The Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine

"Fiction Writing = Organization + Craft + Marketing"

The Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine

 
Publisher: Randy Ingermanson ("the Snowflake guy")
 
Motto: "A Vision for Excellence"
 
Date: March 4, 2014
Issue: Volume 10, Number 3
Personal Site: www.Ingermanson.com
 
Circulation: 7974 writers, each of them creating a Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.
 
"Fiction Writing = Organization + Craft + Marketing"
 
 

What's in This Issue

 
1) Welcome to the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine! 
2) Organization: Keystone Habits
3) Craft: Making Three-Dimensional Villains
4) Marketing: How Much Do Authors Earn?
5) What's New At AdvancedFictionWriting.com 
6) Randy Recommends . . .
7) What Randy is Reading
8) Randy's Deal of the Day
9) Steal This E-zine! 
10) Reprint Rights
 
 

1) Welcome to the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine!

 
Those of you who have joined in the past month (306 of you signed up in February), welcome to my e-zine!
 
If you missed a back issue, remember that all previous issues are archived on my web site at: www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com/ezine/

 

2) Organization: Keystone Habits

This past week, I’ve been reading a great book, THE POWER OF HABIT. 

 

It’s about why we do what we do, and the fact that a lot of what we do comes down to habits.

 

The way you put on your socks in the morning is a habit—you don’t have to think about whether to put on the left one first, or the right one. You just do it without thinking, and that saves you energy that you can put into something more productive.

 

If you exercise, you almost certainly have an exercise habit that keeps you on track. If you eat a healthy diet, it’s probably because you have a number of good habits (the way you shop, the way you decide when to eat, the way you create meals, the way you eat your food, the way you decide when you’re finished). If you have good sleeping patterns, you probably have several good habits (deciding what time to go to bed, your bed-time ritual, your wake-up ritual).

 

All of this is pretty well-known, and I was already aware of it.

 

I’ve learned two main points while reading this book:

  1. There is a specific technique for creating a new habit (or overriding an old habit).
  2. Not all habits are created equal—some “keystone” habits practically ensure that you’ll create a whole set of other habits.

Before we can talk about this, I’ll need to say a little about exactly how habits work their magic on us, for good or for bad. 

 

How Habits Work

 

Habits have three basic components:

  • The Cue
  • The Routine
  • The Reward

For example, suppose you have a habit of reading your e-mail as soon as it comes in. (This is a major time suck for many people, including me.)

 

The Cue comes to you when your e-mail software alerts you that a new e-mail has come in. The Cue is external to you. It breaks into your consciousness (or it may even break into your sub-conscious, if it's a strongly ingrained habit).

 

The Routine is your response. You pop up your e-mail window and read the subject line. Then you deal with it as appropriate—you delete it, you read it, you respond if necessary, and you file it away. Or possibly, you leave it festering in your in-box in a puddle of good intentions.

 

The Reward is whatever psychological or physical satisfaction you get from having completed the Routine. Different Rewards work well for different people. Maybe you just like having completed things, and you love the satisfaction of seeing an empty in-box. Maybe e-mail makes you anxious, and checking the e-mail lowers your anxiety. Maybe you feel responsible to others, and responding to e-mail makes you feel good about yourself. Maybe it’s your job to answer e-mail, and responding to it gives you the satisfaction of a job well done, or at least the reminder that your next paycheck is coming.

 

The Reward is what drives the habit. If the Reward is strong enough, it creates in you a craving that almost forces you to execute the Routine whenever the Cue comes in.

 

If you’re a chain smoker, the Cue comes as you finish your cigarette. Your Routine is to pull out another one and light up, possibly without even being aware of it. The Reward is whatever satisfaction you get from smoking.

 

There are good habits and bad habits, but they all have the same basic engine—the Cue, the Routine, the Reward.

 

Creating Habits (or Breaking Them)

 

If you want to create a habit, then you have to get all three pieces working correctly. Maybe you want to create a habit to floss your teeth every night. 

 

Your Cue might be to set the dental floss out on your sink where you’ll see it every night before you go to bed. That’s not a very strong Cue, because you might not see the floss, but it could work. A stronger Cue might be to set an alarm on your phone to remind you every night at 10 PM to floss. This is stronger because it’s harder to miss. When the alarm goes off, you have to turn it off.

 

Your Routine would be to floss your teeth. It might be smart to read up on the right way to floss (there’s a wrong way that hurts and a right way that doesn’t). 

