Episode 133 – Diversity, Business Models, and the October Author Earnings Report

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Question of the Week: Why do you think indie authors experienced a decrease in the latest Author Earnings report?

Are the good times over? Not for Jim, Bryan, and the indie community! After thanking their patrons Spider McGee (and his book Monkey Justice http://bit.ly/monkjust ), Charles Eugene Anderson (and his book Time Code http://bit.ly/thymecode ) and J. Rutger Madison (and his book A Curse Upon the Saints http://bit.ly/sntcurse ), the publishing patriots chatted about social media, author courses, and editor-finding tools. News stories included evaluating your business model, dedicating yourself to the right work, diversity in publishing, how to avoid getting swindled, and a drop in indie revenue from Author Earnings. This week’s Question of the Week: Why do you think indie authors experienced a decrease in the latest Author Earnings report?

What You’ll Learn:
  • What Facebook, Twitter, and blog tips worked best for one group of writers
  • How authors can refresh their industry knowledge in five minutes a day
  • How one tool can help authors chose the right editor
  • Why authors should periodically evaluate their business model
  • What new insight Joanna Penn gained at the Digital Commerce Summit
  • How Penguin Random House plans to support underrepresented voices
  • How authors can avoid getting swindled when working on box sets
  • Why indie authors’ market share has slumped in Author Earnings Report

Question of the Week: Why do you think indie authors experienced a decrease in the latest Author Earnings report?

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  • Spider McGee

    This has to be at least the third time my last book (from 2015) has been featured. I blame the election. Or maybe I’m just one lazy writer…

    • Bryan

      Random.org loves your book, Spider.

  • I think the drop in indie earnings is two-fold. I think Amazon’s imprints took a chunk of the pie, but also a hell of a lot of scammers were suddenly blown out of the water. The Author Earnings Report can’t tell who are scams and who aren’t. All it does is spider ranks. So a lot of those high ranked high earning books probably were part of the 10% “we” lost.

    • Bryan

      That makes total sense, Mark. Hadn’t even thought of the scammers being purged having an effect. Great point.

  • Lavie Margolin

    29:41 in.. I am famous. Thanks for the shout out!

    His indie author earnings accounted for the “sales”/ “pages read” distinction over KDP select over the last year? The way Amazon counts a sale over the last year has changed greatly and this would effect the actual sales of many.

  • Lavie Margolin

    29:41 in.. I am famous. Thanks for the shout out!

    Has indie author earnings accounted for the “sales”/ “pages read” distinction over KDP select over the last year? The way Amazon counts a sale over the last year has changed greatly and this would effect the actual sales of many.

    • Bryan

      You are! How was Indie Author Day, Lavie?

      As far as I know, pages read were counted in as part of sales rank. So, I don’t think that’s to blame.

      • Lavie Margolin

        HI Bryan. Thanks! It was interesting. It met my 2 objectives for the day: 1. To have an additional byline of my speaking list and 2. To make additional contacts at the NYPL so overall a win.

        • Bryan

          Cool, good to hear :).

  • JR Wesley

    Regarding diversity in books, you guys are spot-on talking about self-publishing being a great equalizer – we’re all starting from the same spot! However, I do think there are advantages for those who have grown up with the world at their fingertips, like confidence to believe in the possibility of success and the brazenness to go for it. Not saying it’s ever easy, but self-doubt can hold people back from taking that first step, let alone when there’s other factors that could be pushing someone down. That said, I wanted to shout out to you guys and ask if you’d heard of http://weneeddiversebooks.org/ ? It’s a movement specifically for kidlit so kids can see themselves in the stories they read. The idea being that seeing themselves will help boost the confidence of the next generation, and to show all kids that the world truly is a diverse place.

    To take a stab at your question regarding the October report indies sales slump: Harry Potter! During the early part of 2016, tradpub didn’t really have a massive seller. Cursed Child released July 31 and it immediately launched into a mega best-seller. Readers who were more than happy browsing all titles equally changed their pattern with the new HP release, resulting in the indie slump.

