Change Keeps Happening

The revolution in the publishing industry has barely begun. That’s the takeaway this week, as a print-on-demand book becomes a #1 bestseller and the Big 5 move into Kindle Unlimited.

First, the children’s book that should be waking up major publishers in a major way. It’s called The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep, and it was written and self-published by Carl-Johan Ehrlin. If you have kids, you should stop reading this and shoot over to Amazon right now to buy a copy. Using the psychology of suggestion and sleep-inducing language patterns, parents all over the world are discovering the book’s seemingly magical ability to zonk their kids out. No wonder the book has taken off.

It’s been a #1 overall bestseller on Amazon and B&N. And Publishers Weekly is now reporting on this story as the book has been snatched up in a 7-figure deal. The New York Times even had to change the rules of their children’s book bestseller list to exclude paperbacks, in order to make sure an indie book doesn’t do this again. So what exactly happened? Why is the publishing world freaking out over this? Well, it’s because this was thought impossible just a few weeks ago. But the nature of digital disruption is that the impossible becomes possible seemingly overnight.

When I toured the CreateSpace printing facility in 2011, I knew something crazy was happening. It wasn’t just the print process, which had been around a while. It was the way this printing facility was integrated into the Amazon retail machine, and the way CreateSpace maintained the startup vibe, able to pivot on a dime. Things were changing at the facility every day, even as freshly printed books zipped by on steel rollers. The paper stock was improving; the trim size options expanding; matte covers were being introduced; the ink used for the covers was improving; and even the way the books were packaged and handled was being tweaked. In the year it might take for a Big 5 print book to get to market, the POD industry will have revolutionized a dozen important techniques.

The main facility in Charleston, South Carolina is only one small piece of the puzzle. Those large Amazon distribution centers all across the United States (and in the UK) have similar print networks. And Amazon can call on its partnership with Ingram to handle some of the printing load as well. This means book production, which had moved to China, has been brought home by Ingram and Amazon. The major publishers and the New York Times do not like this one bit. The Big 5 have shunned POD as a backup solution, refusing to give Amazon and Ingram PDFs so that these two companies can handle supply when that supply is outstripped by demand. This has been shameful when books attempt to go viral but can’t because of how slowly the Big 5 print and ship their wares. The same reluctance to partner with new retail partners is showing up in their reluctance to partner with new production partners. The result is lost market share, all due to confusion, fear, and denial.

Make no mistake: Carl-Johan’s breakout success is a game-changer. Because the “digital” in digital disruption isn’t relegated to ebooks. When PDF files can be emailed, and books can be printed in minutes anywhere and then sold instantly everywhere, and then shipped same-day most places, the old chain of print-in-China and sell-in-B&N has been radically upturned. Not only is the publishing revolution moving into the print space, the indie revolution has as well. When we see authors, agents, and publishers warning writers of all the money they are leaving on the table by ignoring print, they are clinging to what they thought was their last redoubt. No longer.

I saw hints of this with Wool. The same day I toured the CreateSpace facility, a deal with S&S for the print rights were finalized by my agent. I got the email while I was watching warm books roll out large printing machines. It was a sickening day for me. Several other things had happened that week: Wool began showing up in bookstores (yeah, the POD edition). It was seen in B&Ns and on staff rec shelves at major indie shops like Powell’s. Unfortunately for me, the dream deal (print-only, 7-year reversion) came through right as something even more magical was happening. And we took the dream deal because we were getting the terms we’d asked for back before we thought POD could break out. Four years later, my POD sales blow away my trad-pubbed print sales. I could live off of self-pubbed print. That’s the reality that’s around the corner. Publishers thought they had their trenches dug in, and now here comes a volley from their flanks.

These changes do not make success more predictable or even more likely, overall. The number of works that break out like this will probably stay the same, only some of them will now come from the POD and indie side, rather than only coming from the Big 5 side. If reading overall doesn’t grow, book sales are a zero-sum game. The difference is (and the reason to celebrate these changes), more money will flow to artists and less money will flow to middlemen. Publishers and retailers will lose out, while writers and illustrators make gains.

The money flowing to this children’s book is money not flowing to some other Big 5 children’s book, and publishers know this. They also know that the print slush pile (POD) just got as expensive as the digital slush pile (KDP). That’s going to hurt the bottom line unless they can acquire these rights at a decent price and really blow up sales through traditional channels. But make no mistake: the channel that will get most of these sales is Amazon.

