Goin’ Indie: My Sales During Year One of Self-Publishing
Posted by Cate Rowan Aug 26 2011, 2:05 am in book pricing, indie, sales, self-publishing
It’s hard for me to believe it’s been almost a year since I flew the coop and launched into self-publishing.
I had no idea I would be this successful.
Just goes to show what’s possible in indie-land.
A year ago this coming Saturday, I had my first book release for Kismet’s Kiss, a fantasy romance. It had been a two-time Golden Heart® finalist, gotten me my third agent, kicked butt in contests and did the rounds in NY, but it was just too far out of the marketing box. (A Middle Easternesque historical fantasy romance about a sultan hero with six wives—and somehow he, the heroine who’s his true match, and the wives all get a happy ending? Yeah, it breaks a few rules.) I ended up with two offers from small presses, and—long story short—decided to go indie instead.
I knew my likely royalty income at the small but respected fantasy publisher I almost went with: per book, about $500 or less for the first year, with fewer sales and less income per year after that. That gave me goals and a good comparison.
In late August, I published Kismet’s Kiss at Amazon, which was almost the only game in town a year ago. Since then I changed the initial cover (and if you follow that link, I think you’ll agree that the change was a good thing. ). I also put out a print version through CreateSpace and uploaded the ebook to Barnes and Noble‘s PubIt platform in November as well as to Smashwords, Goodreads and All Romance eBooks. Smashwords now distributes it to Apple, Sony, Kobo, Diesel and the new Scrollmotion.
In September, I got my first fan letter. And yes, I bawled over it. That moment was worth the more than a decade of dedicated writing that had come before it.
I earned my first $1000 around February 8. $1000 is the bar RWA uses for Published Author Network (PAN) status, although at the moment RWA doesn’t allow self-published books to qualify. It took me a little over 5 months to earn that amount as a debut indie. Sadly, many authors at PAN-eligible presses will never earn enough through those presses to make PAN. (Interestingly, once their contracts end and they’ve gotten their rights back, some authors have been re-publishing those books themselves—and are making far more money as indies.)
In April, I added to my lineup another multi-contest winner that had been hanging around on my hard drive: The Source of Magic, which is a prequel to Kismet’s Kiss. It’s now available at all the above online stores, too. Due to a beautiful sales surge at B&N (one I still can’t explain, but I sure did love), Source earned its first $1000 (PAN-equivalent) money in just 14 days. Two freaking, amazing weeks.
By June 15th, I had earned $5000 from both books.
In July, I received an offer for a foreign rights deal that’s in negotiations(!). Yes, as a self-published author, I have foreign rights interest. I think you see where I’m going here: self-publishing is a completely viable option for sales, income, and readership.
So now it’s late August, nearly a year into my indie journey, and here’s how each book has done as of yesterday:
Kismet’s Kiss: Approx. $3700 earned through 1956 sales (mostly @ $2.99-3.99) since August 28, 2010.
The Source of Magic: Approx. $4300 earned through 2380 sales (mostly @ $2.99) since April 18, 2011.
So in less than a year, I’ve earned around $8300 and sold 4336 copies of two books, with the second one out only four months.
$0.99 books tend to sell faster, but only qualify for 35-40% royalties at the Big Two (Amazon and B&N), darn it. Except for a few temporary sales, I’ve kept to $2.99 and above to get 65-70% royalties. I might play with $0.99 more often as I publish additional books and become willing to take more risks. In any case, I’m now averaging 20 sales a day, and I retain full control of these books, which just keep selling, and selling…
Most books at traditional presses have a big initial sales push and then lose traction over time. In contrast, most indie books tend to gain sales momentum over time. Mine certainly have. In my first full month with Kiss, I sold just 35 copies and made about $70.
That means that if you’ve self-published (or will be soon) and don’t see amazing numbers right away, don’t lose hope. The key to successful indiedom is patience. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Let your books find an audience. And just keep writing and publishing! That’s the best darned thing you can do to guarantee more sales. I’m working on the third in my series and hope to have out by the end of the year.
Are you wondering if my success is an outlier? I might be in the nicer part of the bell curve, but I’m far from the outer edge. There are other strictly self-pubbed romance authors doing significantly better than I am—like Theresa Ragan and Debra Holland. And of course there are now many authors having fun publishing through both the traditional/legacy and self-publishing pathways, like Courtney Milan—whose first self-published book, a novella, hit the NYT list a month after its release. That’s right, her first time on the NYT was with her self-pubbed story.
In other words, my results are not a fluke.
You can succeed, too. Without a publisher. Without an agent.
Of course you can still pursue traditional publishers for your work even if you self-publish. It’s not an either/or. Do whatever feels right to you for each book—but do be aware of the marvelous option of going indie. Whatever stigma there used to be about self-publishing is dying a rapid and unmourned death due to indie success.
(One last thing for RWA members: If one or more of your self-published books has earned $1000 and would be eligible for PAN if RWA allowed it, please write the RWA Board to let them know. They need information about indie earnings so they can make the right decisions about steering the great big ship of RWA. I wrote the Board in February after Kiss earned $1000. I wrote them again in June after earning $5000 as a self-published author, and I’ll be writing them about my first year’s results, too. Please write them so other authors can benefit from information and education about modern self-publishing!)
So, after a year of being an indie, I know this about the path I’ve taken: I wouldn’t change a thing.
If you’re thinking about self-publishing, has this post helped you get closer to a decision?
If you’ve already self-published, what’s the one thing you wish you’d done differently? (Mine is to have self-published sooner!)