Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Riding the wave: Making a living as a novelist

On Facebook, James T. Jordan pointed out how far Patriots would have to go to catch the Suzanne Collins sales phenomenon Hunger Games.

True dat. But indie novels are sailing along on a great confluence of events right now (a subject for a subsequent post), and one does not need to launch quite the high-octane rocket that Collins (or John Locke or Amanda Hocking or Kerry Wilkinson... etc.) did in order to earn a decent living.

Authors with decent books who work effectively (and hard) at promotion are not necessarily making headlines, but they are making a living.

Newly-minted romance author Theresa Ragan regularly publishes sales reports. Releasing six books over the course of a year, she sold nearly 200,000 copies.

From this thread I teased out a few more stories:

Traditionally-published romance author Bella Andre was dropped by S&S. She went indie and sold 265,000 self-published e-books between the Spring of 2010 and the end of October 2011. (She later added that the total had spiked past 400,000 by Feb 17, 2012.)

It was 'smiles all round' at Jake Barton's place last year: "There’s no disputing Jake Barton, the alleged writer, has had a good year... just over 66,000 paid sales in the UK alone..."

J. Carson Black recounts her rise: "Darkness On The Edge Of Town was listed in June 2010 – and sold only one book. The following month, two books were purchased. It took eight months to hit sales of 100; with 137 in February 2011. Then things began to change. In March sales hit 1,280, and in April, I sold a staggering 10,000 books. If this wasn’t enough to make me scream with joy, in May sales hit more than 70,000 books. I was selling 2,000 books a day. Now Amazon’s mystery and thriller imprint, Thomas & Mercer, has signed me to their growing team of authors. To date (November 2011), I've sold over 300,000+ copies."

From the December 9, 2011 Wall Street Journal: "This past May, Ms. Chan decided to digitally publish [her book] herself, hoping to gain a few readers and some feedback. She bought some ads on Web sites targeting e-book readers, paid for a review from Kirkus Reviews, and strategically priced her book at 99 cents to encourage readers to try it. She's now attracting bids from foreign imprints, movie studios and audio-book publishers, without selling a single copy in print. The story of how Ms. Chan joined the ranks of best sellers [it has sold over 400,000 copies] by brand-name authors like Michael Connelly, James Patterson and Kathryn Stockett... is as much a tale of digital marketing savvy and strategic pricing as one of artistic triumph. Her breakout signals a monumental shift in the way books are packaged, priced and sold in the digital era." (Worth reading in its entirety.)

David Dalglish says he has sold over 175,000 of his books.

"It’s been one crazy year for two debut novelists writing under a new name, Saffina Desforges. Last Christmas [2010] the brand was completely unknown. Their book, Sugar & Spice, was barely a month old on Amazon and had sold precisely nothing. Not until February, three months after we launched, that we even made double figures!  It seemed the gatekeepers who had turned us away were right. Weeks became months. March became May. We were selling nothing. But by late summer, Sugar & Spice went on to break the 100,000 sales barrier."

E-book rock star Tina Folsom: Including my latest release, I've self-published eight full-length novels [since 2010], three novellas and three short stories, so 14 titles in total. In the last 12 months, I've sold over 300,000 copies of my books, and that excludes any freebies. My novels generally cost around $4.99-$5.99, my novellas $2.99 and my short stories 99 cents. The majority of those 300,000 units sold is attributed to my novels.

San Francisco Bay Area Author Barbara Freethy has sold over one million units of her self-published titles in 2011.  Unlike independently published authors who publish at the $0.99 price point to fuel sales, Freethy's books are primarily priced between $2.99 and $5.99. Her self-published books come from her extensive backlist, whose rights were reverted after the books went out of print. Freethy repackaged the books and put them on sale again, finding gold in books that had been taking up space in her closet.

Gemma Halliday Sells Her 1-Millionth Self-Published Ebook!!! 

Stephen Leather: "After selling close to half a million eBooks over the past twelve months I’m now taking a step back from self-publishing."

Victorine Lieske is a best-selling author and self-published her first book, Not What She Seems, in April of 2010.  In March of 2011 the book hit the New York Times best-selling ebook list, where it stayed on the list for six weeks. By May 2011 she had sold over 100,000 copies.

Terri Giuliano Long: Now, seven months after my discouraging conversation with the agent, my book has been in the Amazon top 200 for over five months – and sold over 80,000 copies.

You get the idea. Skipping the dues-paying tales and self-congratulations, the bottom line is that there are suddenly dozens of authors who have sold, according to Amazon, 50,000 or more books during 2011. Most of these folks you've never heard of - and probably will never hear from again, either, after the e-book bubble bursts. Some of the authors listed below, however, will by then have established their careers on this beachhead.

