Backstage Pass: Behind the Scenes of Publishing JAFF

Backstage Pass: Behind the Scenes of Publishing JAFF

A New Year, A New Perspective. ๐Ÿ™‚

Today, my gift is knowledge. Welcome to Behind-The-Scenes-of-Publishing! In today’s post, much like a Dickens novel, I am going to bring the Ghost of Publishing Past, Present, and Future. ๐Ÿ™‚

Publishing Past

It is a very modern convention, the concept of the wealthy author. Did you know that dear Jane Austen made only ยฃ110 on the sale of Pride and Prejudice? In the early days of publishing, books were sold to the publisher outright, very rarely did an author make what’s called a royalty on the work. Other times, works were created for a patron or patroness who paid the artist or author directly for the work, free to do with it what they wished (usually publish it with THEIR name nice and bold on the title plate because it’s a status thing to show off you have the wealth to commission art).

However, by the late 18th Century, the patron system was mostly dead. The author being paid a flat commission for the copyright remained. For a comparison to how poorly Jane Austen faired, men in the early 1700s were paid thousands of pounds for their poems and translations of Greek works. Alexander Pope is said to have earned an excess of ยฃ5,000 for his translation of the Iliad (

The skills of writing and publishing and bookselling were all entirely separate. The costs of physically printing a book were more expensive until paper prices and new materials came available in the early to mid 1800s. Cloth binding was on the rise as leather binding became more of a luxury. Circulation libraries were very much in vogueย as there were gains in education and literacy in both the United States and Europe.

Publishing Past (Modern)

From the 19th century on is considered “modern publishing.” Advances in the technology of printing did not give the author more of the proceeds, but rather often increased the volume of production. It’s a rather sneaky thing, and similar to what we will talk about is happening today with Kindle Unlimited. Most authors really only care about the money going into their pocket, not the portion of the proceeds that is theirs on principle.

When I first published in 2011 I researched the “system”ย that is being published by the Big 5 (used to be the Big 6 then). It’s not really 5 houses anymore, but the term is used to roughly talk about the process of write story, get agent, agent sells story to publisher, author takes contract given. These contracts, in my opinion, are nothing short of predatory, and coming from a background of political science and digital writing, there was no way I was signing on.

Many boilerplate contracts included clauses that prevent an author from writing anything else for another publishing house. The timelines of monies is completely up to the publisher (1/3 of advance on signing, 1/3 when the manuscript is accepted, and 1/3 when its published which the publisher chooses the last two.). Now, a great agent will get in there and fight for their authors to NOT have such Draconian terms, but there’s still a slight conflict of interest there. If an agent were to be too bothersome to the publishers, why would they continue to hear what the agent has to sell versus a much more compliant agent?

Then there’s the percentages. First, let’s talk about an advance . . . an advance is a loan, interest free, but still a loan against your future royalties. Let’s say I give you a $10,000 advance on your JAFF. You’re happy right? Now, I tell you, but that will be paid out over 18 months. You’re a lot less excited but thrilled nonetheless you will be publishing, right? Then I tell you that you will not see a penny more until YOUR percentage of the NET, not the GROSS, makes me that $10,000 back. Okay, reasonable you think, after all as the author you should have a healthy portion. And finally, I tell you that YOUR portion of the net is 15% and 15% of that has to go to your agent.

Wait, what? Exactly.

Things ARE better out there now, places like Amazon’s imprints are offering authors 50% of the net on ebook sales. Many authors are getting out of their old contracts and doing a hybrid of traditional publishing and indie publishing. More and more people are able to make a living wage off writing stories for the public. WOOHOO!

Publishing Present (Digital)ย 

Since Sourcebooks and others no longer heavily pursue JAFF like the hey days of the late naughts (’05-’10), the majority of JAFF is small press published or indie published. Personally, I think everyone should indie publish and I will explain that in a minute.

To publish an ebook on Amazon takes:

  • an account on,
  • a Word documents, and
  • a jpg image with the longest side at least 1,000 pixels long for your cover.

That’s it. Don’t use the tab key to indent, set your indents in the paragraph setting as First Line, and put a page break between your chapters.

