Evolution of an Indie: Write Novels, Sell Units

Evolution of an IndieEntering my third year as an Indie, it is my responsibility to impart sage wisdom to the world. (Don’t blink, or you might miss it.) See the series introduction post for more on my saga. But for now, lesson #1 for 2012:

Write Novels, Sell Units

You are running a small business. Have a business plan and execute it. I always start with this one. If you want to make money as a writer (*see disclaimer at bottom), you cannot shirk this truth! To an extent your art must become “units” and “product.”

Now, I’m a liberal arts major, like the majority of you flaky writerly types. I don’t have much of a clue on how to create a business plan, other than it involves some sort of plan for doing business. But I do know any legitimate business plan involves “crunching numbers.” So let’s start crunching.

If you plan on selling ebooks via the kindle store for $2.99 then you will make around $2 bucks a sale. Let’s say you plan on publishing two ebooks a year. You also figure you need $50,000 of income a year to survive (living a little high on the hog, aren’t we?).

So at $2 a pop, twice a year you would need to sell 12,500 copies of each book to make $50,000. This is gross, not net. And it also doesn’t include all the free copies you will need to “sell” in order to boost name recognition.

Anywho, it should go without saying, but like any business there is a start up phase. Until a writer is able to generate a backlist, he/she is not likely to meet these numbers or pay off the debt incurred in starting the business. Once you have 6 titles in the kindle store, you would only need to sell less than 5,000 copies of each per year. This is still a lot for a writer, but much more attainable than the previous number. (You get the idea.)

As for start up, writers these days have it good. Out of my three books thus far, up front costs have ranged from $600 to $1500. All things considered, not too bad. Still, this will take several hundred unit sales to recoup.

Bottom Line: Have a plan based on as many real numbers as you can come up with. How long will it take you to finish each novel? How many can you produce in a year? What price points are best for you for now? What markets/outlets will you focus on for sales? (ebooks in the Kindle store are by far the most profitable option at present). How many units of each title do you need to sell?

Then develop a sales and marketing strategy that will yield those results (ie. blog, Amazon product page, twitter, facebook, goodreads). If you cannot perform all the tasks of a small businessman, then find and pay people to do them for you. If you are more a writer than an entrepreneur then give yourself a longer time frame and a larger backlist before reaching profitability. (See next posts!)

***Standard Disclaimer: There are 3 brands of Indie:

  1. an artist expressing him/herself for the pure joy of it
  2. an artist or idealist who wishes to express an emotion or idea to the world
  3. an artist/entrepreneur who wishes to make a living as a writer

An indie can be one, two or all three of these. But knowing the composition is critical. I am all three of the above, but first and foremost I have to be #3, or I won’t be able to continue doing #2 and #1 full-time. Not all of the above applies to someone seeking #1 or #2. Man, this is sounding scatological, isn’t it?

Leave a Comment