The Big Reveal Part II: How Many Copies of MOUSETRAPPED Have I Sold?

oldpost

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.)

And so…

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…)

Mousetrapped Catherine Ryan Howard iPad iBooks

Mousetrapped on the iPad.

**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. NBSales 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.

Well…?

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!

Read all my self-printing posts

Follow me on Twitter @cathryanhoward

Read more about Mousetrapped, the book I self-printed

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32 thoughts on “The Big Reveal Part II: How Many Copies of MOUSETRAPPED Have I Sold?

  1. Rebecca Brown says:

    I think you’ve done really well. It’s a great book, it deserved to be published and you never gave up on it. I also think you.ve had your feet firmly on the ground and anyone considering POD (inc myself) should learn a lot from you.

    Well done & good luck for the future.

    Bec

  2. Marcus says:

    Great job, Catherine. I admire your planning and dedication.

    I think if you are selling about 100 copies per month consistently, then the word “vanity” is not correct. Considering it’s a small niche amongst travel books and you have no marketing budget, it’s a success. You have to put it into relation. If such a number of strangers pay money for your book, it is not author-based vanity publishing.

    Vanity publishing to me means only very few people would buy the book *even* if it were marketed commercially. But you said publishers liked Mousetrapped, only the market was too small.

    There’s a difference between printing out of author-based vanity, versus printing for a small audience. If publishers liked it then the quality is good. It’s just not commercially viable. Two very different things IMHO.

    And, you know what, if you are successful later in traditional publishing, some of those readers may also buy Mousetrapped in years to come…and you don’t have to do any more work for that extra “pocket-money”. That’s a nice bonus 🙂

    Anyways, POD is obviously good for small niche books. Can you say more about your reason for never using POD for fiction (or that only your fiction)?

    Marcus

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Thanks, Marcus. I appreciate it.

      I don’t call it vanity publishing myself either but if we’re talking technicalities then by definition any form of publication where the money flows away from the writer instead of towards him/her is vanity publishing. (If it got properly published, I’d be paid an advance and even if I wasn’t, I would never have to pay out money to get the book produced.)

      Re: not self-publishing fiction – I’m generally not a fan of self-publishing, but I do think it has its uses when it comes to niche market non-fiction. (Obviously, I think that!!) The reason being that these types of books can be dismissed by the proper publishing houses but still be good, i.e. they are rejected based on market, etc. However if you write a novel that is good enough to go out there in the world, it WILL get properly published. It might take a while to find the right agent (who likes that genre, knows a few editors she can send it to, has room to take on another client) and a publisher (who has space for that type of book on their list, believes they can market it, sell it, has the budget to produce it, etc.) but it will happen eventually, IF it’s good enough. If it’s not, then it shouldn’t be published at all, self or otherwise. This is not a popular opinion these days as the self-pub evangelists – my favourite people! – think that agents & publishers are out to get them, against publishing anyone who isn’t Patterson, it’s all a big conspiracy, etc. etc., but they ARE the experts. There have of course been exceptions to this where authors have self-published fiction and gone on to sell thousands if not millions of copies, but the examples are extremely rare and it takes more money and time than most people can afford.

      • Marcus says:

        Yes, agreed that’s what I thought was your reason for not self-publishing fiction. Since fiction is not generally a niche, there should be a wider market open to it and no need for POD.

        Question: Did you ever consider turning Mousetrapped into fiction?

        I think that’s the way out of the niche market for memoirs, unless it’s strict authenticity one is after. Use the experienced adventures as main ingredient for cooking up a fictional story. How about that?
        (I do know one blogger who did this and got an agent pretty quickly.)

        Marcus

      • Lindsay Edmunds says:

        I made two major marketing efforts to find an agent for my novel CEL & ANNA. The first time, I DID find one (but for various reasons, this came to nothing). The second time I marketed the novel, in the spring of this year, everything had changed. Doors were closed. Period.
        I thought about this for awhile and decided to self-publish, partly to move on, partly for the learning experience, and partly because some readers are better than no readers.

  3. Lindsay Edmunds says:

    You set goals and exceeded them. You are a success.
    Also, I am not sure Mousetrapped is THAT much of a niche book. The story is in some ways universal. You launch yourself in the direction of your dreams and do what it takes to make the launch work.
    About the numbers: I would have been surprised to see figures lower than what you reported. Would not have been surprised to see higher numbers.
    Thank you for your ongoing honesty.

    Lindsay

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Thanks Lindsay!

