11 December 2014 by Published in: Uncategorized 72 comments

I just looked at the Amazon top 100. #1 is a trad pub title at $2.99. #2 is a trad pub title at .99. #3 is an Amazon imprint pre-order at $4.99. #4 is Baldacci’s latest at $10.99, #5 is Michael Connolly’s latest at $3.99, #6 is Gone Girl at $2.99, and on and on and on.

For those indie authors who have seen a marked downturn in sales since KU came in, I believe that’s only part of the story. The other is that since Amazon got lower prices from trad publishers, the price of trad pubbed books is through the floor. Sure, some of that’s holiday discounting, but not close to all.

Which means that the tried and true gambit most indies have been using, which is selling based on price, at .99 or $2.99 or $3.99 or $4.99, likely won’t work particularly well anymore. Because when you can buy Gone Girl for $2.99 and Connolly’s latest at $3.99, why would most readers buy your book at or around the same price?

If your answer is “because I wrote it,” you are likely in for a very rude awakening. If you haven’t already gotten it, my hunch is you soon will.

Readers are now being presented with a host of worthy, readable, high-quality offerings at or below the same prices indies offered their books at, eliminating the bargain perception/edge that indies learned to rely on as a differentiator.

That will translate into crap sales for many, and the effective end to many careers that relied on their work being attractive because it was cheap. In a world where everything is cheap, selling based on price doesn’t work.

Bluntly, if you as an author want to sell books in this environment, you have to do it the old fashioned way: you have to write books your audience will gladly pay for, even if a dollar or two more than the latest Michael Connolly, or Gillian Flynn’s blockbuster. That means you need to up your game, that suddenly story and craft will matter more, and that simply being cheap, with a homemade cover and lackadaisical or no editing, won’t cut it.

That’s awesome news for readers. It’s disastrous news for many indie authors.

(As an aside, I suspect if I dug into the publishing contracts with many trad pubbed authors, I’d find a clause that cuts their royalties to almost nothing when the selling price of a book is greater than a 50% discount. I recall reading about that before – a $10 list price book will pay X percent at $5 to a vendor, and drop to Y percent at below $5, making the author peanuts but the publisher a buttload of bucks if the incremental sales offset the drop in net revenue per unit. All good for the publisher, who shifts double the units to make up any shortfall, but a reaming for the author, whose revenue could drop far more than the incremental increase in units moved.)

So the days of putting out just okay work and hoping it will sell are over. That’s so 2010. This is the end of 2014, and the competitive landscape is going to get a whole lot tougher.

Now for the good news. As my prior blog discussed, more authors than ever before are earning good money as indies. So it can be done. But those authors are very, very good at delivering a reading experience their following will pay for, and they value their readers above all – they don’t put out slop, they don’t think in terms of “good enough,” and they’re every bit as demanding of their work as the harshest acquisitions editor.

At $3.99, Michael Connolly represents an amazing value. If you want to sell a reader your novel, and you’re in the same genre, you need to ensure it’s as good or better, whatever that means. To me it means the editing has to be pro, the story engaging and professionally told, the word choice and grammar above reproach, the cover a professional effort, and on and on (I use Connolly as an example – if you look at the top 100, you’ll see that virtually every genre has similar offerings, so it’s not only mystery).

If you can do all that, and communicate to interested readers that you have what they’re interested in buying, you will probably do well at this, even in the more competitive market. If you can’t – if your work’s amateurish, if you decided to spare the bucks on editing or covers, if your approach to your story is “that’s probably fine – look at all the crappy books that sell,” or any of the other litany of mistakes I’ve covered in this blog more times than I can count, chances are you won’t.

It’s that simple.

My message is that the honeymoon’s over. Time to knuckle down and demand more out of yourself at every turn, because even if you don’t, your readers will. And they now have more choices than ever at lower prices than I’ve ever seen, and those choices are largely good.

Awesome for readers. Good for some authors. Not so much for many others. But in the end, better for the business moving forward. Competition is always good. Always. Except for those who can’t compete. There’s a term for them in all businesses: Road Kill.

Don’t. Be. Road. Kill.

And don’t kid yourself that this is going to get anything but tougher. Pro basketball players don’t tell themselves that they don’t have to be all that great because there are plenty of mediocre players. Pro dancers don’t argue that they should be given center stage because they’re precious snowflakes, and their deficiencies should be ignored. Pro competitors in any arena strive to be the absolute best, and demand the most out of themselves, making no excuses, asking for and offering no quarter.

