February Sales Report

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 Donโ€™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:

September: 148 ($265)

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.)

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

49 Replies to “February Sales Report”

  1. Great post! Love reading what other authors are doing, not just in sales but in drivng those sales… I wish you continued success and looking forward to reading your updatd numbers next montha dnsee where you stand.

    Armand Rosamilia

  2. Congrats, Dave and thanks so much for the reporting. It really helps the rest of us to see how someone savvy in the ways of digital marketing approaches all of this.

    I especially feel your pain about going free the “old way” via Smashwords. I’ve also left older titles up at the competing channels, but put a recent title in Select and I can’t justify not going that way in the future. Until/unless one of the other distributors steps up and saves themselves, this is the way of the future.

    Good work on 54k words, also! That’s a lot of bananas.

    1. Apple are doing something. They are offering some stuff to people who upload direct (and not demanding exclusivity). But that’s no good to me without a Mac (and I don’t know if they take international self-publishers – I’ve never checked as I don’t have a Mac).

      B&N are doing exactly nothing. Hardly a surprise. And they don’t allow international self-publishers OR customers. And can’t get the simple things right on their website (search, categories, tags).

      I don’t know anyone who sells on Diesel. I know a few who do okay on Kobo, but I can’t seem to get noticed there – even with two freebies.

        1. Sorry for the delay – it took a while to track down the info. This is the email they sent:

          We would like to make you aware of the following:

          Promo Codes

          Get up to 50 free promo codes for each of your books, which you can distribute for publicity purposes as review copies. Codes can only be requested by users with the Legal role, for titles with a status of โ€œOn the Storeโ€ or โ€œReady for Store.โ€

          For more information about how to request promo codes, see the FAQ.


          You can now provide screenshots to describe your books better on the iBookstore. Screenshots are particularly useful for Fixed Layout, Read Aloud, and Multi-Touch books.

          The requirements for screenshots are 1024 x 768 or 768 x 1024, in the RGB color space, and the file must be .jpeg, .jpg, or .png. You may remove the menu bar from your screenshots, in which case the resolution requirements are 1004 x 768 or 748 x 1024. To deliver your screenshots, use iTunes Producer 2.5 or later.


          To create series, your book deliveries must include series data such as Series Name and Number in Series. This ties together different volumes of a series on the iBookstore.

          For more information, see the documentation in the Deliver Your Content module.


          Pre-orders are an easy way to generate sales before publication. Now, you can make your book available for pre-order without submitting a cover or book asset up until two weeks prior to publication date. Your pre-order will appear live in the iBookstore as soon as you deliver complete metadata. You must submit the cover, book asset, and custom preview two weeks prior to publication.

          For more information, see the iTunes Producer User Guide.


          The iBookstore team

        2. Pre-orders is the biggie there. Promo Codes – kinda cool, kinda meh. Why limit it? If they (or Amazon) allowed full on discount codes like Smashwords, that would be awesome.

          Personally, I’d love to see Apple, B&N and the rest offer Select-like features and not demand exclusivity (which should be enough to keep many out of Amazon’s exclusive clutches). I would love to see: the ability to go free at will (limited to a couple of days a month if they like, I don’t mind), the ability to offer limited time sales (25% off for a week etc.). Or, you know, *something*.

  3. I’m really surprised by your numbers at B&N and Apple. ๐Ÿ™ I hope it picks up. If not, it might make a great deal of sense to go with KDP select since it gives you extra tools. Mine have been jumping via Smashwords with 116 in January at Apple alone, up from 35 the month before and 20 before that. The one thing I think is working for me is having a trilogy with the first book free though. I’ve noticed that my free short stories are excellent for branding, but they don’t result in a lot of sales of the book. I write fantasy, which lends itself to creating series, which lends itself to the first book free strategy.

    Thank you for posting your numbers and actions. It’s extremely useful information to see what does and doesn’t work.

    1. Apple is a black box for me. I never have any idea how I’m doing. But I saw sales double (from a very low base) every month from September to December, then they fell off a cliff. The free shorts did squat.