      I don’t think that after you read Mousetrapped you’d agree that it’s a niche book, but I think if you saw it on paper you would, i.e. if you were a bookseller or publisher. In today’s publishing world everything has to be placed in a genre or section of the bookstore, and so MT would have to go in Travel -> United States -> Florida/Disneyworld, even though technically it’s about a lot more than that. But anyway… I did what I could! 🙂

  4. Patrick Brown says:

    This was very helpful. It’s nice to have a basis for comparison. I did publish a novel on CS, which I see now may have been a mistake. However, I was becoming quite discouraged with trying to find an agent or publisher via the traditional path. Not having any writing accolades or experience seemed to be a deal breaker for most agents. They want a readymade market and if it’s not there, seeya! I’ve sold over 200 copies via Amazon and the CS store, so if your numbers are valid than I guess I did about average. I can live with that. I will definitely take your advice and submit to kindle. I tried Smashwords and did nothing. Judging from what other writers have told me and what I’ve read in blogs Smashwords is a waste of time. Not that they have done anything wrong, I just think kindle is synonymous with ebooks and that’s the site they naturally choose when shopping.
    Good luck; keep writing. I’m about 33,000 words into my next novel and will be more diligent in my efforts to find an agent this time.
    Cheers!

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Hi Patrick,

      Re: Smashwords – yes, in comparison to Kindle (via Amazon DTP), sales are miniscule, but since it only takes a few minutes once you’ve done the formatting, I’d always recommend uploading to Smashwords too. But you ABSOLUTELY should upload to Amazon. This will have your title for sale on Amazon.com’s Kindle store and their newly launched UK store, all going well. It really is a great place to sell books without much effort on your part at all.

      While I must commend anyone for self-publishing a novel as I think it’s really brave, I cannot agree with what you said about agents needing a readymade market. Perhaps that is what you were told by the agents you submitted to, but that’s not the case. If a book is worth publishing, it will get published, regardless of whether or not the author has a readymade readership. OF COURSE it would help, but I don’t think agents/publishers are using it as a yardstick to reject against, if that makes sense. Having said that, I totally understand about being discouraged. I just don’t think that turning to self-publishing should be the Plan B (maybe the Plan J or K!).

      Best of luck with the new novel. Now go and upload to Kindle so you can start making sales! 🙂

      • Patrick Brown says:

        I would agree with your comment about a book getting published if it is worth publishing if any of the agents I queried ever bothered to read any of it. How would they know? They never gave it a chance. Maybe I need to work on my query letter skills 🙂

  5. catherineryanhoward says:

    Hi Patrick,

    Things are a bit different over here (Ireland/UK) – we have more of a cover letter with 3 chapters and a brief synopsis than query letters, which is much easier – but I read recently that if your query letter isn’t at least getting you requests to read more, it isn’t doing its job and needs reworking. I know it’s maddening because you’re trying to convince someone to read your whole novel based on only a couple of paragraphs, but that’s thems the rules! 😉

    There’s some great websites that offer query help – Nathan Bransford’s blog is one of them. (Don’t have the URL but Google him; he works for Curtis Brown.)

  6. Ronan says:

    Congratulations Catherine – you’ve just reached 532 🙂

    Fascinating blog post. As someone who has been down a similar road, I was intrigued by the breakdown you provided on sales, and also your journey thus far.

    I think the biggest barrier for self-published books is distribution. 21% of your own print sales were via your local bookshop, but have you ever wondered how the book would do if it were on sale in shops throughout the country.

  7. Ronan Smith says:

    Congratulations Catherine – you’ve just reached 532 🙂

    Fascinating blog post. As someone who has been down a similar road, I was intrigued by the breakdown you provided on sales, and also your journey thus far.

    I think the biggest barrier for self-published books is distribution. 21% of your own print sales were via your local bookshop, but have you ever wondered how the book would do if it were on sale in shops throughout the country? Yes, a local book will always do well in a local store, but the more shops your book is in, the larger the potential audience and the more chance you have of making sales.

    I too only placed my book in a handful of shops (dealing with shops is a time-consuming exercise), and it sold in all of them (albeit only a handful of copies in some shops and considerably more in others). But I do often wish that retail distribution were more readily available to self-published authors. I for one just don’t have the time to go round to shops peddling copies of my book.

    And of course the marketing/self-publicity is a double-edged sword – whilst it can be enjoyable and productive, it takes you away from the actual task of writing.

    Anyway, it was great to see a success story in the Irish market. Best of luck with your writing, and I’m looking forward to reading Mousetrapped.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Thanks so much Ronan! I’ll get that order out to asap! 🙂

      I just had a quick look at your website too – your book sounds hilarious! Must check it out.

      I agree with you re: distribution. I would also say that the 21% was a bit skewed, only because nearly all of them were sold on the day of my book launch that I had in that store. The sales were still great of course, but I want it to be clear that that doesn’t really reflect a presence in bookshops. I do know someone who self-published (in the strict sense) and hired a book agent who went around the country offloading copies of her book in stores, and was also distributed by a national company. But I honestly don’t know of anyone who POD-ed and did that, and I don’t see how it’s even possible. The thing with me is that I always knew I’d have no presence in bookstores and since the subject matter of my book has its largest audience in the US, I wasn’t too bothered.

      But anyway… Thanks so much for commenting AND ordering a copy! I really hope you enjoy it. (And as I say to everyone, if you don’t, just lie to me and say you did!)

  8. Ronan Smith says:

    No bother, Catherine.

    The big disadvantage, by the way, of putting books in shops is the whole “sale or return” concept (which I note you talked a little about in your earlier post). If, for example, you leave five copies of your book in a store and only three sell, then the two returned copies (which have likely been thumbed to death and are effectively second hand) have to be written off as losses since you can’t sell them as new anymore in, say, a different shop.