Welcome to 2015.



  1. Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 12:00 am

    As usual, your knowledge of the publishing trends are spot on. You have a keen insight into an everchanging industry.

  2. Traci
    Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 12:06 am

    Thanks for this post, Russell. I’ve been asking myself just about every other day what you would say about the current situation in sales.

    I am happy and relieved to see your message is as consistent as it has been from day one. The publishing world is harder than it was then, but the ticket to the top is the same. Write well and work hard.

    Anyway. That’s all. Just thanks.

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 10:11 am

      Yep. One thing that might happen is you need to have twice as many books out to stay static earnings-wise, but if one views that as a welcome opportunity to hone one’s chops as opposed to being robbed of income, it’s all good. I’ll still be writing either way. It was never about money for me. Mostly. Except the part about money. Never mind.

  3. Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 12:08 am

    Sobering but realistic comments.
    Excellence is a worthy goal.

    • Jeremy Lee James  –  Sun 14th Dec 2014 at 12:56 am

      Well said, Laura.

      I welcome this new landscape.

  4. Sandra O'Grady
    Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 2:40 am

    You’re a chirpy fellow aren’t you? Just kidding. This is very informative and it’s a relief that high quality work isn’t about to disappear in the tide. Naturally, yours is one of my first pit stops when I’m looking for a good read.

  5. Henry
    Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 8:02 am

    I’ve also noticed that that the price of many tradpub books here in the UK have also become much cheaper recently, but that could change with the new VAT laws coming in the new year. As an aside, there is news that antibiotic superbugs could cause 10 million deaths a year by 2050, if new drugs and treatments aren’t found quickly. Personally, 10 million seems a wild understatement. Apparently global GDP could fall by 3.5%. Don’t know how the Great Recession affected global GDP, but it doesn’t sound good.

  6. Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 8:07 am

    The better news is that a whole lot of poorly written books will never see the light of day. Like any gold rush, the vast majority of the “rushers” will fall away quickly once the dust settles. Let ’em go. I’ll gladly compete with the big names. It will only make us better writers.

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 10:14 am

      That’s how I view it – more from a multi-decade perspective. If I want to have a long career and be taken seriously, I need to write the best books possible, not churn out whatever is convenient to make a quick buck due to some marketing quirk or algorithmic opportunity. Which means my work needs to be able to go head to head with the big dogs. That’s where we’re headed, which I view as a positive, if a sobering one.

      • Autumn  –  Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 3:05 pm

        Yeah, I’m not bothered. The industry was always going to mature like this. But KU is still a wildcard, imo. 30% of the Top 100 are in it.

        • Russell Blake  –  Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 4:55 pm

          Let me guess. All the Amazon imprints? Which probably are around 30% of the top 100?

          Agreed that KU is a wildcard. We can expect more, I’m sure.

          • Autumn  –  Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 6:01 pm

            Some were. But where I saw definite indies, they were either 99 cent box sets or in KU. The other books were APub and trad pub either on sale or the kind of trad pub books with a huge marketing budget / following. Sooo. Make of that what you will. 🙂

  7. Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 10:37 am

    For those of us who put out quality work, while this means it’s harder to get discovered by new readers, if your writing is above par, you can still build a fan base. It just means it’s going to take longer.

    Yes, the golden age is over, but I still see a silver lining.

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 12:30 pm

      There will always be an opportunity for those who write what readers really want to read.

      And yes, it will take longer to build a fan base. Such is life.

    • Bronwen Evans  –  Sun 28th Dec 2014 at 3:35 pm

      Quality – who decides on quality? Not the author and not the publisher (SP, TP or Amazon). The READER decides the quality.

      The human race loves diversity and what is one man’s quality is another man’s trash.

      Quite frankly, the reader has always decided what is quality. Price drives the sale but not necessarily the read.

      What I suspect, is most readers (I’m talking romance here, the genre I write in) have bought free and 99c books that have NEVER been read. I’ve learned over the last 2 years, as free and 99c book volume grew, a sale did not equate to a read! So most readers have yet to define what they view as quality because they haven’t read everything they have bought.

