Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

How much do you make selling through Amazon's Kindle store?

If you're interested in this topic you might also want to read Half of self-published authors earn less than $500.

I recently uploaded my first fantasy novel to Amazon's Kindle Store. The idea behind making it available on Amazon is (1) to hopefully gain more exposure and (2) maybe make a buck or two in the process. I'd like to take a moment to look at the latter of those reasons by asking the following question: How much, really, can one make selling an e-book in the Kindle store?

First, there's what Amazon calls the "Suggested Retail Price", or SRP. This is set by the author at the time the e-book is uploaded:

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The price you charge can range from a minimum of $0.99 to a max only Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, or Bernie Madoff (before he admitted to his Ponzi scheme and was locked up for 150 years) could hope to afford. Amazon, however, discourages price points above $9.99; you'll find many bestsellers featured prominently on the Kindle store-front selling at this price due to discounts Amazon has applied.

That brings us to our next point of discussion: Amazon's discount. We've all seen it, where Amazon takes a product that normally retails for $129.99 and discounts it to $69.99. The same principle applies here, though the discount in no way impacts an author's royalty. From my extensive research (which consisted of reading through a handful of posts on the Amazon DTP Forums until I found this one), I discovered this statement from Customer Service:

"...please know that as per our terms and conditions, our decision to discount products is based on a number of considerations which can vary over time. You will continue to receive the set percentage of the list price you set for every sale, even if Amazon changes the retail price for your content."

What this basically means is that while there may not be a method to their madness concerning what gets discounted and by how much, if and when they do discount your e-book, it will not negatively affect your royalties.

So now we come to the royalty itself, or how much we actually make per sale. The simple answer is 35% of the SRP. For a longer answer one can look to Amazon's DIGITAL PUBLICATION DISTRIBUTION AGREEMENT:

5. Royalties. Provided you are not in breach of your obligations under this Agreement, we will pay you, for each Digital Book we sell, a royalty equal to thirty-five percent (35%) of the applicable Suggested Retail Price for such Digital Book, net of refunds, bad debt, and any taxes charged to a customer (including without limitation sales taxes) (a “Royalty”).

That means for every e-copy of The Hall of the Wood sold, currently priced at $0.99, I'll make $0.35. Amazon gets the remaining $0.64. As above, should Amazon choose to discount my e-book, I'll still make the 35% royalty on the original SRP, so still $0.35. I can adjust my price point up a bit and make a little more per unit sold, but of course can't drop it below the minimum $0.99 threshold.

So, that might be more information than you cared to know, but there it is.

Sell Your E-books in the Amazon Kindle Store

I've been interested in Amazon's Kindle digital book reader since its inception (though, admittedly, I didn't start blogging about it until the second version came out). I haven't bought one yet because I'm waiting for the inevitable price reduction, but that doesn't mean I haven't been exploring its features and some of the content for the device.

The biggest source of content for the Kindle is, of course, Amazon's Kindle Store. The store features a lot of e-books. A quick run down of some of the categories:

Fantasy 5,267 e-books
Science Fiction 7,299 e-books
Mystery & Thrillers 13,570 e-books

Total, there's over 300,000 titles available for download to your Kindle. That's a lot of books.

I recently discovered one of the best things about the Kindle store: anyone can post products there. JA Konrath clued me into the possibility, and he does a nice job of breaking down some of his own sales numbers. You can see that he's had no small success at it thus far. Granted, Konrath is a published author, so his name is out there via other, more traditional channels, but he also puts forth a lot of effort online as well. Nonetheless, is the possibility of an unpublished writer posting his or her work to the Kindle store gold waiting to be mined? I plan to find out.

As of a couple of days ago, my novel, The Hall of the Wood, is available for purchase via the Kindle store:

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I wanted to make the price $0.25, but $0.99 is the minimum allowed price. The one catch is that, of course, you must have a Kindle to which to download the e-book to. So, if you've already spent $300 for the device, what's another $0.99? ;-)

The concept of an unpublished author finding success in this channel is a challenge. As noted above, there are over 5,000 fantasy titles available for purchase in the Kindle store. How to make my novel stand out amongst those? For one, I created a book cover. Nothing fancy, but it gives the potential buyer something to look at other than "No image available". Second, I gave it a product description, which is the standard blurb taken from my web site:

Jed's wife and unborn child are dead, killed by a legacy he dare share with no one. Seeking a reprieve from his guilt, he sets out for his former home, the Ranger Hall of the Wood. Along the way, he discovers all is not well. Aliah Starbough, a friend from Jed's past, sends him a chilling warning: the rangers are dead, the Simarron Forest, thrown into peril. Nearby Homewood has issued a plea for help, a summonings which Kayra Weslin, knight errant, and her chronicler, Holly, answer. Along with Murik Alon Rin'kres, an Eslar sorcerer who harbors a secret purpose all his own, the four attempt to unravel the mystery of the missing rangers. They soon find tales of their disappearance frighteningly untrue.

The third way to gain attention is through customer reviews. This one is huge, and the one that in my mind will allow us as writers to break free of the traditional agent/publisher dependency. It's a stamp of approval, a guarantee of quality, a statement saying that your book is not crap. Customer reviews, to a point, validate a book's worth. In general, low reviews indicate a lack of quality. High reviews, the opposite. This is not to say that every review should be taken as gospel. But given enough reviews and a trend should emerge.

I often read of the struggle authors undergo in finding an agent or publisher. There's really no rhyme or reason to it: the decision-making is subjective, and how often have you come across a published novel that, to be frank, sucks? I've begun to doubt the vindication that supposedly comes with having your work blessed by a "real" publisher, and let's face it: business models change. We might be witnessing the beginning of the end for traditional publishers here. If not that, certainly a sea change in the way we purchase and read books.

The Hall of the Wood has been available as a free pdf download for a long time now. As Konrath points out, Amazon's web site gets a lot more traffic than his own. That volume has a lot of potential to increase sales. Selling on the Kindle store seems like a real no-brainer to me.