It takes a Word document. I am not kidding. ๐Ÿ™‚

Now, you can use software like Scrivener or Jutoh or Sigil or Calibre to format a very snazzy ebook file, and all of those programs are either free or less than $50. Amazon will also accept .mobi files. But for most fiction, you don’t need to do fancy formatting because the ebook devices will override and make it wonky. That’s the beauty of ereading, readers are in control of the font and sizes and colors best for their eyes! Paperbacks are another post, but yes, even those CAN be made with just a Word document properly formatted with Createspace.

I can’t tell you how many readers have become authors because of my big mouth and how it truly is an opportunity for everyone. I believe very firmly in the freedom of the presses and that MORE Darcy is better for everyone. I’d like to even see Austen’s other works get more variations, but that is tougher because the tastes of the readers are more focused on Darcy and Elizabeth, Regency timeframe. Part of that might be natural, but I think part of it is also left over from traditional publishing focusing more on that coupling and time period because it had higher returns.

If you want to publish on Nook and are a U.S. Citizen, you need an account at Nookpress. Kobo is Writinglife. Apple requires a Mac computer and Itunes Connect account and is a bit tricky, even I had to make support phone calls to make my account work.

Or, anyone can go through an aggregator like Draft2Digital, who takes 10% of the gross, and will publish your ebook everywhere. Google right now is closed to new authors, but they just bought Oyster’s staff, so we’re hopeful it will be awesome later this year. ๐Ÿ™‚ And if you have any questions about writing your own JAFF story and publishing, ask me., I will help you. I help others all the time, always free. It’s my tithe to the community. ๐Ÿ™‚ And we have a group on Facebook that helps new authors learn the other stuff like marketing etc. Also, free.

I am concerned about writers finding themselves told this is too hard for them. And some places “publish,” but make all of the books exclusive to ONE vendor, and then take a cut for the privilege of doing so! To me, that is something a writer can do for themselves, they do not have to pay someone to upload a file for them.

And editing? There are a slew of JAFF readers and experts who will edit for everything from a large budget to a signed paperback. Writers can find editors to hire, that’s not a problem. ๐Ÿ™‚

Kindle Unlimited (Subscriptions are the Future?)

I’ve been publishing since the first incarnation of Amazon’s Select Program, December 2011. Back then, you had to be exclusive to Amazon (yuck, and you still do), and in exchange, Prime members could borrow your book (they were allowed 1 per month), and you could run a 5 day free promotion. I used Select on my first book to do free runs on Cancelled, the first time making about $800 on what was called the bounce (when you bounced back to paid, your ranking stayed the same, so you had increased visibility, this does not happen anymore), and a whopping $1400 in January of 2013 where my book made it to #2 in the Free store. Most other months, my little book made about $10-$20 a month. A borrow in this time period was about $1.70-$2.20, it depended. Amazon sets a pot of money of however many millions they want, then the books borrowed divides into that and that’s the payout rate. Authors always learn the pay out on the 15th of the month AFTER the borrows were made, and Amazon arbitrarily adds millions to the pot when they think the borrow rate might be too low. It’s very you get what you get and you don’t get upset style. ๐Ÿ™‚

When Kindle Unlimited hit the scene in July 2014, I jumped in feet first. I knew from the first time Select came out that the time to make the most amount of money was in the beginning before Amazon had data, and I was right. I was in the program from July until February, when my last book finally came out. See, you have to obligate for 90 days, and helpful Amazon automatically renews your book unless you select otherwise. Being brand new as a JAFF author, I didn’t have much of a following on the other vendors, so $300-$500 in borrows a month was good to me! And, with it being so new, we all had hopes that readers who read KU books would buy the ones they loved most, a reality few see.

In July of 2015, another major change happened to the Kindle Unlimited program. No longer were books going to have a borrow rate. Now, it was Pages Read. So a 400-page novel is paid MORE than a 50-page novelette. And on the surface, this sounds fair. Except, Amazon gave authors 2 weeks’ notice of the change (when MANY authors had already massively changed their publication strategies to fit what Amazon wanted the first time around, more titles) and the page count is the most broken system ever cloaked in secrecy. See, Amazon won’t tell us HOW they calculate the KENPC (Kindle Normalized Page Count). Do they use th Kindle Estimated pages on the book page? No. Do they use paperback page counts? No.

