It has been a couple of months since I did a sales report, so I thought it might be a good time to share what kind of value I’m getting out of my pimp suit. For anyone looking for numbers with lots of zeroes in them, or tales of battling with household names at the top of the charts, I have a warning for you: this is not that kind of report.
About the only big numbers you’ll see are for free stuff, but I’m selling at a nice level, paying my rent and some bills, and have been for some months now. The checks are about to get a little nicer too because I finally sorted my tax status with one quick phone-call. If you are an international (i.e. ex-U.S.) self-publisher, you might want to read how I did it.
Before we get to the nitty gritty of the numbers, I have a selection of alternative reading for those averse to these reports. The big news this week is that the U.S. Department of Justice has warned Apple and five of the largest publishers that they plan to sue them for (alleged!) collusion to fix prices. I’ll talk more about this soon enough, but Passive Guy has all the details here.
I had a pair of columns on IndieReader last month which I didn’t get an opportunity to link here. Stories Don’t Need “Enhancements” takes aim at the idea that interactive or “enhanced” e-books are an attractive proposition in adult fiction, and Franzen, E-books & Bathtubs is an ungentlemanly pop at America’s foremost futurist.
Finally, for those wondering how I got on in February’s insane 60,000 word writing challenge: I failed.
I wrote 54,144 words – just shy of the total. I have a good excuse though. I ran out of book. That’s right. I wrote Bananas For Christmas from start to finish in four weeks. Well, the first draft at least – it will need a couple of months of polishing.
Ok, the numbers. This is the last six months only:
October: 157 ($285)
November: 261 ($560)
December: 259 ($665)
January: 299 ($765)
February: 298 ($725)
I’m pretty happy with six solid months of growth.
February was a couple of days shorter than January. Had it been 31 days too, it would have just nudged ahead. Plus, I’m waiting on sales from other channels (Smashwords and paperback) which should do that anyway.
March has continued with the same level of sales – which is great. And, actually, I passed a milestone: 2,500 books sold since I started in May last year.
However, what these figures hide was that February was a very tough month. I sold next to nothing for the first three weeks. Then I ran a sale and a few ads, and launched a paperback, which really got things going.
For once, Let’s Get Digital had some serious competition as the top-seller. For the first half of the month, Transfection led the race, benefiting from a post-free boost (it still works if you aren’t in Select, it’s just not quite as dramatic, a lot more hassle to set up, and titles can get caught up in the system – If You Go Into The Woods didn’t come off free until the end of the month).
A Storm Hits Valparaiso then took off during the sale week, and made a run from way out at 200,000 in the rankings before stopping short of the Top 2000 overall. That was largely down to Pixel of Ink featuring the book. They really rescued it from obscurity.
They (kindly) featured my book for free. I decided to try and amplify the effects by scheduling two further ads for that week with Kindle Fire Department and eReaderIQ – both for $50. That $100 of advertising, combined with dropping the price of Let’s Get Digital and A Storm Hits Valparaiso to $2.99 led to around $400 worth of sales (despite the lower prices meaning less royalties).
The sale was a huge success but, before the week was up, sales had dropped off significantly, so I raised the prices again (and sales then remained at that level).
It’s hard to tease out the effects of one individual ad, especially when combined with a sale, but I reckon the Kindle Fire Department ad shifted enough on its own to cover costs and eReaderIQ fell a good bit short (but more than covered costs for a Let’s Get Digital ad).
Pixel of Ink, by far, shifted the most copies and really rescued my historical novel from the hinterlands of the Amazon rankings. Going from 200,000 to 2,000 in a day was quite something. While it didn’t sell enough copies that day to cover the cost of a sponsorship if I had paid for it, I reckon there was enough residual sales following that for it to be a close-run thing. And indeed, the book has been selling much better since, even at the higher price now of $4.95.
Like most of the bigger sites, Pixel of Ink’s readership prefer the more popular genres (Romance, Thrillers etc.). If I was writing in those genres, I wouldn’t think twice about advertising with them.
Whichever site you are considering advertising with, do your research. Certain genres don’t work on certain sites (for example Kindle Fire Department warn they don’t get great results with Science Fiction).
