So earlier I wrote the world’s longest ever blog post about how much it cost me to self-publish and promote my spectacularly niche market travel memoir, Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida, and so now it’s time to tell you how many copies I’ve sold. In exchange for this information I’d really like to know how well my actual sales figures mesh with any impressions you may have had of them, or of POD-ed or self-published books in general. I think, for instance, you’ll be surprised to learn how few sales have occasionally pushed me into some Amazon bestseller ranks (who can forget the time I was No. 1 in Kindle Books -> Travel -> United States -> Regions -> South -> South Atlantic, eh?), just like you’ll be by the amount of Kindle books I’ve sold without doing much of anything at all to promote them. Kindly let me know in the comments below.
So – let’s do this thing.
What Qualifies as a POD Success?
But just before I do, let’s try and get some perspective, and by perspective I mean self-publishing perspective, because there’s no point in comparing my little POD’d baby with a traditionally published book, one that starts its life with a print run in the thousands, actually has a chance of ending up in one of the bookstore chains and comes with a whole publishing house behind it. (But if we were comparing, I’d tell you that to get into the Top 10 bestseller list here in Ireland, you’d have to sell around 1,000 books in a single week.) But if we stick with Print On Demand self-published titles – and we kind of have to, because that’s what we’re dealing with here, books that are only printed, one by one, as they are sold – what qualifies as a success?
It’s hard to find a definitive answer to that question, but the magic number seems to be 500. If a book sells 500 copies on POD site Lulu.com, it’s considered to be a Lulu bestseller. Another figure that pops up with regularity is “20-200” – on average, POD books sell somewhere between 20 and 200 copies, with 200 being a significant success, although I’ve also read that if you took the total number of books ‘published’ on Lulu and the total number sold, it would turn out that each title sells only a couple of copies. Aaron Shepard, author of Aiming at Amazon and other books about POD self-publishing, says that in his experience, a non-fiction book that’s ‘well conceived and executed’ might sell between 50 and 200 copies per month, but will probably only reach its maximum potential after a year.
I have been brutally realistic throughout this entire experience, and set myself goals I felt I’d be both happy to achieve and capable of achieving: 100 books within one month, 250 books within three months, 500 books within six months and 1,000 books within a year. In terms of these goals, I didn’t differentiate between print and e-editions; as long as it was a full-length text that someone paid money for, it got counted as a sale. (And when I say ‘sold’ I mean sold. I don’t mean bought by me from Createspace and then stashed under my bed.)
Are you waiting with baited breath?
(Well? Are you?)
Since March 29th I’ve sold 531 copies of Mousetrapped.
That’s an average of about 25 copies per week, or 106 per month. It will have been on sale for six months on September 29th, and so I’m well ahead of my goal of selling 500 copies in the first half of the first year of the title’s life, and on track to sell 1,000 by March 29th of next year.
The Breakdown: Paperbacks
Of the 531 copies sold, 183 or about 35% were print editions. Their list price is $14.95. Of those sales:
- 38% were sold through Amazon.com
- 21% were in my local independent bookshop (I sold stock to them; most were sold on the day of the launch)
- 17% were direct sales where I sold them myself through Mousetrapped‘s website
- 15% were sold through Amazon.co.uk and other outlets that fell under Createspace’s Extended Distribution Channel, such as Barnes and Noble, The Book Depository and other international Amazon sites (see full listing of my sales channels)
- 8% were direct sales where I sold them myself to family/friends
- 1% were sold through my Createspace e-store*.
*The Createspace e-store is not really a viable selling option as you have to register for a CS account before you buy, and their international shipping costs are criminal.
The Breakdown: E-Books
Of the 531 copies sold, 348 or 65% were e-book editions. Their list price is $2.99. Of those:
- 84% were sold on Amazon’s Kindle store (US)
- 8% were sold on Barnes and Noble’s e-book store**
- 3% were sold on Amazon’s Kindle store (UK)***
- 3% were sold on Smashwords.com
- 2% were sold on Apple’s iBooks* application.