      Most readers still read their favorite authors long before they read a FREE or 99c book by an author they don’t know. They may have bought it, but if I’m anything to go by, I have over 1000 books on my kindle and will probably never read more than 30% of them, I read my favorite authors first because I don’t have time to read them all. Therefore it doesn’t mean I think all the free books or 99c books I’ve bought are bad, I just haven’t read them and probably never will.

      There has been so many free or 99c or boxed set books that readers can’t keep up, but like me, don’t want to miss a bargain, so they buy them but I wonder if they ever read them!

      Quality is a term I’ve yet to see defined by anyone I care about except my readers. Most importantly, from those readers I know will buy my book and actually read it. Those that buy it because it’s on special and yet never read it are not my market so I never give a FREE book anymore and I use 99c for the first book in a series about 12 months after I release the series. I have tried Bookbub and with my TP and hit USA Today with a 99c book (3x) my SP bookbub as KU started did not give me the results of my TP book – I have yet to analyze why.

      And I was doing okay before KU. December has been the worst month in my sales history.

      KU has seen my sales impacted on Amazon. I’m hoping that will settle down as the early KU adopters run out of the books they want to read. It’s likely they will run out as long as TP stay out of KU and best-selling authors stay out of KU. Especially if that is your definition of quality.

      Quite frankly, with the landscape changing so much, and the fact I have an excellent relationship with my TP, it’s a great time to be a hybrid author. With KU, margins are getting squeezed and I may find my profit (note not earnings) is better through my TP books.

      • Russell Blake  –  Sun 28th Dec 2014 at 7:08 pm

        You may find that. Or you may not. Depends upon your readership.

        Also, not to be a pedant, but Amazon isn’t a publisher unless we’re talking their imprints. They’re a sales channel – a vendor. They like to call their upload feature publishing, but if that’s the case, the Apple and B&N and Kobo and Smash and D2D are all publishers as well – which they clearly aren’t. At best, they’re all enablers of self-publishers.

        I’ve maintained my pricing at $4.99 and $5.99. I probably lose some readers due to the price. That’s fine. I still pay my bar tab, and those that think $5 for 10 to 15 hours of entertainment get to read bargains. I think of it this way: they, better than I, know what their time is worth. If 50 cents or less per hour of entertainment is too much for them, best move along.

        If I never sold another book, I’ve already surpassed the volume I’d hoped to sell over an entire career, so I’m okay with all of it. Not everyone is a Ruth’s Chris customer – although at these prices, we’re talking a McD’s happy meal, but hey. There’s a growing segment that expects all their needs to be met for free, and I’m not going to battle that. They can find the authors who are willing to work for free and admire each other, or kvetch about how poor the no-cost cover and no-cost editing and no-cost writing is. Won’t change anything from my end, although I will say that my blog’s intended to be a wake up call to newbies and established authors alike: Get busy or get lost.

        • Kathleen Watson  –  Mon 05th Jan 2015 at 7:18 pm

          OMG! A chance to edit a bestselling author. It’s Ruth’s Chris, my friend. Happy New Year!

          • Russell Blake  –  Mon 05th Jan 2015 at 9:31 pm

            Nobody’s confused about why I recommend editing. I’m the embodiment of need to be edited…

  8. Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 1:34 pm


    Let’s hope this cuts down on the noise and lets through a bit more signal.

  9. Elke Klein
    Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 1:39 pm

    I agree 100%. I intend to go down the indie road myself for my first fully blown novel (so far, I’ve been lucky to find traditional publishers for some short stories). I am well aware that a good plot doesn’t equal a good book. In my humble opinion indie authors need to invest in their work before putting it out there. This means having their work edited and corrected by a professional. There is so much crap out there at the moment. I say this as a reader. I’m tired of downloading books that are full of spelling / grammar errors, plot holes etc. I do care what I read. If I pay for something, I expect quality. End of story.

    • cinisajoy  –  Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 2:28 pm

      Too many errors makes me grumpy.
      I care about what I read too.

      Love you Russell. Spot on as always.

  10. Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Big titles are always discounted this time of year. It’s not a new trend. The Hunger Games were $2.99 two years ago, last year 50 Shades of Gray was discounted. I can go pull the deals from the archives of our book deal website.

    Every month books that are roughly 6 months old for the trad pubs get discounted in ebook form. It’s tried and true. Every month April and I see new books on sale and the other trad pub deals go away.

