Comparison of mid-list self published and midlist traditional published

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rsullivan9597

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We hear a lot about the "outliers" in the self-publishing world (Amanda Hocking, John Locke), and those with traditional publishing backgrouns (Joe Konrath). So I thought I would do an analysis between two "ordinary authors" - i.e. those not at the top or the the bottom butin the midlist. I selected Jim C. Hines (because he is one of the few authors I have found that is willing to share his income money) and David Dalglish (who is the same genre and has the same number of boos released as Jim)

You can read the full breakdown here. But the gist of it can be summed up as follows:

It took Jim 4 years to release six-books and he can't make a living wage on his writing. David Dalglish has been at it less than a year and gone from making a few thosand a month to making a six-figure income.

Check it out and feel free to comment either here or there and I'll respond with any additonal information that perhaps didn't make it into the post.
 

RobJ

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Interesting, but too small a sample to be meaningful, I suspect.
 

Terie

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I also contend that Dalglish isn't the equivalent of a mid-list author. When I'm talking about the middle, I'm talking about THE FREAKING MIDDLE. In this context, the middle isn't defined by the number of titles published. It's the middle of the earnings pack.

Are you saying that the middle of the self-e-pubbed pack is earning 6 figures?

Or are you yet again comparing apples and lugnuts?
 

rsullivan9597

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I also contend that Dalglish isn't the equivalent of a mid-list author. When I'm talking about the middle, I'm talking about THE FREAKING MIDDLE. In this context, the middle isn't defined by the number of titles published. It's the middle of the earnings pack.

Are you saying that the middle of the self-e-pubbed pack is earning 6 figures?

Or are you yet again comparing apples and lugnuts?

No, the middle is not six-figures - but when I started this analysis - when I selected David to be my comparison he wasn't making that kind of money - he was making $3,000 a month and was very "average". Now I've said (time and time again) that Nov 2010 saw a dramatic increase in MOST of the "midlist" self-published authors and David happened to be one of them. It's not my fault that he went from $36,000 a year to $120,000 a year in such a short period of time.

But what happened to David, this rapid rise from "non-living" to 'living wage' is NOT an isolated case. March just ended and I'll be tallying results for people who are brave enough to post there number and will have some more data on this soon.
 

shadowwalker

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Two samples is not nearly enough to make any kind of reliable "finding". It's no different than all the names you've already been putting up - it's anecdotal.

I think everyone realizes how difficult it can be to get actual numbers - which is why people are skeptical of the financial claims for self-publishing.
 

Terie

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No, the middle is not six-figures - but when I started this analysis - when I selected David to be my comparison he wasn't making that kind of money - he was making $3,000 a month and was very "average". Now I've said (time and time again) that Nov 2010 saw a dramatic increase in MOST of the "midlist" self-published authors and David happened to be one of them. It's not my fault that he went from $36,000 a year to $120,000 a year in such a short period of time.

Robin, seriously, this is getting ridiculous. You keep throwing around numbers to support your contentions without even recognizing that they don't support your contentions.

First you claim in the very first post of this thread that you compared two 'mid-list' authors, only to turn around and admit a mere three posts later that the self-pubbed one isn't really mid-list but more of a top-seller. So despite your original claim, you actually compared a top-selling self-e-pubbed author to a mid-list commerical author to prove that mid-list self-e-pubbers make a lot more money than mid-list commercial ones. Fail.

Now you're saying that in November, he was making $3,000 a month and that that was the middle. So do you contend that the middle of the pack of self-e-pubbed authors in November was earning $3,000 a month? Can you cite a neutral third-party source for that? If not, we have yet another fail.
 

jnfr

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I agree that the commercial term "mid-lister" probably isn't helpful to use here. I don't think there's any problem with Robin's numbers per se, I mean, I believe she's reported the numbers from her sources correctly and her math looks fine to me. If you simplify her article to say "At a rough Amazon rank of X, an author could expect to be selling about Y number of books. At commercial publishing rates, you would take home $B and at self-publishing rates $C" that might be a sounder way of approaching the question.