    • Bryan

      I actually hadn’t heard about WNDB, but that’s a really cool cause.

      Harry Potter definitely could’ve factored in, but would it still be killing the charts by October? Tough to know.

      Thanks for the post, JR :).

  • Matia Quintana

    Jim, you know, I was a little nervous listening to Bryan introducing the story on Penguin’s diversity efforts – nervous re: your reaction. I’m so pleased to hear you speak thoughtfully and with genuine concern about the subject. When, some episodes ago, you compared and contrasted the US and the UK’s governments as, I quote, “democratic” and “socialistic”, I was ready to jump down my smartphone and shake you about (It’s “capitalistic” not “democratic”. You, like many Americans, conflated the two – one is a political system, the other is an economic one). So, when Bryan raised this I was expecting similar limited thinking. To my very pleasant surprise, this wasn’t the case. Well done. Also, I once heard you mention REM’s early work as being some of your favourite (you’re a man of contradictions) – specifically which albums?

    • Bryan

      Haha, Jim is a complicated man, Matia :).

  • Bryan

    Haha, thanks, RJ. I think there’s no reason for us to jump to negative conclusions. Just keep on working and we’ll do our best :).

  • 5 bucks for a book cover! Jim, you and I shall have words, sir! 😛

    And as far as the attempt in diversity is concerned, I’m certain there will be multiple opinions regarding this, even within people–like yours truly–who this is meant to benefit. Needless to say, I think it’s obvious this has the benefit of good PR for Penguin, and I do get a bit of a sense of them throwing “us” a bone if you will.

    However, I do have a bit of an argument about why it’s not the minorities who are orchestrating some sort of strategy to better our exposure in literature. I think it’s something that history shows again and again. People who are not in a position of power but one of what may be considered oppression cannot gain a lot of ground unless they/we have the support of those in power with them/us. Take the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s, for example. What made it so effective was the fact that it wasn’t only blacks demanding change, but whites as well. I’m sorry to say another evidence of this is in what is considered the current Feminist Movement. When a woman voices her dissatisfaction with a social injustice regarding her gender, more often times then not, she is shunned and told to keep her thoughts to herself because a lot of males still envision such women as being a bit–dare I say it– radical or just plain whiny.

    In short, progress has never been made possible through the one in need of it alone. And while Penguin could be going about their strategy for diversity a lot better, I for one at least give them credit for putting forth some sort of effort. It has to start somewhere. Just my opinion ;).

    • Bryan

      Good points, Raphyel. Hopefully a couple of white guys saying diversity is important will help push things in the right direction ;).

  • Susan Illene

    I agree with many of the points others made and what you discussed on the show. Multiple factors likely contributed to the drop in indie sales according to the Author Earnings Report to include:

    1) Amazon purging a lot of scammer books that clogged the upper ranks.
    2) Some of the big indie names signing up with Amazon imprints and altering how their sales/earnings are counted.
    3) The big publishers getting savvier with their marketing tactics.
    4) Bookbub has been featuring more traditionally published books lately and fewer indie titles. Even when they do choose self-published books, it is more likely they will go with boxed sets.
    5) Many of us are leaving KU and going wide, which effects our sales ranking.
    6) I have noticed a difference in the marketing emails I get from Amazon in recent months and which books they choose to feature. Their imprint titles are definitely getting greater prominence. I’m seeing less advertising for the authors I follow, which is worrisome, and they often list books I would never read (not my preferred genres). Their emails used to be a great way for me to find new books but not as much anymore. Of course, this is just me. I don’t know if anyone else is having a similar issue, so I can’t say if it’s widespread.

    • Bryan

      Thanks for the points here, Susan. Very helpful addition to the discussion.

  • Perry Constantine

    I’ve seen a massive drop in my income this month. Not only in terms of pages but also sales, and that’s despite doing a pretty big ad push. Usually, running ads like I did on a promotion this month would lead to at least breaking even. But despite a ton of clicks and a pretty big jump in ranks, the sales don’t line up.

