Monday, 21 July 2014

Writing Realities: The Truth About Self-Publishing Book Sales


Business Graph
Image courtesy of Sheela2010 at Free Images
I've decided to address the elephant in the room for most of those interested in self-publishing: book sales. The rumours around self-publishing sales range from the extreme of those who published a book and the next morning woke up to find $10,000 in their account to the thought that self-publishers only have their family buy their books. 
To give you a real insight into average self-published book sales, I'm going to show you mine. (Yes, it is as scary for me as it is for you). Each month I'll do a post on the sales for that month. I will detail it all; the number sold across different platforms (Amazon, Createspace, Smashwords), gross sales and net sales (ie. my percentage). I want to give you an account of the reality of being self-published, while also showing useful info such as which platforms have performed well for me.
Today I'm going to detail out my book sales so far, from my first ebook released in 2013. All figures are taken from vook.com which tracks my sales for me across the various platforms (except in person sales). Please note that the most recent sales are not always up to date as vook does take a while to register some.
At the moment I consider myself a very good indication of what an average person can expect. Before bringing out my first book I had no platform, and I have not done any particular feats of marketing or had any unlikely occurrences of good fortune. Everything I have is totally achievable by other people. And hopefully over the months and years my sales will support my thesis that all it takes to make it in self-publishing is to continue producing quality content. 

The Five Day Writer's Retreat:
My first book, The Five Day Writer's Retreat, initially came out as an ebook on my birthday 10th March 2013 (though I used it as a sign up gift for my email for the first few months) and the print on demand version came out the week of the 29th September, 2013. All sales are until 20th July 2014. Below is a table with a summary of all sales in this period across the platforms, followed by a week by week break up (leaving out weeks where there were no sales).
Price of the book has changed over the time, and those registering sales with no gross are free promotions.
Summary:
Retailer
Unit Sales
Gross Sales
Net Sales
Amazon Kindle
23
$146.18
$85.62
CreateSpace POD
16
$160.08
$44.61
Smashwords
15
$11.14
$7.81
Total:
54
$317.40
$138.0

Now to look at how these sales have trickled in over the weeks.
Individual Weeks' Sales:
week
retailer
units
gross
net
28/07/13
amazonkindle
2
40.27
14.09
28/07/13
smashwords
13
6.19
4.84
25/08/13
amazonkindle
2
9.84
6.8
29/09/13
amazonkindle
3
15.55
10.76
29/09/13
createspacepod
3
30.11
8.88
27/10/13
amazonkindle
2
10.07
5.27
27/10/13
createspacepod
1
9.95
3.13
27/10/13
smashwords
1
0
0
24/11/13
amazonkindle
4
20.64
14.27
24/11/13
createspacepod
2
19.9
4.27
29/12/13
amazonkindle
2
10.38
7.18
29/12/13
createspacepod
1
9.95
3.13
26/01/14
amazonkindle
3
14.85
10.26
26/01/14
createspacepod
1
9.95
3.13
23/02/14
amazonkindle
2
9.9
6.84
30/03/14
amazonkindle
3
14.68
10.15
30/03/14
createspacepod
1
9.95
1.14
27/04/14
smashwords
1
4.95
2.97
18/05/14
createspacepod
1
9.95
3.13
25/05/14
createspacepod
4
40.42
11.54
1/06/14
createspacepod
1
9.95
3.13
29/06/14
createspacepod
1
9.95
3.13

On top of this I've sold 8 copies in person, for a gross total of $120, and a net sale of about $80 (don't have those exact figures on me).
Of all these sales, none of them were to my family who staunchly refused to buy my non-fiction (except for my wonderful brother and uncle who bought the very first ebook copies).
As you can see, even with a small/non-existent launch, the beauty of self-publishing is that books can continue to sell. Since July 2013 I've sold a few copies every month. A traditional publisher would take this book off the shelves after a year, and that would be the end of its run. I, on the other hand, will keep it there for years to come, slowly building its audience and writing more in the series. With each new book I bring out, my other sales spike a bit.