Speaking of the Big 5 selling stuff through Amazon, look who’s playing around in Kindle Unlimited right now. I love me some Vince Flynn. Imagine my surprise when this shows up while I’m browsing KU. My first thought was that his estate must’ve gotten the rights back and self-pubbed the ebook edition, because the Big 5 do not participate in Kindle Unlimited. Guess they do now.

Welcome to the revolution, boys and girls. It’s just about to get started.


Hey, did you know you can write reviews of an entire series now? Another cool change in the Amazon storefront. And if you haven’t read this series yet, it’s one that I’m proud of. The BEACON 23 series on Amazon.

66 responses to “Change Keeps Happening”

  1. Incredible news, Hugh, and boy do I feel vindicated in having chosen to go POD/KU. What amazes me is I was able to create my print edition with the template you provided for InDesign (which I noted on FB some time ago that it saved me SO MUCH WORK), upload it to CreateSpace, proof it within a day, get printed proofs in less than a week, fix my remaining errors, and now the book is for sale. How long would it have languished before seeing the light of day otherwise?

    Even if I sell 10 total copies, it’s just so exciting to have my baby out there in the world–and all because I could control the entire process.

    1. I couldn’t agree more with every bit of this. The ease of the process is magical, and the payout doesn’t have to be great in terms of sales for the emotional payout to be monstrous. Congratulations, btw. :)

      1. Thanks! Obviously, selling well would be great, but if that were my focus, I’d never have written the book. I loved every detail of the process AND it saved me from a deadly boring day job.

    2. This is VERY inspiring and very timely as I have two picture books I wrote, for kindle and create-space, out in two weeks. I`d love to know how the author promoted this.

  2. I love POD. It is actually how my wife and I got started in self-pubbing before the Kindle came out, and it still brings us a nice boost to our income every month.

    As for Big 5 books showing up in KU, I thought Amazon could include them under their existing contracts with the publishers, as long as they paid full price to the publisher whenever a copy is borrowed. If so, they could always include a few Big 5 books in KU as a kind of loss leader.

    1. That was the Kindle Lending Library. KU requires a contract or an agreement. Amazon was able to put some trad-pubbed ebooks in KU because of deals with medium sized presses, but this is the first Big 5 ebook I’ve seen in KU. And you know Amazon would’ve done this earlier if they were able to. They want all books in KU.

      This has massive implications for readers, writers, and retailers. The gold rush for indies in KU is almost over. I give it another year. You’ve got $100,000,000+ a YEAR flowing into indie pockets. The Big 5 can’t weather that. They’ll all have to participate. This means that ebook retail is OVER. It’s done. I give it another 2-3 years, tops. KU will be the Spotify of books, and the Kindle will gain even more dominance as THE device for serious readers. Scribd and Oyster are done, and Google Play, iBookstore, B&N, and Kobo are still trying to figure out ebook retail while Amazon has moved on to the next disruption.

      It’s pretty spectacular to watch, actually.

      1. Amazon pumping money in KU is artificial, and will become more so with the Big 5 in it.

        Amazon has moved to the next disruption, because unlike Scribd, Oyster or Kobo, they have other revenue sources.

        I don’t agree the ebook retail is over. It will be over the day the competition will be definitely strangled and Amazon remains the sole ebook retailer.

        I still hate KU because of that silly idea of borrowing leading sales, and because of exclusivity. And exclusivity for the indie authors only. Did you notice Transfer of Power is still on sale on other retailers’ website? I’ve checked.

        There’s a huge discrepancy between the treatment of indie authors and trad pub authors, and that makes Amazon look like a bully in a schoolyard lashing out only at the weaker. And what for? In order to strangle competition. Disgusting.

        1. Ugh. Stop being so…FRENCH. I see your anti-Amazon nonsense everywhere. You must be one of those guys who loves to think he knows more than everyone else, that we all need your superior intellect to help us “see the light.” The truth is, no one cares; we’re all too busy making a lot of money from Amazon to care what “Alan Spade” thinks we should all be doing, and the ones who aren’t, are working their butts off TO make those money.

          Give it a rest. No one’s listening because no one cares.

          P.S. You know what’s really “disgusting”? That for someone who is so rabidly anti-Amazon, the fact that you still sell your books with them is headshakingly amazing.

          1. Ao: I didn’t know nationality was an insult. For the record, I don’t feel superior to anyone. I’m here to learn, like any of us indie authors.

            “Give it a rest. No one’s listening because no one cares.”

            At least, you seem to care.

