What’s the Best Way to Support Your Favorite Authors?

This question comes from Tom, over on Facebook. I started typing a reply, and as is my wont, a quick reply turned into a blog post.

Tom: As a voracious ebook reader, Hugh, I’m curious about author income per sale across different vendors.

For example if an imaginary author’s ebook is available from Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, and an author’s own site (for example), all for the same price, is there a difference in what the author makes depending on which vendor I purchase from?

The reason I ask is that as a reader, wanting to encourage authors whose work I enjoy, I would prefer to have the largest percentage possible go to the author rather than someone else.

This seems like a simple question, but there’s a lot to consider. First, a look at the payout percentage. 

For the same price, a direct sale from an author’s website will almost always put slightly more money in their pocket (roughly 20% – 30% more) than from a retailer. That’s if they are selling direct, as I and many others do. If there is a link on the author’s website to a retailer, that’s still better than going straight to the retailer, as most authors set up affiliate codes and get a small commission on the referral.

After these direct sales, you’ve got different payouts from different vendors, and on Amazon, it also depends on price. Works priced above $9.99 and below $2.99 earn 35% royalties on Amazon, while ebooks priced between these two numbers earn roughly 70%.

If that starts to sound confusing, let me simplify it for you, because authors often care about a lot more than income per book sold. While I make 30% more if you buy from me direct, I would rather you purchase from a retailer. Why? Because a sale on my site doesn’t help my product ranking. And product ranking increases visibility. Each sale on a retailer is more than a sale: It’s also a vote of confidence.

There’s more. I care about your shopping experience, and it will be better at a retailer like Amazon than it will be on my site. I can’t send the ebook to you over a cellular network and have it just appear. If you lose your digital ebook file, and your link has timed out (which it will, unfortunately), you’ll have to email me for another copy. With a major retailer, that ebook is in the cloud, waiting for you. You can also share that ebook with a friend through some retailers. I want you to do that. I want you to have a great reading experience. So that factors in.

Then there’s the review. If you purchase from a retailer, there’s a good chance they’ll prod you for a review or a star rating. These are gold for independent authors. That’s worth something to me, and so we have to factor that in as well.

Finally, you have the recommendation engine. If you buy my books at Amazon, they’ll send you reminders when I release something new. They’ll also recommend my other works when you shop. That can’t be purchased at any price.

So what are these things worth? Far more than 30% of my income on each sale. By giving up 30% of the list price, I get great customer service, cloud storage for my readers, robust marketing, a boost in ranking, point-of-sale and accounting services, and the word of mouth of a customer review. Wholesalers pay retailers around 50% of their profits for these services. I see it as a bargain, and as a better experience for my readers.

If you really want to support your favorite authors, my advice is simple: Read their books. Spread word-of-mouth. Write reviews. Email them and express your delight.

Readers have no idea how much we value these things. We rely on you all and appreciate you more than you know.



24 responses to “What’s the Best Way to Support Your Favorite Authors?”

  1. Hugh,

    I stumbled across your book Wool as a recommendation via Amazon searching for a completely different author. This would never have happened via the traditional path. 10 pages into Wool I then bought the remaining 2, Shift and Dust. I agree, the value in the embedded infrastructure within the Amazon machine outweighs the upfront margin lost. I will be a customer for life. Great books BTW.

  2. Great question. The answer was eye opening. I believe how I spend my dollars determines the direction of my future purchasing options. I will pay a couple of dollars more to support something, someone or an avenue I feel needs supporting. Likewise I financially boycott things that I am opposed to. When I purchased Wool I purchased it at the bookstore because a. I enjoy the brick and mortar establishment and would like them to stay around as an option (my husband teases me that bookstores aren’t church where I need to tithe but bookstores have provided years of happiness and I am happy to provide financial support) but more importantly b. To prove readers will buy self published authors at bookstores. I purchased Misty the proud cloud on Amazon direct because I was buying a handful of children’s books for my nieces birthday. She lives in California, I live in New Hampshire so I read her the books on a video and mail both the book and me reading it to her. The rest I purchased directly from your website thinking that was more profitable for you. I purchased your audio books from your site directly, through audible not sure if that is the same kind of pay structure/preference. P.S. I have successfully transitioned to digitial since your digital immigrant video. Audible is my favorite, I travel for work and used to buy the books or CD but now they are all on my phone. LOVE IT!! Wish I did it sooner.

