The Unbearable Lightness of Royalties

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

In lieu of some burning issue that eludes me now, here are some random statements, opinions, wishes, wants, needs, etc., that, as this blog runs its course, will emerge into something coherent, or that’s the plan.

By Monte Dutton
By Monte Dutton

Forgive Us Our Trespasses is my fourth novel. Early sales have been encouraging. For more than a week, it remained in the top 9,000 to 15,000 in the overall Amazon sales rankings. Those rankings change hourly. It’s been in the top 100 to 200 in political, crime, and murder fiction. It’s hit a bit of a lull the past two days, dropping to around 25,000. It’s only available in Kindle format, but I’m working to get a print version out soon.

I’d appreciate, if you’ve already read it, a short customer review on Amazon. And/or Goodreads. Your blog if you maintain one. Tell friends. Send them emails. They really do help. If you don’t like it, write that. I don’t want anyone to be dishonest in my behalf.

Longer_Songs_Cover_for_Kindle (1)Lots of people who follow me on social media have told me that they enjoy reading what I write, but they just don’t read many books. This is one reason why I recently published Longer Songs, a collection of short stories derived from songs I’ve written. The stories range from two pages to twenty. Longer Songs is available in print now. A Kindle version will be out soon.

Kindle books are accessible regardless of whether or not you own a Kindle. Free apps enable you to read e-books on a wide range of electronic devices. I read on this Surface tablet, which, by inserting it into a keyboard, enables me to write this blog, sports stories, and even chapters in what will become my fifth novel. If I’m at a restaurant, I call up the book on my phone, which even takes me to the page I last read in the tablet. I can read in my iPod, though I haven’t because, most of the time I use it, I’m either driving down the road or mowing grass. I bought a Kindle for my mother, and she has come to enjoy it.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

Yesterday I read three chapters of Joseph Souza’s Need to Find You while waiting for my oil to be changed and tires rotated. I like reading “regular” books, too. Kindle books are much cheaper, though, and it’s less a leap of faith than buying a book. Forgive Us Our Trespasses and Crazy of Natural Causes both sell for $3.49. It’s humbling to know that some people are unwilling to pay for my book what they willingly spend for a handful of mixed nuts and a Coke. All four of my novels combined, on Kindle, don’t cost any more than a ticket to a movie.

Even if you don’t read books, for God’s sake, read something more than your social media feed. Click on something.

It’s hard to make a living as a writer. As a matter of fact, it’s hard to make a living doing anything creative. The sellers, marketers, lawyers, CEOs, etc., are constantly taking higher shares. It reflects the world. Writers are not alone. I just got back from a music event in Texas. Songwriters say the same.

(Melanie Ryon cover design)
(Melanie Ryon cover design)

Why did I start writing e-books? First of all, entering the KindleScout program provided money up front. Secondly, I maintain the print rights. The Audacity of Dope and The Intangibles have always been available in print. Crazy and Trespasses will be out in print, too. Just give it a little more time. Read the Kindle versions, and if you like my books so much that you’d like to save them on your shelves, buy them in print. The biggest disadvantage of a Kindle version is I can’t autograph it for you. It’s not hard to get me to sign my name.

(Joe Font cover design)
(Joe Font cover design)

Just as an example of how hard it is for writers to make it these days, let me cite my experiences at book signings. Bookstores are threatened by online sales in the same manner as, and perhaps worse than, other “brick and mortar” stores. They’re understandably desperate. Another reason for casting my lot with Amazon is that I don’t have to put myself through the ordeal of book signings. I love to do them, but it’s almost impossible to make anything but friends. Stores used to take half the purchase price, which would be fine if they had a share in paying for them. When stores started sending me notices that they were going to charge even higher rates, I drove to the ones nearby and picked up the copies.

Let’s say the book sells for $16.95, and the bookstore takes $10. That leaves $6.95 for the author, and he paid, oh, $4.95 for each copy. Two bucks apiece. Sell five copies, and it’s a cool $10 in my wallet. Maybe it’ll pay for gas to get home. It’s about the same as what I make on the $3.49 for the Kindle book. I understand that the bookstore deserves its fair share, but I wrote the damn book.

Longer Songs isn’t going to be a bestseller — well, not unless the novels hit it big — but there’s no risk, and the share I get is much, much higher.

(Monte Dutton photo)
(Monte Dutton photo)

It’s also difficult to find a cost-effective way to publicize the book. Newspapers are going, going, gone. Ten years ago, each decent-sized rag had a book reviewer. Now it may have one reviewer who writes about movies, music, TV, and, in rare instances, books. The papers compensate by running reviews from “the wire.” “The wire” shows little interest in what I’ve been writing. It’s busy with John Grisham and whether or not Harper Lee really wanted Go Set a Watchman released.

At least Amazon has a vehicle for promotion. Writers are offered endless means of showcasing their books online, and most of them are ripoffs. They’ll expose the book to, oh, thousands, millions, even. They run interviews with the author, which basically consists of him or her typing answers to canned questions. They run reviews that often read as if they came straight from the back cover.

When I wrote The Intangibles, I spent a fair amount of money, and I could see no tangible good it did. The Intangibles was … intangible. Canned, insincere reviews don’t sell anyone a book. Vicious reviews probably sell more. Some might read it to see if it’s really that bad.

I want my books to sell, but not because I bug people to death about them, even though I do. I want my books to sell because they’re good.

Maybe they aren’t, but I’m not giving up. I’ve got no choice in the matter. In spite of my liberal arts education, I find, at this point in my career, that there’s nothing left for me to do except write. Maybe I’m not that good at it, but it’s what I love and what I know.

So I throw myself at the mercy of the public. The public decides my fate.

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