Authors have literally found simple changes of fonts and line spacing to change their KENPC by 100 pages or more on the SAME FILE.

The payout for pages read is the same system, X millions of dollars divided by total pages read, equals pay per page. The current rate is .0046 per page in the US market (last month Amazon split the other countries out, so their pot of money is different). So a 100 page novella earns the author 46 cents.

I suppose I did leave out royalties, huh? On most ebooks priced between $2.99 and $9.99, authors make 65-70% of the price. So if someone buys An Autumn Accord at $4.99 on Amazon in the US, I make $3.49. In KU, and I only know this because of my similar novellas that were once in KU and are still getting page read payouts because the system changed and readers apparently STILL had my books out on their devices nearly a year later . . . my KENP is about 115 pages. The Kindle page count was 149 pages on that book, the paperback page count is 188 pages. So when someone reads that book in KU, and only IF someone reads the whole book, I would make $.53.

53 cents instead of $3.49.

100 readers buy my book, I can pay some bills.

100 readers borrow my book, I have $53.

Also, in order to make that page read money, I have to tell all of my fans in other countries where Amazon still tacks on a $2 surcharge to ebook sales (anywhere that doesn’t have a Amazon.countrycode store) and uses any of the other vendors like Apple, Barnes and Noble, or Kobo etc. that they CANNOT have access to my book. Why? Because to be in Kindle Unlimited my book HAS to be exclusive to Amazon.

But Doesn’t Kindle Unlimited Give a Book Better Visibility?

Some proponents of Kindle Unlimited for authors argue that Kindle Unlimited is great because it allows books to have a better sales ranking than books not in the program. This is because Amazon awards sales ranking credit when a book is clicked to be borrowed, not when it is read. So books can be ranked in the Paid Kindle Store, #1,000, #550, #2,000, and they ARE NOT making the money that a similarly ranked book NOT in KU is making. In fact, they might not ever. It all depends on if a reader actually reads the book AND connects their device to the Internet so Amazon has that data.

Some of my JAFF author friends and I have extensively tested KU and compared data. On average, a KU book will see their Kindle Sales cut by 20-45% because of borrows cannibalizing the sales. The KU book WILL go much lower in the sales rankings, often cracking the top 1,000 without breaking a sweat. The KU books stay lower, longer, as well. But when the bottom dollar money is compared, KU books and non-KU books are within a standard deviation both ways just on the sales cannibalization alone. In other words, Amazon found a way to get authors to become exclusive to Amazon, many times without actually paying them more money.

In fact, since July 2015 with the page reads, the monthly page reads readers are making has increased by a higher percentage than the pool of money, resulting in a lower per page payout. This means, more readers are using the program, a boon for Amazon because it keeps people coming to their site. For some authors they’ve seen their overall pays increase because the volume increased, but more see lower earnings because Amazon’s system is geared towards more heavily promoting the books that are already a success and keeping them there (the very nature of there’s over 1 million KU books, Amazon can’t promote all of them equally).ย

Are there outliers? Yes. Some genres the pages read are astronomically high and those authors see 4 and 5 figure earnings just on borrows alone. Amazon also gives bonuses to the top 100 books and authors in the program. BUT, because of the way the program is carefully crafted, and I have to give Amazon kudos for that, that author or publisher can’t see what the books are making elsewhere because they have to be exclusive.

I made $800 in one month on Apple when A Winter Wonder released, but I do not make $800 every month on Apple. But the potential is there if I just spent more time writing now that my life is back in order. And to make $800 in borrows I have to have 174,000 page reads. That’s roughly 870 readers reading on average 200 KENPC pages in any of my books in that month, still less than $1 earned per reader I served. Plus, it’s not just Apple I would lose, I would also lose Nook, Tolino, Scribd, Kobo, Apple, Google, PageFoundry, and selling directly to my readers so they can keep the files forever. Did I also mention that even on KU books, Amazon is still taking 30% of the sales? (65% on a book priced less than $2.99 and higher than $9.99). Yeah, funny side note, when I was in KU, I realized that Amazon was still making MORE money off my sales than they were paying me in borrows back when it was a flat fee every time someone read 10%.

