The Very Rich Indie Writer

Meet Amanda Hocking. She’s been in the news for quite a bit now, and I’ve been meaning to write about her since January (or really, to write about the phenomenon she represents – and what it means for web fiction). But if you don’t already know of her, allow me:

Amanda Hocking is 26* years old. She has 9 self-published books to her name, and sells 100,000+ copies of those ebooks per month. She has never been traditionally published. This is her blog. And it’s no stretch to say – at $3 per book1/70% per sale for the Kindle store – that she makes a lot of money from her monthly book sales. (Perhaps more importantly: a publisher on the private Reading2.0 mailing list has said, to effect: there is no traditional publisher in the world right now that can offer Amanda Hocking terms that are better than what she’s currently getting, right now on the Kindle store, all on her own.)

And that is stunning news.

Kindle Store Economics

Why this is happening, and how it can happen, is a question that’s been explored by other indie writers experimenting with sales on the Kindle store. J.A.Konrath is arguably the best authority on this, and the logic goes roughly as follows:

If you’re an indie writer, you get to sell books at a price way, way lower than what a Traditional Publisher can sell at. And yet you make more money, because your only costs are to an ebook and cover art designer (whereas the traditional publisher has to support a legacy system, plus the traditionally published author gets a 30% cut, while you get 70%).

In the meantime, readers are more inclined to buy your stories, even if you’re an unknown author, simply because your book prices are cheaper. So you get high sales, low ebook prices, but high revenue once you’ve hit sufficient scale. And the best thing is that it’s infinitely scalable: your ebooks are out there, getting sales every single day. No shelf-space, no print runs to worry about.

You’re making a killing, and are able to compete with traditional publishers at their own game.

Well, in the context of an ebook store, that is.

The oft-repeated argument that people use w/r/t Konrath is that he was a traditionally published author before moving to the Kindle store. But Hocking and her peers, who have never been published the traditional route before (who were inspired by Konrath’s exploits, and who are now selling way more than Konrath ever has) are together invalidating that argument. You don’t have to be traditionally published to sell a lot of ebooks, and you don’t have to be A-List famous, either. Take this monthly sales list of top Kindle indie authors, for instance:

Blake Crouch – 2500+
Nathan Lowell – 2500+
Beth Orsoff – 2500+
Sandra Edwards – 2500+
Vianka Van Bokkem - 2500+
Maria Hooley – 2500+
C.S. Marks – 2500+
Lee Goldberg – 2500+
Lexi Revellian – 4000+
Zoe Winters – 4000+
Aaron Patterson – 4000+
Bella Andre – 5000+
Imogen Rose – 5000+
Ellen Fisher – 5000+
Tina Folsom – 5000+
Terri Reid – 5000+
David Dalglish – 5000+
Scott Nicholson – 10,000+
J.A. Konrath 10,000+
Victorine Lieske – 10,000+
L.J. Sellers – 10,000+
Michael R. Sullivan – 10,000+
H.P. Mallory – 20,000+
Selena Kitt – 20,000+
Stephen Leather – 40,000+
Amanda Hocking – 100,000+

Those numbers you see? They’re monthly sales figures taken from the December 2010 listings on the Kindle store. And of the list, only six have had previous print deals with major publishers. Some mental arithmetic to do: average price of those ebooks are between $3-$5*. Amazon takes a 30% cut. How much are these authors making, per month?

And What Does This Mean for Web Fiction?

A number of web fiction authors are now moving/releasing their work exclusively on the Kindle ebook store. Zoe Whitten, for instance, recently took down four of her novels: all of which were formerly open, web fiction pieces. (I particularly enjoyed Zombie Punter, and I wrote her a glowing review for it, but that’s a story for another day).

I think several things would happen over the course of the year, the majority of which are obvious responses to this gold-mine of indie publishing. More web fiction writers would move their work to the Kindle store (if they haven’t already). Some of these serials would be taken off the open web; others would be left online, but with new work released to the store for the foreseeable future.

It’s likely that the web fiction writers of the future would treat web fiction as this thing you do when you’re writing a novel – it’s fun, dynamic, and very fulfilling, but when the novel’s done you close off the web fiction site and turn that into a landing page for your ebook. It’s not bad, per se, but it’s going to be a change for the community.

The good news is that writers can now make a significant amount of money, if they’re hardworking enough, and smart enough, to take advantage of the digital tools available to them. The bad news is that … well, things would be different in the not-too-distant future. And maybe different in a bad way. But that goes without saying, and whether it’s good, or bad, or just different, we really can’t know tell things would turn out.

I, for one, am optimistic, and I think we can do cool things with this trend. But let’s wait and see.

Update: USA Today reports that her sales have exceeded 450k for the month of January 2011 alone.

1 Three of her full-length ebook novels are priced at $0.99.

* Correction appended: ebooks by these authors are between $3-$5, not $8-$9 as previously claimed. The $8-$9 price are the prices of their self-published paperback books. Also, Amanda’s age is 26, not 27.

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Category: Making Money · Publishing