One EBook Author’s Success Story

I’ve been reading with much interest individual success stories for previously unknown authors who chose to go the eBook route with their novels. One is the account of fantasy author Michael J. Sullivan. His wife tells of his rise to success with the first five books of his Riyria series (which she first published on her own small press–Ridan Publishing 2008-2010). In nine months (January-September 2010) her husband’s income from sales averaged about $1,500 a month (Kindle sales solely), but after the tipping point occurred, he earned more than $102,000 in five months.

Robin Sullivan has some great advice and observations for authors interested in seeing success with their eBooks:

  • As for seeing your books in the bookstores, it is true that most brick-and-mortar stores will not carry self-published printed books. However, major publishers are very interested in authors with an existing fan base. What’s more, they have to offer larger advances than those paid to debut authors in order to woo them.
  • A self-published author already has a pretty good idea what they could make from the works if they continue to stay independent. For a debut fantasy author, several surveys indicate an advance of $5,000 – $10,000 is standard. So a three-book deal would warrant $15,000 – $30,000 advances. In comparison, Michael was offered a six-figure contract from Orbit (the fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group).
  • The publishing industry is certainly changing at the speed of light. There used to be only one choice if you wanted to make any decent money writing novels: spend months (or years) querying for an agent, waiting months (or years) while that agent shopped the project around, and then if accepted, waiting up to two years for the book to actually hit the store shelves. If your book wound up on the midlist (which by definition most did), then low volume and a small cut of the books total sales price made it financially impossible for authors to write full-time as their sole source of income.
  • There was a time when self-publishing produced little-to-no revenue, and doing so was often the last resort for a project that had been rejected by everyone it had been put in front of. Now, in the post-digital revolution, the model has been turned upside down. Authors are going to eBooks first based on earning potential and a quick time to market. If they do well, then they leverage their sales for larger advances and favorable contract terms. Of course, self publishing is not for everyone, but at least for those that decide to go this route, they won’t have to be that one-in-a-million outlier—if they can achieve the eBook midlist status, they stand a good chance of telling their boss, “I quit, I’m going to stay home and write for a living.”

Not That Rare an Experience

Through Sullivan’s exploration of The Amazon board “Writer’s Cafe,” she discovered her husband’s experience of eBook success was not an isolated incident. She discovered dozens of other authors enjoying great sales while not even showing up as a blip on the Amazon top 100 bestseller list. Another great insight she shares is that foreign rights are to be had for successful eBook authors. She notes in the last six months her husband earned more than $150,000 from foreign rights sales.

One thing I find particularly discouraging is the point she mentions above about the long wait time from finishing a novel to acquiring an agent to getting a contract to seeing the book on shelves. That process takes many years, usually, and then if your book doesn’t sell big within the first few weeks after releases, it is pulled and you, the author, are considered pretty much a wash-out. Traditional publishing does not take logic and practicality into account, which states that it takes time to build a following and for one person to read a book , recommend it to a friend, who then tells someone else about the great book they read. EBooks allow for this slow and steady build. Traditional publishing does not!

All these points mentioned above attest that the former stigma of self-publishing is fading away. Authors who self-publish their novels and promote them as eBooks have every opportunity for success. Sure, you need to write some great books and spend some time marketing and promoting them–just as you would have to do with a traditionally printed novel. But these success stories–and they are getting more frequent over time–should be inspiring and encouraging you to keep writing, write the best books you can, and keep hopeful that your audience will be found and reached!

To read Robin Sullivan’s full post at Publishing Perspectives, click here.

To watch an short, interesting video on “How Digital Books are Pushing Print to the Grave” (with a brief interview with Open Road’s Jane Friedman), click here. Unfortunately the video is not available to embed here in the post, but check it out!

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  1. The idea is that e-publishing is such an efficient publishing model and reaches the audience faster, instead of crafting stories and queries and then wait forever.

    Thanks for this inspiring post!

  2. Great story. I was happy to share this with my followers on Twitter (and thanks for your kind reply). Like you wisely point out, the fact that it’s no longer a rare experience to have success with ebook self-publishing…that’s a message that we all have to work hard to let people know about.

  3. A clear and concise argument for self-publishing. Thank you, Susanne, for your recent focus on the eBook Revolution and thanks to everyone who have joined in on the discussion.

  4. I also tweeted this post to my followers. As a first-time writer and at what most publishing houses would consider an advanced age (!), I believe self-publishing is my best bet. It ties in with the “What is Success” question. For me, it’s having people read and enjoy my book(s). And, after spending 30 years working at jobs that were ill-suited for me, finally, finally, I’m doing what I love. Besides, who wants to wait months (years) for query replies? Thanks for the article, Susanne.

    1. Jonathan, it completely depends on genre and the Gods. My first twelve days on Amazon I sold 15 and gave away almost 300 because I ran a free promotion. Then after some positive reviews I began to see my ebooks start to move up the rankings. I wrote two ebooks; one about real estate investing and another about C.S.Lewis. I had the knowledge so I decided to start with what I knew. The next one I write will be pure fun; probably chick lit. Then another real estate one because I have been working property for a while and there is so much to divulge… Anyway it is not easy to guess realistic numbers. Just put out something of quality and spread the word online. I did the math and if I could sell 1600 ebooks each month I would not need to work for anyone but myself. It helps to have a goal in mind. Good luck!

  5. The concept of the transition of medium has always fascinated me.
    We started with an oral tradition that evolved to illuminated manuscripts before Gutenberg brought recorded word out of the hands of the ivory tower.
    For a while “novels” were trashy and considered “low brow” but today we regard them as the icon of culture.
    Who is to say that web fiction isn’t just the next step in this transcendence of the record of human kind’s effort to more eloquently convey ideas to each others.

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