    1. Thanks, Lisa! Glad you found that video useful. I wish I’d made the transition sooner as well. I’d have so many more books in the cloud that I could reread at any time.

  3. iainrobwright Avatar

    I’ve always been happy given up 30%

  4. I agree on all fronts…

    There are more considerations than just raw dollars and I wish more authors understood that.

  5. Thanks for the detailed answer, Hugh! (I’m the guy who prodded you with the question.)

    Now that I know a bit more about not only the pennies earned, but what they might or might not buy, I’ll be purchasing when possible via a link on an author’s site to Amazon or B&N.

    That way not only will the purchase make it’s mark on the retailer’s wall, but it may even score another penny for the author’s referral.

    I’m glad I asked! :o)


  6. This is actually a FAQ on the Baen bar

    The answer there is that reading and recommending the author’s work is the best thing to do in the long run. More people reading the author’s work translates to more sales in the future, no matter what happens with the current book.

    Beyond that, authors get more money for e-books than for paper books, more for hardcovers than paperbacks.

    As you say, sales through Amazon/B&N/Apple/Google/etc all take a cut off the top (typically 30%)

    Some publishers (Baen included) sell e-ARC versions of some books, these have not gone through all the editing, but are available well before the normal release dates. One Baen author commented at a booksigning last year that he had earned out his advance on his most recent book from just the e-ARC sales.

  7. Hi, Hugh. This was a great post. You’ve made me stop and rethink my decisions about where to distribute my books. You mentioned that you also sell your ebooks directly from your site. Are you using a third-party program to do this? Or do you just manually send customers the ebook via email once they purchase? Is it only one file format or do customers specify what type of format they want? I’m really curious about how this works, because I’ve seen more and more authors take this route, especially after JK Rowling had started doing this with Pottermore.

    It’s an option I’m considering, but my #1 priority is to make the buying process as seamless and convenient for the customer. Extra steps (ie: side-loading, etc.) would most likely make readers feel inconvenienced, in comparison to the system like Amazon, where the book just immediately pops up on the user’s device with no extra steps involved.

    1. I use e-junkie. Buyers get DRM-free copies of the book in epub and mobi. The also get instructions on how to upload the files to various types of devices (in both a PDF and Doc). All this is in a .zip file that e-junkie sends a download link for.

  8. Such a timely post and really helps illuminate the various factors that self-published authors consider.

    “Read their books. Spread word-of-mouth. Write reviews. Email them and express your delight.”

    I’ve been a voracious reader all my life and never fully understood just how much reviews meant to authors and how leaving one impacts visibility for potential readers.

    Now, having just published my own debut novel a week ago, I can safely attest to this. Reviews, word of mouth, and feedback are GOLD to an author.

    Thank you, Tom, for the great question and inspiring this post!

  9. Hugh

    I would like to get your take on the dramatic growth in co-authoring. The likes of James Patterson, Clive Cussler etc. You have the view of treating being an author as a business, so is this just using the leverage of staff to churn out more books or is it the author who is stuck in the traditional publishing model, (who is getting less royalties) trying to maximise the volume of annual published work to compensate?

    It would be interesting to see the sales data pre and post their decision to co-author to compare annual sales and if they diluted their brand by going down that path. I used to read both and literally wait for the box to be opened at the book store to get their latest book. Now I just don’t care as I don’t know whose words I’m reading anymore.

