amazing. I’m a big believer that transparency will help all authors.
If Brenna doesn’t mind me posting these links, these 563 authors have publicly share their sales data with the Kboards community. I have no doubt that the list will continue to grow and be useful to other writers out there.
Are you an author? Add yourself to our KB AUTHORS PAGE!
Thank you for sharing!
I’m so glad your first month went so well! It’s a great high-concept book, and you are a great example of how to launch!
Deanna! Thanks for commenting. In fact one of the indies whom I paid close attention to was YOU and your launch of FOREVER INNOCENT. I kept a close eye on that NA cross promo thread and studied your launch. Thank you because it was very educational!!
Many congratulations on your success as an indie author! Now I must pick your brain! 😛
1. Did you query this book prior to publishing it?
2. If yes to 1, did you get the offers from the Big 5 as a result of querying? or did the Big 5 come to you first?
3. Did you do marketing before the book was published or after? (like doing preorders, sending ARCs out to reviewers, or doing blog tours before the book was published?)
4. What were some ways that you built up your reader list for so many people to get your book? Or was your readerlist a result of all the promos you did?
Good luck in your future endeavors! 🙂
1.If you go and read the previous post, you’ll see that I had an agent at the time this went on submission. I’d queried her on my previous manuscript, which was a historical romance.
2. See the same post referenced above. 🙂 The offers came first, I published after that fact.
3. I did some marketing in advance, most of it was querying book blogs and Goodreads members and handing out LOTS and LOTS of ARCs! I can’t emphasize enough how much doing that raises awareness of a book that’s about to release.
4.I had no subscribers (do you mean email mailing list?). I included links in the backmatter of my book and pretty much all of my social media and I have added quite a few readers to the mailing list now.
Thanks for the well wishes! Good luck to you on your journey.
Thanks so much for your reply. It sounds like doing ARCs is key.
Despite having turned down the offers, are you still with your agent? If so, why have you decided to stay with an agent even though you’re self-publishing?
How long in advance before the book gets published do you suggest giving out ARCs? I always wondered why self-published authors did this It just seems like if the book is already 100% done and polished, why wait to release it officially?
I’m going to go back and read some of your previous posts. Thanks so much for your insight!
I am no longer with an agent.
I only had a lead time of about a month for the ARCs, some people give a longer lead time 2-3 months. Trad houses actually give longer, some up to 6 months but most indies can’t afford to wait that long to sit on their books before releasing.
What’s an ARC, and how did you choose who to distribute them to?
Lauren, sorry I didn’t reply to this sooner! I missed your question. ARC = Advanced Review Copy. It’s a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Congratulations, Brenna. Fantastic inaugural month! Here’s to many more months of continued growth.
Thank you, Grace! Always a pleasure to hear from a fellow Diva! Thanks for all your help, too. <3
So happy this month has gone so well for you. Many congratulations on a great book, and even better “success” story.
xoxo Love you lots, Louisa. * hugs *
Wait. You’re saying you can make good money as an indie? Huh.
Congrats on the numbers. Hope month number two goes nearly as well. Pretty safe bet that over the course of the year, with some additional promo, you best that $40K a few times over.
Thanks Russell! I’m honored that you stopped by to read the post. 🙂 I’d love to have a chat with you sometime about ideas for that “some additional promo.” 🙂
Aww… Russel, you are good to keep us all in mind! xo Pamela Aares
Congrats! Life as an indie is good!
Thanks, Gennita!! It’s so true!
Many congrats to you, Brenna!
Thank you so much, Maia.
Brenna! That’s so freaking fantastic! I’m so happy for you! 🙂
Go you for being brave and knowing your worth!
YAY, thanks for coming by and commenting, Diva girl!! xoxo I’ve learned a ton from you. I hope to be as successful as you someday! You rock!
You go girl!! At this rate you’ll beat that first year’s advance in just a few months. I’m actually reading At Any Price right now. You deserve every ounce of success that you get!
Where did you book your blog tour, if you don’t mind my asking? And do you think it was worth the money?
Oh Corinna! Thanks so much for your kind words. I’m so glad you like the book so far. 🙂
I used Xpresso blog tours but only for a cover reveal/5 day book blitz. She was too booked up for a blog tour! She’s awesome though. Check her out if you write contemporary or NA especially. Other than that I queried a lot of blogs for reviews and was invited to guest post at a few places. Also Netgalley helped a lot with exposure.
Good luck to you!!!
Hey, Brenna! I found your book via the cover reveal, so that worked! I was frustrated that you didn’t have your mailing list on your website yet when you did it, though. So there’s a data point for anyone taking notes on your strategy: get that mailing list going even for the first book, if you’re doing any advance PR for it. I was intrigued by your blurb, but I wasn’t sure I’d remember your name, title, or the release date — or any useful combination of those — and I would have signed up for a reminder right away, since I couldn’t preorder.
It’s never too late, tho. I published in August 2011, Sept. 2011, and Dec. 2011–and it wasn’t til I hired a virtual assistant via Romance Novel Promotions in Zmarch 2012 that I had a web site, newsletter, swag, FB author page, or anything but a profile wall on FB, a Twitter account, and a blog. And I had already had three months making five figures a month by then.
