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

What’s In A Name?

Alien Talking“So you come from the planet Dirt?”

That’s one of the questions the aliens ask Adam Cain, the main character of The Human Chronicles Saga, when they learn he comes from a planet called ‘Earth.’ Just as the auto-correct on your phone tends to screw up what you’re typing, the alien translation device in this instance saw the word ‘earth’ as dirt, soil, ground, etc. You can see how this could happen.

Which is the subject of this post: Lack of context when communicating with aliens. Which is something I do all the time (communicate with aliens). What about you?

Yes, to others, we’ve named our home world dirt. Simple, basic and to the point; however, I have to admit we were NOT very creative with the name. Sure, Gia, Terra and a few others may sound more exotic, but that’s only to modern English-speaking ears. In Latin, Terra is Earth. So the impression a name conveys is often in the eye — and the ear — of the beholder. Still, why not Solar-3 … or even Fantasia?

And a little off subject, I have another gripe: The common house Fly. We went and named something a FLY! We take an insect with a couple of wings that buzzes around in the air … and we call it a ‘fly.’ Well, duh! So using this logic, a fish should be called a ‘swim,’ a cheetah a ‘run,’ and a grasshopper a ‘jump.’ C’mon, people, we can do better than this! The aliens are expecting a little more creativity out of us.

I mention the above because as a science fiction writer, I get to have fun with things like this. In my stories, I often examine some of the absurdities of language and how outsiders (aliens) would interpret certain words and phrases we take for granted. For instance, the common word ‘bullshit,’ when translated literally has absolutely no correlation to the colloquial use of the phrase. In my books, this really throws the aliens for a loop, especially since we Humans tend to use the word quite often. And not to be too vulgar, but one of my Human characters responds to some new information he’s just received by saying, “No shit?” Just let that roll around in your brain for a moment, with you in the place of the alien. This is really fun stuff for an author!

And I can also bring this subject back down to Earth — literally. As an English-speaking American from California, I’ve often wondered what goes through  the minds of my Spanish-speaking friends when they hear or read words such as Los Gatos — which is the name of a city in Northern California. Do they see this as The Cats, as in “I’m going to The Cats today to visit some friends?” Here’s another: Buena Vista (Beautiful View). Or Vista del Lago (Lake View). They each sound much more exotic in Spanish than they do in translation, and there are literally tens of thousands of other examples, in all languages.

So one person’s dirt is another’s home planet. It all depends on your point of view.

How we communicate with alien races, and how our common objects and points-of-reference can vary, is a big part of my stories, and something which I hope makes them more interesting  — and humorous — to read. I wish more sci-fi writers took these things into account. Common references such as these tend to Humanize the story.

And a few other quick notes.

I always capitalize ‘Human’ in my books, just as you capitalize Vulcans, Klingons and Martians. Why shouldn’t we also received the prestige of a capital letter? Also, some of my alien species are named for the planets they come from (Juireans, Sileans), yet in many cases they have names other than a variation of their planet-of-origin. For instance, one of the main enemies of the Humans are the Kracori … who just happen to come from the planet Elision. I would re-think this if we went around calling ourselves Earthlings, but we don’t. So there.

This reveals some of the crazy thought process that goes into creating my fictional worlds….

T.R. (Tom) Harris

Some Come Easier Than Others….

ApexCover5Book Seven of The Human Chronicles Saga is coming along nicely. It should be completed by November 23-25 and then sent off for editing and proofreading.

The issue I’m having now is with the title.

It has evolved from Starlight Falls to A Galaxy to Conquer … and now to The Apex Predator. Since the story revolves around mankind being the supermen in the galaxy — and therefore the greatest predator around — the new (or proposed) title seems appropriate and strong. I’ve put together a mockup of the cover, and I really like it. Any comments would be welcome, of course.

Since the final book in the series is already plotted and planned for release in late January, the title of A Galaxy to Conquer appears to fit that one better. That cover will probably be kept and used for that book. But for now, I’m adding The Apex Predator to my inventory of cover art.

Acquiring a Taste for Elephant

eating elephantSo I start a blog so I can keep my fans informed about my life as an author, as well as give tips to aspiring writers young and old.

But then I get bogged down eating elephants.

Yes, writing a novel is not something that can be done over a weekend, or even a week or two. Sometimes it takes months to finish the darn elephant, even taking one bite at a time. Elephants are big … and so are novels. That’s probably the reason most people who aspire to write books (estimated at 73% of the population) never do. It’s a daunting task.

Through the six books I’ve completed, I’ve found that starting the next book/elephant is the hardest part. Not because I don’t have the idea, or the story bores me, or any other such excuse. It’s simply because I know what a major undertaking it is. Once you commit to a book, it NEEDS to become all-consuming, otherwise you’ll never finish. (Or it will take you a Solar Magnetic Activity Cycle to complete. That’s eleven years if you didn’t already know.)

