Epic Fantasy Analysis Jan 3, 2013

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November 2010 was a watershed moment with regards to the ebook revolution. That was the month I saw my sales go from a modest 1,000 per month (across 4 titles) to 10,000+ a month (across 5 titles). What was even more amazing is I wasn’t the only self-published author seeing this kind of spike, and ever since then there has been two very viable methods for full-time income.  Since that time I have routinely tracked the Amazon Kindle Epic Fantasy Bestseller List it’s been fascinating to watch. Where once only a few self-published titles existed, the list was pretty evenly divided 50/50 through most of 2012. I’ve also seen prices fluctuate and trends regarding bundling books or releasing shorts.  I plan to share this data with readers of Amazing Stories on a regular basis and I think it will benefit both readers and writers of the genre.

For readers, you’ll be able to see what authors are selling well and find some titles that are worth checking out.  For authors, you’ll be better informed when choosing between self-publishing and traditionally. My hope is that overtime we’ll see some new and interesting trends.

The following data was taken as of 1/2/2013.

  • 3% – Amazon Imprints
  • 39% – Self/small press
  • 58% – Traditional publisher

This is a remarkable change. As I already mentioned through most of 2012 this list was pretty evenly divided between traditional and self-published. I’m thinking that this may have a lot to do with the holiday season, with a number of new ebook owners buying some of the bigger names and skewing the list. Also, The Hobbit has just been released so more of Tolkien’s works are in the top spots than what we’ve historically seen. Some might suspect that Jordan is commanding a larger percentage of the list due to the much anticipated release of the last Wheel of Time book, but he has consistently held the most titles through all of 2012 so no real changes there.

Traditionally Published Authors: 22 authors share 58 of the 100 spots. As in the past Robert Jordan dominates with 11 titles. Obviously this is bolstered by the final installment of the Wheel of Time release, but I’ve seen him topping the chart throughout 2012.  It’s also worth noting that the ebook of A Memory of Light isn’t available yet so it’s not one of them.  The following list shows the authors, how many titles they had in the top 100, and the prices for their books. Those that are omnibus versions (with more than one novel per title) or short stories is also called out. NOTE: na indicates a UK book that has made the list because of high overseas sales but is not available for purchase.

  • 11 – Robert Jordan (8 solo, 3 w/Sanderson):  $2.99(short), 5-$7.99, 2-$8.99, 3-$9.99
  •  9 – George R.R. Martin: 3-na, 3-$8.99, 1-$14.99, $1-29.99 (omni), 1-$39.99 (omni)
  •  8 – J.R.R. Tolkien: (6 solo, 2 w/Christopher Tolkien): 1-na, $7.29, 3-$8.32, $9.00
  •  7 – Brandon Sanderson (4 solo, 3 w/Jordan): $2.99 (short), 2-$7.59, 2-$7.99, $8.99, 2-$9.99, $20.69 (omni)
  •  3 – Joe Abercrombie: $8.69, $9.79, $11.04
  •  3 – Michael J. Sullivan: 2-$7.99 (omni), $8.89 (omni)
  •  2 – Terry Brooks:  2-$0.99 (short)
  •  2 – Justin Cronin: $7.99, $13.99
  •  2 – Brent Weeks: $5.99, $9.74
  •  1 – Peter V. Brett $12.99 (pre-order)
  •  1 – Jim Butcher: $9.99
  •  1 – Steven Erikson: $7.99
  •  1 – Terry Goodkind: $8.54
  •  1 – Deborah Harkness : $9.99
  •  1 – Stephen King: $8.99
  •  1 – Mark Lawrence: $7.99
  •  1 – Robert R. McCammon: $8.54
  •  1 – L. E. Modesitt Jr. $2.99
  •  1 – David Mitchell $11.99
  •  1 – Patrick Rothfuss $9.99
  •  1 – R.A. Salvatore: $2.99
  •  1 – Martha Wells: $7.99
  •  1 – Weis/Hickman: $5.59

Analysis: Prices are lower than we’ve seen for most of 2012. There are just 5 non-omnibus titles over $10 when typically I see 25%. I believe a lot of this has to do with some of the titles being older and I didn’t see much in holiday discounting that I’ve seen in previous years. The few titles that do seem to be related to holiday discounting are books by L.E. Modesitt Jr and R.A. Salvatore both of which are at the $2.99 price point usually reserved for self-published works. The $5.59 book by Weis/Hickman is probably also related to the holiday and I suspect the lowered price is what got it onto the list. One notable bargain is Brent Weeks first Lightbringer book coming in at under $6. There is only one book that makes the list which is not yet released, and this shows a positive sign for Brett’s The Daylight War due in February. As I already noted Tolkien has more spots than normal (usually 2 – 3 but now holds 8). My guess is come summer we’ll see that greatly diminished. As mentioned, Jordan’s numbers are pretty consistent with 2012, but Brandon Sanderson has seen a nice bump. Sanderson generally he has 2 – 3 books in the top 100 and coming in at 7 is the highest I’ve seen him. George R.R. Martin’s status remains unchanged and he continues his reign with the top spots as he has throughout 2012. Joe Abercrombie has seen his new release,  Red Country,  provide a nice boost to his back list adding two additional titles in the top 100.  Jim Butcher, on the other hand, either doesn’t have his other books categorized as epic or isn’t seeing a similar boost even though his latest sold really well in its opening weeks. Unfortunately no new names to the list, although the two rookies, myself and Mark Lawrence have recently returned due to some promotional activities of our titles by Amazon. One surprise, was two short stories by Brooks published through his publisher. I would have thought he would follow a model that Goodkind and Sanderson have done and should have self-published them (in my humble opinion). Sadly only 2 out of 21 (8.7%) of the authors are women.