            Just read this blog post in order to understand the mechanism at work here:

            I am not “rabidly anti Amazon”. I have mixed feelings concerning Amazon. What disgust me is their strategy towards indie authors regarding Kindle Unlimited. It’s very specific.

            But I’m the first to acknowledge the fantastic changes Amazon has introduced for indie authors, and the revolutionary way in which it allowed indie authors to become visible. It’s really great.

            The article on my blog (in french) about how to put your book into Createspace is still one of the most read concerning Createspace in that language.

            But I’m definitely not a proponent of subscription services. I agree that there are here to stay, and I won’t change that. I just thing a subscription service shouldn’t drive the sales on the Amazon website the way it does.

            Of course, it’s a business. It’s good for Amazon that it is that way. And for the readers. For the authors? Not so much.

            For sure, Amazon doesn’t represent the majority of my sales. I don’t feel superior to other authors because of that. I just regret that so much authors depend on a single retailer to make a living. It’s dangerous.

            I hope I’m wrong, though. I would be really glad if that was the case.

        2. Amazon will never put all of the other ebook sellers out of business, even if it wanted to, which it most certainly doesn’t.
          Why? Because of anti-monopoly laws here in the USA. Remember when Microsoft loaned Apple hundreds of millions of dollars to stop them from going out of business? That was why.

          1. I hope you are right, John.

      2. Hugh,

        Why are you cheering this? Isn’t this awful news for indies? All the advantages indies had over the Big 5–pricing, KU, Select–will be taken away from them.

        Many Indies will be fighting an uphill battle against other authors and books, and they will not have a lot of ammunition in their belt.

        1. Hear, hear to J.M.’s concerns.

        2. I agree too… I’m not sure why you’re cheering this…? maybe I’m missing something.
          “The gold rush for indies in KU is almost over. I give it another year.’s gonna be spectacular.”

          I mean I know you’re retired and never have to do another thing… but no sympathy for the little guy?

        3. Can’t speak for Hugh obviously, but I also had a reflexive feeling that this was reason to cheer. I had to think for a minute to figure out why! Like you point out, it doesn’t exactly seem like great news for indies at first?

          But I think it struck me as a good thing because it means indies are poised to change the game once again. If the Big 5 are getting themselves into KU, then we’ll start to see the dust settle for ebook subscription services soonish. And it’s when the dust settles that indies are at their most dangerous, isn’t it? Because one of our major strengths is lightning quick adaptability.

          So if the industry settles into a new routine in the next 2-3 years, that means the next big disruption is looming on the horizon. And who’s going to take advantage of that? Indies, of course. You just KNOW some indie author out there is going to try something/happen upon something/go into business with something wicked inventive and it’s going to shake up the industry all over again. And indies will once more dominate the leading edge of the industry.

          So yeah! I think that’s why this news gave me such good vibes?

        4. Yeah, it’ll be rough on indies. Myself included.

          I have a blog post called, “It’s the Reader, Stupid.” That concept applies to us as well. One of the outcomes of promoting self-publishing is that it helps trad-pubbed authors as well, by giving all authors more leverage. There should be less “them” vs. “us.” The same is true of the Big 5. I don’t want to see them go under; I want to see them get their acts together. My website is littered with posts giving them what I feel to be great advice. What I want to see is avid readers. More people reading more books, however that has to happen. I trust writers will have it okay if this is the end result.

          1. Hugh,

            I am looking to publish a book when it is done. After much research, I am torn in which direction to go. As I have read here and online, it seems that Amazon is now fighting with two giants (which have joined hands) in the publishing industry.

            Is there any information you would be willing to provide to aid in this decision. To go indie or traditional?! This seems to be the question….

            Rumor has it that you published one book through a smaller, yet established publishing house prior to going Indie. If this is true….what were the pros and cons for each!

      3. “This means that ebook retail is OVER. It’s done. I give it another 2-3 years, tops.”

        Great article, Hugh, though I’d love to see you tease this bold prediction out with a bit more nuance in a follow-up post. My own prediction is that that the future of ebooks — not print, which will always be around in some form, much more so than other entertainment media for a whole bunch of reasons — is going to be a lot more similar to what’s happened with movies than music: a motley mix of pay-per-view, subscription services (KU is similar to Netflix), and ownership (or something like ownership, since ebooks are technically just licenses). All ebooks will not be in KU anymore than all movies are available via Netflix or Amazon Prime. That’s also the future for smart indies, mixing and matching depending on your strategies and goals. I’d do KU in a heartbeat for some titles if not for the exclusivity requirement (I even turned down an Amazon publishing agreement because of these same concerns), and it makes complete sense that Simon and Schuster and other trad pubs would use KU the same way that Warner and Universal use Netflix — as just another revenue stream to use at the appropriate time, or as a tool to gain new fans for a series, etc. I do agree with you that it will be interesting to see it play out.

