Ep 012: “Author Earnings: The Real Story”

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Welcome to the 12th episode of The Author Hangout, our interview series and podcast designed to help authors, especially self-published and indie authors, with marketing their books and improving their author platform. Authors struggle with various aspects of marketing and we are here to help!

“We were able to find that, every day that we’ve looked, and we’ve now done 4-5 snapshots over a 6 month period, self-published authors are bringing in more daily royalties on ebooks than all of the authors from the big 5 publishers combined.”– Hugh Howey – Bestselling Author

Author Earnings: The Real Story

One of the biggest questions that people who are new to self-publishing, or even still in the phase where they are considering self-publishing, is this: “Can you really make money self-publishing your book?” The answer is a resounding “Yes!” The problem is, people want proof. Obviously, not all books and authors are going to be the same, but self-published authors can and do make money! How do we know? We interviewed Hugh Howey!

In this interview, we were joined by bestselling author Hugh Howey, and we discussed his latest project, AuthorEarnings.com. We also looked at some other industry news, and most importantly, the amazing mindset he has towards his publishing business.

The Author Hangout – Episode 12: “Author Earnings: The Real Story”

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Intro to Hugh Howey

Most people know who Hugh Howey is, they follow him as he has good stuff to say, but not everyone does, so we got a little bit into the mind of Hugh Howey, who he is, and what he does.

“I started with a small publisher with my first book, and this was back in 2009. Decided to self-publish my second book, and I’ve been doing that ever since. I worked at a bookstore and wrote stories on the side, and by – I think it was my seventh or eighth published work took off and allowed me to quit my day job, and I’ve been just writing and traveling to support the book.”

We also talked about what kinds of books he writes:

“A little of everything. I’ve written horror, young adult, space opera, dystopian, children’s picture books. I helped with the graphic novel adaptation of Wool. I’m writing a romance novel right now. I like all kinds of books as a reader, so I’m excited to have the freedom to write whatever I want. I get pressure from my publishers to write books that are identical to the last thing that sold really well, but I get to ignore that and just write the stories that I want to read.”

Hugh Howey’s Jump Into Writing a Romance Novel

“It’s an idea for a story I’ve had for a long time. To be honest, most of my stories have romance in them. I don’t know that you could write a successful story without some kind of love interest, because you’re writing about people, and it’s like the central focus for a lot of people’s lives, is their partner or the search of a partner or the loss of a partner.”

Hugh Howey on “Outliers”

We knew Hugh had spoke at the Romance Writers of America on a panel called “Lessons from an Outlier” and that he wasn’t much of a fan of that concept. He shared a ton of great information about the concept of outliers, and why people shouldn’t focus on outliers.

“I didn’t really like the title of that panel. So I deflected a lot of the questions. I would rather talk about the people who are changing their lives with self-publishing without having to be in the top 1% of 1%. I was happy as a self-published author when I was working in a bookstore, just making my works available and finding readers a dozen at a time…. There’s a lot of people out there making a living, making enough money for it to qualify as a side job, and they’re not outliers. They’re people who have dedicated themselves to the craft of writing, and they keep publishing quality material, and it’s changing their lives.”

We talked a bit more about the concept of outliers, and he wrapped it up with this:

“When I started getting contacts from the media three years ago, my response was “You should’ve contacted me four or five months ago. My life was much more interesting then.” Because now it’s – being struck by lightning is something you don’t have control over, and it makes the news, but it’s the people who write every single day and grind it out and produce quality works who get fan mail and get real sales, and it starts paying a utility bill every month. To me, that’s the interesting story.”

Author Earnings – Can self-published authors really earn money?

Hugh had been interviewing many self-publishers, to find those who are earning even a few hundred dollars a month. As shown above, he is excited about those stories. He was approached by a researcher who was able to really dive in and analyze the sales rank of 120,000+ books. Here is some of the data they found:

“So however you tweak these numbers, knowing the sales price and what the royalty rate is for self-published authors and traditionally published authors, they’re able to find that every day – every day that we’ve looked, and we’ve now done four or five snapshots over a 6-month period – self-published authors are bringing in more daily royalties on eBooks than all the authors from the Big Five publishers combined. This is massive.”

Author Earnings Backlash

Not everyone was happy with Hugh’s reports, especially those who have tried to publish other reports for the past several years, and sell those reports. Here’s his take on who he has received backlash from:

“Only from people who are trying to sell competing data. We’ve seen Philip Jones, who has connections and past employment with Nielsen BookScan, has been very critical of this data. Nielsen BookScan sells data that tracks ISBNs. That only captures 60%, 70% of the market, of print, and captures none of the self-published market that doesn’t use ISBNs. I don’t buy ISBNs from Bowker. So there’s millions of sales not captured by me, and a lot of self-published authors don’t use ISBNs. So their industry is being upturned, and they’re very angry about that, so they’ve lashed out.”

