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May royalty statement has just arrived from Loose Id. Items of interest:

-- First Footer's first quarter at ARe, 50 copies, first complete month at Amazon US 51 copies, nil to 3 everywhere else, including Loose Id's own website. It's a solo re-issue of something that was previously available for years in an anthology, so this pattern may not hold for a brand new title. (I'd expect higher numbers all round, for one thing.)

-- Buildup 2: Pulling Strings has finally reached 1000 copies sold since it was first released. *Exactly* 1000, copies, as it happens.

-- Almost all sales come from third party distributors these days. Whether that pattern would hold with a brand new release, I've no idea. The big ones are Amazon US, then ARe and B&N, but the cut varies from title to title and month to month. The other Amazons sell a steady trickle. It would appear that Sony readers are not into m/m erotic romance, or at least not *my* m/m erotic romance. And RIP Fictionwise.


All of which prompted me to check the statistics on the short story I have up as a free download at Smashwords, Naked. That went up at the end of October last year, and has accumulated 454 downloads as of this morning, i.e. in seven months. It's running at around 1 download a day these days.
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This morning's post included the cheque for my short story in the Mammoth anthology. Yes, an actual cheque. This may not be of great interest to those of you who spell it "check" but here in the UK, the banks were making a determined effort to make the cheque an extinct species, on the grounds that nobody used them anyway and all the cheques that people weren't using cost too much money to process.

It's quite true that cheque usage has dropped drastically, but that's not the same thing as either a) they are no longer used, or b) that there are no situations where cheques are more convenient. I suspect that were I trying to handle the logistics of an anthology with over 100 stories, I would much rather deal with a list of names and addresses than a list of names, address and bank transfer details.

The anthology in question is officially released in the UK tomorrow. So far I have only read a handful of the other stories in my trib copy, but the ones I've read, I've liked. They didn't all do it for me as porn, for Not My Kink reasons, but they were still good *stories*.
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My bit of it, at any rate, has been handed over to Other Half, who does the actual wrestling with the tax software. Of course, Other Half got snarled at for coming and asking me to break down what was in each line item, because the tax software is terribly helpful and asks for lots and lots of different sub-categories so you understand what to put where, whereas my 1-2-3 spreadsheet just has columns that correspond with the line numbers on the Schedule C, I don't break it out any further than that, and I'd simply handed him a Schedule C all properly filled in.

It's a tedious job even at the best of times, and this year's was affected by assorted medical problems. I did not keep on top of the paperwork during the year, and although I'd caught up on a fair chunk of it just before I went down with RSI, it's not been a lot of fun getting the last of it finished and the Schedule C and SE filled in. It's still rather satisfying to see that yes, I did get a little money in backlist royalties, more than enough to be able to justify claiming office running expenses and last year's Redemption expenses. Now, if only I could write fiction with Dragon, I could get on with dealing with the problem of not having had a new release for 4 years.
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Number-crunching updated to include 2011. The numbers here are the total sales from when the book first went on sale to the end of the calendar year cited. Which means you can also get the sales per year figures for 2009 onwards with a bit of subtracting, if you're so inclined.

This does not include sales over the Christmas period, as the publisher account period runs to the third week of the month. Next month is when I start to get an idea if the big push on selling ereaders this Christmas will show up in my sales figures.

from 1st day on sale until end of2008200920102011
Black Leather Rose7749229951024
Buildup 1: Mindscan1304146615541629
Buildup 2: Pulling Strings711857918967
Dolphin Dreams1739215123522725
Lord and Master1510183920572390
L&M 2: Taking Work Home648102012011408
Promises To Keep1002111912001242
Spindrift 2: Ship to Shore419480510516

The pattern I was seeing last year continues -- sales direct from the publisher's website are a trickle (which is not surprising as all of these books have been out for at least three years, with my last release in August 2008). The bulk of the sales are coming from third party resellers, and the bulk of those are coming from Amazon. Second place now seems to go to ARe overall, although there's also a showing from Fictionwise and Barnes & Noble. Not much from Sony, although even there there's a handful of sales.

