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The First Month of Publication: A Reckoning

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 GuyCourtney 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

Editing $980
Cover Design $450
Promo* $300
Copyright $35
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!

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