Instead we have a problem of trying to compare very different total populations of writers, and we get caught up in issues of all the writers who will never make money, or significant money, from writing. Can we just stipulate from the start that most people who write, whether they publish themselves or end up in a slush pile, will never make money writing? Period. Full stop. Allowing them to self-publish doesn't change that.

But Robin's article, for me, was still a useful comparison because she did have more-or-less apples to apples - two writers both capable of writing at a professional level and finding an audience, with a similar number of books and other writing available, and neither of whom is a breakout (at least so far) like Hocking or Stephen King. Don't call it mid-list! But it is a reasonable approximation of what the life of a professional working writer might look like.

That life, whether commercially published or self-published, is a life that most who aspire to be writers will never live. But I didn’t get the impression that Robin was trying to say in that post “This is the life you will live if you self-publish.” I read her as pointing to the way in which a successful, professional - not very top edge money-wise - writer who finds an audience might well benefit more from self-publishing than from commercial publishing.
 
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efkelley

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I'm afraid that mid-list numbers from traditional publishing are typically on the low side. Many require a day job. Quite a few have put their backlists up, have not started making 100k a year, but are making a thousand to two thousand a month. Not all of them are enjoying that modest level. Some remain low, while others take off. I don't think there's a sample size large enough to adequately prove the point. We're still talking about luck.

However, a 2 dollar royalty is greater than a 1 dollar royalty. Given equal sales, the larger royalty always wins.

Exposure is an x-factor. A self-published midlister gets almost exactly the same support from their traditional press that a purely traditional midlister gets. They're still responsible for their website, bookings, facebook page, blogging, and promotions. They have the same access to reviewers and blurbs.

Self-published titles still make a higher royalty. That's the one number that can't be massaged by either side.
 

RobJ

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But Robin's article, for me, was still a useful comparison because she did have more-or-less apples to apples - two writers both capable of writing at a professional level and finding an audience, with a similar number of books and other writing available, and neither of whom is a breakout (at least so far) like Hocking or Stephen King. Don't call it mid-list!
But if you took two different authors at random from the 'mid-list' would you get the same answer, or could you draw a quite different conclusion? If the latter, then it brings into question how useful this comparison is. That's part of the problem with this comparison using just two authors.
 

Terie

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But Robin's article, for me, was still a useful comparison because she did have more-or-less apples to apples - two writers both capable of writing at a professional level and finding an audience, with a similar number of books and other writing available, and neither of whom is a breakout (at least so far) like Hocking or Stephen King. Don't call it mid-list! But it is a reasonable approximation of what the life of a professional working writer might look like.

No, Robin didn't compare like to like. The title of this thread, which she named, is 'Comparison of mid-list self published and midlist traditional published', and she compared a topselling self-published author to a midlist commercial author.

Had she said this was a comparison of two random authors, one self-pubbed and the other commercial, the title would be factually correct, but the numbers meaningless.

In point of fact, the title of this thread is misleading, because she absolutely did NOT compare mid-list authors from both types.

And she KNOWS she didn't compare like to like...she admitted it immediately.

How exactly is presenting intentionally misleading data helpful to someone trying to make a business decision?

However, a 2 dollar royalty is greater than a 1 dollar royalty. Given equal sales, the larger royalty always wins.

(snip)

Self-published titles still make a higher royalty. That's the one number that can't be massaged by either side.

Yes, a $2 royalty is greater than a $1 one. No argument there.

And indeed, currently, self-e-pubbed titles are earning a higher royalty rate. (Although it's worthy of note that Amazon could drop that 70% rate at any time.)

The 'given equal sales' is where we move into speculation.
 
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kaitie

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As someone who knows a little about statistics, a much better method for doing this would be to randomly select dozens of authors who are commercially published and dozens who are self-published (AT RANDOM) and then average their sales over a particular period (let's say one year). You'd have to be careful that said period accounted for when royalty statements are given so that you don't accidentally end up cutting out a couple of months of sales for a commercially published author. This would give you a good idea of the average number of sales for each version. You could even do three categories--commercially published print, commercially published ebook, and self-published ebook.

