My first “What is Wrong With You?” Patron Cert

On both Patreon and in my store, I have a What is Wrong With You? Patronizer tier. It is a paltry $250 per month, chump change for all you dot-com gazillionares out there.

So you like the idea of throwing money down a well, but don’t want to pollute the water table? Burning cash increases atmospheric CO2 levels? And using bills as toilet paper wrecks the plumbing?

Send your excess cash to Lucas, who will safely dispose of it in the gelato shop.

This is the daft level, for the true Lucas Loony. You get all the benefits of all lower tiers: your name in books! Defaced–er, *signed* books shipped to you! More books! Books books books! So many… blasted… books.

You also get a special “What Is Wrong With You?” certificate, suitable for framing, with your first shipment books. (Upon Patronizer request, an F-bomb may be added to the title.)

I might also send you something special. Something odd. It depends on what I can find around the house.
When the opportunity arises, I will introduce you Crypt-Keeper style.

There is no sensible reason to choose this level, unless you want to submit your support as evidence in your inevitable competency hearing.

In case it’s not clear, this level was intended as a joke.

In case it’s not obvious, some of you like to take jokes too far.

I figured if anyone actually bought this, it would be a one-off. I designed humorous certificate to mail people when they did. Everybody laughs, we get on with our lives. The thought that someone would pay to Patronize me this thoroughly, and pay for a year in advance, did not occur to me. If you ship me a giant lump of cash, though, I feel obliged to extend a minuscule amount of effort into rewarding you. By watching one of EuroBSDCon’s many fascinating presentations and by grilling a mutual friend (who I shall identify only as “MHK-A”), I was able to personalize said certificate.

With my Patronizer’s kind permission, I can share it with you. (Click for full size if you’re interested.)
WTFIWWY certificate
This could be you. For several thousand dollars, mind you, but still.

Oh, and hire Eirik’s company. He clearly needs the dough.

My books on Google Play, for now

Google has been actively hostile to authors for years. That has changed, somewhat. You can now find much of my fiction and nonfiction on Google Play, for now. I rather expect Google to reverse their less-hostile stance without warning, so these might come down as quickly as they appeared.

What do I mean when I say that Google has been hostile to authors? Forget the bit where they scan millions of in-copyright books and make the text available. That’s a separate problem.

Google Play offers separate terms for traditional publishers than individual authors. I own my own publishing company, but I don’t produce books quickly enough to get access to the publisher terms. Fine.

Since its inception, Google Play has let individual authors put a suggested retail price on their books. Until recently, they reserved the right to cut the price for their customers. If they cut the price, they would pay the author their cut based on the suggested retail price. Google used this to boost their platform. They could take, say, SSH Mastery, and make it free for the next thousand downloads. I would make my $6 or so on each download. I get paid, so what could I possibly object to?

I object to it destroying my business, that’s what.

Modern publishing is an ecosystem. Changes in one distributor affect how other distributors behave. Other major ebook distributor either respects the suggested retail price I set on their platform (e.g., Gumroad) or they have a Most Favored Nation clause in their terms where they can match competitor prices. Apple had this for years, but I’m not certain of its status after the antitrust lawsuits. Amazon still has this MFN clause, and it actively monitors competitors for prices to match.

Here’s how this goes horribly wrong.

  • Google makes one of my best-selling books free.
  • Amazon sees it and price matches.
  • A few thousand people download the book on Google Play. I get paid for those.
  • Tens of thousands of people download the book on KDP. I do not get paid for those.
  • Google restores the suggested retail price.
  • I spend days begging Amazon to restore the normal price.
  • Everybody I might sell that book to got it for free.

That book is dead. I made a few thousand dollars in a month but that book brings in nothing more, forever.

Writing is a passive income game. I count on each live book to bring in a few hundred bucks a month. Some, I’m delighted if they bring in fifty bucks a month. I count on last year’s books to pay this year’s bills. If you want to know more about how this works, check out Cash Flow for Creators.

Free books are a valid promotion strategy. (I’ll be announcing a free novel soon, to suck people into the Montague Portal omnibus.) I need to control their use, however.