I made just over $2k in royalties, which given that I have no exposure from new releases for over three years, and have been doing no promotion, isn't too bad. It's certainly an incentive to keep working on the new book. :-)

And this shows very clearly why there will be no third Spindrift book, even though I know what the plot would be. The first Spindrift book is available on third party sites but has still sold fewer copies than two titles which are only available direct from Loose Id. If I were still writing full time and able to put out 2 or 3 books a year without risking quality, I might gamble on it, but I'm writing around a day job as and when my health is up to it. Not happening. I have more books I want to write than time to write them in, and sales are something I take into account when picking which one of them to put at the head of the queue.
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Number-crunching time, as US tax deadline approaches. I thought it might be useful to post sales figures for my books. The numbers here are the total sales from when the book first went on sale to the end of the calendar year cited. Which means you can get the per year figures for 2009 and 2010 with a bit of subtracting, if you're so inclined.

 from 1st day on sale until end of200820092010
Black Leather Rose774922995
Buildup 1: Mindscan130414661554
Buildup 2: Pulling Strings711857918
Dolphin Dreams173921512352
Lord and Master151018392057
L&M 2: Taking Work Home64810201201
Promises To Keep100211191200
Spindrift 2: Ship to Shore419480510

Other items of interest -- sales direct from the publisher's website have dropped to a trickle, which is not surprising as all of these books have been out for at least two years - the last release I had was in August 2008, before The Day Job Ate My Brain. But over the last 18 months I keep seeing new sales coming in as they add titles to reseller's lists. The really interesting one is that Dolphin Dreams is doing well on Amazon, and having had three months' figures now (Jan-March), it has gone up each month. I'll be interested to see if that's a fluke, or if it reflects increasing Kindle ownership.
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Just putting my December royalty figures into the spread sheet -- the statement arrived just before Christmas but this is the first chance I've had to do more than glance at it. Time to throw out a few numbers that might be of interest.

My best-selling book is still Dolphin Dreams, which has now reached 2151 copies sold since it went on sale. Yes, very much small press numbers, but not bad going for a small press book. For the curious, around a thousand of those came from direct sales from the publisher's website before it went made available through the distributors, and about 3/4 of the total number since release is from direct sales. For distributor sales, Fictionwise has around double the numbers going through All Romance eBooks.

Second best is the first Lord and Master book, which has sold 1829 copies. Again, around 3/4 through the publisher website, but this time three times as many from Fictionwise as from ARe.

That's the general pattern on my books -- major share is through Loose Id, with the largest chunk of distributor sales coming through Fictionwise, but a significant fraction of distributor sales through ARe, and a tiny trickle through others. (My ebook titles aren't on Amazon, so I have nothing to report one way or the other there.) That's one author, through one publisher; other authors report different experiences.

The second Lord and Master book has now sold 1020 copies, almost as many as the first book had after the same number of months on release. That's pretty pleasing for a sequel, as it suggests that a lot of people liked the first one.

Promises To Keep is the oldest of my titles which are still in print at Loose Id, having been released for Halloween 2004. Yes, more than five years ago, not long after Loose Id opened. It still sells half a dozen copies a month -- not a great deal of money, but rather gratifying nevertheless that people are still interested in buying an old backlist title.

A couple of points to note here: a) my books typically sell 500-1500 copies in the initial 2 year contract, b) that's a two year contract taking only the rights the publisher has a reasonable chance of using, not a life-of-copyright contract grabbing all rights, c) I get a detailed monthly royalty statement, on time, that breaks down exactly which titles sold through which venues, and how much money I got for each venue and title. Now, obviously I'd like to be in mass market paperback and looking at numbers with another zero or two on the end -- but even in the small press market, there are good and bad publishers. Anyone with a zero fewer on the end of their sales numbers should be asking themselves if there are better options. Ditto if your publisher claims that it's too difficult to provide detailed royalty statements so that you know what they owe you. As for life-of-copyright, that's not automatically bad, but they had better be offering something worthwhile in return.

But... even someone who can sell ebooks consistently at that level can have the occasional "sink without trace" title. I've got one that barely scraped past 200 after two years. I have an idea as to why, but no hard evidence. There are no guarantees in this game, just ways to improve the odds in your favour.

Back to work on the accounts. One of the joys of wandering from country to country is that one ends up having to file tax returns in more than one of them, and they have different rules. Blech...

{Note: all numbers in this assume me not cocking up entering the data into 1-2-3...)
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I'm doing my US tax return. I'm acting as agent for a couple of payments for a friend, because I have both a US bank account and a UK bank account, which makes it a lot easier for me to deal with small royalty cheques in either currency. This means I need to know how to handle those payments on my US tax return, and I knew I'd seen a quick summary of this topic on one of the agent blogs I follow. Pity I didn't bookmark it at the time.

A certain amount of Googling later, I found it on Pubrants:

There are useful bits in the comments thread as well. Also some idiotic bits -- it's a blog with open comments. :-)

I'm looking at it from the perspective of someone who is already well ensconced in the US tax system, but it's also likely to be useful to Brits who are trying to work out which bits of paper they need and why if they're to avoid the 30% withholding tax on royalties from US publishers. For that, there's also an excellent blog post by Alex Beecroft on the Britwriters blog, Your ITIN and you.