Rachel Abbott - Only the Innocent has been shifting more than 3,000 copies a day on Amazon.  
Susan Alison - over 50,000  
Dani Amore - 50,000
Bella Andre - over 400,000 as of Feb 17, 2012
Melody Anne - over 150,000  
Jake Barton - over 66,000 paid sales in the UK alone
Robert Bidinotto - 58,260
J. Carson Black - over 300,000
Cheryl Bolen - 145,000 
Catherine Bybee - 50,000 
Sarra Cannon - 50,000
Karen Cantwell - 50,000
Ruth Cardello - 50,000
Darcie Chan - over 400,000 copies
Mel Comley - over 50,000 since Sept 2011  
Blake Crouch - 50,000
Chris Culver - 50,000
David Dalglish - around 175,000
Carol Davis Luce - 50,000
Susan Denning - 50,000
Saffina Desforges - over 100,000
Mainak Dhar - almost 100,000  
Mark Edwards & Louis Voss - 50,000
Ellen Fischer - over 100,000  
Penelope Fletcher - over 50,000
Tina Folsom - over 300,000
Marie Force - 200,000 in the past year
Melissa Foster - 50,000
Barbara Freethy- over one million
Debora Geary - 50,000
Lee Goldberg - 50,000
Denise Grover Swank - 50,000
Allan Guthrie - over 63,000     
Gemma Halliday - over 1 million
Ruth Harris - 50,000
Liliana Hart - "should hit 100,000" in about a month  
Michael Hicks - 50,000
Amanda Hocking - Over the past 20 months she has sold 1.5m books and made $2.5m.
Debra Holland - 50,000
Sheila Horgan - well over 80,000
Hugh Howey - over 50,000  
Nancy C. Johnson - 50,000
Ty Johnston - over 60,000
Heather Killough-Walden - 50,000
Selena Kitt - half a million ebooks sold in 2011
J.A. Konrath - over 500,000 ebooks
Laura Landon - 50,000
Eve Langlais - over 56,000
Stephen Leather - close to half a million eBooks over the past twelve months
Jason Letts - almost 50,000  
Victorine Lieske - she self-pubbed her first book, Not What She Seems, in April 2010.  In March of 2011 the book hit the New York Times best-selling ebook list, where it stayed for six weeks. By May she had sold over 100,000 copies.
John Locke - more than 1,100,000 eBooks in five months
Terri Giuliano Long - my book has been in the Amazon top 200 for over five months – and sold over 80,000 copies.
Carol Davis Luce - 120,000 sales for 6 suspense novels in 6 months
CJ Lyons - 230,000 copies of one book in only two months and in almost a dozen countries. In addition to her six traditionally published novels, CJ now has nine books self e-published with sales of almost half a million books in 2011 alone.
H.P. Mallory - over 200,000 e-books in less than one year.  
KC May - 50,000
Bob Mayer - 347 eBooks in January 2011. By July, I was selling over 65,000 eBooks a month. By year's end, I had sold over 400,000 eBooks.
David McAfee - 50,000
Stephanie McAfee - my e-book sold 145,325 copies from January to August 2011
Courtney Milan - 50,000
Rick Murcer - 135,000 copies of two ebooks in 4.5 months
Scott Nicholson - 50,000
Anne Marie Novark - over 75,000     
Shayne Parkinson - over 50,000
Michael Prescott - 995,000
Rose Pressey - over 54,000 since April 2011  
Michael Prescott - 50,000
T.R. Ragan - in 10 months, she's sold over 160,000 books
Terri Reid - 60,000 ebooks in her first year
Adam Rendon - over 100,000
Lexi Revellian - 50,035 as of Feb 17, 2012
Shadonna Richards - 50,000
Imogen Rose - 50,000+
Nick Russell - 50,000      
L.J. Sellers - 50,000  
Michele Scott - Over 100,000 books in two months
Tori Scott - 50,000
LJ Sellers - 50,000
Christopher Smith - 50,000
Katie Stephens - 50,000  
Michael J Sullivan -Over 90,000 copies of five books     
Laura Taylor - 50,000
Vicki Tyley - 50,000
Michael Wallace - 50,000
Kathleen Valentine - nearly 50,000
Heather Killough-Walden - her series of four books sold over half-million copies.  
Michael Wallace - over 80,000
Kerry Wilkinson - his Jessica Daniel detective novels sold over 250,000 copies
Rachel Yu - over 60,000  


  1. Figure that at a minimum, a 99 cent ebook pays the author something like 35 cents. multiply 35 cents by 60,000 books and you're talking about a helluva lot more money than most fiction writers make in a year writing fiction.

  2. True. But many of the folks on this list aren't selling at 99 cents! Many of them are selling at mixed prices or at $2.99, and some intrepid souls at $4.99 or even more. For a decent book, the higher prices do not exert a demonstrable drag on sales. Some of these folks did quite well indeed last year, and that of course attracts more people pursuing the grail. It's a gold rush mentality.

  3. One question: What in the world makes you believe the ebook bubble is going to burst?

    1. All bubbles burst. It's quite possible, though, that this one could slowly deflate, like a leaky tire.

  4. As much as I would love to claim the whopping "230,000 copies of one book in only two months and in almost a dozen countries. In addition to her six traditionally published novels, CJ now has nine books self e-published with sales of almost half a million books in 2011 alone" -- that wonderful distinction goes to CJ Lyons (the next author on the list).

    However, I can claim over 120,000 sales for my 6 suspense novels in 6 months (up 70,000 over the listed 50,000).

    1. I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers, Carol. Thanks very much.