I half-expect Google to reassert their previous model at any time. Google is spectacularly indifferent to their users. When Google blinks, I’ll be turning them off.

Mind you, I’ll keep the books set up in their publisher dashboard. When they twitch back, I’ll turn them back on.

Private Patronizer site out of beta

My homebrew Patreon is successfully processing renewals. A variety of stupid mistakes and bone-headed misconfigurations have been addressed. Patronizers can subscribe to posts by email. I hereby declare it out of public beta.

This is not a statement that it’s bug free, mind you. I’m sure I’ll find new problems. My fans are dedicated to illuminating me through providing exciting, inexplicable errors, and they are legion.

If you were pondering switching but didn’t want to be a guinea pig, you should be safe now. Or stick with classic Patreon. The benefits are the same. My private Patreon will have certain tiers not available to on Patreon, but only because I have more flexibility. If you want to pay only on 29 February, I have an option for you. I expect this one to be a top seller in 2024.

I wish to offer blatant gratitude to my fearless beta testers. If you stayed on Patreon as well as signing up for my beta, this is the time to pick one. (JDM, I’m looking at you.)

Why would I go through the trouble of building my own Patreon, when Patreon’s right there?

Do whatever works for you. Heck, just buy my books retail. People can still do that, y’know.

Gelato, out!

2020 Income Sources

My post on where my income came from in 2019 stirred interest, so I’m sharing the same information this year.

I had this bright idea that I could perhaps extract and share other useful information from my business data. I dug and found many strange things–but, while they’re interesting, they’re not actionable. It was all minutae like “Cash Flow for Creators sold five times as many copies on my own e-bookstore as it sold in all other channels combined.”

That’s not just interesting, it’s downright weird. It’s also utterly non-actionable, unless you’re trying to say “A book that doesn’t sell on one platform might sell on another.”

So, forget extra information. Here’s where my money comes from.

Or, if you like percentages, here’s everything including “other” detail. Not quite 100% due to rounding.

  • 36% – Amazon KDP
  • 15.9% – Royalties
  • 14.5% – Direct sales (tiltedwindmillpress.com)
  • 10.6% – Patreon
  • 9.7% – IngramSpark
  • 7.3% – Sponsorships
  • 2.8% – Tip jar
  • 1.6% – Gumroad
  • 1% – Apple
  • 0.6% – Kobo
  • 0.5% – Aerio
  • 0.2% – Draft2Digital
  • 0.05% – Barnes & Noble
  • 0.03% – Audiobook

Minor income sources, like my affiliate income, don’t appear here. Amazon’s affiliate program was once a nice way to get a few hundred bucks a year, but they’ve cut the rates so much I no longer find it worthwhile.

Amazon is still my single biggest distributor, but they aren’t a majority. I don’t prioritize them or advertise to them. They’re in the business of selling books, I let them sell my books.

The royalties are my traditional publishing income. A chunk of this is certainly sold through Amazon. As trad publishers push to diversify distributors at least as much as I do, I’m going to assume that their diversification efforts are at least as effective as mine, and that about a third of this is sold through Amazon. This means Amazon is about 41% of my income, pretty much the same as last year.

Direct sales are slightly up from last year, which is nice. I do steer people to direct sales as much as possible.

IngramSpark handles non-Amazon paperback sales and all hardcover sales. I introduced hardcover books with the second edition of SSH Mastery, and people started snapping them up. Who am I to argue with readers? My best-selling hardcover is, to my surprise, the Networknomicon. Go figure.

I’m going to lump a few things together: Patreon, sponsorships, and the tip jar. Money from “people who want my books to exist” makes up about a fifth of my income. My Patreon was new in 2019, and didn’t run through the entire year, so “up from last year” isn’t a meaningful statement. I’d like to add the folks who buy direct and throw in a tip on top of the purchase price. Sadly, WooCommerce’s Name Your Price plugin doesn’t report on how many folks pay extra for books, but I see a whole bunch of you paying $6 for a $5 book, or even $12 or $15 for a $10 book.

In this year of plague and political upheaval, as our economy grows increasingly K-shaped, I am especially grateful to you folks who back me out of the goodness of your hearts.

