22 November 2014 by Published in: Uncategorized 17 comments

December will be my 42nd month self-publishing.

The world’s changed a lot since summer, 2011. Gone are the euphoric days where bright new names were selling millions of .99 books, seemingly with ease. Gone too are the heady times where you could run a free Select promo and sell 10K novels at $4 a pop in the afterglow. It was an incredible period, and I feel fortunate I got to participate on the second half of it.


My buddy D.D. VanDyke has released his new mystery novel, Loose Ends, and is running a giveaway everyone should sign up for. Just do it unless you want that Ebola that’s going around. And if you act now, you can get it for only .99!


That golden era lasted about two years. Kindles were the new shiny plaything and everyone wanted one. And they needed content. Enter indie authors, who could sell a novel for less than a fast food meal.

Fast forward to today. 2014 marked a big change in many authors’ fortunes. The marketing gimmick of running Select free days on Amazon and seeing a big spike in sales afterward are over. Likewise, the effectiveness of putting your first book perma-free has diminished – either because of Amazon monkeying with their algos (free books don’t show up in also boughts any more, as one example of how visibility has been reduced) or due to a glut of free content.

Since summer, selling indie books has gotten even tougher. Amazon introduced Kindle Unlimited, which enables customers to pay $10 a month and borrow as many books as they like – with the caveat that only some titles are in the program, which pays $1.33 for a borrow instead of the royalty an author would normally see (except for Amazon imprints and trad pubs, which see their full royalty on a borrow); a windfall for those writing 10K short stories or serials, but not so great for those with novels, hence limited participation. I have some of my stuff in the program, and those are doing okay, for the ones selected for Amazon promos. The others can’t get arrested. So for me, net neutral, as over 20 of my novels aren’t participating.

But the effect it’s had on a lot of indie authors’s sales has been devastating, because apparently many of those who might have bought a book are now no longer buyers, they’re borrowers. I’m hearing stories of 60, 70, 80% drops in sales from authors who are recognized names and who shift tonnage of books. Some genres have been hit harder than others, which makes sense – for instance, NA and romance, which are well known for having voracious readerships, have seen the biggest drops in sales. My action thriller genre, not nearly as bad, however it’s still down.

So what’s an author to do? My strategy is to continue writing books I’d want to read, and hope that my readership grows over time, and feels that my stories and prose are a fair value at their $5 or so price point. I’ve had an amazing three and a half year trajectory, culminating with the release of my co-authored novel with Clive Cussler, The Eye of Heaven, in September. I can’t bitch. I mean, I can and do, but I really have no grounds for it.

My thinking is that this is a business of peaks and valleys, as is all retail, and while the valleys suck, they’re necessary if you’re going to have peaks at all. My philosophy is that if you can have higher lows and higher highs, that’s awesome. If not, change it up, look hard at what you’re doing, and ask yourself what you can do better – then do it. Aside from that, I know of no magic bullet, but after three and a half years of writing for a living, I can think of worse ways to spend my time, and I’m always extremely grateful to my readership, because there are any number of great books out there, and I’m fortunate they’re reading mine.

Now go buy my crap so I can continue punishing my liver. Because it’s evil and deserves it. Trust me. I would know. Bad dirty organs. Bad bad bad.



  1. Sat 22nd Nov 2014 at 10:00 pm

    Just amen. I first self-published in 2009–at age 59. Made enough to retire and write full time, then made more than I ever thought possible, first with free promotions and then with 99 cent KC. Thanks to KDP Select. Then KU came and sales dropped and I can only say, that’s life. It has spurred me to write more and market less, try some new strategies, even branch out from historical fiction to speculative fiction–not a difficult stretch– and be thankful that as an indie I can makes these changes because I am am not obligated to any agent or editor or contract. Write on!

    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 23rd Nov 2014 at 10:12 pm

      Yes, that’s life. And there will be more surprises, both positive and negative. But I, like you, can’t complain.

  2. Sun 23rd Nov 2014 at 3:58 am

    Be gentle on the liver. We need you around so we have great novels to buy.

    I agree with the concept of just keep putting out books you’d like to read, although it is a bummer that it’s gotten harder and harder to market. I hope you continue writing romance because I liked yours more than any of the other ones I read. They kept me turning pages when I was supposed to be asleep.

    Based on what you said about KU I’m hoping even more to have my agent sell my next book to an Amazon imprint. They passed on the last novel, but my goal is to keep trying. They gotta like one of em eventually. In the meantime I’m still building my readership.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 23rd Nov 2014 at 10:11 pm

      I’m just reporting what’s common knowledge at this point. Since KU sales for most have tanked. Makes sense. Their readership is now a borrowing readership, not a buying readership. Good for Zon. Not so much for the authors. But then again, the program wouldn’t have traction of so many indies weren’t short term thinking and trying to figure out how to earn a few grand this month, ignoring the effect long term of those readers going away except as borrowers. Shrug. Doesn’t particularly affect me that much, so I have no opinion either way. I have some in, some out. Diversification being key.

  3. Sun 23rd Nov 2014 at 8:22 am

    Probably the most challenging thing about being an indie writer right now is that the market is still very immature. That’s the best time to enter a market, but also very volatile. Even doing everything right is no guarantee.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 23rd Nov 2014 at 10:09 pm

      Yup. My NA series, which I think is some of the best and most accessible stuff I’ve penned, has done nothing, even though I did everything right – covers, editing, blog tour, tons of pre-release reviews, the biggest names in the genre pimping it, etc. etc. There’s a lot of luck involved in all this.