      4. I’m not so sure this means that the retail market is on it’s way out.
        However I do think this may make it harder on the indy authors to get noticed.

        1. Why is that? If all the bookstore shoppers suddenly started reading on Kindles and via KU, because that’s where all the bestsellers are, then they’re more likely to run into indie authors.

          This is why every indie author should be promoting the hell out of Amazon. Amazon shoppers are more likely to encounter indie books. B&N hides indie authors and sells bestseller list spot to major publishers. Sending readers there is funneling them away from indies. The other retailers are variously better, but nowhere near Amazon for discoverability. The Also-Bought algorithms don’t care who you are, only that the customer was happy and that the next one will be as well.

          1. Re Amazon and discoverability; This past Saturday, 8/27/15, I was surprised to see a big spike in my sales, in particular for one of my titles, “Round Robin.” It’s a terrific book with a 4.5 star average, but it suffers from being a romantic comedy written by a man. After all, any kind of romance is supposed to be the exclusive domain of female writers. Anyway, a little detective work showed that Amazon on its own initiative was promoting “Round Robin” that day. I wish they’d let me know in advance, but I’d be happy with any such surprises recurring in the future. Oh yeah, I’d also really like to know if this promo occurred as the result of human intervention or was the product of an algorithm.

  3. Great update. I haven’t even put my best selling titles into paperback yet. Sedulity 1 & 2 have tens of thousands of Kindle sales at $2.99, but I was waiting to release the final book in the trilogy before thinking about print editions (probably an omnibus). Do you think that helps for a pitch to a traditional publisher? To offer them the first print edition? I’ve done pretty well as an indie but wonder if I shouldn’t at least submit some of my most popular Kindle titles to a Big 5 publisher. I’d sort of like to see what their marketing and distribution channels could do for me. On the other hand, I have several friends who are fleeing traditional publishers (including Penguin and a genre press that courted me). Hard for indies to know which way to turn these days. I’ve always valued your advice on such things.

    1. I wouldn’t sign with a publisher for the next few years, not until royalties on digital are 50% of net and terms of license are a hard 5-7 years. Those changes are coming. That’s why anyone doing a deal during this transition is making a huge mistake. It’s also why publishers are gleefully doing 10+ book deals with any big name they can, so they can lock down the 25% of net and terms of copyright. Those authors are getting screwed today by tomorrow’s standards.

      1. I had similar thoughts. I actually had a 50% net offer on digital that I turned down because it was a genre press that couldn’t promise to put physical books in stores. And I wouldn’t mind the 25% net on print, as long as they were being distributed. However, many genre presses are using Create Space too now. The only reason I see for a middle man would be massive marketing and distribution. It’s like you said when we met in Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in 2013, “What can they do for you that you can’t do for yourself?” Words of wisdom. It’s been a heck of a ride and I think the tiger has more gas in the tank.

        1. David, I wouldn’t count on “massive marketing” at all (by a trad publisher). Distribution, yes, but marketing, no. At least, not in the way you may be thinking of it. When I did my trad-pubbed, non-fiction, How-Tos about digital printing back in the stone ages of 2003-2005, the publisher did diddley squat on marketing (even when I was reaching Top 5 on Amazon overall). I had to do all of it myself. But they did get me into B&N, Borders, et al. That part was massive (and appreciated!). But with marketing (at least to end users), you’re on your own unless you’re on the King-Grisham level. And I’ve heard that it’s even worse in that regard these days.

  4. Hugh – so far I’ve only purchased Kindle books (including a fair number of yours recently, which I enjoyed.) I haven’t signed up for KU. What’s your take on how Indie authors will fare if KU dominates vs. individual sales? Do you see it as beneficial to them long term, or detrimental? I haven’t researched how they’re compensated from the program.

    1. Some will do well and some won’t. Just like in the retail space. Overall dollars to artists will be about the same. If it goes down, it’ll be the equivalent of Amazon paying authors 55% – 60% instead of the current 70%. Which would be closer to what retailers paid publishers in the past for distributing their wares. (Bookstores make 40% – 55%.)

