2011: Year of the Indie Author

Don’t take my word for it.  The writing has been on the wall since 2007, when Amazon launched its Kindle e-reader.  Sales rocketed to the tune of $9.99 digital best-sellers, available on the same day as hardcover editions, and without ever braving the mobs or getting stuck in traffic.

Of course, on the surface, $9.99 looks a bit more robust than the 0.99 pricing facing the Indie author today, but there is no shortage of mainstream Indie authors (that’s right, mainstream) who will tell you otherwise.

“Every seven seconds, twenty-four hours a day, a John Locke novel is downloaded somewhere in the world.”

 “I’m new to the writing game. But if I’d started self-publishing even three years ago, I would have spent all my time trying to prove to the public I’m just as good as the top authors in America. These days, the burden of proof is on them. Now the best authors in America have to prove they’re ten times better than me. And in a game like that, I like my chances.”


Last March, John Locke sold 369,000 downloads on amazon alone, all 99-cent eBooks.  At 35-cents per title, he’s reporting his Amazon publishing revenue at $126,000 just for the month of March, 2011.  (You can find his titles at Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Apple as well.)

Locke argues the pricing issue this way:

These days the buying public looks at a $9.95 eBook and pauses. It’s not an automatic sale. And the reason it’s not is because the buyer knows when an eBook is priced ten times higher than it has to be. And so the buyer pauses. And it is in this pause—this golden, sweet-scented pause—that we independent authors gain the advantage, because we offer incredible value.

Ask not what your publisher can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your publishing!


For an Indie like Locke, doing business with the large New York publishing houses is pointless.  In fact, he has everything he
needs already.  “It wouldn’t be fun for me,” Locke told the Wall Street Journal.  “I don’t want to be told when to publish, I don’t want to soften my
character, and I don’t want to be told what stories to write.”

These points begin to reveal the clairvoyance of Mark Coker, CEO and Founder of Smashwords.  Last Christmas, Coker
offered up these:

Top Five Predictions for E-Publications for 2011.

1. Ebook sales rise, unit consumption surprises.  (Why?  Ebooks cost less and Ebook readers read more.)

2. Agents write the next chapter of the ebook revolution.  (How?  They’ll leverage against publishing houses, “You’re offering my author only 15-20% list on ebooks when I can get them 60-70% list working direct with an ebook distributor like Smashwords or a retailer like Amazon?”)

3. More big authors reluctant to part with digital rights.  Ebook publishing offer tempting advantages, economic, faster, more
flexible publishing cycle, and greater market visibility with lower cost/higher profit books.
The advantages will entice more professional authors to self-publish some or all of their future catalog, and all of their reverted-rights catalog.

4. Self publishing goes from option of last resort to option of first resort among unpublished authors.  As unpublished authors bypass the slush pile, publishers lose first dibs on tomorrow’s future stars.

5. Ebook prices to fall. Indie authors, since they earn 60-70% retail price, can compete at price points big publishers can’t touch.

Amazon’s Top 50

As I write this (6/10/2011), thirteen titles of Amazon’s Top 50 Bestsellers are priced below two bucks.  Seven of those are 99-cent eBooks.  I’ve not heard of any of those authors, though I’m sure they’re terrific.  After all, their works are listed alongside such titles as, Bossypants by Tina Fey
($12.99), 10th Anniversary, by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro (12.99), or The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, by Stieg Larsson (12.99).

After reading John Locke’s market reasoning, one has to wonder how/if the $13 book can prove itself thirteen times better than their $1 competitors.

Stephen Leather is another successful 99-cent author.  He was even gracious enough to post his Amazon sales charts for December 2010 on his blog.  Leather sold 43,827 books at 99-cents, as compared to the sales of his 507 “premium” priced books.  (The “premium” priced books referenced, today, are selling for £1.98 and £4.45 respectively.)  Though he listed market reasons and quality reasons as contributing factors for the different prices, he did concede that he was partially motivated to indulge in a little market experimentation.  Also, Stephen teases us with a mystery every author has or will one day consider:

There’s another reason that the two Thailand-based books don’t sell as well as my three cheap books. That’s because they haven’t been picked up by Amazon’s automated recommendation system.

(If we can crack the automated recommendation system, I think we’d have the keys to the world, right?)

Then there’s the other name that keeps coming up when people talk about Indie authors, a twenty-something traditional pub “reject” who struck out on her own.  Her story is that she collected “hundreds” of rejection letters before deciding to sell her books for 99-cents online.  Of course, I’m talking about Amanda Hocking.

Last February alone, Hocking sold a whopping 227,515 total units (all nine of her works).  Barnes and Noble reported 55,135 units, and CreateSpace another 2,948.  Round her sales off at 280,000, factor in Amazon’s 35% royalties for books under a $2.99, and she’s doing pretty well for an author no one wanted to publish.

In fact, the real question is: How can traditional publishers compete?

I gather that selling 20,000 books in a month is a compelling way to earn a spot on the New York Times Bestseller List.  Authors like Dan Brown,
James Patterson, Danielle Steele have cemented their reputations there, but Locke, Hocking, and Leather are trouncing those numbers.  Ladies and gentlemen, the era of the Indie author is upon us.  There’s no going back.