  4. robert
    Sun 23rd Nov 2014 at 4:57 pm

    Congrats on all your success, Blake!

    You bring up some good points about how hard it is these days to sell ebooks. I had a few titles in KDP Select and couldn’t wait until I could yank them all out. My sales on Amazon are good, but my sales on other platforms have begun to rise considerably. I know some writers who do very well in Select, though most times it’s because Amazon is giving them a helping hand. And you know what? If Amazon was doing the same to me, I’d certainly have my books in the program. But they’re not, and that’s okay.

    In the past I used to want to try to sell a novel to an Amazon imprint, but lately I’m more interested in selling to a major publisher. I know some authors published by Amazon imprints who are less than thrilled with the broken promises and lack of marketing, and Amazon’s contracts are beginning to mirror traditional publishers. But then again, that’s just me. To each his own.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 23rd Nov 2014 at 10:08 pm

      Everyone wants to sell to a major publisher if the advance is large enough, as it offsets perceived business risk of income fluctuations. Now that I have something like 35 or 36 novels out, I’d gladly sign my next series over, because it wouldn’t matter even if it turned out to be a foolish long term move. I’d also gladly sign up with Amazon, but given the sizes of their advances, that won’t happen, so no point in discussing it. Having said that, I’m delighted with my Amazon Crossing German version of King of Swords, which has done quite well, and with the German and Bulgarian deals I did for JET and Voynich Cypher, respectively. I also have Italy and a few other countries now lining up for some of them, so the trad route makes sense in those markets for me.

  5. Sun 23rd Nov 2014 at 5:37 pm

    I feel kind of guilty to say I’m killin’ it right now, but I’m killin’ it right now. Unlimited has treated me terrific. Which is still probably pocket change to you Russell, but averaging fifteen thousand a month all is life changing to me. Last month was twenty thousand ( but I released a new title, too.)
    I’m in Select. I drank the Kool-aid and its been good to me. I’m always poised to re-adjust though, was just discussing Mark Coker’s blog post on Huffpo about being on all platforms. So I know things will take a dive when I make the move out of Select…but it’s okay, I’ll be ready because I’m building deep with developing a loyal, engaged reader base and capturing them on my email list,, building broad by reaching into new markets (audiobooks, trad pub deals, film and tv) and high by developing new projects in new genres. It’s all a crapshoot out there, but what we can expect is constant change and I enjoy the excitement and workaholism inherent in this lifestyle. Hope your paripatetic travels are treating you well!
    Toby Neal

    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 23rd Nov 2014 at 10:04 pm

      I know a few who are killing it with Select KU, and bless them. They are in the conspicuous minority. It’s good to be one of them.

      Having ridden the Select free thing back in the day to massive sales, I have nothing against Zon. I currently have my BLACK series in KU, and it’s doing well, and was featured for the Big Deal this month. I think there’s no one size fits all, which is why you have to diversify so the negative effect of any one thing is offset by the positives your books in that one thing. That’s how I’m playing it.

      Glad you’re doing well. You deserve it.

  6. Sun 23rd Nov 2014 at 10:14 pm

    Hello Blake,

    C’mon, man, take the next logical step–become a traditional publisher yourself.

    Why are you d*cking around with this indie stuff at this stage of the game for, anyway?

    Your bio hints that you have the chops to start something new. Come ashore from your 70′ Hatteras and go all Random House yourself. Buy that abandoned warehouse you’ve been eyeing, hire some locals, (helps us Gringos out at the same time, (see Obama immigration lie #45,729)), buy a few used presses and go to town.

    Can’t you see it now? “Blake House Publishing Empire.” Eh? Eh?

    Besides–If you don’t do it, the Chinese will…

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 24th Nov 2014 at 3:40 pm

      I only have a few ironclad rules in life. One involves dwarfs, new tattoos, and tequila, the other competing with the Chinese. I’ll share the Chinese one: Don’t bother – it’s like trying to compete with Wall Street; an un-winnable endeavor.

  7. Collette
    Mon 24th Nov 2014 at 11:34 am

    Having been with you since February 2013 I missed the really early days. I started with the free copy of Jet and promptly bought the rest of the series upon completion of that story. Then came El Rey…what can I say…now I buy all your crap just because Your Name adorns the cover. The most haunting and powerful for me has been Upon a Pale Horse. I fear that scenario as the future. Although at 73 I’ll probably miss the worst of it! Thanks for many hours of entertaining books whether free, .99 or full price. And your $5 price range fits my budget. So write more and please tell your comrade RE Blake that he done good too.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 24th Nov 2014 at 12:51 pm

      Thanks so much for the high praise, as well as the crap buying. Yes, Pale Horse is one of my faves, but it’s a bit too dark for some. Ah, well. Reality bites.

  8. Collette
    Tue 25th Nov 2014 at 2:07 am

    Yes. Reality bites but I have no more time to discuss such mundane issues. My copy of Best of Everything just landed in my Kindle. Must leave you now as I have something important to read.

  9. Sat 29th Nov 2014 at 2:52 am

    I have to have Requiem in print to add to my collection of all your assassin books.
    Any idea when it will be printed? Soon?


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