Family and friends sometimes send me links to articles about authors who are making big money selling their e-books on Amazon to inspire me. I appreciate the encouragement, but I actually find the stories more daunting than motivating.
In a recent interview in the Detroit Free Press, Amanda Lee, a former reporter who writes mysteries, romances and a series about witches, said that she turns out about 10,000 words a day. Both of my books, Dangerous Habits and Dangerous Mistakes are slightly north of 100,000 words each. Which means that Ms. Lee could write them both in a month. Yikes. It took me more than six months each. And after a final draft was finished, the necessary proofing, editing, formatting, cover design, promotion and distribution brought the actual production time from start to finish closer to a year for each.
Her breakneck pace has resulted in Ms. Lee writing and publishing some 50 books in the past five years. That translates into an average of about 10 books a year. Last year, according to the Free Press, she made almost $1 million. And she is not the only one. In addition to the super famous writers like John Grisham or Sue Grafton or Stephen King, who one expects are making significant incomes, there are a number of lesser known authors who make six figure incomes annually from their e-book efforts.
And those unknown authors aren’t doing it by writing a breakout novel that shoots to the top of the bestseller list. Instead, they are prolific writers who can churn out multiple books a year. And that particular gift pays off.
Amazon’s royalty rate is 70 percent if your book is priced between $2.99 and $9.99, and 35 percent if it’s priced outside that range. Other e-book publishers have similar rates, Amazon is just the biggest. [Side note: most traditional publishers pay between 6 and 10 percent for paperback book sales, which explains why many authors find self-publishing e-books more appealing.]
The sweet spot for e-books by unknowns is $2.99 to $3.99. If you are a new writer, you’re almost certain to set your price there, and you’ll make roughly $2-$3 per book. If you sell 100 copies of your one e-book a month (which is pretty good for an unknown author trying to get noticed in a sea of more than 1 million e-books on Amazon) you’ll receive between $200 and $300 per month income. But if you have 20 books available for purchase, and you sell 100 of each of them each month, you’ll earn $4,000 to $6,000 a month. The catch, for me anyway, is that there’s no way I can write a well thought out, well edited book fast enough to create a backlist of 20 books in under two years, as many e-book authors do.
It would be really nice if I could. Fortunately, I don’t write to make big money—which is a good thing, or I would be sadly disappointed. I write because I enjoy it, it exercises my mind and gives me—most days—a sense of satisfaction. And if you have a book in you, and they say everyone does, I think you should write it. If you have more than one, I urge you to write them very fast, in which case you may become very wealthy.
But in case you don’t, don’t say I didn’t warn you.