November Report: Rising Tides, Higher Prices & A Lucky Break (Or Two)

November is a curious month, filled with strange American inventions like Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday (also known as National Buy-Yourself-A-Present Day).

It’s also traditionally (as in since last year) when e-book sales pick up. At this early stage, new entrants to the market can have a significant effect.

New e-reader owners tend to go on binge-buying sprees, which makes sense – they need something to read on their new toy.

The real boom starts on December 25th and continues through February. However, a smaller boom starts at some point in November – after all the shiny new e-reader models have been unveiled – and millions of Americans crack under the temptation, forego waiting to see who loves them enough on Christmas Day, and decide to treat themselves.

It’s also when all the big releases from the biggest writers flood the charts, while indies spread their peacock feathers and strut back-and-forth in the Also Boughts – hoping to catch a reader’s eye who isn’t too weighed down with Grisham, King, or Connelly.

I had a good month – sales and revenue were up – but much more importantly, A Storm Hits Valparaíso is finally with the editor (or to be more accurate, the first half is with the editor and the second half will be in a few days). This is a book I first started working on almost six years ago. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to publishing it.

Before I get into this month’s numbers, as always, I have two alternative reading choices for those who don’t enjoy looking in someone else’s wallet:

1. If you want to know all about why A Storm Hits Valparaíso took so long, why I walked away from it in the middle, and how I got the idea for it while teaching English in Peru, you have to read this excellent interview by Red Tash.

2. Some of you may have heard me speak about my side-project South Americana - my blog focused on strange stories and historical oddities from South America. I haven’t been able to devote much time to it yet, but I posted something there last week which might interest you. Potosí: The Lost City of Silver is an account of the strange and tragic (and true) history of what was once the richest city in the world, and is now one of the poorest. It’s famous silver mine – which was said to have produced enough to build a silver bridge from Bolivia to Madrid – is still operational, and I got to visit it in 2005. Read more over at SouthAmericana.com.

Okay. The numbers. First of all, I don’t know how long I’m going to keep posting these monthly reports. I think the initial point has been made: namely, that an unknown, unpublished writer can do okay. Second, if things continue to improve – and I think they will kick on a bit with my next release – then this might start to seem like a vanity exercise.

I know, I know. You were there in the dark days of June when the sales dropped below three digits, and the darker days of September when my sales fell by 64% as my Icarus-like soar towards the sun was undone by hubris and the melting wax of no new releases.

I’ll probably keep doing it for a while yet – if people find it useful – this is just a thought which crossed my mind recently, and I’m nothing if not a prisoner to my own serotonin levels.

Let’s get to it. Sales jumped this month, almost doubling my October total. In fact, it was my second-best month in terms of sales and revenue, and by far the best outside the time of a new release. There were a number of reasons for that, aside from the purported rising November tide, which I will get to below.

May: 153

June: 78

July: 253

August: 392

September: 140

October: 154

November: 278

A handful of those November numbers are Smashwords partner sales that need to be redistributed to earlier months, but I haven’t done it yet. They seem to be getting snappier on the reporting – especially from Barnes & Noble – which makes things a little easier.

Revenue clocked in at around $560 for the month – which is great. I raised the price on Let’s Get Digital to $3.99 half-way through the month and sales didn’t drop at all. If anything they increased slightly. It’s hard to tell for certain as I had so many promo bursts, but I think the “baseline” level of sales has gone up a notch, despite the higher price.

UK sales are following a familiar pattern: relatively stable numbers and ranking, and slight growth overall each month, although I can’t pay someone over there to buy a copy of Transfection.

Smashwords sales saw a big increase. Even aside from the 17 sales that need to be redistributed, sales there tripled – mostly down to sales finally getting going (to some extent) on Barnes & Noble and Apple. I only seem to sell shorts on Apple, and mostly Let’s Get Digital on Barnes & Noble. Not sure why, but I’ll take it.