      I’ve a little more info on B&N as I can see rankings. I sold 15 – 20 in Jan (which was only a slight increase on Dec). My rankings were the same in Feb, and I sold a quarter of that. I can’t figure it out myself. The shorts were downloaded around 800 times in the last week in December. Then only 200 times in February. That also did nothing for sales. Neither did posting on some Nook forums, getting featured on some Nook sites, getting some Nook reviews etc. I didn’t plug B&N hard, but I didn’t do nothing either.

      Maybe it’s a blip, we’ll see.

      1. I agree with Apple being a black box. I don’t think a lot of these retailers realize how vital daily statistics are for Indies to determine what promotion is working well and where the sales are coming from.

        With Barnes and Noble, it seems like a club that has a secret entrance. Once an author finds out how to get in, they stand a chance. Until then it’s a shot in the dark.

        I really hope they start picking up for you there. ๐Ÿ™‚ If not, maybe Select is a good option!

        1. Certainly Romance writers seem to do better there than most. I can’t help noting it’s one of the few genres that B&N bother to have a category for. Really, without discovery tools like categories, tags, and a working search, readers will never find indie books (and most tradpubbed books for that matter). It wouldn’t surprise me at all if frontlist Big 6 titles outperform there vs Amazon (once adjusted for relative share of e-book market).

      2. David, what do you mean by black box–do you mean lack of sales info? Apple offers daily and weekly sales reporting (downloadable, too). Are you accessing iTunes Connect?

        1. I can only get in via Smashwords, as I don’t own a Mac. Actually, I don’t even know if international self-publishers can use iTunes Connect as I’ve never tried (due to the Mac requirement), so perhaps someone else can fill me in.

          Smashwords reporting is, em, limited. We get kind of monthly reports, but no freebie numbers, and no real way of telling what sold on what day (Apple often report the sales in a block on the same date). Not great.

      3. David, it’s too bad you don’t have direct access to iTunes Connect–it works beautifully, and it’s all web-based, like Amazon. It’s explained a bit here:

        If you’ve got an iPhone, there’s also a free app for that: iTunes Connect Mobile.

        iTunes Connect is basically the same for app developers and book publishers. App developers have been using it all over the world for some time now.

        And yes, you can use iTunes Connect outside the US–you just need a US tax ID. You can get it here instantly:

        1. My phone has an LCD screen. It can barely manage an SMS ๐Ÿ™‚

          I’ll probably upgrade to something slightly smarter when I move to the UK in a couple of months. I’ve already got the ISBNs and the tax ID, and I want to go direct whereever possible (I suspect there are visibility benefits too). I’ll look at this again in May when I might get access to a Mac.

    2. John, how did you ascertain that your “free short stories are excellent for branding”? Is it from emails by readers, or some other way they commented that a free story led to purchasing the novels?

    3. Anecdotal evidence (and some posts by Kris Rusch) suggests that freebies bump sales of *the same exact thing* – ie. since you put both short stories free, you didn’t get the benefit of the free one bumping sales on the other. Maybe next time try just making one of them free, and see what happens? ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. 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.

    The environment is challenging right now for anyone not in KDP Select

    I think it’s an interesting exercise to compare and contrast those two story lines.

    Also, the WSJ story (and the WSJ is famously critical of Apple) story does two very unusual things–it bases the entire story on a rumor–and it is a rumor, for those reading elsewhere–and it makes Apple the focus of the story, when in fact the investigation has involved publishers *and* Amazon. For those who haven’t heard, Amazon’s Select program is getting a critical eye, too.

    But, enough of that. Congratulations on your ongoing develoopment, Dave. It’s good to see the hard work and diligence paying off.

    1. This is my take on that (and you may well have a reasonable position which differs):

      I can’t really see a link between what Apple and the publishers are alleged to have done and KDP Select. The latter is, essentially, a set of rewards Amazon offers for authors/publishers agreeing to exclusivity and enrollment in the Lending Library. Barnes & Noble do exclusivity deals all the time (most recently with Bob Mayer). Kobo did one recently with Mike Shatzkin. Amazon’s program only differs in scale. Retailers (both within the book trade and elsewhere) have employed exclusivity for years. It’s nothing new. Price-fixing is a completely different kettle of fish.

