My Earnings From Self-publishing 1 Oct 2013 – 30 Sept 2014

Another year has gone by. I did one of these posts last year, and thought it would be fun to update it.

Why?

Several reasons:

  • Not all self-publishers are Hugh Howey or Bella Andre or any of the other names that you’ll find in the top of various genres. In fact, most of them aren’t.
  • There is still a real and not insubstantial amount of money to be made from self-publishing, even if you’re a complete nobody like me. The truth for writers like me is that this money is more than I’d be able to get from selling my book to a publisher. Traditional advances in Australia are $3000. I wouldn’t see myself sell more than two books a year to a publisher year after year.
  • Few people talk real money and real numbers. I like being real, so I put my numbers on the table, warts and all.

Several things happened in the past year:

  • Most importantly, Kobogate. Remember that last year most of my income was from Kobo? No more. I think it went like this: In October, Kobo changed their website. The company they hired were clowns and they goofed up the categories as they were listed on the sales pages. Despite many complaints (my Icefire Trilogy was listed as Religious fiction FFS), they couldn’t fix it. (My theory: the IT company had signed off on the project and they had trouble getting them back). Then Erotica books were inadvertently passed onto resellers as Children’s books. The proverbial hit the fan. It affected all sales at Kobo, including mine. In my best month, I sold almost 200 books there. I’ve not sold more than 100 per month since.
  • A new player entered the market: Google Play. Sales there are increasing.
  • I never sold anything on Amazon UK, but that has changed. Don’t ask me why.
  • I moved most of my listings at B&N from Smashwords to D2D. This increased my sales there a lot.

I also published “some” new books since last September:

That’s SEVEN books. It looks a little more impressive than it is, because some of those books were already written. I’ve been committed to writing and completing series. The Aghyrians series is now done. I may or may not write a prequel. It is also mostly written, but would need a fair bit of salvage. At the moment my priorities are the Ambassador series and For Queen And Country. The latter is a slightly different beast from what I’ve written before: it’s a big story, the books are fairly short, 45-60K, and they’re episodes rather than complete stories. There should be at least two more volumes in the coming year.

Some observations on selling and marketing for self-publishers:

  • If you want to have decent sales, you absolutely have to write series or at least related books
  • You make the first book free and advertise it (by the way, Ambassador 1 won’t be free in the forseeable future, so you don’t need to wait for that)
  • Books that are not part of series sell poorly. Yes, when I get some time I’ll write the sequel to Shifting Reality. I love that book to bits, and the only way to get it selling better is to write a sequel. I realise how ass-backward this will sound to any regular publisher. Self publishers often report that a series doesn’t sell much at all until there are a number of books available.
  • Unless you hit the jackpot, there is no magic bullet. Each release increases your sales a little bit. Having a number of series and publishing them on all platforms is important. You see people buy all of your books one after the other.

So, the numbers:

In the past year, I sold 3876 books. Total income: about $11,000 (a bit fuzzy due to currency issues).

Vendors:

  • Amazon – 1823
  • Kobo – 872
  • B & N – 640
  • Apple – 381
  • Smashwords (retail site) – 55
  • Google Play (listed there in December) – 51

 

Bestselling titles with copies sold:

  • Dust & Rain 873
  • Blood & Tears 749
  • Trader’s Honour 483
  • Soldier’s Duty 363
  • Watcher’s Web (before I made it free) 328
  • Icefire Trilogy 207
  • Innocence Lost (before I made it free) 193
  • Ambassador 1: Seeing Red 157
  • The Far Horizon 78
  • Willow Witch 69

Now this may not sound very impressive, but consider this:

Total income of series from publication to date:

  • Icefire Trilogy (complete, last book published May 2013): $13,000
  • Aghyrians series (complete, last book published July 2014): $5000
  • Ambassador series (not complete, 2 books out, ebooks only): $700
  • For Queen And Country (not complete, 3 books out): $300

Income shoots up when a series is complete, and books keep selling every year, adding to the total income vs. investment for each book. It’s not a once-off payment. Therefore, the bigger your stable of books, the better your overall sales will be. Investment in series takes a while to get going, but keeps on delivering as long as you get downloads on that first free book.

So that’s it for this year. Meanwhile, if you’re asking how I know all this, I’d like to plug the program Trackerbox, which eats all these damn spreadsheets and spits out numbers with the click of a button.

My Earnings From Self-publishing 1 Oct 2013 – 30 Sept 2014 was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants

Message to self-published writers: please can the spam

can of spam

Beware. There be uncouth language.

This post has been coming for a while and I have finally reached the point where I’m screaming ENOUGH! Enough with the spam and the overzealous tweeting and Facebooking.

Does the following sound familiar to you?

