Sunday, June 19, 2011

Self publishing (the view from the trenches)

Since the upsurge in ebooks, self publishing or indie publishing is the latest hot potato. Now anyone who self publishes or is thinking of self publishing has probably heard the success stories of people such as Amanda Hocking and JA Konrath, but for every success story there are thousands and thousands of struggling authors that might sell a handful of copies a month if they’re lucky. And I’m firmly in the latter camp.

To put this into perspective, I’ll share my details and my story for those interested, or for those contemplating going this route.

To start at the beginning, I had my first novel published in 2003, but it wasn’t until 2009 that my next one appeared in print. Since then I've had one novel adapted for film, which is now awaiting release. I put my first self published work up for sale in December of 2010 and I now have 4 works available (3 of those were previously published in paperback and I received advances and royalties). The 4 books are Dead Man’s Eye, The Kult, Deadfall and Evilution. Now I won’t go into individual sales as it’s not really relevant, just the totals from, and Smashwords on these books. They are priced low (some may say too low, others might say too high) between $0.99 and $1.49: sales from December to May this year have totalled 164 copies, which resulted in royalties of $75.42 (£46.58) sales for the same period totalled 90 copies with royalties of $45.81 (£28.30)

Smashwords sales are more erratic to work out as they include copies that I’ve given away for free, but paid sales, which includes sales from Barnes & Noble, Sony etc, came to $60.70 (£37.49)

So total money earned from December to May = $181.93 (£112.37)

When you take into account the hours put in writing the books (on average each book took me about 6 months to write), and then the many more hours promoting them, you can see that in this case, it’s not paid me back. Also take into account that I paid for promotion at various places such as Kindle Boards, Goodreads etc, which totalled more than $125 and total profit falls to less than $55 (£33.97). And that’s for 6 months solid promotion using message boards, forums, paid adverts etc! So that’s hardly enough for a meal and a few drinks on a night out. Not much return for all the hard work. And this is for books that have received some excellent reviews at various places which you can check on Goodreads and Amazon.

Luckily my paperback sales before the publisher went bankrupt and before I withdrew one book were far better, so I made more money on the paperback books. I won’t list advances or how much these paid, but just let me say that even the lowest selling one made far more in royalties after earning out the advance than I’ve made in the last 6 months through ebook sales.

Now to be honest, I used to dream of making a living as a writer, and the embers of that dream are still there, but the realist in me knows that it doesn’t look as though that is going to happen. But I’ll continue writing because I love writing. Being paid is icing on the cake.

So for those contemplating taking the indie road, good luck. Because believe me, no matter how good an author you are, you’ll need it.


author Scott Nicholson said...

Just keep writing. You never know when the moment will arrive.


Belinda said...

You are an excellent writer, Shaun!

I loved The Kult and I'm glad you came out with this post. Our indie lack of success stories are more the norm and people want to believe that if you write more or wait longer, suddenly you'll make enough to live on.

Wishing you tons of luck going forward. You deserve it.

Lee said...

I'm planning to self publish very soon. When so much of the attention is on Amanda Hocking and JA Konrath, it's worth remember not everybody (or hardly anybody) enjoys that level of success.

The saving grace (from my perspective) is, I'd be writing these books anyway.

Shaun said...

Thanks for the comments. I don't really recall many people with low sales reporting what said sales are, so I just thought I would put it out there so that people can get some idea of what to expect. Of course everyone's mileage will be different, but it's always made me chuckle when I tell people I write and that I've had a couple of novels published, and for some reason they assume I've made a lot of money!

Guido Henkel said...

I'm right there with you, Shaun. But even the "more books, more sales," advice is not entirely correct. I have ten books published and eight of those books sold exactly 2 copies each, during the 19 days of this month.

While having a large catalog can help you dramatically once your sales DO pick up, but they are certainly no guarantee that they WILL pick up.

It is tough to read all those success stories around you and then looking at your own sales figures. And it is only going to get worse, as more and more books are being released, each trying to get discovered.

GraceKrispy said...

Great post- I think it's eye-opening to see the numbers and details. I truly believe that hard work and talent will pay off in the end, but I think some authors do have the idea that all they need to do is a get a book- any book- out there and they'll rake in the big bucks.

Debbie said...

Hey Shaun. With me it's either go indie and people can choose to buy/read my books - or leave them on my computer and nobody will ever get to read them (way to controversial for family to be allowed to read...). Money is irrelevant really since I can't see myself giving up the day job.

Mark West said...

Great honest post, Shaun. The thing is, there's a lot of dreck out there and I think, maybe, a lot of people have been burned and so aren't picking stuff up. It's the same as with PublishAmerica back in 2000 and once the idiots realise the market won't sustain them, they'll bugger off.

Keep your books there, the sales will pick up because you do good work and you'll outlast the fly-by-nights.

Shaun said...

Cheers for the comments. Lots of it with regards sales seems to come down to luck. And as anyone knows, luck is a strange beast, the origins of which cannot be traced.

James Everington said...

I think when you start out, the trend is as important as the volume - do your sales figures gradually improve? Does each new book get a nice little bump when it comes out as the fans you made from the previous ones buy it?

And as you say, luck as much to do with it.

Shaun said...

Well as I've been doing this (writing) for a lot of years now, I know it doesn't get any easier, and the more competition there is out there can only make it harder. But as I hardly received anything monetary wise for the sales I had because of the low price, I've now raised the price of my books. Whether this will make any difference only time will tell, but now at least I don't have to sell as many copies to achieve the same returns.