      I’d like nothing more than the exclusivity component of Select to be struck down, but I’d genuinely be surprised if the DoJ were to formally investigate the program. My layman’s take is that they seem to be far more interested in things that increase prices for consumers. I don’t think there’s any evidence Select does that, but multiple surveys show that e-book prices have increased substantially since Agency.

      As for who was really behind the alleged collusion, I don’t really care if it was Apple or the publishers, although there are a few damning quotes in the recent Steve Jobs biog. But it doesn’t really matter to me. I think all players will likely fall foul of the DoJ here. I think a settlement is the best they can hope for. My guess is Agency is dead. And don’t forget the class action suits that are proceeding.

      We’ll see though. The WSJ story relies heavily on unnamed sources, so we don’t know how much of *that* is true. But we do know that a DoJ investigation has been widely reported for months now (and an EU one too). My guess is that the EU are likely to come down even harder on this.

      It’s interesting though, and it will have all sorts of ramifications. If the publishers can’t make a settlement, they are facing a seriously costly legal battle (fees can run into the millions per month for this kind of action). If they agree a settlement, it’s likely to mean the immediate end of Agency. Amazon will be free to discount as much as they choose. Self-publishers will face increased price competition. But it will likely grow the digital market too.

      Lots of variables here and I can only say one thing with confidence: 2012 will be another interesting year, full of change.

      1. My guess is Agency is dead
        I think you’re probably right about that, though something else may end up taking its place. About Amazon: The Select program *is* a kind of price fixing, and gives Amazon complete control over how much an author/publisher gets paid. And Amazon’s exclusivity requirements apply to self-publishers–Apple’s do not.

        1. Something else could well take its place. There is some talk that publishers are maneuvering for a settlement which will allow a modified version of Agency, where the retailer is allowed discount within certain parameters (say, by up to 30%). This is a somewhat similar version to the system in places like Italy and Spain, but I really can’t see that happening as that exact model is being investigated by the EU for price-fixing (as it is still, IMO, price-fixing).

          Re: Select – I didn’t realize you were referring to the compensation model for borrows. I’m 100% opposed to that system. I think it sets a horrible precedent for future subscription models and most authors don’t realize the dangers here. I would love if that was abolished. Although, I’m not sure that author/publisher compensation is going to be as sexy a target for the DoJ as increased prices for consumers. We’ll see.

      2. Kindle Select is completely legitimate. As suppliers, authors don’t have to go along with it. The retailer is setting exclusivity as a reward, not a requirement. Even if I don’t enroll with Select I can still sell my books on Amazon.

        The problem with the Big 6 and Apple is that the suppliers worked out a price-fixing deal with one retail partner, but none of the others. It wasn’t optional. It was a requirement. Amazon had to agree or would lose the business. This anti-competitive behavior. The Big 6 agreeing to do this together and making the demand would have been bad, but probably would have gone overlooked. They’ve been pulling anti-competitive crap for years. It’s the involvement with one retailer to gain leverage over another that caused the problem.

        I’m surprised Apple stumbled into this. Either they thought they could get away with it, or it was far enough outside their normal stomping grounds that they didn’t know how it would turn out. I’m sure the publishers were says, “No, no, it’s all fine.”

  5. Awesome and congrats! But how did you get your ebooks to look so good? Mine look like crap on the Kindle and I’ve tried multiple ways of formatting. The formatting always changes after I upload it. Any recommendations??

    1. I’ve had more than a few lucky breaks along the way, and sometimes you forget that and just focus on the last speedbump. All you can do is keep producing quality work. That way, when you do get a break (and I believe it will come if you’re patient enough) you will maximize the opportunity.

  6. Congrats, David. I’ll be experimenting with the Free givaway promo the next 2 days, with my latest novel, A Touch of Greed. We’ll see how that turns out. I get virtually zero sales from Smashwords and next to nothing from B&N so switching to KDP select was kind of a no-brainer for me.