Subscribe to their newsletters. Like their Facebook Pages. Watch how they present the books (Pixel of Ink and Kindle Fire Department do this particularly well). Follow the results of the books they promote, and draw your own conclusions for your genre.
This was the one major disappointment in February as I have been working hard to build up sales outside of Amazon US, both to diversify my income and to justify my decision to stay out of KDP Select.
UK sales had been growing faster than anywhere else. In January, they almost overtook US sales. That growth reversed in February. While I had A Storm Hits Valparaiso and Transfection to pick up the slack there from somewhat depressed sales of Let’s Get Digital, that wasn’t the case in the UK at all (none for Transfection and only five for Storm).
I made my first sales in the Italian Kindle Store and on DriveThruFiction, but Smashwords sales completely collapsed. Aside from little action on the site itself (which is unusual for me), Barnes & Noble sales were about a quarter what they were in January. Apple reporting is about a month behind, but that’s not looking good either. Strong sales (for the first time) over Christmas dropped back to October levels – i.e. next to nothing.
This is particularly disappointing as my two short stories were free for all of January on all the Smashwords retailers. I thought this would lead readers to my other work. It didn’t. I have no idea how many free shorts were downloaded from Apple, but around 1,000 were downloaded from Barnes & Noble, which seems to have done nothing for me.
I also made no inroads whatsoever at Kobo, Sony, or Diesel.
In fact, the only effect (thus far) of making those short stories free at Smashwords, was to increase my sales at Amazon. Around 20,000 copies were downloaded there. Had I been in Select, this would have translated to a reasonably lucrative post-free bounce. But because I made the shorts free the old way, I had to wait weeks to return them to paid.
Even still, I had a bounce, and both shorts are selling at about four times the level they were pre-free (despite the long delay, and despite the huge amount of downloads).
I’ve made my feelings about Select quite clear, but I also can’t ignore the evidence. The effects of a post-free bounce are, quite simply, more than I can achieve from my own efforts. And I’m not seeing the expected return on other channels.
I haven’t decided to enroll existing titles just yet though. I figure the two shorts won’t get much benefit now, having used much of their free juice. A Storm Hits Valparaiso is tied up for a few more months in the deal with Wattpad (where it’s had 500,000 reads!) and I’m happy to keep it there until that’s done. Which leaves Let’s Get Digital.
It’s quite tempting to put this book into Select. I think it has a chance of doing well. It has a striking cover, an enticing description, some juicy blurb quotes, and 74 reviews on Amazon US (59 of which are five stars).
On the other hand, the free PDF version on my blog has been a huge driver of sales. It has been downloaded around 9,000 times between here and Scribd, and probably copied and shared countless times after that. If I enrolled it in Select, I would have to take those free versions down – something I’m not crazy about doing.
Additionally, that free version was released under a Creative Commons License, meaning anyone could copy and share it (as long as they didn’t charge for it), and it could easily be up for download somewhere else, and I would have no power (or right) to ask them to take it down. That could put me in breach of the KDP Select ToS and cause problems.
As things stand, I’ll probably leave existing titles out of the program and keep working on building up other channels. My new book, however, is likely to go into Select, unless there is a dramatic change in the next few months (I probably won’t release until June/July).
If I do go ahead with that, I will give my readers who use other devices, or who are in Amazon’s surcharge zone, the opportunity to purchase a copy before it goes exclusive with Amazon (and if I do it, it will be for 90 days only anyway). I’ll also probably offer a facility to convert Amazon purchases into the format of your choice. I don’t plan to leave any readers in the lurch.
The environment is challenging right now for anyone not in KDP Select, Amazon is certainly tilting things in favor of those who are. I’m ignoring the siren call for now, though, and persisting with my efforts elsewhere. I believe patience is required with the other channels, but I also know that patience has limits.
I wish I had better news to report about my sales outside of Amazon, but it is what it is, and I have to be happy with the overall trajectory. And aside from all that, life is good! Spring is coming, the snow is melting, and I wrote a novel in four weeks!
(Which was about 2 years and 11 months quicker than the last attempt.)