 

Your Reward could be anything you want. Maybe the psychological satisfaction is enough. Maybe you need to visualize the surprise you’ll see on your dentist’s face at your next checkup. Maybe you can reward yourself with an extra ten minutes of reading before bed. Whatever works. (Rewarding yourself with a piece of chocolate is an intriguing idea, but it probably defeats the purpose.)

 

The Cue needs to be strong enough to get your attention. The Reward needs to be strong enough to justify the effort of the Routine.

 

So that’s what it takes to create a habit. What about erasing an existing habit?

 

Apparently, that’s impossible. An existing habit is in your brain and it seems that it never goes away entirely. However, you can replace it with a different habit that overrides it.

 

The new habit will have the same Cue as the existing habit.

 

However, the new habit will replace the Routine of the existing habit with a new Routine (presumably one that’s better for you).

 

And likewise, the new habit will replace the old Reward of the old habit with a new Reward that’s strong enough to get you to choose the new Routine instead of the old Routine. At first, you’ll probably need to exercise some will power to do the new Routine, rather than the old Routine. As your new habit gets stronger, you’ll need less will power, because the craving for the old Reward will weaken and the craving for the new Reward will get stronger.

 

The hard part is figuring out what Reward the old habit was giving you. This isn’t always obvious. The Appendix to THE POWER OF HABIT will give you a set of steps for analyzing an existing habit to figure out what the real Reward is. Then once you know that, you need to find a different Routine that can give you the same or a similar Reward. This makes it much easier to override the old habit.

 

Keystone Habits

 

The most interesting idea I found in THE POWER OF HABIT was the concept of “keystone habits.” 

 

Let’s look at an example first, before we try to define it.

 

In 1987, Alcoa was a company in trouble. Its core business was aluminum products, and it had tried to expand into other lines. In the process, it lost its competitive edge in its core business and profits took a dive.

 

The new CEO, Paul O’Neill, introduced himself to the stockholders by making a bizarre pledge—to make Alcoa the safest company in America.

 

Now that is just plain weird. What does safety have to do with profitability? Or union-management friction? Or product misalignment with the market? Or all the other buzzwords that new CEOs throw around when they take over a company?

 

The answer is that safety has nothing to do with any of those, at least not directly. 

 

But to make Alcoa the safest company in America, O’Neill created one new “keystone habit” which created a whole cascade of changes within the company. 

 

The keystone habit was this. He required that anytime there was an injury to an Alcoa worker, the president of that worker’s unit had to report to O’Neill with a plan to ensure that the injury could never happen again. And the deadline was 24 hours.

 

That was a corporate habit:

  • The Cue was the worker injury.
  • The Response was the report to the CEO.
  • The Reward was that the unit president got to keep his job. 

This was not just any old habit. This was a habit that led to other habits. Middle management had to talk to workers about safety and let them know that they must report injuries ASAP. And middle management had to have a way to reach the unit president at any time of the day. The entire company needed to create new habits of communication. 

 

Once that happened, everything changed. The unions agreed to measure worker productivity, because that was a signal that a preventible accident might happen. Management agreed to give any worker on the floor the ability to shut down production if a safety problem came up. Everybody had an interest in making equipment safer—which usually meant a redesign that coincidentally made it more efficient.

 

The corporate habit of instantly reporting injuries created a whole cascade of other corporate habits that turned Alcoa around. It was a “keystone habit.”

 

If you want to change your life, think about what keystone habits you might need to put in place—the habits that will have a ripple effect throughout your life.

 

Some people find that the exercise habit is a keystone—it generates changes in their eating habits, sleeping habits, social habits. 

 

Some athletes find that the habit of visualizing success is a keystone. Not because there’s any woo-woo power in visualization. It’s because the act of visualizing success is a way of training your mind in how to respond when things go wrong. (And things often go wrong in sports. Winners calmly deal with them.)

 

For many writers, a keystone habit is the act of writing every day. They have a Cue that defines when they’ll start writing. The Routine is to write for a set amount of time or to write a set number of words. The Reward is whatever it takes to get them in the chair and writing (and of course different writers have different Rewards).

 

Action Items

 

Nothing happens if you don’t take action. Let me suggest a couple of action items for you:

  • Read THE POWER OF HABIT. It’s well-written, with many examples, and you’ll understand habits a lot better after reading the book.
  • Think about what keystone habit might make the biggest impact on your life. We’re all at different places, so the keystone habit you need is probably not the same as the one I need. 

