Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The keys to epublishing success?

Over in this thread on kindleboards, several dozen e-authors are revealing that they have joined the 1,000+ Sales/Month Club. This is great news for them and I congratulate each one for the time and effort they’ve put in to achieve their success. I’ve done a bunch of research and crunched some numbers, and in this post I’ll use some spiffy charts in some analysis.
First, is 1,000 or more sales per month an indicator of success? That’s a good question. We don’t know how many of those books were given away for free or for a low price such as $0.99 (which would garner the author only $0.35 per sale).
But, even at a cover price of only $0.99, an author would make $350/month if they sold 1,000 units. That’s $4,200 per year. That’s not enough for a career, but it is a very nice income boost. I’d call this a success for any “hobbyist” or newbie author. If I make $4,200 this year, I'll certainly consider it a success.
If you assume that the cover price of the book is $2.99 (the minimum required to receive a 70% royalty from Amazon), then the author is making just over $2,000 per month, or $24,000 per year! Even after Uncle Sam takes his cut, the author is probably left with a very good chunk of change. Enough for a couple very nice vacations a year, a snazzy home theater system, or a down payment on a house. I’d call this an unqualified success.
Anything more than $2,000 a month is getting close to being enough to live on comfortably.
So, I’d say that 1,000+ sales per month is a success no matter how you cut it.
Now, on to the numbers. I’ve added some data points to Robin Sullivan's list of 54 authors who have stated they are selling 1,000 or more units per month. You can see the table below. Amanda Hocking tops the list with 100,000 units sold in a month! Very impressive! Especially when you cnosider she’s been publishing for less than a year.
The table below provides the hard data. The sales numbers are provided by the author, but I’ve researched the genre and number of titles available columns. Obviously, this table is incomplete. I’m sure there are more authors who sell 1,000+ units per month. If you’re not on the list and want to be, let me know. Also let me know if I have any of your information wrong.

Oops!! I forgot to mention that the Robin Sullivan first compiled the list of authors and sales numbers in the kindleboard thread noted above. I merely researched the information for the other columns.
 (Click images to see larger size.)

What does this table tell us? Does any of this data suggest trends that can help the rest of us achieve success?
Unfortunately, I don’t have enough data for the Previous Print Publishing column to make any suppositions on how important that is.
As for genre, there is a wide variety represented in the table. The top 4 genres are romance, paranormal, thriller, and mystery. But, there is a wide variety of additional genres. It looks like the club is open to almost any genre.

But, what does seem to be a commonality with most of the authors selling 1,000+ units is that they have more than one title available.

What is the key to epublishing success? From the limited data I have above, it seems that it’s the number of titles an author has available.
67% of the authors have three or more titles available. It makes sense that the more titles you have for sale, the more sales you earn. Joe Konrath talks about this a lot over on his fine blog. And, from the numbers, you have to agree. It seems that a good strategy to join the 1,000+ Sales/Month Club is to emulate the existing club members by putting more ebooks up for sale.
Alas, that’s easier said than done. Unless you have backlist of books ready to go, you’re going to have to sit down and write those books. It can take me six months to get a book written and ready to upload. Other authors might be quicker, others slower. But, it seems that building your ebook portfolio is a long-term goal.
My advice? Get started now, keep writing, commit to 2 or 3 years of effort before you evaluate your success, and don’t lose hope!


  1. Great blog post, super informative!

    Don't forget, you can write a novella too, those seem to do very well in this new ebook world...that makes the time to write and publish a bit less, and there's potential to serialize and create compilations, anthologies, down the road to sell at a slightly higher price.

    An E-Publisher's Manifesto

  2. Derek,

    Great idea and fabulous list!

    I've got 11 titles on Amazon. They're my backlist from years of writing and not getting an agent. I uploaded them all in the last 8-10 weeks and sales are in the hundreds already but not near the thousand mark yet.

    Maybe you could add an up-and-coming part at the bottom. People who are getting close to a thousand.

    I'm a month or two away from that.

    Also, I'm going out on Steve Windwalker's Kindle Nation on March 4, so sales will definitely go up after that.

    Thanks and again, great job!


  3. Derek, my figures, number of books and genre are wrong.

  4. gniz, good idea about novellas. I should do some research on that. If you have any info about current novella authors/sales, let me know.

    Daryl, congrats! I'm really jealous of your backlist. I wish I had that many titles ready to load and shoot. I'll consider doing a post on up-and-coming authors, but it would be harder to research.

    Imogen, if you give me the correct info I'll update the data.