But they will help! I just focused on writing and didn’t want to stop to do that stuff til the magical third book was done. And then life intruded and I didn’t have time or energy to do it.
Kally the more I hear from you the more I learn. You did so many things the right way. That’s awesome. 🙂 You’re one smart cookie.
hi Susanna, glad to hear the Cover Reveal tour was worth it 🙂
You have a good point. I was still working on the newsletter at that point and think I got it up about a week after the CR.
I have it up now and almost 600 subscribers 🙂 I’ll be sending out an excerpt to book 2 soon.
But yes, you make a wonderful point that the newsletter is a very useful tool for communication between the author and his/her readers. Thanks so much for pointing that out.
Hope you like the book! All best.
From one self-published author to another, I’d like to wish you congratulations. I published my first novel, “The Leaving of Things,” last summer. It’s seen nothing like your sales trajectory. There was no bidding war, not even an agent. I spent two years querying only to hear that the editor or agent enjoyed the manuscript but weren’t sure the book would sell. Granted, my book is multi-cultural, coming-of-age literary fiction, so not the easiest sell. Anyway, I went my own way, partly for a lot of the reasons you state in your post (creative freedom, retaining rights, control over marketing, etc.), but also because I had a hunch that if I put out the best possible book I could, it could and would find readers.
I think I spent about what you did on cover design, editing, formatting, etc. Six months later, I can report that my sales have been healthy, though not gangbusters. When I ran my BookBub promotion, the book jumped into top 5 of its categories for a couple of days and that at was wonderful. It’s slowed way down since then, but it still registers sales daily. Most importantly, though, I’m glad I didn’t wait around for an agent or an editor– because the feedback and reviews from readers proved what I’d always felt: That there was a wide and enthusiastic readership out there for my book, trad publisher or not.
Your success this past month is truly stunning, and your decision to go the independent route is an excellent example of what it is to trust your gut, take that leap and see it pay off in spades. I’m proud of you! Wishing you continued success!
Thanks for the kind words and wishes, Jay and thanks for sharing your experiences as well. I wish you continued success on your publishing journey!!
Brenna, the traditionalists needs to see more of these kind of posts, because many of them will continue to deny the viable path that self publishing has become. It’s not the right path for everyone but it was definitely the right path for you.
Keep up the good work and get moving on the next book!
I agree that my path isn’t the right path for everyone. Every author needs to examine their goals, their individual talents and their willingness to carry out certain tasks. It’s definitely not for everyone. It’s not even something I’d purport to say X is better than Y. It was just the best decision for me AT THIS TIME. As I’ve said before, I may eventually decide to traditionally publish if the terms are right and the project is right. You never know! There IS NO ONE RIGHT ANSWER. BUT we have choices now that we never had before. That’s the empowering thing to know. Thanks for your comment.
Your post was so encouraging! I was wondering, was the editing cost for proofreading or specifically book editing? If book editing, can I ask who the book editor was? Again, thanks for posting your publishing experience!
Thanks for stopping by, Lisa. My editor’s name is Martha Trachtenberg. She was referred to me by my friends Tessa Dare and Courtney Milan and she’s excellent.
Thanks Brenna! Sorry on the delay in replying. I so appreciate it – and you are so inspiring too!
I really love what you did there! I myself had blown my mind last year by my hugely successful self published novel in Germany. Never expected it. But even if the numbers wouldn’t be amazing like yours: It feels so good to do it on your own. And on your own terms. Keep up the success!
hi Michael, thanks for commenting. My book is selling well in your country and it’s not even translated! I’m so impressed that Germans like to read English books. It does feel good to do things on your own. I wish you continued success on your publishing path! I think exciting things are in store for Germany as they continue to embrace ebooks!
I’ve loved following along with your story ever since I learned about it over in the Writer’s Cafe! Thanks for your willingness to share the details—that’s what aspiring authors like me need to make our own decisions in the future.
Hey Elliot. Yes this was all about paying it forward. Had it not been for people like Hugh, Courtney and Holly and many other indie authors sharing their know-how, their stats and their acumen, I couldn’t have done this! They are the true pioneers. I’m just following in their footsteps! There is much to learn and I’m glad I could contribute even a tiny bit to the general knowledge.
YES!!! I just knew you made the right decision. And just wait till your sequel comes out. It will blow your mind. 😉
Marie! <3 You're such a sweetheart! xoxo Thanks for your sweet note.
Thank you for the transparency. I’m at Digital Book World 2014. I hope this post and the phenomenon of successful self-publishing is part of the conversation.
It’s probably worth adding the disclaimer, “Results not typical. Your results may vary.”
It’s also important to note that you invested in quality: editing, cover design, etc.
Did you happen to track your time spent on writing, revising, editing, and all the rest of the actual work on the book? That part always interests me as much or more than the financial breakdown.
In any case, I hope this success helps you get to the point where you can CHOOSE your labors of love from now on.
Be well, and use your powers for GOOD!
Heather, I’m envious! Enjoy your stay at DBW! How cool. I hope you learn lots and return and report 🙂 And yes, my results aren’t typical. They really blew my mind. I wasn’t expecting this success so quickly. Self publishing is a long haul. Success builds upon itself.
