Do You Know About Special Author Math?

by Kimberly A. Cook          (Twitter@ WarriorTales)

(Alert: Long Blog Post)

Last month I tried to reduce my bundled cable bill. I know, it would have been easier to invade a small country, but I enjoy tilting at corporations. When my first new bill showed up, I was confused. By the time the company explained how they put me in a higher package price but downgraded it with discounts to get a smaller cost, it hit me. “Oh, this is special cable math,” I said. The cable gal on the phone laughed, but agreed with me.

Image by istockphoto

Now, the reason I can kinda understand this is because I know about special author math. Whenever a new writer wants to know if I’m rich because I’m an author, it’s time for another lesson in special author math.

The basics. A first-time category paperback romance author published by a New York house may get a $3,000 advance and then 6 percent royalties. That is six percent off a cover price of 4.99, which is 29 cents per book sold. So if the author sells 10,344 books, they earn $2,999.76 beyond their advance, for a total of $5,999.76. Used to be royalties were paid out every six months.

So the book it took an author two years to write and perfect is on the shelves for six weeks, tops. The book may get foreign reprint rights in other countries, but let’s assume not.

A first-time indie published ebook romance fiction writer can put their ebook up on Kindle for free and charge 4.99 per copy and get either a 35 or 70 percent royalty rate minus the digital delivery fee. Let’s chose 70 percent royalty, so 3.49 per book minus one cent for delivery fee equals 3.48. If this author sells 10,344 ebooks, she earns $35,997.12. Plus the digital book can sell online forever.

Notice the difference between a romance fiction paperback published by a New York house and the indie published romance fiction ebook. $35,997.12 – $5,999.76 equals $29,997.36. Now the New York traditional publishers are getting $12.99 for some of their bestselling author ebooks, so you know who is not getting the benefit of that author math. These numbers also explain why the record industry went indie years ago.

Now, anyone selling 10,000 copies of a book is a big deal. Granted, the New York romance publishers have set distribution channels, but the ebook is the great liberator for authors.

There are also a zillion other things to consider in this simplistic example from quality of writing, to cover art, distribution channels, marketing, etc., when looking at the numbers, but this author special math is one reason so many authors are going indie. It’s one of the main reasons I did in 2006 with my non-fiction book and will continue to do so for all my books.

Here are some more author math numbers; the average indie published print-on-demand book (POD) sells 300 copies. No typo, 300 copies. (This is where I have a huge problem with the marketing packages many POD companies charge; they make their money on the up sell of producing the book, not the actual copies of a book sold.)

So if you spend $10,000 on a package to publish your $4.99 paperback book and you get a generous 35 percent royalty, ($1.74) you will need to sell at least 5,747 books to break even and that is without cover design, ISBN numbers, etc. Know your numbers and vet the POD houses before spending big bucks.

If you’re going paperback POD and ebook, which I did, make sure you do a return on investment calculation. Take the cost of the “package” divided by your royalties to see how many books you would need to sell to break even. Then put that number next to 300 books. Compare your numbers and the 300 book average. Reality check time! Do not quit your day job or take a loan on the house to self-publish a book.

Now, let me add this number; more than 1,000 books are published every day in the United States. So the book chatter out there is big time. Granted this includes everything from the latest Manga book to cookbooks, but you get my math.

The publishing industry is undergoing massive change right now because our publishing tools and methods are changing. But in that chaos comes opportunities for writers and authors who like to publish to the sound of the new author math. The writing needs to be clean and good, the package pretty and spell checked, but it can be done.

My goal has always been to sell books around the world while I’m sleeping; that day arrived several years ago with the online market. Consider how you want your author math to stack up. Any battle plan requires a recon of the terrain and mission goals. I expect no less from fellow writers.

Be an informed author/publisher/writer and spend your dollars and time wisely. Make sure the special author math works to your advantage, so we can all pay our special cable math bills.


Filed under Writing Biz

3 responses to “Do You Know About Special Author Math?

  1. My high school math teacher suggested I choose math as a career because manipulating numbers came easy for me. I don’t think this is what she had in mind…lol. Great job putting author math into perspective!

  2. Janet

    Math has never been my strong point…thank goodness I’m married to a man who knows “how to do the math!”

  3. Betty

    Every fledgling and would be writer, plus some of the more experienced, should become familiar with the new author math!!!

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