Barnes & Noble sales are going in a nice direction: August 1; September 3; October 5; November 11 (and that’s just the first three weeks – all that have been reported). As for Apple, I seem to sell little in the US. Instead the sales are coming from France, Germany, Australia, and Canada. Hey, it’s all seeds and acorns.

As with any time I have had a nice sales bump, the real action was in the US. I started the month trialing some Facebook ads (for free, a friend had a coupon). They increased the September/October baseline slightly. We are still experimenting with them, and I can’t make a solid pronouncement on their effectiveness for shifting books (they are certainly great for getting Facebook Page likes). The only thing I know for sure – so far – is that the optimum time to run the ads is for a couple of days, then switch them off for a few more.

I had a bigger bump at the end of the month when I was featured on the Kindle Lovers Facebook Page (to get featured there, don’t post yourself, follow the instructions here). Like most promo opportunities, I first heard about that at Kindle Boards.

Both of those bumps, though, paled in what happened in the middle of the month when I guest posted on Joe Konrath’s blog. He has a huge readership, and I suppose it was natural to see some increase (not the reason why I was so excited to do it, but, again, I’ll take it).

I didn’t know when the guest post was going up, and only become aware of it when this torrent of traffic started coming through to the blog. Joe was kind enough to say some nice things about Let’s Get Digital and Transfection and sales of both jumped.

This increase put Let’s Get Digital near the top of the bestseller list in its “genre”, and that extra exposure brought a lot of extra sales when the traffic from that guest post faded. Once it did, I raised the price to $3.99.

I had planned to do it earlier in the month – I had been meaning to test out that price point for some time – but I wanted to give Joe’s readers a chance to purchase at the lower price first.

(Speaking of which, if any of my blog-readers want to purchase at the old price of $2.99, email me and we’ll work something out.)

That higher price means I’m now earning $2.60 per copy sold, rather than just over $2. And, as I said above, sales don’t seem to be adversely affected at all. If you have never trialed a price point higher than $2.99, I recommend doing so – just make sure you give it enough time (say, a month) to evaluate it properly.

I’ll be dropping the price back to $2.99 before December 12th, as I have a KND promotion scheduled, and I want to maximize any boost (their readers don’t tend to buy above that price in large numbers). I’ll probably raise it again after, but we’ll see.

Let’s Get Digital reached a milestone of sorts, passing 1,000 copies sold. The free PDF version has now been downloaded more than 4,000 times, and that has been a significant promotional tool from me (and, I hope, my contributors).

Out of all the emails and tweets I have received from readers of that book (tip: put your email address in the back and make it visible on your blog) around half of them first heard of the book through downloading the free PDF, or somebody copying it and forwarding it on to them. Many of these readers themselves either purchased the paid version, made a donation, or spread the word further.

Some also purchased my shorts. I reorganized my blog slightly so that each e-book now has its own sub-page, with a large version of the cover, review quotes, purchase links to all the major stores, and a link to a sample. You can see the one for Transfection here as an example, and they are all accessible from the “Books” tab in the top bar.

I highly recommend doing this. It only took me a few minutes and I can directly attribute an increase to it (going by messages I have received). With that, and everything else going on, sales of my shorts tripled this month. I already have all my covers in the bar down the right-hand side, and already had a general “Books” page (that’s still there at the top), but thought I would experiment with further sub-pages dedicated to each release.

I think of all these things as little bits of fly-paper – trying to trap all the readers buzzing around my blog – but I probably should keep that to myself.

Anyway, it seems to work, and I’ve now sold well over 400 shorts – which is great because I haven’t released one since May.

November also saw the climax of my crowdfunding project. I raised over $2,300 by using the crowdfunding site to take advance orders for the paperback and e-book versions of A Storm Hits Valparaíso – which should be released just before Christmas.

Thank you to everyone who participated – I was overwhelmed with the response. I’ll be writing a post about the whole experience once all the orders are fulfilled in January (when the paperback is released). Needless to say, it was a hugely positive one.