    There is a site that tracks the overall average price point for the Top 100. That’s Digitalbookworld.com http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2014/average-price-stays-low-as-ebooks-in-series-crowd-best-seller-list/

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 2:33 pm

      Right, Elizabeth, but I’ve been noticing this for about 2 months. Since about the middle of October. So while you’re absolutely correct that near Xmas they drop prices into the weeds, they have been doing it for a while. I think it’s also extremely telling how many of the top 25 listed are indie. That would be none.

      I don’t have a ton of time, but it might also be extremely interesting to scan the top 100 Amazon list and see what percentage of those are indie. I did that a year ago and it was somewhere around 30%. Two years ago, more like 35%. My hunch is that this year it’s lower. Maybe a lot lower.

      Anyhow, it is what it is.

      • Julia Kent  –  Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 3:03 pm

        I also strongly suspect we’re seeing a massive injection of coop money across all the major retailers from trad pub. More than previous years.

        • Russell Blake  –  Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 4:55 pm

          That’s probably the case. No way of knowing.

      • cinisajoy  –  Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 7:05 pm

        It looks like 20% if that. I didn’t do an in-depth look to make sure but that was known indies and unknown names. So it could be less.

        • Russell Blake  –  Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 11:14 pm

          Bingo. My money would be on less. Thanks, Cin.

  11. Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 2:45 pm

    Whether or not books are usually discounted this time of year–and of course they are, most retailers of any product anywhere are trying to cash in on the holiday consumer spending–I really like the thought of quality starting to trump quantity. If it ups everyone’s writing game, I say that’s awesome. I have an ereader filled with drivel because I snapped things up due to clever marketing and low prices (yeah, I can be a one-click sucker sometimes). I’d much rather have an ereader filled with books that are pricier but much better reads that I enjoy and will remember.

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 2:58 pm

      That mirrors my experience. I have a lot of books on my kindle I’ve bought, and scores more I was sent and asked to read (which I don’t even accept anymore – why commit to something I know I don’t have time to do?), and I will always go for quality.

      I think as any market matures, that is the trend. The hot new thing becomes the commonplace, and when the newness wears off the differentiator isn’t price. I know that’s the case with wine – life’s too short to drink crappy wine. Why would books be any different?

      • J.K. Harper  –  Sat 13th Dec 2014 at 4:24 pm

        Haha–life’s too short to drink crappy wine, and also too short to read crapy books. 🙂 I have a good friend who’s a massive book consumer, and she’s still hampered by this need to finish every single book she starts, even if it’s terrible. I can’t imagine a worse waste of my precious reading time. I’d much rather hold out for the good stuff, even if I have to pay more for it. Although, of course, I won’t pass up a sale on good reads either. 😉

        • Russell Blake  –  Sat 13th Dec 2014 at 5:02 pm

          The other day I told a friend of mine who is also an author the secret to my prolific output: I’m driven to try to get it right – it’s almost compulsive. He asked if after 35 novels I didn’t think I’d gotten it right at least once.

          I responded that any time he thought he’d written a truly great novel, to go back and read Silence of the Lambs, then we’ll talk. Which is what I do whenever I think I’ve nailed it.

          That provides the incentive to go back at it and try to up my game. Simple. The Tom Harris diet. Works like a charm.

  12. Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 3:49 pm

    Hello Wake Up Call. Thanks, Russell for your clear assessment. As a new reader to your blog, I much appreciate it and will tell my writers. 🙂

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 4:56 pm

      Glad it resonated. Now back to the WIP.

  13. Ellen
    Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Just a thought from a heavy reader – I read at least 200 books a year. Assume 50 of those are popular traditionally published novels. That leaves 150 places for less popular traditionally published novels or for indies. Have the one-book-a -month readers ever been the indie customer? Or is it people like me, who have and always have had trouble finding enough decent books to satisfy our reading appetite?

    Before Kindle, I used to do a lot of re-reading of favorites because of the difficulty finding enough good books. Now I search, sample, and borrow and still have trouble. At least one friend who is a heavy reader complains of the same.

    And I bought the latest Michael Connelly at full price not long ago. I’m going to go back and look, and if the purchase was recent enough, return the darned thing. Seeing something heavily discounted right after I paid a hefty price always makes me crabby.

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 4:57 pm

      I kind of hate that too, but I figure it’s bound to happen, so shrug it off.

      I also agree that finding good books remains hard. Books? Dime a dozen. Good ones? Not nearly so much. But it’s always been that way, I recall from when I was reading a book a day.