Or maybe you just like watching the Lucas Train Wreck. Whichever, I appreciate it.

I didn’t believe my Patreon would work. It did. That’s why I increased my Patronizer benefits this year, and launched direct sales of Patronizer benefits through my bookstore. If I’m going to sell something, I’m going to sell it directly. Disintermediation is the future for creatives.

Gumroad? If I didn’t have my own bookstore, Gumroad would be business-critical. As things stand, though, it’s mostly for folks who want to buy books in PDF but must also pay EU VAT. (I don’t sell enough goods in the EU to make filling out the paperwork worthwhile. Yet.)

Apple, Kobo, and draft2digital? I’m glad that 2% of my users can get their books through the channels most convenient to them. I truly want to support you folks.

Kobo in particular has an interesting sales pattern. Folks don’t buy one of my books on Kobo. They buy a book, and then a day or two later start buying all the rest of my books. Voracious readers are a writer’s best fans. Sadly, sales on Kobo are low enough that I can see this pattern–but those are exactly the readers I want.

My Aerio store lets me sell books directly to you without touching the books. I like that. They’re new as of the middle of this year, so I expect them to be higher next year.

Barnes & Noble? I’ve spent months of my life wandering through your stores. Today, you’re killing me.

Last, audiobook income. Note the singular. I released my best-selling short story in audiobook for April Fools’ Day. It’s the perfect length to listen to on your commute. I am convinced that’s why everyone stopped commuting in March. The good news is, the payback time on this audiobook is a paltry seven years.

In summary:

If I lost any one channel, I would survive.

Disintermediation is the way. Sell direct to customers.

Make your books as widely available as possible.

Private Patreon Public Beta

This weekend, I built my own private patronage site at https://www.tiltedwindmillpress.com/product-category/patronizer/

My test users say this works. Consider this a Public Beta. There will be bumps. But if you want to have nothing between me and you but a stack of obstreperous software and recalcitrant payment gateways, this is your chance.

It functions slightly different than Patreon in a couple ways. Fees on $1 and $5 transfers eat a big chunk of the money. The $1/month “See the Sausage Being Made” is a $12 annual charge instead. Similarly, the Digital Reader tier is a $15 quarterly charge instead of $5 a month.

All the benefits are identical, and will remain so. They will be delivered through different channels. Sausage posts will appear on both sites, restricted to your account.

I expect some minor things to change. Patronizers currently get a link to download new books. The link is only good for a month. My next release, I plan to hook those books into direct Patronizers’ TWP accounts. The book will remain there for you to download forever.

This is built on Woocommerce, just like the rest of my store. The software is a $398 annual fee. If everyone was to switch from Patreon to direct, it would more than cover the expense. I don’t expect that to happen. But many folks have said that they’d patronize me if they didn’t have to go through Patreon. I expect most of them were just spewing hot air, but here’s their chance. If I can come close to breaking with Patreon fees, I’ll consider it a win. Disintermediation is valuable in and of itself.

Honesty compels me to say: Patronizing me is still a terrible deal. Only Patronize me if you want to send me extra dough on a regular basis. I am perfectly content when folks buy my books through retail channels.

Geek honesty demands I remind you: public beta. All known problems are fixed. You will discover new ones. Please tell me about them so I can fix them. You are generous with me, I will make it right.

And extra honesty compels me to say: if you decide to switch from Patreon to TWP, in the name of all you hold sacred please remember to de-Patreon me! You folks are already generous enough. I don’t think I could handle some mad wildebeest of a fan sponsoring me full throttle on both sites.

More on Print Orders

A couple notes on the direct print orders I’m offering for the next couple weeks.

For the love of Rat, don’t send money before I give you a quote and confirm your book is still available. First-come first-serve means exactly that.

Here’s how I’m processing orders:

piles of books

Each morning, I get up and read the emails with the subject BOOKS. I collect the books each person wants, put them in the correct size envelope, weigh them, and make a quote with shipping. Each envelope gets a sticky note with the person’s name and the weight.