I brought in more than I was targeting, which has allowed me to think a little bigger for this release. I’ve commissioned a hand-drawn map from a great artist to go in the front of the book. The first draft looks fantastic. We just need to add some place-names, tweak a little, and it’s done. I’ll be showing you what that looks like in the run-up to the release, along with the brand-new cover for the book (the one in the sidebar is just a placeholder).

I’ve got a few promo tricks planned for this release, but they have to remain top-secret for now. I’ll post about them afterwards – whether they work or not. Despite the cost of fulfilling pre-orders, the costs associated with publishing, and some promo, I think this book has already turned a profit.

I also have some media exposure lined up for later in the month. I’ll talk about that when (and if) it happens. But mostly I’m just pumped about releasing this book. I started working on it in 2006, and the whole thing was a steep learning curve from start-to-finish. I gave up on it several times – sometimes working on other stuff, sometimes walking away from writing altogether – but it always pulled me back.

This is the book that I was querying for 18 months – the one that got an agent saying he wanted to represent me, who then (I think) changed his mind (as I never heard from him again). I’ve lived with this story for a long time. Finally pushing it out into the world fills me with excitement and trepidation.

What’s also cool about releasing it is that I get to work on something else. I’ve been rewriting it since August. I haven’t worked (properly) on something new since July. That’s way too long. I’ve been examining my process and my productivity, and I have some big changes planned aimed at increasing my writing speed and my output. I’ll be talking more about that when the time comes.

But yes, new projects are in the pipeline. I’ve several more historical fiction novels outlined, plenty of shorts to come, and a dystopian novella. I’ll also be spending a lot of time over at SouthAmericana.com - building up its readership and posting regular narrative non-fiction vignettes from South American history and culture. I have a vague idea about turning that blog into a book too, but mostly it’s for fun (with the happy side-effect of connecting me with my target audience).

This blog has been going great – over 30,000 views last month, a record. It’s the only metric I get on the free WordPress set-up, but I’m considering moving to a custom WordPress solution on my own domain soon.

Two things give me pause. First, I’m starting to get a lot of traffic from Google – appearing high on key searches – even for generic terms like “pricing” – and switching over can hurt that (at least at first). Second, one of my posts (actually, a fantastic guest post from Mainak Dhar) was featured on the WordPress.com homepage resulting in around 5,000 views in a 24 hour period (and significant traffic for another 48 hours). There was an indication that they might feature me again, so I might drag my heels a little on the changeover to a custom site.

In my experience, traffic spikes like this tend to be “drive-by” readers – in that they will read the post, then move on, not delve further into the site, or do anything like click on book purchase links (such clicks were lower than average on that day). The real value in that traffic was the 200 or so new subscribers to the blog (hi guys) – another reason why you should have your blog subscription links in a prominent position.

So that’s the general plan for this month and next year: more novels, more shorts, a collection (or two), a novella, a non-fiction title (if I can squeeze it in), translating as many of those releases into as many languages as possible through a revenue-sharing model, and continuing to grow the readership of both blogs. Oh, and I’ll probably start selling books direct in January – still considering how.

Thank you to everyone who featured my books on their blogs in the last month. There are too many to name, but I should have thanked you all individually. If not, apologies for the oversight and thank you. I would also like to thank everyone who is spreading the word about Let’s Get Digital and my shorts – it’s really making a difference.

November was an exciting – if tiring – month. There is a lot to look forward to this month, and beyond. But if I’m going to get any of that done, I’ve got to get back to work.

Enjoy your weekend!

About davidgaughran

David Gaughran is a 34-year old Irish writer, living in London, who spends most of his time travelling the world, collecting stories. He is the author of the South American historical adventure "A Storm Hits Valparaiso" and the short stories "If You Go Into The Woods" and "Transfection" as well as the popular self-publishing guide "Let's Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should."
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

51 Responses to November Report: Rising Tides, Higher Prices & A Lucky Break (Or Two)

  1. Melissa says:

    That’s great, David! Best wishes to your continued success! I’ll put a little post on my blog about your books.

  2. JJ Toner says:

    That all sounds fantastic, Dave. Well done and good luck with the new book (not that you need any). I picked this lttle gem out from above:

    “Some also purchased my shorts.”

