October Sales Report: A Holding Pattern & A Milestone

After last month’s big drop, October provided some welcome relief in the shape of a slight uptick.

Hey, at least it’s going the right direction. It was marginal, though. Essentially, I’m in a holding pattern until my next release in December.

That’s fine with me; my sales are paying my rent, and some other exciting stuff happened this month anyway. And because today is exactly six-months since the release of my first e-book If You Go Into The Woods, I’m going to take a little look back on how this whole self-publishing adventure has gone for me.

For those who don’t enjoy peeking in other people’s wallets, or talk of sales or money, I have some alternative reading for you, as always.

Last week, Barry Eisler wrote a superb guest post on Joe Konrath’s blog contrasting some writers’ fears of a future, potential Amazon monopoly with their blindness to an actual existing quasi-monopoly perpetrated by the large publishers. As usual, most critics ignored the substantive argument and focused on an analogy he used comparing writers who defend the abusive practices of some publishers to “house slaves”.

That analogy was first made by Mike Stackpole back in May. While he caught a bit of heat for it at the time, controversy only really kicked in when Barry Eisler linked back to that post. A lot of people got hot and bothered and seemed to miss the fact that he was referring to Roman times.

The hubbub led to Mike Stackpole penning a thoughtful and thought-provoking response to his critics and the godfather of steampunk, KW Jeter, reminding everyone that Mike Stackpole Knows What He Is Talking About. All worth reading.

For those of you who haven’t been distracted by those sexy links, here are the numbers:

May: 153

June: 78

July: 253

August: 392

September: 140

October: 154

A 10% rise on September, but still far from the heights of July and August. As I have a $2.99 release driving sales, revenue is much better than those first two months, and clocked in around $285.

I haven’t released anything new since the end of July, so this holding pattern is to be expected. Ultimately, I aim to build a business that isn’t so dependent on regular, fresh releases to sustain a decent level of sales, but I can’t expect to be at that point when all I have on the market are short stories and a standalone non-fiction title.

As in September, US sales were extremely erratic. Let’s Get Digital is my biggest seller, but it swings wildly between selling no copies and shifting seven or eight in a day. The rankings are all over the map too – it can drift out to 70,000 or climb up to 10,000. There is no pattern at all.

The UK is the opposite. Sales are stable, and growing, which is nice.

Let’s Get Digital is usually around the 5,000 mark there, but bounces between 2,000 and 10,000. I’m continually on the first page of the bestseller chart for books on Writing/Publishing and I think that must be responsible for a lot of sales/stability. I’m certainly doing nothing myself to promote the book there or elsewhere.

But the excitement this month – for me at least – lay outside of sales numbers. I signed a contract to translate Let’s Get Digital into Spanish to add to the French edition which is being translated right now.

The Spanish Kindle Store should be open before the end of the year, so it will be great to have a local language title ready when that happens. Both translation deals were made under the profit-sharing model outlined by Scott Nicholson in September.

On top of that, I launched a crowdfunding project which is going extremely well (my sincere thanks to everyone participating). Of the $2,000 I was hoping to raise, $1,900 has been pledged so far. Given that there are still thirteen days to go, it’s looking like I might exceed my target.

This has gotten me thinking about adding value for the funders (and eventual purchasers) of A Storm Hits Valparaíso for its December release. As I may have a little extra to play with, I’ve contacted an artist to commission some hand-drawn maps and I will be exploring paid promotional opportunities for the launch. And I will, of course, let you know how all these experiments work out.

The final project I embarked on this month (aside from continually wrestling with my final draft) was the launch of SouthAmericana.com. I haven’t had the time to devote myself to it fully yet, and the readership is still small. But the content is growing, including a recent guest post from a Danish author called Over The Andes in 2,766 Pieces.

You can read more about the genesis of South Americana, and my reasons behind launching it in this recent interview with Henry Baum of The Self-Publishing Review.

As I said at the top, it’s six months since I launched my first e-book.

I made my decision to self-publish a month before that – in April – and started this blog to document my experiences. It grew fast, far beyond my wildest projections, and this week I crossed 100,000 page views. More importantly, the posts have generated over 4,600 comments, which is great.

