What is Indie Author Success?

refugees-1020163_1280I research my profession – a lot.  Ok, kinda obsessively.  None of the data seems to be consistent, until I realized I was asking the wrong question.

I wanted to know what percentage of independent authors are successful.  Well, that’s a real broad term, isn’t it?  What does that word mean?  Above the median?  Profitable?  Able to quit their day job?  Millionaires?  Until I defined the question better, there’s no way I was going to get a good answer.

So, what does it mean to be successful?  For me, I hope to one day stop working “somewhere else” and focus all my attention on writing.  I’m currently halfway there.  I have a lovely part-time job with a team leader who spends the day talking plot outlines and a boss who checks up on my latest release results.  Saying “I have a book emergency” is a valid excuse for running out the door like my hair is on fire.  I can’t beat this job, but I still would rather write full time.

But still needing to work doesn’t mean I’m not successful.  All of my books are profitable.  They bring in more money than I spend to create them.  That, my friends, is the definition of profit.  I include everything in that calculation, too.  From ad campaigns to design costs and website hosting, if I spend it on the books, then it is an expense.  If it’s vague – like web hosting – then I break the cost evenly among the books.  If it’s specific (like an ad push) then I expect the book to make it back.  So far, my only book in the red is the one that released last Friday, and it’s quickly earning out.
But what kind of money can an author expect from doing this?

To be honest, not much – but what do you expect when you sell something for the price of a cup of coffee?  This game isn’t about making it rich on one book.  It can’t be.  On a book priced at $2.99 (USD) I make less than $2.00, and that money gets divided up by the expenses.  You see, THIS IS A BUSINESS.  I have to treat it like one, and that means volume of sales is the only way to be successful (i.e. a full-time author).

money-1090815_1280So how do I sell a whole lot of books?  Well, it usually helps if there’s a little variety.  I mean, really, how many people are going to rush out to buy a series about some princess turned gladiator?  Not exactly a “high draw” storyline.  Instead, I wrote a novel that hooked the people who DID take a chance on it.  I make them love it enough to want more, then feed it to them like a narcotic.  Once they are addicted, I show them the next shiny thing, then the one after… I mean my books, of course.

Which means I need to keep writing some damned good books.  I can’t put all my eggs in one basket.  I can’t expect that The Rock is going to RT my tweet about a girl fighting cancer.  I certainly can’t sit around and expect my BOOKS to find people to read them!  Sounds silly, right?  But how many people have done exactly that?  How many people think that “if you write it, they will come”?  How many people are so blinded by the passion of their art that they forget that critique is necessary to get better?  They refuse to fix something because the LIKE it like that – and then wonder why it never sells.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am NOT saying that we authors should sell out and write vampire BDSM magician school stories because those sell like hot cakes.  I’m saying that whatever story we have to tell, we need to treat it as art, and make the best art we can.  We need to LISTEN when someone posts a bad review.  We need to celebrate when we get a good one.  Most of all, in order to be a successful author, we have to work our asses off, because overnight success usually takes a few years to make happen.

And if you’re wondering, I make approximately $125/month/book right now.  With each release that number grows.  The more books I have, the more chances for someone to stumble upon my work and read everything else I wrote.  The more books I have begging for readers, the greater my odds of success are.  Remember, 1 in 4.2 million isn’t as good as 1 in 2.1 million (2 books), or 1 in 1.4 million, or where I’m at now – 1 in 1.05 million (with 4 books available).  Never mind the quality of the books, because if your book sucks, no one will pay you for the torture of reading it.  If you’re not getting sales, look there first.

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