      Plus ca change…

  14. Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 5:23 pm

    There is an obstacle when it comes to setting the price for your book on Amazon – and that’s Amazon!

    I tried to pitch the price of my novel at a level that I felt would attract interest, only for Amazon’s automated software tell me it HAD to be set between two given price points. Of course these price points were far higher than I would have chosen.

    To add insult to injury, they then DISCOUNTED the price on the listing!

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 6:00 pm

      You might have mistaken the suggested pricing engine for something it isn’t. As far as I know Amazon doesn’t set your book price when you upload it – you do, as long as it’s between .99 and $9.99. They do have a widget that now suggests appropriate pricing, but I’ve never actually used that to guide my pricing decisions.

    • Larry Bonner  –  Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 7:46 pm


      You probably published through CreateSpace, a company that is controlled by Amazon. Doing so has its positives and negatives. One of the negatives is their byzantine pricing policies.

  15. KJD
    Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 8:37 pm

    Hear hear – excellent post!

  16. Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 9:38 pm

    Truer words were never spoke. I came to the same conclusions some time ago. I realized this was happening in the spring when I was beating the pants off a trad pubbed book in one of my categories – me at $2.99, her book at $11.49. Suddenly her pub dropped the price to $2.99 and her sales shot up – I had some competition! The interesting thing? I hung in there and beat her at the very same price. Yummolicious!
    In the end, for all of us, quality will out.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 13th Dec 2014 at 8:30 am

      Good for you, Julia.

      Like I said. I don’t scare, and think competition’s healthy. We’ll see how all this plays out.

      • Julia Barrett  –  Sat 13th Dec 2014 at 3:08 pm

        Thank you. I know you don’t scare. I’ve been in this world a long time. The only thing that really scares me? Eating sweetbreads.

        • Melissa Bitter  –  Mon 15th Dec 2014 at 11:10 am

          Swearbreads? Now that would scare anyone!! lol

  17. Fri 12th Dec 2014 at 9:46 pm

    Wow! What a way to throw down the gauntlet! I have a feeling you’re right about the authors who aren’t willing to back their books up with expensive promos and professionally edited, covered and formatted material. But many do and the competition will be hard for them. One of the differences between Indie and Trads is the book lengths. Do you think that’s going to play in this situation going forward? Indies tend to write a lot shorter stories and get a book out every couple of months..??

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 13th Dec 2014 at 8:32 am

      Indie book length isn’t necessarily shorter from the top authors. As an example, my average novel runs between 80-100K words, and I’ve been averaging one every five or six weeks. Having said that, the market tends to determine what it wants to consume, and I have noted in prior blogs that the new reader seems to favor work more in the 80K range than the 100-120K range. I think part of it has to do with time, part with attention spans.

      • Mimi Barbour  –  Sat 13th Dec 2014 at 5:09 pm

        You average an 80-100K word novel every 8 – 10 weeks?? Wow – you’re a better man than I am – good thing I’m female LOL. Seriously, I can’t get away from the darn social media and it cuts into my writing time badly. Okay – gotta stop that nonsense! But truly – how do you find the time to do it all? What’s left out? Do you have a VA? Who does your promoting? What am I missing?

        • Russell Blake  –  Sat 13th Dec 2014 at 10:10 pm

          I work 12-15 hours a day, seven days a week. I have a VA, but she does maybe 3 hours of stuff a week, because I don’t really do much social media stuff. As to promos, I do BB and maybe one other ad a month.

          Work smarter, not harder, presuming you’re already cranking out 5-7K a day. If you aren’t, and you’re doing this full time, pick up your pace and do rewrites after your first draft, not as you go along.

          And it’s not one every 8 to 10 weeks. It’s one every five weeks, like clockwork, for three and a half years. 35 novels in 42 months. Don’t try this at home.

  18. Sat 13th Dec 2014 at 1:25 am

    Loved this article, and I’m actually very excited about this because I am first and foremost a reader. Hopefully it will eliminate a lot of the fluff (because, as all of us know, there are some truly horrendous indie “books” out there–like only 30 pages long and full of run-on sentences and dangling modifiers). I’m confident anyone with a decent indie book will continue on at roughly the same level. So I say, bring it on!

  19. EC Sheedy
    Sat 13th Dec 2014 at 2:50 am

    When you’re done with that sharp brain of yours, Russell, please have someone put it in a bottle (tequila if that’s your preference) and save it for future writers. I always appreciate your clear view of this fuzzy business.

