While writing is considered an artistic endeavor, for Fairbanks author Craig Martelle, writing is his business. His best-selling science fiction books are self-published and sold on Amazon.com. With a mindset for making money, Martelle has created a profitable business, working for himself — not a publishing company.
Martelle sits in the intersection of productivity and profit in the publishing world. A former Marine, Martelle is a workaholic who can produce 2,500 “clean” words each day that don’t need heavy editing. Since most of his books are around 60,000 words, he can produce a book just about every month. Between his own books and those he has co-authored, Martelle has writing credits on over 100 books.
Martelle has worked as a Marine, a lawyer and a business consultant. His work day is regimented in a way that reflects this: Martelle works each day, for between 12 and 14 hours. He carefully tracks his sales and expenses and ensures that the team around him works as quickly as he does. He runs his business, he says, as he would advise his clients to run theirs.
Each book sells for around $5. He knows that he can make about $3.50 from each book sold by Amazon, before other costs. By the end of March, Martelle will have published three books this year. A large portion of his profits go to marketing his work, but he says that for each dollar he spends, he gets a return of around $3.
In traditional publishing, this process takes much longer and is less profitable for authors, according to Martelle.
“If you just want to write you’re going to sell yourself to someone else and just be unhappy all the time,” Martelle said.
It seems to work. Martelle is in the top 100 science fiction authors on the Amazon charts and his books have been nominated for several readers choice awards.
Working quickly is important, when it comes to profiting from the crowded self-publishing market, which competes with traditionally published titles. Though each book sells for a relatively small amount of money, Martelle can continuously make a small profit from each of the 100 titles he has worked on.
This is the numbers game promoted in the 20 Books to 50K Facebook group, which Martelle promotes and participates in. The idea is, if a person can publish 20 books, and make about $7 per day on each, they can make roughly $50,000 per year. For Martelle, at least, the strategy has been successful.
Because Martelle has also published a few books through a traditional publishing company, he is able to compare the two worlds. He says it is more profitable and faster to do it himself.
Martelle’s process is not unlike owning a small publishing company. Right now, he’s the sole author, and he has a whole team of contracted workers and volunteers who help him put out each book. Prior to this, Martelle co-authored several books but says this method is not as profitable.
His “insiders” are a group of trusted retirees who voraciously read Martelle’s work and offer him feedback. He submits the first several chapters to this team, who tell him whether or not they’re hooked. Then he goes back to work. When the first half of the book is complete, he sends it back to the team and once he implements their notes, no one sees the final product before it publishes except for Martelle’s copy editors.
Copyeditors quickly read Martelle’s completed books for basic spelling and grammar.
“I’m very fluid with my capitalization,” he said. Still the copyeditors have his work back to him in about a week.
The books’ covers are designed well before the book is finished, and surprisingly, sometimes have little to do with the content of the book.
Martelle insists on fast turnaround for copyediting and design work, and says he pays well for the privilege. Once the writing, editing and design work is complete, Martelle loads the books directly onto the Amazon platform, where readers can access them immediately.
While Martelle is focused on production, he says quantity is far from the only reason he has become so successful. He has a dedicated readership and is committed to producing quality stories. He says that “story is king” and that he is beholden to creating compelling plots and characters that will keep readers coming back.
“If it’s not good, no one buys the next book,” he said.