I gave myself a month to get my first title up. As is my wont, I scraped in on deadline day by the skin of my teeth and released If You Go Into The Woods on May 4th. The launch went great and it was a real buzz seeing my first title climb the charts. I got a huge kick from outselling Shakespeare and Kafka, even if it was just for a day or two.

I promoted that release pretty hard before realizing that much of that effort was essentially wasted when I had just one title out that was only earning me 35c a pop. Later that month I released Transfectiona story which I had only written a couple of weeks beforehand, which really brought home the advantages of digital self-publishing.

I never promoted that as hard, or sought as many reviews, and it didn’t make quite the same splash. I think it’s a stronger story and will ultimately sell more but, for the moment at least, the reviewers and sales numbers don’t agree with me – Transfection has only sold two-thirds the amount that If You Go Into The Woods did, and has been reviewed 25 times on Amazon US/UK as opposed to 42 for my first (which has a higher overall score too).

On the strength of my first month’s numbers, I decided to pull A Storm Hits Valparaíso from the three agents that were still considering it and publish it myself. I sought specific editorial advice on some structural issues and was pointed towards a manuscript appraisal service which sent me in the completely wrong direction. I got bogged down altogether before being rescued by my regular editor – whom I will never cheat on again :).

At the same time, though, the blog was really taking off. I was posting a series of articles on the various steps involved in self-publishing. I had intended just to compile the blog posts into a simple PDF for my blog-readers to download as a reference when I was done.

However, the popularity of the posts (I hit 25,000 views in July) got me thinking a little bigger. While there were great stuff out there explaining the revolutionary changes in the industry, and other great books detailing the steps for effective self-publishing, I thought there was room for a book which did both – why writers should self-publish, as well as how to go about it.

I also thought there was a gap in the market for a primer for beginners – from the perspective of a beginner. Some of the stuff I was reading assumed a lot of knowledge that I knew some beginners may not have. Everything writers needed to know was out there, but it was scattered across many different blogs and websites. And there was also a lot of misinformation and myths too.

I had a lot of time on my hands when I started self-publishing, so I was able to take the time and filter out all the bad stuff, and draw together all the good stuff. But I knew that other writers had far more time-constraints between kids, jobs, and other commitments.

I decided to put A Storm Hits Valparaíso on hold (and let it stew for a while before tackling the final edit), and Let’s Get Digital was born. My editor took a really active role in shaping the structure of the final book and clarifying the message.

At the last minute, I decided to include a bunch of success stories, as the only reference points for a lot of people were Hocking, Konrath, and Locke. While their success was inspiring to me, others dismissed them as anomalies. I knew from hanging out on Kindle Boards that the level of success was far deeper and wider than those three writers, and I was surprised and delighted when 33 successful self-publishers agreed to contribute.

I think their contributions really made the book, and I am eternally grateful that they took the time out of their busy schedules to share their journeys.

After some expert last-minute proofing, I released it at the end of July and, with the help of my contributors and regular blog readers, we really made some noise. The book almost cracked the Top 1000, on two separate sorties, and I made back the $1,000 I spent on publishing it in just over a month.

I also made the PDF version a free download on this site. The popularity of that on launch day managed to crash WordPress! I was completely oblivious, asleep in bed after being up for 24 hours straight preparing for launch day.

When I woke, I put the PDF up on Scribd to ease some of the pressure, and between the two, it has been downloaded nearly 4,000 times (in addition to well over 800 paid sales and nearly $200 in donations for the free download).

And those are just the downloads I can track. As the PDF was released under a Creative Commons License, people are free to print, copy, share, and email the book to friends. They can even put it up on their own site for download (as long as they don’t try and charge for it). So it’s probably spread a good deal wider than that.

One huge factor in that successful launch was getting 20 digital ARCs in the hands of reviewers who had agreed to post when the book went live – something I will be hoping to repeat for future releases.

The response has been extremely gratifying – 61 reviews on Amazon US/UK, 57 of which are five stars, and one reviewer even burst into song. That’s going to take a lot of beating.

August was spent catching up on real life stuff, guest post commitments, promoting Let’s Get Digital, and teasing out some short story ideas which led nowhere (so far). When I got back from holidays in mid-September, I threw myself into – finally – preparing A Storm Hits Valparaíso for release.

That was a real struggle at the start, but I have broken the back of it now, and it will be in my editor’s hands by the end of the month.

