Posted in Amazon Kindle Sales, E-publishing | Posted on 02-10-2012|
In September, I released Blood & Betrayal, the fifth novel in my Emperor’s Edge series. I sold about 2700 copies of it during the month (not including those who purchased through my eARC offering in August) and about 6,000 ebooks across all of my titles and all stores (over 5,000 came from Amazon U.S.). September has been my best sales month to date, with May (the first full month after the release of EE4) being the second best. It’s taken me into the realm of 50,000+ ebook sales total.
There are a lot of other independent authors who’ve hit that mark (with many selling more than 200,000 already), some with fewer total books out, but I feel like this is an encouraging start to my writing career. I published my first ebook less than two years ago, in December of 2010. I sold about 30 ebooks that month (most to people I knew). Fortunately, it got better from there.
Thanks to the high ebook royalty rates Amazon offers (70% for books between $2.99 and $9.99 and 35% for others), I’ve been doing this for my full-time job since December of 2011. I average about 2,500 to 3,000 sales most months with new release months obviously doing much better.
As I mentioned in an interview with Joanna Penn over at the Creative Penn, I haven’t experienced any major “lucky breaks” or spent any time at the tippy tops of the bestseller charts (lately, my debuts have been hanging out in the Top 20 of the Epic Fantasy category for a couple of weeks over at Amazon, but that’s about as close as I can get to claiming to be a “bestseller”). I’ve just been plugging away and doing my best to write every day, so I can put out at least two new novels (and some shorter works) a year.
I’ll share a few of the things I’ve learned in a moment, but for those who are curious about such things, here’s a breakdown of September sales from Amazon (US), which, as I mentioned, accounts for the majority of my income:
- The Emperor’s Edge (a novel — free — I don’t count free downloads as “sales”): 9658
- EE2-EE5 (novels — sold at $4.95) — 3,934
- Encrypted (novel — sold at $3.95) — 329
- Flash Gold (novella — free) — 807
- Flash Gold 2 (novella — sold at $1.79) — 209
- Flash Gold 3 (novella — sold at $2.99) — 184
- Shadows over Innocence & The Assassin’s Curse (short stories — sold at $0.99) — 545
- EE1-3 omnibus (I un-published this at Amazon early in the month — sold at $7.99) — 40
- Goblin Brothers Adventures (middle grade short story collection — $0.99) — 36
Amazon US total (not including free downloads): 5,277
I also sold close to a thousand copies at Barnes & Noble this month and a couple of hundred at Smashwords, iTunes, and Amazon UK, with just shy of 100 at Kobo.
The numbers show that novels do best for me, which isn’t that surprising, with each one in my EE series outperforming the stand-alone, Encrypted. I don’t have a freebie associated with Encrypted (for now), or perhaps it might do better.
Overall, I certainly can’t complain. As I said, this is my best month to date, and I’m grateful that so many readers have been open to trying an independent author.
Random Thoughts and Advice for Other Up-and-Coming Authors
- If you’re serious about having a writing career (i.e. you hope to make a living from your word crafting), I believe self-publishing is the best way to get started right now. It’s a lot of work, and is best suited for those who are fairly prolific and don’t mind learning how to market online, but I think you need to be both of those things to make it with a traditional publisher these days anyway. Also, just because you get started self-publishing doesn’t mean you have to stay with it. A lot of authors are choosing a hybrid model these days. Once you prove you can sell and that you have a fan-base built up, it doesn’t seem to be that hard to get a deal. I got my offer fairly early on but wasn’t ready to make the switch at that time.
- A series can be a powerful tool. Though I haven’t sold as many books as some of my peers, I’ve definitely seen the cumulative effects of working on a series. With ebooks, your first book is always out there, on the “shelves,” so people can continue to find it and, if they enjoy it, go on to buy the rest of the books. With stand-alone novels, purchasing follow-ups is less of a no-brainer for readers, and it’ll probably depend on whether the blurb piques their interest. That said, a downside of a series is that people like to start with Book 1 and if your Book 1 isn’t that strong, and it’s not until further into the series that your writing improves, that can mean fewer readers give you a second try. You also get tired of promoting Book 1 all of the time!