  5. Derek, I posted it on the KB thread. Thanks.

  6. Imogen, thanks! I'm correcting now while I eat my PBJ. Be a few minutes.

  7. Well done Derek !
    I understand your data the same way you do, but be carefull when analysing data : Successfull authors may have more books not as a cause, but as a consequence to their success !
    However in the present case only by keeping writing will you be able to test the therory ! :-)

    Blog: E-Reading and Raytracing

  8. Great analysis and thank you!

    Makes me want to finish my next novel that much faster (but not too fast, don't want to skimp on quality).

    I am anticipating that 2011 will be a watershed year for all ebook sellers (self-published and otherwise). Since releasing my novel Lie Merchants (, I've seen a snowball effect. My sales numbers are low, but I've already sold as many ebooks this month as of January 4 than I did in all of December.

    If my experience is any indication of what others may be running into, it may be that all those new Kindle users are revving-up and buying lots of inexpensive ebooks looking for entertainment.

    If we authors give them a good product, then they'll keep coming back for more.


  9. Thank you. Very interesting post. Now back to my writing.

  10. I agree with everything in your post. It's good to see someone take the time to put everything 'down on paper.' By default, I juggle these types of figures in my head all of the time and it is what makes e-publishing exciting.

    On another note: I am not a fiction writer, I specialize in non-fiction, but I don't seriously expect fiction authors who sell their books for 99 cents to spend a gigantic amount of time writing their books. I realize this is a business and if they want to survive they have to have the ability to bring a product to the market often, especially if one doesn't perform as well as they would like.

    I don't feel cheated when I buy novellas or even short stories at a low price. As long as it is edited and entertaining I am fine. I bought a short story by Daryl Sedore (above) and enjoyed it and discussed it with my wife afterwards. It served its purpose.

    I think it is also good advice to recognize that genre matters (Konrath is right). I'm an academic so I spent a lot of time writing books about educational issues. It wasn't until I wrote a book on pop psychology and two on grappling (BJJ) that my sales began to take off. I learned that paying attention to what people want matters.

  11. Bakari,

    Thanks for trying one of my short stories and I really appreciated you posting your review on Amazon.

    Very kind of you.

    I toast to you and wish you a Happy New Year!

    Daryl Sedore

  12. Thank you for this post and all your hard work that has gone into your data! It is very helpful to see what things are working instead of just "this author did this, or this author did that, and they were successful".

  13. This is what really makes your blog unique- the combination of your perspective and analysis. You are making a usefully detailed chronicle of not only your own progress, but that of the e-book trend and the industry as a whole.

  14. Another great post, Derek. Alas, I'm in the group with only one book for sale. I'm very close to adding a second, but a thing called LIFE is getting in the way right now.

    But look at all these comments...your blog is gaining a following. Congratulations!

    How are you doing for sales in January so far?

  15. I'm a numbers geek so look at stuff like this tickles my fancy :)

    I'd be interested if you could add price point into your data. Do authors at $.99 predominate that list?

    J. E. Medrick

  16. I do think genre is at least somewhat of a factor. 31% of these top sales seem to come from Paranormal, Romance, or some combination of the two. Basically a third of the ebook market then, is stuck in essentially one or two genres. That's not necessarily bad, but for someone who doesn't want to write about vampires or chick lit, it means that it requires more patience to see similar successes.

    I've yet to do this, so I would consider myself beyond a novice, but this has all certainly peaked my interest.

    1. @Matthew: I read this very interesting and informative post and then moved to the comments. As always, when I see a grammatical error (especially one posted by an author), I just can't seem to keep quiet. It's not PEAKED my interest, it's PIQUED my interest. Thanks :)

  17. Matthew, I wonder if they have the top sales, not because they are the top choices, but because there are the MOST choices in those categories?

    J. E. Medrick

  18. Thanks, all!

    Manley, I've sold 20 books this month as of 9pm on 1/5/2010. That's an average of 4 books/day, which is a shade over December's average of 3.92/day.

    Medrick, that's a good suggestion to add the book price to the analysis. It would take a lot more research, not sure when I would have the time. Also, book prices change, so I couldn't be sure of the accuracy of the prices.

    Matthew, you are correct. Genre is a factor. But, unless you want to switch to paranormal romance, it's not really an option.

  19. Great Post, Derek. You are a great source of good info. Thanks.

    This is going to be an info dump because I'm the guy who couldn't post on your site before. (BTW - if anybody else ever asks, it's Firefox. The poster must allow 3rd party cookies to post on certain blogs. Who knew?)

    I wanted to compare notes w/ you because we launched at about the same time. And I can also report on the serialized novella concept.

    I put the first of a series of 4 novellas up in the third week of December. #s 2 and 3 followed before Christmas. And # 4 is about to go up in the next few days. For 99 cents each.