The next morning, I see who paid. I sign those books and ship those people. Any unpaid books go back on the shelves. One of these envelopes contains my last copy of the Networknomicon, but if it’s not bought someone else can have it.

I then pack & quote new requests.

Last, I check my email for people who have paid since I started.

No, I sit corrected. That’s not last. Last is when I realize that people are buying first edition Absolute BSD or, weirder, first edition Gatecrasher and wonder “what the heck?” But it’s a good bafflement. One I appreciate.

The Print Book Trade, and Money

I’ve had to explain this in two separate conversations, to folks I thought already understood it, so it’s time for a blog post about the business of paper books.

Beware: publishing industry neepery ahead. This is mainly aimed at folks who started off in self-pub and previously didn’t need to know the inside details of the book trade, so they’re missing out on options. I’m giving a high level overview here: this industry has evolved for centuries and is not this tidy.

The book trade has four main parts.

Authors write books, and license that intellectual property to a publisher.

Publishers produce physical books. They might pay a printing company to run thousands of copies, or use a print on-demand-facility.

If you’re a self-publisher, you are both the author and the publisher in this discussion. You wear both hats at separate times.

Retailers sell books to readers. This might be the general public, university students, or any other group. Retailers have the job of picking which books they will stock and attracting customers.

For a publisher to ship 1-2 copies of a book to each bookstore that wants them is cost-prohibitive, both in staff time and shipping cost. That’s where distributors come in. Distributors order a publisher’s books in bulk. Bookstores order books in bulk from a distributor, but those orders contain books from many publishers. The distributor breaks up one bulk order, stores them, and cost-effectively fills bookstore orders.

Some organizations own multiple parts of this chain. Penguin Random House is a huge publisher. They also own a distributor called, conveniently enough, Penguin Random House. (Why they didn’t go with Randy Penguin, flinging their treasures everywhere, I’ll never know.) Barnes & Noble owns a distributor and a publisher. Amazon is both a distributor and a retailer. (They even have a trad publishing arm that publishes some of the books they sell.)

The publisher sets a book’s cover price. Let’s say the cover price is $10, because that makes my math easy. The publisher sells the print book to a distributor for a percentage of the cover price. The exact percentage varies based on contractual agreements. For my examples I’m going to go with 40% for the publisher, 20% for the distributor, and 40% for the retailer. They make my math easy, and they’re also the numbers used by Amazon’s KDP Print program.

So the publisher gets paid $4 for a $10 book. Out of that $4 the publisher must pay to print the book, ship the book to the distributor, pay the staff, boozy lunches, and (presumably) pay the author. Eventually.

The distributor gets $2. Out of this they pay for warehousing, unboxing books, taking orders, reboxing books, and notably sybaritic boozy lunches.

The bookstore gets $4 of that. They pay shipping on their orders, plus clerk salaries and rent and all that boring physical stuff. It’s expensive, but there might be a box of wine at Christmas.

Anyone along this chain can discount the book by taking a smaller cut.

As an author, you get a chunk of the publisher’s take. The amount varies from 1% minus printing costs to 25% of the gross, depending on the drawing power of your name, how drunk you can get the publisher during negotiations, and how business looked when your contract was signed. Because I’m too lazy to do real math, I’m going to assume that your devoted study of the Munich Handbook of Necromancy paid off and you have a 50% split of the publisher’s gross.

The financial split looks somewhat like this. Green is money you get. Yellow is money other people earn. Red is where you get no share in the process, because you don’t participate in that level of the business.

trad pub

Your publisher pays you $2 for the sale of your $10 book. (Again, this is very high. Nobody really gets paid this much by a trad publisher.)

Easy and effective self-publishing changed the distribution of funds. Authors could get the entirety of the publisher’s cut, if they were willing to do the work.

self pub

You get $4, but you must pay for producing the book. All print-on-demand companies will tell you how much your book costs to print, so that’s easy. You also must pay for cover art, copyediting, and so on. Will you come out ahead here? That’s a question for you and your calculator.

Now let’s consider distribution. A book goes through the publisher and the distributor to the retailer.

