Fact-checking the E-Revolution

Update: Sullivan recently responded that the errors were part of Konrath’s introduction, and were his mistakes, not hers. Konrath’s post was edited within 24 hours of my post, but looking at it now, it does appear that the mistakes I pointed out are Konrath’s, not Sullivan’s. My apologies to Sullivan for that.

Robin Sullivan had a guest post at J. A. Konrath’s blog recently, wherein she presented a list of successful self-published authors, asking, “Are you ready to be blown away?”  She listed a number of authors who sold anywhere from 2500 to 100,000 books in December, 2010, and adds, “MORE WRITERS THAN J.A. KONRATH ARE DOING WELL SELF-PUBLISHING, AND THEY DON’T HAVE PUBLISHING BACKGROUNDS … On this list, only five people had previous print novels. The rest did not.”

If you’re curious, those five people are:

Scott Nicholson, J. A. Konrath, Lee Goldberg, Stephen Leather, Aaron Patterson, Beth Orsoff, Blake Crouch

Okay, admittedly, I was an English major, but that seems like more than five to me.  You could argue for the addition of folks like  Selena Kitt, whose first book was published by StarDust Press.  That’s an e-publisher, which to me counts as publishing background, even if she didn’t have a print novel.

It’s frustrating.  Knowing Sullivan got that part wrong makes it difficult to trust that the rest is accurate.  The sales numbers quoted are self-reported by the authors in the Kindleboards, collected by Sullivan and another blogger.  One problem — and this isn’t Sullivan’s fault — is that there’s no outside source.  There is no Bookscan for e-book sales, so we just have to trust them.  And I do trust that some of these numbers are correct, but overall?  I’m … skeptical.

Konrath himself presents another list of authors selling more than 1000 e-books a month, “none of who had any traditional publishing background (no deals, no agents).”  Authors like Aaron Patterson—  Wait, didn’t we hear that name before?  He also lists William Meikle, who published with KHB Books. I can’t say for certain, but KHB looks like small press–are we counting that as publishing background?  Then there’s Bella Andre.  You can check out one of her early books from Simon and Schuster.

This post took about an hour to put together, and I didn’t check every single author on the list.  I’m not writing this post to bash e-publishing.  I want to learn more about how e-publishing is evolving, and how I might be able to take advantage of it as an author.  But I want facts, not cheerleading.  Reliable data, not hearsay cribbed from other blogs.  How am I supposed to trust these wonderful numbers if the people putting them forth aren’t fact-checking their own claims?

I’m not going to warn people away from e-publishing.  It’s growing, and while I’m personally happy with DAW, I do believe electronic self-publishing is becoming more of a viable option for some writers.  Neither of the lists above were entirely accurate, but they do include successful e-publishing authors.

Just be careful.  And don’t believe everything you read on the internet.


Two random notes from perusing the lists:

1. Many of the authors mentioned as selling all of those books in December had released one or more new titles in December.  I.e., in some cases this may reflect an initial sales spike, as opposed to long-term sales.  (For comparison, I sold well over 1000 copies of Red Hood’s Revenge in the first week it was out.)

2. A number of these authors were selling e-published books about how to succeed with e-publishing.  I’m not drawing any conclusions from this, but it was an interesting pattern.