The Nice Guy's Guide To Online Dating Profiles
The second book I brought out first as an ebook in November, and then as a paperback in February. It has only been added to Smashwords in the past few weeks, having been locked into the Kindle Select Program prior to this. Please note the large Amazon sale numbers include free promotions, so see the dollar figures for how many paid copies were sold.
Summary:
Retailer
Unit Sales
Gross Sales
Net Sales
Amazon Kindle
217
$36.08
$24.98
CreateSpace POD
1
$10.10
$2.49
Smashwords
0
$0.00
$0.00
Total:
218
$46.18
$27.4

Individual Weeks' Sales:
week
retailer
units
gross
net
24/11/13
amazonkindle
80
0
0
29/12/13
amazonkindle
29
10.03
6.98
26/01/14
amazonkindle
2
5.98
4.12
23/02/14
amazonkindle
100
0
0
23/02/14
createspacepod
1
10.1
2.49
30/03/14
amazonkindle
2
6.03
4.18
4/05/14
amazonkindle
1
3.07
2.12
11/05/14
amazonkindle
1
0.99
0.66
22/06/14
amazonkindle
1
2.99
2.06
6/07/14
amazonkindle
1
6.99
4.86


After The Winter
My first fiction book came out at the end of April, and is yet to be loaded onto Smashwords (end of this month it comes off Amazon KDP select).
Summary:
Retailer
Unit Sales
Gross Sales
Net Sales
Amazon Kindle
24
$111.76
$76.98
CreateSpace POD
8
$103.60
$30.24
Smashwords
0
$0.00
$0.00
Total:
32
$215.36
$107.2
 I've also sold 2 copies in person.

Individual Weeks' Breakup:
week
retailer
units
gross
net
27/04/14
amazonkindle
9
44.62
30.74
27/04/14
createspacepod
4
51.8
15.12
4/05/14
amazonkindle
2
4.95
3.41
4/05/14
createspacepod
4
51.8
15.12
18/05/14
amazonkindle
2
9.95
6.87
25/05/14
amazonkindle
6
25.83
17.75
1/06/14
amazonkindle
3
14.95
10.3
22/06/14
amazonkindle
1
4.95
3.41
6/07/14
amazonkindle
1
6.51
4.5

For the time it's been out, this has been the best seller, but that was largely because I had built up my audience in the six months between my first book and it.

Overall Performance:
Sales for all my books (including the kindle version of my Dad's book Colostrum which I published) look like this:
Retailer Unit Sales Gross Sales Net Sales
Amazon Kindle 365 $304.83 $194.75
CreateSpace POD 25 $273.78 $77.34
Smashwords 17 $11.14 $7.81
Total: 407 $589.75 $279.90

Thoughts:
It is interesting to note that both The Five Day Writer's Retreat and After The Winter have made significant sales with POD, while for The Nice Guy's Guide To Online Dating it probably wasn't worth putting in the effort to create the paper back (except for the value of having copies I can hold up and call my own, which should not be underestimated). It is something to consider when publishing your own books. 
So far Amazon has been my best platform (though only The Five Day Writer has been available on both the whole time).  However, as it takes little effort to load it onto Smashwords (once you know what to do), I see any extra sales on this platform as an added bonus. Therefore, I will continue to upload on both. 

Conclusion:
I hope this series gives you some insight into the realities of self-publishing. It is a very slow way to succeed, compared to a publisher offering you an advance for thousands of dollars. However, unlike traditional publishing you don't have to make it in the first year. At any point in the future I can re-promote these books and increase their sales. For now I want to get more content out there. 
I hope this hasn't put you off self-publishing! There are people out there doing much better, either because: a) they have a larger platform (people ready to buy their books when they first come out) or b) they have more books out there. These are the two things we are writers can control to get more sales. And I'm working on both of them. Slowly.
Because of the potential pessimism, I haven't shown you the actual profit and loss statements: how much it cost me to produce a book compared to how much I've made. But I have a long term view. Most small businesses make a loss for the first five years. You just have to look beyond that. My plan is 10 years as an apprentice, and then I expect to be making a full time income from it (if I've continued to work consistently for those ten years).
So, keep watching to find out if I can!
What are other people's experiences with sales? Does Amazon generally outperform other platforms for you? 

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