Friday, April 6, 2012

Talking About Money in Public

by L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers
Recently Kindle Review, a blog that tracks indie authors’ Amazon sales, posted its list of the top 50 indie authors for 2011. I was surprised and pleased to be listed at #11. I never reported my sales to them. In fact, I don’t know my actual sales numbers for last year because I’ve never taken the time to add them up. The blog contacted me again near the end of March and asked for my numbers for the month. I wasn’t sure how to respond.

It makes me uncomfortable to give exact sales numbers in public—for a lot of reasons. Despite my openness in most other regards, I’ve never been comfortable discussing my salary with anyone other than my husband. I think it’s mostly out of concern for the feelings of others who might be financially struggling. The information might also give people a false idea of my lifestyle. Without knowing a person’s expenses and responsibilities, how can you know what their income means?

This is more of an issue with ebooks because the royalty rates are public and simple to calculate. I worry that people will do the math wrong and think: 10,000 books at $2 each, that’s twenty grand. They have no idea how many of the books sold at $.99 for a .35 cent royalty...and how little money that adds up to.

So I didn’t give the blog specific information. Still, they listed me first on their Authors to Watch list and reported my estimated sales. It was a little weird to see that number, and I’m not sure where they got it. But it probably wasn’t difficult, and I know how I would do it (based on rankings and another author’s reported sales).

A lot of authors have called for transparency in reporting sales. Some traditional authors have posted their royalty statements online, and Joe Konrath has been very open about his sales and royalty income. (He must not have poor and needy family members. <grin>)

I’m not sure I’ll ever be comfortable talking about income in public, yet I expect this issue to come up again and again. Amusingly, I have an interview with Amazon this morning for their newsletter, and the person may ask about my numbers. Which is ironic, because the company actually has a better idea than I do.

So what do you think? Writers: Do you report or talk about actual sales numbers (or income) publicly? Readers: Do you think writers should?

16 comments:

  1. I never talk about money publicly. I have close friends and family members who know what I earn, but I have no interest in sharing my income with the world.

    In all honesty, however, I don't mind when others, like Konrath, share theirs. It certainly gives me inspiration to try going the indie route.

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  2. What an intriguing post, L.J.

    Authors published traditionally are encouraged not to discuss their "deals" because what one author is contracted for does not necessarily equate to the deal their colleague received. Deep, dark and mysterious.

    As a newly published author, I appreciate the transparency, but as you stated, without knowing ALL of the numbers, having a few of them can be very misleading. However, learning I could make a living doing what I love was a wonderful revelation.

    I think I will be very cautious about sharing any information about my sales. I'm not sure readers really care (they just want a good book) and each writer is ultimately going to have to make their own decisions about expenditures and pricing and marketing. Everyone's mileage will vary.

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  3. My feeling is that it should be up to the individual to choose whether they want to disclose this information or not.

    As a reader, I don't care about that. Some books get trendy and get a lot of sales even though they're not really all that great, in my opinion - sometimes it's just a "jump on the bandwagon" kind of thing. I'd rather decide for myself who and what I'll read.

    That said, it must be great for authors (like you, LJ, and Drew) to see your names on these lists! Kudos!

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  4. I find it incredible that people expect entertainers (actors, writers) to disclose their financials when they wouldn't expect it of any other profession (except maybe politicians).

    It should be up to the individual and IMO everyone should be pretty conservative about how much they tell.

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  5. Public display of sensitive business information rarely serves anyone, and could lead to mischaracterization of those in the writing craft. Not many authors "do it" for the money -- or at least -- not for long .

    That said, newcomers to the profession *do* need guidance and information to avoid the pitfalls that exist in the industry. Fortunately excellent craft-oriented blogs and groups exist where disclosure is well-served, tempered with details, and hope still abounds. Good, thoughtful post, LJ.

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  6. I'm as torn as everyone else. No one asks my sales figures, which is good because I compare myself to everyone who is making TONS OF MONEY and think I'm not doing so well. I guess I'd rather people NOT go around cyber-bragging about how many thousands of copies of a book they sold today. It makes me cranky, unless they're friends of mine and then I'm truly excited for them.

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  7. I struggled long and hard over whether to reveal my sales for this list. At the time, I honestly had no idea I'd place so high on it.

    In the end, I made the decision to allow it. That was not an easy choice for me because I've never, over the course of my career, shared my sales figures with anyone other than close family and colleagues.

    The reason I finally decided to reveal my sales numbers is the same reason why being on the list means so much to me: it sends a message loud and clear that the Indie Author Movement is going strong--stronger than ever. I understood there might be some who would criticize me for revealing my sales, but it was more important to me that others who have struggled and faced rejection--just like I have--know that they can find their audience regardless of those who had told them they wouldn't. I wanted to encourage them. Granted, I can do that simply by placing high on the list, but somehow I think that numbers can often speak even louder than words, and I want there to be no mistake about it, that the power is back where it belongs: in the readers' hands. The playing field has been made even.

    Congrats to you L.J. for your achievements on this list and on many other fronts. Your success has helped pave the way for countless others.

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  8. Thanks, everyone, for commenting. This is a sensitive subject, but worthy of discussion. The decision is up to the individual, and I appreciate that some people are willing to disclose their incomes. It can be inspiring to new writers. Especially when well-respected legacy-published authors are saying,"Dot not self-publish." When you look at the sales/money of hundreds, if not thousands, of indie authors, you have to ask "Why the hell not?"

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  9. Thanks for posting, Drew. I hope you didn't take this blog as a criticism of your decision. Believe me, it's not. I struggled over the issue, and I assumed that you did too. The fact that we went in different directions is what makes this discussion so interesting. I admire your success and willingness to share it with others. I wish I could be more open about this, but I'm in position with family members that I just can't.

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  10. I didn't take it that way in the least. It's an interesting discussion, and it was reassuring to see that another author struggled with it as much I did. I think the fact we went different directions illustrates both sides of the issue very well.

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  11. You're doing great things LJ!

    Isn't it weird that people feel free to ask you how much you make. It's like being a writer gives them license to ask about your finances.

    Do we really need to tell them? I hope not.

    On a related note, I watched a fantastic video yesterday on the power of monetary motivation. It is well worth the few minutes to watch.

    Check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc

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  12. I've never had anybody press me for my sales. I don't find it expected at all.

    I do feel a responsibility to give some indication of my slow sales, however. Because people with low numbers are less likely to post, I think people get a wrong impression of how most people do.

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  13. One of the most frequent questions I get is 'how is the book doing?'

    I'm sure most people are trying to make conversation and don't want a spreadsheet breakdown, but I do think it is a bit intrusive if the implication is I want to know how much money you're making.

    I certainly don't mind if other authors share their sales figures. To each his own.

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  14. Daring Novelist,

    You are right. Lots of people think if you are a writer you are making millions. But there are almost as many who think making a living as a writer is impossible.

    With e-books it's possible to live somewhere in that middle ground.

    Sara, I'm with you. I never mind someone asking how a book is selling.

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  15. A great piece about writers and managing money, written by Lawrence Block in 1981. http://bit.ly/I2QHoj

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  16. I don't think there's any need to share exact sales figures or income, but I do like to hear individual stories from self publishers, as I think it gives people perspective. It's not just the numbers, but the larger picture. If someone self published a niche book and was happy selling 200 copies in a year, that's great -- and a range of experiences helps us manage our own expectations. You tend to hear about the huge successes, and then to hear that most self published books sell fewer than 100 copies. Isn't there anything in between?

    I have shared some of my general sales information on my blog, without specific dollar amounts -- for example how my different types of self published books compare to each other and to my traditional books.

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