The previous chart also represents what happens when a bookstore buys a print book published through Amazon. It’s Amazon’s Expanded Distribution. What if the retailer is Amazon? Amazon doesn’t take a distributor cut; they pay the full 60%.

Amazon distribution

You get $6, minus production costs.

Amazon has decided that they’ll skip taking a cut of distribution if they can get that 40% for handling the retail end. There’s no risk on their end; they don’t have to even physically stock the book until someone pays for it.

This is why Expanded Distribution pays so much less than Amazon direct; you’re losing out on that extra 20% of retail. If producing your book costs $3, a $6 sale nets you $3. A sale to a bookstore, routed through Expanded Distribution, nets you $1.

But now, consider IngramSpark. IS has an assortment of fees that muddy this model, and they let you adjust the percentage discount retailers get on your book, but let’s stick with the 40/20/40 split for now. It’s close enough. Effectively, you wind up with the publisher share and a piece of the distributor share.

ingramspark

Sell a $10 book to a bookstore via Amazon, you gross $4. Sell a book to a bookstore via IngramSpark, you gross $5.

That might not sound like a huge difference, but suppose your book costs $3 to produce. A sale via Amazon nets you $1, IS nets $2. That “margin” thing business folks babble about? This is it. Over hundreds or thousands of sales, margin adds up.

Part of this graph hasn’t changed. That’s the retailer, over on the far right hand side. I am unwilling to handle direct mail orders.

But there’s options for that, now. Enter Aerio. Aerio lets anyone set up an online store for print books. I’ve done it. It works.

Aerio splits the retail portion of the sale with the store owner. As a traditionally published author selling my books through Aerio, the income looks like so.

Aerio for trad pub

That’s $4 for me, and I don’t have to pay to print the book. Note that the author’s royalty I used in this example is way, way high; no publisher pays 50% on print books. For most trad-pubbed authors, an Aerio sale will net them far more than their royalty.

If you’re a self-pubbed author distributing books via Amazon’s Expanded Distribution, the money looks nicer.

Aerio and KDP

I have to pay for printing the book, but that $6 net is a lot nicer to start from than $4.

The Big Prize with Aerio, though, is when you sell books available through IngramSpark.

Aerio and IngramSpark

This is a pretty chart. I like this chart. I want to buy it dinner and flowers. If I can’t do okay grossing $7 on a $10 book, I don’t deserve to be an author.

And truth is, I’m delighted to pay Ingram their cut to produce the book and Aerio a cut to provide a spiffy web site and ship the book. These jobs give me splenic hives.

As an author, always look where the money’s being made. See how you can get a cut of it.

One note on using Aerio: Most author/small publisher accounting software, like TrackerBox, view the author’s income from different sources as a single sale. You sold a book to channel X, where X is “Amazon direct” or “Expanded Distribution” or “trad pub.” Aerio breaks this. Aerio is a retailer. They buy from a distributor. Each Aerio sale shows up once as a sale from Aerio, and also on your IngramSpark or Amazon report. You sold 100 print copies of Great Novel on Amazon Expanded Distribution, and 15 on Aerio? That’s not 115 copies. That’s 100 copies. You get paid via two different channels on 15 of them.

As far as I’m concerned, the only way to improve on the Aerio model is for someone to help me transparently offer print/ebook bundles globally. I would happily offer buyers of print books the ebook version for free. Help me do that, and I and my readers will flock to you.

So, uh: I have a print bookstore. You can buy many of my books directly there, in both hardcover and paperback. I make more off those sales than anywhere else. If you want print books, and you want to give me a bigger cut of the sale, buy there.

My New Print Bookstore

No, I did not open a corner bookstore, with weird decorations and a shop cat. I now have an online store for physical books, however. They carry a wide selection of my titles, from multiple publishers, and I’m adding more as time permits.

No, I’m not shipping books myself. I outsourced procurement and delivery to Aerio.

Before you ask: no, I can’t do print/ebook combinations, yet. Some folks are working on this problem, but it is not yet solved. I am still unwilling to hire a lickspittle flunky to cope with shipping.