 Breakdown by number of books: There are a much higher percentage of authors with multiple books in the top 100 than we’ve seen in the past. More than 75% of the top 100 are from authors that have more than one book on the list and a higher than normal percentage (above 50%) are taken up by authors with more than 5 titles. This is showing a much more stratified list with the 4 top authors consuming a significantly larger number of spots than I’ve seen previously. If this is a continuing trend then it may mean tougher times ahead for mid-list authors.

  • 55.2% (32 books) by 4 Authors with 6 or more books (Jordan, Martin, Tolkien, Sanderson)
  • 20.7% (12 books) by 4 Authors with 2 – 5 books (Abercrombie, Brooks, Cronin, Sullivan, Weeks)
  • 24.1% (14 books) by Authors with 1 book (Brett, Butcher, Erikson, Goodkind, Harkness, King, Lawrence, McCammon, Modesitt, Mitchell, Rothfuss, Salvatore, Wells, Weis/Hickman)

Self and Small Press Published Authors: Consistent with past performance, few of the small presses are getting their authors on the Top 100.  Out of the 100 books only 2 came from a small press and they are both by the same author. Self-publishers dominate this category with 37 of the 39 titles. Seeing the overall percentage (under 40%) is a SIGNIFICANT decrease in the division between self-publishing and traditional. Whether this is the start of a trend, or momentary blip due to high profile traditional launches and holiday sale, time will tell.

  • 5 – David A. Wells: $0.99, 4-$2.99
  • 3 – T.B. Christensen:  $2.99, 2-$3.99
  • 3 – Ben Hale: $0.99, 2-$2.99
  • 3 – Michael G. Manning: $0.99, $2.99, $4.95
  • 3 – M. R. Mathias: 2-$0.99, $4.88
  • 2 – Brian D. Anderson: $3.90, $3.99
  • 2 – David Dalglish: $0.99, $3.99
  • 2 – J. L. Doty: $3.99, $4.99
  • 2 – John Forrester: $0.99 – $2.99
  • 2 – Joseph Lallo: 2-$2.99
  • 2 – Aaron Pogue: $0.99, $4.99
  • 1 – Daems/Tomlin: $3.99
  • 1 – Chanda Hahn: $2.99
  • 1 – Hollaway/Rodgers/Beely: $3.99
  • 1 – Brian Kittrell: $3.95
  • 1 – Toby Neighbors: $2.99
  • 1 – Stephenie Rowling: $0.99
  • 1 – Aaron Patterson: $2.99
  • 1 – LK Rigel: $0.99
  • 1 – Jason Teasar: $2.51
  • 1 – Christopher Williams: $0.99

Analysis: Prices for this list have trended upward from what I saw in 2012. Nearly 35% of the self-published were more than $3.99 or more whereas in October 2012 it was only 25%. The percentage of books at the low end ($0.99) is pretty consistent 28% in Jan verses 30% in Oct 2012. The average number of books per author in Jan was 1.86 (39 books by 21 sets of authors) verses 1.72  (50 books by 29 authors). David A. Wells continues to be the man to beat with 5 books in the Top 100 (one more than in 2012). The division between authors with multiple books verses those with one remains pretty constant at 50%.  In Jan 52.4% (11 out of 21) had more than one book on the list and in October 2012 55.1% (16 out of 39) had multiple books. Unfortunately the women are equally badly represented in the self-published side. Only 2 out of 21 (9.5%) of the authors are women.

  • 0.0% (0 books) by Authors with 6 or more books
  • 74.3% (29 books) by Authors with 2 – 5 books (Wells, Christensen, Hale, Manning, Mathias, Anderson, Dalglish, Doty, Forrester, Lallo, Pogue)
  • 25.7% (10 books) by Authors with 1 book (Daems/Tomlin, Hahn, Holloway/Rogers/Beely, Kittrel, Neighbors, Rowling, Patterson, Riel, Tesar, Williams)

Unlike in the traditional space where 55% of the slots are taken up by 4 top authors we find no one in self-publishing with more than 5 slots and there is only one with 5 books. When it comes to authors with multiple books in the top 100 though, self-published authors are a head with 11 as opposed to 9 traditionally published ones.

So there you have it. A baseline for watching epic fantasy as 2013 unfolds. I hope you try some of the books by authors on this list as their sales are a good indication that they are writing fiction that many are finding enjoyable. And for those with multiple books on the list, it proves that people keep coming back for more than just the first one. We’ll see how things progress from here.

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