    2. We get paid by the “pages read” on KU borrows now. Longer titles can pay as much or more as a sale, if the reader actually reads the whole thing. Shorter works pay considerably less than a (reasonably priced) sale. For example, a short story of 10,000 words that sells for 99 cents would give the author 34 cents royalty for a sale, but only about 10 cents for a borrow. However, a 300,000 word trilogy (like mine) that sells for $5.99 can produce over $6.00 on a KU borrow, as long as the reader gets through the whole thing. The new payout is based on a mixture of quality and quantity. That’s one of the things I like about it. The change hasn’t really affected me one way or the other. I still make about 2/3 of my income from sales and 1/3 from borrows, probably because I write more novels than shorts and most people seem to read the whole story. Many authors of novellas and shorts seem to be complaining, but that is the nature of the beast.

      Hugh is working on different orders of magnitude, but I am curious to learn how the Beacon series plays out in terms of sales and borrows. With so many of them at #1 on different short fiction charts I am sure that they are getting plenty of coffee-break, commuter, and bathroom reads. :) I think he is about to prove that serial fiction is still a viable route, even with Kindle Unlimited.

      1. I think your 300,000 trilogy would produce more like $20 – $25 in a full KU read. Your physical pages are less than Amazon’s counted pages for KU. So you’re probably looking at a KENPC of something like 450,000 pages. Using last month’s pay-per-page rate of $0.0057, you’d get $25.65 if a reader read all three books.

        1. Hugh, the 300,000 word (not page) trilogy got a 1,199 KENPC (it shows 788 pages on the Kindle sales page). KU has been kinder with KENPC than the KDP version of page counts, but not THAT kind. LOL. At half a penny a page I’m looking at $6 per KU read on that title. That is considerably more than the 70% royalty on a $5.99 sale of the same book. Conversely, my bestseller (Sedulity 1) has a KENPC of 332 pages. That currently generates about $1.50 per borrow (with full read through), or $2.07 on a $2.99 sale. I can’t complain either way. :)

          1. Reading through the comments on this issue, I am forced onto a tangent issue:

            I am rather shocked and disappointed in the number of people who sell full novels for $2.99 or even $0.99, and whole trilogies for only six bucks. I was kind of hoping that the low-ball pricing model was going up as trad pub ebooks were coming down. (Then again, I don’t know what the trends are, maybe it was just my wishful thinking.)

            I personally feel that a novel should be worth more than that. Isn’t a work of art that provides hours, days, maybe even weeks of entertainment worth more than three bucks??! A cup of coffee costs $4 or more, a Big Mac costs more, heck, I’ve paid 3 and 4 dollars for ATM FEES! It breaks my heart to think that the going rate for several months’ of hard author work is worth less than the ATM fee charged to get money for that $5 venti coffee and $10 movie ticket for a 90 minute movie made by college students with their own camera and some fake blood. The going public sees these are worth an hour’s wage, but not a novel?

            It’s a tough issue for sure, and I suppose “the market” decides it, but I personally feel that the entertainment I provide should be worth more than an ATM fee.

            If you don’t mind a reference to my own commentary on the topic, you might try this discussion and see if I’m just completely off base here:

          2. The feeling of walking into a room, where no one is speaking the language you understand, is where I am at now…reading your post.

            My book is not ready to be published, but will be within three months! Can you please explain what you just said, but as if I was reading a, ‘for dummies’ context? That would be great. I can assume these terms are in reference to formatting…but assumptions can make a butt out of me.


        2. BTW, I am a fan of the new KU payment system (although I wish it were closer to a penny per page). :) I like the idea that we are paid according to how long we can each entertain readers, as measured by the number of pages they read. Since KU is a fixed rate monthly subscription, Amazon is wise to divide the subscription fees by the amount of time each author engages each subscriber. My 99 cent titles are in the 50 page range. A sale at 35% royalty is only a few cents more payout than a borrow at half a penny per page. Meanwhile my novels range from ~ 300 to 1200 KENPC and are priced from $2.99 to $5.99. The current KU payouts seem to come close to balancing royalty rates on sales — as long as the book is entertaining enough for the borrows to be read. And that’s the real rub with the new system, isn’t it? I see far too many complaints from writers who worry that they won’t be paid in full if someone doesn’t read the whole book they borrowed on KU. Really? To me that is simply another way for Amazon to weed out the titles that don’t make the cut.