    I hope they were well laundered first.

    JJ

  3. sfbell09 says:

    Congratulations on the numerous successes that seem to be accumulating (after what I am sure is a ton of hard work!) The intro regarding epubs and new ereaders to this post was very interesting material, especially for someone who is thinking about publishing electronically in the nearish future.

  4. Oh, and if anyone knows a more elegant (free) solution for generating bars and charts, that would be very welcome. This is what I’m using now: http://nces.ed.gov/nceskids/createagraph/

    I think I’m ready to leave The Kid’s Zone :)

  5. I’m happy to hear your sales are continuing to climb. I’ll always remember we started out in the same month and initially made the same mistake–going too long without a new release. If you hadn’t talked about that issue, I might never have figured that one out. But because you did talk about that, and the light did go on in my head, I tried it again (under a pen name with some fun projects I wanted to try) and saw 1,000 sales in 40 days. Huge thrill for me.

    I will also probably try the crowdfunding when I go back to the urban fantasy project, if for no other reason than to guage interest, again because of your experience and advice about it.

    May we both see continued success in 2012. (Come back and talk about your overall experience at Wicked & Tricksy sometime.)

    • Margo – those are superb numbers, congratulations.

      I think it’s important to keep your name fresh in readers’ minds. I’m not saying that every self-publisher has to release four novels a year to be successful, but I think a regular release – a short, a novella, a collection you have contributed to – is important.

      I’m looking forward to getting my life back after releasing this book, and coming back and hanging out some more at W&T – and I would certainly love to come back next year and talk again about how things are going.

  6. Congrats on your growing sales, David! May there be many, many more in the years to come. :)

  7. Red Tash says:

    I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who read “shorts” that way. ;)

    Genuinely excited to read Valpo!

    Thanks for this update. I totally was wondering how long you’d do the sales chart. That’s me, though. Nosy Nellie.

  8. elorithryn says:

    Oh No i got caught in the reader sticky tape Help Help… Wait, but I’m enjoying reading this. Pour me a cup of tea Mr. Spider. *grin*

    I’m one of those people holding out for the loved one to buy me that e-reader. I know he’ll pull through seeing as he got me my netbook for writing two Christmasses ago. *grin* Once I have that, I’ll probably be seen in those december to february sales. I have decided that the extra money I get form work for donating blood (legal blood money lol) will be funnled into my reading and writing addiction.

    :} Cathryn Leigh

  9. Paolo Amoroso says:

    @David

    Site metrics: what about Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools?

    Generating charts: you may try Google Docs Spreadshits which also lets you embed charts in web pages. But this may require JavaScript, which may not work on hosted WordPress.

    • Neither of those play nice with the free WordPress setup (nothing with Javascript does). The only (free) tool I have found has a limit of 500 visits, which is little use to me as I blow through that a couple of times a day.

  10. David,
    Thanks so much for this post. It’s given me a ton of information, far more than just a look at your numbers, believe me. Very interesting, and never ever vanity. The bit about November through February was especially insightful.

    Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving has stores opening up in the very early hours of the morning, and has been around for a while. Now all of a sudden there’s Cyber Monday. I guess both days have us opening our wallets and letting out the moths. Interesting that this buying season for ebooks lasts through February.

    Again, thanks and please keep up the sharing. Wouldn’t be the same, somehow, without your numbers.

    Susan

  11. JAClement says:

    Not tempted to do something funky in Excel and screen cap it as a jpeg?(yes I am a geek)

    Interesting blog though, and I see a bit of reading of back-copies might be useful!
    Regards;
    JAC

  12. josephine wade says:

    Sounds as if your patience and tenacity has paid off (quite literally).
    From your recount of the holidays I can tell your cynic is out to play ;). I can totally see you and a dystopian setting. Of course I look forward to all your future writing. Keep up the great work!

    • It is paying off. It’s a slow build – no explosive growth here, and in fact, sales went the other direction on two occasions now. But, I’m fine with that. It allows me to get all the pieces in place at my own pace. I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to have as many projects on the go if I had a book near the top of the charts. It keeps me hungry!

