Tuesday, July 31, 2012

6,000 books sold!

 One of the things I treasure about the community of Indie writers is transparency. This is an experiment for all of us, and we're all trying different things. Fortunately, we live in the age of instant information and we can share our failures and successes effortlessly, for the greater benefit of all. 

In this new environment, some writers have found success by social networking, others by pricing all of their titles at $0.99. Or $2.99. Or $9.99. For some, the number "10" has been lucky. Publish ten books, they say, and then everything takes off. Yet others have only published one or two, or instead have chosen to publish short novellas rather than full length novels. For the right person at the right time, each of these techniques has brought massive success. Ultimately though, the true formula for success seems to be writing well and knowing your market. Those two things have always been integral to this business and it seems they always will.

Admittedly, it's hard to keep track of everything going on out there, and this task is made even harder by the moving target - by which I mean Amazon of course. In the last few months, it has come to light that Amazon does some odd things with their search and display algorithms, the most recent being an adjustment that favors higher priced novels. This created a situation where lower priced novels had to sell many more copies to reach the same overall ranking on Amazon.com I tested this myself and found it to be true. I've seen one of my novels priced at $5.99 go from 200,000 rank down to less than 50,000 with one sale. That information in itself would be highly valuable, except for the fact that we know Amazon toys with the individual "weight" of each sale, so we can only draw conclusions as to what this means for individual prices. One of my loss leader titles priced at $0.99 might have to sell five or ten copies to reach a rank of 50,000 on the same day, and we can't even assume that these algorithms function the same all day long. What works at noon may not at midnight. Amazon likes to keep us guessing. 

But it's still good to know where we all sit as individuals. That information is valuable; it gives us a feel for the movement of the market and the business in general. So, this is where I am:

6,000. That's the number of titles sold in approximately 18 months since I began this experiment. That doesn't count free downloads. That number is pure profit. It may seem pretty good or a bit pathetic depending on where you stand. The truth is that 6,000 books is a fairly midlist number in Indie publishing. It's not an abysmal failure by any stretch, but few would consider that mark a phenomenal success. But let's examine those numbers a little closer:

The first point I should make is that my number of published titles has consistently grown over that time frame. I began by publishing a small back log of novels, trying to put up a new one every few weeks. In the midst of that, I was continuing to write, and eventually I began publishing the newer works as well. I'm now reaching the level of about four new novels per year - that's four NEW, full-length novels, it doesn't count short stories or the back list. What that means is that when I started publishing eighteen months ago, I had one title up. A few weeks later it was two. A few months later, it was five. So I began as an unknown with no marketing or promotion, and just a slowly growing list of books. 

I spent that first year analyzing my numbers in terms of daily averages. Thirty sales for one month would have meant one sale per day. I started at less than that, and worked my way up to three a day, then five, and so on... I peaked during the post-holiday shopping season with just under 1,500 sales for the month of February . That number then slid down to less than a thousand, until I hit bottom over the summer with an average of 250-300 sales per month. After selling 1,500 books a month for a while, 300 can feel pretty lousy. But the reality is that I'm still selling several times what I was selling last year. 

The last point is that my 6,000 number has mostly happened in the last six months. The slow build that got me to that number didn't amount to much for the first year. I don't have solid numbers, but my guess would be less than 1,500 of those sales came from 2011. The rest of it has been all this year, and that's not too bad.

All I can do at this point is hope and pray that the growth continues in the same way. I know to expect a surge in business around the holidays and a slump through the summer. That's the way it just seems to work. But if I'm selling three or four times as much next summer as I am this summer, I WILL be making a living at this, and ultimately that is the goal.