Show me the money!

By Joe Moore

dutch11First, some breaking news to share–MONTEZUMA’S WRAAK, the Dutch version of my new thriller, THE PHOENIX APOSTLES (co-written with Lynn Sholes) was released on August 18 by my Netherlands publisher Karakter Uitgevers.B.V. Here’s a look at the cover.

And now for today’s post.

According to a recent article in Forbes, the sale of adult hardcover novels was down 23% in the first half of this year. Despite the downturn, some authors are holding their own. Their names may be familiar. Chances are you’ve read a few of their books. So why are these guys doing so well while most of the industry is in a state of funk? Forbes attributes it to the increasing popularity of ebooks, but even more so the diversification of these writers’ personal brands.

money (Small)James Patterson is a good example. Mr. Patterson signed a 17-book, $150m book deal in 2009 with Hachette. Teaming up with a number of co-authors, he placed 20 titles on Publishers Weekly’s year-end bestseller list. Those titles totaled 10m copies. In addition, he sold 750k ebooks. He’s also expanded into the YA market with great success.

Other examples of authors doing well in tight times is Stephenie Meyer, whose Twilight series at one point accounted for 15% of all books sold in the US; and J.K. Rowling, who is about to jump into the electronic book market by launching Pottermore, her new virtual online bookstore. Pottermore will offer ebook versions of her novels compatible with any e-reader. Other collateral merchandise will be offered as well.

What the numbers don’t show is the quality of the writing. That, of course, is in the eye of the reader. Much criticism has been leveled at James Patterson that his books lack the depth and magic of some of his early works. I see comments on writer forums saying that Patterson has sold out and become an assembly line pouring out books just to make money. The commenters don’t understand why people keep buying his books. It reminds me of what people say about a very popular local restaurant. “No one ever goes there, it’s always too crowded.” The reason James Patterson makes so much money is because bazillions of readers around the world are willing to buy his books. Why? Because they like reading them.

Now for the list of the highest paid authors (May 2010-April 2011). Get out your royalty statements and compare.

James Patterson ($84 million)
Danielle Steel ($35 million)
Stephen King ($28 million)
Janet Evanovich ($22 million)
Stephenie Meyer ($21 million)
Rick Riordan ($21 million)
Dean Koontz ($19 million)
John Grisham ($18 million)
Jeff Kinney ($17 million)
Nicholas Sparks ($16 million)
Ken Follett ($14 million)
Suzanne Collins ($10 million)
J.K. Rowling ($5 million)

What does this mean for writers that make less money that these folks? It means that people still want to buy books and be entertained with good stories. I consider all this to be a very positive sign. How about you? How does this list of mega-authors make you feel? Are you deflated or defiant?

23 thoughts on “Show me the money!

  1. I find it encouraging! If the publishing industry is still big enough that someone can make $5MM a year, then maybe there’s room for an amateur like me to eke out a modest wage. 😉

    In my experience, reading isn’t an exclusive hobby. Yes, a person can only read so many books at once, but a sale that goes to Patterson doesn’t necessarily mean a lost sale to me. People who read tend to read a lot, which means they tend to buy a lot.

    Any novelist’s success should be a good sign for all of us.

  2. Great response, John. That’s exactly what our attitude should be. Successful authors like Patterson and King arn’t sucking up all the money, they’re proof that people are spending money on books. That benefits all of us–writers and readers.

  3. And with the boom of e-books comes a way to build on impulse spending habits. As John mentioned–a sale to one person isn’t a loss to another. Especially if it’s easier than ever to stockpile books for future reading.

    BK Jackson

  4. First, congratulations on the Dutch release.

    I don;t have a problem with these writers making huge piles of money. It means there’s money out there, and that people are reading. It doesn’t matter what they read, so long writers like this keep their interest high, all authors have a foot in the door.

  5. It’s absolutely good news. It means people are reading and paying for the privilege. Every name on that list started off as a nobody before they became a somebody. I see one name on there who started his career writing for mimeographed fanzine in the early 1970s. Talent, luck, and a lot of hard, hard work got him on that list. Any of us might be, could be, next.

  6. Interesting. Last night after karate class, I saw that one of the parents was reading on his Kindle. I asked him what he was reading (The Hunger Games), then he commented that he’d bought one of my novels (The Devil’s Pitchfork) but hadn’t read it yet. Then another woman there said she’d bought one of mine on her Nook (also The Devil’s Pitchfork), but hadn’t read it yet.

    All well and good and I’m delighted they bought the thing and hope they’ll eventually read it and decide to buy the rest as well. But I wonder about the e-book phenomenon of buying books that you don’t get around to read. The Kindle, for example, does seem to encourage a certain type of impulse buy. Sure, I bought paper books that way, too, to some extent, but I recently on the Kindle have started to show more self-control and get the sample, not so much to read it, but to remind me buy it when it’s actually time to read it.

