Monday, October 25, 2010

Reading, Writing & Arithmetic

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 For ten years I’d worked to network with other authors, published and unpublished, as well as industry professionals.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.


Wendy S Marcus said...

Wow, Amy! Great info. I think you should write a book on selling a book! Thanks for sharing!

Donnell said...

Agreed, Wendy. When I read this I thought Amy should create The Aspiring Author's Bible! Thanks for being here, Amy and congratulations!!

Michelle Diener said...

Amy, I'm all for authors helping other authors, so this is a fantastic post. I try to do all those things you list. It doesn't take a lot of time, and I hope the karma comes back to me when my book is out. :)

Amy Atwell said...

Glad to be of help--and I'm so glad that others know of these things, but I suspect there are many who don't or perhaps think it doesn't make a difference. But when I realized that my decision to buy an ebook straight from the publisher instead of from Amazon or B&N could double the royalty money flowing to the author, THAT was big.

Blythe Gifford said...

Amy - Careful of generalizations. Digital versions generally earn authors less than hardcover. For most authors, digital versions of regular Harlequin (series) books will earn the author LESS than the physical book. Everything is in play these days and it very much depends on the author and the publishing house.

Amy Atwell said...

Thanks for the correction, Blythe. Another Harlequin category author pointed out the same thing privately. I had no idea--though it makes sense. Harlequin is banking on selling the category books in stores. For them, the digital sales are like icing, whereas many digital first books the digital sales are definitely the cake.

This is why I hesitate to have this discussion with non-writers. For readers, the celebration is that they buy our books in any form!

This also makes me feel good that I always buy my category books in print! At least I'm doing that part right!

Edie Ramer said...

Fabulous advice! I'm going to save the link. This blog is a keeper! And I'll tweet about it too. lol

Lynda Bailey said...

I agree, great post - and I'm putting this link into my "Favorites" to be able to refer back to your advice in the future.
I don't own a Nook or a Kindle, but a Sony Reader. It's ubber easy to buy and download directly from the epublisher. Something I plan to do every time from now on!
Thanks for posting this! And I'd soooo buy your "Aspiring Author's Bible" in hardback!

Dale Mayer said...

Hi Amy, As usual you've brought a great collection of knowledge together. I've bookmarked this for future. Thanks!

Amy Atwell said...

Glad everyone is finding the info useful. Since people are linking or bookmarking the post, I may ask the Five Scribes for the opportunity to revise a bit about digital vs print royalties so I'm not misinforming anyone. Blythe is right--the best suggestion is that if you want to support your good friend authors, ASK them what's most profitable for them, then see if that's something you can do. Meanwhile, all the tagging, reviewing and social network sharing can be a boon to helping reach readers. Thanks!

Donnell said...

Sure, Amy. If you want to write a qualifier I'll post it in a different color so that readers can note. Does that help?

Robin Covington said...

Amy: As always . . . fantatic information. It's on my favorites list for later reference when I sell my book! : )

Jess said...

Great post, Amy!

Thanks for opening my eyes to how the math really works.

I'll make an effort to buy my e-books direct from the publisher as much as possible. Unfortunately, I'm limited since I already own a Kindle.

Valerie Bowman said...

Great post, Amy, and congrats on your sale! Not sure if you can answer this one, but Angela James recently tweeted about how ebooks could also have returns somehow. Do you know anything about that? Thanks!

Amy Atwell said...

Don't feel bad at all! Keep buying books you love. The sale, wherever it happens, is appreciated by the author.

I've been looking at Kindles AND Nooks (and other digital readers) for over a week. I hate to commit to any one of them--I mean they all look they fabulous, so I'm never sure which one to buy. Do you love your Kindle?

Amy Atwell said...


I noticed on B&N marketing pamphlet for the Nook, they make some comment about "testing" ebooks for 7 days or something like that. So, it's possible that ebooks do have the ability to be returned.

So, authors need to review their contracts to see if digital, electronic or internet copies are subject to having a reserve for returns calculated on them.

Great question!

Jill James said...

Amy, thanks for great info. This job justs get more and more intense, doesn't it?

Jaye Garland said...

Wow Amy, great summary of stats we all need to know whether we're published yet or not. Sure gave me food for thought about an eReader...which is on my Christmas list. Thanks bunches, and Congratulations once again, on your sale!!!

Mary Marvella said...

Thanks or all your research.

Judi Fennell said...

UTTERLY thrilled for you, Amy! Welcome to the wonderful world of publishing! And wishing you more than enough to meet that $1000 goal!

Gillian Layne said...

Amy, this is one of the most intelligent and straightforward posts I've ever read on digital press. Thanks so very much for spelling it out for me! I wish you the best of luck. :)

Amy Atwell said...

Morning, all! Thanks for dropping by last night. I'm so pleased people are finding this post helpful. I also appreciate the good karma about my upcoming release. The writing community is the BEST!

Marley Delarose, Author said...

Ditto everyone else. I, too, bookmarked this Informative blog. If you write the book on this subject I'll buy it along with Lying Eyes.

