Last year as I was making the decision whether or not to self-publish my historical mystery, Maids of Misfortune, I read blog after blog post that tried to parse the differences among traditional publishers, small presses, subsidy and/or vanity publishers, and independent or self-published authors. While I found little absolute agreement, I was left with the impression that if you self-published a book that ended up being bought primarily by immediate family and friends, you were probably involved in vanity publishing, no matter what method you used.
This idea was reinforced when I read such statements as those by Jane Smith in her blog How Publishing Really Works that self-published books sold on average “between forty and two hundred copies…”(http://bit.ly/6gvvj2) and that “Despite some highly publicized successes, the average book from a POD service sells fewer than 200 copies–mostly to the authors and to “pocket” markets surrounding them–friends, family, local retailers who can be persuaded to place an order.”(http://bit.ly/LRqxM)
Now to be fair, these numbers for self-published books don’t sound so shabby when compared to the statistics quoted in Chris Anderson’s article, A Bookselling Tail, that, according to the 2004 Nielsen Bookscan, “The average book in America sells about 500 copies” and, in fact, 96% of title sold fewer than 1000 copies.”
Nevertheless, once I published my mystery, I became obsessed with tracking the number of books I had sold, looking for that point when I could tell myself and others that I had safely made it out of the vanity press category. Or, as I put it, I wanted to make sure that writing and publishing Maids of Misfortune wasn’t just an interesting retirement hobby. By the way, the fact that every night I can see how many books I have sold that day by looking at my CreateSpace and Kindle accounts is both a blessing and a curse.
The following is a report of the number of books I have sold and the royalties I have received in the first quarter the book has been published (December 1, 2009-March 31, 2010.) I published Maids of Misfortune as an electronic book on Smashwords and Kindle, and I published a print on demand 6×9 inch paperback through Amazon’s CreateSpace. The book did not appear in all these venues immediately, and the book was unavailable for about a week in December when I took care of typos that were discovered after the first printing.
|December 2009||Copies Sold||Royalties($)|
|First Quarter totals||158||$349.59|
So, what does all this data mean? In terms of numbers of books sold, I think it is a safe bet that a good proportion of the books that I initially sold were bought by family and friends, most of whom bought the paperback version. Except for sending out email messages to about 20 people and making announcements on Facebook (where after a year I only have 60 friends-what a social networking wimp I am!) that was my major method of marketing in the first two months. Yet, when I sold my 100th book, a close friend exclaimed, “Well even you don’t have that many friends and relatives,” and she is right.
So, I have to assume that over time a growing number of those 158 books were purchased by strangers. In fact, what I found most significant from these statistics was that over half of my sales were on Kindle. Since very few of my friends and family own this or any other ebook reading device as of yet, this suggests that people who own Kindles found the book in Kindle’s store, felt the $4 price was reasonable, and, after reading the sample, purchased the book. While these numbers are nowhere near as impressive as those by JA Konrath (smile), this data reassure me that the book has a commercial future. See Konrath’s data on his blog, Newbie’s Guide to Publishing http://bit.ly/xGwfa.
Another fact that reassures me of the commercial viability of Maids of Misfortune doesn’t show up in the sales figures, and that is the number of people I know who have bought the book and tell me they have given it to other people to read. While I should be cringing at the lost revenue, instead, this gives me intense pleasure. My secret fear had been that the book would be bought primarily by people who know and love me, but they would feel embarrassed by the book and simply slip it onto their shelves as the equivalent of a batty relative’s ugly home-made pottery. I am sure many authors, no matter what their method of publishing, recognize that fear!
Finally, the numbers also reveal how financially successful the book has been so far. If you consider my costs in publishing the book alone, I have definitely passed the break-even point. My only expenses were $250 for the cover design-which was money very well spent. As I have written about in earlier posts, I didn’t pay for any professional editing, and I did all the formatting (with a little help from my husband) to get the files ready to be uploaded to Smashwords, Kindle, and CreateSpace. I also did the interior design for the paperback as well. None of this would have been possible without April Hamilton’s The IndieAuthor Guide, which was my bible throughout this process, This book is coming out in paperback next fall, do check it out!
Marketing costs are a different matter, and my marketing plan, and how this relates to the different book prices and royalty percentages for each method of distribution, is a subject for a later post.
So, to answer the question posed in my title, am I a real published author yet? Of course I am. Despite my obsession with the numbers, I have always known that success for me was never going to be based on the number of books I sold or the amount of money I made. The recent post by Mark Barrett entitled The Successful Author reminded me of this when he wrote about the “miserable scorekeepers” within the publishing industry and that the “…antidote to all this, of course, is defining success for yourself. And I don’t mean that as a trite observation. Rather, I mean you should have an actual conversation with yourself about this issue and define why you’re writing and what it is you hope to give and gain by linking words together.”
Over forty years ago I defined success for myself when I decided that I wanted to write “happy books” when I grew up (I kid you not, that is what I put under my yearbook picture senior year in high school). I have always had an abiding love for what Laurie King recently called “frivolous fiction”in a talk she gave at the 2009 California Crime Writers Conference, and I have always known that I wanted to write books that drew readers into another world, were filled with characters that made them laugh, and sometimes cry, and would leave them with such a sense of joy that they would want to return to that world again, and again.
Five days after Maids of Misfortune appeared on Smashwords and I got my first review, by Anna Drake (someone I had never heard of before then), that ended with the statement “We certainly hope it is the first of many stories for her, as we doubtless will be following the rest of the series with great delight” http://bit.ly/c2SHbG I knew I was successful. Since then, every time I hear from another person that they enjoyed the world of late Victorian San Francisco that I created, that they had come to love Annie Fuller and Nate Dawson so much that they didn’t want to leave them when the book was done, that they can’t wait for me to finish the next book, I know that I am a real published author.