Overall, I couldn’t be happier with my first six months. I’ve released three titles, sold almost 1,200 books, and earned around $2,000 (around half that after costs). I would have preferred if I had released A Storm Hits Valparaíso already, but new projects and commitments outside of writing got in the way.

I’ve made a lot of friends and connections, and I have learned so much. My self-publishing experience couldn’t be more positive and I am really excited about the next six months.

That should see the release of the French and Spanish versions of Let’s Get Digital, and possibly a German edition if I can find a translator willing to work under a profit-sharing model. Also, my novel will finally be published – which I also plan to get translated, especially into Spanish, given the setting. I first started working on that book in 2006. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to crossing the finish line.

I have a second novel which I started earlier this year - set in 1900s New Orleans and Honduras – that I am dying to get back to, as well as a dystopian novella centered around a sick, twisted version of Big Brother which is going to be a huge amount of fun to write. I hope to release both of those over the next six months, as well as more shorts.

These sales reports/reviews are not intended as a trumpet-blowing exercise. There are many, many people selling lots more books than me – plenty who started after me too. But I know I’ve always found these kinds of things useful (especially when I was just starting out), and I hope it serves the same purpose for others.

I suppose I better get back to work (writing). Thank you to everyone who has bought a copy of my books, especially those who have taken the time to review them and spread the word.

This has been a blast!

About davidgaughran

David Gaughran is an Irish writer, living in London, the author of "Mercenary" and "A Storm Hits Valparaiso" as well as "Let's Get Digital" and "Let's Get Visible."
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56 Responses to October Sales Report: A Holding Pattern & A Milestone

  1. RG Porter says:

    Fantastic read David. You are, without a doubt, a wealth of information and inspiration. I’m still beyond new at this, but I will continue to read through your posts. Hopefully I will continue to grow as well.

    Have a great weekend!

  2. Thanks, as always, for sharing with us, Dave. And congrats on your continued success. You are such an inspiration and wealth of knowledge.

    Gotta say, I’m really looking forward to reading that dystopian. ;-)

  3. laurenwaters says:

    Just the success of your blog alone is amazing. I’m so happy you’re doing so well. You deserve it after contributing so much in helping others out. I can’t wait until A Storm Hits Valparaiso comes out!

  4. Cool article, thank you for sharing! My numbers are down at the moment…..way down. I do have a plan! Write another book and start a crowdfunding project! :)

  5. Thanks for sharing your journey thus far, David — and congratulations on your success. Having read A Walk in the Woods and Let’s Get Digital, I can say it’s well deserved. I’ve been in the self-publishing world for four months now, and agree with everything you’ve written. Definitely feel your excitement re: imminent releases (currently editing Book II of my series) and future projects, where the sky really feels like the limit. Getting to the beginning of your post, one of the most important things I’ve learned in my four months is to filter out the noise. There’s a lot of speculation about what’s going to happen or not going to happen in the coming months/years, and while it’s prudent to stay aware of trends, following the day-to-day speculation can become a distraction. There will always be opportunities for writers. And, thank goodness, there will always be blogs like yours, Konrath’s, Mayers’, and Nicholson’s, among others, to thoughtfully consider what those opportunities might look like.

  6. tssharp says:

    David,

    I’m booked to use the same editor as you early next year. Hopefully I can follow it shortly afterwards with the release of my first full novel, to accompany the short story I have on there.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Karin is great. I didn’t mention her by name there because she is busy enough as it is! Have to keep some of those slots for myself!

      • tssharp says:

        I can see why. Her sample quote was great. I’ve opted for an appraisal, simply due to funds etc, but I’m looking forward to getting it back and working on it. I’m sick of the sight of it, but hopefully she’ll re-invigorate it for me, and I can launch it on an unsuspecting public ;) .

      • I got an appraisal from her in the summer after that horrible wrong turn I took. It was worth every penny. Really insightful.

  7. tssharp says:

    That’s good to hear. Hope I don’t have to start from scratch and remove all the teenage wizards and sexually repressed American vampires from it (joke)!

  8. j meyers says:

    David,
    I am always so glad to hear about your (and other’s) success. Thanks for sharing the info and inpiration.

  9. Question for you about the profit-sharing model for the translations:

    Do you feel it’s better to share the profits forever, even though that means you end up paying out considerably more over the life of the book?

