Monday, October 17, 2011

My first year as a self-publisher!

Way back on September 30, 2010, I published Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds to Amazon Kindle. Thus began my adventure into digital self-publishing.

So far, I’ve published a total of 5 books (which you should all go buy, of course ;):

Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds – 99 cents, 4-star average rating. A trilogy of gritty cyberpunk stories that lead up to the next book…

Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance – 99 cents, 4-star average rating. A gritty cyberpunk story about a genetically engineered dwarf mercenary seeking redemption in 22nd century Atlanta. Lots of action, violence, high-tech and low-life. If you like 1980s action movies, you should like this.

Format Your eBook for Kindle in One Hour – 2.99, 4.5 star average rating. A Do It Yourself book to help you format your ebook as quickly as possible so you can publish to Kindle.

Twelve Worlds –$2.99, 4-star average rating. An anthology of science fiction short stories by 14 new authors. A great deal for $2.99, plus the author royalties go to Reading is Fundamental, the nation’s largest literacy charity.

The Elemental Odyssey – 99 cents, 5-star average rating. A fast-paced action/adventure story about four 12-year-olds who are abducted by magical aliens and taken on a perilous quest around the world. Also available in paperback for $14.99.

Over my first year, I’ve sold a combined total of 11,735 copies of my books and earned $10,278 in royalties (not counting $368 for Twelve Worlds).

I’ve spent $4,935 in expenses, for a net revenue of $5,324. A tidy sum!

I’d have to qualify that as a success. It’s certainly a promising start to a writing career.

I’m pleased that I decided to self-publish instead of startup the query letter cycle again. The chances of getting an agent or publisher in this environment are slim and the fate of publishing companies is questionable. Self-publishing was the right choice for me. Is it the right choice for you? That’s your call.

Here are some things I’ve learned in this time:

Sales are inexplicable. Why does one book sell more than another? Is it genre, release date, price, cover, blurb, advertising? All of these impact the sales of course, but how do you optimize each for maximum sales? Good question!

Paid advertising doesn’t seem to work. I’ve conducted numerous experiments with paid advertising, spending more than $500 over the past year. Unfortunately, I have not seen any significant increase in sales from these efforts.

Summer slump? As you’ll see below, I’ve had a decline in sales that seems to coincide with the summer months. I don’t know if this is a recurring seasonal event, but I’ll find out next year.

Genres do not cross sell. My cyberpunk books have sold over 9,200 copies. But when I released my young adult action adventure novel, The Elemental Odyssey, it did not get any boost in initial sales from those fans. It seems that cyberpunk fans are not interested in YA action/adventure. Not terribly surprising.

Write books in a series. My two books in the same series (Dead Dwarves, Dirty Deeds and Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance) account for 9,363 of my 11,735 units sold. There is also a direct correlation between sales spikes and slumps between these books. This tells me that one strategy is to only write books in a series so that you can maximize sales.

Diversify genres? I wrote my young adult action adventure novel, The Elemental Odyssey, to diversify and try to capitalize on the Harry Potter fans out there. I think I may have been premature with this effort, as sales have not progressed as well as my cyberpunk books. This could be because not many kids have ereaders yet. This will probably change this Christmas as Amazon Kindle and B&N Nook are now under $100. Also, the Potter books are releasing soon in e-book format. I expect a LOT of kids to ask for Kindles/Nooks for Christmas, which will greatly increase the e-audience for my YA books. I’ll have the sequel, Where Magic Reigns, published in December, which puts me in a good position for the holiday season. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that this strategy will work.

Write more. Unfortunately, my day job as a technical writer consumes a lot of my brain power. I often do not have the energy to come home and write even more. This is unfortunate, as it is plain that the more books an author has available, the more they cross sell each other. If I wrote fiction full time, I think I could publish 3-4 novels per year. As it is, I expect that I can publish 1-2 novels per year. Unless one of my books really takes off, it’ll take me 5 or so years to build up a portfolio large enough to start considering full-time novel-writing.

Now for my charts:

The rate of my sales decline is slowing, which is a relief. I hope that is an omen of things to come for my other books.

I’m expecting an uptick in sales over the holiday season. Hopefully...


  1. That's a pretty good first year, Derek. Congrats!

    Looking at your charts, though, I'm struck by that spike and decline. If I recall correctly, that spike corresponded with your initial experiment putting DDDD to $.99. I wonder if, like Cash for Clunkers, all you did with that pricing experiment was to pull future sales into the present without actually expanding your fanbase. If that's the case, you potentially left a lot of $ on the table. Of course, you wouldn't have seen that $ as quickly, and there's something to be said for getting paid sooner rather than later.

    Of course, I could be completely wrong. What do you think?

    Michael Kingswood

  2. That's great. It's been a pretty good year for you. I'm struggling myself with deciding. I have a publisher interested and I'm meeting with them next month. But I'm still on the fence.