(No, I am *not* willing to act as transfer agent for anyone else.)
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It's that time of the month again. Royalty statement time. Time for me to bore you all again with the mantra of "8 copies in the first month is not a bestselling book, whatever your publisher may be telling you".

My royalty statement this month is showing the effects of the financial turndown. Either that, or it's something I said or failed to say on a blog somewhere, and I've caused more than my usual number of "never buying one of *her* books again" moments... Either way, numbers are definitely down slightly across my titles.

That means one book just missed out on reaching 1000 copies sold since it first came out, when I'd expected it to hit that mark this month. On the other hand, Lord and Master has just squeezed past the 1500 mark. And I'm still getting a tiny trickle of sales reports on the last few copies of the treeware edition of The Syndicate, which was formally taken out of print back in June.

Titles vary in how successful they are, even with the same author, publisher and genre. But at this point I'm going to be disappointed if one of my titles doesn't manage 500 copies in the first year. 500 copies is a respectable enough number in small press publishing.

I've been around long enough to be on at least one or two people's auto-buy lists, but in erotic romance ebooks, people mostly seem to buy by publisher. Do your homework on sales levels when checking out a potential publisher. "Good sales" isn't enough. Nor is "bestselling". What are the actual numbers behind those phrases? The hard number behind one publisher's "wonderful performance" may be what another house considers a poor level of sales.

The place with the highest overall sales isn't necessarily the best place for your book. There may be issues with the standard contract, there may be issues with getting paid in a format that doesn't involve massive taxes or currency conversion fees if you live in a different country, they may not publish the genre you write. If sales numbers were my only consideration, I'd learn to write het so I could sell to the mainstream. But sales is one of the factors that goes into the mix, and when it's your book at stake, you want hard and spiky numbers, not warm and fuzzy phrases.
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I've just had an interesting demonstration of commercial considerations in writing. I regularly check the submission guidelines posted at ERA, partly to look for markets for things I've written, and partly for inspiration -- I've had a couple of good short stories out of reading interesting calls for submissions there, including my vampire short Promises To Keep, which is published by Loose Id but was originally written to submit to an anthology edited by M Christian. And there was a period when I tried to come up with something for every appropriate call there, not necessarily with the intention of submitting it, but as a writing exercise.

I've just been over there for pretty much the first time since I started the new day job, and started skimming the listings. And skipped right over the one for pulp sf shorts -- because it only pays $25.

There was a time when I'd have been moderately pleased with $25 for a short. I probably wouldn't have written a story especially for such a market, unless the call itself inspired me to something, but I'd have spent time considering which stories in hand best fitted which markets before submitting them. Now, it's not really worth my time doing even that, not if the money is the only interest I might have in the market. I'm a lot better off spending the time working on my next novel, because I'll get a much better return on my investment of time. That vampire anthology would have paid me $50 or $75 plus 2 copies of the book (the usual rates for presses like Alyson or Cleis), but I've had something like $650 so far from the Loose Id ebook.

That doesn't mean I won't submit stories to low paying markets. Money isn't the only concern, and there are no-pay markets I'd happily submit to because I respect the editorial team. There's another anthology paying $25 where I regret not having time to write something. But if it's just about the money, then $25 isn't enough.

So yes, I'm writing for the money. But I'm in the happy position of being able to write what I love writing, for the money. I have more interesting ideas than I'll ever be able to write, and if I pick and choose amongst them based on commercial considerations, I'll still have nothing but stories I wanted to write anyway. And there is this consideration as well -- I don't write purely for the money, but if I'm writing for publication at all, then I'm writing for an audience. And if you want to know how many people like your work, then knowing how many liked it enough to pay for it is good. Money is a way to keep score.
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The October royalty statement from Loose Id arrived yesterday. Dolphin Dreams has just crept over the 1700 "copies someone paid hard cash for" mark. The bulk of those sales are through the publisher's own website, with around 12.5% coming from Fictionwise and a much smaller chunk from All Romance eBooks. No, I am not awake enough to sit here and calculate how much money total I've had off the book.

The book that's now been in print longest, Promises To Keep, is still selling a slow but steady double handful of copies each month after four years on sale, which is good because we've only just switched it over to the current contract which auto-renews unless explicitly cancelled by at least one party. It was the last of my books still on the old contract, which had to be explicitly renewed by both parties. Amongst other things, this involves posting of hard copies of contracts back and forth across the Atlantic, and checking of same to see if there have been any interesting changes since last time. At least it's a good cure for insomnia.