    I don’t think it’s all PageFlip, because that wouldn’t explain the drop in sales. It makes me wonder if Amazon is tinkering with some stuff behind-the-scenes. Might be going after scammers, might be making preparations for KU3, or it might be something else entirely.

    I hope this isn’t the new normal, though. I was just starting to make some decent money off my books and a setback like this is extremely demoralizing.

    • Bryan

      Keep building that list, Perry. After the election, get people back on board :).

      • Perry Constantine

        My next book will be a totally fictional not-at-all-based-on-anyone-in-real-life titled The Start of the Deal, written under the pen name of Tonald Drump.

        • Bryan

          Perfect ;).

  • Crissy Moss

    I was thinking about the new author earnings report the other day. I doubt it’s any one thing that has had an effect, but rather a few things.

    1. print coloring books are still selling well, and a lot of trade publishers are putting them out too.
    2. Amazon may be snapping up more of the promising authors.
    3. Trade publishers are learning tactics from self publishers and doing freebies, deals and offers.

    Another thing I wondered was how many self published authors have made their own imprint, like the SPP guys getting together under Sterling and Stone and Garrett doing Legendary Books. Do they qualify as small press now, or still self published? How does Data Guy count them?

    The line between self published and trade published is getting a little closer as more authors make their own small companies, and band together to help one another.

    • TheCreativePenn

      This is a good point – and I publish under a company name too – if my sales are lumped in small press, then we might need a better split. Indie authors with more books and more sales tend to set up imprints.

      • Crissy Moss

        Good question to ask Data Guy.

      • I wonder. It’s been a couple of years since I hear them explain how they determine Indie vs Trad, but I don’t think they know the difference between a one person show and a small press.

        How would they tell by the book’s page except to look for specific publisher names? There’s no check box for Indie on Amazon, and several of my books have a purchased (vs free from Amazon) ISBN and feature my totally made up publishing company name. 😉

    • Bryan

      Good points, Crissy. Though, I’m not sure if the coloring books are in there if they’re doing KDP specifically.

      • Crissy Moss

        Fair point. I had to look it up, and there are a number of coloring books on kindle, and some of them are selling well, but put probably not enough to effect kindle sales ranks. If we were talking print it would be a different matter.

  • QOTW: All the theories presented seem possible, but we may not get a full answer until future reports come out.

    However there’s a much bigger problem revealed in the podcast that hasn’t been addressed. It may may be the first of Bryan’s promised scandals: he’s on record referring to self-pub’d authors as “AMORPHOUS BLOBS OF PEOPLE.”

    I take offense. I am definitely an amorphous blob, but of only two things; stardust and pizza… NOT PEOPLE. How dare you, Bryan–HOW DARE YOU???

    • Bryan

      I stand by my comment. I’ve never seen any indies who AREN’T amorphous.

  • Sara Rosett

    I think the drop in indie earnings is partially due to some authors going wide, but I think a bigger factor is Amazon is pushing it’s own imprints much more than they did in the past. At least in my inbox I’ve seen a change in Amazon notifications. A few years ago I’d buy a book from an indie author then I’d often get an email a few days later recommending more of their titles or related titles (titles from the first books also-bots). About a year ago I noticed a change in the notification emails from Amazon. Now I get emails with all Thomas & Mercer titles. (I ready mostly mystery.) I got one today with seven titles all T&M and all KU and none of them even closely related to what I usually buy.

    • Bryan

      Oh wow. A 7-0 T&M shutout. Looks like Amazon is giving us fewer and fewer reasons to stay on board. Thanks for the info, Sara.

  • I suspect the answer is the combination of authors choosing to go wide and heavy hitter indies signing with Amazon imprints. The Amazon focus behind Author Earnings has always been a weakness which cannot be discounted when interpreting this report.

    • Bryan

      True. Thanks for the opinion, Edwin.