The next step would be to find out the royalty rates for each person and calculate how much was actually made (or theoretically earned for commercially published if we are looking solely at books sold and not taking into account an advance) and determine whether or not a higher royalty rate for self-published authors actually outperforms the average gross income for commercially published authors.

A final, but more difficult step, would be to then compare advances and whether or not commercially published authors perform better as a result of getting an advance or not. After all, it's possible that a person gets a $10,000 advance on a novel that only sells enough to earn $5,000 in royalties, but the author still benefits from the extra $5,000. Considering many books don't earn out their advances, authors are usually coming out on the winning side and might be, on average, making more money than the number of books sold actually indicates.

Now, I'm not a statistics expert by any means, but your "study" is not a study. First of all, you need at least 30 subjects before you can be considered to have worthwhile data to draw a conclusion from. Otherwise your margin of error (the percent chance that your conclusions are wrong) gets higher and higher. Statistics works by averaging large amounts of data from a variety of sources to try to determine an effect. You can't make that kind of determination based on two cases.

Second, you can't just arbitrarily decide what constitutes mid-list. By definition a midlist author isn't a best-seller, and thus you've already made a mistake. Even if he was midlist to begin with, he wasn't by the time you finished your data collection. Think of it this way: If the commercially published author had suddenly turned out to have become the next Twilight and sold a million copies, would you still be arguing that because when you first included her she looked midlist, or would you say that she had reached bestseller status and thus no longer was appropriate for your comparison?

Also, it's very difficult to determine midlist for something like epublishing that's so new that there isn't much data out there. I just saw a list in a thread somewhere saying sixty ebook authors had sold over a thousand books in a month. Okay, that's fine. So is 1000 books going to be midlist by that definition? Considering that information was presented as a sign of an author doing well, should it be considered high end? There's only one real way to know how to answer that, and that's to say sixty out of how many.

If only 100 authors had published books last month and sixty of those sold over 1000 copies, then obviously 1000 is a fair amount to expect. Now, if 10,000 people had published books on Kindle last month, the fact that 60 people sold more suddenly becomes a lot less impressive, doesn't it? In the first case, 60% of people sold that much, in the second case, it was .6% Big difference, huh?

I don't really know that 10,000 people published (may be less, may be more, may be far more) but what I am saying is that without actual data and knowledge about how many people are publishing and what their average sales are, it's impossible to call someone a midlist author. It's entirely possible that any author who is selling enough books on Kindle to be recognized and on a list is going to be selling many, many more copies than the average Joe. You can't just say $3,000 because it sounds reasonable.

This is why you use a big sample size and why you choose at random. The bigger your sample, the more accurate your average numbers will be. You can't pick and choose cases if you want to draw serious conclusions.

Also, most analyses of this type will involve programs that run the data for you and one of the things you can do is eliminate the outliers--the ones that are so far from average that they're going to skew your results one way or the other. Meaning, if the average book is selling 1000 a month, that person who sold 1 copy or the person who sold 100,000 is going to be able to make the average look much higher or lower than it really is. Generally speaking, you don't want to include an outlier in your data, and that's exactly what you've done.

I'd love to see a study like this done well, though.
 
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rsullivan9597

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In October I got the idea of picking two authors and I picked Jim and David. I never got around to doing the comparision until the other day - and by then times had changed so I posted with "most recent numbers" not the ones I had from October.

But the point still remains - David Dalglish is not a midlister in the indie self-publishing community. Personally I lump anyone in the 1,000 - 10,000 as a "firm mid-list" for self-publishing. Anyone 10,000+ a month can be considered an outlier. I can't think of any other self-published author to compare Jim with - i.e. six fantasy books for sale and therefore I stand by the fact that these are still two good comparisions. If you choose to stick your head in the sand or your fingers in your ears - that's your perogative but it doesn't change the data.
 

rsullivan9597

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As someone who knows a little about statistics, a much better method for doing this would be to randomly select dozens of authors who are commercially published and dozens who are self-published (AT RANDOM) and then average their sales over a particular period (let's say one year).

I'd love to see a study like this done well, though.

