Profit for Indie Authors: Bunk and Bologna

In my preparations to publish, I have been pouring over tons of research and speculation on the actual numbers behind the publishing industry, and more specifically the potential incomes of indie authors. What grinds my gears is that minimum product quality has either been brushed aside or glanced over in almost every piece.

Many guides begin with: “assuming your book is good” and then move on to whether you market well, etc. Well this seems wildly disingenuous and unrealistic. You can’t just brush that aside. Product quality is huge.

Authors are running a small business, so let’s talk apples and oranges for a moment. Let’s say you’re running a small chair building business: as long as you can sit on it, it’s a chair and you can compare numbers with other businesses large and small that build chairs. However, the product of a writer is not comparable to a chair. Whether I can read a book or not is entirely subjective. Therefore comparing one writer to another is a giant waste of time.

I would totally love to write a complex, dense, dry, and unwieldy tomb about the interplay of religion and economics in the fictional world I use as a setting for Disorder of War. I just might do that, but I’ll never try to sell it. No matter how ‘good’ it is, the six other people in the world who might buy it would never justify the time it takes to upload it to Smashwords. Even if I do put it out there, it will be a free supplement.

What’s my point? I think the whole discussion of selling books or eBooks for profit is moot. You may be able to do it, but no one can predict a general success rate. If you produce a “good” product, and if that product has a large consumer base, and if your product is marketed competently and efficiently to that consumer base: you can, in theory, make money. But many books are terrible, or lack a marketable consumer base- don’t take my word for it, click the link!

Not only are sales unpredictable, but present and past profits are both under reported and admitted trade secrets. Sure, there are “spiders” tracking ranks at the big distributors (Amazon, Kobo, Etc) but they are hardly numbers you could present in a corporate board room . Sure, there are guides and testimonials from successful and unsuccessful authors, but their numbers and advice are entirely unscientific subjective.

Please don’t be discouraged by my rant if you are hoping to make money from your writing. Just remember that there is no magic formula, and that much of the purported “data” out there is highly opinionated. It’s ok though. I believe that writing should be done for its own sake and for the love of the process, and if you make money from it- BONUS!

Don’t get me wrong- there are things we do know. Price points for eBooks are a great example. There certainly does seem to be a sweet spot. But again, if your writing sucks, or your subject is too obscure, the perfect price won’t put food on the table.

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