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Manic Monday: Guest Author Bob Mayer Talks Dollars And Good Sense

I’m VERY honored to have Bob Mayer guesting today. His knowledge of the industry and willingness to share makes his blog a must read. In a publishing environment that’s in constant flux and often fraught with arguments over traditional vs. indie, Bob keeps a cool head and always puts the author first.

Thanks so much for guesting today, Bob!

Authors: Which Do You Value More: Bestseller lists or profit?

Most authors are very focused on bestseller lists.  Most of us want to say Joe Scmho, Blah-Blah Bestselling Author.  The blah blah tip is the NY Times List.  Actually, a handful get to say:  #1 NY Times Bestselling Author, which is the tip of the tip.  And then within the NY Times you’ve got a sliding scale:  Printed list or extended list?  The printed list is what appears in the paper.  The extended list can be found on-line.  Do you know how antiquated the NY Times list is?  It’s always been skewed. It’s two weeks late by the way!  Does the Times own a computer? Connected to the Internet?  They’ve been reporting the list the same way now for decades.  And it’s based on reports from stores, not actual sales.  One time I had the #4 bestselling fiction mass market title on USA Today and didn’t even hit the Times extended list.  Then I had a book on the Times list that never touched USA Today.  So which reality are they operating in?

Also, quite frankly, publishers can put enough co-op money and push behind a title to practically jackhammer it onto the list.  I saw an author become the infamous #1 NY Times hardcover in January and virtually disappear in a couple of weeks which says to me there was a hard push, then sales dropped precipitously.

Here’s the thing: bestseller lists don’t exactly equal ka-ching.  And ka-ching pays the rent/mortgage.  More importantly, making money as a writer allows us to keep writing.

I remember sitting at lunch years ago with several authors at the Maui Writers Conference.  We were discussing the business and I started talking about dollars and every author just about spit their iced tea out.  They said NO writer talks about actual dollars.  But they were also very happy to finally let the beast out of the closet and talk about contracts and real dollars.  Because it was their livelihood and for their entire career they had been working in the dark trying to figure out what they were worth, what their books were worth, what their time was worth and what their writing was worth.  But it was all hidden under a bushel.

There are quite a few indie and trad authors making a very nice living and they never hit the bestseller lists.  To them, I say, take satisfaction in that you get to do what you love and don’t worry about the ‘validation’ of lists that are vague at best.

Because not a single bestseller list focuses on earnings.  And that is a fatal business flaw as any MBA, or person with a business sense, will tell you.  Especially with the tidal wave of eBooks.  Let’s walk through a practical application of this.

A certain author sells 1 million eBooks. Woohoo!  At .99.  Well, okay.  But it’s a million.  I grant it’s a brilliant marketing move.  For the first person who did it.  For the rest, sorry, it’s not that unique any more.  A million eBooks on Amazon at .99, where each earns a little over .29.  Ultimately around $297,000.  Not chump change.  Except the guy in the next cubicle who sells 100,000 eBooks at $4.99, one tenth of that all important number, earns $349,300.  Huh?  Yet which one does the publishing world focus on?  The units sold.  However, which, ultimately, is the more important number?  You can’t pay employees with units sold.  You pay them with earnings.

Bad business.  Because at the end of the day we have to pay the rent/mortgage, the utilities and our business expenses.

Look at Publishers Lunch, which announces deals.  We know agents and publishers never give exact figures to PW.  So it labels them with terms:  good, nice, yada yada.  Except how many books?  What rights?  What royalty rates?  Which exact end from the low end to high end does the deal actually hit?  Ask anyone.  Big difference if they get the top number or the bottom number.

I know that we’re not going to shift to reporting actual dollar figures.  But I think as authors we need to be aware that believing in numbers with such a high degree of variance once you get into the details as our measuring stick has inherent problems.  I took some courses in psychology on statistics and how they can be skewed.

I know, it’s all we have. The key to success in digital publishing is not the immediate success and the bestseller list.  It’s the long tail, a broad base of titles, and consistent sales over the years.  Where bestseller lists really count is on Amazon if you get on that first page for your genre.  That’s called discoverability.

All I’m saying is let’s be aware that ‘success’ is different for each of us and there are many roads to Oz and even Oz is a different place for each of us.