    A large publisher is more than well equipped to take the financial hit but when you’re self-funded and trying to cover your costs, losses such as these can prove disastrous.

    It is largely for that reason that I chose to sell my book primarily online – although the idea of a book agent going round the country doing the hard work does appeal to me. If you have a name for same, perhaps you could email it to me.

    Thanks

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I just emailed you re: the book agent.

      Re: unsold copies, that’s actually something I forgot to mention. While I love my book and am really proud of the quality, they do not wear well. If you continually open and close a copy of Mousetrapped without reading it – just to look inside or flick through, as a customer might do in a bookstore – the cover will begin to curl back quite noticeably. Therefore there is no way I could even think about selling those unsold books elsewhere. Luckily as my store only takes 4-5 copies at a time, I don’t need to worry about it too much but I would if I approached more stores. (The day of the launch I basically flooded the store with stock, and took back whatever didn’t sell. Those books were still in perfect condition, and I used them for reviews/fulfillment of online orders.)

  9. Thad McIlroy says:

    Many thanks for sharing the inside scoop. It’s so important for writers, readers, publishers, booksellers, and everyone else interested in the future of publishing to engage in frank discussions about what really happens out there is this constantly changing world. We all have to remain open to new approaches and new ideas.

    You honesty and generosity is much appreciated (and certainly makes me more interested in your book!).

    You write: “Am I Happy? Yes.”

    That’s the main thing.

    Congratulations.

  10. catherineryanhoward says:

    @Marcus: No, never. My fiction is totally different from Mousetrapped, and I think its appeal lies in the fact that it’s a memoir.

    @Thad: Thanks very much!! I really appreciate it.

  11. catherineryanhoward says:

    @Lindsay – That’s interesting… I wonder what was the difference between the two reactions? (Maybe economic downturn – affects all industry!) I think though this was a sound decision as even if the first agent didn’t work out, you did have some positive feedback on your work, i.e. offer of representation. I know of writers who suffer that awful tragedy of having their book picked up by a publishing house only for the editor to move or the house to be merged with a bigger company and then their book falls through the cracks or suddenly isn’t right for them; with no other trad publishing options, that would be another good time to self-publish.

    I’m just not brave enough to self-publish fiction – it’s so tough and my ego is fragile! 😉

  12. DiDi says:

    Fantastic post-I look forward to studying it closer in future. Thanks so much for the detailed explanation and financial calculations/charts. I also appreciate your commentary along the way. Congrats!

  13. The Mad Artist says:

    Hi Catherine
    I’ve been following your progress since seeing your self-publishing timeline on the Createspace site, as Mousetrapped was published at the same time as my book, The Mad Artist, and I’ve found your example and your promotional tips most useful. Your figures are indeed impressive and have well outstripped mine—and probably most self-published projects. I think part of your success lies in making a ‘drama’ out of your self-publishing experience and becoming an online guru in the process, raising your profile. The self-published are learning more and more that this what you have to do to get around the Catch 22 of entry to the professional publishing world.

    My own experience has shown me that the inevitable high price and poor discounting of POD paperbacks on Amazon, etc. is a big barrier, and if one’s book is a longish one (as mine is) the burgeoning cost of the paper only makes it worse. Kindle has to be the way forward, as your figures there prove, and eventually I went down that road myself. Thanks for sharing the info!

  14. Rod Griffiths says:

    Thanks for a great set of posts. I went through the same process,-Smashwords because their style guide is so brilliant and then uploaded almost the same thing on Amazon dtp. A Rag Doll Falling, my book, seemed to be taking forever to get from Smashwords to Kindle but it did come across to ibooks, and a few others. I just got fed up with waiting for it to get from Smash to amazon so investigated the Amazon dtp route and found that it was a breeze. I started all this before Smashwords did ISBNs so I bought a batch in the UK from Neilsons.
    I’ve just downloaded Mousetrapped to my Iphone to read on the kindle app, so you can notch up another sale.

  15. Sean Walsh says:

    Thank you so much for so many tips and pointers re Self Publishing… I am seriously thinking about signing on with CreateSpace for the printed version of my book and
    Kindle for the electronic version of same… When it is printed, will the people at CS ship a number of copies
    to me and am I then expected to pay for same at my own
    expense? Or is that a totally stupid question?..

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Hi Sean,

      I recommend you read through all the self-printing category posts on this site as they will help answer your questions. Everything I know about the process is in there somewhere.

      The whole idea of Print On Demand is that you do not purchase stock. When someone orders a copy, say, through Amazon, CS prints the copy, fulfills the order (ships the book), takes their cut and gives you the rest.

      You might also consider looking through the articles on Createspace’s “Community” forums (just sign up for a free account and then you can go in and look around) which I personally found really helpful.

      If you have a specific question that isn’t answered somewhere on this place that you think I might be able to answer, please leave a comment at the end of the Self-Printing FAQ page (in the drop down menu above); that way everyone benefits.

      Thanks
      Catherine

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