Self-Printed Preview #2: Self-Publishing Goals – What’s Realistic?

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Welcome to the Self-Printed Preview Week! Today’s excerpt is from Part I: Why Self-Printing? and it’s called Self-Publishing Goals: What’s Realistic? It plays the numbers game, asking what kind of sales make your self-publishing adventure a certifiable success? 

I don’t believe you should set out to do anything without having some goals in mind, but when it comes to self-publishing it can be hard to find the cold, hard numbers of success. It also depends on what you want for yourself. The vast majority of self-published books on a POD site like Lulu or CreateSpace only sell one or two copies, so if you sold 10 you’d be considered a success. But would selling 10 copies of your book make you happy? I know it wouldn’t do it for me.

When I was setting my own goals, I searched for as many examples of sales figures as I could find and then I tried to find a spot somewhere in the middle of them for me and Mousetrapped. I read on one publishing blog that very few POD books sell more than 200 copies, so I set that as my embarrassment level, i.e. I could avoid humiliation if I managed to sell that much, but would have to dig a hole and hide in it if I sold any less. But of course I wanted to sell more than that.

A pretty level-headed self-publishing book told me that a well-produced POD title could expect to sell between 50-200 copies per month, but would likely only achieve those sales after being on sale for a year, as it seemed to take that long for POD books to reach their full potential. So I took that into consideration as well, and finally decided on 100 copies in the first month, 500 copies by six months and 1,000 copies in the first year. If I managed to reach those targets, then I’d think up some new ones.

Here we are a year later, and I’ve sold 4,000 books. My goals were way off and there’s a specific reason why: e-books. I didn’t factor e-book sales into my goals because when I was getting ready to self-publish and deciding on things like my goals, I didn’t even know I was going to release e-book editions. E-books are easier to sell than paperbacks (mainly because they’re priced much lower) and so that really messes up our goals. However it is easier to find an e-book sales figure threshold to aim for, because one magic number allows entry into the Big Selling E-Book Author Club, and that’s 1,000. Sell a 1,000 e-books a month and you’re playing with the big boys. But despite some recent headlines, it isn’t easy to sell 1,000 e-books a month and even if you do manage it, you won’t manage it right away.

You also need to factor in whether your book is fiction or non-fiction; self-published fiction, as a general rule, will sell more. And whether your e-book is priced 99c or $4.99, because – guess what? – the 99c edition will be easier to sell as people will be more willing to “take a chance” on it. And you may have some outlets through which you can sell copies of your book that will guarantee you a certain amount of sales, such as workshops or seminars. All of this has to be factored in.

I think a good base line is 100 books a month to begin with, or 1,200 books in the first year. If you managed that you would have something to be very proud of, but those sales are still achievable (with time and hard work) so you’re not setting yourself up for disappointment. If you do sell more, well  then, great! If you think 100 books a month sounds like a small number, you may have wandered off into the Forest of Self-Publishing Delusion. It would be a success, and no small achievement. That’s 6,000 books in five years, more than most traditionally published books shift in their lifetime. And remember: we’re only talking about the beginning. Your sales may start to grow – they might even take off – and if they do then you can readjust your figures. But let’s stick to being reasonable for now.

Tune in tomorrow for the next excerpt, The Minefield That is Self-Published Cover Design. 

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