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Monday Midday Links: Agents can increase the dollars earn as a...

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Steena Holmes
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 13:04:50

    In regards to the “Under 10% of authors” link – it is safe to assume that those numbers have changed in the last six months. I wish a more current survey could be taken to show just how much things have changed in this regard.

  2. JulieB
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 13:14:06

    I would suspect self-publishers who have an agent would also have more name recognition than someone who is self-publishing for the first time. It would be interesting to know how many of those who are agented are making decent royalties off of their backlist as opposed to new releases.

    On your personal note: an agented author (or someone who has been published by a good press – doesn’t have to be big six, just one that cares about quality) would be more likely to produce a better looking book on their own simply because they’ve had a little more exposure to the process and have probably talked to their editors and/or agents about *why* they do certain things. Yet, I’ve seen some great looking layouts and covers from people doing DIY for their very first book. They’ve taken the time to learn about the process and do it right rather than rush to press.

  3. Ren
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 13:22:43

    Last time I saw a survey about traditionally published authors, about 10 percent were able to make a living from writing alone. Unless you happen to be one of the chosen few who get struck by lightning, writing has never been a route to riches.

  4. carmen webster buxton
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 13:24:32

    I would be interested in knowing what percentage of traditionally published authors actually earn their living writing books. I suspect it is much higher than 10% but nowhere near 100%.

  5. Isobel Carr
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 13:30:43

    I don’t know if having an agent means your selfpub books will LOOK better, but it does mean that your writing has reached a level that a professional was willing to take you on because they believed they could sell it. It might also mean that a lot of those writers had been with NY previously. And Ren is right, the vast majority of NY authors are not making a living at it. I can say that the selfpub #s a lot of my friends are seeing are making them think that quitting the day job might be a short term (1-3 years) goal rather than a long term one though.

  6. Anon
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 13:48:19

    “Personal Note: Does having an agent generally mean putting out a better looking product?”

    Depends on how much publishing experience the author has. If the author is a novice then it stands to reason that having an agent with SP services at hand (It’s entertaining to see how quiet they are all keeping this…I know some who won’t even admit to it openly) will only help him/her. If the author has been around, knows publishing, and has an established readership an agent is only going to take money the author could put into his/her own pocket. Frankly, going with a company like QED (Quality, Excellence, Design) would serve better in the long term. Author and reader get the seal of approval and no one takes anything from the back end. Just my humble opinion.

  7. Jackie Barbosa
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 14:04:51

    @Isobel Carr: I can say that the selfpub #s a lot of my friends are seeing are making them think that quitting the day job might be a short term (1-3 years) goal rather than a long term one though.

    I’m one of them. I would never have thought I’d be able to make enough money from writing to quit my day job; I figured I’d have to RETIRE to be a full-time writer. Now, it’s looking feasible for me to leave my regular job behind as early as January of 2013. Of course, it depends a bit on how the next few titles sell (and how much my kids’ orthodontia is going to set me back).

  8. Lynnd
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 14:10:44

    @carmen webster buxton: I’d like to know this as well and I’d also like to see some earnings numbers from midlist big six and Harlequin authors and self published authors. I think that a lot of us imagine that writers get decent advances from publishers, but i suspect that itsn’t the reality.

  9. Moriah Jovan
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 14:25:05

    I might be the odd one out here, but I *think* I might actually go stir crazy if writing was my full-time job. In addition, it would make me wholly responsible for all the housekeeping, heaven help me.

  10. Las
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 14:27:10

    I seem to recall this having been explained on DA but I can’t remember the explanation:

    Why would someone looking to go the self-pub route need an agent? What purpose would the agent serve?

  11. Sarina
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 14:28:42

    @Jackie Barbosa: Just wanted to let you know your website link is not working, neither from your screen name here or Google search results.

  12. Courtney Milan
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 14:46:33

    Looking at that data and concluding that agents increase self-publishing earnings, to my mind, is confusing correlation with causation. It is wholly unsurprising to me that authors with agents/DIY to traditional deals are making more money. That is because a traditional publisher is extremely unlikely to pick up a book from an author who sold 50 copies? Agents and publishers seek out commercial success, not duds. Having an agent doesn’t make you sell more, but selling more makes you a lot more likely to get an agent.

    For those who are interested in money talk, Brenda Hiatt has been doing a survey for years of average advances and money earned.

    You can read it here:

    The highs are pretty nice, but the medians are fairly representative–and relatively close to the lows. It’s a self-reported survey, but it’s fascinating.