You and me both! The problem is the data is limited and I can only work with what I have.
 

shadowwalker

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As someone who knows a little about statistics, a much better method for doing this would be to randomly select dozens of authors who are commercially published and dozens who are self-published (AT RANDOM) and then average their sales over a particular period (let's say one year)....

THANK YOU! This is precisely what I've been trying to get at (unsuccessfully) through many posts.
 

shadowwalker

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If you choose to stick your head in the sand or your fingers in your ears - that's your perogative but it doesn't change the data.

You have no 'data'. You have, once again, ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE. Just because you choose to go this route over and over again does not change that fact.

If wishes were horses...
 

RobJ

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If you choose to stick your head in the sand or your fingers in your ears - that's your perogative but it doesn't change the data.
I don't think anyone is sticking their head in the sand or their fingers in their ears, or even challenging the data. The data is what it is. What's being challenged is your use of the data. The flaws in what you've done in this comparison have been clearly stated. By sticking to your guns despite having those flaws made known to you, you risk ridicule. Tough on you, perhaps, because of your blog post, but you probably ought to just hold your hand up to the mistake and stop using this comparison as it isn't a particularly useful one.
 

kaitie

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In October I got the idea of picking two authors and I picked Jim and David. I never got around to doing the comparision until the other day - and by then times had changed so I posted with "most recent numbers" not the ones I had from October.

But the point still remains - David Dalglish is not a midlister in the indie self-publishing community. Personally I lump anyone in the 1,000 - 10,000 as a "firm mid-list" for self-publishing. Anyone 10,000+ a month can be considered an outlier. I can't think of any other self-published author to compare Jim with - i.e. six fantasy books for sale and therefore I stand by the fact that these are still two good comparisions. If you choose to stick your head in the sand or your fingers in your ears - that's your perogative but it doesn't change the data.

First, I understand that data is limited, but when faced with limitations, we don't draw conclusions anyway. We recognize the need for better data and try to find it.

The problem here is that you're saying 10,000+ a MONTH could be considered an outlier. I think you have a skewed view on how many books the average midlister sells even commercially. Here's a good post by Neil Gaiman on the topic.

He says an average established midlister can expect $30,000 to $50,000 advance. Based on around 10% of cover (trying to keep numbers simple), and so let's say for argument's sake (again simplicity) the cover price is $15. That's $1.50 per book, which means a range of 20,000 to 33,000 books sold total on the book to earn out. That's a pretty good amount for a print book that's in bookstores. Also, keep in mind that many authors don't earn out their advances, so maybe only sell 15,000 copies, maybe even 10,000, and are considered a decent investment.

So essentially you're giving a number in one month that would be the equivalent to an ebook selling in one month to two months what would be considered acceptable for a print midlist author over the lifespan of the book.

Yes, obviously that person is an outlier, but my point is that anything over 10,000 or 20,000 ever is probably an outlier.

Now, also consider that self-published ebooks are a very different animal than a commercially published print book, which is still where the majority of sales come from. There has often been a discrepancy noted by those with print books vs. ebooks that often those with print will sell more copies because they're in book stores and able to reach a wider audience. Nathan Bransford did a post on this the other day and gave e-books a (rather generous by some accounts) market ratio of 27%, which would mean that you are only able to reach 27% of the viable market by publishing only ebooks.

Also, add into account that, traditionally speaking, self-published books have a long history of vastly underperforming commercially published books in terms of sales. Without backing, quality editing, good covers, marketing, etc., the self-published author is at a disadvantage and often sells fewer books. For print, the numbers were about 75 copies on average. Ever. In essence, family and friends bought them, and that was about it. Yes, there were always a few authors who took off and sold thousands, but for a print book, anything over 100 could be considered above average.

So, back to the main problem. Obviously some people are selling very well via ebook. I think it's Veinglory that has a nice site where she gives numbers of ebooks sold for people who are commercially published for a variety of different established publishers. I can't find the site right now, but I do seem to remember that, compared to print, the numbers were much more modest. Maybe somewhere in the 500~2,000 range. If someone has the link to that, could you please post it? I'm not sure if my numbers are right.

