Looking back on a year of self-publishing

August marks the anniversary of my decision to start self-publishing. I entered the fray with LAUREN’S EYES, a book which had been previously published in mass market and to which I had reacquired the rights. I added three romantic suspense novels in August and began promoting all four books. More titles followed through the course of the year, and I now have nine books available (two of which are YA paranormals co-written with literary author Heather Doherty).

This month, as I celebrate a year of self-publishing, I thought I’d take my cue from some of my fellow indie authors and share some sales information. My hope is that those of you who are new to self-publishing with perhaps one or two books up and who aren’t yet seeing strong sales, will take heart. It does take patience and experimentation. It also helps to have a series. And naturally, the more books you have out, the better. As you’ll see below, many books making modest sales can generate a nice income.

Okay, let’s get to it.

I know many indie authors have taken off like rockets on Amazon. I have to say that my trajectory was less dramatic. Nevertheless, I am very pleased with the upward trend. Here are the raw numbers:

My sales through Smashwords and its distributors (Apple, B&N, Kobo, Sony and Diesel) were significantly more for the period, but those dollars are harder to neatly separate into monthly earnings. Payment is made quarterly, and the reporting from distributors lags several months behind, making it hard to draw accurate comparisons with Amazon’s real time reporting. Also, I had Smashwords hang onto my money until I could get an ITIN number from the IRS to establish my tax treaty rights, the result being that most of my earnings for this past year were paid to me recently in one lump sum. Since I don’t have the data to make a nice chart showing the gradual growth in sales, I’ll just speak generally about my Smashwords experience.

Bearing in mind the lag in sales reporting I mentioned, I am showing sales of 7,920 paid units through Smashwords and its distributors. (Total downloads were actually 45,626 units, but 37,706 of those ‘sales’ were unpaid units. The vast majority of those freebies were downloads of a free novella designed to stimulate interest in my Serve and Protect romantic suspense series.)

Contrast those 7,920 units with the 2,083 units sold at Amazon, and you can extrapolate from there, throwing in a little extra for the sales not yet reported. Not a bad year. And – woot! – I just surpassed the 10K mark!

Obviously, in retrospect, my decision to jump into self-publishing could not have been better timed. The Amazon monthly sales chart really tells the tale. The Christmas 2010 rush on electronic reading devices translated into a sharp increase in sales in early 2011. No doubt the addition of more titles to my catalogue contributed to ongoing growth. It also doesn’t hurt that many of my books are romance, which sells well. Nor does it hurt that I’ve spent more than a dozen years honing my craft and have worked hard to try to get my self-published titles noticed.

That said, I’ll be the first person to admit that luck has a lot to do with it. I’ll also be the first person to say that I know countless indie authors whose book sales totally dwarf mine. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that no two authors’ journeys are the same, and I am very grateful and happy with my own lot.

I hope the sales data I’ve shared today will help motivate other authors in the indie trenches who are still struggling. Hang in there and keep plugging away. Be patient. Don’t despair. This is not like traditional publishing; you’re in it for the long haul now. Keep writing and adding to your catalogue. Put forth the best product you possibly can, with a high quality, professional cover. Then do it again. And if after a sufficient length of time has passed, sales still aren’t growing, try changing something up. Tweak your product description or how your book is categorized. Experiment with prices. Try a new cover. For once, all the controls are in your hands. Use them! And good luck.

17 Responses to “Looking back on a year of self-publishing”

  • Yay, Norah! Thanks for leading the way! Best of luck with tremendous sales for year two!

    • Norah:

      Thanks, Debra! I have to say, August is looking a little lazy compared to July. I’ll have to try to stir things up!

  • Norah, this is great – I’m so glad you posted! Cheers to your success!

    • Norah:

      Thanks, Debora! I think it’s important for people to see you can overcome a slow start. Also, that success comes in different ways to all of us. I’m the slow and steady tortoise. 🙂

  • Your sales are growing. I think the trick is to have more books out there so you develop a following. May you triple in sales this fall.

    • Norah:

      Thanks, Maureen! And I’ll drink to that toast (tripling sales) and send it right back atcha! What I love about indie publishing is that it’s not a zero sum game. One author’s success isn’t at the expense of another. There are not a limited number of slots, like in trad publishing. May we all flourish!

  • The best part of this whole self-publishing endeavor is coming across generous authors like yourself who are willing to share the details of their experience. Thanks!

    • Norah:

      You are so welcome, Randy. I’m only following the lead of my fabulous indie friends (Debra, Theresa, are you listening?). Delle Jacobs, too. If it weren’t for Delle generously sharing her know-how, I likely wouldn’t have dared dip my toe in last year. Sharing our experiences is so important. It’s the best way we can equip ourselves to make the best of this opportunity. 🙂

  • Norah, I would be thrilled with your numbers! I am very pleased (with one title up so far) that my first month’s check was for $27! Of course, I need to get more titles up, and I need to learn more about blogging and marketing. That’s the hardest part for me. I am getting ready to publish a novella at the end of August, and I want to prepare one of my paranormals for September. Inch by inch, that’s my motto. 🙂

    • Norah:

      That’s a very good start, Regina. You’ll note my start was basically with 4 books that went up in quick succession. And your inch by inch motto is perfect. Every new story, every new blog, every new tweet, is another opportunity for people to find you. 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing your numbers, Norah. I’m seeing a huge increase in sales. Started in May with two titles an about 45 sales. In June, my sales went up to about 135. In July, I added a third and later a fourth title and my sales jumped to over 300. So far in August I have almost 1,000 sales of the four titles. Two of my titles are priced at .99 and one of the .99 books, a romantic suspense, has really taken off and made the top 100 Kindle, rom/sus list. Quite different from traditional publishing. I keep waiting for the sales to drop off, but it hasn’t happened yet. Fun, fun, fun.

    • Norah:

      Woot! Those a great numbers, Carol. And an excellent demonstration of the importance of those extra titles. As for the 99 cent book, I flirted with that a bit. Climbed the charts with my funny cozy mystery (a poor man’s Stephanie Plum-type proposition), but after a while, looking at earnings, I realized I’d have to sell 6 books at 99 cents to beat the one I’m selling at $2.99. I’ll continue experimenting. In fact, now that I have a second book in that series (Dix Dodd Mysteries), I’m going to try making book 1 free, hopefully leading to eventual mass purchases of Book 2 at $2.99. Wish me luck!

  • Wow! Rock on, Betty Lou! That is freaking fantastic. And the jump from June to July … you do know July is supposed to be a “slow” month, right? lol Way to go Norah. I am pleased as punch for you. 🙂 You absolutely deserve it.

  • Norah:

    Yeah, July rocked! Of course, they were 99 cent books. August will be half the volume but hopefully a better pay cheque.

    And how about you, sista? New book out in less than 48 hours. Are you jittering from all the chocolate yet? 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing. These realistic numbers are great to have.

    • Norah:

      Thanks, Clover. Glad it resonated for you. We don’t all shoot off like rockets, but you can still build a nice, sustainable career. 🙂

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