Truth About E-Sales of Fiction

The simmering conflict between those who publish with electronic publishers versus those who publish with traditional publishers boils over periodically.


In case you're not aware of what this conflict is all about, I'll give you my opinion. Like Aretha sang, it's about respect, baby. E-published authors think they get no respect and aren't considered "real" authors.

As what some call a "real" author meaning someone published with a traditional print publisher, let me say that a "real" author is someone who has written a book-length work and had it published by someone who pays them for the right to publish that work. So if that is you, E or print, then welcome to the inner circle of strife, conflict, and struggle known as a writing career.

The rest is just dollars and cents.

Money, Money, Money, Money

The only difference between an E-published author and a paper-published author is money. In just about every instance, the traditionally published print author will make more money than the E-published author. If you read my previous blog about distribution, then you know why I make that statement.

My books have never gone out of print since they were published. At the present time, I have only one that I haven't resold this year. (Guess I need to get busy on it huh?) Through the years, somewhere on this planet my books have been published in print editions since 1993. I don't know if the same holds true for E-published books. Let me tell you, that ability to resell rights can keep you afloat as a writer.

As a professional writer, I always look at the bottom line. The crucial question is how much income can an author derive from a published book. I like to think outside the box so I'm very interested in what E-published writers are earning. In fact, I posed the question to several authors a while back.

Reality vs. Hype

I wasn't surprised, and, yet, I was surprised. Many authors claimed to be making tons of money with their E-publishers but they don't give facts and figures. In fact, they become defensive when asked. A few go on the offensive and charge anyone who asks with being inflammatory, etc.

I have to applaud and respect an author who readily posted her stats though they were disappointingly small. (I think as writers that we're all looking for good-paying publishers.) This author admitted that her biggest problem was getting her book to readers. (That old bugaboo distribution.)

She made the point that her book was a traditional romance, which she chooses to write because that's the kind of story that comes to her. (If you're a writer, you know what she means.) She said quite frankly that her friends who write erotica or erotic romance really are doing well financially. She's seen their earnings statements. I believe her too.

Quantity Counts

The top income-producers among E-authors publish many books a year. It's not uncommon to see a best-selling E-author with half a dozen or more books published each year. Now that's prolific by any standards. Most authors couldn't produce that quantity of books even if they wanted to. More books mean more income.

Anonymity Helps

If you think about it, Internet buying is the "plain brown wrapper" of retailing. It's about as anonymous as you can get so many readers feel free to indulge their tastes for the spicy when they might feel constrained to buy a book of this genre at their local bookstore, assuming the store stocked it.

Sex Sells

So if you want to E-publish fiction, sex sells much better than the more conventional books, but you'd better be a fast writer if you want to make decent money. Of course, many erotica and erotic romance authors hope to build a readership and get discovered by a big publisher. That has happened for some.

Takeaway Truth

Though E-publishing hasn't lived up to the much-ballyhooed label as "the future of publishing," I believe their market share will continue to grow. It may eventually equal or surpass the sale of print books, but that's far in the future. That doesn't mean you should discount them as a viable market. It just means you should do your homework, check out the stability of the publisher, separate the facts from the hype, and make an intelligent decision for your book, your career, and you. That's true whether you choose E-publishing or print.


  1. One advantage to e-publishing in learning the business. Dealing with the editing process, marketing, and all the other peripherals. My books didn't fit the narrower confines of the print market, yet an e-publisher was willing to take a chance. The fact that my books have appeared as contest finalists alongside the NYT best selling authors says readers don't always agree with the 'rules' of what's acceptable for publication.

    As someone who writes for a primarily electronic publisher, I can vouch for the fact that erotica sells, probably something like 100 to 1 over mainstream.

    But I also have a book coming out in print, in hard cover. Will I make more money on that one? I don't know. It's with a small press, so the distribution is probably going to be as limited as the e-book market.

    As for being 'out of print' -- e-books tend to remain in print as long as the publisher is in business, because there's no problem of storage, shipping, or production cost once the books are formatted. Readers can pick up back lists with little trouble.

    I think the e-market is in its infancy. I also know I buy "print" published books in great quantity in their electronic versions. My e-Book reader has as many NY big names on it as it has 'mere' e-book authors. It's a matter of convenience of reading for me. Sometimes the e-book is a better option, such as for travel, or when I just plain run out of room on my shelves. And, of course, there's the green factor. No trees are destroyed with e-books, no landfills overflowing when you decide you don't want to keep the book anymore. And if I decide at 11 pm that I want something new to read, it's only a click away.

    There's no reason to assume the e-market is trying to replace print. There's a place for both, and it should be about choices. There shouldn't be a controversy, or any stigma attached to anything that brings a reader pleasure.

  2. Excellent comment, Terry. Well said. Would you like to guest blog sometime here at Sling Words and present what you see as benefits in the form of a blog since you're experienced with E-publishing?

  3. I've done a workshop on pros and cons of e-publishing, which included responses from a fair number of readers and authors, so if you'd like my views, I'll be happy to be a guest.

  4. Great, Terry. I'll email you privately to set something up.