  • When was the last time you talked to a friend about a book and not this year’s election? With the constant bombardment of daily highly emotional and negative Presidential Election news tweets and propaganda telling us about how bad it is; the consumers put away their credit cards for the duration of the political election.

    As for book bub, after the first page the same old paid advertisements hung there all summer, which leads me to ask has book bub finally become passe and outdated as a way to find new books? Possibly.

    • Bryan

      Good point. I’m checking 538 for polling much more than I’m checking Author Earnings for indie stats :).

  • TheCreativePenn

    Thanks for the mention, guys!
    On the dip in indie sales – I’ve heard from people who have been publishing for 40+ years that book sales dip in election years, and dip a LOT in contentious election years … so that might explain the last report and also probably the next one.
    I’ve also seen a LOT of the top indies get picked up by Amazon Publishing – including their backlists, which would move market share from indie to Amazon Publishing.
    But also, my own earnings are now 46% Amazon and less than 50% USA based so a lot of indie income is not being counted by Author Earnings. Not sure whether they will start scraping from Kobo, iBooks etc but many more established indies are wide.

    • Bryan

      Sure thing, Jo! People, eh? Like people in Oregon? 😉

      That’s good info to know. Thanks for sharing!

    • jamiearpinricci

      The election has to be playing a part for sure.

    • Laura Martone

      Jo is one smart lady! I’d listen to her!

      • Bryan


  • If the downturn was because Indies are getting picked up by Amazon or other publishers wouldn’t those sales go up as much as Indies went down? Unless it was a bad more for the authors, of course. 😉

    • Bryan

      Well, Amazon went up 4 percentage points, while everything else only went up 1, so I think that’s some serious real estate that Amazon imprints snatched up for sure.

  • Hey Jim & Bryan!

    The Author Earnings Report doesn’t matter to me in the least.

    Amazon will continue to change the rules to suit them (as they should). Build YOUR business around that reality and “use” Amazon as a launch platform, not a catch all/sell all. I suggest going beyond just having your own site…and create your own net of products, services AND EXPERIENCES that revolve around what you write!

    Use all you have to get them to YOUR real estate, not Amazons.

    Example: I just signed a contract with a top Amazon seller to re-launch a popular game based on my books.

    They contacted ME through my books (thanks Amazon).

    They put up the seed money and it’s a 50/50 split, with me being paid first and ‘costs/expenses’ being pre-defined and agreed upon in advance. This seller expects to move 1000+ games a month to start (something they do regularly with other products)…and each game contains a QR code which links to my website for video examples of play and promo cards to sell more of my books.

    All the market’s doing right now is giving us the opportunity to choose to create deeper, solid, unique & longer lasting experiences for our readers–ones they will share and talk about–or be flushed out with the garbage.

    The choice is ours. It always has been.

    Just a thought.

    • Bryan

      That’s awesome, Jaime. Great point and congrats on the deal!

  • I wasn’t surprised to hear of people getting burned on bundle payments. I’ve heard of a few horror stories.

    You guys are exactly right. A contract is required that spells out the fiduciary responsibilities. I created http://BundleRabbit.com to help by placing the responsibility of divvying up the royalties to a trusted third party.

    Multi-author box sets (bundles) are an awesome promotion tool. But authors must protect themselves with a simple contract or service to handle the payments.

    • Bryan

      Cool idea, Chuck. Thanks for sharing!

    • @storychuck:disqus, have you done any non-fiction bundles?

      • Not yet, Just checked and there’s currently only 7 non-fiction titles in the marketplace. That number will continue to grow, but feel free to add your own non-fiction, bring in other authors, and create a non-fiction bundle 🙂

        • I don’t see a marketplace. Is that internal to the organizers?

          • It’s only visible to BundleRabbit users who’ve indicated they’re a curator or author.

  • jamiearpinricci

    While these won’t account for the dip, two things came to mind. First, as a hybrid author, my trad books have jumped in sales recently due to my effort promoting my indie titles. Second, we are at the time of year where academic needs are drawing a lot of trad sales.