That’s all. THE POWER OF HABIT was a New York Times bestseller for more than 60 weeks, and you can find it at all the usual suspects:

Grab it on Amazon.

Grab it at B&N.

 

Further Reading

I discuss some basic habits for writers in my blog post “Writing Fiction When Chaos Strikes Your Life.” 

 

Many writers have the habit of designing their novel before they write it. I’m best known for my Snowflake Method, which gives you a set of 10 steps to design your novel and then write the first draft. 

 

 

3) Craft: Making Three-Dimensional Villains

For most novelists, the hardest character to get right is their villain. 

 

Most of us empathize well with our hero. He or she is often the person we want to be.

 

But the villain? He or she is the person we don’t want to be. The person we hate.

 

So it’s easy to cut corners on character development. To make that villain two-dimensional, because after all, we don’t want our readers empathizing with a villain. 

 

This month, I’m interviewing New York Times best-selling author Tosca Lee about her novel ISCARIOT. If ever there was a villain people love to hate without bothering to understand him, it’s Judas Iscariot. 

 

I met Tosca years ago at a writing conference, and we quickly became friends. She gave me a copy of her debut novel DEMON: A MEMOIR, which I devoured. She writes literary fiction about good and evil, and she’s great at blurring the lines. Because in real life, the lines are sometimes blurry.

 

Here’s a photo of Tosca and me in the bar at a recent conference:

 

Tosca and Randy.jpg

 

Tosca is the one on the left. 

 

On to the interview:

 

Randy: Judas Iscariot may be the most villainous villain ever.  What prompted you to write a novel in which he's the protagonist?

 

Tosca: My friend Jeff Gerke suggested it. Jeff was the editor who acquired my first two books, and when he suggested I delve into the story of Judas, I said "no" straight away. Too much research. Too controversial. Too hard. 

 

But the idea stuck with me for months and one night I found myself in a New York restaurant scribbling out a scene between Judas and his mom on the paper tablecloth next to my dinner. I knew I was a goner then. 

 

I still fought it--that's nearly a lifetime worth of research that I'd have to cram into the space of a year or two. You probably remember, Randy, the night we were at a writer's conference and I just broke down, terrified. Shortly after, I started work.

 

 

Randy: Oh yeah, I remember talking you off that ledge. I’m glad you wrote the book. Obviously, if you're going to write a novel on a real live villain, you need to do some research. How did you go about researching Judas?

 

Tosca: You were a big help in this area, having done so much research yourself. Josephus was a major starting point, as well as a list of about 100 other historical sources, Bible commentaries, documentaries, lecture transcripts (I love the Great Courses). 

 

I went to Israel with the Biblical Archaeology Society, which was an absolute must for me. I just read and read and read and started making this outline of pertinent events and scenes. 

 

It felt like cramming for a master's degree and truly, by the time I was done I could have written several theses on the political situation at the time of Jesus, on the controversial life of Jesus, and on Judas himself. The full list of my sources is extremely long.

 

 

Randy: Research is good, but it only takes you so far, and that’s especially true in the case of Judas. We actually know very little about his backstory.  In your novel, you invented a huge amount of backstory to fill in the gaps in our knowledge.  How did you do that in a way that is reasonably true to history?

 

Tosca: It was really important to me to make Judas the product--the Everyman--of his time. A product of a time of great oppression and political hope (which, in that day boiled down to religious law-keeping). 

 

The product of a nation at a time that is struggling to protect its identities and its religious freedoms. It really became easy after looking at him that way. But I wanted to keep him true to human form. 

 

In the end, I realized I was writing less and less the story of Judas and more my story--and that of everyone--of a man trying to find the answers we all ultimately seek.

 

 

Randy: And I think that’s key to writing any villain—you have to figure out how he got that way, and under what circumstances you might do the same things he did. How did you go about constructing the character of Judas?  How did you get inside his skin before you started writing?

 

Tosca: Getting in the setting was the biggest thing. Once I started to understand it, it became a lot easier. 

 

You know, I used to be an online role-play gamer and often joke that everything I learned about writing I learned from RPing. This really isn't far from the truth. I learned a lot about putting on the skin of everything from the opposite gender to criminals, aliens, and medieval sword-slingers. 

