Marsha Canham's Blog

August 23, 2013

An author (me) doing numbers again, and I just don’t get it *sigh*

Filed under: Caesars Through the Fence — marshacanham @ 5:26 pm

I don’t get it.


Maybe I’ve been in this business too long, or maybe I still have the mindset of a print author who takes over a year to write a book. A year of my time working 12 hr days, 6 days a week, plus blood plus sweat plus tears plus endless revisions and editing and self doubts before that book sorta kinda almost seems/feels good enough to submit, either to an editor or a critical proofreader, or, now that it’s a do it yourself process, to Amazon or Smashwords or whoever.

Okay, I get the concept of a loss leader. I get the concept of lowering the cover price for a promo or a sale. I even, reluctantly, get the concept of setting the first book in a trilogy or fourple-ology for free to suck readers into buying the rest of the series…hell, I do that myself and the modest boost in sales sorta kinda justify the means.

What I don’t get is this new *trend* of combining four or five full length novels by four or five different authors into one volume and either selling that volume for .99 or giving it away for free. I fully grasp the supposition and hope that some new readers who graze at the free troughs at Amazon etc will perk their ears at the opportunity to try five new-to-them authors for nothing and then maybe, MAYBE they will find one of those five authors appealing enough to buy another one of their books. I do get that. But is it really worth it? Can someone show me actual numbers that support the concept?

I’m sure the readers are happy…thrilled…to find such bargains, and I don’t want to take away any of that happiness. But really, each book that I sell goes to putting food on my table and a roof over my head, just like every day that a reader goes to work, she or he is doing so in order to put food on their table and a roof over their heads. Would they work free for a day in the hopes that someone sees how well they do the job in order to get them more work? Skewed logic, perhaps, but wtf. I write for a living, readers work for a living: we both should expect to get paid for it.

I was asked not to long ago to consider joining into one of these collaborative volumes but after some thought, declined and it’s been niggling at the back of my mind ever since. I really don’t get why  five well known authors would (without knowing the numbers here, so forgive me for just tossing some out) take one fifth of 35% of .99 for one of their full length novels…and be excited about it? Didn’t we allllllllllllllllllll as writers, just finish one and two and three year long discussions about how horrid the big bad publishers were for only giving us 13% royalties on ebooks? Didn’t we just finish rallying around the self-pubbing maypole to expound with great enthusiasm on the ability to earn 70% royalties for our ebooks and the fact that we are finally…FINALLY…getting paid decently for what we thought our work was worth?

So again, I don’t get it. And even though I swore I would never think about numbers again, I can see no other recourse but to haul out the finger and toe abacus.

*cracking my knuckles for the hard part*

Say if I sell my book via a publisher, cover price $4.99, the percentage I end up with (25% of net which works out to about 13% of cover price) is roughly .64 cents.

Say if I sell that book via my own finger and toe-power (Amazon) I end up with 70% of the cover price, which is roughly $3.49. Quite the difference.

Say if I hold a sale and go through Amazon, lowering the price to .99, I get 35% of the cover which is roughly .34 cents. This usually boosts sales but you have to sell 10 times as many copies to earn out the same amount, more numbers which don’t usually meet the hopeful expectations. Again, the benefit is a new reader taking the chance on the .99 book and enjoying it enough to search out other titles to buy at full price. That’s the whole loss leader principle and yes, I get that. I’ve even done that with good results, but when the sale ends, so doth the spike in numbers.

Freebies are self-explanatory, but they’re usually only free for a finite period, be it a week or a month or two months, and again that depends on the effect of sales of other books. A new funky term has risen in the past few months:  “perma-free” meaning the author has decided to leave the book permanently free in order to stay on those freebie lists and hopefully entice new readers to try them. Just another guise of a loss leader, and in an indie market that has become flooded with thousands of new books and new authors every week…it helps to be on those lists in the hope of being noticed.

So where is the harm in banding five authors and five books together in one volume? If you’re a numbers person it might cause your sphincter to spasm a little. Take a five book volume on sale for .99.  The royalty rate is 35%, so that aforementioned .34 gets divided between the five authors, giving each roughly .06 for each sale. Six cents. Regardless of how you print it out, it’s still…six cents.

