My first 6 months as an Indie Publisher – sharing figures

I recently shared with you my experiences as a traditionally published author of non-fiction, so now it’s time to share my indie experience ūüėÄ

First though, I want to draw your attention to some extra figures that have come my way since writing the above piece. Back when I first started earning money as a writer, first from magazine writing, and then my two books, the figures reported in the media were an average earning for writers of £1200 a year. I was comfortably exceeding that, though I would never be able to earn a living from my income.

Now, however,¬†things are¬†apparently even tougher. See this report from¬†The Guardian, January 17th 2014, quoting the average writer’s earnings now at just ¬£600 – half¬†what it was 10 years ago! Splitting that down further, around 77% of self-published authors and around 54% of traditionally published authors make less than that! Not encouraging, huh? However, this is only based on a survey of 9000 writers, many of whom described themselves as ‘aspiring authors, so the reality may be quite different.

Sharing figures

For years, authors and publishers have been pretty closed mouthed about sharing their sales figures, but more and more authors are posting their own experiences, so it is much easier for a new/aspiring author to get some sort of idea what to expect.

Having said that, the most important thing¬†to realise is that everybody’s experience is different, and if you are yet to publish, or you’ve just hit that ‘publish’ button,¬†keep an open mind – what happens to you from now on will be unique, I guarantee it.

6 months ago, I self-published my first novel, epic fantasy, The Prince’s Man.

PM-EBOOK_FLAT

I wrote this novel several years ago –¬†second book¬†in a sequence for which I have big plans – and followed the traditional route of getting an agent (which it did) and being submitted to the then Big Six publishers in the States. They all made the effort to write back how much they liked my writing and the story – no form rejections, which was a boost – but also the dreaded ‘not what we are looking for at this time’.

Prince’s Man¬†also won a UK Arts Board Award for best opening chapter of an unpublished novel. Again, confirmation that it was a GOOD BOOK.¬† But still it didn’t sell. I shelved it and went on to get my non-fiction publishing deals, and then wrote another novel.

So coming a little late¬†to awareness of the Indie Publishing revolution, I decided to self-publish, rather than waste a good novel. But I didn’t start there. I began planning and learning in the summer of 2012, a good year before I hit ‘publish’. I started with twitter, an amazing source of knowledge and articles on self-publishing, and expanded my facebook reach (fortunately I have a fair number of friends on there, courtesy of my profession), attended the Festival of Writing in York (where my first panel was taken by David Gaughran and Talli Roland, both successful indie authors – check them out, and if you don’t own David’s books Let’s Get Digital and Let’s Get Visible, then go, buy them)¬†and began blogging myself, rather later than I intended due to technical issues, in April 2013.

So, how did it go?

Amazingly better than I expected. I’d heard all the horror stories of newly published books sinking without trace, but I think that¬†having paid¬†due diligence to my platform first, and making a big effort at building excitement, Prince’s Man shot out of the starting stalls and keeps on going. I am very well aware that my figures are tiny compared to some, but I’m still very happy with what I’ve achieved for a debut in a competitive genre.

Actual figures

In the first 3 months, Prince’s Man sold 1500 copies.

It featured in Amazon’s Hot 100¬†New Releases (ebooks)¬†for Epic Fantasy and for Sword and Sorcery, peaking at no. 26 and no. 32 respectively, also at no. 38 in Epic Fantasy Books.

It continues to feature in the Top 100 for those same categories in the UK now.

December status on Amazon UK

December status on Amazon UK

As of now, it has 34 reviews on the UK site (4.6*) and 14 on the US (4.5*) and for those first 3 months was selling steadily on average 12 copies a day.

The second 3 months have seen a bit of a slow down, and total sales stand at 2,250, with an average daily sale of around 7 per day for January.

I have seen variously quoted that a book is considered a success if it sells more than 1000 copies, or 3000 copies – well I’m¬†comfortably over the first figure, and well on the way to the second, so I reckon Prince’s Man is a success ūüėÄ

Talking in money, I priced it to sell, at $2.99¬†/ ¬£1.99, and I’ve never altered it. I¬†consider it¬†good value for a novel of 125K words, and I have no intention of dropping the price until I have others in the series ready to go, at which point I will do a short price promotion. Prince’s Man is for sale on Amazon, which accounts of 99% of my sales, Barnes and Noble, Apple and Kobo, 1% combined. I published through Draft2Digital, (which removed the cost of formatting and allowed me to get away with spending less time learning about the publishing process than I know now) at a cost of 15% of my sales.

2250 books at £1.99 at 70% = £3,134 / $5,111

Minus D2D’s cut (¬£672) = ¬£2,462 /$4,015

Production costs were just the cost of the cover £200 (it had been edited and proofread already, by my agent)

Advertising so far at £168 gives me a grand total income so far of: £2,094 / $3.415

Chuffed with that!

Desprite Measures

Desprite MeasuresEBOOK

I release my next book¬†mid December, with quite different results. Many people see an upturn when they release subsequent books – so far, for me, that hasn’t happened.

I didn’t expect Desprite Measures to take off in the same way – it, too had gone the seeking the traditional publisher route, but again, no luck, and it is a different genre (urban fantasy), probably even more competitive right now, plus it features a bisexual relationship, not to everybody’s taste. But I did have hopes of getting it into the Hot New Releases, which sadly didn’t happen.