 

There's just something about learning enough about the view as you look down at your feet in that setting, about the smells of the city and the tensions within it, of the mortality rate, of the sight of Roman soldiers... once you start taking each of these in, you can start moving around. It gets easier and easier as you write the book. But that sensory detail is really important in the beginning especially--for you and the reader.

 

 

Randy: That’s a critical point, I think—making your setting almost a character in its own right. The biggest problem with actually writing the story of Judas is getting past your readers' preconceptions and forcing them to get inside the brain of Judas.  How did you do that?  How do you generate reader empathy when the reader is already massively biased?

 

Tosca: For me, I had to start with Judas as a child. Children are innocent. We are not born evil--some might say he was, but I assumed he was as innocent as anyone. That went a long ways toward taking him to the events that culminated in that infamous kiss.

 

 

Randy: That’s very much how Mario Puzo did it in THE GODFATHER. He showed us the godfather as a young, innocent immigrant, being taken advantage of by a corrupt system. Then he showed the decisions that young man made that led him to become the godfather. And I think you did that nicely in ISCARIOT—showed us a plausible sequence of steps that turned a young, innocent Jewish boy into Judas Iscariot. A marketing question:  How do you pitch a book about Judas to your target audience, when you know very well that just about everybody already has a strong opinion about him?

 

Tosca: It helps having some level of credibility already. My first book, DEMON, was about a fallen angel. And I had to make that character sympathetic. My second book was about Eve--another sympathetic character. 

 

In each of these, my readers have come to expect that they will see out of unexpected eyes and say, "Aha, I think in that situation I might have done the same thing!" It's the journey out of preconception into a new panorama. Without that, there is no adventure.

 

 

Randy: Thanks for being with us today, Tosca! I know you’re actually in Bora Bora, and the whole island has been having internet problems for days (which is why we’re a little delayed in getting this issue put together). Have a great vacation!

 

Iscariot.jpg

If you’d like to see how Tosca built her villain, check out ISCARIOT. You can find it online at all the usual suspects.


Grab it at Amazon.

 

Grab it at B&N.  

 

Grab it at Kobo.  

 

Grab it at Apple.   

 

 

4) Marketing: How Much Do Authors Earn?

 

This article is adapted from a blog post that I made on February 20 which got a lot of attention, "Hugh Howey and the Tsunami of Cash."

 

As you probably know, best-selling author Hugh Howey recently created a new web site at AuthorEarnings.com to report on some studies he’s done with a collaborator, “Anonymous Data Guy.” 

 

Hugh and Data Guy have done a remarkable series of calculations that work as follows:

  • Data Guy wrote a program to crawl through various best-seller lists on Amazon. 
  • Hugh already had data from many indie authors allowing him to correlate a book’s sales-rank to the approximate number of daily sales for that book.
  • Data Guy then used Hugh’s data to estimate author earnings.

You can read all the results at AuthorEarnings.com. We can summarize their results in a few simple words as follows:

  • Indie authors as a group are selling about as many units as the group of authors published by the Big 5.
  • Indie authors as a group are earning about as much money as the group of authors published by the Big 5.

Edward W. Robertson has also done some recent interesting work to see what percentage of indie authors are doing well in various genres. 

 

The Tsunami of Cash

 

We have been warned for years that indie publishing was producing a “tsunami of crap.” Indie books were supposed to be a vast wasteland of drivel, with perhaps a few “outliers” who were earning a lot of money. But most indie authors were claimed to be struggling along, earning on average just a few hundred (or possibly a few thousand) dollars per year.

 

The AuthorEarnings.com report tells a different story. Indie publishing is producing a “tsunami of cash” for indie authors. Yes, there are plenty of bad indie books, but the good stuff is easily found by readers. And good writing gets rewarded with money. 

 

What Amazon Really Said

 

So it’s clear that there are hundreds of indie authors who are doing quite well on Amazon. Roughly a thousand of them are on the various best-seller lists and as a group, they are taking home a bit more than $300,000 per day. 

 

The question that I’d like to answer is this: How is income being distributed to indie authors all the way up and down the spectrum? (Not just the best-sellers, but everybody.) 

 

At first glance, this might seem impossible to answer. There are hundreds of thousands of indie authors, and trying to poll them all would be a gigantic task.

 

But we don’t have to poll them. We can use math. Or rather, I’ll use math. You sit back and watch the magic unfold.

