Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing


I Have Wanted To Write About This For A Long Time…

And now, with all the stuff with Data Guy and the new Author Earnings report and him starting up a new business to sell our business sales information to the highest bidders, I figure it was time.

As many of you know, Kris and I spend a decent amount of time each week with workshops, helping writers move forward after their dreams, both on the business side and on the craft side of fiction writing. It helps us keep learning and we enjoy listening and engaging with both new writers and writers who are a ways down the road already.

So when Author Earnings came out the first time, I celebrated with everyone else how a slice of data could show things we all sort of knew was happening, but had no real information to back up the feeling. That slice through one second or so of information from one store didn’t hurt anyone.

But it started a bad myth in indie publishing.

The myth is simply that writers make all their money only selling books.

And more exactly, selling books on Amazon, the world’s biggest bookstore.

This has lead to so many beginning writers looking to short-term gains and using Select exclusively. And it has lead to a massive number of promotion craziness, trying to spike sales.

And this is so short-sighted, many of you have heard me go on and on about it. And Kris, on one of her most recent blogs, did a post about how many of the hot-young-things of five years ago are now gone. No surprise to us. Expected.

So now Data Guy decides to sell our business information. (He is a person who has asked us to respect his privacy now for years, but does not respect our privacy in return. I have known his real name from the start and never told anyone. And I won’t now.)

And he sells our information with the idea that he gets 96% of all book sales. (I flat snorted when I saw that brag.) And then he pretends to tell us what we are making with our books. “Author Earnings.”

Sadly, or thankfully, except for beginning writers like himself, he doesn’t touch what many writers are actually making.

How I Make My Money With My Writing…

Data Guy might get about 15-30% of the income I make from my writing on any given month. Maybe. I am being generous there.

Yeah, I know that is shocking to most beginning writers and early professionals who spend all their time focusing on promotions and books on Kindle. I understand that.

So let me explain how this works with some numbers in two examples.

Example One: In the Shade of the Slowboat Man.

That’s a story I wrote for a vampire anthology sometime back in 1993 or 1994 at a writer’s retreat. It took me about two hours, maybe, to write it. The editor of the anthology rejected it as not being bloody or some such thing.

So Kris made me pull the story out of the drawer I had stuffed it in and send the story to Ed Ferman at F&SF Magazine. He bought it and the story came out in early 1996. It made the Nebula Ballot for best short story of the year, but lost to a wonderful story by Esther Friesner. It got picked up for reprint in the Nebula Awards anthology. (Yes, a vampire love story on a science fiction award ballot. My first science fiction novel made the Stoker ballot for best horror, so go figure.)

So over the first few years I had made about $500 or so on the story. Then it got optioned and then bought for an audio play series. They bought it for $4,000 and hired Kris to write the script for another $4,000.

After that it was reprinted in some odd places and then optioned for a movie and by the time the indie world came around, I had made just over $12,000 on the story.

That is far from my highest earning short story. For the moment, that award goes to Jukebox Gifts.

So I published In the Shade of the Slowboat Man stand-alone in ebook and in a $5.99 paper edition in 2009. I put it in a collection, and sold it as part of a subscription I did, and when I started Smith’s Monthly, I put the story in an issue.

Right now the story around the world makes me a few hundred a year in just stand-alone and some extra in the collection and in the magazine. That small amount of money could be tracked I suppose.

So why do I say I make money that isn’t tracked. To start off with, my magazine, Smith’s Monthly makes money that can’t be tracked by a spider on Amazon. I have subscriptions to the magazine, I have a Patreon page, and I sell direct through our stores and on numbers of eBay stores.

And none of the option money I made on the story could have been tracked since I never, ever announce any kind of stuff like that. No one’s business but mine.

Translation sales, movie sales, gaming sales, all can’t be tracked. Patreon can’t be tracked. Sales on Bookfunnel or on eBay can’t be tracked. Sales direct to B&M stores can’t be tracked. And so on and so on.

A Second Example:

For this one, short and sweet, let me use another author as a great example of sales that can’t be tracked. Newer professional writer Nicholas Kotar has a Kickstarter going to write two novels in his series. Maybe one of the best Kickstarters I have seen and I have done numbers as some of you know.

Right now with a bunch of time left, he is over $17,000. And no, this is not one of my pen names.

You can check out his Kickstarter here. Worth studying on how to do a fiction Kickstarter.

And not a dime sold through regular Amazon channels.

See why I snorted at Data Guy’s 96% stupidity.

The Myth of Earnings Only On Amazon.

Author after author that I have talked with only focus on selling books on Amazon. Sure, a few of the smarter ones have expanded out worldwide, but the focus seems to still always be on Amazon. Short, quick money I suppose.

And easy.

For me, I look at the money that comes in every month from Amazon and all the other places, then at the end of the year, if I have time, I look at sales numbers. But sales numbers don’t mean anything to me. It’s the money coming in that matters.

The cash streams.

And for me and my fiction, most of my cash streams do not originate from anything Data Guy can track and put on his many colored charts.

But even with that, what he is doing selling all our information still horrifies me.

And disappoints me. I just thought he and Hugh cared more for indie writers. Seems we were just being used.


  • Indiana Jim

    It just goes to show you there is no champion in which you can put your trust on this earth. There is no gatekeeper which will take care of you, no watchman that can take the place of doing your own homework and taking care of your business the best you can.

    • Sheila G

      True words. It’s disappointing to once again see that people we are supposed to admire and emulate have feet of clay. Not really surprising, though. People who sold shovels were the main ones who made bank from the gold miners.

  • Bill

    Hi Dean,

    I’m with you 100% on everything you said. I can’t believe what I’m reading about the info that is being sold to the highest bidders and all of the fallout so far for this. I only wanted to add that if you wanted another Kickstarter to look at for fiction look at Michael J. Sullivan’s last two indie published Kickstarter runs. After backer kit additions if my memory is correct he netted over $200k for those two books, The Death of Dulgath and The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter.

    Now there is a large amount of money that Data Guy IS NOT tracking.

    Thank you again for all you and Kris do.


  • David Anthony Brown

    Great post, Dean. My sales numbers are still small, but growing over time. I’m amazed a bit I sometimes make more at Smashwords than at KDP, never mind the odd trickle from other sources. So very glad I chose to go wide.

    On what’s going on with DG and Hugh… I’m disappointed too. I have no problem with them monetizing Author Earnings. But the perception of what they’ve created is awful. So many issues at stake, and it affects us all.

    It’s not too late for them to backtrack. But I fear this is just the beginning.. I shudder at what a lawsuit from Disney and Amazon might look like.

  • Philip

    Like any other hot industry, there are snake oil salesmen everywhere. The perpetuate myths. It reminds me of when I was in college and overheard two of my classmates on the train home debating a certain stock one of them just bought. This was during the height of the tech boom (later bubble). The guy who owned the stock said, “It doesn’t matter if a company has profits if the stock is priced high.” Hmm.