What do you guys think? What’s more important to you? The money that goes into your bank account or the status of being called a best-selling author? What’s going to make you more successful in the long run?

59 comments on… “Manic Monday: Guest Author Bob Mayer Talks Dollars And Good Sense”

    • I agree, Chris. And for me, respect as a writer. I think you can earn that within the writing community by putting out good books and being supportive. Thanks!

  1. Great wisdom as always from Bob! Thanks, Stacy, for having him on here. 😀 And thanks, Bob, for being so willing to share with us. I’m not so concerned with being on any lists as I am about reaching the readership I want to reach. The way to do that is to keep writing, make sure my writing is as good as it can be, and then engage on social media. Of course, more loyal readers means more $, and that’s always nice! 🙂

    • You’re welcome. I agree, readership is key. I’m always searching for the best way to reach non-writing readers. You’re right, writing more books and getting your name out there IS the best way to do it. Thanks!

  2. The money — not because it pays bills (though that’s nice) but because the more money I make the more it will mean people like my book. I’m just starting out, so even if “only” 200 people (who aren’t my friends and family) buy my book, that’ll be good enough for me.

    • Exactly! I didn’t realize how much the lists were skewed until I read Bob’s post. And I agree, when my first book drops in November, if I can get a good amount of NON friends and family buying, I’ll be thrilled. Thanks!

  3. I have to agree with Stacy. Respect as a writer is probably more important right now for me than being a #1 bestseller or getting a fat paycheck. But then again, I just started writing recently with thought of making it a career, so I am still in the “Am I good enough?” stage. I do it now purely for the experience and don’t make a dime with my blog. Sure, I make a little money writing content for other people, but that isn’t the point of being a writer.

    I guess for me, it’s when somebody approaches me and wants to invest in me by helping me, telling me what I’m worth, or offering to represent me. I know I’m successful when I am just doing what I do for the love of it and somebody notices and wants to pay me for what comes out of my heart. And when people interact with me and tell me that I’ve made them laugh or cry or helped them in some way… well, that’s just priceless.

    If in the future, I make money doing what I love, that’s icing on my cake and I will gladly eat it!

    • I think you’ve got a great mindset. Blogging is a great way to hone your writing skills and build a network. Without all the friends I’ve met through blogging (and other social media) I wouldn’t be as far into my publishing journey as I am now. I love hearing that what matters most to you is the respect and genuine enjoyment of writing. Thanks for stopping by!

      • Stacy, after I read your blog post, I went through the rest of my e-mails and I had received the Liebster Award twice! That kind of thing is exactly what I’m talking about 🙂

  4. Stacy S. Jensen

    At this point, I’m still working through revisions. So, I would like to be “finished” for real. Thanks for sharing this information from Boby Mayer.

  5. Money’s always good but I just want to get the **(&* characters out of my head and the only way I seem able to do it is by putting the story out there for people to read!

    I always enjoy your opinions, Bob!

    • I love getting the characters out of my head. ANd I know the money will likely come after a few books, and I’m okay with that. To me, a career as a writer is a slow burn. Thanks!

  6. Bottom line for me: I just want to write fiction full time and make enough right now to replace my freelance writer job. If I can stay home to write the stories I love – that is my big goal and dream! And I agree, Stacy, career as a writer is a slow burn!

  7. I’m currently investigating exactly these questions. Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Bob. Thank you, Stacy, for hosting Bob on your site. Great info.

  8. As far as respect goes, I think that’s something too reliant on outside forces. What happens if one gets “disrepsected”? Does that stop us? I’ve actually found with more success comes more people out of the woodwork trying to tear you down.
    I follow Terry Gilliam’s advice to stick my head down and move forward regardless.

  9. marieforce

    Money! I sold 60,000 ebooks in March and didn’t make any lists except the Nook top 50 with five books for most of the month. I did, however, make a LOT of money. I don’t give a shit about the NYT or the USA Today list. If I ever make it, great. If not, I’m doing just FINE without it.

    • 2,000 eBooks a day is kicking ass. I’m averaging around 1,500 eBooks a day after peaking around 2,500 last summer. It surges sometimes. Have you done ACX?

      • marieforce

        I have 20 books out, 8 traditional published and 12 self-published. The 60,000 sales in March were primarily focused on my five-book McCarthys of Gansett Island Series, which has been extremely popular with readers. When book 4 was released in January, I dropped the price of book 1 to 99 cents, which started an amazing three-month run of stellar sales for the first four books and then the fifth one when it was released in March. I’m getting book 6 ready to go now.