So, in any case, let's assume that my numbers are at least close. Hell, let's be uber-generous and take the higher number. Now that would be 2,000 sold over a long period, not a month. And these are established presses with established fan bases and marketing who provide editing and covers, so I'm being extra generous because I'm actually allowing the assumption that the average self-published author will get the same numbers when history has shown that this is not the case.*

Essentially, an average seller for ebooks in this case would be 2,000, compared to a print midlist of 20,000. Let's factor in a $2.99 royalty rate for the ebook, and that author would earn about $6,000. Much less than the $30,000 earned by the commercially published midlister.

Now, obviously some ebook authors earn much, much more than this. But we're still missing that key bit of information: What is the average for ebooks total? On one hand, dozens of people are publishing ebooks and doing better than the majority of commercially printed authors. On the other, many thousands of people are trying, and the vast majority are not going to find that success.

Now, if you really wanted to be accurate in your data, you would also find out how much money was spent by self-published authors before their books went out. JA Konrath even says that you could get a book edited and a good cover (which he considers a requirement) for $2,000. If someone has actually paid money for these services, that should come out of their royalty rate if you want to consider the actual amount earned.

This might not seem fair, but when you consider that even self-publishing advocates are saying that these steps are necessary to expect sales. A book might earn $10,000, but if you spent $2,000 to have it published, then the net gain is really only $8,000.

I know this is a long post, but my point is that there is an awful lot to consider, and based on everything I've seen, your numbers are skewed by your expectations of how you think things are, probably based on your husband's experiences. He has had a lot of success. That's amazing and commendable, but please be aware that he is not the norm.




*To clarify, this is not okay statistically. I'm doing it here to make a point. Statistically, you'd still need to find the REAL average.
 
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kaitie

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I also wanted to say that very few published authors ever make enough to live on it. I've heard 1% tossed around. It's probably more than that, but it's definitely the exception and not the rule.

Of course, every author wants to be able to make a living off their writing, but the fact of the matter is that it's going to be very difficult to manage. I think it seems wrong to many of us because there's a misconception that authors make a ton of money, so when we look at an author making ten thousand dollars for a book, that just seems piddly and wrong. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of authors have day jobs.

There are three ways to achieve this level of success: 1) Have a really understanding spouse who is willing and able to support you, 2) write a runaway bestseller, and 3) stay successful in the business long enough to build an established readership and keep a backlist of several books in print that will earn enough in royalties cumulatively to survive on (and this might be a modest amount by most standards).

None of those are easy to do, no matter what you're medium, and they all take a lot of work and a fair amount of luck. To complain that an author doesn't make enough to earn a living is a little unfair because the truth is it should be the expectation.
 

jnfr

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That's just what I was thinking when I read your first post, Katie. Anyone getting commercially published is already an outlier, but making a living at it is a huge outlier.
 

rsullivan9597

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Pointing out that most mid-list traditional authors don't make a living wage just reinforces my point because their mid-list self-publishing counter parts ARE making living wages.


David is not an outlier - he is "middle of the pack" for "successful self-published authors". I define this goup as selling between 1,000 - 10,000 books a month.

I'm not counting people like Hocking, Locke, and Konrath I'm talking about the people I converse with whose MARCH 2011 sales are as follows:

- David 6,554
- Ellen Fisher 11,000+
- HP Mallory 20,000+
- BV Larson - 20,000+
- Stephen Carpenter 20,000+
- Debie Mack - 20,000+
- Vickie Lieskie - 20,000+
- Michael Sullivan 5,286
- Imogen Rose 5,882
- Siebel Hodge 6,314
- Martin Sharlow 5,096
- N. Gemini Sasson 2,017
- David McAffee 3,918
- Teri Reed 7,002
- William Esselmont 3,166
- Blake Crouch 14,000
- Michael Wallace 8,628
- Sandra Edwards 10,107
- Eric Carpenter 3,000
- Anne Marie Novak 4,252
- J.L. Bryan 2,460
- Jan Hurst Nicholson -3,475
- Julie Christenson - 4,758

In this group of people David's 6,500 books for March is very non-outlier. And keep in mind that in October when I started looking at him his reported number were around 800 per month - he just grew quickly.
 