    I wonder if the e-book sales will slow down as people get more used to the novelty of the device.

  7. Joe, I hit the “Publish” button too quickly. Congratulations on MONTEZUMA’S WRAAK. Nice to see some American authors being published in the Netherlands, since it seems that most of the traffic has been moving in the other direction!

  8. BK, the ebook boom is the industry correcting itself. And you’re right about stockpiling. You should see my Kindle list.

    You’re right, Dana. Big sales for a fellow writer is always a positive sign for the rest of us.

  9. Thanks, Joe, for the good wishes. This will be our 5th thriller published by this Dutch publisher. Lynn Sholes and I have been fortunate to make the bestseller list twice in the Netherlands. We’re hoping to do it again with our new one. Stay tuned.

  10. Mark, I’m definately a “sampler” Kindle user. I always grab the sample first, especially if it’s a book by someone I’ve not read before. I would guess that I wind up buying 1 out of 10. The other 9, for whatever reason, rocket back into the ether.

    That’s great news that both of the folks you spoke with have bought your book. Here’s hoping they buy them all and spread the word.

  11. Joe, if I’m not mistaken, “Wraak” is Dutch for “Revenge.” Yes? Cute.

    On the important point, the decline in hardcover sales was predictable. And the flux in the industry has shown there is opportunity for more writers than ever to get a shot at making some coin. It’s a “golden age” for writers, but just as in the pulp days, not everyone who can type is a writer. There’s still storytelling skill needed, but the ones who can deliver have a chance.

  12. Your translation is correct, Jim. The publisher chose to change the title. No complaint from me.

    I like your assessment of the current situation being a “golden age” for writers. There are more avenues for getting work into the hands of readers now than ever before.

  13. I usually sample if the price point is too high (for me, that arbitrary price point is over $5), or if the author is completely unfamiliar & no one I know has recommended them.

    But since so many books can be purchased under $5 (money I would easily waste poisoning myself with soda), I don’t mind plunking down the money for books it’ll take a while to read. I buy for different reasons: 1) the book genuinely interests me, 2) it’s an author I want to support because I know they give back to the writing community, 3) it’s an author I don’t know but am willing to take a chance on because I think they might’ve written something different.

    But I’ve only had my Kindle for 8 months. Too soon to know whether I will tame my habit. I’m not likely to soon because I’m so excited to finally be able to afford books again.

    BK Jackson

  14. Joe, appreciate your sharing this, and especially appreciate your interpretation. These people aren’t taking bread out of the mouths of other writers, they’re showing the way and proving that reading isn’t dead.

    I bit the bullet and bought a Kindle this year, and it’s increased my impulse book buying by about 200%–especially if the price is right, like those “free” special offers. Hey, whatever works. When I check my Amazon figures, I’m more encouraged by the Kindle ones than the “real book” numbers.

  15. Congratulations on the new foreign book, Joe. Love the cover.

    I also really love seeing all the dollars. Thanks for posting. I’m glad to see Rick Riordan on the list, a fellow San Antonian. A really fun author to read.

  16. Congrat’s Joe on the Dutch. So if you have multiple books in the Netherlands would that be considered “Double Dutch”?

    Also I am glad Jim translated “WRAACK” cuz I was picturing a different meaning: ie. “Montezuma’s Wedgie”.

    For the past year I have given away a few Kindles to folks who register at my website, and still am giving some away. But I never owned one of my own, choosing to save the money and read on my smartphone. Well, my wife & kids got tired of seeing me squint and got me a Kindle for my birthday, and yes I have lots of books on it.

  17. BK & Richard, one thing that I’m thankful for with my Kindle is that I’m able to sample some many authors I would have missed otherwise.

    Thanks, Jordan. That particular publihser has bought all our books over the years. They do a great marketing job.

    Basil, enjoy your Kindle and save your eyes. And I kinda like the wedgie idea. Maybe our next book.

  18. Several years ago, when Stephen King was just hitting his stride, I had a Viking editor tell me that they were able to publish first timers and keep mid-listers on in part thanks to the money Stephen King brought in. I figure writers owe the man a lot of thanks and respect. And I make sure that all of my students/clients hear that story.

  19. Great post Joe, and congrats on your book!

    I love this news. With the revolution toward e-pub, and the success of all these storytellers on your list that shows there’s room in this crazy world for great tales to be spun.

    Golden age, yes. I love that screens like Kindle are competing for buyer’s dollars, and people are reading. I love that alot…

    I’m looking forward to getting a piece of that action myself.

  20. Thanks for the post Joe, It’s my first time responding, though my sister-in-law has been stopping by for some time (she’s got me hooked here).
    As a self-published writer I find any information about the industry helpful since I’m kind of feeling my way through this as I go. Thanks again.

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