    She has one for indie earnings as well:

    That one’s about a year old. The one interesting point from her survey was this:

    In case you’re curious, only 11 out of 49 original titles were put up by previously published authors, and earnings don’t appear to be significantly better (or worse) based on prior traditional publication.

  13. Steena Holmes
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 15:06:00

    @Jackie Barbosa: I’m also one of those self-pubbed authors who just quit her day job because I can do this full time. Could I have in 2011? No. But mid-way 2012 – I know I’m not the only one.

  14. Evangeline Holland
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 15:08:23

    Here’s a list of the top 100 indie authors for May, if anyone is looking for solid numbers (and names):

  15. Isobel Carr
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 15:33:33

    @Las: I have some friends who landed agents, but for whatever reason the book/series didn’t end up selling. Some stuck with the agent because even though they’re selfpublishing books that didn’t sell to NY, they still *want* NY, others are using an agent for foreign sales, or even for film rights.

    And then there are the midlist NY authors who have agents and are moving into selfpub, or the successful selfpub who are selling print rights to NY.

  16. Carolyn Jewel
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 15:49:14

    Well, according to the Author’s Guild, not all that long ago, only 5% of traditionally published authors wrote full time. The average income was $5,000.

    The statistical and bias problems with the Taleist study have been documented elsewhere, but I’m glad to see people at least trying to quantify things.

  17. DM
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 16:00:32

    “Does having an agent generally mean putting out a better looking product?”

    I think having the right agent might mean putting out a better book, full stop. My agent has great story skills. She’s been an editor. She can spot plot holes and character inconsistencies that I miss. Like a Hollywood development executive or producer, she’s analyzing stories all day. Her notes made my book much stronger. As did my editor’s. The trouble with self-publishing is that it is very difficult to get this kind of input into your work. Agents and editors are motivated to be completely honest with you be cause they want to sell and publish the best book they can. An editor for hire is in a much trickier position. They want the author to hire them again, and recommend them to friends. This makes it very difficult for them to deliver an honest critique. It’s far safer for them to stick to copy editing and leave the story analysis to someone else.

  18. MaryK
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 16:30:53

    Speaking of self-publishing, I just heard on Twitter that the family of Jan Cox Speas is e-pubbing one of her books.

    I wish more relatives would do this. From my prespective as a reader, dead authors with heirs who don’t know or don’t care are the biggest problem with copyright laws. Where are the Theodora du Bois/Teresa McCormick heirs? That’s what I want to know. Her books are hard to find and by the time they’re in the public domain (not in my lifetime) who’s going to remember them?

    Sorry. Personal peeve.

  19. Susan Nance
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 17:11:49

    @MaryK: Agreed. And often if they’re in print, they’re still not available as ebooks (Kate Ross, among others).

    I was interested in the Madrigal article. When I was growing up, there were very few real bookstores in any of the many locations where we lived. The library and that little book rack in the pharmacy were the primary sources for books. And book clubs. Book clubs like Doubleday and Literary Guild, and even those Readers Digest Condensed books, were like the precursors of Amazon. They made books accessible by mail to people who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to get them. (This was before they started building malls and then putting bookstores in them.)

  20. Jackie Barbosa
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 19:45:51

    @Sarina: THANK YOU! My domain registry apparently expired, but I never got a notification that it was past due (the auto-pay would have failed because the credit card was compromised). Anyway, I reregistered but now I still have to figure out how to get everything linked up again. Sigh.

  21. Jackie Barbosa
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 19:56:38

    @Evangeline Holland: That list is wildly out of date. Courtney’s not even ON it. The numbers they have for Barbara Freethy, Marie Force and Bella Andre are also from sometime last year. And we all KNOW John Locke has sold far more than 27,000 books as of May 3, 2012!

    Judging by that list, I’m *easily* in the top 100 of self-published authors, but I doubt that’s actually true. I just crossed 30,000 total sales under this pen name. I think that’s a nice, solid number, but I’d be lucky to even rank on this list given how may self-published authors I know who are selling far better than I am.

  22. Ann Somerville
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 19:59:10

    Why would an author need an agent to self-publish…?

    Oh, they mean authors who have agents, but who also self publish, make more money.

    The wording of that article is very poor. An agent can’t make your SP book more successful. It’s the factors which land you an agent which make you a likely SP success. To get an agent one *generally* has to be moderately literate, and be able to produce a polished product, and be moderately fast at writing.

    All those markers are the same to garner success at self-publishing. It’s why previously trad published authors do better at self-publishing than never before published authors.

