I remember a time when selling a hundred books was the most exciting thing in the world. I had actually sold books to people who were not my family!! Unbelievable! To see a number like 100,000 just makes me so incredibly grateful and happy. I never thought I would sell a thousand books, much less a hundred times that. (For my celebration giveaway, click over to my Sweetie Chronicles Blog to enter.)
So how did I do it? I know that as a new self-published author I would always look to blogs and sales figures for ideas and for hope. If even one thing I have to say or share makes a difference to other writers out there who have dreams of being able to make a living writing, then I’m more than happy to share what I’ve learned.
I thought it might be helpful to post a comprehensive list of my monthly sales numbers and then divide them out by vendor so you can see where I found the most success. After that, I’m just going to talk a little bit about what I think helped me to sell over 100,000 books in less than 2 years and also what I think has held me back from selling more.
First, my sales numbers. To be honest, it’s up and down and I never know at the beginning of the month what I can expect to make or sell. The best I can do is keep writing and hope that with each new book, the average continues to go up.
The basics: I write Young Adult paranormal with a bit of romance and mystery. I self-published my first book October 29, 2010. Beautiful Demons is a short novel at only about 47,000 words and is the first book in my Peachville High Demons series about an orphan who is sent to live in the strange town of Peachville after being kicked out of so many foster homes she’s lost count. I currently have 5 books out in the series and the 6th and final book is due out next month. I don’t have any other books out at this time, so the 5 series books is what makes up the sales figures you’re going to see.
As I post this list of sales figures by month, I will also post if I had a new release that month. These monthly numbers only include Amazon and B&N.
As you can see, I am on track to have more sales this year than last year (I hope!). I also highlighted July 2011 in blue just to show that this was my best ever month for sales.
Every night at midnight, I plug my sales numbers into a spreadsheet saved in Google Drive, so my records are pretty accurate. Unfortunately, Smashwords and the premium catalog are much more difficult to keep track of since they report at random and don’t have a great reporting system. Rather than separate them out and cause myself a huge headache, I’m just listing those sales here in bulk.
(*It’s worth noting that I didn’t put my books into the Apple store until December 2011. What was I thinking? Lol. Probably a lot of missed revenue potential there.)
100,333!!! Yippee!! It’s so exciting to see that six-figure sales number. It’s still hard to believe! Here’s how it all breaks down according to the top 4 vendors in order of total sales:
There’s no doubt about it that Amazon is where I’ve seen the most success. Is it enough to take my books off sale everywhere else and go with KDP select? I think my income at these other sites is enough to stick with it. Plus, I believe in being good to my fans. It wouldn’t be very nice to current fans of the series for me to publish the next book exclusively at Amazon, so I haven’t gone with KDP select for any of my books. If I had a standalone, I might try it out since Amazon is such a huge source of my sales, but for now, it isn’t really the best choice.
INCOME AND PRICING
Sales numbers are great, but income is important too. 100,000 books at 99 cents doesn’t produce nearly as much income as 100,000 books at $2.99, so where do I fall? There have been way too many posts online about pricing for me to try to discuss all the ins and outs of the pricing debate. Instead, I’ll just tell you what I decided and why.
As a new author in 2010, I decided to put my first book up at $0.99. This isn’t because I didn’t believe my book was good. I priced it low so that it would be an impulse buy. A no-brainer. If someone was interested, they would buy it without having to think too hard about it. When book 2 went up just 2 months later, I decided to stick with the $0.99 price. I figured that early-on, more sales was more important than more money. My hope was that if people liked book 1 even a little bit, they wouldn’t even think twice about paying just a dollar for the second book.
With book 3, however, I raised my price up to $2.99. I knew that if readers had followed me through the first two books and were still interested in the series, they wouldn’t mind paying a bit more. $2.99 was low enough to still be easy for readers to pay but high enough for me to get that 70% royalty. Win-Win. I have kept the price of the next books in the series at this same $2.99 price just to stay consistent and to keep prices low so that anyone who wants to read can afford it.
Could I make more money by pricing my books higher? Yes, I am sure I could make quite a bit more. In fact, I could sell LESS books and still make MORE money. For me, then, it becomes a question of what’s more important? More sales or more money? I don’t even have to think twice about that at this point in my career. More sales is way more important to me, because I know that the more books I sell, the more potential fans-for-life I gain.
My belief is that the better I am to my fans, the more willingly they will follow me to my next series, and my next, and so on forever. My goal is to become a must-buy to as many readers as possible. The best way I know to do that is to 1) Write the best books I can and 2) Keep my prices low. I’m not in this to be a one-hit wonder or a flash in the pan. I want to still be making a living writing twenty years from now, so that’s always on my mind when I am making decisions about price.
I certainly don’t judge anyone else for their pricing decisions, but for me, this is what has worked. So far, I have made about $120,000 off of my books. I’m extremely happy with that and hope that my decision to keep prices low in the beginning of my career will really pay off for me in the long run. I don’t know that I’m always making the right decisions, but all I can do is try my best. One thing I know for sure is that self-publishing was the right decision for me in every way.
WHAT MADE THE MOST DIFFERENCE?
In my opinion, these are the things that have made the most difference in helping me sell 100,000 books:
- Fast release dates – Especially in the beginning, I was able to get my books out back to back very quickly. I really think this made a huge difference in getting my books noticed. Of course, since I didn’t have a backlist of books to put out, that meant I was writing them fast too. I had a book out in October, December and February that first year I self-pubbed. My sales soared because of it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep up with that pace as infertility began to take its toll. Then, when I finally did get pregnant, writing got even harder!! Now, with a newborn, I’m struggling daily to find balance. My release schedule has suffered, and I hope someday to get back to a faster schedule. I firmly believe that releasing books quickly can make a huge impact on success.