So What Does This Mean For Me, the Reader?

Use Kindle Unlimited. I do, as a reader. But please understand that when you borrow a book, that author took a huge pay cut in most cases to give you that opportunity. If you loved the book, consider buying it, so the author makes the sale. Give it a review. Tell someone about the book. All of those help that author make the most of offering their hard work at a steep discount.

Help other readers to know that Kindle Unlimited books are really getting paid less than half a penny a page. I’m not asking readers to feel sorry for authors, but I find when readers are aware of what these programs demand of authors to participate, everyone benefits because we can work together as a community to support JAFF books.

Also, publishing is for everyone. ๐Ÿ™‚ If you have a story in you, know that you CAN publish. I am hoping some of the authors who were readers just a year or two ago will comment here and share their stories. My publishing earnings each month are a very generous part-time wage that helps my family. After expenses, I was able to put a little over $20,000 into my family’s checking account in 2015 while staying home with my kids, moving, and taking on home schooling. I could have put in more but I chose to invest in some longer return projects like translations and audiobooks. ๐Ÿ™‚ I also only released 4 books last year, all before July 4.

Finally, thank you for reading this far. It’s a lot of information, but information I hope is interesting. ๐Ÿ™‚ Next month, if people would like, I can talk more about the technical aspects of publishing. Just let me know in the comments if that would be a good post. ๐Ÿ™‚

I am back to writing, and I am currently writing A Blessing of Marriage live on my new site (I accidentally deleted my blog, long story). If you would like to follow along, you can read the first 16 chapters, and By Consequence of Marriage is on sale for just $1 direct through me.

17 Responses to Backstage Pass: Behind the Scenes of Publishing JAFF

  1. Thanks for all this information, Elizabeth Ann. I’m printing it out as I type. As an editor, I’m often asked about some of this information and appreciate having a printout of this article to refer “my” authors who are new to publishing to.

    It’s good to hear something from you again. Your fans are looking forward to the next adventures of our P&P friends in your sagas.

  2. Excellent article, Elizabeth. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. One other thing that is worth noting for us indie publishing authors, is the financial expense to do so. Between writing and marketing, banners, blog tours, social networking exposure, guest posts, etc. many authors would rather seek out professionals for cover design, editing, and formatting. I suspect that having laid out upwards of $1,500 in those necessary expenses in order to put out a quality novel, attaining that back in KU could be quite a challenge. Breaking even may seem like an uphill battle – I imagine much like chipping away at that “advance” you spoke of. Thank you again for an eye-opening article.

    • Our genre is unique that I’ve seen the cover generator covers from Createspace still chart well. Places like even have FREE design tools and tips and videos for authors to learn how to make a decent book cover. Keywords are what really matter in today’s digital landscape. I’ve cringed at some of the DIY covers and even some professional covers over the years, for sure. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Formatting like I said for digital can be as cheap as a word document when you’re talking about fiction. My first paperbacks were Word templates from Createspace, now I pay $80 a month to have Adobe Creative suite + 10 stock photos a month and use Indesign to lay out my paperbacks, Muse for my website, and Photoshop and Illustrator every time I turn around for covers, advertising, memes, and fun. It’s like I digitally scrapbook for my job. LOL ๐Ÿ™‚

      There will always be people who think they can’t do it themselves, or just won’t do it themselves, but I think Amazon is really tightening the screws on margins that savvy authors are going to HAVE to learn to do more technical work for themselves or they will just be priced out of the industry. Even my JAFF which has earned very well I think with If you want to do KU that is. A 100- page novella, even in serial format, has a reasonable production time of 1-3 weeks, depending on the author’s outline, how much material is “ready to go” and what systems they have in place. So 2 per month, selling 1,000 copies each as new releases at $2.99 roughly works out to $2,000 a month plus your backlist earnings. That’s working heavy part-time or full-time as an author. You start cannibalizing those sales 25-40% and taking only 50 cents a read, you’re looking at $1,000-$1,500 a month.