To help cut the elephant in the room down to size, some authors outline meticulously so they will know what each bite will consist of. Others just jump right in and start munching away. I’m kind of in the middle. I have a pretty good idea where the story’s headed, but mainly I let the characters lead me through the details.

Yet one of the most-important things I’ve learned is that you need to give yourself a lot of little victories throughout the writing process. What I mean by this is that you need to be aware of your progress as you go along, encouraged each day that you are getting ever-closer to your goal. Otherwise you’ll start believing that the task is just too big to complete.

For the most part, I accomplish this by writing most of the book out of sequence. Just as a movie is filmed as a series of out-of-sequence scenes and then edited together at the end, I take certain parts of the book that I already have worked out in my mind and just blast through these in quick order. Even though I may have to do extensive editing at the end to make everything mesh, at least I keep knocking out bite after bite of the elephant, eventually scaling the thing down the size of a small calf.

Here’s an example … sort of.

Suppose you have three main characters all doing different things throughout the book. I may write the complete story of one of the characters, even though in the finished the book we’ll be jumping back and forth between what each character is doing. If I find what this person is doing the most interesting at the time, then I write about that person. At other times, I may have a barroom fight outlined in my mind, even though it doesn’t happen for another 100 pages. But I’ll sit down and write it, and next thing you know, another 5,000 words have been chopped off the elephant. It sure beats having writer’s block. (A lot of writer’s block is a result of not knowing what comes next. Screw that! Write what you already know comes next, even if it’s the last scene in the book. Most people already have THAT worked out before they even write the first word.)

The key is to always be completing some part of the book, be it a scene, an important dialog or a chapter. Let’s face it, if you have 75% of a difficult task already done, the remaining 25% is all on the downhill slide. This remaining quarter may be the hardest part to figure out, but now we’re talking about only 25,000 words instead of 100,000. And the impetus is there to solve whatever plot issues you may be having. The book is almost done and the light can be seen at the end of the tunnel.

You will be amazed at how slowly a book begins … but how quickly it can get done once you reach this 75%/25% point. So if that’s the case, then get the 75% of the book done as quickly as possible. The rest will come naturally at the end.

The moral of the story is don’t get bogged down with writing in sequence. Write what you already have worked out. After all, these are usually the parts of the book that interest YOU the most. You might as well keep yourself interested in the story as you go along, because you’re going to be sitting at this dinner table for a very long time.

Now … back to work.

Write-on, my friends!

T.R. (Tom) Harris  

Misconceptions of Self-Publishing

50 dollars rooled upI golfed yesterday at a near-by country club and struck up a conversation with a nice young lady who ran the beverage cart. A recent college grad, she’s now contemplating which direction to take her working career.

The thing that really impressed me about her was that she was like a twenty-something — and female — version of myself! She was thinking about either a career in real estate (I spent twenty-five years as a real estate and mortgage broker) … or what she really wants to do is WRITE!

Of course this immediately got my attention, since writing is how I make my living these days. So I spent as much time as was possible while waiting to tee-off talking with this young lady, and I was surprised that for a young, tech-savvy person, she was woefully uninformed about the revolution in publishing that’s taken place over the past five or six years.

Since I don’t have a lot of time to post today — I do have another book to get out soon — let me just do a brief summary of what is possible today in the realm of self-publishing. (I’m sure I’ll expand on this subject when I have more time.)

1) Anyone can self-publish.

At this time, I’m exclusively using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform (KDP) to publish and market all my books. Amazon does not screen authors, and they do very little screening of content. Since I don’t write erotica, I do understand they are cracking down on some of the racy covers, which is understandable. But as far as content, not so much. And for authors, you don’t need to submit a resume or tear-sheets or … well, anything. Just your book, novella, short story or article. That’s right, they have all these things on their site.

2) You don’t have to be an expert at marketing.

Some of us have been fortunate to have found success with very little marketing. However, if you consider that Amazon is the largest marketer of books (ebooks and traditional) in the world, just making your book available on their site is like getting your retail product into Walmart. As I’ve noticed, all the outside marketing you can do to gain exposure for your book — outside of Amazon — is just playing around on the edges. If your product can’t make it on Amazon, then no amount of outside promotion is going to make much of a difference.

3) I’ll cover this in more detail in future posts, but let me tell you now what the four most-important elements of your book’s early success are in respect to Amazon.

A) The Title. Every genre has its group of specific buzzwords which attract readers. Whether it’s science fiction, romance, action/adventure or erotica, fans of these genres react to certain words or phrases. It’s important that you know what these are and that your title contains as many of these as possible — without having a ten-word title, of course!