How do these stats help individual authors?

Sure, gathering such data is nice, but if it doesn’t have any practical information for authors, then it’s useless. So, we asked Hugh how it cane help authors just like you. Knowing the earnings potential there is, here is what he said:

“I decided to pay a cover artist, pay an editor, pay a formatter, put the book out there and own the rights. I can move it if a retailer has policies I don’t agree with or they change their terms of condition on me. I have complete control. And the level of satisfaction that comes from that is, to me, even greater than the financial benefits of self-publishing. Having that power of self-actualization, it’s – you can’t describe the difference it feels when you go from a publisher where you have to email or call to try to get one thing tweaked and being able to just do it yourself. It’s an amazing feeling.”

eBooks: DRM vs No DRM

Part of the findings from his earning report looked at book that use DRM vs those that don’t. For those that don’t know what DRM is, he sums it up with this:

“DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, and it’s the encryption that you put on any electronic form of entertainment. Music has dealt with the DRM issue, movies, TV shows, video games. So it’s a big issue.”

Here is what he found:

“We can look at books that have DRM and those that don’t. We found the ones without DRM are outselling the ones with DRM at every price point. I don’t know that that correlation is causation. I think what it tells us is that not having DRM is not going to hurt your sales, but it could be that the people who are the savviest in other ways are also savvy when it comes to not hurting their consumer. I mean, this hurts the readers who just want to be able to move the file around and read it wherever they want to. The hackers can bypass DRM with a couple of clicks, and your book is going to get pirated anyway.”

Book piracy is an issue for many authors… here’s Hugh’s take on it:

“If [your book is] not getting pirated, that’s a bad sign; it means no one wants to read it. There’s no demand for it. I used to agonize over the fact that I couldn’t find my eBooks on piracy sites, and once they started showing up, I saw that as a really good sign that I was starting to get some traction and a readership.”

We love that take on it!

What Hugh would do if we were a new author.

We began talking about Kindle Unlimited, but then he changed things up a little, and shared what he would do as a new author, and why:

“My strategy today if I was just starting out would be to write four or five complete works, maybe six. Mix of novels and novellas and short stories. And I would publish them in rapid succession, and I would go all-in with KDP Select, and if I had traction within 90 days, I would maybe pull out and put my eBooks elsewhere.”

Kindle Unlimited Advantages and Disadvantages

Straight from Hugh:

“The disadvantage is the exclusivity requirement. It means not having your eBook elsewhere. The advantage is the increased visibility.”

He follows it up with some very good advice for all authors deciding what they should do with their books:

The same thing will not work for every writer, so I’m really hesitant to say like “This worked for me; everyone should try it.” I think everyone should experiment, do what they’re comfortable with, do what their heart tells them to do, see what works and see what doesn’t. And get as many opinions as possible. Don’t just listen to one guru and try to do whatever they did.

Why are some authors so hesitant to experiment?

“I don’t know. It’s interesting how impatient we are with our book decisions. I mean, 90 days is a very short period of time. I worked in bookstores where the system was glacial compared to what self-published authors get to do. We can change book covers every night. We can fix a typo, we can pull a book down and bring it to another retailer. We can publish in a weekend. I think another part is everyone seems to think there’s this gold rush going on, and that if we don’t make the right decision right now, we’re going to miss our opportunity to break out and make a living at this. And I think that’s a really bad attitude to take into publishing. This is the new order that’s really settling into publishing. If anything, these advantages are just going to increase over time. So if you’re just starting out today, still take that 10 year view that I took when I started writing.”

He talked a lot more about the “gold rush” mentality, and how he puts that 10-year view into practice. Be sure to watch the video above or listen to podcast edition to catch this extremely helpful information!

Wrap Up

This was a long interview, but it is PACKED with tons of great quotes and information and tips for authors! Above is just a sampling of the stuff we covered with Hugh. You really should listen to the podcast or watch the video above so you don’t miss out on any of it.

Here are some of the things we didn’t cover in this blog post, that we covered in the interview:

  • The Amazon vs Hachette battle,
  • Amazon’s data about lower prices,
  • What Hugh would do differently if he started today,
  • The future of self-publishing,
  • and more!

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Thank you so much!

Stay tuned for next week’s episode, where we interview Shari Stauch from Where Writers Win!

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