I was looking for something to do while I waited for my Createspace proof copy to arrive.
Turns out it was the best afterthought I’ve ever had.
Back then, I knew nothing about e-books other than by giving my mother a Kindle for Christmas, I was saving real books from the horrors of her page-turning, sunscreen-smearing and unnecessary spine-bending. Therefore I presumed ebooks could only be a good thing, even if all they ever gave to the world was that. I had no clue that there was a growing army of self-published e-books authors selling thousands of titles a month and covering their mortgages payments with the proceeds, nor did I have any idea how easy e-books could be to sell.
I figured since all the work was already done, my e-book sales – if I got any – would just be bonuses. So I priced Mousetrapped‘s digital edition at $2.99 and waited to see what would happen.
The first month I sold 6 e-books from Smashwords and 9 from Amazon.com’s Kindle store. At the time Amazon was offering something like a 35% royalty rate and so I collected about $26 from the two outlets, barely enough to cover the cost of the paracetamol I had to take to combat the headaches I got from the formatting process.
The three months after that, I sold around 45-55 e-books a month.
In June, e-books overtook print sales significantly for the first time.
Then in September, a big jump: monthly e-book sales went up to around 150. This coincided with a jump in my monthly blog hits, which seemed to stem from my ‘Big Reveal’ posts. It may or may not have been related.
So by the beginning of December I was selling 150-ish books a month, earning 70% of the list price off the vast majority of them and having e-books account for some 80% of my total sales. All the mega-selling e-books authors write fiction and have multiple titles for sale; I wrote a travel memoir about Disney and therefore was happy, frankly, to be selling anything at all.
Then over Christmas, something happened. Sales jumped up on Christmas Eve and never came back down.
In December 2010, I sold 369 e-books (and 45 paperbacks).
In January 2011, I sold 789 e-books (and 56 paperbacks).
And those numbers are only from Amazon’s Kindle stores, US and UK.
I presume I’ve sold more from the likes of iBooks, Barnes and Noble, Sony, etc. but Smashwords hasn’t reported those figures yet. In fact, the last time they reported sales data was Christmas Day, so when they do arrive they should be very interesting.
Something else interesting: in January, e-book sales of Mousetrapped were higher in Kindle’s UK store than in its US store. That had never happened before; US sales – which also include all Kindle book sales elsewhere in the world, besides the UK – were always well above their UK counterpart. Since the UK store went live in August, UK Kindle book sales of Mousetrapped counted for only about a quarter of my Kindle sales in total. But this January, the UK Kindle store reported 418 copies sold to the US store’s 371. My guess is that this has something to do with the fact that there were probably more brand new first time Kindle owners in the UK market than in the US, where early adopters were probably getting newer Kindles than buying or receiving them for the first time. But this is just a guess.
Kindle e-book sales: US versus UK store
One night in early January – when I could already tell that sales were up significantly – a thought occurred to me. Sure, it was great that I was on track to sell double what I’d sold the month before (especially when what I’d sold the month before was over double what I’d sold the month before that), but you know what was even better? I was getting paid for them: 70% of most sales. Because payments are so far behind (i.e. the one that arrives at the end of December is for sales that occurred in November), it hadn’t clicked with me that my monthly cheques would be taking the same bump up as my sales.
Back in April 2010, I received my first payment from Amazon: a whole $9.25.
This month they’ll be sending me $648.03.
And that’s already minus a 30% standard US tax withholding.
And that’s for December, when I did half the sales I did in January.
And here’s the thing: I didn’t do anything different. I’m doing the same thing now as I was doing back in the summer, when I was selling 150 a month, which is nothing but my usual: blogging, Twitter, the odd Facebook update.
And I had an e-book ready and waiting when thousands of new e-reader owners powered up their devices and went looking for something cheap to read on them this past Christmas.
Will this continue? Who knows. I – obviously! – hope it does. But considering the majority of self-published e-book authors who are selling at high rates write fiction and/or have multiple titles available, I’m pretty pleased – and shocked, and a bit confused, to be honest! – that a little travel memoir about working in Disney World, Space Shuttles, Bruce Willis, automatic transmissions and the Ebola virus is doing that well.
I think it also means that Mousetrapped is no longer a self-publishing success story – not in any kind of Print of Demand sense. I’ve sold around 360 paperbacks but does that matter? It pales in significance now to my e-book sales.
So really, this is now all about e-books.
And my book is non-fiction, a travel memoir about working in Disney. Take the example of Talli Roland, whose debut novel – the very funny The Hating Game – went on sale in Kindle’s store at the beginning of December. (Hers is traditionally published but in an unusual move, she and her publishers decided to release an e-book first to build word-of-mouth buzz about her paperback, as hardbacks may have done in the past. But Talli has been using social media to promote her book, as any self-published author can, and the book is priced at the magic $2.99 mark. So I think it’s fair to include her here.)
It’s her first book, so she’s not relying on an established readership, it’s not crime or fantasy or sparkly vampires or any of the genres the Thousand E-Book Army seem to be writing, she only has the one book and not the three or six or nine the big sellers have, and it’s only been on sale for a bare eight weeks. And she’s shifted 1,400 copies in the last month.
And to prove the point that he isn’t the only one selling thousands and thousands of e-books, JA Konrath has been hosting a series of guest posts from similarly successful e-book self-publishers on his blog. They range from traditionally published authors who got their rights back to absolutely newbies to the publishing world, and their numbers will amaze you.
A year ago this may have been an anomaly, but now making a living selling e-books is becoming a trend.
You need to get in on it.
I get e-mails from self-published authors all the time (despite what it says on my Contact page!) or those considering it, asking silly questions like, ‘I’m on Smashwords… should I upload to Amazon DTP too?’ or ‘I have a print edition.. should I do an e-book?’
Here’s what you should do:
- Get an e-book out there. NOW.
- Upload to Amazon KDP.
- Upload to Smashwords too.
And remember an e-book doesn’t have to be a full-length novel. This is an advertisement for you as a writer, so if your writing is short stories or a novella then so be it. Just price the e-book accordingly.
But do it.
What have you got to lose?