 

In this article, I’d like to look at a single data point that Amazon gave us on December 26, 2013. You can find it buried in this post on Amazon

 

Here’s the data point, which has been widely misinterpreted:
 

“150 Kindle Direct Publishing authors each sold more than 100,000 copies of their books in 2013.”

 

Virtually everybody has read this to mean that a good indie author is moving about 100,000 copies per year. Which is good, but not great. After all, a good trad-published author moves millions of copies per year. So what’s the fuss about 100k copies? That would mean a total of 15 million copies sold for those indie authors, right?

 

Wrong.

 

The reason this is wrong is because the very top indie authors are moving a lot more than 100k copies per year. I’ll show that those 150 authors are probably moving a total of about 58.5 million copies, which is nearly 4 times as many units as the naive guess above.  

 

How do I know? I’ll explain how I know in the rest of this article.

 

The 80-20 Rule and Amazon

 

Most people have heard of the 80-20 rule, which says that roughly 20% of the people earn roughly 80% of the money.

 

The 80-20 rule is an example of a “Pareto distribution,” which you can read about on Wikipedia if you’re mathematically adept. I have discussed the Pareto distribution on my blog and in this e-zine in the past. In those posts and articles, I’ve made a slightly different set of assumptions. In this article, I’m going to work with the 80-20 rule.

 

The 80-20 rule is a good approximation to a lot of situations.

 

Let’s apply the 80-20 rule to the single data point that Amazon gave us and see what we can learn.

 

Mathematical Assumptions

 

Skip this section if you hate math.

 

We’ll make the following assumptions to create a very simple mathematical model, and then we’ll see what that model tells us. Please remember that we don’t claim this model represents reality perfectly. But if it approximates reality, then the model should give us valuable insights into the “Amazon economy” for writers. I am going to have to get a little mathematical here, so if you hate math, skip down just a bit.

  • Assumption #1: Unit sales of books follow a Pareto distribution: sales are inversely proportional to the rank raised to a certain exponent. The equation for this is S = C/(R**E), where:
    • S is the unit sales of a given author
    • C is some unknown constant to be determined
    • R is the rank of the author among all the other indie authors
    • E is some unknown exponent to be determined
  • Assumption #2: We can use the 80-20 rule to compute the exponent E. The result is very well known:  E = log(4)/log(5) = .86135.  (Here, “log” means the natural logarithm.)
  • Assumption #3: Indie author #150 sold about 100,000 units in 2013. We can use this to estimate the unknown constant: C = 7,488,300 units.

 

Estimates For the Top 10 Indie Authors

 

Now we can use this formula to estimate the unit sales on Amazon for ANY indie author. Let me emphasize, I’m talking here only about indie authors, so the rank we’ll use is the indie author rank. 

 

Some people are fuzzy on what “rank” means. It means this. The best-selling indie author has rank 1. The second-best-selling indie author has rank 2. And so on, all the way to the #1,000,000-selling indie author, who has rank 1,000,000.

 

Don’t confuse the indie author rank with the author rank that Amazon’s Author Central assigns you. Amazon ranks all the authors, indie, traditional, and hybrid, in one big pool. Here, we’re only talking about the ranking of authors based on their total sales on Amazon’s KDP program. And unfortunately, you can’t find your ranking as a KDP author anywhere. 

 

Note that some authors are hybrid authors—they work for trad publishers and they do some indie work, which means that they split their efforts. My model is just a simple model and it doesn’t account for this splitting of effort. So we can’t draw incredibly precise conclusions. But we CAN make some simple estimates to guide our thinking.

 

I wrote a simple program to use this formula to estimate the sales for a large number of indie authors. I chose the number 600,000, because I know there are at least that many authors on Amazon’s Author Central. The exact number of indie authors is not all that important, except when you try to calculate the average income or the median income for authors. (But neither of these is a very useful number to calculate.)

 

Here are the estimates for the top ten indie authors on Amazon:

Rank: 1, Sales: 7488296

Rank: 2, Sales: 4121828

Rank: 3, Sales: 2906786

Rank: 4, Sales: 2268803

Rank: 5, Sales: 1872074

Rank: 6, Sales: 1600000

Rank: 7, Sales: 1401055

Rank: 8, Sales: 1248831

Rank: 9, Sales: 1128348

Rank: 10, Sales: 1030457

 

Holy cow! Do you see that? This model estimates that the best indie author is moving almost 7.5 MILLION units. That’s a lot more than 100k units. Yes, it’s just an approximation. But it shows us what the 80-20 rule is telling us, if we take the 80-20 rule seriously.