    I think my preference would be to just pay for the rights to the translation upfront, even if it meant slowing down my non-English publication schedule.

    Because if I wrote a book that I felt would be a hit in other languages, I think I’d rather pay a couple thousand dollars upfront (and just one-time)… instead of potentially sharing the profits every quarter/year/whatever for the rest of my life. That could be a ton of money you’re giving up unnecessarily .

    Also, have you looked into the tax implications of the profit sharing route? In the US, for example, if you made $10,000 from your foreign editions next year, I believe you would be taxed on that full amount, even though you might be sending a good percentage of that to someone else.

    Thoughts?

    • I can’t give you a complete answer on the tax implications just yet, but I believe there are (legal) ways of avoiding that kind of double penalty in Ireland (i.e. by running it through your publishing company). I don’t have all the details yet.

      As to the bigger question, it’s a trade off. In short, yes, I’m prepared to take a potential long-term hit by possibly paying out more over the lifetime of a book for the shorter-term gain of getting those titles out now. If I was in John Locke’s position or Joe Konrath’s position, I would just pay up front. Paying up-front a full fee for all these translations now would slow my non-English release schedule to a crawl – it could take forever to get everything translated. “Let’s Get Digital” – in particular – is time-sensitive in the sense that I think there are potential gains from getting that title in particular into these markets early. Time will tell if I am right on that or not.

      There are also ancillary benefits from employing the profit-sharing model. First of all, it gives translators an opportunity to share in the book’s success if it does break out. Translators are often badly paid (and treated) by foreign publishers. If my book is a big success, and they get to share in that, I’m happy to spread it around a little to someone who’s input was a huge factor in the book’s success. Second, giving a translator a percentage may motivate them to do a little promotion in their language. It’s not something I expect, or have even discussed with my translators, but the thought has crossed my mind that it could occur, depending on the translator.

      But really, it’s about speed to market and freeing up what little capital my nascent business has for more pressing concerns (such as editing my next release).

      It’s not going to suit everyone, or even be attractive to many. But it certainly fits with my aims – and situation – right now.

      I’m sure there will be other iterations of this model. Indeed, when Scott Nicholson first employed it, he was paying 10%. He now pays 20%, as he feels that’s a fairer cut (and he pays that even to the translators who agreed to work for 10%). I’m sure it will evolve further over time. Some may factor in the promo side. Others may time-limit it, or have an upper (and possibly lower) earning threshold. I didn’t want to do that for a variety of reasons. If the book sells like crazy in, say, France, I will never be happier cutting a check than when I send the translator her share. Finally, the lack of such limits makes the whole proposition more attractive to prospective translators. I think finding ones willing to try this new system is hard enough without limiting their earning potential either in dollars or time. It makes it attractive to them.

  10. Great job David. Thanks for sharing.

  11. stunoss says:

    AS per usual great post David. Really enjoying reading them of late. Its giving a real honest insight into publishing and the highs and lows of it. Keep up the great work and good luck with it all

    Stu Noss

  12. David, I remember back when you were posting your tips on a certain writer site, and I would copy and paste and study. And here you are now! Thanks for sharing the journey.

    And I’ll add my voice to those clamoring for A Storm Hits Valparaiso.

  13. Darren Kirby says:

    Hi David,

    You’ve provided me with an oh-so-important window into not only self-publishing, but also the world of ebooks outside of the United States. I’ve heard and read people talking about the implications of a world-wide ebook audience, but you’ve helped to bring home the truth in those statements.

    Regarding your experiences, you’ve certainly enlightened me to what is possible and what I hopefully have to look forward to. I’m not that far behind where you are: I’ve currently got one short story up on Amazon (all Kindle stores), Smashwords, Apple, etc. and I’m working on my first novel, with a second to follow. Thank you for your inspiration to this sometimes down-trodded American!

    Continued success to you, and thanks for the crowdfunding idea – I’m planning to do this with my first novel to help with editing, layout, etc. for the ebook and pbook. Hoping the audiobook version isn’t too far behind those.

  14. Deb says:

    Amazing trip in such a short time, David! “Let’s Get Digital” is an invaluable reference. I enjoyed hearing about its birth and the recap of your earliest weeks and months in self-publishing. Thanks for sharing, and continued success.