  13. Mike Dennis says:

    Congrats on your success, David.

    FYI–I clicked on the link to your Transfection sub-page and clicked on the cover image on that sub-page, but was taken to the Let’s Get Digital page on Amazon.

  14. Randi says:

    Oooh, Potosi! I got so excited when I saw you mention that. One of the characters in my soon-to-be-released novel “B” has a history with the Potosi mines. Specifically, he was forced to work there during the Spanish rule. The role of the Potosi mines was so interesting that it became an integral part of an entire novella focusing on that character (which I don’t plan to release until after I get the novel out). goodness, I got so excited just by reading your mention of Potosi that I paused in reading your post just to leave this (rather unnecessary) post. Lol

    As such, I think that I will stop typing and get back to reading. ~_~ooo

    • Very interesting. A character in the novel I’m releasing next month is an Indian forced to work in Potosi – this is around the time of the independence wars – early 1800s. There are so many exciting episodes in South America’s history – rich pickings for a novelist.

      • Randirogue says:

        I saw that when I read your Potosi post. I was already interested in your novel, but now I’m doubly so.

        Oh, and I forgot to tell you congrats on your November sales!

  15. rasputin42 says:

    If you’re interested in input, I would appreciate further updates on the sales numbers. Hard data is not always easy to come by.

  16. Congratulations, David! It’s wonderful to see your growing success! I read TRANSFECTION a few days ago, thought it was great and will be writing a 5-star review for it on Amazon. :)

  17. Stefan says:

    Congrats, David, and thanks for posting the figures. I take it that most of your sales (units) came from Let’s Get Digital. But would you be willing to share in detail what a celebrity endorsement from J.A. Konrath does for a short story like Transfection (sales figures compared to prev. months)?

    Congratulations also on the comparatively easy group the Irish ended up in at Euro 2012.

    • Easy? Spain, Italy & Croatia? You’re kidding, right? They are all in the Top 10 in the FIFA rankings. It’s going to be a real struggle.

      Most sales are from “Let’s Get Digital”. I’ve sold just over 1,000 copies of that, and over 400 shorts – with “If You Go Into The Woods” just outselling “Transfection”. Longer work will always sell more than shorts, but they have performed well ahead of expectations, especially because I haven’t released a short since May (I’m hoping sales of shorts will increase with each one I release). Also, the majority of short story readers prefer to purchase collections, and I haven’t released one yet. I’m hoping that my first fiction release since May will boost those numbers also.

      It’s hard to separate out one promo effect from another. I got a big boost the first couple of days I was on Joe’s blog, but most of that (unsurprisingly, given the audience of his blog) was for Let’s Get Digital. For the last couple of months, I had only be selling one short story a day. Around the time of the guest post, I was selling four or five a day. I’m sure that if I had more shorts out, I would have sold more, as I could see people buying Transfection in a spurt, then moving on to If You Go Into The Woods. This would have been the first month Transfection outsold If You Go Into The Woods, but for a strange, unexplained buying spurt of the latter in the last five days of the month when I sold 8-10 copies in quick succession.

      Overall, sales for both stories tripled this month – but starting from a very low base.

      • Stefan says:

        There are worse groups. Croatia has seen better days and the Italians are already wetting their pants because of Trap…

      • There’s one worse group – Germany’s. The bookies rarely get it wrong and all of them have Ireland at long odds to qualify. Most Irish supporters are quite pessimistic. It’s probably the weakest team we have had for 25 years or more. Having said that, Trap is playing a limited defensive game which has allowed this group to overachieve – ugly as it is to watch at times. We will be well organized, and hard to beat. But we lack pace all over the side, and a team that can move the ball quickly will cause us real problems.

        Having said all of that, we have a chance. Our opening game is against Croatia. We have only lost once to them in six matches. If we can win that, we are in a reasonable position. We’ll probably get hammered by Spain, and go into the last game needing something out of it to qualify. If we can pull all that off, we will most likely face England in the quarter-finals – which would be something.

