My earnings from self-publishing 1 Oct 2014 – 30 Sept 2015

Another year has gone past and it’s time for another income report.

After the previous report, I got a few “Oh, is that all?” reactions. Well, yes, that’s all. I’m reporting the coalface of self-publishing. You know that author who shot to fame with just one book out and retired on a yacht in the Bahamas? The vast majority of us are not that author. There is real hard work being done with real rewards, but it’s not easy and it’s not an automatic gold mine.
As you can see each year so far (links to previous reports below), I’ve almost doubled my income each year. The question is really what would things have looked like if I’d stayed the traditional route? By now, I might have sold a novel or two to a publisher at $3000 a pop. I might have sold a few more stories to magazines at $500 a pop. Publishers have schedules and will take on only a few books a year at most. Suppressed publication is suppressed sales. It really is that simple. Either way, I reckon I’m ahead of the game.

So, the past 12 months:

Things that happened:

  • No major publishing snafus by anyone. Yippie!
  • Amazon pulled the annual rabbit out of the hat with their Kindle Unlimited subscription-based program which rewards authors per page read. I decided to put the Ambassador series and Shifting Reality and Shifting Infinity in it. I chose these books because the sales of these series were already heavily skewed towards Amazon. I’ve been happy with the results and will continue to use this program. I will strenuously resist temptation to put all my books in it, because Kobo is starting to do interesting things, and I want to try listing direct at Apple.
  • In July, someone on the Kindleboards started a website I spent a lazy hour poking about the site for fun, but fun soon turned to a sense of dread when I realised, after viewing hundreds and hundreds of book covers, just how many atrocious covers there are in the world, and how many more sort-of-OK-but-not-great ones, and how some of my own covers were not up to scratch either, and how for some of the nice ones I wanted full print wraps, but the files were not scalable to accommodate for greater resolution. I decided to do a full upgrade of the covers of a number of series with work from the best cover designers. It was time to do this, it was expensive but it was paid for out of previous sales.
    As a result, my sales have climbed in the last few months.
  • Advertising. I tried a lot of different things. I worked hard on my mailing list, which now has 3300 people. Watcher’s Web was featured on Bookbub in April which resulted in 30,000 copies given away, and a few other advertisers also did very well for me, notably with Ambassador 1, which I lowered to 99c for the occasion.
    I’ve learned how to advertise on Facebook, which is a bit of a counter-intuitive skill. I started a promotional account on Twitter which I won’t link to because what I do there is aimed at retweeting bots, but seems to be working quite well.
  • I started running my own promotions. The power of Bookbub is its gigantor mailing list. I have a bunch of author friends who have mailing lists of thousands. I figured if we put specials on one page and we all send that page to our mailing lists and bookish social media contacts, and there are 30+ authors taking part, you have pretty decent coverage. In September, the 99c promo sold over 600 books. So yeah, I’ll be doing stuff like this again. Next week, in fact.

Previous years’ reports:

1 Oct 2012 – 30 Sept 2013
1 Oct 2013 – 30 Sept 2014

So, this year:

Books published:

Changing Fate (Ambassador series)
Fire Wizard (For Queen And Country 4)
Shifting Infinity (sequel to Shifting Reality)
The Sahara Conspiracy (Ambassador 1A)
New Horizons (compilation of previously published short stories)
The Dragon Prince (For Queen And Country 5)

The numbers

6856 books sold (last year 3876)
(this includes 102319 pages read in Kindle Unlimited, equivalent to about 200 books)

US$ 8289
And some smallfry in esoteric currencies

Bleh, currencies. Roughly A$21,700

Spread across venues:
4049 Amazon (of which 2250 US, 1175 UK, 91 AU and most of the rest in Canada)
1075 Kobo
736 B&N
287 Google
253 Apple
53 print sales online, about 100 paperback sales at cons

Compared to previous years, there has been a great shift to Amazon. I knew this would happen when sales climbed, because of the sheer size of the market. In absolute numbers, I’m selling more on Kobo than I was in my Kobo heydays in 2012/2013, but everything else has caught up big-time. Especially Amazon. Just last month, Kobo has brought in some opportunities to promote on the site (currently in beta and yeah I’m one of the testers). I’m expecting good things. They also seem to be moving into audio and print.
Google Play has not delivered on its promising start. To me, it seems like a giant swan: flapping like mad, but skimming the water because it’s too heavy to fully take off. Maybe that will change.
B&N is mystery to me (but it’s a good mystery). I can’t upload there. I can’t buy there. I put no effort into it, and I sell there. Don’t ask me why.
Apple: I hope to be able to upload direct to them soon. I have heard enough stories of people selling much better direct than through aggregators like Smashwords to want to give this arduous process a try. Note: I don’t have a Mac (I will use a virtual mac). I may buy one because my trusted Vaio has given up the ghost and I’m writing on a 7yo Samsung notebook with no battery and a RAM so tiny that it complains if I open Facebook. This is not entirely a bad thing.

Top selling books:

Ambassador 1: Seeing Red 1225
Dust & Rain 879
Blood & Tears 743
Icefire Trilogy Omnibus 584
Trader’s Honour 547
Soldier’s Duty 372
Ambassador 2: Raising Hell 295
Ambassador 3: Changing Fate 251
Heir’s revenge 221
Shifting Reality 218

I’m especially happy to see the Ambassador series featuring so well. Also my numbers sold of the individual Icefire Trilogy books are the same as last year (when book 1 was featured on Bookbub) but without much effort from my side and no expensive ads. The sales of the omnibus, however, have blown out of the water compared to last year. Most of those sales were at Kobo.
Of special note is the last book in this list. I published Shifting Reality in late 2012 and for more than two years, it barely sold. I did sell a lot of print copies at places like Supanova, though, so it wasn’t necessarily the book. Just that it was a standalone and they are nigh impossible to sell. So I gave it a little sister :P. And Damonza is the best cover designer in the world.

Income from major series to date:

This is another entry I did last year, and it shows you the cumulative power of backlist.

Icefire trilogy $24,625 (6056 books sold)
Aghyrians series $11,561 (2947 books sold)
Ambassador series $3790 (2093 books sold)
For Queen And Country $2240 (799 books sold)

The Icefire Trilogy continues to sell without much help from me. This year, it did very well in the UK, and I have no idea why. If I get a bit of time, I’m committed to writing the next trilogy in this world.
The Aghyrians series continues to do well when I advertise.
Ambassador series: Income is relatively low because so many books were sold at 99c. But WATCH THIS SPACE. Seriously. There will be 2-3 more books next year.
For Queen And Country will be finished soon. I haven’t pushed it much because the books are short and not standalones, but I’m now seeing decent sell-through. All I have to do is advertise the freebie more.

Some more stats:
In no month during the sales period did my income dip below $1000.
In no month did I sell less than 400 books.
I got my first-ever $1000 monthly payout for a single venue. It was Kobo.
The highest number sold per month was 852 in April.

Watch this space.

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