        I want to add that self-publishing allowed me to quit my 16-year, director-level position in December of 2011, 10 years earlier than anticipated with my oldest child heading for college next year. I’m making a very good living as a writer and truly living the dream of writing full time. I love every minute of it, but many days, I still want to pinch myself. 🙂

      • That’s awesome, Marie. I know the big sales really come with multiple books, so I’ve got a long ways to go yet. Your marketing strategy sounds dead on. 99 cent deals CAN work out really well, especially if you’re dealing with a series.

        Congrats on being able to quit your day job and still send the kid to college. Amazing!

        • marieforce

          I’ve got two popular series going (the other is the Fatal Series with Harlequin’s Carina Press and coming in mass market from HQN next year), and they are a great way to grow a readership. Highly recommend. 🙂

      • Awesome, Marie. I’m thinking of subbing my next novel to Carina but I’m not sure my suspense has enough romance in it for them:)

  10. Great blog post Bob and Stacy. I have always been a bit skeptical at how fast a new novel rises to the top and is considered a Best Seller. I know a person can pre-order and of course there are book clubs and public libraries that buy in bulk. And the major distributers like Costco, Barnes and Noble, and Target probably stockpile a new release from a popular author in hopes for an avalanche of orders. The independent book stores may jump on the bandwagon in antiisapation of an onslaught of sales also. There is always the sell back thing, but that is a whole new topic. My thinking is great for them. We are not in a race. Authors who are dead are still selling novels. I am in it for the long haul. I am building my brand one fan at a time. It would be nice to be the one everyone is talking about and the word of mouth and print publicity is like gold I am sure. We are in the midst of the ebook phenominon. It is like a feeding frenzy as people are determined to see how many books they can squeeze into their device, whether they intend to actually read them or not. Good for us. And we don’t have to be on a Best Seller List. Just out there where people can see our cover and read the blurb. But I digress. Still good thoughts Bob and Stacy and others.
    Reggie Ridgway
    Author of In The Midnight Hour and coming soon Moon Shadow

    • I think a lot of it is luck and word of mouth. Sometimes books just touch a nerve and it doesn’t matter how well they’re written. I consistently shake my head at some of the bestsellers. YOu’re right, we’re not in a race, and at the end of the day, it’s about doing what we feel is best for US. It’s a very personal decision.

      Thanks for commenting, Reggie!

  11. For me, the bottom line will always be the long-term goal of financial sustainability. I have no interest in being a one book wonder. And making it on one of the “bestselling” lists while still maintaining a full-time job elsewhere…isn’t really “success” for my goals. Besides,holding the “best selling” title etc is simply a matter of perspective. For me, if I can make my current salary and then some but by writing fiction books full-time, that qualifies me as “best selling” in my mind…and that’d rock. Anything beyond that would be gravy! 🙂
    Great post. Thanks for your insight Bob and for hosting Stacy!

    • marieforce

      Thanks Jen! Glad you enjoyed the talk! It was great to finally meet you in person. 🙂

    • I’m the same. I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder, either. That’s why I’m writing the next book and planning the next several. I do believe it will take at least 3 before I see any major revenue, and that’s all right. It’s about learning as well.

      You’re welcome. Thanks for stopping by!

  12. The money. I almost said respect doesn’t even matter. But it sort of does. You can be a flash-in-the-pan success for various reasons. But if people don’t respect your writing, you’ll soon stop selling books.

    That said, I also think it’s important to remember that not everybody is going to like your books. I was thinking about the people who just aren’t going to like what I write when I started to say, “respect doesn’t matter.” Look at the Twilight series. For every person who hates it, you have 6 who love it, watched all the movies, about bought all the merchandise.

    For me, success would mean that I made an actual living at writing books (or even surpassed what I’ve made at the various minimum wage jobs I’ve worked since I was old enough to work).

    Loved this post.

    • Yes, respect does matter. I’m greedy. Guess I won’t both, but I figure respect is a bit subjective. And something tells me that in this changing world, one might come a lot faster than the other.

      Yes, that’s so true. Twilight series is a great example – a lot of people pan the quality, but it certainly has a legion of fans.