    Wonderful and thought-provoking post. Message? Work harder and harder. Write gooder and gooder.

    Thanks! And Happy Holidays.

  20. Sat 13th Dec 2014 at 4:26 am

    Thank you Russel for an excellent post. I have two books in the system and intend to publish many more. I am glad that I chose to go the route of investing not only my time but also my money to ensure good editing and presentation. There has never been an easy ride for authors and as you say, it’s going to get tougher! Authors of books that do not sell will eventually fall away. I am seriously challenged to up my game!!! Thanks.

  21. Sat 13th Dec 2014 at 9:45 am

    Wonderfully put and exactly what I’ve been thinking over the last few months. I had hoped to gain sales traction from my fourth or fifth novel but realize this is now unlikely to happen. Increasing productivity and delivering great content as quickly as one can is the most assured way to get there. And like you say, it’s going to take longer because of the increased competition. But it’s still the best time to be a writer. Until the computers take over.

  22. Sat 13th Dec 2014 at 11:03 am

    My sales indicate you’re dead on with your advice. It’s all about excellence moving forward. You can’t just be good enough. All authors will eventually be indie so pricing below “real” authors is a thing of the past. I also believe $2.99, or something close, will be the ultimate fair price for a ebook. I think this is a price readers are willing to pay for hours of quality entertainment…
    Ahh, I remember 2011, those were the days 🙂

  23. Sat 13th Dec 2014 at 11:10 am


    Did they move the gold ring again?

    Gotta love it. I’ve never had a problem with a bit of competition as it drives me to up my own game. At 54 I figure I’ve got another twenty to thirty good years left to write, I’m in it for the long haul, not the quick buck. Besides I’m better at a marathon than a sprint.

  24. Sat 13th Dec 2014 at 3:31 pm

    Amen, brother.

  25. Sat 13th Dec 2014 at 3:35 pm

    Amazon dropped the price on one of my books from $4.99 to $.99. I just happened to discover it yesterday.

    It could be some of these are Amazon discounts and not publisher discounts. I think I will wait to see what January brings before I go chopping prices.

  26. Sat 13th Dec 2014 at 8:46 pm

    Ha! Well, as if this wasn’t going to happen!
    Seriously? Some people thought it was ever going to be thus – trad publishers are pricing at $10 or more (which some of them still do), and indies can undercut. But ask any salesman worth his or her salt, and they will tell you one of the first rules of selling – never never NEVER sell on price alone.
    There are a couple of other things. Giving things away for free are all well and good, but there are so many free books out there. Does anyone read free books? If so, what percentage?
    And as soon as you charge one cent for anything, the expectation of the buyer goes through the roof. IT’S MY HARD-EARNED MONEY, GODAMMIT! So it doesn’t matter if it’s $1.99, $2.99, $5.99, or $0.01. As soon as you make someone pay, they WILL expect a professional quality book.
    Again, Russell – you’ve hit the nail on the head. Anyone who thinks they can get rich by pushing out crap is doomed to failure. Writing for me is a long-term venture. I want to accelerate, and with self-pub, I can publish as often as I like. But I’m in this for the long haul. First and foremost, I’m a writer, not a marketer. The writing, and the product, is the most important thing.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 13th Dec 2014 at 10:33 pm

      A wise man once said that the work needs to be its own reward. That’s a life lesson. Rich or poor, successful or a failure, we all wind up in the dirt, at which point none of it mattered. The most important thing is to be happy. If writing makes you happy, write. You’re only here for a blink of the eye. Do what you love. If you can make money at it, so much the better. But I think far too many spend their lives chasing money as a proxy for happiness, or worse, as a promise of happiness to come, ignoring today.

      As many know, you don’t have to be rich, or even wealthy, to be happy. Just as being rich or wealthy doesn’t make you happy.

      I highly recommend a book called The Age Of Absurdity. Hugh mentioned it, and it’s a winner, filled with important life lessons and brilliant deconstructions of philosophy throughout the ages.