B) The Cover Design. With readers on Amazon normally browsing through the genre bestsellers — which are displayed as twenty-book thumbnails per page — it’s important that your cover and title are prominent and READABLE! Too often I see flowery, italicized titles that can barely be read on the full-size image of the cover, let alone as a thumbnail. They may be pretty and cute, but they’re going to get lost in thumbnail size, and therefore possibly skipped over by the shopping browser. Make your cover brilliant, clean and with titles that can be seen across the room on a computer screen, even in thumbnail size.

C) The Blurb. This is the description of your book that’s on your Amazon product page. Don’t skimp here. I see too many one- or two-paragraph descriptions, when this is your first opportunity to interact with potential readers … your first chance to sell them on your book. There are ways to put boldface and italic type in your blurb, as well as larger type, even in Amazon-orange. (This involves some tricky HTML coding which Amazon doesn’t really want a lot of people to know about, but I’ll show you in future posts!) For the blurb, put in a bold, teaser headline, do the most intriguing copy you can (not, “This is the story of young love gone bad. And in the end, they all live happily ever-after.” Give me a break!) Put in excepts, synopsis … even how the story is unique from everything else on the market. Just look at what’s on Amazon today, and then analyze why you’re attracted to some and not to others. And then copy the format of the ones you like.

D) The Look Inside Feature (LIF). This is the sample amount of your book that readers get when they click on the cover of your book on the product page. Here’s the little secret: the LIF contains the first ten-percent of your book. Why is this important? Because, like every other kind of trailer (which this is), you try to leave the previewer wanting more. If your LIF ends with some downer or boring exposition, then the potential reader is going to likely sigh deeply … and move on to something else. Yet if you start your LIF with a real story-hook and then end it with a cliffhanger or in the middle of some exciting action, then the reader is going to want to see what happens next — and they’ll buy your book. So if you have a 90,000-word novel, see where 9,000 words carries you. This isn’t completely accurate by the way because the ten-percent includes the title, legal blurb, testimonials, as well as other things you put in before the actual first word of your novel, so take that into consideration.

So there are the four-basic elements of marketing ON AMAZON. If you do this right — and your story is interesting and well-written — this should give you a really good start at selling your book and building your fan base.

4) Editing & Cover Design.

The lady I was speaking with said she didn’t have an editor or very much money to pay for one. Honestly, I have a very good editor, and depending on the length of my books, he charges between $250 to $350. That’s not bad. You may also need a proofreader and a cover designer. Proofreaders should run a little less than editors, and you can get  covers designed for less than a hundred bucks. And by the way, the total cost of producing your book and getting it ready for publication shouldn’t run you more than between $500 to $1,000.

Here’s a sample breakdown: Editor: $300; Proofreader: $150; Cover Designer (with image included): $200; Cost to upload to Amazon: FREE!; Cost for Amazon exposing your book to all their millions of visitors worldwide: FREE.* Total Cost: $650.00. (Could be less if you design your own cover and use free beta-readers to do your proofreading.)

*Amazon makes their money by taking a split of the royalties. For books priced below $2.99, it’s 65% and you get 35% of the cover price. If the book is priced $2.99 to $9.99, you get 70% (minus a few cents for file size) and Amazon gets 30% of the selling price. Not bad at all. Example: My books sell for $4.98 and I net out about $3.20 in royalities. I know, this isn’t 70%, but with some Amazon foreign markets, I only get 35%. When this is factored into the total, it’s still about 64% to me.

You only make $3.20 per book, you say? Man, you have to sell a lot of books to make any money. That’s right, but like I said earlier, you have your book listed through the equivalent of the Walmart of book selling. In my first two years of self-publishing, I’ve sold close to 150,000 copies of my books (starting with one book, until now I have six). With the variations in pricing I’ve done through the years — they haven’t always been at $4.98 — this still has me close to $400,000 in paid royalties in twenty-four months.

Having disclosed this (da money!), my advice to the young beverage-cart lady would be this: Keep your day job, but in your spare time crank out your first book. (By the way, it’s always best to do a series. This way you can build an ever-growing fan-base while having readers always anxiously awaiting the next installment.).

I write fun, light-hearted science fiction novels, and you can see what I’ve made. Even if my cart-lady realized even a fraction of what I’ve done, this is way more than she could make selling real estate as a rookie agent. Believe me … I know!

And one last thing: How does Amazon pay royalties?

Amazon pays every sixty days after the completed month of sales. For example, for October, you will receive a royalty check (or direct deposit) at the end of December. This is incredible, not only for the speed in which they pay — as compared to traditional publishing — but also because you will always know to the penny how much you’ll be receiving two months in advance. This does wonders for your financial planning — as well as your piece of mind!

So … WRITE-ON!

T.R. (Tom) Harris