    So far, sales have been slightly better than I had hoped for. Starting from scratch as far as platform, and factoring in early purchases from friends and family, my goal was to hit 100 books total in the first month. I'm at 98 right now in under 3 weeks.

    Regarding serialized novellas - I have spent much longer writing screenplays than novels, and had spent a lot of time developing King's X as a potential television series after the pilot was optioned last year. Then I found JK's blog over the summer, and realized I needed to make a move with the unpublished novel.

    So using the experience of creating it as a (possible)tv series, I reworked the novel into a series of cliffhanger novellas. I decided to treat it like one season of an open ended tv series. One big story in a long arc that ends in #4, but even then opens the door to another "season."

    BTW, if anyone is thinking of doing something like that, I would definitely recommend caution. Writing a series of novellas from scratch is one thing, but adapting a novel is very tricky. I'm not sure the technique would be satisfying for the reader with every kind of book. King's X lends itself well because it's action and suspense with a constant flow of twists and cliffhangers. It plays like "24" (the pace, I mean - totally different subject matter). But like a tv series, it's jammed with setups and reveals, new characters and even new storylines arriving throughout.

    All I'm saying is, I didn't go into it lightly, and I wouldn't recommend splitting up a perfectly good novel just to do it.

    That said, I hope there will be a lot of upside to it. You guys were mentioning this before, but the real benefit of serial novellas is that it creates a wider online presence much faster. I obviously make less money on 4 sales at 99 cents than one at 2.99. But I have plans to adapt many past original projects into full length novels, and I'm hoping that a series of 4 novellas will help those launches when it's time.

    Oh, and one more reason why I thought it was a good idea. The whole "everything has changed" thing. When I originally wrote the book, I was thinking in terms of a publishing contract that would give me a year and half to write the sequel. This way allows me to start my second "season" of King's X with a fresh novella much sooner. We'll see how it all works out. Having a blast so far.

    Congrats on your blog, too. I see that you have built serious traffic in a short time. Definitely worth coming. Thanks.

    - Steve

  20. Steve, thanks for the update on Firefox problems. I'll be sure to mention that to anyone else with the same issues.

    Congrats on the great numbers for King's X! Almost 100 in 3 weeks makes me jealous.

    I'll be interested to see how your strategy works out. Seems to be working so far.

    Anyone interested in Steve's strategy should check out his blog here.

  21. You said above that you'd sold 20 in January. As of today I've sold 26 on Jan. But at 99 cents for 3 titles vs. your novella and 2.99 novel, I think you're coming out ahead.

    Personally I think 4 books a day is kind of amazing for either of us since we just put them up. Fun isn't it?

    And thanks for the link.

  22. That's a really effective way of presenting this information, Derek. Thanks for doing this.

    Now I'll go back to work on the next book. :-)

  23. I use Firefox, and I've never had any compatibility snafus with Blogspot.

  24. " If you have any info about current novella authors/sales, let me know."

    I'm selling 13 - 15 copies a day of my short story (6,000 words). I sold my 800th copy since August on Thursday at $.99.

    I think that for genre works a novel length project at a fair price will move as many copies as a full novel.

    I know I don't have the experience of some of the people on your list, but I think that $2.99 is giving away a full novel.

  25. Evilphilip - are you Evil Avatar? I follow that game site regularly. I remember a post awhile back on there that was promoting a new zombie short story...and I think it was written by Philip Hansen. If you are, what a funny small world.

  26. Thanks for taking the time to crunch numbers for us. Very inspirational!
    Frank Zubek

  27. Yes, I'm the Evil Avatar. I'm also the author of several (old) video game strategy guides from Bradygames.

    I have a handfull of zombie-themed short stories in print from the Library of the Living Dead and the short story you mentioned on the Kindle.

    I've got a Sci Fi Novella going up on the Kindle in about a month and another Zombie novella going up on the Kindle a month after that.

  28. Thanks, Derek, for the provocative post and for taking the initiative to collect and crunch the figures. Intriguing. Insightful. And bound to shift dramatically over the next year or two. I share J. Viser's suspicion that 2011 will prove to be a watershed year. Perhaps you'll run a follow-up post a year from now tracking the transition?

    I do have one question: Does memoir fall under non-fiction or biography in your genre chart? Or am I missing something... like maybe nobody is selling +1k memoirs/month?

  29. Memoirs and true-to-life stories sell very well in standard print. I would have a hard time believing one couldn't sell well... unless the reality is that the ebook market is flooded with rejected fiction authors...

    J. E. Medrick

  30. Nice job with the data crunching, Derek. I'm going to write up a short post, directing people over here. Right after I go thump my head against the wall for writing SF/F instead of paranormal romance. :P

  31. "Right after I go thump my head against the wall for writing SF/F instead of paranormal romance."