So. Let’s use 1000 sales as a “sayif”

Say if I sell 1000 books ($4.99) via a publisher, I would get ( .64 X 1000 [gotta love easy math, didn’t even need my toes] ) $640.00

Those same 1000 books self pubbed ($4.99) would earn me ($3.49 X 1000) $3490.00

1000 books self pubbed on sale for .99 would earn out $340.00

1000 books for free makes a lot of happy readers but the author would get bupkus.

Now the big one: 1000 books in collaboration earns each author…..$60.00

Hmmmm. It takes just 17 sales at a regular price of $4.99 to earn out the $60.00. Or 22 sales at $3.99, (which seems to be an average price at the moment for self pubbed full length books). So in joining this enterprise, the authors joyously sell 1000 copies of the 5-in-one volume in order to joyously collect a stipend of $60.00.

I don’t get it.

I would happily…or joyously…listen to the logic of those who have done one of these collaborations, cuz maybe I’m missing something? Maybe these volumes go on to sell 100,000 copies, in which case each author would take a $6000.00 cheque to the bank and I could wipe my brow and say “whew, I finally get it.”

Please do chime in. I really do want to understand it.





  1. I haven’t done a multiple-novel collaborative publication before, but I have contributed short stories to an anthology. For me, it worked out well, because the short stories are considerably less arduous to create. Also, not being an awesomely popular author, I still got some new eyes on my words, which was nice.

    Cranking out numbers can be discouraging, for sure. It’d be lovely to sell 100K copies of something. Anything. lol

    Comment by Sandi — August 23, 2013 @ 6:10 pm | Reply

    • Sandi, I’ve contributed to an anthology as well and I really don’t think that’s the same. Adding a 50 page story to a book is one thing, but adding 400 pages is another. That’s a lot of hours worth of work for .06 cents. Plus I imagine they all have to chip in for the cover art and the formatting which could run to several hundred dollars, so an awful lot of .06 cents have to be earned to pay that off. But as I said, I’d like to hear from someone who has done it and has actual numbers. *s*

      Comment by marshacanham — August 23, 2013 @ 7:08 pm | Reply

  2. There is a danger to under-pricing your self-published books. I am terrible with book names, but I started reading your books when my Mom shoved the first Scottish book (you know the one) in my hand and said I had to read it. From there, I read pretty much everything you’d written at that point (early 2000’s) and then bought new books as they came out. So, when you started putting backlist books online and I finally bought a Kindle, I started buying them. But I bought them because I knew you and your writing. I knew it wasn’t going to suck. (such a way with words–I should be a writer, ha!) Anyhow, when I look at the free or nearly free books listed on my Kindle, I’ve never bought one from someone who’s name I didn’t recognize. The reason is there is some really awful romance writing out there and much of it is self-published. I don’t mean less than stellar (not everyone can be SEP or you or Balogh etc), I mean truly bad, unreadable, torture to read stuff. So, I’d worry that if you’re pricing yourself among the truly unknown and very terrible, you may not get the attention you’re looking for and instead are just giving your work away cheap.

    But I’m no marketing genius, so what do I know.

    PS–Any plans to write another book like Swept Away? I loved the intrigue in that one and it was hot enough to make me blush just remembering it!

    Comment by Christa — August 23, 2013 @ 6:31 pm | Reply

    • Christa,

      Thank you for your comments and I wholeheartedly agree about buying based on name recognition. And if you already know the author and have read her works, chances are you have the book that’s in the “collection” anyway. Because the books are grouped according to a common theme, there’s an even better chance you’ve read most of them already.

      As for another “Swept Away”, I’m currently trying to write the fourth book in the Pirate Wolf series, but after that…depends what tickles my imagination *s* visit my website Caesars Through the Fence, my pithy blog find me on Twitter @marshacanham


      Comment by marshacanham — August 23, 2013 @ 6:57 pm | Reply

  3. God! I agree! and I have just (july 13) released my first book. Everyone assumed I’d put it up for 99 cents or free—to get the exposure….and I would be getting what? A hope that someone would actually review the novel? Maybe? And the thousand dollars or so I’ve put into publishing, formatting (getting a beautiful website and cover) the over four years I spent writing/polishing this….the return would be …….(put in crickets chirping)
    There are no free lunches
    Why pay for the milk if the cow is free
    Why are these common aphorisms?
    Because they’re TRUE!
    I put my book up The Elf Lord’s Revenge” at 2.99. Yes…maybe when book two gets out there I shall drop it lower…but I so agree with you.
    This is not wishful thinking. It is a way to earn money. Dozens and dozens of dollars—maybe hundreds.. until we have a butt ton load of novels out there and they begin to play off each other.
    Visibility and reviews…got to have them…But freebies…constantly…is just a mouthful of cotton candy: sweet and gone.