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Terie

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David is not an outlier - he is "middle of the pack" for "successful self-published authors". I define this goup as selling between 1,000 - 10,000 books a month.

So what if you define 'mid-lister' that way? Why do you think that everyone else should accept your definition? Most people don't define the top 95-99 percentile of a group as being 'the middle'. You have picked a number that supports your opinion. It is a completely arbitrary definition. You have no data to support your contention.

I could arbitrarily decide that an annual salary of $1 million to $10 million per annum is the 'middle of the pack' for annual US income. I could look at the salaries of two people and compare them to this arbitrary definition. I could draw conclusions about this. For example, let's say one of my subjects was the CEO of a manufacturing firm who earned $3mil/year and lived in a penthouse in New York City, and the other was the CEO of a hedge fund who earned $9mil/year and lived in a countryside mansion. Could I then state definitively that middle-income Americans are highly likely to live in mansions and penthouses? After all, that's what the data of my case study showed.

But there are an awful lot of people who would dispute my definition of middle-income Americans, and rightfully so.
 
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Rhonda9080

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I'm afraid that mid-list numbers from traditional publishing are typically on the low side. Many require a day job. Quite a few have put their backlists up, have not started making 100k a year, but are making a thousand to two thousand a month. Not all of them are enjoying that modest level. Some remain low, while others take off. I don't think there's a sample size large enough to adequately prove the point. We're still talking about luck.

However, a 2 dollar royalty is greater than a 1 dollar royalty. Given equal sales, the larger royalty always wins.

Exposure is an x-factor. A self-published midlister gets almost exactly the same support from their traditional press that a purely traditional midlister gets. They're still responsible for their website, bookings, facebook page, blogging, and promotions. They have the same access to reviewers and blurbs.

Self-published titles still make a higher royalty. That's the one number that can't be massaged by either side.

My feet aren't firmly in either camp - but I gotta say - some $$$ is better than no $$$. Maybe this is behind the choice many self or e-pubs make?
 

kaitie

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Pointing out that most mid-list traditional authors don't make a living wage just reinforces my point because their mid-list self-publishing counter parts ARE making living wages.


David is not an outlier - he is "middle of the pack" for "successful self-published authors". I define this goup as selling between 1,000 - 10,000 books a month.

I'm not counting people like Hocking, Locke, and Konrath I'm talking about the people I converse with whose MARCH 2011 sales are as follows:

In this group of people David's 6,500 books for March is very non-outlier.

And you're still missing the point. The people most likely to be heard of and most likely to be someone you would converse with are the ones who have better sales by definition. You've heard of them because they are a success. Period. It's like saying that because Peter Straub, Stephen King, and Neil Gaiman are all people I've read recently and they have major sales and make millions of dollars, then any author at a small publisher can expect the same results. I know you probably don't recognize that, but it's true.

You're still pointing out what are very, very likely to be the highest sellers as the norm, when in fact I would be absolutely shocked if they represented more than .5% of the number of people who self-publish. Hell, the number of people with e-books, self or commercially published.

You can't even go pull the first names you find off Amazon because Amazon is automatically going to make the ones that sell bigger more prominent and the ones that sell less hardly even come up in searches half the time. I mean that literally because I've looked up several self-published authors before that I had to do multiple searches on to even find their books.

You have no idea what the average is because you don't know everyone who does it. It's also difficult to gain info on people who have very low sales because a lot of people don't like to admit it. It's the same way on here you can ask something like "How many queries have you sent?" and the vast majority of responses are going to be "Fifteen before I got my agent." Most people don't want to say "I've sent out 500 and never got an agent." Does that make 15 the average? Hell no. It means there are a lot of people who don't want to admit what they view as lack of success.

In the last 30 days, there were 13,000 new releases for "fiction" for the Kindle. In the last 90, it was 24,000. The amount has literally gone up by 200 in the past five minutes.

I'm doing something now. It's not going to be horribly reliable, but I'm curious. It's just going to take me awhile to finish.
 
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