  15. Dave says:

    Dave

    It’s been exicting and extremely enlightening to follow you these past few months. First saw your blog and your post’s on Joes’ blog earlier this summer. Been checking in on you guys daily since then.

    Have my own deadline to have “The Doomsday Door” live by X-mas week in time for all those 6-12 million, googly-eyed, click-happy new Kindle readers. Wish me luck, a lot of what I’m doing I’ve learned from following you.

    Greatly look forward to hearing about your first triumphant10k sales month…idealy, means I shouldn’t be too far behind you. ;)

    Dave

  16. C.j. Archer says:

    You got me with the sexy links, Dave ;)

    Seriously, thanks for sharing your numbers and expierences here. You’re providing a great service to all us self-pubbers with your caring and sharing, not to mention your number-crunching and analysis which is far superior than some well known “journalistic” articles I could name. The holding pattern is tough (says she who is currently in wait-mode herself) but you’ve got some exciting things happening in your world so I hope it doesn’t suck too much. Good luck with the translations and here’s to many more successful months.

  17. Patrice says:

    David: Thanks for the honest numbers and for sharing your experiences. I think that one of the reasons your books sell is that you are clearly sincere, invested, and in this for the long haul. Your name has become a recognized brand in the indie book community, and so you get a lot of respect.

    Oh, and of course when you have the Singing Reviewer (TM) on your side, how can you miss?

  18. David,

    Really enjoyed this piece — and have enjoyed following your journey for the last two months.
    I add my voice to the many others who have expressed gratitude for all that you’ve shared and for your insights about self-publishing here and elsewhere.

    Looking forward to the novel very much. I know it’s going to be great.

  19. Thanks for the plug, Dave. And thanks for one of the best, most informative, easy-to-overview blogs about the indie-bizz.

    And also one of the friendliest. That’s probably what I like the most…

    Best,

    Chris

  20. Just a quick note before I go back into my editing hut:

    I have exceeded my crowdfunding target ($2,000) with 12 days to go. Awesome!

    Thanks to everyone who participated and helped to spread the word.

    Dave

  21. David, love your book. You deserve all the praise you’re getting.

    However, regarding “Last week, Barry Eisler wrote a superb guest post on Joe Konrath’s blog contrasting some writers’ fears of a future, potential Amazon monopoly with their blindness to an actual existing quasi-monopoly perpetrated by the large publishers.” I read that post by Eisler and it made my eyes roll. Being worried about Amazon and being worried about the large publishers are not mutually exclusive. You can be worried about BOTH and cognisant of issues with BOTH. It’s not an either-or.

    • Kaz,

      That’s a very fair point. It’s not an either/or – you can be worried about both. I guess that post wasn’t aimed at you. I suppose that it was more aimed at writers in trade publishing who ignore the quasi-monopolistic features of the large publishers whilst simultaneously decrying Amazon’s moves into publishing on the grounds that they could develop into a monopoly and possibly screw writers.

      But yeah, you can be worried about both, that’s a fair point.

  22. LKWatts says:

    Hi David,
    I second what RG Porter says: you’re a wealth of information and inspiration.

  23. A holding pattern is fine as long as you aren’t in a plane. Overall, though, it looks like you are heading in the right direction. I appreciate you continuing to share and look forward to the new book. I checked out the website too. I liked reading about the history. That sort of thing really pulls me in.

  24. Great post, an inspiration and congrats on your success! But what I really appreciated is the willingness to share all the information. That’s great! Transparency is a rare virtue!

  25. Meg North says:

    Fantastic and thank you so much for posting your sexy numbers, not just the sexy links. I appreciate you providing the PDF version of “Let’s Get Digital” and being such a help for us beginner/intermediate indie authors. Keep up the good work and the writing – and congrats on surpassing your goal on FundIt for your novel! That’s awesome and it’s inspiring, too.
    ~ Meg North, http://www.megnorth.com

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  28. Don’t make too much of the fall-off in sales in Sept/Oct David because I (and from what I can tell most writers) have also seen exactly the same statistics. I sat down a couple days ago and plotted out my sales since I started in February and it’s a real bell curve on each book/story. As you rightly say in your recent post for Joe Konrath you need several titles.