      Now, an author with an extensive backlist might do like a Disney system where they vault stories, but it’s KU. The book is available everywhere, and maybe once every 2 years it does a 3 month rotation in KU. So you could announce it’s going to be temporarily unavailable, then remove it, wait for it to be delisted, then do a 90 day spell in KU with promotions planned, it could provide a bounce for the overall catalog on Amazon, granted there would be blowback from readers both on the other vendors AND on Amazon. The problem I think comes that although it’s business, for us it IS personal. My readers email me. They know my daughter’s name. They cheer me on to write. They give me virtual hugs when I hit walls. I am not an impersonal corporation publishing books. So that makes vaulting very difficult to do as a business strategy, even though other entertainment venues do it all the time (things leave Netflix, etc)

      But yes, earning out is definitely something all author/publishers must consider and there is a value to putting some money in to make more later. For someone’s first JAFF, the conservative business woman in me says produce that first book as affordably as you can because no matter how good or talented you are, it will always be your first book. And just like our first children, there’s always mistakes that get made from just a lack of specialized experience. So put your best out there, but don’t sweat trying to be perfect. Nothing ever will be. ๐Ÿ™‚

      But I think using services that charge $2-$4,000 in editing and formatting and cover services are not a good investment for most authors. Even the best indie author who uses those services to produce books and hits it big will resent spending that kind of money on a digital product that’s literally made up of 1s and 0s. ๐Ÿ™‚ A good stock photo or your own photo can make a lovely cover, and a weekend spent learning formatting can produce a very nice ebook and paperback. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Elizabeth Ann, this post is EXCELLENT! Sorry I’m getting to it late (been sick, as you know) but I am SO happy you tackled this topic and hope you will continue to inform us, as you are inspired to do so.

    I am one of those who got into this game with the Sourcebooks fury in publishing JAFF. I’ve seen a tremendous amount of change in the now 10 years of my publishing career. As in most things, the good is mixed in with the bad. The traditional publishing system, while largely not beneficial for most authors and definitely skewed to elevate the publishing house and agents over the lowly author, isn’t entirely bad. Without the devotion Sourcebooks once had to JAFF, and them taking a chance on this unknown author, I would not be writing this comment because Austen Authors would not exist! As seen with the BIG names in the fiction industry, huge amounts of money can be made from writing a book… and to a degree rarely seen within the independent publishing realm (although there are a handful of indie authors who have raked in the mega dollars).

    That said, it is the “mid-list” author who can flourish with the newer independent formats of publishing. I’ve done both, and, yes, pros and cons. Doing all the work yourself isn’t the easiest task in the world, but it isn’t nearly as onerous as some make it out to be. In the end, if done well and approached with a professional attitude, and even with the pitfalls such as KU, independent publishing is WAY better! The potential to make money, and the joy of being in total control of one’s art far, far, far outweighs the traditional pathway, IMHO.

    Yes, with a trad house an author has a greater potential of becoming the next Stephen King/JK Rowling/Stephanie Meyer, but the odds are still never in your favor. ๐Ÿ˜‰ And, yes, it is sweet to see your novel on a shelf at Barnes & Noble or Target (not YET a reality for indie published novels). And there is some relief in handing the manuscript to a publisher who will then do all the work (editing, cover, formatting, etc) for you. Pros and cons.

    Nevertheless, the opening world of independent publishing has radically changed everything. As you said, Elizabeth Ann, authors can now be in control of their destinies. Those who have a story inside them can write it and see it published. Will everything indie published be wonderful, or even worth a read? No. But the fact is there are many, many, MANY traditionally published novels arguably junk not worth reading!

    And, knowing how the traditional system works, I personally grieve to imagine how many awesome stories never became published (and therefore available for readers to enjoy) because the publishing gatekeepers deemed them unworthy. JK Rowling was rejected 12 times before Scholastic saw her worth. What if her 11th rejection had been the one that broke her will to keep fighting?

    So my opinion is that amid the junk independently published there are a vast quantity of gems. Gems that are now available for readers to delight in. As a reader this thrills me! As an author I continue to hope the shift in the industry will favor the author, as is only proper.