 

The model predicts that about 10 indie authors are moving more than a million units per year on Amazon.

 

Estimates for the Top 150 Indie Authors

 

Now let’s estimate sales of selected authors in the top 150 (the folks selling more than 100k units):

Rank: 10, Sales: 1030457

Rank: 20, Sales: 567201

Rank: 30, Sales: 400000

Rank: 40, Sales: 312208

Rank: 50, Sales: 257614

Rank: 60, Sales: 220174

Rank: 70, Sales: 192798

Rank: 80, Sales: 171850

Rank: 90, Sales: 155271

Rank: 100, Sales: 141800

Rank: 110, Sales: 130624

Rank: 120, Sales: 121192

Rank: 130, Sales: 113118

Rank: 140, Sales: 106123

Rank: 150, Sales: 100000

 

This is telling us that about 30 authors are selling more than 400k units per year. If we add up the sales for all those 150 authors, we find a total of 58.5 million copies, for an average of about 390,000 copies per author. You can see how misleading it is to assume that all 150 of them were selling 100,000 copies. The Pareto distribution is strongly distorted toward the top sellers.

 

Estimates for the Rest of the Pack

 

Finally, let’s look at sales of selected authors farther down in the pack:

Rank: 200, Sales: 78052

Rank: 300, Sales: 55044

Rank: 400, Sales: 42963

Rank: 500, Sales: 35450

Rank: 600, Sales: 30298

Rank: 700, Sales: 26531

Rank: 800, Sales: 23648

Rank: 900, Sales: 21367

Rank: 1000, Sales: 19513

Rank: 2000, Sales: 10741

Rank: 3000, Sales: 7574

Rank: 4000, Sales: 5912

Rank: 5000, Sales: 4878

Rank: 6000, Sales: 4169

Rank: 7000, Sales: 3651

Rank: 8000, Sales: 3254

Rank: 9000, Sales: 2940

Rank: 10000, Sales: 2685

Rank: 20000, Sales: 1478

Rank: 30000, Sales: 1042

Rank: 40000, Sales: 814

Rank: 50000, Sales: 671

Rank: 60000, Sales: 574

Rank: 70000, Sales: 502

Rank: 80000, Sales: 448

Rank: 90000, Sales: 405

Rank: 100000, Sales: 370

Rank: 200000, Sales: 203

Rank: 300000, Sales: 143

Rank: 400000, Sales: 112

Rank: 500000, Sales: 92

Rank: 600000, Sales: 79

 

Notice that the top 300 writers in this model are all moving more than 55,000 copies each. 

 

And more than 2000 writers are moving more than 10,000 copies each.

 

Of course, the model also shows that there are at least half a million writers who are moving 370 units or fewer per year.

 

The 80-20 rule is telling us that most people don’t sell very much. And it says that a certain select few are selling incredible amounts.

 

My program computed a few other statistics of interest:

 

Total units sold:  about 292 million copies

Average sales per author:  about 486 copies

Median sales per author:  about 143 copies

 

The Amazon Economy

 

So the “Amazon economy” for indie authors is wildly different from Lake Wobegon, where all children are above average. In the Amazon economy, most authors are below average. For this set of numbers, about 88% of all authors are below the average.

 

Notice that the median and the average depend on how many authors there are. If we increased our estimate to a million authors, then the average would sink to 317 copies sold and the median would drop to 92 copies. But the sales of those people at the top wouldn’t change.

 

For some reason, many advocates of trad-publishing like to latch onto the known fact that average indie sales are low. This is true, but it’s inevitable if there are a lot of indie authors. There is only so much money to be made. The more authors you have, the lower the average gets sucked. 

 

The average and the median sales of authors are not very useful numbers. What is useful to know is the sales of the top earning authors and the value of the exponent E. Once you know those, you have a very nice way to estimate the earnings for all authors at all ranks.

 

One clear result is that all those sales add up to a lot. Several hundred million units. There is a “tsunami of cash” coming to indie authors.

 

Some Cautions

 

Let’s be cautious here. The Pareto distribution is just an approximation to reality. The Pareto distribution is not reality itself. But it is probably a pretty good approximation, and once we make that approximation, we can make exact calculations. Those calculations are plausible, but of course they don’t correspond exactly to reality. That’s why we call it an approximation.

