Challenge,  Fun Stuff,  publishing

The Math Post… Some Additions

Some Really Fun Reactions…

Before you read this, you need to have read the blog post called The Math about three posts before this.

First…. I am finding it a massive hoot that not one person questioned that I gave the author 43,000 book sales traditionally (in about three months time) in my calculation, but are questioning 500 copies AVERAGE a year indie.

This is a prime example that authors really do think that traditional publishers have fairy dust to sprinkle on books and make them sell. The reality here in 2019 on the sales of that traditional book would be in the range of 15,000 copies per book, most of those forced into sales channels. Returns (books produced but destroyed) would run another 5,000 copies or more on the paper side.

Second book would be less because of how the ordering system works.

(You do not want to know how low a genre title sales normally is these days. Many are in the 1,000 range, and that is for the life of the book, remember.)

On the indie side, 500 copies a year might seem to be a lot to some writers at first. Many first author books won’t make that number for a couple of years as it takes time to grow in indie. But because of the nature of what I was doing, I had to use averages for indie authors because I was only talking about two books to compare.

For example, I had a series I loved writing just for me. Cold Poker Gang mystery series. First eight books I wrote over a three year period or so. They were trickling along, selling about a hundred copies or so per year I think. (I was told all this by WMG.) I didn’t care, with the eight books that was 800 sales for the series. Year-after-year. Do the math. Not chump change. But I wrote them for me, so honestly didn’t care.

Then WMG spent about three hundred bucks on a Bookbub for the first book in the series, and the series time was right and my stories and writing were good enough to keep readers interested and the series exploded. It has now sold, (the last time they told me, if I remember right) around a quarter of a million copies for the series.

So let me see… divide 8 books into that 250,000 and you get 31,250 books sold per title, divided by the four years they have been out and you get about 7,800 books a year. Way, way over 500 per year average. While for the three years before they caught on, I was about 100 books sold per title per year. Average, folks.

Unlike traditional publishing that has to make all its sales in a few quick months because traditional publishing considers books perishable like fruit on the stands.

Second…. In different places (not here), writers have brought up that silly myth of it costing $4,000 or more to produce an indie book, with all the costs of covers, paying editors thousands to make their book perfect, and thousands on promotion. That myth is deadly. Wow. And firmly held.

These people are saying my cost of $300 per book is not realistic, yet here, and in the earlier post on costs, many of you here were showing how it could be done even cheaper.

This myth would be laughable if not so deadly to so many writer’s dreams.

Third….. In a couple of places I saw posts of people saying they could never make 500 copies per year wide, only in Amazon Select (I may have that name wrong… you know, the place that is page-count and you can’t publish your book anywhere else and people who read it are free readers and Amazon pays you from a pool like a charity case.)

It seems that selling 42 copies wide (meaning around the world) per month is hard to grasp for some people. But how it works is three copies in Australia, five in Europe, one on Smashwords, five through other minor channels on D2D, three on iBooks through D2D, six on B&N through D2D, six copies on Kobo, and thirteen copies on Amazon.

All electronic. Paper and audio sales would be extra.

Or some combination like that. Plus other places like PublishDrive and so on. If you are wide and writing regularly, 42 copies sold per month can happen. But it does take a little build.

But if you put your books in Select (or whatever it is called now), even for three months, you lose build and readers who maybe have heard of your book, but can’t get it. You want every reader on the planet to be able to buy and read your book the moment they hear about it or want it.

And notice in this average I don’t even count any kind of bundling or licensing income that would not be possible if the books were in an exclusive sales place. Just a point.

Fourth…. Taxes. This one I got here and in another place. It seems that authors just expect to give almost half their money to the governments. Now I understand this with traditional published writers because they want to be taken care of and learning business and taxes is way beyond them. Hell, they are so stupid, they give a total stranger all their money and the paperwork with the money and then wonder why they get screwed and don’t get much money. Traditionally published writers in 2019 are not the brightest bulbs in the fixture.

But the smart indie writers I have observed tend to quickly get focused on business. They know what something costs (thus the discussion in earlier posts about how to save even more money on programs and art and such.)

Now granted, some indie writers have not learned yet and are paying “developmental scam editors” and hire agents for things they could do themselves. And pay thousands on advertising in a pattern that is not sustainable. But those indies tend to vanish in a few years after a number of years of shouting that they know the only true way.

The indies that are surviving are the ones that understand business, love doing things themselves, love being in control. And part of that control is just not blindly paying taxes to governments.

Now, don’t get me wrong, if you do not have a business structure that allows for savings on taxes, then you must not cheat and you must pay your taxes. Never cheat on taxes and always keep great records. Paper records!

But setting up the correct business structure is not hard. And does not change how you live. And if you find an accountant who works with musicians, writers, artists, and so on and who knows what we need, then you will be helped as well.

I teach basic business structure for writers in some classes and every year at the Master Business Class. It isn’t hard. Just don’t assume you have to pay taxes and then go learn the legal ways to not pay much of your hard-earned money in taxes.