I didn’t specifically track the time. I wrote the fast draft in 12 days (of doing little else besides sleeping, eating, working the day job and writing… my kids got ignored as did my husband). It took another 2 months to work through 2 follow-up drafts. Then a revision after that before submission. Then the copy edits. In the meantime I fast-drafted 1.5 of the follow up novels (while on submission). All told? Probably about 3-4 months worth of work while working a day job (which I still am).
Thank you for sharing your results. What one thing would you say was the best for promoting your book prior to sale? What kinds of editors did you use, I’m assuming there was more than one? What one piece of advice would you give to other authors out there?
What one thing is best for promotion? ARCs. Give them out everywhere. To anyone who will take them. I gave out hundreds. Editors: Developmental and Copy. One piece of advice: BELIEVE in your work and don’t sell yourself short.
Hope that helps!
SQUEEEEE!!!! Brenna, I can’t tell you how HAPPY for you I am. And sooo proud! I just KNEW At Any Price would be a hit. To many many more like this for this and all your other books. 🙂
Bev, you’ve been an inspiration for me. A VERY successful indie flying under the radar. You are AMAZING!!! Thank you so much for all your support and encouragement and for loving the book so much. xoxo
Your own terms are the best terms. Congratulations and thanks for a very helpful and specific post.
Thank you, Lindsay! I appreciate it.
I’ve told my trad publisher over and over, it’s not about the money, it’s about maintaining artistic control to ensure the highest possible quality of the product. In short, it’s about a happy author, feeling respected and in control of the product bearing her name. WELL DONE, and many happy returns of the day.
Thank you so much for your good wishes, Grace. I’m so glad you are a happy author now! I’m a fan of yours. Love your writing. 🙂 (I used to dabble in historical romance myself and have a HR mss collecting dust at the moment!)
Does that mean you parted with them??
Congratulations, Brenna. I’m so happy for you and commend you for taking control of your writing career. May you continue to prosper.
Ana, thank you so much for the good wishes. They are very much appreciated!
First, missed you on Saturday! Thanks for writing this post. You make it easier for authors offered far less to turn that down as well. Many authors are receiving $2500 or less from publishers with the same life of the copyright terms, not to mention non-compete clauses, options, and the like.
Whether the author can do as well as the publisher is a gamble. But I firmly believe writers/authors should bet on themselves unless the numbers/rights tilt more heavily in the author’s favor.
Sylvie! Thanks for stopping by and sorry I missed you. Still a little bit under the weather with the winter crud but getting better 🙂 See you soon!
And you make a good point about the gamble but … either way it’s a gamble…it just depends on whose hands you want to put the dice/cards in…
Congrats on your success and thanks for sharing your journey with us! I admire your courage. Many more sales ahead in 2014 and beyond!!
Miranda! Thanks so much for stopping by the blog and for the good wishes. Great to see you! I’m glad you liked the post.
Thank you for sharing your results. The more data out there for potential writers to look at the better. This blog post might be as influential to the next “Brenna” out there as the Courtney Milan’s “net present value” post is to you.
Thanks for paying it forward.
I’m glad you found the post helpful, Billy. I’d be thrilled to have helped other indie authors who find success in their path. Or even trad/hybrid authors, too! We’re all in this together.
Congrats!!!!! That’s awesome!!!
For the life of me I’ll never understand people who get so invested in other people’s decisions (that don’t impact them in any way whatsoever) that they resort to name calling and belittling folks who disagree with them. How does it subtract from anyone else’s life/work/art that you decided to go the indie route? I checked, and there are enough words in the world that we can all share them and publish them any way we see fit. And, even more bizarre, you using them and publishing them in a manner that best suits you does not prevent the rest of us from doing it the way we choose.
Kudos to you, Brenna. The win here is not in the $$ made in your first month (I mean that’s awesome of course), but in that you chose yourself over anything else.
As my grandma would say, “Girl, you do that thing!”
Thanks, Grace! Control is worth so much. It really is. It’s very freeing to be able to make the final decisions myself. Like I said in my previous post, I’ll make mistakes, too, but they will be MY mistakes to make. Thanks for your good wishes! All best to you.
Brenna — I’m THRILLED for you! And I love how open you’ve been about the entire process. Huge congratulations…and as soon as I finish my WIP, yours is the next book I’d like to dive into!
Bella, I’m THRILLED to have you come read my blog! Seriously … you have been my idol for several years! You ROCK!! Thank you for commenting and I’m soooo crossing my fingers that you like the book. I think I’ll go squee now. 😀
The heartiest of congratulations to you, Brenna. You wrote a great book, you made the gutsy choice, and it’s paying off. Very inspiring to the rest of us.
Quick question, though. Were your two ISBNs really only $10? If so, how did you wrangle that price?
Kudos again, and thanks for sharing.
Hi Michael. Brenna’s home slave labor here, she’s out today. But I can answer that. That’s the cost per ISBN, not the total cost we spent. We paid out for the 100 ISBN package, which brought our per cost down to $5. If you’ve ever been to the Bowker website, you know their pricing structure is kinda jacked up (IMHO anyway). Buy 100 is just about double the price of buying 10. We might never use all 100 but I’m sure well need more than 10 so it made sense, though it did hurt a little to fork out all that cash at once.
Ah, of course. To quote the great orator Homer Simpson: Doh!
(I should have thought of that.)
