Book sales and profits – article links

Since this topic is discussed on my blog frequently (not making money from publishing) this blog post is a compilation of articles I’ve found on the profits generated (or not) from publishing books and ebooks.

If you scroll all the way to the last article it covers how The Atlantic and One Story are selling individual stories on the Kindle as an experiment to making money on short stories.


How Merger Mania is Destroying Book Publishing, Dec 17, 2012, The Nation –

The mergers are occurring because book publishing has proved to be less profitable than the conglomerates had hoped. For most of the past two centuries, Western houses averaged a mere 3 percent annual profit. The new owners had hoped to raise the rate closer to 25 percent, to match those of their other holdings: newspapers, magazines and TV stations (even though these depend on advertising). But try as it might, publishing failed to churn out enough bestsellers.


Mark Coker’s 2013 Book Publishing Industry Predictions – Indie Ebook Authors Take Charge, Dec 21, 2012, Smashwords, the official blog for Smashwords —

The world’s 50 largest book publishers alone achieved $68 billion in sales in 2011, according to Publishers Weekly. When so much money and power is up for grabs, industry players have a lot to fight over, and much to protect.  Books are worth fighting for, so fight for the future you want.  Otherwise, someone else may determine your future for you.


New York Magazine profile of Random House (2007) –

 “Many books are unprofitable,” says CEO Peter Olson. Fifteen to twenty best sellers at a time and a huge volume of steadily selling older titles support Random House…. Every week, the country’s biggest trade publisher releases 67 new books, but it’s the the 33,000-book backlist (Ian McEwan’s Atonement, for example) that supplies 80 percent of its profit.


How Long Will Publishers Be Able to Ride the eBook Profit Wave?, Feb 27, 2012, Digital Book World –

Sales are down, margins are up. And that will last as long as they [publishing companies] can continue to pay authors the royalties they’re paying them [for e-books] and sell the books at the terms they’re selling them on,” said Mike Shatzkin, publishing consultant (and partner on the Digital Book World Conference + Expo).


How I Got a Big Advance from a Big Publisher and Self-Published Anyway, Penelope Trunk blog, July 9. 2012 –

(This post was later picked up and covered by the The Guardian, UK under “From PR to Profits: the problems with publishing”

The profit margins in mainstream publishing are so low they are almost nonexistent.

It takes a print publisher about a year to publish a book, after it is written. It’s unclear what the  publishers are doing during this time. For example, in the age of the Internet, where most books are selling online, the cover needs to be very simple so that it works as a small image on Amazon. It’s hard to imagine going through months of design iterations for a cover that is going to be seen by most potential buyers as a photo on Amazon. Book aficionados might argue that there are essential things being done with books over the course of that year. What I will tell you is that newspaper people said the same thing. Right before they all got laid off. The most breathtaking example, I think, of how terrible margins are, is that if I sell my own book with a link to my publisher, I make a little less than $1 per book. If I sell Guy Kawasaki’s book on Amazon, I get a little more than $1 per book in their affiliate program. So it’s more profitable to me to use my blog to sell someone else’s book than to sell the book I published with a mainstream publisher.


Profits Fall 48% at Penguin on 4% Sales Decline, Publishers Weekly, July 27, 2012 –

After several years of steady growth Penguin Group had a 4% decline in sales to £441 million, and a 48% drop in adjusted operating profit, to £22 million, in the first six months of 2012, parent company Pearson reported this morning. The declines were attributed primarily to softness at Penguin Group USA, which the company said was due to a ”lighter” publishing schedule,”big sales of Fifty Shades of Grey and Hunger Games trilogies which siphoned sales from other titles, and continued pressure on physical book publishing and retailing. Penguin Group USA CEO David Shanks said that while the company had a number of strong selling books “none of them were Fifty Shades of Grey.” He said publishing is becoming more hits driven than ever, and observed that in last year’s first half Penguin was boosted by surging sales of The Help. Loss of shelf space has hurt sales of physical books, Shanks noted, particularly Penguin’s large mass market paperback business. He attributed the steep decline in profits to several factors, the most important of which was softness in the more profitable backlist business. “That really hurt,” Shanks said. Growth in e-book sales have also slowed. For all of Penguin Group, e-book sales increased 33% in the first six months of 2012 and accounted for 19% of worldwide sales, or about 84 million pounds.


Amazon Pulls Thousands of E-Books in Dispute, New York Times, Feb 22, 2012 – removed more than 4,000 e-books from its site this week after it tried and failed to get them more cheaply, a muscle-flexing move that is likely to have significant repercussions for the digital book market.

Amazon is under pressure from Wall Street to improve its anemic margins. At the same time, it is committed to selling e-books as cheaply as possible as a way to preserve the dominance of its Kindle devices.


How the Kindle Made Single Story Sales a Reality for Magazines, PBS “Media Shift” blog, Feb 16, 2011

Well-known magazine The Atlanticended its monthly publishing of short fiction in 2005, and now offers a single fiction issue yearly. However, the magazine, founded in 1857, wanted to explore other ways to continue its legacy of publishing fiction, and so recently finished a year-long experiment that made two short stories per month available exclusively on the Kindle.

The Atlantic’s access to established writers, such as Joyce Carol Oates and Paul Theroux, was a significant part of its success. Havens said the popularity of each individual story correlated to the prior popularity and “salability” of their writers. When Amazon customers searched for those authors’ work, The Atlantic stories also came up in the results.

If magazine publishers can identify stories that provide rich, deep reading experiences, and then add engaging multimedia to develop that experience even further, they may be able to leverage their brands and editorial authority to market individual stories successfully. Other possibilities might include packaging stories on one topic together in one download, or combining stories from different magazines in a collaborative product. Individual stories or packages of stories can be sold through apps, websites, and vendors like Amazon or Barnes & Noble.


