2013 Sales Figures

50 dollars rooled upI’m a big advocate of self-publishing, believing that anyone with even the slightest interest in writing should give it a try.

With self-publishing, the question as to whether or not you’re wasting your time on your novel becomes null and void. No longer does your manuscript need to languish in the drawer, waiting for some publisher to bless you with their attention. Once your book is done, you can get it out to a world-wide audience essentially overnight. Then it’s up to the readers to decide if your work is good enough. Yet until you get your book out to the reading public, you’ll never know.

In the old days, the Big Five publishers served as very effective gatekeepers, separating readers from the writers. That’s no longer true. Now it’s the authors who have the final say as to when and how their books are released. And even though you may not make a million off your first book — or even your twentieth — if you have even modest talent and can spin a good yarn, you should be able to make a decent living as a self-published author. (The numbers I reveal at the end of this post go to support this statement.)

Sale Figures

There seems to be a trend these days for authors to reveal their sales records, with dollar amounts included. I have no problem with this. In fact, although I love to write, I still need to pay my bills, and it was by seeing what other authors were doing with ebooks back in 2011 that I developed the incentive to create my first book. Without this information I may have continued with my day job and never taken the leap.

These days I spend a lot of time speaking with people about self-publishing and giving advice and encouragement. I don’t feel other authors are my competition, believing truly that the market is large enough for all of us. And being as empathic as I am, I want everyone to experience the same joy and satisfaction I’ve experienced over the past two years in my writing career.

It’s been during these conversations, that I occasionally experience some discounting of my efforts by people who do not consider self-publishing as a legitimate endeavor, since I haven’t been vetted by a professional publishing company. I’m sure many self-publishers have also experienced this same condescending attitude from a few purist authors. However, when push comes to shove, I simply quote my yearly earnings … and that seems to shut them up, if not change their attitude about self-publishing.

I have to say I’ve met quite a few authors — both in person and online — over the past two years, and I do realize my results are not typical. Many have made far less, while a few have earned in the millions. Seriously! It also seems that most of us started about the same time — in 2011 or afterwards — so the success some of us have experienced is newfound, and therefore very prominent in the our lives. I have to say, it’s been a real head-rush!

So now, without further ado, I offer those of you who have read this deep into this post my 2013 sales numbers.

I don’t do this to brag, but rather to show what can be done with self-publishing. And I’m the first to admit, I’m not the best writer, but I have been fortunate that my first foray into self-publishing was with a series of science fiction books that have found a loyal and enthusiastic audience. I did this with essentially zero promotion, except what’s provided by Amazon to every author — which should be another source of encouragement for would-by authors.

The bottom line: If I can do this, then you can, too. And in these times of tough economic prospects, becoming a self-published author could be your way out of a dire financial situation. It could happen.

Summary of 2013 Sales:

Background: The numbers for 2013 are for a total of seven titles (books). They are: The Fringe Worlds, Alien Assassin, The Human Chronicles Saga (a compilation of both books one and two of the series), The War of Pawns, The Tactics of Revenge, The Legend of Earth and Cain’s Crusaders.

Fringe, Assassin, The Human Chronicles, War and Tactics all saw a full year of sales. The Legend of Earth came out in February 2013 and Cain’s Crusaders came out in August 2013, so these totals are for only a portion of the year.

Here’s where it gets a little complicated. My fiscal year runs from November 1 to October 31. The reason is because Amazon pays royalties sixty days after the close of a sales month, so my December royalties are for the prior October and my January royalties are for the prior November. Since the IRS deals in calendar years for tax purposes, I only count the royalties when they’re received, so my 2013 revenue covers sales from November 2012 through October 2013.

The average number of books I had selling fulltime for 2013 were six, since Legend and Cain’s were for only part of the year. Combined, they equaled one fulltime book, so my numbers are based on what are essentially six books selling over 12 months.

Please note: The numbers below are ONLY for the Amazon.com website (USA sales) and does not include any foreign sales, although the total dollar amount includes all sales. (FYI: Foreign sales totaled 6,712 copies for the year, but they’re not broken down by book.)

