author earningsHugh Howey’s report on Amazon author earnings is all the rage, and I have avoided comment on it until now because the coverage of it was just so pervasive that I didn’t feel like I had much to add. And then I must have seen one story too many on it. And now, I am fed up.

Here is the thing: I like Hugh Howey, the author. I think he writes decent books. I enjoy reading them. Now that he has proven himself to me, the reader, I will probably at least download a sample and check out his future releases. So, with that said, I don’t care all that much about Hugh Howey the businessman. I don’t know how he runs his affairs. I don’t much care.

But, I am not a professional fiction writer, so I don’t need to care. But if YOU are such a writer, should you care?

Maybe. But, I think, not as much as you might suppose you should care. Let me explain. There are two parts of Howey, the businessman, to look at here. Firstly, there is the part he is showing the world right now: the analyst who is attempting to decode the ‘industry.’ I don’t think you should care much about this part. Why not?

Well, how much somebody else makes should be a lot less important to you than how much YOU make. If you really want to ‘study’ Hugh Howey, study instead the Howey who sells books. WHY does he sell them? How does he market himself? How did he build his audience? That’s a lot more useful data, to my mind, than how much somebody else makes.

I think many aspiring professionals spend far too much time navel gazing and far too little time actually improving their craft and getting themselves out there. I see it in my own business too. I have an aunt who is retiring her part-time tutoring business and offered to show me her setup and send me some clients. I was overwhelmed by how much stuff she had: books, supplies, plans, outlines and so on. She snapped me out of that right away and told me all I needed was a desk, a flier and a receipt book. The rest would come later. She saw that someone like me could spend months writing plans and outlines and never actually get underway.

You want to sell the way Hugh Howey sells? Or Konrath? Or any other big indie success? Spend less time looking at sales data for other people and more time working on your own stuff so it’s THAT good. Then you’ll find your audience, the same way Howey did.

With all due respect to Mr. Howey—he seems like a nice guy and I know he has commented here before—I caution other authors not to fall down that rabbit hole. If your book isn’t good enough, all the analytics in the world won’t make you a best-seller.

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  1. I’m not really sure what the point of this post is. The thing people are getting up in arms over isn’t how Howey (or Konrath) sells his books. It’s the numbers he’s obtained and crunched to try to give a better picture of how books sell on Amazon than people have been able to see before.

    The numbers don’t represent the widest possible sample (either in terms of time or retailer), so some people feel the conclusions Howey draws are a little questionable…but he makes available the raw data he used in its entirety so people can crunch the numbers themselves if they want. And it’s certainly a darned sight better than the “nothing” we had before, and the accuracy will improve over time as he gathers more samples.

  2. Bizarre post. You say you didn’t want to post because so many other people were posting and because the coverage was pervasive.

    Then you actually do go ahead and post something, but something that has nothing to do with what Howey did last week.

    Howey’s author earnings report was about trying to grasp what is going on in the industry as a whole; what slice indie/self-publishing is talking of the pie (at least the Amazon one); and what’s the best way for authors to go now in an effort to maximise earnings. It had nothing to do with how to *actually* sell your books.


    “Well, how much somebody else makes should be a lot less important to you than how much YOU make. If you really want to ‘study’ Hugh Howey, study instead the Howey who sells books. WHY does he sell them? How does he market himself? How did he build his audience? That’s a lot more useful data, to my mind, than how much somebody else makes.”


    I also think it is dangerous for authors to adopt any *business model* or sales strategy of another author. Howey has worked with small presses, struck distribution deals with large publishers and studios, as well as self-publishing his books, and he is operating with a much higher scale of business than the vast majority of authors (trad and indie). All that before we even talk about markets and genres.

    I do agree that authors spend far too much time, particularly when they start out writing, worrying about sales, numbers and statistics, to the detriment of writing craft.

    If you don’t have a well-crafted and strong story (or valuable information to impart to readers), then you have nothing no matter what approach you adopt or whose advice you follow.

  3. I didn’t think it was that bizarre a post, actually. While I do, as an author, think the Howey data is important, I also thought Joanna had some good points. I do see indie authors spending time tracking stats and watching numbers, time that could be spent writing. (My jaw dropped at a couple of KindleBoards comments where authors were refreshing their KDP stats hourly–or even more often.)

    Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch have made similar points on their blogs about putting time and attention into honing craft and less time in data crunching. Kris says to check you sales stats once a year–I can’t quite wait that long, and I settle for a few times a month.

    And I do agree with her point about looking at what other successful writers have done. That’s why I read Smith and Rusch. I pay attention to their advice on how to market, which is why I’m going to be publishing paper copies of my books, something a year ago I would have scoffed at.

    So I read Joanna’s article as saying keep an eye on the trends, yes, but don’t use trend watching as an excuse to do something other than being a writing entrepreneur.

  4. I have to agree with the sentiment of the post. Yes there are many facets of Hugh Howey’s data to argue over – and data lovers will huddle and chew over it for a long time. The point is that books don’t sell because of the data. The data is a result of the books selling.

    When I published my first book, I was checking sales all the time because it was exciting to know another reader had the opportunity to enjoy the worlds and people I’d created. I knew that the only way to be successful was to keep writing.

    So, regardless of what the next set of data shows, remember your readers are only looking for a great book to read, they don’t much care about the imprint or the pedigree.


  5. “Well, how much somebody else makes should be a lot less important to you than how much YOU make.”

    That makes no sense. If you are talking about almost any sort of occupation, how much money is typical for the given work is very important.

    The Howey data just illustrates how much, percentage-wise, a given product will return when produced using one method rather than another, absolute numbers aside, which you actually allude to – absolute numbers aren’t important. What you leave out is that production methodology is important on a percentage basis.

    Yes, quality of product is absolutely imperative, but that doesn’t mean writers should go all Johnathan Livingston Seagull and ignore what they do with their product once they’ve placed the last period.

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