    • I won’t say that traditional publishing is all bad, but you CERTAINLY need a good lawyer when it comes to the contracts. It’s a system that is stacked against the creator, and for that reason I am not a rah-rah cheerleader, but certainly some parts of distribution are very tough for small business to leverage. I think next month I will dive into paperbacks and how that system is undergoing radical change with Print-On-Demand. ๐Ÿ™‚ I think readers will be astounded that for decades, boxes and boxes of books were just shredded that didn’t sell with the covers ripped off and shipped back because it would cost more to ship the books back. ๐Ÿ™‚

      And POD machines, which I have had the unique opportunity of seeing in person oddly enough when I was 18, are really, really cool.

    • Thank you cary for reading! ๐Ÿ™‚ I know it’s sorta weird to explain all of this to readers, but I wanted everyone to know they CAN be an author too if they’d like, and that Kindle Unlimited can be both a blessing and a challenge for many authors.

  4. Thanks for the post, Elizabeth…and for your help to me personally! As always your article is crammed full of info, which I will have to go back and reread. I am one of those readers turned authors. I published my first book in March 2015 and my seventh book in December. (and book eight’s first draft is nearly complete.) (I should maybe say that the first two were novel length and the rest have been novella except for one that is a book of short stories.)

    I would like to say that I am still learning but that sounds like there will be an end to the learning, and I know that is not true! ๐Ÿ™‚ But, it is true that I am just a beginner, and I have to say, I am surprised at just how much I have enjoyed publishing. I can’t imagine giving up control of my choices and not doing it as an indie author. I do employ some services to help me such as a, which I use for formatting my books (and my son, who will work for a small sum and lasagna, when I need help with CSS customization).

    I am not in KU because I wish to have my books on the Chapter’s Indigo site here in Canada, and I really do not like the idea of one company controlling everything.

    One thing that some might find interesting is that as an author publishing from Canada, I cannot publish on Nook, but I can publish to various sales channels such as Nook through Draft2Digital. I do pay d2d a percentage of my royalties for this privilege. I also cannot get paid through direct deposit from Createspace because they are not set up to do that with Canada. So, they have to cut me a check, but the check only gets cut when the currency of whatever particular country reaches a threshold of $100. So, if I sell in Britain (and I have), I will not see a dime until I reach that magic number of 100 (and I have not yet hit that number). The same is true for Euros and so on. Still, I make print copies available because that is what some people like. And while this writing thing is a passion turned into a business, it is not all about me and what I am making…it is about sharing with readers through various channels and in both ebook and print format for their enjoyment…and at a price that will allow me to earn enough to pay bills but not be off-putting (I hope) to readers. This year, when my job description was going to take a large shift, my writing allowed me to say no to the change and take a cut in teaching hours, and I am looking forward to the day when writing can be my only profession. Hopefully that will be in the near future.

    • I know the international authors still have some struggles with payments, that’s why I clarified about what works for US citizens and some alternatives. I know exactly what you mean about thresholds though, I remember back when I just had Cancelled, some months I didn’t even make $10 to get paid direct deposit!

      I know you will hit that print threshold soon! Don’t give up.

      I am very thankful for my writing income as it has allowed my family to take many of this year’s challenges in stride. My first big check in 2014 came in a month where the hot water heater broke and we needed new furniture. It was so nice when hubby was stressing it all and I was like “But I transferred money in, it’s like this didn’t happen.”

      Taking on homeschooling our daughter, there are a lot of little fees here and there that get absorbed by my writing. And I love, love, love the business exposure and entrepreneurial spirit growing in her. She KNOW Mommy writes and sells books, and she a six-year-old anxious to make something she can sell.

  5. Thanks for all this. I just finished writing my fifth book, and so far, my other books have been traditionally published. I really want to make a change, so all this is good to know. Seems pretty unfair.

    • You can do it Rebecca! When you’re ready, let me know, I am happy to share all that I know. ๐Ÿ™‚ Formatting a paperback can be tough, but there’s lots of tutorials out there and Createspace offers Word document templates for all of the major trim sizes.

    • No. Unless the author is reselling the used copy, the author does not make any royalty on the resale of a paperback. But that’s true no matter what. When readers buy a paperback it then becomes their tangible property to resell, lend, use, or destroy. ๐Ÿ™‚

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