Thursday, January 5, 2012

Book Sales Numbers for 2011 (Updated Jan 23)

If there is one thing I learned for certain in the first 10 months of Indie publishing in 2011, it was that I still have much more to learn. Sure, writing the books is hard, but that part of this work fun too. The business side of publishing is much more challenging. My focus was on producing quality outputs, marketing my work, and checking in with readers to make sure they were happy after they bought and read the book.

Every Indie is curious about sales, but that's hard to talk about because it's individual. Sales were good from my standpoint as someone who had never been published before, but the number of books sold is only a piece of what determines what you really get paid on those Net 60 or Qtrly statements. Money per book sale varies by channel, by country, by titles put on sale, discounts, VAT fees, returns, yada yada--the list goes on. Trust me, you will just have to learn about your sales as you go. After 10 months I have concluded that book sales numbers only provide the author a snapshot of their work's popularity with readers, or at least that's what I tell myself. I consider my numbers to be a good start on my Indie publishing career and can't wait to see what happens when I get more books published in 2012.

Certainly I saw ebbs and flows from March through December. For example, there was an unexplained resurgence in Amazon UK downloads of Dating A Cougar in December totaling 15,587 before month's end. Sept-Nov saw a range from 2582 to 5922 for that book in the same channel. I looked like crazy for the magic because I wanted to capture it and replicate it if I could, but I never found it. So in January I merely thanked the invisible Amazon marketing elfs who obviously did something to boost downloads of my free book. Was what happened luck? Maybe. Was it good for sales? Definitely. Not huge jumps in numbers mind you, but enough to make me realize that the free book continues to help readers find me. (Thank you Brian S Pratt for the idea. Brian is a Young Adult book author who's blog interview with Mark Coker about his first year or so of Indie publishing really helped me.)

If my numbers keep growing, I probably won't be able to do this kind of tracking activity in 2012 without hiring help, but I thought I would try to do it this first year because the first year is extremely scary for newbies like me. Putting that first book out is hard when you're worried. My choice to make one of only two books in existence in March free was like pouring-gasoline-on-a-fire frightening for me.

I made $35 the first month, $215 the second month, and not much more the third month from Amazon. My work was not exactly setting the publishing world on fire in those early months. I reread posts with numbers like this. All them urged perseverance. I finished Book Three of the first series. I started a second series. I stepped up my efforts and finished Book Four of the first series which readers were continually asking me about. In October, eight months after I began publishing, I finally saw what passed for genuine income you can use to pay bills. It simply takes time and you have to have faith in the future and keep going.

Looking back to before I published, it was sometime between December 2010 and January 2011 that I found my first JA Konrath post. It contained numbers and facts that encouraged me to consider self-publishing. I followed reading his post with two more months of researching him and other Indies like him, and learning how self-publishing worked. Then it took yet another month and a half of work to put my first books up at Smashwords. When I got nervous about what I was doing in giving up my traditional dream of being discovered by someone who would make me famous and beloved as an author, I would show Konrath's post to friends and ask "What do you think?".  In the end it was just me deciding that with the pile of rejections mounting on books I knew were funny and good I really had nothing to lose and something to gain by getting them to readers.

So it is with an attitude of gratitude I now send my own "newbie at self-publishing" book sales data out into the Indie author ether in hopes it helps others. I know how hard it is to keep believing and writing.

Okay, to start here are the download numbers of my free book--Dating A Cougar--to the best of my calculation capabilities. Some totals are "fuzzy" because I don't have records for all of the downloads in all of the sales channels. I even left a few channels out of this data, but I think the numbers are close enough for you to get the gist.

Amazon:  156,528
Smashwords:  8,050 (includes Smashwords.com, B&N, Sony, Kobo, & Diesel)
Apple:  75,000 (estimated**)

**Apple is my second highest sales channel. They did not report the numbers to Smashwords for Dating A Cougar downloads. To estimate a rough number, I used the Amazon sales (156,528/21,493 = X/11,328) to solve for a potential X. . .okay, Bruce helped me. There were good reasons I majored in English in college. I haven't solved for X since high school. The potential number came out to be about 72,376 downloads at Apple. Bruce said since it was just a "guess" that it would better to use a range of 55K to 90K. I love guessing, so reverting to Donna math, I rounded to a middle number close to "the solve for X" with a 5 in it (muwhahahahha). That's why I decided to use 75K. The number could be higher, could be lower. The point is no matter how big or small the free download number actually was at Apple, the point is the readers liked the free book enough to buy the others in the series which continues to validate the "free book" decision.

So here's a quick rundown of the number of actual books sold last year (no fuzzy Donna math):

Number of Smashwords distributed titles sold, and I thank Mark Coker and his team for their excellent support and for always answering my emails and questions (just FYI, for business reasons I researched five other ebook distributors, none beat the deal at Smashwords):

(More numbers came in and I updated the following totals on 1/23/2012.)
  • Smashwords.com:  263
  • Apple:  11,328
  • Barnes & Noble:  7146 (first series via Smashwords)
  • Diesel:  47
  • Kobo:  372
  • Sony:  4046 
Number of titles sold that I personally distributed to channels by uploading files myself:
  • Amazon:  21,493
  • Barnes and Noble:  243 (second series and single-title)
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