      100 years ago, there were more billionaires (adjusted for inflation) due to the industrial revolution than there are today. Few of their names stir any recollection. And yet we remember Burroughs and Joyce and Mann and Doyle and Proust and on and on and on. Write because you want to touch readers, and leave the business of commerce to businessmen. Nowadays, as indies, we have to be both authors and entrepreneurs, but I find the indies I most enjoy reading place writing at the pinnacle of their value system, and the rest subordinate to it. Not to say business isn’t important, but business is the activity of promoting and selling, which is seldom noble and often something those who can only excel as merchants do best.

      It’s ironic I spend so much of my time counseling writers on how to be better at the business of selling, when truthfully, that’s the sausage machine part of what we do. But there it is. In the land of the blind…

  27. Sun 14th Dec 2014 at 1:24 am


    I’d say that maybe the lower prices will expand the number of titles sold, which could be good for indies too. That assumes that voracious readers will continue to spend the same number of dollars, while other readers will continue to buy the same number of titles (or more.)

    Really what this change means is that product quality is the determining factor. Part of that quality is how you present it.

  28. Sun 14th Dec 2014 at 11:37 am

    Thanks, Russell !

  29. Tue 16th Dec 2014 at 1:31 pm

    I’ve been a published author since 1996 and have over 90 published novels out there. I am one of the lucky ones in that I can make a very comfortable living from my speculative fiction writing. I write primarily dark fantasy and thankfully there is a market for it.

    But I have seen a decrease in my royalty checks since Amazon began its quiet, steady push toward cornering the publishing market. KU has not done indie and small press authors any favors. If anything, it is quietly and steadily pushing them out. Even very talented authors with a unique voice and strong writing skills will sink beneath the Amazon wave that is coming.

    Yes, there is a glut of talentless writers flooding the market with sub-par works that are poorly edited and with covers that can best be described as eyesores. But there are also some real gems out here that no one knows about no matter how good the work or how promising the writer. If that author won’t play ball with Amazon, they’ll find themselves alone on the court without a ball.

  30. Wed 17th Dec 2014 at 5:04 pm

    I’ve also noticed that trad-pubbed books have been deeply discounted for the last few months, and was thinking the same think about the author’s earnings probably being peanuts at that price. That said, I heard Gillian Flynn was paid a million bucks for the movie rights to Gone Girl, so the sales volume could translate into a big payday in that area.

    I also looked at the top 100 bestselling books of the year so far. I was happy to see Liane Moriarty, a women’s fiction author, have three books on the list, and noticed two of them had been heavily reduced in price too. And I just read an article that Reese Witherspoon had bought the rights to Big Little Lies and was going to star in it, so hopefully Liane had a big pay day there. Oddly enough Reese was also part producer on the Gone Girl movie, which I really enjoyed.

    Regarding the Thomas Harris diet: As much as I love Silence of the Lambs, and all of Hannibal Lecter’s exploits, I think El Rey and the Assassin series is equally as good and that he is just as complex a character. In fact, I like him much more. Can’t wait to see what he’s gonna do next!

  31. Thu 25th Dec 2014 at 10:52 am

    Very informative. I just had my first novel published, Juniper and Anise, published through Whiskey Creek Press. They put it on amazon for $3.99. My biggest hope is that the “historical” fiction part of it will attract like readers to me. Guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

    Thanks for all your insights over this past year since I started reading your posts.

  32. Sat 27th Dec 2014 at 12:07 am

    Unfortunately, it needs more than excellence to survive though. The more obvious poor quality books will disappear, I agree, (I hope) but the authors who will thrive are those who know how to market, not necessarily those who write the best books.
    If the number of reviews is anything to go by then plenty of not bad, but not particularly well written books sell well. They look good; the story is good; they even have good grammar and punctuation, but unless they are either by an experienced and talented author or have actually had a line edit, not just a copy edit, they fall down on the quality of the prose, and unfortunately for the future of written English, few notice.
    As curator of the Awesome Indies, I know that there are many brilliant books on our list that are selling only a handful a month simply because the expertise, time and money cost of effective marketing is beyond the author. Perhaps those who only want to write will return to the mainstream path, because if you go indie, you have to run a publishing business as well, and for some, writing a quality book is easier than running a financially successful business. One does not guarantee the other, but unless his work is really bad, the business savvy author will sell more books.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 27th Dec 2014 at 2:53 am

      Couple of important points. First, going the traditional path means about a 99+% chance of your book never seeing the light of day. Second, publishers expect the author to make the book sell – they nowadays just shotgun 300K titles out per year and hope some stick, and if you’re one of the vast, vast majority that fail to sell, they blame you, the author, not themselves, for the book’s failure. Doesn’t really matter, because you still get dropped and earn less than beer money for your time and trouble.