  23. Jackie Barbosa
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 20:03:12

    @Evangeline Holland: Ah, well, I have egg on face. I see that’s number per MONTH. In which case, I’m close to the bottom of the list for April, lol.

    However, I’m still sure it’s not nearly comprehensive. Beverley Kendall certainly sold enough copies of HEIR OF DECEPTION in April to easily make that list if it were inclusive.

  24. Evangeline Holland
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 20:40:58

    @Jackie Barbosa: Ha, don’t worry about it. But the list is based on submission of numbers, so any omissions are due to authors not knowing about the list or emailing their stats.

  25. Ann Bruce
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 21:03:30

    @Jackie Barbosa: I believe those are sales for the month.

    And not all authors submit their sales numbers. I know I don’t; otherwise, I would be on that list too.

  26. Nonny
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 23:39:14

    Soooo… the ratio of self-pubbed authors that can make a living is about equal to that of traditionally published authors? Who’dve thunk?

    I would assume those numbers include self-publishers that are not at a professional quality. I’ve seen some real clunkers out there.

    Authors who have an agent are more likely to already have recognition and a reader base. That makes a serious difference; I know a few people who have gone entirely to self-publishing from NY and are doing pretty awesome.

  27. eggs
    Jun 12, 2012 @ 03:38:00

    I wish more people would understand that whole “golden age of books” things. It’s like the antique furniture brigade who go on and on about how high quality furniture used to be compared to modern crap, never realizing that 200 years ago there were 2000 broken crappy chairs through the fireplace every year compared to the one artisan chair that lasted 200 years. People look at that one artisan chair that survived and think that all chairs used to be made like that. Same deal with books.

    My father had an IMMENSE collection of paperback mysteries and westerns that had women in the Jessica Rabbit style on the cover posing with men in hats with guns. Hundreds of them. I read most of them. They were 90% crap and 10% good. Some of them were by Dashiell Hammet & others of his standard, but most of them were not. The ones that were crap all ended up pulped and forgotten, leaving us with the skewed idea that DH’s writing was representative of the standard of the era.

  28. Andrea
    Jun 12, 2012 @ 22:44:01

    It’s also useful to note that the Taleist survey was taken in January 2012, and over 50% of its respondents began self-publishing in 2011.

    Which means that more than half of its figures are taken from self-publishers who had only been publishing for anywhere between 1 and 12 months.

    Of course, many, many self-publishers will never make any significant income off their book(s). They are almost 100% more likely to make more than they did with the book(s) sitting in a drawer.

  29. Marie Force
    Jun 13, 2012 @ 07:15:45

    @Jackie Barbosa: Yes, that list is for the month and they asked for numbers. Not sure how they determine who to ask for numbers, but I suspect the more self-published books you have, the more likely they are to ask. As of last week, I have 13, and count me among the self-published authors who was able to quit the six-figure day job last Dec. 31, about 10 years before I thought I would with kids heading to college. I make more in a week now than I made in three years when I was traditionally published. And my backlist has benefitted tremendously from what I’m doing on the self-published side. I’ve never seen numbers like what I’m seeing now.

  30. Author on Vacation
    Jun 13, 2012 @ 07:37:20

    @Moriah Jovan:

    I might be the odd one out here, but I *think* I might actually go stir crazy if writing was my full-time job. In addition, it would make me wholly responsible for all the housekeeping, heaven help me.

    I think you’re healthy, not odd. I’ve loved reading and writing my entire life, but they’ve never been the only things I’ve ever wanted to do. There are many other things in life important to me, some of them even more important than writing.

    I’m always sort of surprised by authors whose primary ambition is to sell books so well they can “stay home as full-time authors.” The creative process of writing itself can actually be quite stressful to the body and the psyche.

    IMHO, it’s a far more useful ambition to sell books well enough to “go out as a full-time author.” That is, travel, absorb culture, and collect experiences to nurture the author’s creative energies as well as his/her health.

  31. Jackie Barbosa
    Jun 13, 2012 @ 14:21:09

    @Author on Vacation: That is, travel, absorb culture, and collect experiences to nurture the author’s creative energies as well as his/her health.

    But those are all things I can’t DO with a full-time day job and three kids in three schools! That’s why I look forward to being able quite the day job ASAP. Being a “full-time author” doesn’t, to me, mean devoting 40 hours a week to writing (although it would be quite easy to fill up 40 hours a week with writing and promotion and bookkeeping and other “writerly” tasks), but not having to do something ELSE on top of writing to make a living.