 

Furthermore, let’s be clear that we have made a model for unit sales of books, not for revenue. You have to work with what you have, and I’m working with just a single data point from Amazon—their statement that 150 indie authors each moved more than 100k books in 2013.

 

That’s not a lot of data, but it’s enough to get an approximate picture for all indie authors. If and when we get more data, it’ll be interesting to see how well the model holds up. I expect that the broad shape of the model will prove accurate, but there will be some surprises at both ends—for the top performers and the lowest performers.

 

The Broad Shoulder

 

There will always be a few big winners and a large number who don’t earn very much. There is a “high head” and a “long tail.”

 

But the important point is that there is a “broad shoulder”—a set of writers who are not at the very top and yet are earning substantial money (thousands of dollars per year, or tens of thousands per year). For most of them, this is not enough to live on. But it’s enough to make their life better. That’s cool.

 

 If we had more data, of course we could make a better model. We will always need models, because we will never have all the data. 

 

The calculations we’ve done here would be similar for trad-published authors. The numbers would change, but the same sort of reasoning applies, and the economy is shaped in roughly the same way. There is a high head, a broad shoulder, and a long tail. 

 

The Future is Bright

 

As I have said many times, I’m not pro-publisher and I’m not anti-publisher.  I’m pro-author. And the good news is that the future is bright for indie authors. Bright, and getting brighter.

 

Further Reading


This article is based on a recent blog post of mine. It attracted a lot of attention, including some skeptical questions. I answered those questions in a blog post, “Questions About Hugh Howey’s Results.”  

 

If you want to know more about all your options for publishing your novel, including traditional publishing, small-press publishing, vanity publishing, and indie-publishing, check out my recent blog post, “Publishing Your Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.”  

 

5) What's New At AdvancedFictionWriting.com

 

Writing Schedule

February was a slow month for me. I had bronchitis for a week and then strained some cartilage between my ribs which had me taking painkillers for another week.

 

I completed reformatting all my current lineup of e-books, and am still working with my graphic designer on the cover art for my City of God series of time-travel historical suspense novels. When it’s ready, I’ll release them.
 

Teaching Schedule

I normally teach at four to six writing conferences per year. In 2014, it looks like I’ll be attending five conferences, and I think that’ll be my limit for the year.

 

Why don't I teach at more conferences? Because teaching is an incredibly demanding blood sport and it sucks a huge amount of energy out of my tiny brain. I prefer to put my absolute best into a few locations than to muddle through at many.

 

Here’s what my calendar shows me for the remainder of 2014:

  • In April, I’ll be on the critique team and teaching a few sessions in the Professional Track at the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference in central California. Details are here.
  • In August, I’ll be teaching a six-hour course, “Passive Marketing 101,” at the Oregon Christian Writer’s conference in Portland. Details are here.
  • In September, I’ll be teaching a three-hour-plus session, “How To Be An Insanely Great Indie Author,” at the American Christian Fiction Writers conference in St. Louis. Details are here.
  • In October, I’ll be attending the Novelists, Inc. Conference in St. Pete, Florida. This conference is shaping up to be the best Ninc conference ever, and it’s going to be in an amazing location, just feet from the beach.

If you'd like me to teach at your conference in 2015 or beyond, email me to find out how outrageously expensive I am.

 

If you'd just like to hear me teach, I have a number of recordings and e-books that are outrageously cheap. Details on the products page of my web site.
 
 

6) Randy Recommends . . . 

 
I don't take paid ads for this e-zine. I do, however, recommend people I like.
 
 
I'm a huge fan of Margie Lawson's courses, both the ones she teaches in person and the ones she sells on her web site at www.MargieLawson.com
 
Margie is a psychologist who applies what she knows about human psychology to writing fiction. I believe her material is brilliant. Check her out on her web site!
 
 
I've also become a fan of Thomas Umstattd's terrific uncommon-sense thoughts on internet marketing. You can read Thomas's blog at: www.AuthorMedia.com/blog
 
Thomas and his crew at AuthorMedia are the folks who reworked my web site recently, and I'm extremely happy with the results.
 
 
Please be aware that in this section I ONLY recommend folks who have never asked me to do so. Tragically, this means that if you ask me to list you here, I will be forced to say no. 
 

7) What Randy is Reading

You might be interested in some of the books I’ve been reading recently. I’m omitting books I started and didn’t finish. I’m also omitting books that were horrible but I read anyway. (There are certain aspects of the craft of writing that you can only learn by reading really wretched fiction and asking yourself what makes it so bad.)

