Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Writer's Speedometer

Those of us who are driven to spend long hours writing do so because we have stories to tell.

We certainly don't do it for the money. (Although the money can be very good.) According to a recent survey by the Author's Guild (comprised mostly of authors who are published by the big New York houses), the average Author's Guild member earns $17,500 a year. Poverty level. This is why so many writers have to keep their day jobs. (Self-published writers who figure out how to sell books can do much better because they keep up to 70% or more of sales vs. New York-published writers who keep roughly 5% - 25% depending on their publishing contract.)

So how does any writer get a sense of whether they are succeeding at their work?

One way is fan mail.

The first time a writer wakes up to an email from a stranger telling how much the reader enjoyed the writer's novel, it is a very big deal. It's even a bigger deal if the letter is printed on actual paper!

Same for reviews. These are the things that sustain us in our lonely profession. Don't get me wrong. Writers are world-class introverts. We're happy to spend time alone. But we still love to find out that our writing entertained someone or made a positive difference in some way.

Aside from counting dollars or emails from fans, one of our main speedometers is how many books we have out in the marketplace, whether they are ebooks or tree books. The number of books in distribution is independent from dollars, because tree books usually produce more money per book, while the cheaper ebooks produce less money per book. And some ebooks get downloaded for only 99 cents or even free on special promotions. For example, my first book, Tahoe Deathfall, is permanently free in ebook form. The hope is that readers might be willing to try a free ebook and end up liking it enough to buy other books by the author.

Complicating the book world is the new trend toward subscription reading. For example, subscribers to Kindle Unlimited pay a monthly fee and get to read as many books as they want. The writer, or their publisher, gets paid according to how many pages are read. One has to take that figure and divide by the number of pages in a book to determine how many books have actually been read.

But the bottom line is how many books you're getting out there.

Several years ago, after an interview, the journalist contacted me with a followup question. How many total books had I sold across all of my titles? The answer wasn't immediately clear because one has to add up tree books, and ebooks, and then do a little arithmetic to convert pages read by subscription into an appropriate number of whole books.

Of course, books sold, and books read, are not the same thing, either. Some books only get read by one person before they end up on a shelf, untouched again. Some books get sold and never read at all. Some families have several people who end up reading the same book. And some books go to libraries and get read by dozens of people.

Nevertheless, books in distribution is a pretty good speedometer. So when I gathered the figures for the journalist, I was surprised to find out I'd just crossed over 100,000 books in distribution.

I never had a goal of a certain number of books, but I was pleased to have gotten a bunch of books out there. The number of my books in distribution began to rise fast after I had ten titles out. I recently added up the numbers again, and I now have over 500,000 books in distribution.

While I'm pleased, this is nothing compared to the heavy hitters. There are many authors you can name who have numbers in the 10s of millions. The Rowlings and Kings and Grishams of the world are in the 100s of millions. I'll never be in their league.

But I do have another book coming out this summer, which should bump my numbers a bit. Stay tuned for a sneak preview...


  1. When is the preview? We check daily to see if the cover is on your website!!! So excited!!

    1. Thanks for your interest! The preview information won't be posted here until July. However, you can now see the cover and other info at Amazon. Here's the link:

  2. Looking forward to it! I love your books and love how you educate about a topic in each of your books like avalanches, fires or search & rescue dogs. And Spot is just the sweetest!

  3. So excited to see the new book on your page!! That means summer is coming soon!!

    1. Thanks! A bigger version of the cover is also up on my website. See you this summer.