Where is Farley’s Book Shop, What is Press 53, and Who is Curtis Smith?

I was in Farley’s Book Shop in New Hope, PA and it is a relatively rare kind of bookstore because it has whole sections of it’s front shelving dedicated to independent presses. I’d also recommend Farley’s because they have regular events, and I like the way that shop is curated.

One shelf in Farley’s is dedicated to Press 53, out of Winston-Salem, North Carolina (yes the same Winston-Salem of cigarette fame.)

Much to mydelight, Press 53 specializes in publishing short story collections. From their website:

Short Story Collections: Since we published our first book in October 2005, Press 53 has gained a reputation for being a champion of the short story. We publish 6-8 short story collections each year.

So there I was, perusing the Press 53 shelf when I came across a signed copy of Bad Monkey by Curtis Smith. And while I had never heard of Curtis Smith before, I came to know that he’s been nominated for a half dozen Pushcart prizes.

Regardless of his pedigree, I decided then and there that it was my sworn duty to support fellow short story writers so I dished out the $14 bucks to support Mr. Smith, Press 53 and Farley’s Book Shop all the way down the line.

I’ve read several of the short stories in the Bad Monkey collection, and they are very well written, and have an emotional resonance that I like.

Since I am a short story writer myself, I really relate to the idea that there are so many unsung, relatively unknown writers out there and thank goodness for independent presses like Press 53 who are ready, willing and able to champion such writers and works.

So – go to your nearest independent bookstore and look for an independent press label. Take a chance and buy such books, and find treasures that perhaps no one has heard of but that are worthy of better recognition.

And if it’s a short story collection, so much the better.

The Moral Victory of the “Like”

I just wanted to take a moment to thank all the people who recently read the flash fiction I posted to the blog and hit the “Like” button.

You have no idea, dear reader, how many small press magazines rejected these stories in cold blood.

For example, Blues Man had been rejected more than a half a dozen times alone since July of 2010. After a year of these rejections, numerous re-writes and crystal ball gazing to understand why the story was problematic for some, I gave up and let the story “rest” in my folder of non-placed flash fiction.

I finally took this story’s fate into my hands and decided that even if these small presses didn’t want to publish it that maybe, just MAYBE, someone might wander over to my blog and read it.

But the result of my decision was SO much more gratifying than that! Not only did you read my stories, dear friends, you “LIKED” them! You LIKED them longtime!

Maybe this is one of those publisher vs. self-publishing moments, I’m not sure. 

It also occurs to me that when my stories are published elsewhere and someone enjoys it, I’m probably not going to find out about it. That’s not to say I’m giving up my wicked addiction to getting my stories published by others, no way. But it does mean that I may decide, from time to time, to share nuggets with you that I think you’ll enjoy coming straight from me, and not through a literary middle-man.

So…THANKS!  Now if I could just get you to add your Comments too, I’d be a swooning blogger!

Random Insomnia Post on submitting short stories

It’s somewhere after 2am, and I can’t sleep. After puttering around for a while, the logical thing to do, dear readers, is to write a blog post.

In the middle of the night, all sorts of things occur to you.  “Did I lock the door?” “Do I have milk in the house?”

Regardless of these random thoughts, my primary focus continues to be my writing and publishing opportunities so I think I will opine on that, if you will bear with me.

As of this writing I have my short stories out to 32 different small press magazines for their consideration.  4 of those submissions were sent in 2010, and the remaining 28 were sent this year.

My submissions number is highly variable because I submit my work around several times a month while I am waiting for my responses. My sub number goes up or down depending on who is getting back to me and at what pace.

Now, my rejection list is a whole other story.  I have about 42 small press magazines who have rejected my submissions (thusfar) – and that includes both 2010 and 2011, since I’ve been tracking these things (I used to not want to know them).

Finally, my acceptance rate. While small, I’m pleased to say I have 4 total acceptances. One acceptance from 2009 (published in 2010); one acceptance from late 2010 (published in 2011); two acceptances from 2011: one has already been published in First Stop Fiction, the other awaits a final publication date. Not too shabby, reader!

Whoever said that getting your work published is a matter of patience and persistence is right. The same stories that were rejected elsewhere are getting published eventually.

Each time I get critical feedback – or encouragement – from an editor in the form of a rejection, I use the opportunity to go back to the story and make changes and enhancements.  I don’t always change my story based on this feedback (particularly if the feedback seems random), but I always try to view the story with fresh eyes.

This particular strategy has worked for me, of course your mileage may vary.  But I think I should note that all of my works that have been published thusfar are flash fiction – under 1000 words.  It is relatively easier to tinker with endings or make minor edits when the story is so small.

Another thing I have noticed is that although I submit my work very widely across as broad a spectrum of small lit. magazines as I think is feasible, I am also beginning to notice that there are a small handful that I submit to repeatedly because I think my work would fit best with them. 

In many cases it is also because I have gotten encouraging feedback from the editorial staff!  Some of my nicest rejections are complimentary and personal.  It’s their way of saying, while we couldn’t publish this story, we like your writing and you should definitely come back to us with other work.

These are my observations from my experiences over the past 18-24 months of actively submitting my work. I’d like to think I do have some good stories to tell, and a handful of magazines have validated that thought by publishing my work, and a good many more have validated that thought by rejecting my work in a way that is encouraging and re-inforces the idea of continuing to submit.

Another way of saying it, for writers who might be reading this post, is – 1) don’t give up; 2) use feedback constructively; 3) yes, it’s a bit of a numbers game to get your work published, if the stories are at the right quality level; 4) everyone’s experiences really are different.

Keep sending your work into the world and keep on writing new stories. It’s the only way to get published.