#FREE #Read of Chapter 1 from my #SCI_FI #kindle #Book #militarySCI_FI #fantasy #Amazon

I just copied this randomly off Twitter. I left the link off, for obvious reasons, but I’m sure you get the gist. A useless message, screaming into the void, taking up space in people’s feeds, with ridiculous and stupid hashtags. No one looks at this stuff. How do I know? Well, open an account with bit.ly and you can track clicks on links. Try a few of these daft tweets. Track the links. Who clicks on them? Not many people. Who buys the books?

*crickets*

Yet, some people’s feeds are 100% full of this shit. Often they’re otherwise nice and sane people, else I would have ditched them as contact long ago. But the bucket is full and I’ve had enough, so I’ll be unfollowing the accounts of people who do this. I’ll be stepping out of the Facebook groups that are 100% spam and unfriending people at goodreads who “recommend” me their own books, constantly.

I totally get that social media is kinda fun but not very useful when you’re following a writer and all she does is talk about her cat (I don’t even have a cat). If you have a Facebook account or Twitter account with a decent number of reader-followers, it would be stupid if you never mentioned your books, your new releases, award nominations, sales, nice reviews. But not all the fucking time, OK? And not while using Tweet-bots that retweet the same fucking message every hour.

And then try to tell me that this “promoting” is necessary.

No. These people are annoying the crap out of everyone. And it doesn’t work.

Suppose you were friends with a publicist in a company that sold phones. How would you feel if they constantly cluttered your feed with spam for their products? People: COMPANIES DON’T DO THIS. Companies have worked out that people hate this shit. So, self-published writers seem to think that they can because they are downtrodden souls, and even seem to think that they have to cross-spam each other’s shit under the misguided illusion that this is what is meant by “supporting other indies”.

You know that I loathe the word “indie”, and its use above illustrates why. Self-published writers are not some ghetto, and no more need to “stick together” than other writers do.

PLEASE GIMME A BREAK! Write good books. Eventually, books will sell themselves.

*cries*

I like interacting with writers and lovers of genre. Twitter is a great way to do that, but the relentless spam threatens spoil my enjoyment completely.

So let’s set out a few of my guidelines:

– There are many professional, wonderful self-published writers whose work I have read and will recommend and support in a heartbeat. But I will not recommend any work I haven’t read simply because the author self-published. Sorry, but that notion is ridiculous to me.

– I do like writers’ Facebook pages, if I like that writer’s work. I don’t like many because I don’t want to clutter up my feed. Yes, I know I can stop Facebook showing updates, but seriously, what sort of sucker-upper would I be if I did that? Anyone who comes to my page or blog expecting a return-like, well, tough. I may, but if I don’t know you, I will not.

– I do not retweet people’s promo tweets unless, again, I’m actually familiar with the writer’s work.

– I have no issue with the occasional promo tweet. Specials, new releases, that’s all stuff you followed the writer for in the first place (or at least stuff you shouldn’t be surprised or annoyed to hear). Blog posts? Awesome! That’s what Twitter and Facebook are for. That’s how these platforms work and how they can be used to sell books indirectly.

Just do me a favour: CAN THE SPAM!

autumn

What is success in publishing anyway?

books

Last week, I picked up three large boxes from the post office. The above picture shows what was in them (more than the one copy for each title shown above, obviously). Real live books! To take to Supanova.

This, for me, is part of what makes a success. I had a one-day table at Conflux. I took four boxes of books. I came back with one small box.

Success? People are reading my books.

As I said yesterday, as soon as the mid-year (northern hemisphere summer) slump hits, people start navelgazing and wondering if success has passed them by. But it really depends on how we define success. Obviously, bestseller, household name authors are successful, but there are a couple of tiers of writers underneath those that can also be called successful to a certain extent.

At this point in time, I make between a couple of hundred to a thousand dollars per month from my books. Not so much in this slow time of the year, but in March, I made very close to $1000. That is not enough to live off, obviously, but it definitely makes writing fun for me. It makes me go out and spend $4000 on a camera. It makes me not skimp on con costs, like getting a room by myself in the con hotel and not worrying about how much I spend on food while I’m there.

So yeah, I would call myself reasonably successful. I know that there will be money at the end of the month that I can choose to do stuff with. I also know that there are places where I haven’t yet gone (like, a deal from a major publishing house), but because this money keeps coming in and sales keep tallying up on my dashboard (mainly on Kobo), I feel relaxed about whether or not this will actually happen. I feel that I don’t need a big deal to prove myself, or to get some income from my writing (and seriously, have you seen the appalling advances lately?). I feel confident enough to say that I’m not interested in an ebook-only deal unless some amazing conditions come with it (that said, what is more amazing than getting 70% off each book I sell on Kobo? And I sold two while I was writing this post).