The Fringe Worlds = 6,114 copies sold for 2013 (originally published in Oct. 2011)

Alien Assassin = 6,437 copies sold (originally published in March 2012)

The Human Chronicles (compilation, not a new book) = 5,774 copies sold (originally published mid-June 2012)

The War of Pawns = 11,060 copies sold (originally published mid-June 2012)

The Tactics of Revenge = 18,809 copies sold (originally published in Nov. 2012)

The Legend of Earth = 15,070 copies sold (originally published in March 2013)

Cain’s Crusaders = 6,528 copies sold (originally published in August 2013)

(Please note: Sales cutoff date was October 31, 2013.)

Total books sold in the United States in fiscal year 2013 = 69,792 (plus 6,712 foreign sales)

Total books sold in fiscal year 2013 = 76,534

So … if you sold this many books in a year, how much money would you make?

My fiscal year 2013 income was … $222,254.00.

Now that I have your attention, you can see that making a decent living writing light science fiction adventures in ebook format is possible — and without needing the blessings of a traditional publisher.

(There was another blog I saw recently by a traditionally-published author with sixteen books on the market — both in ebook format and mass-market paperback. He made a little over $60,000. My contention is that if he bypassed the traditional publisher and went for the higher royalty rates self-publishers get, he would have made a lot more money … just off his ebook sales.)

And now after seeing these numbers, I hope this has motivated you to get to work on that novel you’ve been thinking about for years. You may not make $222,000 in a year — you may make a lot more! But you’ll never know until you complete your book and put it out to the reading public. And guess what … it’s only YOU keeping this from happening — and from changing your life forever.

Now — get to work!

T.R. (Tom) Harris

The Hardest Kind of Writing

alien with swordI may be biased — since I write science fiction exclusively — but I honestly believe sci-fi is the hardest type of fiction to write.

The reason say this is because in sci-fi nearly everything one writes about needs to be created from scratch. Sure, in some stories you can place normal humans in a very normal setting and throw in some aliens. But in the sci-fi I write, where the humans are far away in space and living within alien societies, I have to make up almost everything. This ranges from languages, to buildings, to construction methods, to food, to mannerisms, to physical descriptions … and so much more.

Let’s do a comparison. Imagine you have to write a scene that takes place in Paris, and the main character needs to walk down so-and-so street, go into this particular restaurant and order a special food dish. If you haven’t already been there, it’s very easy to pull up a walking tour of Paris on the internet and describe, down to the smallest detail, the exact scene. And even if it’s not exact, then any fictional restaurant serving a fictional steak dinner wouldn’t be very difficult to conjure up.

Now put the character on an alien planet. First of all, it has to be alien, so it can’t be too familiar. In addition, it can’t be overly alien either, where the reader stops and says, “What?” So there is a balancing act you go through when creating your alien street, alien restaurant and alien cuisine.

And now you’re writing; you have to make up a street scene with alien architecture, alien atmosphere and alien smells. You need to create a public eating establishment that makes sense, even on an alien world. Then you have to develop a menu that can accommodate human palates while also allowing the main character’s alien companion to feast upon the local specialties … which are what? You have to make this up, too.

The reason I’m telling you this is that sci-fi is often thought of as the easiest to write. After all, you can just make everything up! You don’t have to have intimate knowledge of foreign cities or the operating manual for an M1-A4 assault rifle. What you don’t know in sci-fi, you just make up. Easy. Right?

For some of us the creative process does come easy. I don’t find this kind of writing particularly difficult, just time-consuming. I can sit for three hours straight working on my current WIP (Work-in-Progress) and find that I’ve only completed 1,500 words. This is because I’ve had to continually stop and create while writing. Constructing the most-readable sentences in the story-telling process is a time-consuming endeavor in and of itself. Now add to that the fact that 90% of what you’re describing has to be created from your imagination alone. It really bogs things down.

I know when I’m writing just normal fiction, containing everyday items found here on Earth, I can crank out 1,500 words or so per hour. Not so with sci-fi, no matter how into the story I am. In an effort to always make things fresh, exciting and unique, I have to utilize every ounce of creative juice I have, which after three hours straight of making stuff up, can be mentally draining.