    I have two self-published ebooks selling right now, one for $0.99 and one for $1.96. In a little under six months, they’ve earned more than $15,000. It doesn’t appear I need to write a TON more books to earn enough money to quit my day job in the not-too-distant future. Of course, this presumes the next book I publish does at least half as well as the ones of previously published and so on.

    But the bottom line is, yes, I *want* to quit my day job. Right now, I am lucky to find 2 hours a day to write. Many days, it’s less than that. Cutting out the day job gives me 8 additional hours a day not only to write, but to exercise (which is one of the main things that’s fallen by the wayside), do things with my kids and husband, and stop and smell the roses.

    So yeah, my ambition is absolutely to quit my day job and as soon as possible!

  32. Marie Force
    Jun 13, 2012 @ 14:40:25

    @JackieBarbosa: I was YOU six months ago, only with one less kid and one less school to juggle on top of a more-than-full-time job. :-) I worked 12, 14, 16 hours a day between my two full-time jobs and never stopped to smell the roses. I stopped seeing friends and family, and my kids were growing up in front of my eyes, but I was often disengaged while trying to be all things to all people. Thanks to self-publishing, I was able to give up the very good 16-year job and focus solely on my books and all the associated stuff that goes with that–and it’s a LOT of stuff besides writing. The bookkeeping and accounting alone could choke a horse. I work 8-10 hours a day now. I try not to work until the wee hours, but I’ve found that has been a re-training process. I’m conditioned to do nothing but work. I have to physically stop myself and force myself do other things that don’t require a computer. Some days I feel like I work harder now than I did with two full-time jobs. The difference now is I enjoy every, single minute I get to spend “at work.” I’ve never been happier in my life, and I hope you get to give up your job and spend more time with the roses. It’s truly a lovely thing.

  33. Jackie Barbosa
    Jun 13, 2012 @ 14:45:08

    @Marie Force: You’re an inspiration, that’s for sure!

    I have a new book going up the first of July (or very soon thereafter). I’m already struggling to stay on top of the bookkeeping and other maintenance for three titles (one of which is free almost everywhere so only earns a few dollars a month). I shudder to think what it will be like once I get the rest of the books I have on my schedule for this year published. I’m actually hoping first to quit my job and then to HIRE someone to handle all the “logistics”. Being your own publisher is empowering, but it’s a LOT of work!

  34. Marie Force
    Jun 13, 2012 @ 14:50:54

    Awww, thanks Jackie. I’m having big fun these days! The accounting stuff is daunting, though. I have a CPA on retainer and I tell him his job is to keep me out of jail. LOL! I had to incorporate and a whole lot of other stuff to help keep my head above water. I also just hired another Fairy for my E-book Formatting Fairies business because we’re SO busy formatting ebooks for other authors. That is also so much fun because we’re helping people make their dreams come true, including an elderly woman who has always dreamed of holding her book in her hands. Very soon! :-) The keyword around here these days is FUN! I’m looking forward to my first summer in the 17 years I’ve been a mom in which I don’t have a full-time job competing for the attention I’d much rather be giving my kids. Of course, they are 17 and 13, and hanging out with me isn’t tops on their list, but I have a few ideas that will make them very happy this summer! :-)

  35. Ann Somerville
    Jun 13, 2012 @ 20:23:49

    @Jackie Barbosa:
    “I have two self-published ebooks selling right now, one for $0.99 and one for $1.96. In a little under six months, they’ve earned more than $15,000. ”

    Jackie, you’re charging far too little. From discussions I’ve read at Amazon forums, low priced and free books are actually considered to be inferior by readers, and disregarded. You’re an established author selling a polished product. You could easily charge $1.99 and $2.99 on those same books for the same sales – and your income would nearly double as a result. Your books would still be vastly cheaper than the main publisher’s product, and thus attractive to the budget-conscious.

    You’ve created good word of mouth, so capitalise on it. And good luck!

  36. Jackie Barbosa
    Jun 14, 2012 @ 19:34:09

    @Ann Somerville: I appreciate what you’re saying, but these a very short digital books. One is about 18k, the other about 22.5k. I feel the prices I’m charging are reasonable for the length of the stories. The novella I’m currently writing looks to clock in at around 40k. It will sell for $2.99.

  37. Ann Somerville
    Jun 14, 2012 @ 19:42:15

    @Jackie Barbosa:
    “One is about 18k, the other about 22.5k.”

    Ah, 0kay, fairynuff. I thought they were novella length.

    I’m sure the new one will do very well based on your current sales, and I wish you very good luck with it. Having time to write when you want to write, is a wonderful thing.

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