Thanks for the clarification; I’m trying to decide how much to fork over, too.
Michael, Thanks for the congrats! Hopefully the slave*cough*hubby has answered your question satisfactorily! 🙂
Congratulations! These are amazing numbers and I’m delighted that you’re sharing them.
Because you aren’t the only idiot who turned down a book deal 😉 Admittedly mine wasn’t nearly as sexy as yours, which makes sense because I write about kids and sleep and you don’t find topics less sexy than that. But I have many days where I sit here in the cold dark basement that is my office thinking, “I have made a really terrible terrible mistake.” My book (hopefully going to print in August) isn’t out yet so I don’t have any numbers to tell me otherwise. But success stories from people like you go a LONG way towards silencing the LOUD SELF DOUBT that follows me like a cloud.
So thank you – will be following for more delightful good news on your success!
Alexis, congratulations for making the best decision for you. How wonderful! It sure isn’t easy. I lived in fear for months after the fact CERTAIN I’d made a horrible mistake. Self doubt is a terrible enemy to any artist. Don’t let that sucker in!!!! Thanks for your lovely comment.
Brenna that’s awesome. Where do you live? My East Texas RWA Chapter is hosting an Indie Conference in April. Here’s the link to the conference. http://www.indieroadconference.com/
I hope it shows up as a link when I hit send.
hey Kathy, I’m in Southern CA. But that conference looks very interesting. I’ll look into it! An indie conference is an AWESOME idea!
Congratulations and thank you for sharing! Your comments and insight help those (like me) who are getting ready to brave the indie world as a newbie. It’s always discouraging to read about the negatives but you provided a balanced and positive viewpoint. Kudos to you!
Lucy, I’m so glad I’ve been of help. I wish you every bit of luck and success with your journey! Enjoy it. It’s such a rush.
Huge congratulations, Brenna! I love hearing stories like yours!
Thanks Suzan! I appreciate the congrats! Take care 🙂
Oh, Brenna! Thank you for this. I’m going to read this to my husband. I’m the author/publisher of our novels (moderate success), but ouve given me so much to consider. That, and you’re my new hero. 🙂
Stupid typos. FOUR, not our. YOU’VE, not ouve. Duh.
Martha, thank you so much for your kind words. I’m glad to be of help. And wow, the thought of being anybody’s hero just bowls me over! Thanks for the lovely comment.
Was your agent upset that you turned down the deals?
My former agent is a pro to the core. I have a great deal of respect for her but things did not work out for us to continue working together.
Congratulations, Brenna, and thanks for sharing! You’re right that self publishing isn’t for everyone, but your story certainly serves as an inspiration to aspiring authors everywhere.
Thanks! Really appreciate the kind support. All best to you.
Congratulations to you for having the courage to follow your dreams and belief in yourself. It saddens me to still see people bordering on bullying someone for choosing their own path. While indie publishing might not be the right path for someone, they should never push someone down a different path. Kudos to you for the courage and the hard work! Best wishes and thank you for sharing your journey!
Thanks Megan. It’s true, every path for every author is his/her own to follow. If anyone were approaching me for advice, I’d say that the most powerful thing they can do is EDUCATE themselves as to whether indie/trad/hybrid is the best way to go for them. Thanks for the good wishes! All best to you.
Let me guess, that “other site” that is so pro-traditional was Absolute Write’s Water Cooler. It seems that if they are calling you a liar, or banning you outright you are probably in good company as they did this to my wife (a very savvy business person who has masterminded my hybrid career), Hugh Howey, and many others.
Hey Michael. I’ll neither confirm nor deny your guess. 😀 hehe
But yes, I agree that I’m in good company.
Congratulations Brenna and thank you for your posts. Most inspiring and elucidating. I’ve just shared this with my critique group, one of whom is in the process of getting her first book out as an indie. I have been tossing up which way to go myself – trad/indie – and the control thing has been a sticking point for me so you have certainly clarified and inspired on that score. Thanks again.
Thanks for sharing with your critique group. I hope it’s helped other writers out there. Good luck to all of you on your individual paths.
Wow! This is such awesome news. Congratulations on your huge success. I have a feeling this is only the beginning for you. Thanks for sharing hard numbers.
Thanks, Julie! Appreciate the kind words.
Thank you for this article and your openness about your experience. One of our novels was traditionally published for a while, not with a big name publisher. We’ve been paid 0 for it. The publisher went out of business, the rights reverted to us, and we self-published the book. We’ve earned more in royalties since self-publishing the book than we did the entire time it was with the publisher.
We self-published all our other books and have been happy with the result.
Wodke, thanks for sharing your story of self-publishing. It’s great that we have these choices now, isn’t it? I wish you all the best.
Thanks so much for this post, Brenna, and congratulations on all your success! I think you’re awesome. I can’t wait to read AT ANY PRICE. And I may be emailing you one of these days…I have a feeling we might have some stuff in common. 🙂
Absolutely, Cari. Please email me! I’d love to chat. I’ve loved chatting with you on the Divas 🙂 Thanks for the congrats and I hope you like the book whenever you get the chance to read it !
I’m doing an AMA thread at Reddit right now if any of you have any questions.