Of course, this is both the bane and the lure of writing sci-fi. It’s a challenge to see how unique a universe one can create out of thin air while not going overboard. It’s a test of one’s vision and insight, along with all the creepy-crawly things one can imagine.

Here’s a tip for those who do write sci-fi and fantasy. It’s not original, but it makes all the sense in the world.

Don’t make the names — of your characters, their titles and their worlds — unpronounceable. There is no greater story-killer than having your readers stop every few sentences to try and figure out how something is pronounced. It’s not necessary to jumble a bunch of mismatched letters together thinking this will make the names sound more exotic. Julicmon’cree L’on’minn, Liknormic-high of the Dormmonwed clan, pulled his omploosni sword from its sheath and …. What? See what I mean? Completely stops the flow dead it its tracks. Keep it simple. It will improve the pace of your story and keep the reader engaged. Don’t do anything that will cause the reader to break concentration and get frustrated.

Until next time … Write On!

T.R (Tom) Harris  

Let me tell you about The Fringe Worlds….

Nov Fringe Cover JPEG (2) (816x1056) (816x1056)The Fringe Worlds is the first book in The Human Chronicles Saga, and sometimes it’s enlightening — and cathartic — to detail exactly how it all began … way back in the wild and crazy days of 2011….

The idea for The Human Chronicles had been swimming around in my head for decades, but it was only after I became convinced that ebooks and independent publishing were here to stay that I decided to commit the time and effort to actually finishing a book. I had been kicking around the writing profession my entire life, from junior high and high school journalism, to college and as a Journalist in the Navy. I went on to do freelance editing and publication design for a number of years before settling into a real estate career — of all things! Yet throughout all those years, I had never completed a single book or sent out a single submission to a traditional publisher. That all changed in 2011.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to the origins of the concept behind The Human Chronicles.

I don’t know about you, but I had always been frustrated with the majority of science fictions stories and movies that depict humans getting our asses kicked by either a handful of aliens or by a spore or two released into the atmosphere. Let’s face it, reality could be a whole other ballgame. Just think of a den of lions, masters of the savannah,  fearing no creature. Now what if these lions entered the territory of the humans? What do you think would happen? No matter how strong and mighty the lions may be, it’s a pretty good bet that this encounter would not work out well — for the lions! I believe it would be the same for aliens.

Let’s face it, mankind has dominated everything on the planet Earth, and yet we’re to believe that every alien race we encounter will be able to kick our ass? It hasn’t worked out like that so far on the planet Earth. Here we are the head honchos, the top of the freaking food chain.

My vision of a science fiction story where the humans are doing the terrorizing and ass-kicking came into full focus years ago when I saw a cartoon in an old Soldier of Fortune Magazine. It was of a muscle-bound man standing over a dragon-looking thing and holding a smoking gun. The caption read, “I don’t know what it was, but it’s dead.”

Whether you like it or not, that is probably how it would work out for any aliens we encounter. Either by sheer force or by technology, I’m pretty sure we’ll find a way to prevail … and luck will have nothing to do with it.

So the premise of The Human Chronicles Saga is that Humans are the Supermen in the galaxy. No, we can’t fly and we can be killed, yet as I explain in the books, we come from a heavy-gravity world, helping us to build added strength, durability and quickness. I also remember seeing a study that was done on the bone structure of prehistoric man. As was necessary for survival in those days, their bones were a lot denser and stronger than ours are today. Frankly, you could take a baseball bat to the arm of a Neanderthal, — and even though you may really piss him off — you probably wouldn’t be able to break his arm, and he could probably outrun you, too. So it probably wasn’t such a good idea to hit him with a baseball bat in the first place! Now pretend you’re an alien and we’re the pissed-off Neanderthals….

I use a combination of literary license and suppositions to say Humans are more primitive along the evolutionary ladder than most aliens, like Neanderthals would be to modern man, at least physically. Then add in our heavy-gravity world and propensity for combat, and you have the perfect warriors — the Supermen among the aliens.

So with the premise of The Human Chronicles Saga established, now all I had to do was create a scenario where we would come in contact with aliens on their own turf, along with a way for us to show off our skills.