      Glad you liked it, and thanks!

  13. I want to be published. I made a plan a long time ago to be able to ease up on work and smell the roses. Now I write. Just got to get somebody to get it out.

  14. My boss at my full time job said the other day that someday I might be famous. I told him I didn’t want the fame…just the fortune. I want to make a living. To me, this is a business, and I try to treat it as such.

    • Making a living would be great. I have a lot of hope for that some day. I keep thinking once I build a backlist…and you’re absolutely right. This IS a business. Thanks!

  15. Bob tells it like it is! I’ve done two online workshops with Bob, and I’ve learned so much.
    In my case, I don’t need to be famous, but I’d like to be recognized as a good writer. A couple of recent awards boosted my confidence. Lists–and fame–would be nice, but just as a mean to an end (selling books).
    The ultimate recognition is having a lot of readers, good reviews, and respect from your peers. And, of course, you need the money to keep writing. You need to be an artist and a businessperson.
    Thanks, Stacy and Bob!

    • Great to hear, Fabio. I need to get on the ball and take one of Bob’s classes. I’m like you – I’d love to be recognized as a good writer. Congrats on the awards, and thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  16. This is really interesting. Thanks for sharing with us, Bob. If I could do anything in the next year it would be to build up my readership. I’m working hard at learning the craft but there are moments that I feel like I’m spinning my wheels. Ka-ching would be wonderful…but it’s not what drives me. Thanks for a wonderful interview, Stacy.

    • I think that’s a great goal, Annie. Your writing is inspiring. I love all your posts – you’ve got a great gift for storytelling. Thanks!

  17. My goal (which I’ve had to remind myself of over and over again) is to simply love what I do and remain creative. I’m one of those authors that gets royally screwed up and loses creativity if I start thinking about how much money I’m making or not making with books. I’m also a genre-hopping author so I don’t write to market to try and figure out what “sells.” I also don’t think about best seller lists. I’ve been in the publishing world, unpublished and published since about 92. I’ve been published since before many people even knew what epublishing was (about ’99), so I’ve seen everything come and go. For me it’s about doing what I love to do and what makes me happy. Best seller is nice but it isn’t a goal for me.

    • I think that’s a great goal, Denise. Sometimes it’s hard to do that amid all the influx of information coming our way. Kudos to you for being a genre hopping author. Not sure I could do that – each style is so specific. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and congrats on being in this business for so long!

  18. Awards and best seller lists are nice brag items, but end of the day it’s about being a working writer. I’ll take the good paycheck any day.

    • I agree. I dream of being a working writer, and I know it will take a few books to be able to see that kind of return. Marathon, not a sprint! Thanks!

  19. My first concern is being able to quit my day job to write full time. And that goal takes money. After that, I want to write something that I can be proud of. I want readers to love what I write, and I want other authors to respect it.

    I don’t care about being a millionaire, but I’ll take a 200-300k a year income LONG before I care about being on a best seller list!

    • I’m lucky enough to be able to stay home and supplement by doing child care part time. However, we live on a budget, and that’s because of my choice. I look forward to when I really contribute. I full agree with you. Thanks!

  20. This was fabulous! Thanks to Stacy for hosting, and much appreciation to Bob for helping the rest of us out. For my own self, I’d love to say that I’m a NYT or USA Today bestseller. However, my goal is to make a living writing. Not many people do, and if I can get there, I will consider my writing career successful.

    • So glad you enjoyed it, Julie. I’d love to say that, too, but the bottom line for me is personal and financial success. Absolutely agree on the making a living on writing – it’s a rare thing. Thanks!

  21. I really appreciate this post. I’ve been seriously thinking over my publishing path lately, and this helps me realize that I’ve put too much emphasis on the bestseller lists and that’s not what’s really important to me. If my writing provided solid income and never put me on the bestseller lists, I’d be happy.

    • Glad you liked it. I’ve been thinking seriously about mine as well. It’s hard to let go of the idea that success = bestseller only, but it’s a false ideal. Bob really made me think with this post, as always.

  22. I know that this is somewhat off point, but I would like to see Best Sellers lists show the units sold per week. The movie industry reports gross box office. The music industry is providing units sold more frequently. So why not the book industry. I want to know want a best seller is for a week in a more quantitative way than is currently reported.

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