Authored By: Samantha Zacharda
Marketing Director & Promotion
Published By: Lot’s Cave
Special Note: Lot’s Cave would like to add a special thank you to Lily Weidner for participating in the Amazon publishing experiment. The transparency required has been quite eye opening and insightful. Please check out Lily Weidner’s followup post as well, found here.
For the last year stories have abounded regarding authors getting rich with incomes of ten to a hundred thousand per month by writing short stories. Is this possible? How much can I really make?
Ever since Amazon changed their Kindle Unlimited program, authors have been trying to gauge the eBook market. Authors, particularly those writing short stories (3,000-5,000 words) have started to wonder if the market will even support their shorts, or if a shift into longer works is necessary to earn an income. Doing some initial research, I found answers couldn’t have been more conflicting.
Usually when conflicting answers exist, one finds in them a majority opinion. With enough backtracking the answer process becomes clear. In this case however, little data could be found with which to form a starting point. What I found is the entire industry consists conceptually of a clear divide most easily represented by factions we find in the initial Kindle Unlimited program (KU), and what authors have come to call the second Kindle Unlimited (KU2). Desperately wanting some numbers to work with however, I came up with a solution–I did a study of my own. The goal was to achieve $20.00 in profit.
With help from a Lot’s Cave author, I was able to create a test designed to take advantage of Amazon’s large eBook market size. Since Amazon’s KU program had been designed for short stories and the new KU2 program is now desgined for longer works, contrasting income performance between the KU and KU2 programs could simulate what it would be like for a new author specializing in short stories starting out with their first book. As an added byproduct–which is what this is about–I would also learn what authors face when trying to sell their eBooks on Amazon. After spending a couple of days to form the rules of this research project, I came up with the following:
Rules for KU2 Publishing Experiment
- All stories are to be the minimum 3,000 words
- eBooks must be enrolled in KU2
- No additional marketing must take place
- Stories must have a common kink
- Prices start at $.99, and then after a week increase to $2.99
- At minimum, author should publish two books a week (9 titles a month)
- Titles should include subject matter metatags
- Covers must fit their target audience’s particular style
- After completing 9 titles, bundles must be published in varying forms
- Stories must emphasize romance with intense but short sex scenes
First, an Amazon Author Page was created to begin the experiment. Starting our test off, progress seemed quite slow and uncertain. Week one saw a total of two sales and sixty-five page reads. Given Amazon’s current payout rate (.0005 a page) our author only made $1.02. To my surprise, discouragement over that insignificant amount was immensely high. Convincing the author to keep writing new titles wasn’t easy, but Amazon’s ninety day exclusivity trap helped. The author had already committed such a large investment to the test that persuading the author to continue for the remainder of the month was not difficult.
Thankfully, week two saw somewhat better results. Significantly, this result could only be due to the price increase from $.99 to $2.99. Page reads increased while sales increased dramatically. Taking a quick look at the numbers, week two tripled the previous week’s results. Seven sales and two hundred and thirty-six page reads increased the week’s total to $3.61. While the author remained apprehensive, I could detect a little more eagerness to move forward into week three.
To my dismay, the growth occurring in week three was quite minimal. Sales topped out for the week at nine purchases and page reads dropped to two hundred and ten. Thankfully, the author was still able to see an overall increase for the week’s profits at $4.17. By this point however, the author made it clear the process didn’t seem worth the effort. The author felt drained and expressed a feeling that writing wasn’t as enjoyable as it once had been.
Finishing up the month, our author completed the nine titles. Able to take a break from writing, the author decided to release an additional four bundles created from bundling various combinations of the nine titles. Interestingly, week four’s breakdown is rather surprising. Out of thirteen sales, only one of them came from a bundle and there were one hundred and thirty-one page reads. For the final week, the author made $8.28.
Summary of Author’s Income
- Week 1: $1.02
- Week 2: $3.61
- Week 3: $4.17
- Week 4: $8.28
- Total Month: $17.08
Before we examine the market figures, let’s examine what no other study gives… the author’s experience. Interestingly, our author became extremely discouraged. This occured despite nearly reaching the $20 personal income goal. What caused this? Well, the author felt the money didn’t merit the time and effort put into the process. Worse, the author began feeling readers didn’t enjoy the titles because some of them were no longer selling after the first week they were published.
Moving onto the numbers, the first month performance of $17.08 is nothing to shy away from. In fact, the amount is actually quite impressive for a new author starting from scratch. We can see the growth potential, after all, because no marketing was involved. What’s important to note though, remains the fact the author felt the eBook titles were worth more. Dividing the author’s income by the number of books released ($17.08/13), we find the author only made around $1.31 per book published. Sadly, this is nothing considering the figures reflect an entire month.