    1. The handful of authors co-authoring like this are the very highest sellers in the book publishing universe. Bill O’Reilly has been killing it with his series of books (pun intended). Patterson is the top-selling author in the multi-verse right now. It’s all about increasing output while maintaining a brand.

      I suggested years ago that publishers should go back to creating personas and having multiple authors feed into that persona. This is how the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series were written. The “author” was fake. Didn’t exist. Just lots of career writers feeding into a single machine.

      Publishers go about book creating in the most backwards way, if the goal is to make profits. They sit around, hoping something will land in their lap that they like, and then they toss a bunch of that against a wall and see what sticks. There is almost no development going on. They think there is, but that’s because they lack vision.

      Book series should be written like TV series are. You hire a show runner, your “idea woman.” She comes up with the idea for a new book series. Then you hire a team of writers who sit in a room and bash out ideas and plotlines. You set up the overall plot for, say, 12 books. And then those writers create those books. They come to work and they write for 8 hours a day. You pay them a great salary; you give them benefits; you give them medical coverage. Then you release these works rapid-fire, market them with savvy, and repeat.

      Co-authors are doing a modified version of this. Patterson especially. For generating profits, nothing beats it. For single-creator artistic expression, not so much.

      1. Brilliant response. Look at what Samuel Peralta and David Gatewood (and now Ellen Campbell as the new editor) are doing with The Future Chronicles series. Getting a bunch of talented, mostly indie, authors together to write short stories on a particular topic for anthologies. Those collections have been hanging out in the top 20 spots for science-fiction anthologies for months now. Robot, Telepath, Alien, and A.I. are the topics so far. And I think they just added fantasy: Dragon.

        Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Hugh Howey has a story in several of these!


  10. What a wonderful answer to Tom’s question.

    Also, one of my favorite features from Amazon is the newsletter they send out to their readers, which displays recommendations of books you may like that are similar to other books you have purchased from Amazon. It’s very clever and helpful for us authors. I have picked up several readers that way.

  11. Unexpected.

    I can not buy Your books on Amazon or iBooks because I don’t have a kindle and don’t like reading on a blinky screen. I don’t have a Nook for a good Nook Book.

    I found Your website, read a few of Your posts. Liked Your piracy payback policy thing. Saw that You sell Your books directly, DRM free in all usable formats for less money. Bought a few. Recommended You to everyone who reads based on Wool alone.

    Two points:
    1. Don’t neglect Your website. Your website worked on me. Neglect Your shop though, it’s too convenient for a chap who wants to send his readers to Amazon. Joking aside…
    2. I’d gladly pay more for a book if it benefits the author. I had no idea You’d prefer me to buy it elsewhere, I doubt I’m alone in this. Perhaps a blurb with a link to this post above Your shop would send more kindle owners to Amazon?

  12. […] Hugh Howey just recently wrote a blog post in response to a fan asking him what the best way to support a favorite author was. If you’re a reader, it’s definitely worth taking a […]

  13. […] support your favorite authors (including yours truly, if you’re just a reader), head over @ Hugh Howey’s blog. Words of wisdom once […]

  14. […] Bestseller and ebook trailblazer Hugh Howey had a blog post that I think bears repeating: What’s the Best Way to Support Your Favorite Authors? […]

  15. […] is how readers and writers are part of a community, and how they can support each other. I loved this post by Hugh Howey, that clearly expressed the confusing world of ebooks, what authors get out of it (honestly I feel […]

  16. Great article. Nowadays people are always looking for the best deals and bargains when it comes to books. It’s an ultra competitive market and I know it can be overwhelming and confusing! I thought I would recommend a website that really seems to be giving back to the author as well as the reader. It’s called Openbooks.com and the reader can pay what they think the book is worth. I know you might think that people would really take advantage of this and spend as little as possible but you would be surprised. Open Books also gives authors 70% of the sales (publishers usually only give about 10%). It’s a great way to support authors and find new books. I hope you will check it out! I can’t recommend it enough

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