2019 Income Sources

I occasionally see authors arguing about what channels to sell through and how to structure their business. I frequently say that I don’t consult. I don’t rely on affiliate or speaking fees. My whole career is built on writing books and getting them in front of readers.

Accomplishing that means making the books available in all possible channels.

Here’s where my money comes from.

2019 income sources

For those who want a little more details, here’s the breakdown. (Numbers not exactly 100% due to rounding.)

  • 33.7% – Amazon KDP
  • 29.2% – Traditional Publishing
  • 12.32% – Direct Sales at tiltedwindmillpress.com
  • 7.0% – Patreon
  • 6.6% – Nonfiction Book Sponsorships
  • 5.1% – IngramSpark print distribution
  • 2.5% – Gumroad
  • 1.2% – direct sales at cons
  • 0.9% – Apple iBooks
  • 0.6% – Kobo
  • 0.4% – tip jar
  • 0.3% – draft2digital
  • 0.05% – Barnes & Noble

A couple minor sources of income aren’t included–I made about $200 on Amazon affiliate links from my site, and a whopping $6 on Kobo affiliate links. But here’s some rough conclusions.

Amazon is the Big Beast, but it’s not inviolate. It’s not even the majority.

Trad pub certainly sells a bunch through Amazon. Traditional publishers put even more effort into diversification than I do. I’m going to assume that they’re at least as successful as I am, and roughly one-third of my trad pub income comes through Amazon. This means Amazon backs roughly 42% of my income.

I use both IngramSpark and Amazon for print distribution, because IS reaches places Amazon can’t. Last December, someone in China bought both Prohibition Orcs stories via IS. I sell titles in countries I’d never heard of before, thanks to IS.

Direct ebook sales via my web site, Patreon, and book sponsorships combined make up about a quarter of my income. These are clearly worth continuing.

And yes, if you see me at a con, and you want a book, I’ll sell it to you. The income is negligible, but I use direct contact with folks to help build my readership.

You might look at Apple, Kobo, and draft2digital and say “Why bother?” That’s a fair question. The answer is, I want readers. When a reader is intrigued by an author, they go to their favorite bookstore and check out their titles. I want that reader to find my books when the whim hits them, because thirty seconds later they’ll have forgotten about me.

The tip jar is negligible, but costs me nothing to run, so I’ll keep it. It doesn’t encourage me to set up a kofi account, though.

What’s more effective than the tip jar is the “name your price” feature on tiltedwindmillpress.com, which allows folks to pay more than minimum price for a book. Sadly, the NYP plugin I use doesn’t have a feature to separate out how many buyers include extra, but I can say that I frequently see folks offer an extra few bucks. I appreciate every one of you.

Dear Barnes & Noble: please develop life signs. Thank you.

The general summary is: if I was to lose any one income source, I would survive. Losing a big one would be hard. My family relies on my income to pay bills. (My wife works, but if I don’t bring in real money I need to go find a job.)

I find these numbers reassuring. After five years as a full-time writer, I am completely unsuitable for employment.

When To Buy Your Own ISBNs

In 2017, I bought a block of one thousand ISBNs. Other authors have been asking me why I did that and if they should do the same. I’m writing this blog post so I can point them at it. The short but glib answer is, when the missed opportunity cost of piggybacking on Amazon’s (previously CreateSpace’s) free ISBNs exceeds the expense of buying your own ISBNs.

But let’s break this down a little more.

Most indie authors don’t sell many books. If you have only one or two titles, don’t even think about getting your own ISBNs. Spend your money on editing your next book.

If your book does sell, chances are it only sells on Amazon. Amazon doesn’t care where an ISBN comes from. I imagine they’d happily ditch ISBNs, except for that pesky Expanded Distribution to the wider world of bookstores.

And that wider world of bookstores is where your own ISBNs come in.

If you are regularly making sales in Expanded Distribution, you’re selling print to the world outside Amazon. Those are the folks where ISBNs matter. The reason that they matter isn’t because they check your ISBN against a list of Amazon-owned ISBNs and refuse to buy. It’s because:

the owner of the ISBN controls where the book can be printed.

This is vital.

If your ISBN comes from Amazon, you can only get your book printed at Amazon.