If your definition of success is mega-bestseller-dom, then you’re always going to be disappointed. Being a writer is about your body of work, not about writing the best-selling book since … [The Da Vinci code/Hunger Games/Harry Potter/Twilight]. Those best-selling books are freak occurrences. Many writers make a really decent income by selling much less.

You can’t control freak occurrences. You can’t control whether or not your work ends up on award lists, but you can keep expanding your body of work, and you will get a modest but regular income that keeps writing fun.

That is the baseline of what I call success.



Patty writes hard Science Fiction, space opera and fantasy. Her latest book is Trader’s Honour, in the space opera series The Return of the Aghyrians. If you’d like to be kept up-to-date with new releases, remember to sign up for Patty’s new release newsletter.

How do you promote your self-published book?

So, you’ve written a book, and published it. Great.

The next and inevitable question is: how do you sell it? How do you find people who are willing to read it and recommend it to their friends? How do you–gasp–promote it?

I have to admit, I hate the word “promote”. It conjures up images of sleazy door-to-door salesmen, of people who constantly tweet about their books, people who send you direct messages about their book and otherwise bother you for something you might have been interested to check out, but are now no longer.

A myriad of marketing options are being dreamed up daily by all sorts of people, most of them with good intentions, but most of them with a poor understanding of how people decide to buy books. Every day, I see sites pop up where people can post their books. Visitors are then encouraged to “like” the page and the number of likes are given as a measure of success for the page. Some sites are quite elaborate, well-designed and pretty. Except… do they have ANY members at all who aren’t authors trying to sell their books?

Then what? Paid advertising? At some point you may decide to try paid advertising. It can be beneficial, but its benefits are almost always indirect, in other words, an ad gives you name recognition but few, if any, immediate sales. I consider paid advertising as a way to show my appreciation for sites that I like. They need to make money. I don’t mind giving them some, and as bonus, I get a pretty graphic on their page.

Tweeting, blogging, paid advertising are all auxilliary ways to market yourself, and highly time and/or money-consuming and inefficient ones at that.

Here is the quick and dirty on selling your books:

The first way to promote your book is to write a good book. People read it. They like it. They recommend it to friends. Word of mouth is still the way in which most people decide what to read. No, publishers don’t know how it works either. Invest your time and energy in writing, not blathering on social media (unless the blathering is in your off-time and it’s actually social). Spend your money on ways to improve your book rather than on ads.

The second way to promote your book is to write another book. Because when people like book 1, they can buy book 2. Spend your energy writing this book rather than arguing over/anguishing over or even just reading reviews of book 1. Book 1 is done and dusted. Reviews won’t change it and just as good reviews won’t sell a book, bad ones won’t make it tank either, if you’ve done your homework (see point 1).

The third way to promote you book, which is actually a long way down from points 1 and 2, is to be present and to be genuine. A whole host of stuff could fit into this point. Have a website, have a blog, be on Facebook or Twitter. Have places where people can find you, engage with you and find out about books you’re writing, cons you’re attending or backgrounds for your fiction. Encourage people to like your page, subscribe to your blog or newsletter. What is contained in this point will vary from writer to writer. It’s something you should feel comfortable doing, and something that shouldn’t take you away from writing.

The most important thing about selling your books is that it doesn’t happen overnight, but if you keep doing points 1, 2 and 3, your chances of doing well are greatly increased.

From the Self-publishing trenches: The Voice of the Little Prawns

Much discussion went on this week about this post, where Smashwords founder Mark Coker asserts that authors are being played like pawns by Amazon.

Like awesomely witty writer-friend Dalya Moon, I cannot see the word “pawns” without reading “prawns” and so the term Little Prawns was born.

Little Prawn = any author who publishes independently through large ebook retailers

Is Amazon playing authors? Absolutely. In his post, Mark riles against the KDP Select program (which, for the un-initiated, offers authors five days in which to promote their book for free in a 90-day signing period as well as inclusion in the Kindle Owners Lending Library, in return for exclusivity to Amazon). In other words: Amazon is luring writers away from the other sites.

Why would Little Prawns sign up for such a restrictive deal?

Well, being largely bottom-feeders, the Little Prawns are opportunistic. There was a time that setting your book free offered enormous benefits, but trying to make a book free on Amazon was both unreliable and time-consuming. So, Amazon listened to the voices of the Little Prawns, and introduced this program. Genius. At that point in time (last December) getting reliable free days was price-less. Most of us sold 99% of our books on Amazon anyway, and nothing was lost by withdrawing from other sites.

Poor Mark was deluged with remove requests, followed by angry letters to the extent of “Why hasn’t B&N/Kobo/Sony/Apple removed my book yet”. Those retailers were in no hurry to comply, or even reply, and I would assume that Smashwords bore the brunt of the exodus. Not fun.