  18. Lindsay B. says:

    Congratulations on your success so far, David!

    November was an excellent month for me too (after a slow October), but mostly because I released a new book. It’s fun that as indies we can watch our sales stats in real time and see what little things actually causes bumps. I, too, have definitely had nice sales days after a blog post got a bunch of traffic (by the way, you might want to consider making the links to your books at Amazon and even B&N affiliate links — lets you really see how many sales are originating from your blog, and you make a few extra pennies too).

    Keep it the great work, and here’s to your continued success! :)

    • Thanks Lindsay. I really should look into affiliate links. I don’t think my blog drives most of my sales (especially for fiction), but it is responsible for some, and if I can get a little extra, I probably should.

    • P.S. I’ll have to check if there are any restrictions on us grubby internationals. I would imagine B&N is a no-go, but I’ll check out Amazon. I think I have affiliate links already set up for Smashwords – must check.

  19. Always enjoy your blog. You’ve become an invaluable resource for indie writers. I wish you much success with the new book!

    Also wanted to let you know that when you migrate from WordPress.com to WordPress.org, you can transfer your email subscribers (by exporting and importing into Mailchimp or another similar service), but anyone who’s following you through WordPress can’t be transferred. I migrated to my own domain name around February 2011, and I wasn’t able to capture my WordPress subscribers, just the email subscribers. I can’t find the link right now that states it, but it’s in the support pages. Hopefully, they’ve changed that by now, but I thought I’d alert you. Seems you’d have a lot of subscribers to lose if you couldn’t transfer them.

    • I didn’t know that Angela, and it makes sense, thanks for point it out. That’s certainly a strike against moving to a custom set-up. I have between 200 and 300 WordPress subscribers – which is quite a lot – maybe a third of my total subscribers which are evenly divided (more or less) between RSS, email, and WordPress.

      Hmmm.

  20. Glad to hear things are going well for you, David. As a fluent Spanish speaker and someone who has spent some time in Peru, I look forward to picking up Storm as soon as it’s released. I’m sure it will be great.

    • Thanks Michael. Where were you in Peru? I was in a city in the deserts just south of the Ecuador border called Piura.

      • I spent some time gasping for air in Cusco and the Valle Sagrado, and have also been to the Peruvian Amazon and Lima.

      • I loved Lima, and especially Cuzco, but I didn’t have enough time in either place, having spent too long dawdling in other spots. I got to see a good bit of the north when I was living there, but missed much of the south altogether. I got to spend a few days in the Ecuadorian Amazon though, that was something else, but Iquitos would be pretty high on a list of places to visit next time.

  21. Hmmm. Now that makes sense. People pre-buying toys for themselves ahead of the holidays. I can’t believe I didn’t think to check that out, esp around Black Friday, and see how that affected sales. Running to check it out now. Thanks, David.

  22. neil says:

    Good to see the sales going up David! I’m going to be very curious about the impact of the new low price Kindles. We know the impact will be partially masked by all the new releases… The combination will pup more readers to ebooks.

    So get out the book! :)

    Neil

  23. Elisa Michelle says:

    Honestly, I hope you continue to sell your sales and experiences with self publishing. They really help people like me, who are (semi) new to your site and are nervous about self publishing. Really, I love reading your blog, it’s incredibly helpful.

  24. Hi, David. I wanted to let you know that I have also linked to your blog on my own site: http://www.teamblood.org/links/ . I’ve been really impressed by your posts and your reporting on the industry (especially outside the US).

    Since I have only a tiny readership, this probably hasn’t translated to sales, but at least you know what sort of intellectual tattoos Let’s Get Digital is leaving around the internet!

  25. Skellie says:

    Very impressed to see your month on month growth :-) After I tweeted about your book a friend at the office told me that he’d started reading ‘Let’s Get Digital’ that morning, so I’m happy to have contributed at least 2 sales to the tally. Not a lot, but it all counts!

    All my best,

    Skellie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s