Marian Pearson Stevens said...

Hi Amy! Chiming in a little late, but enjoyed your post! Very informative. It's good to talk --bottom line -- since we all need to learn about this reality. Thanks for the eye-opener. I'm looking at the Nook and would like feedback on this if you get more--or from anyone here posting. Trying to figure out what works network and promotion wise to boost sales is a challenge. We work hard, hope to do well, and if we can help others--all the better. Thanks for the break down. Congrats on your sale! Here's to many more! Hugs!

Christie Craig said...

Hi Amy,

I'm thrilled for you. Here's hoping you a very successful career! Great info, too.


Christie Craig said...

Hi Amy,

I'm thrilled for you. Here's hoping you a very successful career! Great info, too.


LK Hunsaker said...

Hi Amy, nice summary. I may link it from my FB fan page as a suggestion to how readers can help authors they love.

A note about the Nook and 'testing' for a few days: it's a lending feature where you can share your book with a friend for up to 14 days, so it doesn't mean returns and wouldn't affect royalties any more than if you lend a friend a print book.

I actually have a Sony but I've been looking at the Nook.

carabristol said...

Great info. There's a lot of "meat" in this blog and I got some new ideas. However, the focus was on writers-who-are-readers helping writers. How the heck do you reach ordinary READERS who arean't writers? That to me is the hard part! (Although the listmania is a great idea).


KatieO said...

Congrats on your first book! Thanks for sharing all this info - as a newbie author myself, it sometimes feels overwhelming trying to get myself out there. It's good to remember that if we help support others, they'll help support us!

Thanks & best of luck!

Marilyn Brant said...

*Waving to Donnell*
Wonderful post, Amy! Thanks for being so informative and reminding all of us authors of ways to help each other ;).

Amy Atwell said...

Wow--even more people are stopping by today. Thanks all!

Cara asked about reaching READERS. A few things you might try are join GoodReads and look through their genre groups. If you write mysteries, check out and join their mystery groups. Don't plug yourself right off, but watch and listen--find out what these readers share and want. Contribute to the conversation when you can, mention your book when possible.

On Twitter, follow the #reading stream. Follow some of those readers. A lot of people on Twitter will follow you back. Be sure to add the #reading tag to your tweets when appropriate.

Definitely tag and rate your book on Amazon. Get your CPs or family to tag and rate it. If they've read it, ask them to write a review. All these tools help the average reader find your book on Amazon. B&N has a similar reader community.

And don't overlook the simple direct method of talking to people about your book. My first sale came from my husband's financial broker's mother. LOL My husband mentioned my book cover to his broker, the broker asked to see it. I emailed it to him. He forwarded it to his mom, and she went to Amazon and bought my book. Plus, since I list my Facebook profile in my signature line when I send emails, both the broker and his mother friended me and became "fans" on Facebook.

The other day I did something similar at my dentist's office when I was in for a cleaning. Turns out my hygienist is huge reader, so she friended me on Facebook to keep track of the book.

Hope that helps!

Angi Morgan said...

You always share the best information. Thanks, Amy.


Kathy said...

I don't have a kindle or a nook I'm old fashioned I really like paper books. I can't afford either one of the two either. But thanks for the interesting info Amy and good luck. Is your book available in paperback? Is it only available through B&N or Amazon or Carina? I usually buy my books at Wal Mart or maybe the PX, since we're military and live near the base now. I have to raise my hand and sheepishly admit to never having bought anything off Amazon. I'm not much of a shopper either lol.

Amy Atwell said...

Thanks for stopping by, Angi and Kathy!

Kathy asked about where my book was available. Carina Press (my publisher) labels itself as the "digita-first" imprint within Harlequin. Even though Carina has contracted rights to my print editions, as yet they haven't exercised those rights. So, there are no print copies available for the foreseeable future. Believe me, when it happens, I'll be CROWIN'!

You can purchase the book electronically (digitally) in one of a few formats. The PDF format is readable on your computer like any other PDF document. That's available from Carina and I think B&N.

Hope that helps!

Misty Evans said...

Hi Amy. Hi Donnell.

Great job breaking down the math for us math-phobes, Amy. I do have spreadsheets for my books and track sales and analyze what's already been sold, but not as good about projecting what NEEDS to be sold.

Congratulations on your upcoming release. I'll be happy dancing for you and hope to help your bottom line by buying a copy.

Lisa said...


Fabulous information and insight! We all think that buying a 'book' supports our favorite author(s) but now it will be easier to support them so it is better for us all.

Thanks for opening my eyes.

Donnell said...

Amy, thank you so much for sharing your expertise, and best wishes on your first book, Lying Eyes. I know, as I've read other works of yours, that we shall see many more.

Dijana said...

Wonderful info!! Thank you so much for the insight!! It'll definitely affect the way I buy books. Much appreciated and congrats on the book!

Amy Atwell said...

I've been out of town for the weekend, but so glad folks are still checking out this post and finding it helpful. Happy Halloween!