    Getting back to the figures I guess the August blip is vacation reading and the dip afterwards the rebound. I can’t wait to see what Christmas brings. $89 Kindle, $89 Kobo reader, I wonder what the Christmas present of choice is going to be this year? And all those new devices will be hungry for content.

    Tess

  29. TL Rese says:

    wow, this is a great read! i’m glad i found this – i’ve been slogging through the traditional publishing route for a Long time now, and not really getting anywhere. i’m glad self-publishing is taking off – but it seems like you definitely have to do it rite in order for it to succeed. anyways, i was wondering – you spend a lot of time doing promotional stuff – online presence, competitions, etc. – not to mention finding freelancers to contract for covers and edits. i’m curious as to how much time you spend writing vs. marketing? and how do you find time for it all?

    • TL,

      Let me answer this in a roundabout way. First of all, some writers (perhaps not you, but it’s worth saying) seem to think that if they get a traditional deal, they won’t have to self-promote. This hasn’t been true for a long time (if it ever was). Writers are expected to blog, use Twitter, frequent forums, etc. just like self-publishers do. The marketing support that most publishers offer is minimal – unless you are one of their big stars. In short, the idea that writers with publishing houses “just write” is a myth, plain and simple.

      Also, there isn’t one way to do this. Some self-publishers are strong on blogging, some on Twitter, some on Goodreads, Facebook, MobileRead, or LibraryThing. You don’t have to do them all, I find most writers focus on one or two that they enjoy the most. As for time, writing always comes first. Aside from around the time of a new release, writing always takes precedence. Whatever time is left over can be spent on all the other stuff.

      How do I make the time? I got rid of my TV a few years back and it did wonders for my productivity. When I really want to watch something, I can do that online, but I don’t waste hours watching crap or channel surfing like I used to – and I still get my fix. I think a writer can learn a lot from watching shows like The Wire, Breaking Bad, Deadwood, The Sopranos, Treme etc. so I wouldn’t advocate throwing the TV out the window altogether.

      I can tell you this: my productivity has soared since I started self-publishing. There is something incredibly motivating about knowing that nothing and nobody stands between me and readers anymore. I can write whatever I like and publish it whenever I like. There’s also a lot to be said for ditching all that time spent researching agents, tailoring queries to agent requirements, changing submission packages based on agency requirements, waiting for replies, following up on requested partials, waiting for more replies, following up on requested fulls, waiting for more replies, sending off requested detailed chapter-by-chapter synopsis, waiting some more, then getting a rejection, and starting again. That’s a very negative space to be inhabiting and I did it for 18 months. Never again. I would rather spend that time writing stories, publishing them, and talking with readers. It’s WAY more fun :)

      • TL Rese says:

        many many thanks for your reply! self-publishing freaks me out, because i’ve been told it’s a no-no for so long. but i’m definitely going to dip my toe in the water w/ some of my short fiction – freaked out, but inspired at the same time! =)

      • I think short stories are a perfect way to try out self-publishing. If you ever have any questions, just drop by in the comments, or pop me an email.

      • Usually, the people guiding writers away from self-publishing are those that have the most to lose by being cut out: agents and editors. Keep that in mind. Any writer that I know who has tried it has nothing but positive things to say about the experience.

    • TL Rese says:

      well, rob sawyer’s been very outspoken against self-publishing – this was a couple of years ago, tho: http://sfwriter.com/2007/07/self-publishing-is-not-way-to-go.html

      these kinds of horror stories really scare me. =(

      • TL,

        That post was written in 2007. Back then, self-publishing WAS a bad move. There were a tiny, tiny amount of writers who could make a success out of it, but many failed miserably, after shelling out huge amounts of money on print runs.

        Fast forward to 2011 and the world has changed. The Kindle, E-books, KDP. That trinity have made self-publishing affordable and viable. A self-publisher doesn’t even have to do a print edition. An e-book can be put together for minimal costs and copied and sold infinite times for no extra cost. E-books cost nothing to store or to ship either. KDP allows us to reach millions of readers all across the world – we don’t have to go through the hard slog of trying (and failing) to get into bookstores.

        In short, the world has changed too much since 2007 for that post to be relevant.

      • TL Rese says:

        ah, i see! what a relief!! haha my new yr’s resolution for 2012 will be to start self-publishing some of my short stories. =) many many thanks!

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