Almost Famous

I’m in a weird position these days. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining. Since being picked up by AmazonEncore, my books have sold more copies than I ever imagined possible. I’m on the verge of actually being able to make a living from my books. In fact, if I didn’t live in a too-big house in a too-expensive part of the country, I would be making a living.

I should probably explain that it’s virtually impossible to make a living as an author. I mean, let’s say that your books are priced at $10 each, that you sell 20,000 copies a year (far more than most authors sell), and that you make a 10% royalty rate. You’d gross $20,000 a year. After taxes, that isn’t enough to make my mortgage payment for four months. Basically, just about the only authors who are making a living on their books are the big name authors whose books you see on the “featured” tables when you walk into your local Barnes & Noble.

With one exception. There is a growing number of authors like me — both self-published and published by one of Amazon Publishing’s imprints — who sell a lot of books, almost all of them through Amazon.com. Because of the current antipathy between physical bookstores and Amazon.com, you probably won’t see our books at your local Barnes & Noble, and because our sales are predominantly digital, you probably won’t see someone reading a dog-eared paperback copy of Faking It, Greyhound or Mercury Falls at the beach. We don’t get much coverage by reactionary publications like Publisher’s Weekly. We’re like stealth authors, quietly selling tens of thousands of books without anyone noticing.

A few of these authors — Joe Konrath, John Locke, Amanda Hocking — have broken out, becoming so successful that even people who aren’t avid e-book readers may have heard of them. And then there are people like me. I wasn’t the first author to be published by AmazonEncore. That honor went to Cayla Kluver, author of Legacy. (I think I was around #20.) Nor was I the first “Kindle millionaire” (that was probably Konrath). I even narrowly lost out to another AmazonEncore author on being the first self-published author to get a movie deal (I turned down a lowball offer in 2010, not realizing the value of bragging rights). When people make lists of “25 Self Published Authors to Watch,” I must come in right around #26 somewhere. When people write articles about the self-publishing phenomenon, they call Konrath or Barry Eisler, not me.

And I’m not alone. I’m Facebook friends with dozens of other authors who have either quit their day jobs or are seriously considering doing so, because it makes more sense financially to write a book that will earn residuals for twenty years than it does to work a few hundred more hours as a reporter or community college professor. In the past, that level of success would be accompanied by a certain level of fame. Not, like, Tom Clancy or Danielle Steele fame, but if, for example, you were a successful thriller writer, then you could assume that most avid thriller readers would have heard of you. These days, however, it’s possible to make a living selling books in a particular genre while being remaining completely unknown to most of the readers in that genre. Mercury Falls, for example has sold over 50,000 copies, but I bet if you polled a hundred people at a sci-fi convention, fewer than 10 of them would know my name.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If anything, it just means there’s a huge untapped market out there. And as e-readers become less expensive, technological (and intellectual property) barriers come down, and Amazon continues to push into new markets, my sales can only increase. Someday, I may actually be able to make my ridiculous mortgage payment — and on that day, well, I’ll still probably be virtually unknown. Which is weird — but it’s a good kind of weird.