Worse, $1.31 per book title published isn’t even the right number when comparing income to actual sales. Lets look at the sheer number of eBooks the author sold. On the surface, we’re quick to assume the author sold thirty-one copies. However, we must calculate into this figure the number of page reads. With a total of six hundred and forty-two reads, we can figure out the real number of books this would be.
Given the average page count (according to Amazon) was twenty pages per book, that would equal an additional thirty-two eBook sales (642 pages/20 = 32 books). With a grand total of sixty-three eBooks (32+31=63), the payout rate becomes $.27 per each book sold. Can anyone blame the author for feeling their title is worth more than twenty-seven cents? Even if the author only spent three hours working on the book, minimum wage would make them $21.75. Chances are the author spent more time writing their book than just three hours, but the statistics remain quite dismal. After nine titles, there’s a potential twenty-seven hour investment. At a minimum wage job, the author could have made $195.75.
It’s interesting to note, there’s hope at the end of this bleak tunnel. The author that participated in our Amazon experiment also publishes novels with us at Lot’s Cave. These longer stories of 40,000 words each are priced out at $4.95 and distributed across multiple retail platforms. This fact allows us to compare the same amount of effort on longer titles, distributed across multiple websites. The results couldn’t be more eye opening.
Taking the author’s latest eBook alone–written during the previous month, we find the sales for that month coming in at a total of sixteen eBooks sold. While that number may seem small in comparison to their Amazon sales, this book was able to be sold at the $4.95 price. Assuming these websites payout at a consistent rate of 70%, this author made $55.44. Keep in mind, this is one book. While it may not be minimum wage, it more than doubles what the author made on Amazon.
Now it’s important to note that longer novels have a very unique distinction from short stories. Longer novels have staying power while sales on short titles drop off quite quickly. This means the most this author will ever make on Amazon from their titles is that initial $17.08. No future sales income can be expected. Yet this author’s longer novel will continue to earn sales for several years, adding to the $55.44 amount. While the author may have felt discouraged at their efforts from putting out nine titles, the author did not feel that way about publishing one full lenght novel with Lot’s Cave.
While not every novel will sell sixteen titles a month, the opportunity cost to other authors following in these footsteps is important to consider. Amazon authors are invested in their shorts taking off immediately, if they fail to perfom, there’s no back catalog to make up the difference. If the worst happens and a novel does not take off however, consider having the benefit of having a back catalog that still sells alongside the future new release. In order to make the $17.08 Amazon monthly figure, an entire back catalog of multiple novels would only need to sell five titles. With a full month’s time span, five additional sales seems entirely reasonable. The back catalog becomes an almost guaranteed source of income the author can depend on. So, what happens if an author wants to go down this path and shy away from Amazon’s market?
The very first thing an author should do if they wish to publish outside Amazon’s market is examine their short stories. Because of Amazon’s market size, we can see how many authors feel they run an output treadmill. This output treadmill has caused many authors to diminish the quality of their short stories. If this is the case, authors need to invest in revamping their stories. Before publishing elsewhere, consider doing a general read through for errors.
After revamping the story, formatting remains the most important issue with eBooks coming from Amazon. For authors formatting their own books, reading up on the latest formatting requirements is a time consuming investment. This is a necessary investment however, one readers highly notice and value. Taking time to add the appropriate formatting can really set an eBook apart from the rest.
Another important difference is pricing. Amazon authors choosing to list their eBooks on multiple websites often find pricing uncomfortable. When authors are accustomed to charging $.99, selling the same eBook later for $2.99 can be quite unnerving. With the new price point comes a new change for author’s accustomed to Amazon’s market, slow sales. Instead of selling a book every day, authors can wait two or three days before seeing a single book sell. The benefit of this however is the higher royalty rate balances out the sale’s rate.
Lastly, any author looking to publish across multiple websites should factor in time. On Amazon, the results of sales is immediate with a sixty day lag period for payout. When authors choose to list books across multiple websites, this can be a significantly longer progress. Payouts have been known to range from a month to six months, or longer. Keeping this in mind will help authors looking for immediate results; sometimes authors just need to set a time length and stick to it beforehand.
In closing, the Amazon experiment was a grand success. The marketing insight I gained for Lot’s Cave has been exceedingly helpful for both Lot’s Cave authors, and those coming in from Amazon. While each market has its own difficulties, it’s important to remember different systems work for different types of authors. The main thing to note however is this, authors can still make the same, if not more money, by skipping Amazon’s eBook market. There’s no need to feel trapped or held over a barrel.