Clearly Kindle sales are largely responsible for Mousetrapped‘s e-book success; I sold nearly 300 copies of my book without doing anything but uploading a file to a website. Lesson: upload your book to Kindle right this minute! (Well, after you finish reading this, of course…)
**Smashwords’ Premium Catalogue distribution makes your e-book available to buy on Barnes and Noble’s e-book store and Apple’s iBooks, among others.***Amazon’s UK Kindle store only went live at the beginning of August. NB: Sales data from Barnes and Noble’s e-book store is only reported through July 25th 2010 and sales data from Apple’s iBooks store is only reported through June 26th 2010. Therefore it’s possible and even likely that more e-book sales have occurred through these channels since.
Paperbacks Vs E-Books
I know what you’re thinking. No, I really do. I can practically hear it through the screen. You’re thinking, 531 copies? Well that’s all well and good, but 348 of them were e-books, so she can’t say she really sold 531 books.
Once upon a time, I discriminated against e-books too. I readily admit that I considered them second class citizens in the world of book sales. (I still do in the world of book reading, but that’s an argument for another day.) But then I took a look at my royalties and realized that there is only a 13 cent difference between what I earn on a paperback sale from Amazon.co.uk and what I earn on an e-book sale from Amazon’s Kindle store. (A paperback sale nets me $2.22 while a Kindle sale nets $2.09.) Yes, I prefer that people buy paperbacks if only so they can gaze at my cover and read my Acknowledgements (which, for some reason, I omitted from my e-book), but ultimately it doesn’t matter. E-books take much less effort – the book is already written and they’re way easier to sell – but bring almost the same royalties as some print editions.
Some Graphs and Charts
There now follows some fancy graphs and charts. You might not be interested in them but now that I’m working at home as a writer I rarely get to use MS Excel anymore, and I miss it. It’s so much fun. (Click for larger images.)
Weekly Sales Mar-Aug 2010: Paperbacks Vs E-Books
All Sales Mar-Aug 2010 by Location
All Sales By Month: Mar-Aug 2010
Could I Have Sold More?
The short answer is yes, absolutely.
I could have sold more books because I could have spent more time trying to sell them. A lot more time. Because the truth is that besides the week of the online launch back in March and the week of the bookshop launch at the beginning of May, and I haven’t really spent more than a couple of hours a week promoting my book. I also haven’t done anything other than the absolute minimum any writer should do to promote their book. My efforts weren’t spectacular, especially innovative or at all inspired and I’m sure if I used my imagination, invested the time and read all the ‘How To Promote Your Self-Published Book’ books, I could have done a lot more to shift more copies, but I was in the middle of editing my novel with my agent and so couldn’t really devote myself 100% to the cause. And of course, with a self-published title, you have to get out there and sell every book.
Read more about what I did to promote my book here.
Am I Happy?
Yes. As I outlined above, I set what I felt were reasonable goals in terms of my own abilities and the saleability of a POD book, and I have reached them. So far, so good. Mousetrapped is a very weird, very niche book (if I do say so myself!) that is only for sale in one brick-and-mortar bookshop – where up to 68% of commercial books sales originate – and therefore I think I have a right to be proud of shifting any copies at all.
I’ve also got some great reviews which are prozac for the writer’s soul (chicken soup doesn’t do the job, I’m afraid), and as a side-effect of this whole endeavor I’ve begun to build – as much as it pains me to use this term – an author platform, and I’ve got an agent to represent my fiction. (Which I would never self-publish, but that’s another story too.) In the process I’ve also made some great new friends and contacts, and new avenues of opportunity have been opened up to me which will undoubtedly help me in the future with my writing career.
I know that in the scheme of publishing as a whole, 531 copies is but a drop in the ocean. I am, after all, a realist. But to me, it’s a large enough drop to make the whole thing worth it, especially since the alternative is no one reading it at all.
And when it all comes down to it, it’s nice to know that that many people have read a book I wrote.
So there you have it. What do you think? Is it what you expected? Better or worse? Fascinating or mind-numbing? Worth it or pointless? Coffee or tea?
Let me know in the comments below.
Or, you know… help me get started on my first anniversary sales post by buying a copy!
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