Indie Publishing: One Year In

by | Apr 9, 2016 | Book Talk, Industry Talk | 0 comments

One year ago today, I became an indie author and published Between the Seams. At that time I had no idea what the next day or month would bring, much less the next year.

I have to say, it’s been an interesting ride.

For anyone who’s thinking about indie publishing, or anyone who is already indie publishing, data is a big deal. It’s important to have numbers in front of you so that you can compare trad and indie in order to make the best business decision for you. And yes, this is a business. I might write words and talk to imaginary people as a part of that business, but those words and imaginary people make me money. If you want to go down the path of indie publishing, you HAVE to remember that.

There are some really great data sources out there that look at the publishing industry as a whole, but a lot of authors are hesitant to share their own personal data. And I get that. I really do. There’s always the fear of putting a target on your back, that if you share your success that someone will look at that and do everything they can to drag you down.

That’s not cool.

It’s also part of the reason why I don’t like to share revenue numbers right now because, let’s face it, I’m small potatoes. BUT I also feel it’s important to share the data I am comfortable sharing so that others can make informed decisions. When I was first thinking about indie publishing, seeing how much other people were making and how many books other people were selling really helped me in the decision-making process. I was also really frustrated at the lack of good, hard data out there, which is why I’ve tried to be fairly open regarding my own.

At any rate. It’s been one year since I hit “publish” and set Between the Seams free. And one year later, it’s still my overall best-selling book. That being said, it’s not my consistently best-selling book (that honor goes to Big Girls Need Love Too). So without any further ado, I bring you: sales data (for anyone who’s curious, a lot of these graphs were taken from BookTrakr).

chart of one year book sales

total sales numbers

See what I was saying? Between the Seams has made up roughly 56% of my sales over the past year.

between the seams sales by month

If you take a closer look at the data, though, you see that 74% of those sales happened in April and May of 2015. Like I’ve said before, I’m still not entirely sure what caused that initial sales spike, but now that I’ve been doing this for a year I have a feeling I got some love from somebody else’s Bookbub or Amazon featured Between the Seams in an email because there’s no way I can attribute that kind of a spike to suddenly getting some also-bought juice. Sales in June were helped by the release of Baseball and Other Lessons, and November sales were helped by the release of Hair Trigger Heart. Aside from that, though, from July 2015 through today you can see that sales numbers have been okay (certainly nowhere near as awesome as those first two months).

That’s why I say Between the Seams has been my OVERALL best seller. From a raw data standpoint, it’s sold more books. Plain and simple.

But now let’s take a look at my CONSISTENT best seller: Big Girls Need Love Too.

big girls need love too sales

year one book sales comparison

Let’s break down these charts into something digestible, shall we?

  • Big Girls Need Love Too has sold 459 MORE copies than Baseball and Other Lessons, which was released two months prior
  • Overall, Between the Seams has sold 1145 more copies than Big Girls Need Love Too

Here’s where it gets interesting, though: if you don’t account for April and May sales of Between the Seams because of the abnormal sales spikes (and those spikes were very obviously abnormal since I have yet to replicate that), Between the Seams sold 550 copies. Big Girls Need Love Too has sold 995.

So in other words, my book about a plus size woman in her mid-20s that isn’t really women’s fiction but isn’t really romance is my consistent best seller.

In fact, if you add up sales from Between the Seams, Baseball and Other Lessons, and Hair Trigger Heart (and again throw out April and May of 2015 because of the abnormal sales spikes), the Devils Ranch Series in total has sold 1219 books (it’s obviously a lot more than that if you do count April and May’s Between the Seams sales). That means Big Girls Need Love Too has sold almost as many copies as a SERIES.

A lot of authors would see that and say, “Okay, I obviously need to change direction and try to catch the magic of Big Girls Need Love Too.” And hell, I’ve had that thought myself a time or twenty.

But I also believe that slow and steady wins the race. My sales have obviously dropped over the past few months, and part of that can be attributed to the fact that I haven’t released a new novel since November. Honestly, the fact that I’m still selling as well as I have without a new release in six months makes me feel pretty darned good if I’m trying to look at this from a glass half full perspective (on the flip side of that–I obviously need to get Dallas’ Most Eligible finished already).

I also don’t know that I could ever replicate Big Girls Need Love Too. Part of that is because of when I wrote it and where I was in my life at that point. Part of that is because of how highly personal that book is to me. And part of that is the simple fact that often when you try to replicate something you fall flat on your face (okay, so I sometimes do that all on my own because I’m clumsy). But it’s my little book that could, and knowing that people like it and keep buying it makes me so incredibly happy.

Okay, so now that we’ve compared individual books let’s talk about retailers.

One of the biggest debates in indie publishing is whether to “go wide” or enroll your book in KDP Select (aka Kindle Unlimited). Basically, if you enroll your book in KU you can’t sell it anywhere else, so you’re relegated to the Amazon store and Createspace (which is owned by Amazon). If a KU subscriber reads your book, you’re paid basically per page read (it’s more complicated than that and I don’t know that anyone outside of Amazon actually knows how that’s calculated) rather than per sale. Going wide means your book is available at different retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, and Google Play. I made the decision from the get-go to go wide, mostly because I’m not a big fan of putting all of my eggs into one basket. I like to diversify and not be completely dependent upon one retailer for my income.

Well, it ends up that even with going wide, Amazon still makes up the VAST majority of my writing income.

total revenue all books all stores

Here’s how those numbers actually break down:

Retailer Percentage
Amazon 95.84%
Apple 1.21%
B&N 1.35%
Createspace 1.46%
Kobo 0.13%

Obviously, Amazon’s winning. The breakdowns for each book are different (for example, Hair Trigger Heart has sold better at B&N than my other books, and Big Girls Need Love Too has sold better at iBooks than my other books percentage wise), but the clear source of revenue is Amazon.

I kind of hate that, because it only illustrates the fact that Amazon almost has a monopoly on the eBook market. That being said, part of that might be on me, too, because I’ve never made a concerted effort to market specifically to other stores. I’m very much the, “Hey, here are the links, buy it from wherever you choose” type.

Overall, I have to say I’m pleased with how my first year in indie publishing has gone. I haven’t had the breakout success I would have loved (hell, wouldn’t we ALL love that?), but I have had steady success and my sales have become fairly predictable, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. My revenue from last year alone placed me very firmly as a mid-list author, and that’s not a bad thing (if you want a funnier way of looking at author classifications, check out Larry Correia’s The Official Alphabetical List of Author Success)

Looking forward, I have definite goals regarding all of these numbers. My release schedule this year unfortunately won’t be as packed as last year’s was, mostly due to me starting a new job in January, getting Phillip back on the transplant waiting list, and me struggling with depression and anxiety a little more than usual for a while there. And you know what? That’s okay. Dallas’ Most Eligible is going to be a good book, and I would rather get it to y’all when it’s ready rather than trying to rush it and put out a piece of crap. After that I’m moving on to my next series, which is a spin-off from the Devils Ranch Series. I also have a couple of ideas related to Big Girls Need Love Too that I’ve been tossing around in my head, I’m just not sure if I want to go there.

I am experimenting with KU now, and just enrolled Heavenly Bodies in it since it really hasn’t been selling at all, so I figured, why not? One of the great things about indie publishing is that if something isn’t working we can experiment. We can make changes quickly and on the fly, and that’s an awesome, awesome thing.

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