    I Loved Elemental Odyssey, and my son has just started it. I think very soon, kids his age (10-15) will have eReaders in their hands.

  3. Great article and summary, Derek. I enjoy reading about your experiments and intend to follow your advice if I can't get a traditional agent/publisher.

  4. I think your experience is the same as mine, including the summer slump; in fact, I've already come to the conclusion that a regular series is where the money's at (if you'll pardon the expression). I'm prepping to release a novella a month starting in January 2012 all featuring the adventures of the same character.

  5. Congrats on your success, Derek. You are not the first person that I've heard say that paid advertising is a dud. It seems that guest posting is a much better way to promote yourself, and it doesn't cost a dime.

  6. Congrats Derek. You have great results for the first year, and I think the main reason is that you have many novels already out for sale. This proves my point that the best thing a writer can do is write some more. Great job!!

  7. Derek, thanks for sharing all this information both the success and more importantly the things that do not work.

    I agree with the series idea. I call it the TV syndrome where the audience wants the next episode next week. I personally would like to see book two of "Dead Dwarves Don't Dance" ;-)

    Based on all the blogs and articles that I have read the bottom line for success and an indie author is to have as many books for sale as possible.

    I look forward to more blog posts and more books from you.

  8. Not much to add to what the other comments say - write well, and write more. That seems to be the answer. Based on my own likes and dislikes, it's clear that series are more interesting than single works. Wheel of Time may have been too... something (though I loved it till Jordan died) but I look for authors who write connected series, even if like Clive Cussler or John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee books, the connection is merely the main character, versus Harry Potter, where the milieu and the characters carry over from book to book. So the answer becomes write well, write more and write series. That's simple! Thanks.

    Like the others, I appreciate your willingness to share data with us. If I ever have any, I'll do the same.

  9. Derek,

    Keep up the hard work. Trust me, I know that work/life/hobby balances are tough to do!

    I see your heart is in the YA novels and I wish you the best. May I hope for book #2 of DDDD? ;)

    Good luck,

  10. Thanks once again for your transparency and insights. I've got to agree with most of the above conclusions. I would add that it seems *some* readers have become spoiled by the $.99 sales this year, and have decided higher prices are not worth it.

    I experimented for one month with one of my lesser selling titles, raising the price back up to $2.99, and my sales vanished for that month. It's been almost another month, and they still haven't reached the original volume.

  11. Thank you for sharing all this info. I bought both DDDD and TEO, and enjoyed them both equally. Maybe I'm the exception, a reader who just enjoys good storytelling in many genres, but I'd like to think not.

    I can't say I would have bought either book had they not been .99. But I can also tell you that I'll likely pay more for sequels to both of those books. It seems the key is to keep getting books up. Good luck, and I wish much success to you because I think you're a quality writer...

  12. Good post, Derek. You're also one of the writers who caught an Amazon algorithm and had it sell for you - a combination of good writing, good blurb, good cover and luck!

    You are right about the series. I wrote a series of erotica shorts and they all sell together in a batch.

    Artemis Hunt

  13. Derek, that's awesome! Congrats on the great year and hope you do even better for the next.

  14. Michael,

    The slope to the mountain top in sales numbers occurred when I dropped the price for Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance to 99 cents. This resulted in a slow increase in sales. When I hit the top in sales numbers, I raised the price to $2.99, which caused the significant spike in royalty $. I lowered the price back down to 99 cents when the book dropped out of the top 20 genre lists. Other factors also came into play, and I’m not sure why sales have not rebounded. I expect to learn a lot more next summer when I release the sequel to Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance.


    Thanks! I just handed off the sequel to The Elemental Odyssey to the editor.

    Eric, wannabuy,

    I hope to release the Dead Dwarves Don’t Dance sequel next summer. I start writing it in January.

  15. Derek...nice going, but the BIG question is how do you get the FIRST book to sell given your recommendation to write in it the subject, style ( read" quality-can this bozo write?) and paid promos are duds.. I joined Twitter ( where I met you) and Facebook to promote for free..Twitter is mostly hashmarks and Facebook is debut is about a guy who becomes a priest although tempted by a gorgeous friend...the sequel is about his first year when he catches a colleague molesting...I can't give the Good Sheep book reviews take a year..any other thoughts?...keep up your good work..Jack...very discouraged

  16. Jack,

    I got lucky, I think. I have no idea why Dead Dwarves Don't Dance started selling well. The only possibility is that cyberpunk is a niche audience and there weren't a lot of other choices?

    Unfortunately, I don't have any good advice on how to get your first book to start selling. Like others, my best advice is to write more books. If you have three books out in a series there are more chances that more people will discover them.

  17. Really informative article post.Really thank you! Fantastic.

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