This will be my last posts featuring indie authors who share their success or lack thereof. I looked at Gideon Marcus who argued that professional editing was necessary, and the career of a part time writer, Ron Vitale. In both cases I suggested that financial success comes is most likely when the books are targeted at what avid readers are reading. In this post, I’m going to briefly talk about a “six-figure” science/fantasy and non-fiction author, 44 year old Chris Fox. He wrote a book on writing to market. From his Youtube videos, we will see what indie-publishing, looks like in the fast lane of Amazon/indie publishing.
You can view his Youtube videos where he talks about his business, how to do various aspects of writing and the business, plus inspirational pieces on his Youtube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/c/ChrisFoxWrites/videos
Chris Fox gave up a six figure programming job in 2014 to write full time. Since 2014 he has written 26 fiction books, plus various boxed sets, and 8 non-fiction books, related to different aspects of indie publishing. He writes in series:
The Magitech Chronicles 7 books (science fantasy)
Magitech Legacy 5 books (science fantasy)
Void Wraith 6 books (space fleet/military sf)
Deathless 5 books (urban fantasy)
Solaris 2 books (YA superhero fantasy)
Dark Lord Bert 1 book (Role Playing Game fiction)
His Non-fiction include:
5000 Words Per Hour
Write to Market
Lifelong Writing Habit
Six Figure Author
He released 3 fiction and 2 non-fiction books in 2015, 5 fiction, 1 non-fiction book in 2016, 6 fiction and 1 non-fiction book in 2017, 3 fiction and 1 non-fiction book in 2018, 4 fiction and 1 non-fiction book in 2019, and 9 fiction books in 2020. In an effort to expand his income base, he has spent the last two year developing a role playing game based on his Magitech universe, and ran a kick-starter to get it off the ground. From watching his videos, I have to say that he appears to be something of a workaholic, putting in many hours a day writing, plotting, plus all the various aspects of running his business; creating and managing his ads, etc. In short, he’s the type of writer/entrepreneur that has the tools to succeed in indie publishing.
Below is the chart Chris Fox provides in his video about his 2020 earnings. On the top is his income, and on the bottom is his expenses. Boxes in green are improvements from the previous year. Boxes in yellow are declines in revenue from the previous year or increases in expenses. The chart is pretty straightforward. He offered paid consulting services to authors, and put together paid on-line classes, as many may successful authors do to supplement, or supplant their writing income. This year he decided to get out of that business, because it became too much of a hassle. He hopes to replace it with income from his role playing game. His business in incorporated, so that he pays himself and his wife, as his editor, a salary “Payroll & Retirement” so his net pre-tax income is what the limited liability company reported.
As you can see, 2020 was not a very good year, though one most indie authors would envy. He earned almost $100K, which would be damn good in Iowa City, but he lives in California, so we probably have to take the “damn” out of good, given the cost of living on the coast.
Ebook income was down something like 30% from 2019. While he spent $46,500 for editing and covers, most of which went into producing his role playing game. In 2019 he was spending an average of almost $10,000 a month advertising. He reduced that somewhat this year, cutting back towards the end of the year after finding more cost effective venues. Still, $104,000 a year for advertising is rather eye opening. Especially since Chris Fox is probably not one of the 100 top earning Amazon science fiction authors. At least I never saw his name on the list, before Amazon dropped that feature. (Though I may have missed his appearances.) He took a cut in pay this year, anticipating a big tax bill, since it was based on this $350+K income in 2019 and had a big increase in health insurance for his family.
However, looking at the chart below, I would have to say that there might be trouble in Bubble Land. This chart shows his monthly income from Amazon for 2019 and 2020 (I had to graft the two charts together from screen shots. Sorry for the quality. The blue is his his revenue from Kindle Unlimited page reads. The pink is his royalties from ebook sales, and the grey at the bottom is paper book royalties. The scale along the side are in increments of $5,000. I have added the books Chris Fox released in this time frame under the graph.
|Source; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfsYXmwAfuA&t=227s & https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PoXOTj7Y54w&t=457s|
In previous videos Chris Fox pointed out that sales go up when you release a book, and then slide back down over the next three months, suggesting that frequent releases will pay dividends. Beginning in April of 2019 you can see that he released a series of two new novels and a non-fiction book along with a big boxed set of his best selling books at a good price and saw his sales soar to almost $30K in one month and $25k in the next, only to taper down when he stopped releasing new books. However, in 2020 he wrote a million words, and, as you can see from the chart, released books at a rapid rate, indeed, at more than one a month in the last four months of the year, which produced only a minor bump, and given the number of new books, he was basically treading water. You can blame it on 2020, or the election, or whatever, but if I were him, I’d be concerned.
I have long wondered what is the half-life of an indie publisher. How long can they sustain their popularity before readers, with virtually unlimited options, move on, either because they are tired of a writer’s style and/or formula, or simply lose track of them with so many alternatives. Some of these readers read multiple books a week (or a book a day in some genre) and so that even if an author releases a book every 3 months, the readers will have read several dozen books in between. It is easy to imagine that even with the best intentions, readers never get around to reading an author’s latest book, and then lose track of them altogether. It seemed like around 2016 or so, a lot of the early successful writers had faded away or burned out. Some may have taken on new pen names and carried on, but I have a feeling that a six or seven year career in indie publishing’s fast lane may be the norm. And Chris Fox is starting his seventh year… He’s still making over $10K a month, so it’s not time to panic, but when releasing five books in four month barely moves the needle, well, one has to wonder. And he might, indeed, be wondering, since he’s planning on releasing an epic fantasy series in 2021.
Changing genre might be one way to revive revenue, but it is not without its risks. Hardcore fans want the same thing, over and over again, and may not want to move on to epic fantasy. While on the other hand, epic fantasy is a very competitive genre, so it may be hard to break into, even for an established writer. We’ll see.
In any event, I think it clear that the fast lane in indie-publishing is not Easy Street. It takes a lot of work, and continued success is not guaranteed.