The Fringe Worlds introduces the readers to the world of Juirean Expansion, an alien empire encompassing half the known galaxy. The Juireans are a race of pragmatic aliens who, as part of an ancient alliance of races, were themselves the primitives among the enlightened. Using their own unique skill-set and warlike nature, the Juireans conquered their fellow alliance members and set about establishing a galactic empire using stolen technology and superior tactics of war. It’s within the Juirean’s efforts to rule a galaxy as a single race of beings that I also explore the difficulties the Juireans had to overcome while attempting to do the impossible. Eventually, their empire evolves into a loose affiliation of planets and coalitions, all under the banner of the Juirean Expansion. For my hypothetical universe, this seemed to work out just fine.

And yet, as always, there are forces looking to undermine the status quo, and that’s where the Humans come in. (By the way, I capitalize ‘Humans’ throughout the books, just as you’d capitalize Klingons or Romulans. It’s only appropriate.) An ancient alien race has discovered the Earth and realize that the Humans might be just the ticket to help them defeat the Juireans. However, like with all living things, there has to be motivation and incentive for the Humans to risk life and limb. And with that, I’ll leave that part of the story untold — until you read the books.

Now back to The Fringe Worlds. In truth, The Fringe Worlds was supposed to be twice as long as it turned out to be, and was to include what would become book two of the series, Alien Assassin. Yet impatience and curiosity got the best of me, and once a logical break point was reached, I decided to put the book up on Amazon and see if anyone cared about what I’d written.

The Fringe Worlds went live on Amazon.com on October 12, 2011, and needless to say it took off immediately. I was not only shocked but amazed at the reaction the book received. Here I was, a completely unknown author having just completed my very first book — ever — and it was selling like hotcakes. Yet this only goes to prove one of the basic tenets of science fiction writing: The Concept is King! If the idea is good, then science fans will flock to it. The story of Humans being the badasses in the galaxy really struck a chord, and now, exactly two years a few days after releasing The Fringe Worlds, there are six books completed in the series, and soon to be a seventh (and probably going to nine and beyond). I’ve sold nearly 150,000 copies of my books in two years, and The Human Chronicles Saga was one of the bestselling series on Amazon in 2012 — and should be again in 2013.

Besides the unique concept of the storyline, I also attribute some of the success of the series to the fact that I write very cinematically (after all, I am a product of the TV age). My writing is bare-bones and without fluff, so much so that many of my fans have commented on how quickly they’ve read my books … and about how long it takes me to write more! But with people’s short attention spans these days, I think readers like books they can blast right through … as long as there is another one available right afterwards.

I also believe in getting right into the story and in keeping the reader engaged — constantly — until the very last page. This comes from my journalism training, where one needs to hook the reader immediately, grab them by the throat and not let them go until they’ve read the entire article. (Well, maybe not so dramatic as that.) But really, I’m not out to impress anyone with my poetic and flowery writing style, or mastery of obscure words no one uses in everyday conversation.  I have a story to tell and I’m going to tell it in the most direct manner I can.

On a personal note, the success of series has allowed me to leave my 25-year career in real estate and mortgages and pursue writing full time — an ambition of mine since I was twelve! Better late than never, right? Also, for you out there thinking about pursuing a career in writing, I’ve pulled in close to $400,000 in two years, simply from my little science fiction ebooks!

And although there will come a time when The Human Chronicles Sage comes to an end (or I take a break from the story of Adam Cain for a while), my writing style will remain the same. I hope my fans will follow me into the future, as I pursue other ideas and create new worlds in which to play.

By the way, there will be a large section in this blog devoted to writing and publishing. Even though my success has been recent, it has been substantial compared to others, and in an effort to keep it going, I do try to analyze everything so I can figure out what works and what doesn’t. Within this blog I will pass along my findings, advice and experiences. I hope all aspiring authors will follow me, as we discover even more writing success … together.

Frankly, being an independent author is the most fantastic job in the world. As I tell others: All I have to do is sit around and make shit up — and I get paid for doing it!

You can’t beat that.

T.R. (Tom) Harris