Seems my little post with math caused a few people to get their undies in a bundle. Mostly beginning writers with a few books out, chasing the market, spending a ton on editing and advertising. Seems telling them that they will make a lot if they just learn to be better storytellers and write and publish.

But practicing writing, learning storytelling craft skills, learning business and copyright can make you a lot of money if you take control and have fun.





  • Philip

    Your math posts are my favorite posts. What you’ve hit on is a new sacred cow of the indie world: you must spend a ton on marketing and advertising to even hope to succeed.

    I hate to say it, but these indie gurus do more to discourage new authors from becoming indie than trad gurus do to discourage new writers from going traditional.

    Who would have thought?

    • dwsmith

      You limit yourself, your readers, and go exclusive and then depend on getting money from a pool and you are just asking for problems. I believe every reader in the world should have a chance to buy my book. If I limit it to a small percentage of the reading public, I can’t see any reason to do that. And why go after readers who want things for free anyway? And I could go on and on.

    • Amity

      Not to mention, Amazon has destroyed (provided the authors don’t brush themselves off and change business strategies) some authors careers. When you go Kindle Unlimited, you give Amazon all the control. If their bots decide you’re breaking the rules in some way, they can and will terminate your account in a heartbeat–and ensure you don’t return. Google-fu for it. There have been some authors making a killing through Kindle Unlimited, doing nothing wrong, then bam! All their readers — GONE. Their sole income stream — GONE. Their mortgage? Guaranteed to still be there. Now if they want to sell, they have to go wide, and it takes a while to build that readership–and often the KU readers and non-KU readers do not live in that happy overlappy part of the Venn Diagram. It’s a major complaint authors have with KU, that scammers can go ignored but true authors get penalized with no recourse.

  • richard schneck

    Ok. Maybe it’s because of my exposure to you and Kris, but I have no problem with any of that.

    As for the $4K to indie publish a book, that’s just silly.

    A few months back I put out my first novella. It is available everywhere, and in print, and I can’t actually say that it cost me anything other than my time.

    I used a free Amazon app to format it. And then did the cover myself. (I have an Adobe subscription. But I would have that anyway) And then made it a paperback through createspace. Which I am now in the process of moving it to IngramSpark because I want my stuff in physical bookstores (assuming there are any). Then I shoved it through D2D and it is now available everywhere.

    I haven’t done audio yet, but I’m busy writing new stuff.

    I have done zero promotion. I intend to do none.

    I am writing more books. I am working on improving my reader’s experience. (Good storytelling) Once I have a bunch of books out, then I might think about promoting some of them. But I don’t see any point in promoting anything unless there’s a bunch out there.

    All this is relevant because it is all new to me, and I don’t know what I’m doing. But it isn’t hard.

    The hardest part is recognizing the myths, as myths. And thanks again to you and Kris for pointing those out to me. (And continuing to do so.)

  • John Meaney

    Just on the cost-of-indie-publishing issue:

    I’ve published several books for a cost of $125 per title (at today’s exchange rate – I’m in the UK) for the covers and nothing else. That’s for ebook and trade paperback. I recently published an ebook of two short stories using licensed cover images for under $30, designing the cover myself. And not trying to capture a scene from either of the stories, either.

    I dare to be my own copy editor, because I submitted my last few traditionally published books typo-free. (Or more likely, with a small number of typos that neither I nor a well-respected editor could find.)

    How do I manage it? By printing off hard copy and reading the whole thing aloud, red pen in hand. Works for me!

    Well, there is something else: my publishing plans are founded on the idea that books aren’t perishable fruit, and the happy fate of the Cold Poker Gang books are a terrific example of that. And I learned that important idea from you and Kris, via your blogs and non-fiction books.

    Thanks again!

  • Glen Sprigg

    Just a follow-up to my comment on the last Math post.

    I sent an email to one of my college professors (I’m old, but in school) telling her that I’d been writing and I had some stories completed that needed a first reader. Her reply?

    “Congratulations on completing a draft!”

    I almost responded saying, ‘Okay, I’ll start from the beginning; let me know where I lost you.’ But, that’s the ‘creative writing professor’ mentality in action, I guess. I’ll have to look elsewhere for who I need.

    Following the advice of professors is inevitably going to result in an utter lack of success, with very few exceptions. I’ll stick to what the professionals have to say. Thanks again, Dean; in case no one’s told you this today, you’re awesome.

    • dwsmith

      Thanks, Glen, and yes, careful with dealing with those steeped in the myths, like college professors who most never write, but teach it anyhow as if they know what they are doing. Exception: Kevin J. Anderson and his publishing classes. If you can get into those, do so. (grin)

  • Lorri Moulton

    “The indies that are surviving are the ones that understand business, love doing things themselves, love being in control.”

    This is me! LOL I love the control and the freedom to make my own choices.