How Much Do Kindle Singles Authors Make?

From PaidContent:

The top-ten list of bestselling Kindle Singles includes a number of big-name writers. But how is the format working for writers who don’t have the brand of a Stephen King or Jodi Picoult?

In addition to sharing overall sales information about the Kindle Singles program, Amazon allowed Kindle Singles authors to break their non-disclosure agreements and share their sales figures with me. I chose about a dozen authors, out of the list of over 100 or so, to speak with, and interviewed them without any restrictions from Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN). Excerpts from the interviews are below.

A few notes before the interviews: The authors’ background varies, but most have previous writing experience and many have been published by traditional book publishers, newspapers or magazines. (This differentiates the group from many of the authors uploading their works to Kindle Direct Publishing.

Authors I spoke with had varying experiences in terms of how closely their work was edited. Blum told me “the amount of editing varies significantly, depending on the writer and the piece. We work with many Singles authors to develop and refine an idea, and some authors go through multiple drafts before their work is accepted. Others deliver work that is ready for publication as is, with only copyediting needed.”

In some cases Amazon pays Kindle Singles authors stipends or fees for reporting a Kindle Single. (Author Oliver Broudy refers to those stipends below.) The company did not give me a range for how much it has paid in advance. “There’s not a goal for using one particular business model or another,” Kindle VP Russ Grandinetti told me.

Excerpts from my interviews:

Author: Mishka Shubaly
Bio: Musician; bassist for The Freshkills
Kindle Singles: “Shipwrecked,” $1.99 (4/2011), “The Long Run,” $1.99 (10/2011), “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” $1.99 (3/2012). “The Long Run” is the ninth-bestselling Kindle Single overall, by units.
Sales: “Shipwrecked”: 21,024 copies, “The Long Run”: 60,567 copies, “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”: 11,406 copies.
Estimated royalties ([price number of copies sold] 0.70): $129,544.82

“I first met Dave Blum back when he was working for New York Press and I was writing these druggie slice-of-life memoirs. I was working a couple of nights a week at a bar, and also working off craigslist, and I had basically just given up on writing.

[Blum told me about Kindle Singles] and I said, ‘Dave, this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. I don’t know anybody who owns a nerd pad, and there’s all this free stuff out there so nobody’s going to buy anything, and if they buy anything, why would they buy my stuff? And I’m sober now, I don’t have any more stories.’

He said, ‘Don’t you have ONE more story?’ and I said, ‘Well, I did get shipwrecked that one time.’

That story went on to sell over 20,000 copies [as a Kindle Single]. I thought this was a fluke and would never happen again. Dave said, ‘I have your next story for you. You used to be a pretty hardcore drunk and drug user and now you’re running 50-, 60-mile races. You’re going to write about that experience and it’s going to be called The Long Run.’ I was like, ‘No way. I hate recovery memoirs and nobody’s going to want to hear about bad situations that I created through a series of poor decisions, and then my fancy little feelings about getting sober and putting my life back together.’ Then, once again, I was totally wrong, and thank God I have the sense to listen to Dave and to trust him.

When I got my first royalty check from Amazon, I went to my boss at the bar and was like, “Mike, I quit, dude,” and he was like why, and I was like “Look at this check, man,” and he said, “I’d quit too.”

This is what I’m doing now. My three stories that are out have now sold in excess of 93,000 copies, and I have another Kindle Single that I’m working on for later this year, and hopefully working on a book.

[If I write a full-length book] it’s definitely going to go to Amazon for them to see it. I do honestly believe that all big corporations are evil, by definition. I play in punk rock bands and I still believe in the punk rock ethos of doing things yourself, and that small, independent businesses are better. However, every single person I’ve spoken to at Amazon has been incredibly nice and incredibly committed to books and reading. Out of loyalty to Dave and gratitude for the way they’ve treated me, of course I’ll definitely go to Amazon. But we don’t have an exclusive relationship. I’d be happy to work with a traditional publisher.

I’m going to name my first child Amazon. I’m incredibly grateful to them. There’s no other way to put it but that working with Amazon totally changed my life for the better.”

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