Congrats and welcome to the best side of publishing! I first published in August 2011. Put out my third book in December 2011. Had grossed at least as much as your advance within a year. (I doubt the publishers would have gotten three of your books out that fast, tho!) I put out book 4 in September 2012. My gross for my first full calendar year was 180,000. I didn’t even put out a new book in 2013 that counted toward my income, but sales of books 2-4 (the first is free) amounted to an estimated gross of $375,000. And I put out my fifth book Dec. 22, 2013, so that will have me at six figures for 2014 by the time I receive my royalties in March.
But better than being able to make lots more money as an indie (if you market well–and apparently you do that!), your stories will be your own. You won’t have some publisher or their editors asking (or telling) you to change significant things in the story from the way you wanted them to be told.
I, too, was blessed with lots of great advice from indies who went before me–and Liliana Hart and friends wrote a great book called “The Naked Truth About Self-Publishing” that is like my career bible now.
All the best as you get the next book out! (Don’t wait too long to get the first three books out, tho! That seems to be when the magic REALLY starts to happen!) Good luck!
Kallypso. OMG your story! It’s wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing. That is so beyond awesome. I love it!! You’re an inspiration. I love the Indie Voice, and Liliana has been a big inspiration for me as well. THE NAKED TRUTH is seriously the best book out there for anyone contemplating self publishing. Thanks so much for stopping by. And thanks for the wonderful advice! I might hit you up for more very soon 🙂
You’re welcome! I love the indie community because we’re all so open about sharing what worked for us. Oh, but here’s my advice on what doesn’t work (despite the fact we both put books out in December, that’s really one of the WORST months to do so. Of course, you beat the holiday hustle and bustle by going earlier in the month, but I was still fine-tuning my fifth release and it was Dec. 22 before uploaded. I lost out on getting to count the 1000 or so sales I made at Amazon and B&N that afternoon/evening (a Sunday–but I didn’t know they’d go live with it within 4-6 hours!), missing out on making the NYT for the first time or even hitting the USA Today bestseller list again. So disappointing. If only I had waited until the 23rd, but I still wanted to have a couple days to get ready for my own holidays–and had literally done no shopping or baking to that point. lol
But I also saw sales barely what they were with my fourth release 15 months earlier in mid September. I think a lot of us are reporting lower sales (especially at Amazon) in November and December (and we aren’t quite sure why), but if I’d waited until January when my enormous fanbase was engaged with social media, e-mail, etc., I would have blown that launch out of the water. Unfortunately, I plod instead of plot, so I won’t have another release for many, many months. But I guarantee that if I can’t get it out by October, I’ll just hold it until January! lol Lesson learned!
Hope your sales continue to skyrocket. And if you know of any agents who do an ala carte system rather than a percentage of sales, I’m in the marketing for one! firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m more interested in public relations and foreign markets than anything, but could sure use some help there.
All the best!
Kally, thank you so much for the wonderful advice. I think, for many reasons, I will never do another December release. It pretty much dominated my entire holiday season! People had told me that December releases were big sales but other indies this year told me Dec. wasn’t so great.
Thanks for leaving your email! I have some questions for you!!!
P.S. I just bought your 2-book box set. Awesome marketing idea btw!
Hi Brenna, huge congratulations on your success!
Have you calculated the amount of time you’ve spent promoting your book and factored those into your profit calculations? I’m really grateful to all the self-pubbers who put there numbers out there but I’ve only ever seen X numbers sold/Y money made stats. What kind of hours have you put in doing the admin (blogging, organising Netgalley and ISBNs and stuff) and how much have you made after paying yourself an appropriate wage for doing that?
My other question is about tax – and I appreciate if you don’t feel it’s an appropriate thing for me to ask. I also appreciate I may be wrong on how this works, or it may vary in the US. Do you anticipate having less money in your hand after tax because you’re earning these totals in a single tax year and are thus in a higher tax band?
My father always taught me to quantify everything, so as a self-publisher I want to get paid for writing, for publishing, AND I want to make a profit after that. Also, the moon on a stick.
I have not calculated the amount of time spent promoting the book though I doubt it would be much more than if I had traditionally published. Authors are expected to do a lot of their own promo from their publishing houses. Other than querying bloggers and managing the Netgalley myself (mostly a fraction of the time I spent, honestly) I would have done everything exactly the same. And many trad houses are not allowing the distribution of e-ARCs by authors, only through Netgalley or Edelweiss.
The formatting/ISBN/Create Space design was done by my unpaid assistant (spouse) who had the time and the inclination to do it. 🙂
Like any small/start-up business, there are tax write-offs and there are lots of expenses that can be written off to offset large taxes. But yeah, as is always the case, you make more money, you have to pay more taxes. Just comes with the territory.
Hi – sorry for the delay in replying. I began on the other day but lost it before I could post.
First, thanks so much for the reply.
I have a background in marketing, so perhaps I can shed some light on why (I at least) would tell authors not to distribute ARCs. Marketing campaigns are often very tightly controlled and it’s easy for somebody who doesn’t know what they are doing to inadvertently go off-message, right down to the adjectives we do and do not use. I might not want you being reviewed on YA sites, for instance, even though plenty of those reviewers review non-YA books.