          1. so if they redefined the KNEP to hold twice as many words (putting it about on par with a paper copy) and paid 1c/page you would be happier than the current situation?


  5. Hugh,

    Thanks for this update. With all due respect, this seems great for folks like you that sell gazillions of books, but I don’t. I’ve been writing MG indie for about 3 years now and I have two series out. That said, while I’m working to grow my social platform (Twitter 26k+ followers, growing email list, Goodreads followers, etc) and my monthly sales are growing as a result, however, I’m NOWHERE close to your results (I don’t expect to be as you’ve been in the industry considerably longer). I am working on a YA contemporary fantasy novel at the moment that I was looking to go the traditional route because they still have significantly larger distribution. My thinking is that when readers get hooked on an author, they look to see what else that author has published, making all their other books rise, whether indie or traditionally published. Thoughts? Am I completely crazy? I see my writing as a journey and I’m not yet where you are to do what you are able to. I can, and do, all I need to, to indie pub, but I need much greater distribution.

    1. I’ve been looking at the middle-grade market recently as my mother’s copyrights are reverting and we’re deciding what to do with them. I’ve heard many people say middle-grade doesn’t sell, but that’s only true if you look at it a certain way. A million selling middle-grade book would be the equivalent of putting the book in the hands of one out of every twenty kids between the ages of 10 and 14 in the US. (I upped the standard ages a bit to fit census data.) A million selling general audience book is the equivalent of putting the book in the hands of one out of every two hundred people between the ages of 20 and 69 in the US. A best selling middle-grade book will always look like a failure next to a best selling general audience book because the market is at best one tenth the size.

      A YA book has more chance of cross-over appeal. There’s no way all those Harry Potter books were read by children. There aren’t enough children.

      Don’t measure the sales of your middle-grade books against Hugh Howey. Measure them against what you need to make it worth your time to write and publish them.

      1. Gordon,

        Thanks for your reply. I don’t dispute your numbers at all. In fact I completely agree. The problem with Middle Grade is that unlike most other ages, it’s near impossible to contact the reader directly. We must convince a parent that our books are THE book to buy at that time. PB speak directly to very engaged parents who want to encourage the habit of reading while YA and up have the direct ear of the reader. MG is the forgotten middle ground where parents are no longer quite so engaged, but rather instruct a child to get a book(s) but (I generalize) no longer concern themselves with specific book purchases.

        So, not only is MG a fairly small segment of the market, but the reader is not the purchaser most times. I know traditional publishers face this same dynamic. This is not unique to indies. Given these dynamics, I’m looking for ways to get more visibility. I’m completely open to ideas, but I thought going upstream to YA might be one possibility and doing so with a trad publisher (I know there’s a lot of ifs in this strategy) might accomplish that more effectively. As I said, I would welcome other ideas…

        1. In her career, my mother published six MG books with five publishers. There were no connections to generate sales. This was before Amazon. There was no “Also by this author” or “People also bought”. They weren’t even next to each other in distribution catalogs. They were next to each other on bookstore shelves. But that generally only happened if the bookstore owner was a supporter as the short shelf life of mid-list print books meant they often weren’t on the shelf at the same time. Indie or trad-pub, this is much less of a problem today with Amazon’s automatic linking of books by the same author or bought by the same customers.

          You are correct that in MG the end reader is often not the purchaser. The end readers get a lot of their books from schools. A good portion of my mother’s sales were classroom sets. After the books were out of print, she kept getting letters from teachers asking where they could buy 20 or 30 copies of this book or that. If you’re going to do some direct marketing, try targeting teachers’ associations. Prepare a good quality study guide. A book doesn’t have to be educational to rate a study guide. All stories raise questions. And a study guide will appeal to teachers.

          My mother has made several times more money from her books from disbursements from the Public Lending Rights Commission (a Canadian thing) than royalties. These are based on estimates of how often her books have been checked out of public libraries in Canada. Libraries can be very hard to get into as they are often limited by arcane and archaic regulations as to where they can acquire books from. But libraries often run reading festivals. There are big ones in Vancouver and Toronto every year, but many smaller libraries run their own. In addition to displays for publishers or individual authors, there are usually displays for author genre associations and literacy groups and a stage for readings. If you aren’t a member of any formal association, you might consider swapping with a handful of authors to take their books to your local festival in exchange for their taking your book to their local festival. It’s a small lever, so you want to minimize the resources you put into it, but it does put your book and name in front of people who might otherwise miss it.

          For MG, teachers and librarians connect to more kids per adult than do parents.

