I have no idea. I just reposted an article saying self-pub books really aren’t selling in millions that got lots of Facebook responses. So I found myself thinking: How many am I really selling? I just finished doing taxes for the year and discover myself reasonably above the poverty line in the US (the poverty line is listed as 11,000 for a single person with no dependents apparently. That indeed would cover my food, rent, and utilities for a year, but I should add that I live in basically a writer’s garret. I’m sure many in pricey Silicon Valley who have homes and families could not manage on this.)
So I’m a working writer –as in 12-plus hours a day. With 12 books out a year, I’m certainly productive. A HARD-working writer. But I’m not paid by the hour or the word — only by royalties (ranging from 70% alleged gross to 8% net depending on publisher and type of book). And THAT depends on sales.
I’m the author of a whopping 45 books right now (yes, really, check ’em out on http://www.amazon.com/Valerie-Estelle-Frankel/e/B004KMCLQK), and part of me is wondering…so when do I hit the big time here? When do I get the wealth and recognition? Is there a point to writing another 45? (My genre is analysis on popular series like Sherlock, Doctor Who, Outlander, and Game of Thrones. Of course, they have built in fandoms already, which is awesome.) Of course, I’m discovering it’s not really about the number published, as 2-5 of them bring in far over half the sales (History, Homages and the Highlands: An Outlander Guide,the Hunger Games guide Katniss the Cattail, and sometimes a Game of Thrones guide or another tv/film related surge).
So basically, I sit here writing 12 books a year hoping ONE will catch fans’ eye (Predicting can be tough — I wrote another Outlander book and Katniss book, neither of which succeeded even half as much. Some series like Harry Potter and Marvel’s Avengers proved surprising duds. For my related books anyway.) And yes, sometimes I write whatever I feel like, with more eye to education or silly parodies and less to commercialism. Hence all my analysis on the Heroine’s Journey and vague plans for a free guide on the topic.
So today (admittedly wasting over an hour of my writing time) I decided to slow down and actually look at all these sales figures everyone sends over. What numbers am I really dealing with?
Self publishing: Here I have a lot. In fact, I have 24 on createspace/23 on Smashwords/25 on kdp/5 on ACX (most of these are the same, published in all three or maybe four mediums, but a few are exclusive.) There appear to be 27 unique titles, three of which are listed as free on Smashwords.
Kindle Direct sales (from Amazon publishing). 4552 copies sold this year. Kdp just sent me 13 tax forms from all the different countries. Goodness knows how many I’ll get next year.
Smashwords and the ebook companies they distribute to (Apple, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Sony…): I sold 5169.9 copies (they’re counting people reading part of it, apparently) which made about $700. Total. All the sales coming in hundreds are, sadly, my free books. Two of these are “samplers” — a chapter each of already-published stuff, meant to boost sales. It only took me a few hours to put them together. No idea whether readers are then motivated to go purchase the full books.
Createspace (Amazon paperback publishing) 2616 books sold. 986 of those were my silly little Outlander guide. All right, seems the ebooks have beat the paper ones. Not a shock as my sales are online not bookstores. Publishing paperbacks is slightly more work, but I think it’s worth the effort. I like them, anyway.
ACX (amazon audio books): 5 published books (I can only give them self-pub, as otherwise publishers have the rights. Here I get 40% if I pay the recording artist upfront or 20% if I split the proceeds with them instead.) 865 sales – almost all Outlander or Game of Thrones related. Upon discovering this, I started auditioning another batch.
So that was 13,203 self-published books sold. Far far under a million, but a respectable number. Flattering in terms of people influenced, though I’m not a cat climbing into a box on YouTube. And…for them all I ended up making about 50 cents a book. (With thousands of my free and 99 cent books sold in comparison with smaller numbers of my $2.99 ebooks and 9.99 paperbacks, that isn’t the most logical calculation, but there it is).
By this point, I am thinking rude thoughts about royalty percentages. I might sit and calculate how much of Amazon’s 70% royalties I’m really getting, or consider raising prices (in fact, out of 45 books, only 3 are free and 1 is 99 cents). I could take my business elsewhere. But we all know the deal. I could sell them on my own website and keep 100% but no one would ever find them. And thus I’m forced to come back to my original premise that I’m going for fame not fortune…
Comparisons are odious as some famous person said. In fact, they’re illogical too since my traditionally published books have different content and sometimes audiences than the self-pub stuff. Certainly different math. But let me pop these up here too:
Traditional Publishers: (They mail me quarterly or biannual statements which I pull checks from then file carefully…in my desk clutter. Okay, that’s on me.) These are all small press or academic, admittedly. I have not broken into the Big Howevermanyareleft.
Zossima Press (half a year’s numbers): 3 published books. SALES: 24 paperback, 66 ebook (60 of those my Myths and Motifs in the Mortal Instruments thanks to the new TV show). Royalties: Around $1.50 per $15 book
McFarland: 4 books, 2 edited anthologies (3 more coming soon). SALES: 668 (paper and ebook in half a year). Around $1.75 per $35 book. Yep, $35. And that hurts the sales, of course.
Thought Catalog: 5 published books. SALES: By back-calculating sloppily my percentage of the royalties off the tax form…maybe 1500 copies. Around $1.50 per $5 book
Other Traditional Publishers: 4 published books that do rather badly: not enough pennies to worry about.
Traditional publishing is giving me steady numbers, while self-pub fluctuates wildly as I do page reads, free samples, free kindle five day giveaways, and other clever schemes which increase readership but not definitively sales. No shock there. For Doctor Who 50th anniversary weekend in 2013, I convinced 4500 people to download a free copy, but the Doctor Who book isn’t pulling amazing sales.
So where am I? 45 books published, with me convincing about 20,000 people this year to grab a copy of something and I’m making a living wage…but once again I’ll bring up the garret. I was a bit depressed upon looking at my tax forms, though not as much when I compared it to the previous year’s. 2013 to 2014 doubled, and 2014 to 2015 went up by a third. Things are indeed looking up…perhaps even toward a retirement plan (Plan: Do nothing and live on royalties or keep writing forever because now I’m addicted.) Is this the definition of “successful writer”? Seems so. And sure, I was hoping for more of a NY Times Bestseller profile with fabulous book promotion tours paid for by my royalties (sometimes I do this, but significant budgeting is involved). But I get to be a writer. And I’m making it work.
Well, enough of this — I really have to get back to writing now. Best wishes to everyone doing what I am, however successfully.
Do check the books out by the way — the list is up on http://vefrankel.com or http://www.amazon.com/Valerie-Estelle-Frankel/e/B004KMCLQK. Apparently I could use the paid sales.