Author promo – you mean blogging, tweeting, book signings etc? I do think that’s a large part of the author’s job, but I think the self-published author has that to do along with the invisible bit of the publishers’ marketing teams: getting people to know the author exists so they will read the blog, follow them on twitter etc. The publisher also has a lot of contact with book sellers, large and small, which the author doesn’t have anything to do with. It isn’t the author who gets themselves featured on Oprah’s book club list.
But then, I also so know from personal experience it’s possible to self-publish and sell without even bothering to have an author website.
Which is a terribly long winded way of saying it’s really interesting to see what works for different people, and that what’s right for an author and for their book depends on the author and the book. I think you made a smart decision to self-publish now because I think – I don’t know what it’s like in the US – the market for this type of book is weakening. By the time a publisher had got it on the shelves, you may have found it much more difficult to break out. Just my opinion.
I hope Brenna doesn’t mind me jumping in here. I started self-publishing in 2011, so have a little more data behind me. Time spent? Well, that’s impossible to calculate. My first 7 months writing to get the first three books out (third book is usually the charm, or was back then, and getting them out fast was my objective), I probably worked 18-hour days, 7 days a week (with maybe two days off the whole 7 months). Even today, I rarely take days off, but my writing days are much shorter. Some days I don’t write at all. (I don’t plot, so if the characters aren’t clamoring to have their stories told, I don’t have anything to write. I may tweak and revise those days–or just spend the day marketing and getting reacquainted with family.)
My first year, I only had income for three months (first book went up in August). I grossed $6,000 and netted $3,000 and that didn’t include the cover artist and edits on the last book which I deferred to the January for tax purposes (with the ok from my professional editor). My artist is a friend and our agreement was always that I’d pay her if I ever made any money.
My first full calendar year, though, I made five figures a month gross. I took the month of January off from writing and spent time on Facebook but mostly just talking about my sister who had had major surgery. (Facebook is my support network and my fans are VERY supportive!) So I hardly call it marketing, but some might. The rest of the year, I probably spent 12 hours a day working on either writing or promoting. I attended three national conferences/conventions for readers/writers. Out of my gross income of $241,000, I had $47,000 in writing-related expenses I could write off, including research trips, swag, registrations, etc. Plus another $16,000+ in health insurance premiums (thank God for the affordable healthcare act–no more $22,000 a year in premiums! Only reason 2012 was $12 is that I still had Cobra part of the year), charitable giving from my author income, and accountant fees.
I don’t have the 2013 figures yet. (The gross is about $375,000, but I haven’t had time to figure out the expenses–still finding receipts to have my personal assistant scan into QuickBooks! I did more conferences/conventions that year and much more travel for research. It’s always good to combine vacation and research! Spent a month at a beach house in Carmel-by-the-Sea and 75% of it is deductible because it was research time!)
I have no doubt Brenna will be reporting numbers like that for 2014 income, too, given how well she did her first month. (I made $188 my first month!)
And because I find chatting with readers to be incredible fun, I don’t like to call that marketing. Everyone asked me in the early days how I did it and what was my marketing strategy. I had no business plan, no marketing plan, I told them I just went on Facebook and talked. And I still do that daily! I should point out that none of that $375,000 income for 2013 was the result of a new-book release because my books went out in September 2012 and not again until December 2013. So it was solely readers telling their friends (best marketing will ALWAYS be word of mouth!) and me engaging with readers on social media (mostly Facebook because I can’t write anything short, as you can see)!
All the best, Brenna! And Dor, may I ask which country you are in? I need to build my international presence and might be interested in your services. My e-mail is email@example.com. I also plan a book tour of a few cities in Europe in 2016 (maybe next year, but we’ll see) and to go to Australia in 2017 or 2018. My first fans were in Australia, so they’ve been waiting a very long time!
Kally, I don’t mind you jumping in AT ALL. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I’m learning tons just by reading what you have to say! Thanks for all that awesome info.
I didn’t market my book conventionally because I didn’t publish conventionally. This market is all about word of mouth (as Kallypso so astutely pointed out before). I *did* spend many many hours sifting through Goodreads to find my readers and on Netgalley making sure the ARCs went to the right people. I had over 350 requests and only approved a little over 100 of them. It was very time consuming. But again, other than having to do those 2 things, most all of other stuff I did is stuff I’d have to do anyway, had I been traditionally published. I.e. Putting out teasers, interacting on social media. doing giveaways. I did not do a blog tour (i.e. guest posts). I was invited by people I already knew to do a couple guests posts or interviews.
Mostly my marketing was about letting the book speak for itself which is why the eARCs were so important to my plan. I have no formal background in marketing at all. I learned from my fellow indie authors in the same genre about what works and what doesn’t. I used trial and error based on THEIR trial and errors and fortunately we are a community that shares openly (as evidenced in Kallypso’s reply to you below).
So there was no need to approach booksellers about my book. Why would there be? My book is print on demand and isn’t in physical bookstores. For my genre, print sales are a fraction of the ebook sales.
I don’t agree with your statement about the market for “this type of book” is weakening. In fact, I’m not sure what you meant by “this type of book,” either. Were your referring to an indie self-published book? a romance? a New Adult book? What do you base the statement on? I see no weakening in the market at all. The readers are the readers and they know what they want: GOOD stories. They don’t care how those stories are brought to them, they really don’t. Most readers pay very little attention to the manner of publication.