    Comment by arabellathorne — August 23, 2013 @ 7:28 pm | Reply

  4. The hope is that if they like the book you gave away or sold at a discount, they will buy your other books. So those thousand freebie grabbers might discover a new author, you. If my overall sales are low, a perma-free book is cheaper than paying for ads that people might not pay attention to. Everyone loves free books, they get shared, talked about, and are cheaper to advertise through the newsletters devoted to sales. The boxed sets are just another promotional tool to bring readers to your other books. Or to land your name in a top 100 list anywhere to catch the eye of people who don’t download freebies. Again, readers talk about bargains, so they tell their friends about the great deal. With any luck, someone likes what you put into the box and looks to see what else you have, and buys your 10 or 20 other books at regular price.

    Comment by AileenFish — August 23, 2013 @ 7:41 pm | Reply

  5. I certainly can understand your logic and concern. I recently purchased on of these boxed set series for $.99. There were four authors, with a book from a series each author had written. I ended up buying the entire series involved from two of those authors. I also have been buying other books those authors have written because I enjoyed their writing so much. To me, it was sort of an introduction to authors I have never read before. I guess it might be considered an investment for future sales and readers. Just my experience with one of these boxed sets.


    Comment by caseykelly3 — August 23, 2013 @ 8:30 pm | Reply

  6. Marsha, I’m one of those authors who agrees with you. Books are work to write, and if you work, you should be paid a fair wage. We’re not charities or volunteers. We work because we want to make money.

    We’re talking a few dollars here–chickenfeed! I’ve gotten reviews where the readers have objected to my (to them) high prices. Well, the length is stated at the beginning, and no one has to buy my books.

    I’m all for fair prices for books, and 6 novels for 99 cents is not fair. I think a full length novel (and I’m thinking about 70,000 words) should go for $4.99, higher if it’s longer. Short stories for 99 cents, and novellas, depending on length, from $1.99 to $3.99. I also assume the books are good. Well, yours are good, and so are mine. I’m not going to devalue myself.

    Limited time sales can be useful to get someone to try, but I cringe at free. I love your comment about the readers won’t work a day for free in the hopes that someone will see how great their work is and hire them or give them a raise. Writing a book is the same thing. You want to read it, you can pay.

    I keep saying this about prices, but no one listens. Everyone is still on the free and/or cheap bandwagon. Nothing will change until authors realize they can’t cater to the cheapskates.

    Comment by lindabanche — August 23, 2013 @ 8:31 pm | Reply

  7. It depends how you expect to get exposure. In that case you are writing each book and looking at the value. I am not in a position to do that, so I will make sacrifices like posting articles for free, writing free books and competing in competitions such as NaNoWriMo to enhance my writing skill until my confidence is completely there, which I am hoping will be in March 2014, one year since I first published.

    Comment by KerryTaylor2012 — August 23, 2013 @ 9:36 pm | Reply

  8. I think the idea is to sell the boxed sets for $.99 for a short period of time to get lots of visibility and in the mean time, the individual novels are all still selling. The idea is that the promo boxed set novel is one in a series and that it will sell lots of others in that series.
    This worked really well for a boxed set I contributed to a few months ago, but the novelty (pun intended!) may be wearing off with so many boxed sets popping up and so, as with free book promotions, they lose their promotional power.

    On to the next marketing craze!

    Comment by stephaniequeen — August 23, 2013 @ 10:11 pm | Reply

  9. Well, numbers make my eyeballs roll up in my head, so the whole math thing boggles my mind. But, perhaps, the idea is that EACH author brings their readers along, thus boosting the other authors. All the authors win because now they’ve read a new author and will buy their books. Sort of the way the print anthologies have been: famous lead author, followed by 2-3 others. As a reader I’ve found some fabulous authors by picking up an anthology with one author I knew. I do agree, tho’, that the $$ to each author has to be very low.