- Writing a Series – I enjoy reading series and so do a lot of other readers. They are especially popular with young adult readers, so I think my decision to write a series helped me find success.
- Professional, Branded Covers – I originally had a friend’s husband design my covers. They were cute, but they looked homemade. In Feb. ’11 with the release of book 3, I also hired the amazing Robin Ludwig to create all new book covers. I adore these news covers. Yes, I have had a few people make negative comments about them, but no one is going to like everything. Most people love them and say that the covers drew them to the series. One thing Robin really did for me was to help me brand the series. When you see these covers, you know instantly that they are part of a set. Since a lot of readers like series, they are drawn to the similar covers as well.
- Low Prices and Going Free – See above about the prices. Something I didn’t mention there, however, was that I worked to get my first book to go FREE everywhere, including Amazon. I hope to leave that first book perma-free to draw in readers and let them sample my series. In addition to my 100k paid sales, I’ve also had about 100k free downloads of Beautiful Demons. It’s made a big difference in keeping my sales high even without a new release this summer.
- Writing What I Love In My Own Way – Instead of following all these rules that are placed on writers (can’t start a chapter with the MC waking up or in a car), I decided to just write the way I wanted to write. I write fragmented sentences. I don’t always follow the expected plot. The love story between Harper and Jackson develops slower than a lot of YA. I think readers really appreciate that my books are not like all the trad pub YA books out there that have similar plots and love stories. They like those other books too, but sometimes they want something a little bit unique, which hopefully is why they keep coming back.
WHAT HAS HELD ME BACK?
In the same way that I recognize some of what has helped me find success, I also have some ideas about what has kept me from breaking out into a Top 100 Overall Best Seller.
- Cheerleaders – My books are about cheerleaders who are witches. I think a lot of people read that and think the books are going to be very surface and cheesy. That’s not at all what the books are. The characters and relationships grow very deep and the story really goes a lot deeper than the cheerleading aspect. Still, I think a series that on the surface is about popular cheerleading witches holds me back somewhat. I don’t want to change that, so instead I’ll just hope my next series has a broader appeal.
- Slowing Release Dates – I listed above that my fast release dates were a big plus. Well, it was really only the first 2 of 5 that came out quickly. Book 4 took almost 5 months to write, Book 5 took about 6, and now fans have been waiting for Book 6 since January. I honestly believe that if I had been putting ALL of my books out quickly, I would have had much more success. Still, I can’t regret my journey to motherhood, so I’ll just chalk this up to life experience and leave it at that.
- My Blurbs – I’m honestly not satisfied with my blurbs. I wonder if they’ve kept some readers from trying out my series, and I think I need to rewrite/revisit them. I have a feeling they are holding me back, but for lack of being able to come up with something better yet, they haven’t changed yet. I think my covers draw attention, but the blurb doesn’t always deliver.
This post is already crazy long, so I won’t keep you much longer (if you’ve gotten this far!). Still, I think it’s important to touch on marketing. I think a lot of writers who are new to self-publishing think that marketing is the most important aspect of selling books. In my experience, this is the biggest mistake self-published authors make.
Sure, marketing is great. It doesn’t hurt, that’s for sure. It’s important to have a social media presence and to communicate with readers in a positive way. (My friend Tivi calls this Warm Fuzzies.) I think readers appreciate this about Indie authors. Our approachability is awesome.
On the other hand, it’s all too easy to get caught up in spending most of your free time writing blog posts, arranging blog tours, and hanging around on social media sites instead of WRITING. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but let me just add my voice to the chorus: Your best marketing tool is your next book! NOT blog posts or tours or twitter followers.
It’s much more important to write and get more books on your virtual shelves than it is to have a blog tour. If you have time for both, more power to you. Great. But don’t sacrifice writing time for marketing time. For me, I know I only have so much creative juice in me on any given day. I can only write for so long. So I write as much as I can, and THEN I market. And I try not to stress out about the marketing aspect of self-publishing. It’s not worth it. The books are the important part. The rest is just the cherry on top. That’s my two cents anyway.
That being said, I will say that reaching out to book bloggers was probably the most valuable marketing I have done. Once book 3 came out, I started spending my spare time approaching popular book blogs about the possibility of reading and reviewing Beautiful Demons. I had a good response and I really owe a lot to bloggers like Julie at A Tale of Many Reviews, Ivy at Ivy Reads, and Kim at The Caffeinated Diva. They were some of the first to take a chance on my book, and I can’t thank them enough. Book bloggers are awesome and if you’re going to spend time on marketing, I would suggest reaching out to bloggers first.
I know there are a lot of other writers out there who probably ramble less and have more valuable information, but if what I’ve had to say and share has inspired even one person, then it’s worth it. I never dreamed I would make it this far, but now that I’m here with 100,000 sales under my belt, I feel as though it’s just the beginning.
There has never been a better time to be a writer or a reader. There is more money to be made than ever before and we can charge less for the books at the same time! Self-publishing is hard work, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. I can confidently say that the decision to self-publish was one of the best I’ve ever made, and as things stand in the industry right now, I can’t see a situation where it would be worth it to sign a traditional publishing contract. At least not here in the US, but that’s a post for another day.
All I can say to wrap things up is that I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who has supported me along the way to this milestone – fans, my critique group, bloggers, other writers, the community on Kindle Boards. The Indie writing community is amazing, and I hope to give back even a part of what they have given to me.
The fact that I can write the books I love and still make money is truly a dream come true.
And honestly, I don’t ever want to wake up…