    1. Good luck with it Gary. If I don’t see any uptick in ex-Amazon sales shortly, I may consider putting Let’s Get Digital into Select. We’ll see. Still mulling over the options – and it’s not quite as simple as just unpublishing elsewhere. Also, maybe it’s best to do with a new release. Neater anyway.

  7. Congrats on finding (taking!) the time to write. It’s so easy to get caught up in all of the rest and let the time spent writing slip. Yesterday – that’s exactly what I did – other stuff. But, today. Back at it. Twelve hours of writing. Love it!
    Although I did take a break long enough to read your blog post. Thanks, as always, for sharing your journey with us, David. You are appreciated by so many people. I hope you realize that. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Now back to writing….

  8. i’m still very much experimenting with amazon’s select, but the main factor, seems to be which book i’m promoting, as the ones i’d sensed were doing well, really did well

    and with newer work, any series that start well, tend to continue well

    so for that type of confirmation (and this is with very beginner sales figures) i’m very pleased

    best wishes, glad you post the info you do ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. David, with this method did you have to file American tax forms? with the ITIN we don’t file american taxes but I haven’t been able to get a clear answer on the implication of using the EIN (which I have) on the paperwork of filing.

  10. David, thank you for this breakdown. As someone who is just now finishing a debut novel and is barely beginning to grasp the (surprisingly complex) world of e-publishing and self-marketing, I find your advice and knowledge invaluable. I’m a loyal follower already! Thanks again!

  11. I went from 1 or 2 sales a month with my YA book to over 250 in a week using Kindle Select. I have a great cover and a good blurb. I know I tell stories competently. I just didn’t have any visibility. Not great at marketing am I.

    My sales have just fallen off from their height, but I’d guess two free days of Select brought in over 350 sales in the span of two weeks. That’s probably 5 times what I had sold in the 6 months before that.

    I’ve already taken my other book out of the Smashwords distribution so that I can put it in Kindle Select. It has always outsold the other so I’m suspecting good things for it. Just waiting for it to come down off the Sony eBookstore. Last time I waited over three weeks for Kobo to release the book but they were on top of things this time.

    I’d love to stick with the other retailers, and I’m sure my books will eventually be available in those places again. But right now Amazon is giving me the tools to have my books discovered and succeed where all my admittedly weak efforts otherwise have failed. And no efforts of mine could have equaled what I achieved in Select.

    B&N needs to step up their game. I don’t think they get it. Amazon is making a play for authors’ and readers’ loyalty and positioning themselves for the future while B&N’s just trying to sell a few ebooks and put the money in the bank. Smashwords is … well, Smashwords. And the other retailers just don’t provide the volume of Amazon for other reasons.

  12. David, I just want to Say Congratulations of finishing that draft! I think finishing the first darft of a Book in one, short, month is defiantely somethign to dance about… Also the whole ability to pay Bills with your writing money seems pretty cool too.

    (And, erm sorry I dropped of as a cheerleader… Twitter just… not me I guess. *grin*)

    Anywho I just had to say congratulations. :}

    :} Cathryn / Elorithryn

  13. david, thank you for your info-response (March 9, 2012 at 3:21 pm), there wasn’t an option to reply any further there, so i’m posting here ๐Ÿ˜‰

    also your followup comment, right after the one dated above, sounds like a great idea, if the other ebook distributors would follow suit, yes, it’d be great for writes, maybe it’ll still come to that

    what ever does though, i’m sure we’ll hear about it here, from you ๐Ÿ˜‰ thanks david!

  14. You’re right that Romance does better at Apple and B&N than some other things. I’ve never had a great response at B&N with mine, but Apple gave me results long before I had any notice at Amazon. If I ever try Select, it will be with a ‘throwaway’ title I don’t have to worry about, but I still find the program quite squicky and have heard of some cases where it completely backfired on the author.

    Congrats on your Feb. challenge – you didn’t reach 60K, but you *did* pass NaNoWriMo pace.

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