Independent author John Locke joins Amazon’s million-Kindle-seller club, but at what cost?

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Kentucky-based independent author John Locke has joined big-name writers Stieg Larsson, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Charlaine Harris, Lee Child, Suzanne Collins and Michael Connelly in the Kindle million-seller club. Only these eight authors have sold more than 1 million Kindle e-books through Amazon.

Locke, whose books appear on Amazon using Kindle Direct Publishing, is the first author without a major publisher to have achieved the Kindle million-seller mark.


But at what cost? Locke is the author of the Donovan Creed novels, a mystery-thriller series, all of which have been Kindle bestsellers. Each of those novels is priced at 99 cents when sold as a Kindle e-book (those that also are paperbacks retail for $8 to $15).

Kindle Direct Publishing authors can set their own Kindle e-book prices, and the price they set determines the royalty rates they receive. Books that are listed for $2.99 to $9.99 give the author a 70% royalty rate; books that cost either more or less get a royalty rate of just 35%. The lowest price at which an author can list a Kindle ebook is 99 cents.

Which means Locke receives slightly less than 35 cents per Kindle ebook he sells.

(You may have noticed that Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing royalty architecture is designed to reward authors for pricing their books $9.99, not $10 or more: an author will receive almost $7 for a book that costs $9.99, while that same book listed at $10 would earn the author only $3.50. Let’s talk about that another time.) What’s significant in relation to Locke hitting the million-seller Kindle ebook mark is that it showcases that while choosing the Kindle Direct Publishing route removes agents and publishers from the equation, Locke makes less money with his 99-cent gambit than he would selling the same number of books with a traditional publisher. And he puts a downward price pressure on Kindle e-books in the process.

Authors who have deals with traditional publishers, from someone just starting out to a bestseller like James Patterson, might expect to make anywhere from $2 to $4 per sale of a $20 hardcover sold in a bookstore. With e-books, whose retailers have fostered a new kind of revenue split between publisher and bookseller, some of the details are still being worked out. But in general, authors with major publishers stand to make a similar pecentage -- a $15 e-book brings them $1.50 to $3. Drop the price of the e-book to $9.99 and a traditional author might make about $1 to $2.

Which is not much. But it’s still more than 35 cents.

Sure, Locke isn’t hurting. If he sold a million Kindle e-books at 99 cents, he’d clear $346,500 -- nice work if you can get it. But if he were working with a traditional publisher, that $346,500 might be a lot closer to $1 million.

And in fact, Locke hasn’t only sold his Kindle e-books for 99 cents -- that’s just how he prices his novels. He has a nonfiction title that retails for $4.99: ‘How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months!’


Which is another issue -- Locke’s success notwithstanding, not everyone can sell 1 million e-books in five months. ‘In fact, more people will sell less than 100 copies of their books self-publishing than will sell 10,000 books,’ cautioned one observer. Who? None other than Amanda Hocking, who was the first self-published million-seller to make headlines.


Self-publishing phenom Amanda Hocking said to be looking for traditional deal

Amanda Hocking, self-publishing star, finds 4-book deal

Charlaine Harris sells 1 million Kindle e-books

-- Carolyn Kellogg