Anyway, thank you for your insights. Like I said, I have no formal marketing background but maybe, in this case, that worked to my advantage. I spent a LOT of time working on this and I by no means think I did everything right. What I cared most about was people knowing about the book and getting excited about it, and TALKING about it to their friends, not how many followers I have on Twitter or how many Facebook likes I have. I figured all that would spill over from people reading and loving the book. 🙂
Wow, Brenna! I need to put more effort into sending eARCs maybe. I probably sent 20 each of my first three books. Maybe if I’d done the NetGalley thing, I’d have made more than $188 that first month. lol
Oh, and definitely spot-on concerning the paperback vs e-book sales. Paperbacks are just to give my most avid fans something tangible to put on their bookshelf. (Or to create a shrine for them as a couple of my readers have done. LOL) Most of my readers get the books as e-books. In 2012 my paperbacks only came out in December and I had one signing which earned me $426 or something like that in sales. (The cost of having that signing at a Manhattan hotel FAR killed any profit–but the 30 readers who showed up and I had a blast at my paperback launch! And my daughter and I enjoyed the Christmas season in NYC with much of my travel and some lodging/meals in the tax write-off category. )
Some authors spend their huge royalties on Prada shoes. (And my friend knows who she is, if she happens to read this.) *I* spend it on travel! 🙂
Never underestimate the power of the book to speak for itself. You have such die-hard fans who LOVE your books. I see how they do wonders for your marketing.
I figured it cost me nothing but time to get those eARCs out to the ideal audience. Avid readers are amazing people who are so passionate about the stories they read. It’s like reliving the excitement of writing the story again by watching them squee and gush about the book in their reviews and to their friends. Readers are such awesome peeps.
First, congratulations! I saw Anne Rice’s link on her Facebook page, and I’m so happy to have found your blog. Second, I hope you know how much new authors appreciate you sharing your story. I’ve completed my first manuscript and am just starting to query agents, and I’m finding your experiences so enlightening.
Hey McKenna, thanks for coming by and commenting on my blog. I wish you lots of luck on your publishing journey. My biggest piece of advice (though you didn’t ask for any!) is to educate yourself on ALL your possibilities. Take care!
Congratulations, Brenna! I’m ecstatic for you and your achievement. You are an inspiration to all of us authors!
Syrie!!! Thanks for commenting on my blog. You’ve been an inspiration to me so I’m glad I can return the favor. 🙂 * hugs *
Brenna, thanks so much for sharing all of your data with us. The best part of being an indie author is the wonderful support we receive from one another – the willingness to share, encourage and promote other author’s books. My publisher closed suddenly in late July due to the death of one of the owners. I already had the luau launch planned for the third book in my humorous romantic mystery series, so I jumped in, heels first, into indie publishing, releasing all 3 books in six weeks (including re-editing, cover art, formatting etc.) Fortunately there are wonderful folks that I could outsource to as well as friends who brought me copious amounts of chocolate while I put in 18 hour days. But the sales are great and I love, love, love, receiving my royalties on time! Thanks again for everything you’ve done for our community.
Cindy, thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I highly recommend chocolate for coping! And I agree that getting those royalties monthly (My first check will come in March! whee!) will be a blast.
Followed a link from a blog, to another blog…to this wonderful place. You are the bomb! I have always said indies are the new pioneers; the epitome of the American dream. I read stories like yours and I am so inspired! Awesome. Simply awesome. Off to Amazon. Got to support a go-getter!
* blush * thank you Elizabeth. I’m so glad I’ve inspired someone. I’ve been inspired by so many others. I wish you all the best of luck in your journey. Hope you like the book.
Congratulations again, Brenna!
For your success, and for sharing your story to help other writers make informed career decisions 🙂
I suspect we will see more and more decisions like yours–they’ll be “the new normal” in 2014 and 2015.
Thank you, Paul. Truly appreciate the kind remarks. I hope I’ve helped other authors with my story. More and more self-publishing is becoming an accepted and respected business model. More and more self publishing authors are taking time to develop their craft and professionally polish and present their product. We have so many choices we never had before.
I saw a mention of ARCs (Advanced Review Copies) and wanted to put out an alternative means of getting early reviews with a new release. I did ARCs in the beginning to blogs that do reviews. Actually, I never did them in advance because I don’t like making my readers wait. Still don’t. This time, I only offered them to the bloggers who hosted me on my 13-day, 23-stop release tour. (I never time those tours right, so the tour ended the day AFTER the book came out. Oh, well.)
Anyway, I suggest that you find a group of your most avid fans (now that you have some with a book out!) and just put the next book out as soon as it’s been fully edited and ready. Your street team members will spread the word via social media really quickly. My street team of 188 members–Kallypso’s Street Brats–includes bloggers and avid fans, all of whom are heavy into reading and who “pimp” out my books every chance they get–from grocery stores to doctor’s offices to bible studies. (I kid you not!) They also promote me online via social media. When you have some physical swag (pens, bookmarks, and buttons are most popular with mine), send welcome packs to all and extra supplies to those willing to physically hand out items.