- In the ebook world, adult fiction sells far better than children’s fiction. Not much of a surprise there (how many kids have e-readers and credit cards to buy on Amazon?), but I actually published my Goblin Brothers’ stories first and was of a mind to create a series of novels with those characters. I have the rough draft of the first one on my computer. I’ve left it in draft stage, though, because I know I’ll earn more by working on my adult fantasy novels. For the middle grade (and younger) market, it may still be worth trying to find an agent and traditionally publishing. Every now and then I kick around the idea of trying that route for the series, but I have a bunch of projects on my plate (EE6, a sequel to Encrypted, and more Flash Gold novellas in the immediate future) at the moment.
- The more books you have out the better you do. This is another one that seems obvious, but I see a lot of authors promoting the heck out of the one book they have out. Honestly, I did the same thing (though I published two novels to start with — EE1 and Encrypted). It’s what you’re supposed to do, right? The truth is, though, that it’s not really worth the time to spend a lot of hours on promotion when the most you can possibly earn is $2.05 or thereabouts (if you sell your first novel for $2.99) per customer. Now, if you have six books out in a series, and could earn closer to $20 per customer (assuming quite a few folks go on to buy all of the books), it starts to make more sense to spend a half an hour or an hour to “get a sale.” As we discussed last Spring, most of the independent authors I’ve come across who are making a living from their work have multiple books out, sometimes multiple books in multiple series. Not many people make a living wage on one book.
- Being approachable and doing a little extra for your readers goes a long way. I’ve had quite a few readers tell me that they appreciate that I write up character interviews, post cut scenes, chat with people on Twitter and Facebook, and pop into the EE forum. They always sound… surprised, whereas I think, what author wouldn’t do these things? I can understand getting to a point where it’s hard to answer all of one’s emails, especially if you blog about self-publishing and get a lot related to that as well (I’m trying batch processing to improve my efficiency in the email area), but I can’t tell you how many people have said things like, “I’m really enjoying your books and have recommended them to X and Y friends.” I’d like to think I’m clever at online marketing, but I know I’ve been fortunate to get a lot of readers through word-of-mouth. It’s true that people will talk up a book they like regardless of whether they’ve ever interacted with the author, but I think folks are even more likely to want to see you succeed if they’ve come to know and like you through online interactions.
- Your social media pages are for building a community, not for turning strangers into book buyers. Every day I see people promoting their books on Twitter and Facebook. I think you can stir up some interest on Twitter (though you’ll get a lot more mileage out of promoting a free ebook rather than a non-free one), but really these sites are about connecting with readers and creating a community. Or as Seth Godin calls it, a building a tribe. Nobody’s going to go to your Facebook page and then decide to buy your book. They’re not going to know you or your Facebook page exist until they’ve read your work, liked it, and been inspired to look you up (hint: put your social media links at the end of your books and encourage people to stop by). Facebook is a place to update existing fans, keep them interested in your world between books, and encourage interaction. By connecting people with common interests (your books), you have the opportunity to create something that’s larger than yourself. I believe the EE forum I mentioned originally grew out of a conversation people were having in the comments on my Facebook page. I do my best to plug it when I get a chance now, to encourage growth, as one of my characters would say.
- Giving away freebies doesn’t devalue your work; it gives people a chance to try your stories at no risk. I can’t tell you how many people have written and said they first tried my books because EE1 was free, then went on to buy the rest of the books in the series. The result is that I sell more — and earn more — overall because I offer a couple of ebooks for free. I’ve heard authors argue that people who download free ebooks don’t read them or never buy others, but this simply isn’t true. Haven’t you ever found a new author by first checking out his/her work from the library? Or by borrowing a book from a friend? I know I have. Beyond getting people to try your work, I believe that offering free ebooks counts toward the “doing a little extra” for folks that I mentioned above. It starts your potential relationship with a new reader off on a good foot.
- If you build a community of “ravenous fans,” you’ll never go hungry. Every other week some author is blogging about falling ebook prices (the “race to the bottom”), the sketchy marketing tactics others are employing (paid reviews being the most recent cause for hubbub), or perhaps just the ever-increasing amount of competition in the marketplace that’s making it harder and harder to stand out. Books aren’t a commodity, though, and what other authors are doing matters less than you think. If you can develop your writing to a point such that others truly derive enjoyment from it in a “I have to tell friends about this” way, your career is well on its way to being established. Step 2 is to make sure you have the contact information (AKA through a newsletter subscription) for those passionate readers so that you’re not relying on the whims of Amazon for your income. We’ve interviewed authors who have made close to $100,000 on a single Kickstarter campaign. If you have enough fans and a way to contact them, you’ll always be able to make a living telling stories, one way or another.
Thoughts? Please post them below!