I started this blog at the beginning of April at the same time that I made my decision to self-publish. I thought I would document the process of an unknown, unpublished writer as they attempted to get noticed out of the near-million items in the Kindle Store.
People warned me that there was so much crap out there that I would sink to the bottom unnoticed. However, that just strengthened my belief that if you put out a professional product (well-edited, good cover, competitive price, catchy blurb, clever marketing), that you would stand out even more.
Right from the start, I promised to give you my sales figures, warts and all. There were times this month that I regretted that pledge. I went four days when I sold nothing at all in the US, and a whole week in the UK, but my sales pulled through in the end and I comfortably beat my targets.
Too often the talk in self-publishing is about people at the very top of the bestseller charts whom we have no realistic hope of matching, or people who don’t approach this professionally (i.e. poor editor, crappy design etc.), and sell nothing at all.
I don’t think either extreme is particularly useful for the average unpublished writer who is considering self-publishing.
What first made me sit up and take notice of self-publishing was the amazing figures being posted by people like Joe Konrath, Amanda Hocking, and John Locke.
However, what convinced me to take the plunge was the much more widespread success of previously unpublished writers on the next “tier” down: David Dalglish, Victorine Lieske, HP Mallory, Michael Wallace, Christopher Smith, Mel Comley, J. Carson Black, David McAffee, Sibel Hodge, Imogen Rose, and many more.
Robin Sullivan of Ridan Publishing regularly posts monthly totals of some of the top-sellers she has information for. But even more convincing than that was the monthly thread on Kindle Boards (like this one), where people published their totals whether they were selling big numbers or not.
Two things became clear to me. First, there were a lot more people making good money from self-publishing than I realised. Second, the sales curve for self-published work is completely different to traditional publishing.
In traditional publishing there is a massive push in the first week and the first month to sell as many copies as possible. Good numbers are crucial in preventing booksellers from returning the books to the publisher, so all the marketing push is focussed on those opening weeks.
If the first month is a good one, the hope is that momentum will carry the book through a few months good sales before it dies down to a trickle. If it’s a bad one (which is far more likely), the book is written off and destroyed.
However, in self-publishing, it is completely different. Virtually every writer who posted their sales figures had a slow build, with each month gradually improving before some kind of jump after five, six, or seven months.
None of them could really put their finger on what led to the boom, but many felt it was their cumulative marketing efforts finally finding their audience.
This is a great boon to self-publishers. It removes the insane pressure for instant success, and give you time to find the pricing and marketing strategies that work for you. It also negates the unrealistic expectations that hound trade published writers, where their book is deemed a hit or a flop in a matter of days.
All that said, it’s time for my figures.
I launched my first e-book If You Go Into The Woods on May 4 & my second Transfection on May 21. Both titles are short stories. The first has a length of around 4,000 words, the second, closer to 6,000. Both are priced at the minimum 99c.
I had some fears that I would sell only a handful because of the sheer amount of full-length novels, many from bestsellers, available for the same price.
Full Breakdown for May
If You Go Into The Woods (on sale since May 4)
Amazon US 88
Amazon UK 15
Amazon DE 1
Transfection (on sale since May 21)
Amazon US 40
Amazon UK 2
Amazon DE 0
*That total includes 13 copies gifted through Amazon, but doesn’t include free downloads on Smashwords or copies given away through other means.
“Real” Total 140
With both titles there was an initial burst of sales, then nothing, then a slow build (with ups and downs).
Neither title is in the Smashwords Premium Catalogue yet, which is cutting out 20%-30% of my sales channels (I am international so can’t list direct with Barnes & Noble and must go through Smashwords).
Sales of Transfection have been much stronger in the US. In fact, overall sales have collapsed completely in the UK, with only 1 sale in the last week of May. I haven’t figured out why yet, although 99% of my promotional efforts are focused on the US.
There was zero spend on advertising, until May 27, when I took out a cheap ad on the KU Forum which has had zero effect on sales.
I made a couple of mistakes, which had an effect on sales (not least running a competition on Twitter and sending 70 US readers to my Amazon UK listing – ouch).
I had a couple of breaks with some nice reviews in book blogs towards the end of the month which will hopefully lift sales (or keep them at this level) in June. I got a very nice review from SIFT Book Reviews two days ago, and I’m hoping that will have a positive effect.
Obviously, it’s too early to draw any conclusions, but the reviews are building nicely, and some people are starting to say some nice things.
Personally, I am delighted. It’s far more than I could have expected.
Out of all the promotional things I attempted, the second most effective was competitions. The first, by far, was releasing a new title. The sales of If You Go Into The Woods jumped when I released Transfection, even though they are different genres.
When I started on this path, I was unknown and unpublished (aside from few stories in magazines). I also had no platform. I started a blog in April about a month before my first release.
It grew pretty fast – I was hitting 1000 views a week by the release of If You Go Into The Woods, and it’s approaching 2000 views a week now.
My recommendation to anyone considering self-publishing is to start building that platform now. I only joined Twitter 3 weeks ago, and I should have done that a lot earlier. Blogging too.
There are tons of (free) promotional avenues I haven’t explored yet, and I am still experimenting with what is an effective use of my time. I should have a clearer picture in a few months.
But overall, I’m very happy with the way things are gone.
Cold Hard Cash
So what’s that in dollars? I make 35 cent per copy sold in the US, about the same from the UK, a little more in Germany, and a lot more from Smashwords. In total I cleared over $50.
I’m not driving a gold car yet, but it’s a good start. Remember, self-publishing is all about a slow build. To give you a comparison, John Locke made less than that in his first six months. He made $126,000 in April.
To put it another way, I covered 50% of the costs of the first story in 3 weeks. The second one was a little more expensive to produce and will take longer to cover costs, but then everything after that is profit. Forever. With no further costs on my side.
The plan is to use these shorts as a springboard to tap into the higher royalty rates. I’m never going to get rich making 35c per e-book.
My next project will be priced at $2.99 and that will make me over $2 a copy. The next release after that will be $3.99 or $4.99 (haven’t decided yet), and that will make me $2.79/$3.49 a copy.
I view the stories as “loss leaders” for the longer work (even though it looks like they will turn a profit). Longer work tends to sell much better, plus you get the 70% royalty rate instead of 35%.
The hope is that readers who aren’t sure whether to take a risk at a higher price, have a lower-priced alternative to sample my writing.
Plus, they will see the reviews of the lower-priced stuff (which has done well in that regard so far). Essentially, the short stories are like ads for the rest of my stuff which will come out this summer.
Also, I will bundle them into collection of 5 for $2.99 too, which will also tap into that higher royalty rate.
That’s speaking with my business hat on. I love writing shorts just for the fun of it too.
So, how do I feel overall? Well, I’m beginning to build an audience, I’m starting to get my name out there, and collect some good reviews.
But you know what? If $50 is all I ever make, if I never sell one more copy, I will be out about $140. Even if that happens, the experience (and the education) will have been well worth it.
I see these sales as the start, not the end. There is huge potential here. I just can’t wait to bring out longer work and see what level my sales could rise to.
June, here we come!