          Good luck.

          1. Gordon,

            Thanks so much for your reply and for your idea with grounding… I’d only briefly considered pursuing teachers because it seems as though they never have money to buy books for their classrooms, but you may well be right that a study guide might open my series up for schools. It’s certainly worth checking into. Thanks!


  6. Another thing that’s noteworthy about the bunny book is that it’s been out for 2.5 years. I don’t know how long its taken to climb the charts, but I suspect trad pub would have pulled it long before it went viral. The author also published it in 8 languages essentially right off the bat. Not messing around. He believed in it. My middle grade series is a magnet for reluctant readers, and I am always looking for ways to market it as such.

  7. I wrote a blog post a couple of days ago about helping my mother try to find a home for a bunch of her gently used books. Used book stores are stocked to overflowing and libraries don’t want them either in many cases. I shudder to think how many books the Big 5 pulp each year. Such a waste.

  8. Wait… if publishers are putting Transfer of Power into KU *without exclusivity* (because it’s up at B&N), then that’s bad for indies. Very bad.

    And I’d like to know when Amazon is going to allow indies to go KU without exclusivity.

    1. Susan,

      I agree 100%. I don’t understand why this is good for indies. It is good for readers of KU, but it’s horrible for indies.

      1. Perhaps if someone complains to Amazon, they’ll send out their exclusivity requirement email to S&S.

        1. If big publishers were forced into exclusivity in order to “benefit” from KU… well, it would be something very interesting to witness.

          Of course, it would be a disaster for Amazon’s competition. But it would be such a huge blow that even the DOJ might notice it.

  9. Quick question, what size do you recommend for POD? I’ve been using the 6×9, but have been debating a more standard paperback size (even though it raises costs).
    So I’d love to hear your opinion.

  10. Really fascinating to hear about your tour of the CreateSpace facility. I have all of my titles in both ebook format and paperback format. I’ve noticed that the consistency of the CreateSpace output has increased over the last three years that I’ve been making PODs with them. That makes sense, given the start-up vibe and pivot-on-a-dime attitude that you observed.

  11. I meant to mention… If you are exclusive to Amazon with your titles in KU, another advantage of having your books available as PODs, is that they are available everywhere, so long as you sign up for expanded distribution. It widens your horizons a little, while still allowing you the benefits of KU.

    1. Tobias V. Langhoff Avatar
      Tobias V. Langhoff

      KU isn’t available everywhere though.

  12. I was very wary of publishing my first novel on Kindle AND Createspace as I wanted to follow your idea of having a full compliment of books available before advertising. But, I realized that advertising and publishing were two different things, so I made it available as POD. It’s been the best move I’ve ever made, especially when I’m out and about and mention that I have a novel and people are interested, but they tell me that they only read physical books, or are intimidated by Kindle (even though it’s available for almost everything with a screen on it). I just mention that I have a copy in my trunk if they have a 10 spot on them. I’ve already sold a dozen books that way. I couldn’t have done that without POD.

  13. Most interesting article, Hugh. In the past two years more and more of my clients (I produce books) have been going with digital AND print. Most ask my opinion about the financial viability of doing print. My stock reply has been, “Don’t expect a lot from your print editions right now. Mostly because it’s so difficult to get into bookstores or strong distribution channels beyond online retailers. BUT, that could change anytime. Bookstores need stock. Readers like print. POD quality is at a point where it takes a really nitpicky eye to tell the difference between a trad pub and an indie paperback. Since there is no cost beyond production (which, by the way, is quite inexpensive for fiction) and you don’t have to worry about warehousing, it doesn’t hurt to have the print edition listed right along with the ebook–the price difference can make the ebook look like a steal, too.”

    I’m so glad to see that the change I’ve been expecting is now happening. Now when I’m asked if a writer should have a print edition, I’ll just send them to this post. Heh.

  14. CreateSpace is using a print facility in Leipzig in cooperation with Amazon Germany to print books ordered through them locally. I love that. (It makes three day delivery possible.)

  15. It occurs to me that there’s a certain assumption built into the KU royalty figure, which is the average number of pages per month read by subscribers. At the current $9.95/mo price and royalty of $0.0056/page, Amazon breaks even at 1,776 pages, and steadily loses money above that number. In a 30 day month that’s about 59 pages/day. Of course given the overhead of the system, the actual breakeven must be significantly less than 1,776 pages.

    So KU basically follows the economics of a buffet: make money on the average, but lose money with the particularly voracious readers (eaters).

