I was inspired to write one of these myself after reading my buddy Jack Badelair’s post “My 2015 Writing in Review” where he breaks down how his year went in terms of publishing and sales as an independent author. I wanted to do the same thing, to give folks an idea of how things can go as an indie-author as well as for my own analysis. Like Jack, this isn’t meant as a “brag” post or a “woe is me” post, but just an honest assessment of how things are going. Purely informational. Take it as you will.
Limited growth in 2015
The most awkward question I get from folks typically is “How are book sales going?” I really don’t have much of a reference to know if things are good or bad. In some ways, they’re better than they were last year; in others, not so much. I tend to look at it as “Well, I’m not writing full-time, so it could be better.” Also my sales tend to be much lower than some of my other indie-author friends, but they also write in different genres/sub-genres, so it’s hard to make solid comparisons. But for those wondering “how book sales are going,” here’s your answer.
In 2015, I sold just 218 units worldwide. For comparison, in 2014 I sold 207 books and in 2013 I sold 170 books. Nothing to write home about by any means, but growth is better than nothing. My new novel, Honor Among Thieves, represents 68% of my total sales for the year. Jake Hawking & the Bounty Hunter makes up another 28% and the last 4% is divided up among the Hawking short stories.
I have a theory on what’s caused a small increase.
In 2013, I decided to experiment in independent publishing and published the first three Jake Hawking Short Adventures. Their total numbers weren’t anything crazy, but they sold fairly steadily throughout the year. In the spring of 2014, I compiled the three stories and added some bonus short stories and poems for the Jake Hawking & the Bounty Hunter omnibus collection. Now readers could get all three stories at once plus extra content for just $2.99 on the Kindle. This is a better deal than the $2.97 to download all three separately. I make note on each individual story’s product page that they’re also available in this omnibus collection. Why? Sure, it hurts the individual titles’ download totals, but I make more on one sale from the omnibus collection ($2.09 royalty) than if a reader buys all three solo stories ($1.04 royalty total).
[Note: With Amazon, titles priced $2.99 or more get 70% royalties while titles priced under $2.99 get just 35%]
So once I started selling Jake Hawking & the Bounty Hunters, the individual story sales started dwindling as 2014 rolled on and are now almost non-existent. Little Queen’s Gambit — my fav story of the bunch — just sold three times this year and was returned once (ouch!). The Royal Bounty Hunter sold just six times all year and A Pirate’s Honor sold 11 units all year. So what used to be three sales have become one. If we use this line of thinking, I had adjusted 56 sales in 2013 instead of 170.
The good news is that royalties increased 2.5x from 2014. This has nothing to do with total units and everything to do with price and royalty rate. In 2015, I published Honor Among Thieves. Since it’s full-length novel and not a short story or collection of short stories, it’s priced a little higher, which translates into higher royalty for me. As little as I am making, it was nice to see months bring in tens of dollars instead of single dollars.
I didn’t keep track of KU borrows or pages read in 2015. I so rarely have my titles borrowed that it seemed of little point. However, I’m going to try to do that this year, so I can get a more accurate adjusted number for units sold.
Overall, I’m still operating in the red. None of the titles have broken even with initial investment (editing & book cover). Jake Hawking & the Bounty Hunters should break even sometime this year, but unless something happens, I don’t expect Honor Among Thieves to do that until 2017, and the solo Hawking downloads to do that ever.
Print vs. ebooks
Interestingly enough, just 57% of my sales came in the form of ebooks in 2015. This surprised me as I feel like the vast majority of independent author sales typically come from Amazon Kindle and the like. This number was 68% in 2014 and 100% in 2013 (I only had ebooks available then). So although I’m an indie author, print copies are still important to my bottom line.
Honor Among Thieves sold a few more paperback copies than it did ebook copies; Jake Hawking & the Bounty Hunters sold a little more ebook versions than paperbacks. But they’re virtually the same when you look at total numbers.
Part of this may have to do with the number of events I try to do. I sold a good number of Honor Among Thieves paperbacks at fencing events, and also did my first two official author signings at CTRF and OtherWhere Affair in 2015. So there were plenty of opportunities for people to buy hard copies from me in person.
We’ll see how well I do at Arisia later this month, which is four days of selling/signing books. I know a lot of authors don’t think in-person events are worth it. And for those who sell hundreds of books a month instead of a year, that may be true. But when you’re sales chart looks like the heart rate monitor of a dying man, you take whatever you can get.
I know plenty of folks who hate the great machine that is Amazon and refuse to buy anything from them. I get it, though that line of thinking hurts authors more than it does Amazon.
I have tried other sites and found them to be pretty useless for me. I have more fingers than I’ve made sales on sites like B&N and Smashwords. And even though I barely have my book borrowed via Kindle Unlimited, it still makes more sense to stay Amazon-exclusive than it does to try selling elsewhere. Maybe one day that’ll change, but the two times I’ve tried it, it hasn’t panned out well at all. I may even be better off putting the Hawking shorts back on as an Amazon-exclusive and make it free year round.
With the publishing of Honor Among Thieves, I tried amping up my marketing efforts — or as much as my limited bank account would allow. I set up my own blog tour with several author historical adventure authors. That tour went pretty well, and got me a few extra sales (both pre-sale and reg sale), and several reviews (though not every author transferred their review from their blog to Amazon, which is a bummer). All this cost me was my time and cost to ship a few paperbacks out to bloggers who prefer a hard copy to read.
I also did my first paid blog tour with the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour. I paid for a five book tour and got closer to 14 in the deal, which sounds great but I don’t think any of the blogs were really a good fit for the type of historical fiction I do. Almost all of the blogs were more romance histfic leaning instead of adventure. Also my book was sent to a couple of reviewers who don’t like adult language (which I specifically pointed out on my sign-up sheet), so they probably shouldn’t have been selected. I know a lot of authors have had success with HFVBT, but it may not be the best for my work. The ROI from that campaign was poor.
[This is a common problem, trying to find “my audience.” I write swashbucklers, which seems to be a really tiny, niche market of a sub-genre. Either I haven’t found out where they hang out at, or the sub-genre is even more niche than I thought.]
I also did one Fussy Librarian promo which had limited success, and by limited I mean I can’t prove that the sale I made that week was from them or not. There was definitely no spike in sales from the promo. In general, I haven’t been able to do much in terms of email blasts because I don’t have enough reviews for most book-of-the-day companies. Honor Among Thieves has just nine Amazon reviews and Jake Hawking & the Bounty Hunter has just 11. My sales/review rate on Amazon is 6%. I tend to not even check GoodReads since it’s a sewer.
What to expect in 2016?
The honest answer: No idea, really. Since Honor Among Thieves published, my attention has been focused elsewhere and on things that are just starting to sort themselves out now. So, alas, I haven’t written much since July (eeps!). It’s been a really frustrating several months.
I have a few ideas in mind for the next book. I’d really like to write and publish the next installment of the Hope & Steel series, but that thread is remaining elusive. I have about 10,000 words written for a psychological pirate thriller that I may work more on. I also have been world building for a fantasy trilogy and fantasy series.
So right now I’m just working on whatever excites me until something sticks. Hopefully that’ll all happen soon.