Now traditionally, so I have read, July is a poor month for sales, while December is good – for me, quite the opposite has been true (see what I mean? – unique for everyone)

Figures so far, after 6 weeks, are 120 books sold.

I tinkered with the price, starting with perhaps too much confidence at $3.99 / £2.50, then swiftly reduced it to sale price of 0.99c / 77p to see if I could crack that Hot New Release category. No luck.

So at the start of January, I decided to experiment. I’d published this one to Amazon myself, so I pulled it from the other sales outlets (done through D2D), and put Desprite Measures with Amazon Select, priced at $2.99/¬£1.99 the same as Prince’s Man. So far, I’ve had one borrow. I may play with their Countdown Deals when I have the time to devote to the awareness raising I’d need to do to make it worth while, but I don’t have the¬†time¬†just now.

So Desprite Measures sells on average 2 copies a day. I’m not disappointed as I’m in this for the long term, and as the first in a projected 5 book sequence, I’m content to give it time to find its audience. So far it has 5 reviews on the UK site, all 5*, and 3 on the US site 2 x 5* and one 4* – that’s where I’m devoting a little time just now, getting more reviews to make it eligible for many of the most effective advertising sites (another post on my experiences with¬†advertising coming up soon).

Money Рbecause I dropped the price, Desprite Measures has so far only earned £54 / $88, and with production costs at: cover £160 proofreading £100 and advertising £28, it is so far running at a loss of £234 /$381

That means that net for my first 6 months as an indie publisher, I’ve earned ¬£1,860 / $3,032 –¬†a figure I’m quite comfortable with, as I have no plans to give up my day job!

I’m very much looking forward to the next 6 months, and, if things go according to plan, my next release, which will be the sequel to Prince’s Man.

How about you? I know some of my friends have been seriously disappointed, with only a handful of sales per month, and bearing in mind I’ve found it stated that MOST BOOKS WILL NOT BREAK THE 500 SALES IN THEIR LIFETIME, (can’t remember where I read that, but it was very recent) I know I’ve been ‘lucky’.

You can read similar shares with very different figures at: How much can Indie authors realistically make? , BadRedheadMedia, and Crunching some numbers. These days there are many more examples to be found online if you take a moment to look.

So come on people, share your figures and help new and aspiring authors to get SOME idea of the amazing range of possibilities.

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4 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your numbers. Very informative. Based on everything I’ve read, there seems to be so much variance when it comes to self-publishing, every author has a different experience, and each book/series/genre is so different that I’ve realized it’s best not draw conclusions or generalize about sales. All we can do, ultimately, is write what we want, put it out there, hope for the best, and keep plugging away.

    1. Marie, you are so right! Until you actually ‘do’ it, there is no way of telling what will happen, but the one thing we can all do to maximise our chances is to write the best book we can produce, to the best standard we can attain, and then go write the next one!

  2. As said above, there is no magic formula. There are excellent books which get well reviewed and go nowhere, and there are ‘not-so-excellent’ books which go like wildfire. ūüôā
    My first book got 4,000 sales in 4 months (Aug-Dec 2012) and then the release of my second took total sales to 8,000 within one month. I put that down to timing it to take advantage of the January sales boom, but the third in the series (released just before last Christmas) has taken off much more slowly.
    I now have a prequel and 3 books in the series and a total of 45,000 sales and 10,000 free downloads of the prequel. The genre is Urban Fantasy. I started the price at $2.99 and now have raised the main books to $3.99 and the prequel to $1.99.
    I’ve spent about ¬£500 on each cover, and since I’m a Brit writing for a majority American audience, I’ve had my books edited by an American (Lauren Sweet – highly recommended) with a brief to catch the British-isms as well as assisting on pacing, logic holes, spelling, grammar and punctuation. That’s put the editing costs up, but I believe the result has been worth it.
    I did try the agent route, and in retrospect I’m delighted that I got refusals (whatever it felt like at the time). Indie publishing is not a picnic, but it’s worth it. I sell predominantly through Amazon, and the pricing on the main books means I get 70% of sales. I also have a deal with Kobo, and I have my iTunes account, so I’ll be there soon(ish). I also sell a handful of print books through CreateSpace, and I’m looking at ACX for audio versions.
    I update sales figures every month or so on my website.
    I ‘retired’ in 2011, so writing is my job now. I have attended a week-long Arvon course (recommended), but have had no other formal training in commercial writing and would generally recommend people just read a lot of what they want to write. And get a damn good editor.
    I feel I am unbelievably lucky. I pinch myself every morning. But it goes to show, it can be done.

    1. Hi Mark, thanks for dropping by and sharing your figures. I admit I saw your latest update post and was envious of your success. At the same time, I also know some excellent authors who are struggling to sell even a handful of copies.
      Having recently read Raw Deal, I’d wondered how a Brit could write so authentically for the US market – now I understand. Smart move, hiring a US editor.
      And I’d second your recommendation of the Arvon courses – the UK Arts Board Award won by Prince’s Man had a week long course there as the prize, and a great one it was, too.

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