 

Here are the good ones from February:

 

Red Rising, by Pierce Brown. I read this science fiction novel last summer via NetGalley, and it was published at the very end of January, this year. This is going to be one of the biggest science fiction novels of 2014. I was absolutely blown away by the story—it’s like a cross between Harry Potter and The Hunger Games on Mars. Our hero is a lowly Red—a slave worker far underground who believes that he’s working to make Mars habitable for humans in the distant future. When he learns that Mars is already a thriving planet with an evil caste society that supports the wealthy, powerful few, he sets out to subvert the system. And holy cow, it’s a fantastic, violent, nerve-bending read. I read this book, then immediately read it again, and then immediately read it AGAIN. Yes, I read it three times. It’s that good. It’s that intense.

 

Operator, by David Vinjamuri. I saw this listed on BookBub and grabbed a copy without knowing anything about the author. If you like fast-paced suspense novels with fantastic fight scenes, you might like this book. I really enjoyed it. A retired special forces operator returns to his hometown for the funeral of his ex-girlfriend, and discovers clues that she didn’t really commit suicide. 

 

The Good Lawyer, by Thomas Benigno. This is a legal thriller about a Legal Aid lawyer who specializes in defending poor, minority criminals. He just wants to be a good lawyer and help people who are presumed guilty by the system.

 

Ca$hvertising, by Drew Eric Whitman. This is an excellent book on how to write sales copy for whatever you’re selling. I think just about any author would benefit from this book—it’s well-written, with clear examples. It’s not specifically about how to write product descriptions for a book. Instead, it tells you the general principles of writing copy that makes your target audience desperate to buy what you’re selling. Highly recommended.

 

The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. How we can make our lives better by creating good habits and overriding bad ones. Since my Organization column this month was based on this book, I’ll say no more here. Great book.
 

 

8) Randy's Deal of the Day

In case my Loyal E-zine Readers are interested in any of my own novels, I thought I’d try offering a special 99 cent deal on one of my e-books. 

 

Today’s “Deal of the Day” is good for this entire week, March 2-8, 2014. Here it is:

 

There’s a code even the NSA can’t crack

 

But Dillon Richard can.

 

Dillon is the hero of my award-winning novel DOUBLE VISION.



Dillon Richard is a straight-arrow genius with Asperger's syndrome, and he's just a bit … different from the Normals.  

  • He's never told a lie.
  • He's never been kissed.
  • And he's never had a badass quantum computer.

All of those are about to change.

 

In just a few days, Dillon will finish the machine that will crack the "unbreakable code" used by banks, criminals, and terrorists.  

 

And oh yeah, it's the same encryption used in your web browser to buy stuff online, so this actually matters.

 

Everybody's going to want a piece of Dillon.

 

The mafia.

 

The NSA.

 

And his two beautiful co-workers--Keryn the novelist and Rachel the physics hippie.

 

Who'll get badass genius Dillon first?

 

99 cents at Amazon.  

 

99 cents at Barnes & Noble

 

99 cents at Smashwords.  

 

99 cents at the Apple iTunes store.  

 

99 cents at Kobo

 

If you’re outside the US, remember that Amazon and the Apple store often price e-books differently than in the US. I’ve done my best to keep prices all around the world as close to 99 cents as possible, but I can't get it exact. I'm sure you understand. 

 

Have fun! And by the way, almost all the sciencey stuff in DOUBLE VISION is real.  

 

It’s nice to get the science right and make it understandable, but when in doubt, I like to shoot somebody or kiss a pretty girl. Not necessarily in that order.

 

9) Steal This E-zine!

 
This E-zine is free, and I personally guarantee it's worth at least 144 times the price. I invite you to "steal" it, but only if you do it nicely . . .
 
Distasteful legal babble: This E-zine is copyright Randall Ingermanson, 2014.
 
Extremely tasteful postscript: Yes, you’re allowed to e-mail this E-zine to any fiction writer friends of yours who might benefit from it. 
 
Of course you should not forward this e-mail to people who don't write fiction. They won't care about it.
 
At the moment, there is one place to subscribe: www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com
 
 

10) Reprint Rights

 
Permission is granted to use any of the articles in this e-zine in your own e-zine or web site, as long as you include the following 2-paragraph blurb with it:
 
This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
 
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 7,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.
 
 

The Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine is Published by:

 
Randy Ingermanson 
 
 
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