In addition to reviews from street team fans, some of my earliest reviews were posted by my beta readers (readers who had provided feedback to me during the process of writing the book). Also, I had three volunteer proofreaders on board with my latest release who gave the book fresh eyes just before it went out (because my 5-person editorial team and I were bleary-eyed at that point). A couple of those gave me reviews. I actually used some of these in the “praise for” section of the initial release. I’ll revise that with the revised version going out in conjunction with the paperback release next month, but it was nice to have some praise even before the book was published–and these volunteers were avid fans, not on the payroll. So the praise was legitimate.
I still don’t give out any copies in advance (other than to betas who are sworn to secrecy and usually see the book in very raw form during the revision/editing process). I could, but that would mean holding up the release another few weeks or so and I just don’t see any point in depriving my other fans. Hope this helps, Brenna and others!
Thanks, Kally. You bring up a good point that ARCs should probably be handled differently by follow-up books. I don’t think I’ll withhold the release of any of my books for longer than I have to. Sometimes, though, ARCs can be ready to go before the final production is in place for other things (like the creation and proofreading of the print book, etc.) But yes, all things to consider! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. It helps so much to know what works for other authors.
I am just a reader and now a fan of yours, but I was interested in your blog post. I received an ARC of your book and loved it, gave it 5 stars and posted my reviews on amazon and goodreads. The outcome of this is I will purchase your books in the future because, boy, you can write! Well done on your success.
Micky, you are never “just” a reader!! 😀 I am so thrilled you loved the book and I love love loved your wonderful review. Thanks so much for your kind words and for posting on my blog. Please stay in touch ! All best.
Hi Brenna– another SFARWA here who took Bella’s advice and did not go NY! My first book (Love Bats Last) launches Feb 4th and your story keeps me going! (Go away doubt!). Thank you!
BTW how did you go about getting arcs since CS only allows 5 proofs at a time? (newbie question)
Pamela, thank you for coming by and I’m so glad you’ve educated yourself about the options open to you. How exciting about your book release! I wish you all the best of luck.
With regards to your question about ARCs, when I refer to ARCs,I actually mean e-ARCs which are mobi and ePub files virtually identical to what was uploaded when the books went on sale. Hope that helps!
Brenna, I’m on the first draft of my first novel, and you inspire me to write even more — just knowing there are several possible homes for my future novels makes me week harder to bring them into the world.
You are so classy with your “pay it forward” attitude — one I hope to have the chance to emulate someday.
Happy writing and publishing!
Thank you, Karen. I wish you all the best with your writing and your publishing journey! Keep writing.
You are a brave woman to turn down an easy thing and go for the riskier path. But dang, girl, great choice! Thank you, for posting not only your dollar info, but all of it, thought process, rights details, etc. And as to those who didn’t believe you… they’re just so yesterday.
Weird, I thought I’d replied to this yesterday but I don’t see my reply here. Sorry! I wasn’t ignoring you.
Thanks for your kind words, Marcia. I hope my detailed explanations and figures are helpful to others who are in the process of deciding their path to publication.
Everyone has to do what’s right for them. What was right for me is not everyone’s path. I so acknowledge that! Thanks again for your comment! All the best to you.
Thanks for the terrific info and view into your process. Gives hope for all of us indie authors. I wish you the greatest success!
Thanks for the kind remarks, Rich. I’m all about giving hope! Like I said…I was just paying it forward here to all the amazing indies who have been doing this for years!
A link to your post has made its way over to the email loop for the 2013 RWA Golden Heart finalists and we’ve been admiring your courage, cheering your success, and learning a lot from your post and the follow-up comments. I’d never even considered self-publishing before reading it, but you make such a great case for it as a truly viable option and inspired me to research it further. Thanks for being so generous and open with information about your personal experience. Looking forward to reading your work!
Amy, thank you for letting me know that the GH 2013 finalists have read the post and are discussing it. I’m so glad! The reason I put these 2 blog posts out here was that I wanted to open an honest discussion about going indie as a viable path to publishing. Granted, it is not for everyone and I think each author should search within herself to see whether or not it’s the path for her. However, there is NO reason we as authors need to accept contract terms that are not in our best interest. It all comes down to believing in your work and believing in yourself, whichever way you decide to put your work out there. I honestly had never considered self publishing this time last year, but I started to find out and hear from others what they were accomplishing and it really impressed me.
I’m so glad you are going to research it further! There are so many wonderful indies out there willing to share their knowledge and what has worked for them. I encourage you to approach authors you admire. Or seek out publications on self publishing, websites and forums. I wish you all the best of luck in your research and in your path to publication. Hopefully you and your fellow finalists will have your award-winning books out before long! 😀 Kindest, Bren
Wow, what a wonderful ride you had in your first month. I am both proud of another Indie taking a stand and winning, as well as a little jealous of your first month sales. LOL!
The Indie community is so supportive and sharing your story is helpful to all of us, so thank you for that. I am in a group of indie writers who had a boxed set out in December 2013 and our sales were so far beyond our imagination. Now, we had to divide our sales by 11 which makes a little difference in profit 🙂 BUT it was worth the exposure and excitement for sure. It’s a great time to be a writer!
Wishing you only the best in the future!
Kelly, thank you for the kind comment. And yes, the indie community is a great one to belong to. We all help each other out. It really is an exciting time to be an author. I totally agree 🙂
Thanks Carl!!! Glad you liked it 🙂