Please join Five Scribes in introducing the talented Amy Atwell as she makes the transition from aspiring author to published.
Thank you so much to the Five Scribes team for inviting me today. I hope not to make this difficult or long-winded, but there is a lot of ground I want to cover in an effort to help other writers—writers who have sold books in one or more formats, as well as writers who will one day face their first contract and sales process.
You see, I recently sold my first book to Carina Press. Immediately, I had to stop thinking like an aspiring author and think like a published author. My mind grappled with this new reality. For ten years I’d worked to network with other authors, published and unpublished, as well as industry professionals. Now, suddenly, I realized that what a published author really needs is READERS.
Let’s agree on this simple truism: Most writers may be readers, but all readers are not necessarily writers. I’m going to start with the finding readers, because I’m afraid if I start with the math, I’ll lose some of you.
More and more publishers today are encouraging authors to actively engage in social networking. It’s free, it’s at your fingertips, it’s addictive, and it can be fun. In doses. Many of us are already active on Facebook with Profile and/or Fan Pages, Twitter, MySpace and the other networks. Many of us have websites. Many of us blog.
But stop and review how you use these tools. Is your target audience fellow writers? Do you even have a target audience? Or a message to share? Or a theme for your blog? With all the busy voices chattering on the Internet, why will a reader stop and focus on you?
Most of us start our networks with family, friends and writing contacts. This is a great start—yes, you’re doing fine. But at some point you need to look at the numbers of people you’ve gathered around you. 50, 100, 200, 700, 1,400. But if they’re all writers, what are the odds that all of them can help you in one key area that really counts—when you publish a book and need to sell it to readers? The problem here is that the bigger the network, the harder it is for writer friends in that network to support each other. And so, authors need to branch out. We need to find READERS.
Okay, here’s the math part. Stick with me, because after the numbers, I’ll give some tips on how we writers can help each other expand our networks and find those readers out there.
My upcoming release is a digital book. The cover price is $6.99 (it’s over a 100K words in length, hence, the higher price). Amazon and B&N are offering it at a 20% discount. Carina Press also sells it directly, and has a 10% discount on it. Plus, you can often find additional coupon codes to discount the price again.
Like many authors, I’d like to earn a minimum of $1,000 in royalties on this first book. If you review Brenda Hiatt’s Show Me the Money webpage, you’ll see this isn’t always easy with digital books. But digital has the advantage of higher royalty percentages than print books. Significantly higher percentages. Still, let’s do the math to see how many people have to buy my book.
My contract says I get a royalty percentage based on Cover Price. This is good, because it means I don’t take a hit by all these discounts being offered. Digital royalties vary by publisher—anywhere from 25-45% for sales made directly by the publisher.* Sales made through third-party booksellers (Amazon, B&N, Fictionwise, Borders, etc) often earn a smaller percentage. In my case, I earn half the royalty for an Amazon sale as I do if someone buys my book from the Carina Press website.
In some instances, traditional publishers might set digital royalties at a much lower rate. See the comments on this post for more specifics. In general terms, the royalty rate mentioned above should reflect what most digital or digital-first publishers are contracting.
So, let’s say my percentage royalty works out to be $2.00 per digital book sold by Carina. (It doesn’t, but it keeps the math easy.) I would have to sell 500 books directly from Carina to meet my target of $1,000 in royalties. However, thousands of book buyers are more familiar with Amazon than with Carina. And Carina doesn’t sell the Kindle version of my book. At Amazon, I only earn $1.00 royalty per digital book sold. Now I need to sell 1,000 books from Amazon and the other online retailers combined to earn that same $1,000.
I know I have a lot of writing friends, but I honestly don’t expect 1,000 of them to go out and buy my book. My only hope is to get info about my book out there to people who love to read the kind of story I’ve written—even if they don’t know me that well.
Note: authors of printed books often earn an advance against their royalties, and this should be a minimum of $1,000, sometimes much higher. But royalty rates for paperback books are generally 4-8% and contracts may vary on whether that percentage is based on cover price, selling price or net received by the publisher. Also, royalties are held in limbo by the publisher for months in case bookstores choose to return copies of a book, effectively canceling those “sales.”
Mass market paperbacks may cost the same as a digital version of a book. But trade paperback books often cost the buyer twice the digital version price. If a book is $12.00 in print and $5.99 in digital, the author still earns a larger royalty on the digital sale than the print sale.
Still with me? I go into all of this assuming you’re writers. You want to see fellow authors be financially successful. You want to be financially successful. I don’t want to imply that there’s a right or wrong way to buy and read books. It’s just that the last four months has gotten me thinking about the effects of my buying choices. For instance, when I buy a digital reading device, I may buy a Nook instead of a Kindle because with a Nook, I can more easily buy books directly from the various digital publishers. In most cases, this means more money flows to the author than if I only buy from Amazon.
Even if you can’t afford to buy books written by all your author friends, you can spend a little time to help them (or yourself). Try not to sacrifice your writing completely. It’s true that you cannot do it all, but try to prioritize arcs of time to include writing, your own marketing efforts and supportive networking. I’ve included some ideas to get you started.
· When buying books, stop to consider whether format (i.e. physical book vs ebook) is important to you. If you’re flexible, consider which version of a book is likely to put the most royalty in the author’s pocket. Generally, a digital copy will earn an author more money than a print copy.
· If/when you read, take a few minutes to post a review on your blog and/or at the various book websites: Amazon, B&N, Borders, GoodReads, Shelfari. Customer Reviews really help.
· While you’re buying books online or posting reviews, be sure to “tag” and assign a “rating” to the book so other readers can find it. The more people who take these simple steps, the more it helps that book come up in searches within that site.
· Create a Listmania list on Amazon. List your favorite books, favorite authors, books about a geographical area, a subgenre, a character archetype. Yes, if you’re a published author, by all means include your own book on the list.
· On Twitter, tweet about books you love. Use #amreading to tell the world what you’re currently reading. Other useful hashtags to connect with readers are #books, #reading, #readers, #ebooks.
· If you’re invited to attend a Facebook Event for a book release, click Attend to support that author. You can Share the event (this adds it to your profile and feeds it to your friends) to show even more support.
· If you like an author, then Like her/his Fan Page on Facebook. This feeds their “professional” announcements onto your Wall so all your followers can see it, too.
· Seek out friends who are readers on the various social networks. Libraries, review sites, independent bookstores are great places to start.
That's it for me. I'm by no means the authority on all of this. As for the math, I've got a fine arts major from a liberal arts college, so pull out a calculator (and your publishing contract, if you have one) and crunch a few numbers yourself. I'd love to hear your thoughts on all of this including:
Do you think social networking is useful in connecting authors and readers?
Have you ever written a reader review of a book you enjoyed?
Do you buy books on the Internet, and if so, from where?
Do you have additional ideas on how to connect with readers?
Amy Atwell worked in professional theater for 15 years before turning from the stage to the page to write fiction. She now gives her imagination free rein in both contemporary and historical stories that combine adventure and romance. In addition to her writing, she runs the online writing community WritingGIAM and blogs regularly at What’s the Story? and Magical Musings. An Ohio native, Amy has lived all across the country and now resides on a barrier island in Florida with her husband and two Russian Blues. Her debut romantic suspense novel, Lying Eyes, will be available in November 2010 from Carina Press.