      Reality is that books have never sold themselves. Ever. Going the mainstream path usually means spending a decade or three querying, maybe eventually getting an agent, having him or her pitch your screeds to publishers, who largely sell books nobody wants to buy (as witnessed by their hit rate), and who the odds say will pass on your book even if it’s the next Catcher in the Rye crossed with Grapes of Wrath with a To Kill A Mockingbird twist. Because sad books without teen vampire love aren’t selling this year, or whatever the committee reasoning of the moment is.

      So that leaves one with two choices: Either pretend there’s this mythical writing business where you don’t have to be effective at marketing or invest time, money, and expertise in making your book selling business go, or acknowledge that writing is a wonderful passtime, but that selling books is a retail business that requires different skills, and that these days getting read by anyone (readers, agents, publishers) involves you figuring out how to find your audience and gain visibility – AKA marketing and promoting your books.

      Many authors fail to see the connection between becoming adept at an entrepreneurial enterprise (starting a book selling business) and creating the content for that enterprise (writing the book). You can create all the content you want for the Commodore computer, much of it amazingly brilliant, but if the platform ain’t there, it won’t ever be seen. Writing books is content creation, and the market is glutted with content, much of it awful, but a lot of it good to great. If only 10% of indie work is actually up to par (probably generous, but hey) with trad pubbed offerings in the same genre, that probably adds another 50-100K worthwhile titles per year (assuming 500K to a million indie releases). So authors need to ask themselves why their special snowflake book is going to be read instead of one of the other 49,999 titles also released that’s as good or better. I find the vast majority of those who don’t sell have an answer that’s essentially, “Because I wrote it and the world will recognize my genius.” No, it won’t. It never has, and it won’t now.

      Most books fail to sell. Most trad pubbed books, most indie books. That’s the numbers game you’re in. These days, if an author expects to get read, he or she has to become adept at marketing, and invest accordingly. For those who view starting a retail book business as something that should be free, or close to it? How many businesses require no investment, no relevant expertise, etc.? The answer is none. Like it or not, if an author wants his book read, he has to figure out how to get it read, how to make it appealing, how to connect with his audience and let them know he’s written it, etc. etc. etc. And even then, he’s likely to fail to sell. That’s just the game. No different now than it was decades ago, except that more authors are making more money as midlisters than at any point in history. I love that part of the story.

      • April  –  Thu 01st Jan 2015 at 7:23 pm

        This isn’t true for all genres. I do zero marketing for any of my books beyond the odd Facebook post. They still sell quite well. Some readers will hunt out books in their favourite genre and will auto buy their favoured authors.

        • Russell Blake  –  Thu 01st Jan 2015 at 8:34 pm

          Nothing is true for all genres, all the time – I tend to address mainstream commercial genre fiction. If you write in narrow genres trad pubs don’t play in, for instance, you probably have little to worry about. Looking at your titles, which appear at a quick glance to be gay dystopian sci-fi erotica, I’d say you’re safe for now. And of course, it depends on what you mean by “sell quite well.” Everyone’s experience will be different, and there will always be exceptions. There are folks who have jumped off bridges and lived. Doesn’t make it a good idea for all.

  33. Sun 28th Dec 2014 at 12:12 am

    Love all the encouragement I received in this blog post. No, I am not being sarcastic. I always know, somewhere inside me, that this stage would come. Welcome to 2015, indeed.

  34. J
    Thu 01st Jan 2015 at 2:39 pm

    I’m glad you understand that. So many authors don’t. As an avid reader I welcome the tightening of the competition. I can’t begin to count how many e-books I’ve tried (either free or cheap) by new-to-me authors that were so bad I couldn’t get past the first chapter. I very nearly stopped reading anything by an author I wasn’t already familiar with.

  35. Sun 04th Jan 2015 at 7:29 pm

    Anything worth doing, with time well spent, should always be worth doing right. Otherwise what would be the point, except maybe delusional bragging rights.

    The value of anything is determined by what someone else is willing to pay for it. There are truly great works out there yet to be discovered, and because of the quality presented will never be available at bargain basement prices. Quality is expensive. If price over quality becomes the predominate factor, then eventually creativity and substance will take a back seat to a lesser endeavor.


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