L&M2 has dropped very slightly against similar period figures for the first book, but after three months on sale has sold almost as many copies as L&M1 did in its first three months. That's interesting, as my prior experience with series is that sequels have significantly lower sales numbers. I don't know whether this is because I'm picking up more readers who want to read what-happened-next, or because the yaoi cover art is attracting readers who are willing to pick up book 2 without having first read book 1. I'll be interested to see how the figures compare at six months on sale.
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And it's that time of the month when I get to see whether people like my writing enough to shell out hard cash for it...

The good news is that five weeks after release, L&M2 has made more than RWA PAN minimum royalties ($1000). This makes me a happy author, if very definitely a small press author. And comparing with the equivalent figures on the first book in the series, the series loyalty from readers is looking extremely good. There's also a clear spike in backlist sales on the first book.

This is also good news for fans of the series, because it means that it is worth my while to write the third book, and worth my editor's while to say "Yes, Jules, go ahead and write it" instead of gently suggesting that I should turn my attention to another project that might be more commercially viable.

There *are* other potential projects. This is the nature of writing, that there are always more ideas than time to write them. It's a matter of picking the most appropriate ones for what I want to do with my writing career, and even though I'm content enough to be a small press writer, commercial considerations still come into play. I'm not going to turn out hack work to make a quick buck, because I don't get paid enough to bother writing anything at all unless it's something that I *want* to write. But I do want to reach an audience, and the best way to do that is to write a good selection of commercially viable stories that make money for me and for my publisher. It's a lot easier to find people who'll read the out-there stuff if I already have a built-in audience from my more mainstream material.

So, time to consider the ideas queue, and do some planning for the next year or so's writing...
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I've just finished putting this month's royalty statement numbers into my spreadsheet. As predicted after last month's figures, another book has gone over 1500 copies sold. I've received almost exactly $4000 in royalties on that title since it was released in April last year. The bulk of the sales came from the publisher's own website, but the book was also released through Fictionwise and All Romance Ebooks some months after its initial release, and both sites have shifted some units.

This is why I have a day job.

On the other hand, that's rather more than the price of a round of beers. It's a lot less money than I'd get if I'd been steadily selling books to Tor over the last four years, but it's a lot more money than I'd get at some publishers. Even if you're writing in a genre that New York won't touch, do your homework before submitting to a publisher. Money isn't the only factor, of course, or I'd be putting more effort into writing something that I could sensibly submit to Tor (who I'm using as an example because I *would* like to submit something to them). But it's a really good idea to submit first to a publisher that has a sane contract and has a reasonable chance of both staying in business and making you more than beer money. There are no guarantees in this business, but there are elementary precautions you can take to reduce your risk of getting burned.
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Scalzi has a good post up about going with a publisher versus self-publishing. One of the things he addresses is the idea that self-publishing is good because you get to keep 100% of the money. As he explains in very clear fashion, this is simply not true. There are costs involved in putting out a professional product and getting it sold to the public at large, and if you're the publisher, you'll be paying them.

This is a conversation I get to have every so often. I'm epublished, and a lot of people think that epublishing must have very low costs because you don't have to pay to print, store and ship physical copies. Thus, the suggestion goes, I should self-publish and get 100% of the cover price instead of 35%.

Well, no. Because the cost of creating and handling the physical item is a relatively small fraction of the cost of bringing that book to market. Good cover art costs money. Good editing costs money. These and other things are necessary if you want people to look at the first book, and then to buy more books. Running a commercial website costs money as well.

And then there's something that you can't measure in cold hard cash, but that is vitally important -- reputation. My publisher has a good reputation in its own little niche. Readers know that they can try a new author, and have a decent chance of getting a book they'll enjoy. A book that has had someone other than the author's friends look at it and say, "Yes, this is competently written," and then work on it with the author to make it even better. That's why I can put out my next book through them and reasonably expect it to sell a thousand or so copies over the course of the initial two year contract, without having to spend large amounts of my own time and money trying to get people to look at the book.

A thousand copies doesn't sound much by the standards of the mass market paperback market, but it is still well above the average sales for a self-published book (around 75-150 copies for print books from the major POD vanity presses, by their own publicly stated figures on titles and total copies). Maybe I could do better than average, especially as I have an established fanbase now. But really, I'd rather take my 35% on 1000 copies and let my publisher do the hard work of publishing it. I've *done* my stint at being a publisher, back in my zine days, and while I got a lot of enjoyment out of it I'd rather spend my time writing. If I feel the urge to scratch that itch again, it'll be on a project that doesn't fit the commercial needs of my publisher.
julesjones: (Default)
Scalzi offers Unasked-For Advice to New Writers About Money. It may be entertainingly worded, but it's truth. Read and assimilate.


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