    Mrs. Evil and I had that same discussion a few days ago and concluded that writing what you love will always get you more success than trying to fake it in a genre you aren't familiar with.

    Part of the success all these authors have is that they write good books with good covers. I don't think I could get the good part down if I tried to fake it in Paranormal Romance.

    Lucky for me, I write in a VERY popular genre right now.

  32. Great info. I need to get my third book up!

  33. This is a great post. My friend hit the 1,000 list after pricing her book at $0.99 instead of the $2.99 it was at prior to that. She's the only one I know of who had a $0.99 price. The others, I don't know. Well, except for Konrath.

    I do think the more you publish, the more you're likely to sell. Every time I get a new book out, the sales on my other books increase. I'd like to say they stay steady, but they don't. My sales have always fluctuated, and it's only when a new book is out that I see a spike in sales. I don't know how other authors maintain a steady stream of sales but would love to find out.

  34. Well, this post has certainly been my most popular ever! Almost 2000 pageviews in only 11 days (next highest is about 780). I'm getting lots of referrals from other blogs and such. But, the neatest one so far, I think, is the Italian article here: Le Nuove Star della Letteratura Indie. I don't speak Italian, but I hope they Giuseppe says something nice. ;)

  35. Great to see some numbers crunched. Thanks!

  36. In January I surpassed my goal of 1000 ebooks and sold over 1500, with the majority sold on Amazon.

    Some of that was due to a 2 week sale where all my ebooks were priced at $0.99. But the last half of January saw my books between $1.99 and $3.99, with only one staying at $0.99 (novelette).

    Cheryl Kaye Tardif
    bestselling author

  37. Thanks for the good comments. It got me motivated again.
    Richard Barcley

  38. One comment: It's very, VERY important to take your time and do it RIGHT. With e-book publishing, you don't have a marketing team, so every sentence has to be perfect. Every character has to be perfect.

    Take time and remember that since you don't have an editor you need to be an absolute perfectionist.

  39. It seems to me that the best time to drop the price of an already published ebook is when you are just about to publish another one. If the object is to garner new readers by enticing them with the $0.99 loss leader and to increase appetite for your books then surely you have to have a further book to offer them once they're hooked. That way you maximize the impact of the experiment.

    I really appreciate the work you've done on the stats side, Derek. I recently published 4 novels on Amazon's Kindle Store and placed them all at $2.99. But in the next few weeks, once I see how they sell, I may consider dropping the price to $0.99 to see what effect it has on sales.

    Great blog, Derek and great discussion!


  40. I TRULY appreciate all of the comments here and am inspired by what I read. My strategy now is to have 3 ebooks (or novellas) ready to sell before doing any hardcore promotions. I believe I can meet that goal before the year is out. Stay tuned.

  41. Great blog; informative post. Thanks for this Derek. I've been traditionally published (under several names) for many years, so I think I'll have a go at getting some of my backlist up as e-books and see how it goes.

  42. just linked this article on my facebook account. it’s a very interesting article for all.


  43. Great piece and much appreciated. I'm a crime writer, hardboiled noir and nonfiction, and I've been uploaded some of my out of print titles on Amazon and working on iPad editions, because I'm also a musician and visual artist, so this is way cool. Hope to see some of you at SXSW interactive this year. By then my ebook of Rock Critic Murders, with music and video, should be out, and since it's set in Austin, SXSW is the right place to debut it. Anyway, enough about me. Articles like these are much appreciated.

  44. Thanks for this post! Our book only launched a few weeks ago, so it's helpful to get some idea of what other authors are seeing in terms of stats.
    Here's to (all) our success!

  45. Thanks for the information, Derek. I found it very interesting and very informative. My first and only short story published, so far, sold 105 copies in approximately three weeks. The first five days it sold approximately 800 copies, but they were for free. I charge $.99 for my story. It is Erotic/Romantic. Next week, I plan to publish an Erotic/Romantic Novelette. I published my first short story on 2/26/2012.


  46. This is a fantastic data, and something that every emerging author should keep in mind before committing those WIPs.

  47. Derek,
    Obviously you did a great job and I am not surprised that this is your most popular post. Rarely is trustworthy information like this studied and presented so professionally. The graphs are excellent.
    OK, pardon me if I talk about my project, but you may find it interesting. One week ago, I used LinkedIn, Facebook, Tumblr and twitter to tell the world about my book called FURIKAKE. Here is what I blasted into the digital universe:
    FURIKAKE: unknown author + bad cover + no reviews, likes or stars = #1 on Amazon(PAID).
    I would be willing to share my experiences with anyone who asks. The more specific the question, the better.
    It certainly has been an adventure!
    Stephen Black.
    PS FURIKAKE is priced at $9.99

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