Amazon, of course, did this for their own bottom line, and much as I respect Mark, I have no doubt that anything he does is done with one eye on his bottom line as well. And you know what, the Little Prawns are the same. Over the months, Amazon fiddled with the algorithms of the post-freebie sales boom to the point where being in Select wasn’t worth it for many authors, and they started to withdraw from the program. One could argue that Amazon was never interested in the Little Prawns anyway, and didn’t want them in the program and therefore reduced the benefits of having free days. I am not entirely sure what benefit a traditional publisher or bestselling self-publishing author would get from the program, and I would argue that its effectiveness is diminished with every title withdrawn from it. Privately, people have been wondering why Amazon hasn’t put the program to sleep, but they probably have issues of pride to deal with, or have other plans.

So.

Around the middle of last month, something changed substantially for a lot of Little Prawns, including myself. Where I might see an odd trickle of sales from B & N, I suddenly saw a creek. And! Kobo! Kobo launched their new Writing Life site in late August, and suddenly in mid-September, books started selling there. You know, the Little Prawns are a connected lot (it’s a matter of survival for us), and as soon as people reported about the clean Kobo interface and, lo-and-behold, sales there, the Little Prawns voted with with their little pattering feet.

However, a product of Kobo’s launching of a writer program was that people were unticking the Kobo box on the Smashwords distribution options.

I can’t imagine that Mark would have liked this trend.

The message here? Amazon is playing the Little Prawns, and if they like the bait, they will come. Kobo is playing the Little Prawns, and they liked the offering, so they came. The Little Prawns themselves are continuously assessing and re-assessing their best bets. They will have a foot in each camp, and they will let themselves be played only if the risk seems worth it and not too dire (few people would, for example, sign to be in the Select program for a year, but three months? For a book or two out of a stable of 16? Why the heck not?)

Meanwhile, all these sites need to listen to the voices of the Little Prawns. Not just the ones who sell, but the ones who buy (and they’re often the same), and, most importantly, they need to act on the opinions of the Little Prawns and offer them a reason to continue to do business, a reason that is better than “I hate Amazon”, because that is only going to appeal to limited number of people. They need to make the experience better for sellers and buyers. Or they WILL lose market share, even if they’re Amazon (or maybe especially if they’re Amazon).

So here are my wishes for each of the main sites:

Amazon:
As a buyer: get rid of those hideous delivery charges based on locality
As a seller: cheques? WTF? CHEQUES??? Who the **** still uses CHEQUES? You are the biggest retailer, open a proxy office in major countries and let people be paid by direct deposit (and this will take care of those hideous tax wrangles as well)

Smashwords:
As a buyer: the site design hurts my eyes. Give me a decent search engine
As seller: I’ve never had any trouble with the meatgrinder program, but I wouldn’t mind being able to upload an EPUB file

B & N:
As a buyer: can’t buy. FFS stop being so US-centric. Improve your search engine
As a seller: STOP BEING SO US-CENTRIC! Also, get rid of meaningless troll reviews

Kobo:
As a buyer: give me a better search engine
As a seller: so far, nothing bad to say

Overall, I think retailers could lure sellers with subscription-based programs that market to genre readers. They could hire some editors to develop a quality-assured/recommended catalogue. They could, you know, actually engage with their content. Every site, including, or especially, Amazon, should be constantly on the ball about what the Little Prawns are saying, because once you have a stampede, it’s hard to turn around. And certainly, whining about the competition is not going to do that.

Tax headaches

There is probably nothing to make a group of writers disperse more quickly than by raising the subject of business and—gasp—tax.

The cliché goes that there is nothing certain except death and taxes, and so it is certain that as soon as a writer starts earning money, there will be a tax bill.

Worse, if you don’t live in the US and you’re selling books through Amazon or similar, that time will come sooner rather than later.

Because when you set up an Amazon account as seller, it asks for a mysterious thing called a social security number, or something called an ITIN. When you can’t provide this, every payment from Amazon will deduct tax.

Gasp.

After looking into the subject for a bit, I’ve decided that this sounds a whole lot worse than it is.

First of all, you can claim it back, or you can claim a tax offset against the tax you’ve already paid. In Australia, you would do that through this link. If you are elsewhere, it is likely that your local tax office provides similar advice.

Otherwise, it is possible for a non-US citizen to obtain an ITIN number. My writing friend Shayne Parkinson has written a six-page instruction on how to do this. Shayne lives in New Zealand, but the process would be similar in other countries. It can be quite expensive. I needed a notary public in December and was charged $100 for the service.

It’s my guess it’s only worth it if you make a lot of money (so you pay tax later) or if your country doesn’t recognise tax already paid in the US.

I will probably revisit this subject later.

If you appreciate Shayne’s information, please visit her Smashwords page here. Shayne writes historical fiction set in New Zealand and I recommend that you check out her work.