If you own your ISBNs you can have your book printed anywhere. Use Amazon and IngramSpark alike. If a book really takes off and you need to do an actual print run, you can do that and slip those printed books into the supply chain with the same ISBN. Stores and readers don’t care who printed the book so long as it’s of reasonable quality and doesn’t fall apart as they’re reading it. (I’m looking at you, Robert Jordan.)

Your own print run might seem ambitious right now, but while the plan “I’m gonna sell a million copies a year” might not be realistic, the plan of “If I sell a million a year I want to do it in the least profitable way” is just plain daft. Just as you have a backup plan in case of failure, have a route open to maximize success.

So how did I make this calculation?

One, I was being directly contacted for bulk orders on books in locations I couldn’t serve. I could drop-ship books from CreateSpace US, but many of these orders came from overseas. And CreateSpace wouldn’t put customs paperwork on overseas shipments, so I’d have to have the books shipped to me, prepare the customs paperwork, and ship them over to Europe or Asia or wherever. The shipping costs on orders of even 20 books were prohibitive.

The cost of a lost opportunity.

Additionally, my Expanded Distribution sales were growing. ED pays about 40% of cover price on sales. IngramSpark lets you set your own rate, but “50% no returns” is perfectly acceptable. That’s an extra 20% on each unit sold.

I counted my annual sales through Expanded Distribution. I figured out how many ISBNs I needed to buy. I assumed that I’d get an extra 15% on each ED sale (because I’m pessimistic), and that sales would go they way they had for last few years (because I had to pick a value). Yes, these are fragile assumptions.

When the calculation showed that the increased proceeds from IngramSpark sales would pay for the whole block of ISBNs in about a year, and everything after that would be extra income, I bought my ISBNs.

How did I decide how many ISBNs to buy?

I averaged how many titles I publish in a year. Multiplied that by the number of writing years I hope to have left. The math said I’d need a little less than 300 ISBNs. As I’m in the US, it was cheaper to buy 1000 ISBNs than 300, because Bowker is milking the US ISBN market for every last penny.

So I bought 1000. (Before you ask, I can’t resell my extras.)

I am now done with the ISBN problem forever. FOREVER.

To my shock, the investment paid off in three months. My unit sales almost doubled. My books sell in places they never could reach before, mostly in Asia. I sell print books in Malaysia and India. Will that happen to you? Dunno. It won’t hurt your sales, though.

And I have enough to experiment with things like hardcover books. Which, to my surprise, sell. Even in Asia, where they’re not merely expensive but fiendishly expensive.

Once you have your own ISBNs, the real fun begins. You need to re-issue all existing titles under your own ISBNs, so that you can control the printing. This is vital. Someone that wants to order your book will look up the title in their online system and order it by ISBN. If you have one version of the book on Amazon with one ISBN, and the identical book with a different ISBN in IngramSpark, who knows what they’ll wind up ordering? Basic business says you must have a consistent product line. When two hundred people order your book, you don’t want them either getting two different products or, worse, half of them unable to get your book because it’s not available in their area under that ISBN.

This means you need to prepare for success.

Changing your ISBNs means changing your book interior. Adding IngramSpark as a printer means changing your cover.

Are you prepared to make those changes?

Yes, your cover and interior designers are professionals and would never screw you over. Maybe your designer is a dear friend or an award-winning master with a sterling reputation. But people get hit by busses, leave the field, or eaten by antelopes all the time. If nothing else, there’s retirement.

You need not only the finished product, but the source files for them as well. (Some designers will offer digital escrow services, which can be okay so long as it’s at their expense.) When the time comes for you to update fifty titles with your own ISBN, the last thing you want to have to do is redo the covers of your best-selling series because you can’t change shift the design as needed to match IngramSpark’s requirements. You want to have your designer or their successor open the original design, shift a couple items a millimeter or two, and be done.

Do the math now. Figure out how many you need and what the cost would be. Once you know the answer: forget about it until you hit those numbers. Put your energy and your worry on the thing that you can control: your craftsmanship and the amount of time you spend making words.

Because making words is how you get to have problems like needing your own ISBNs.