    I doubt they’d ever release the numbers, but I’d be curious to know what the actual current pages/day are read by subscribers.

  16. For some bookshops (the ones where I deliver my print books) POD still means Proof of Delivery :)

  17. Wait, Hugh… are you sure you meant to say this:
    “The money flowing to this children’s book is money not flowing to some other Big 5 children’s book, and publishers know this.”

    That sounds very Big 5 of you… whereas I like to think that the more people find an enjoyable book, the more recommendations, the bigger the pie for everyone…

    more money, not less. :)

    1. It can’t grow forever. There are 7 billion people in the world, and not all of them are literate.

  18. -grin- Thank you. Time to give Createspace another look.

  19. Another inspiring post Hugh. I’m loving this Do It Your Way technique to publishing. It’s funny I always hated the entitlement that came from the slogan – ‘Your way right away.’ I have to admit my ways my only way. This blog is just one more bit of inspiration along the way. Thanks again Hugh!

  20. Hugh,
    How did that Rabbit book get so popular? Not sure I understand what you mean about the NYT list. Are you saying that they don’t want an indie to do it on their own?

  21. The Hurricane… your description has a grammar error, on accident? dont you mean by accident?

    1. I take it you haven’t read the book. It takes place in a small town in South Carolina. If this upsets you, you’d weep at the full work. Might want to skip it.

  22. Hi Hugh,
    It’s nice to comment on your blog. Regarding that rabbit book, in my opinion, any reasonably average or even below average ebook/book can sell when well marketed. All a person needs is some money to spend and a nice marketing campaign. Some people could even say, any crap can sell when well marketed, for example fifty shades of grey) not just ebooks any kind of product. There is always an audience out there, you just need to reach them..

  23. Smart Debut Author Avatar
    Smart Debut Author

    Looks like the New York Times got their panicked last-minute rule change into effect just in time. Now, it seems that only hardcover children’s books “count” toward bestsellerdom… Who knew? ;)

    If you want to know which books actually are America’s best sellers, the USA Today has a little more integrity than the publisher-ad-whoring New York Times and their fraudulent NYT “Best Seller” Lists.

    The Rabbit made #8.

    When you can’t even trust the NYT to honestly report on America’s best selling books, you really have to wonder if the rest of their reportage is equally biased and untrustworthy.

    1. Richard Hutchinson Avatar
      Richard Hutchinson

      The point is you can’t trust the NYT. Without their Mexican billionaire investor, Carlos Slim, they’d be down to three issues per week (hello New Orleans( There is a site call Author’s Earnings you can rely on.

  24. POD still doesn’t cut it for getting on bookstore shelves.

    For direct sales through Amazon, the formula is:
    List Price – (40% of List Price) – Costs = Author Share

    For extended distribution (which allows bookstores to order it) the formula is:
    List Price – (60% of List Price) – Costs = Author Share

    That extra 20% for the traditional distributors (who often hold bookstores captive) comes off the list price.

    The cover price of mass market paperbacks varies wildly, but looking at the most common cover prices for mass market paperbacks, it is possible to produce a POD for direct sale through Amazon for the same or slightly lower cover price as an equivalent mass market title and still make a little money. It is not possible to do the same for the extended distribution channel. That extra 20% requires indies to price their books roughly 20% higher than the mass market competition. And returns may be much higher. I don’t know how CreateSpace handles the distributor tradition of no sale final.

    Modern POD is great for getting a quality product into the hands of readers at a reasonable price. It’s not great for getting onto bookstore shelves.

  25. Ben L. Hoover, Sr. Avatar
    Ben L. Hoover, Sr.

    You pretty much have it nailed to the wall. I am strictly Kindle and Createspace, and my stories are buried under an avalanche of competition, but I am content. Nothing quite as nice as reading a good review from a stranger.
    No, I don’t make enough to buy a pizza every two weeks at current, but I am working on book three in my series, and expanding to short stories tied into the same universe just because I enjoy it.
    I get a bigger kick out of the reviews than the money. I may need psychiatric help.
    Anyway, the big five I didn’t approach because, to be honest, the idea of ‘gate keepers’ of the press, who choose who shall and shall not be blessed with the rights of passage galled me.
    Amazon gives me the opportunity to write and put my work out there. I may never be able to order a TV off sales, but I can see my book online and enjoy seeing my book in paperback as I walk around where I work and seeing people reading the latest on their breaks.
    Sometimes, it can’t be about the money.

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