    But what really touched me about your post was the first paragraph. I only have one traditional print book, with two self-pub’d. It takes me *forever* to write a book and get to the finished stage. I’d be happy with a book a year, but that doesn’t happen. I do work full-time in a profession I love, so I can’t write full-time. I know others do it, but I can’t. Plus, I have to have the assurance of an editor. That costs money. Money that’s a gamble because who knows if I’ll recoup?

    Regarding: “Would they work free for a day in the hopes that someone sees how well they do the job in order to get them more work? ” Yes, isn’t that what’s happened with unpaid internships? Volunteer work that “counts” as job experience? I think we’re already at the “do it for free” in order to get more work–hopefully paid. That, IMO, is what the freebies are all about: free now so readers will buy. And it’s probably the reason the very low priced boxed-sets, too.

    Very interesting blog post with interesting responses.

    Comment by Virginia Kelly — August 23, 2013 @ 11:57 pm | Reply

  10. I hadn’t thought about the numbers, Marsha, but now that you mention them … I’d say this is a “bring your readers along” venture, and, given the number of savvy authors participating, that they all wind up profiting in terms of exposure if not $$. Frankly, I’d do it in a heartbeat if the right opportunity came along. Just my .02.

    Comment by Fran Baker — August 24, 2013 @ 2:23 pm | Reply

    • Fran, I get that too…but most of these combined volumes are filled with reissued books. In other words, if you like Author A, you probably already have the book she has included in the volume.

      But like I said…I would love to hear from an author who has done this…and not just with a short story anthology. I would like to see some numbers, even via private email if the author is not comfortable posting here. So far I haven’t heard anything.

      Sent from my iPad

      Comment by marshacanham — August 24, 2013 @ 2:32 pm | Reply

      • I’m beginning to wonder if we authors haven’t reissued ourselves out of readers!

        Comment by Fran Baker — August 24, 2013 @ 4:33 pm

  11. As an author, I agree that those sales don’t add up (bad pun). I’ve had all my books in Select at some time and during free days had a total of around 80,000 downloads. Downloads…only a sprinkling of after-sales. I will drop my book prices to $.99 for a few days for selected promotions. As a reader, though, I hate those several-author sets. Some of the books are good, usually the first ones in the set. Those are the ones you get in the “Look Inside” and sample features. And some of the books are bad. Books I can’t finish and authors I’ll never read again. I guess $.06 is a small price to pay for gaining that knowledge.

    Comment by Michele Drier — August 24, 2013 @ 4:47 pm | Reply

  12. I think the primary reason to do these multi-author anthologies is to help boost discoverability and with a little luck and a lot of push hit a major list. I did that with a three book bundle of my own books, priced for a limited time at 99 cents. That put me on the USA Today Bestseller list, which is a nice piece of leverage in a number of situations. But, no. I don’t think authors go into these with the intent of making a lot of money. But it can grab new eyes on your books and compel readers to seek out your other books. And it can put you on a list, which is always nice. Several of these multi-author anthos have landed quite high on the USA Today and NYT lists.

    Comment by Vanessa Kelly — August 24, 2013 @ 8:05 pm | Reply

  13. Boxed sets sell well, they get great exposure, readers are interested in the value. It’s all about discoverability. If you already have a huge fan base and big sales then it’s not an advantage to box your title up with others. Consider how much you spend on marketing? Buying advertising? How effective is that bought advertising? A group of authors banded together now has a marketing platform that they can combine their email lists. Example is say ten authors band together and each has a thousand fans on their email database. Ten authors announce to that group of ten thousand fans to go rush Amazon and download this free boxed set. At a minimum, nine thousand of those other fans get exposed to your first book of a long series. How much are nine thousand targeted and eager new fans worth? Not even counting that that push up Amazon by ten thousand fans exposed the books to another fifty or a hundred thousand? Great advertising value. “fifty percent of marketing is wasted, we’re just not sure which fifty percent. (J Wanamaker)”

    Comment by J S — August 30, 2013 @ 1:56 pm | Reply

    • In theory, yes. Clever strategy. But I haven’t seen anyone posting any numbers yet to support the fact that the theory actually results in getting those ten thousand hard sales.

      Comment by marshacanham — August 30, 2013 @ 3:56 pm | Reply

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