Since Tara Sparling and I published our post on using paid ads to promote your book yesterday, I’ve been reading the comments left on our blogs. At first, I was surprised by how many authors feel lost when it comes to ads. How many point out that there are no hard data about ads. It’s like we’re in uncharted waters.
Then, I realized they’re right. Too few of us have been willing to share their results with others, helping them avoid potential pitfalls and showing them safe waters.
As Tara so eloquently put it,
This is worse than standing in a betting shop, five minutes before a race. You have money in your pocket, but a limited amount of time in which to select a guaranteed winner, and the odds are not in your favour.
Well, this sucks. It could be the cough syrup talking (I’m down with a stupid cold), but it drives me mad. We’re in this together. Why are we not helping each other out more?
I can think of two possible reasons for this. I find both of them bogus.
Don’t be shy, give it a try
We read in the media the wonderful examples of successful authors like Hugh Howey or even J.K. Rowling. Well, there’s a reason why these people are on papers: they’re the exception to the rule! If all self-published authors benchmarked themselves against Amanda Hockings, nobody would ever have realistic expectations.
As a result, asking how many books we’ve sold this month is a taboo question. I hate taboos, so here’s my data: I sell between 100 and 300 books each month, plus whatever hand-to-hand sales I make, depending on how much I advertise. If I don’t advertise at all, I may sell as low as 30 books online. And when I started out, months would go by without a single sale.
I’m sure these numbers will rise with time, as I publish more books. You see, what the media seldom report, is that even Howey had to work over a decade to reach his current status. Which is, I’ve found, the case with pretty much every other “overnight success” discovered by the media: it takes years, perhaps even decades, to become an overnight success!
I’m tired of people feeling like failures because they are only selling a dozen book each month. Even worse, they give up after publishing only a book or two. Well, here’s the truth: On average, traditionally-published books sell about 100 copies. Not annually – ever! These are books published by publishers with bookstore clout, dedicated marketing teams and years of experience. So, with some 6,500 books published daily, I think you’re pretty awesome even if you’ve only sold a handful of books! You are a star, and should be celebrated accordingly – not judged because you haven’t got a private jet!
It’s not a zero-sum game
The second possible reason is a mistaken fear of losing out. The fear that, sharing our successes and failures will result in someone else getting rich. Well, I agree it’s a competitive world, but there are enough readers out there for all of us. With every new author, even more readers are born.
This is the side of the infamous “tsunami of crap” that no one seems to grasp. I’m reminded me of the gloomy predictions I periodically read about the end of the Internet being at hand, because so many people use it. Well, guess what? The people using it also bring their own resources into the web. As a result, the Internet is still growing. The same is true of books.
You don’t believe me? Then ask yourself: When were you reading more: before or after you started writing? And we’re not the only ones. Since I started writing, my wife, parents and a bunch of friends interested in my books started reading more, too.
So, never think of this as a zero-sum game! We all win and we all lose together – your loss is not my gain. If you lose, so do I. Conversely, if you win, so do I. This is particularly true of Indie authors. If a reader picks an Indie book and loves it, they will pick another – possibly yours. If, however, they hate it, your book will be reduced to “just another Indie book.” They won’t glance at it twice.
The only thing we achieve by hiding our data and refusing to help out others, is to hinder each other’s efforts. There’s another side, too: I have placed ads that covered their cost, and ads that haven’t. Wouldn’t you want to reward those businessmen that try to gather quality readers? This will only create a virtuous circle that will help us all.
My call to arms
I hope some day to make a living out of my writing, but could be years away from that. Until I do, I am sharing every move I make and everything I find out. We’re all going through uncharted waters. The least we can do is help each other. I’m not one for a soap box, but I believe this is a worthy cause.
If you wish to help me, please send me your precious data. Where did you advertise, how much did it cost you and how many books did you sell as a result?
I’m particularly interested in your failures. I promise, I’m the last person to judge. I’ve run promos that resulted in zero sales. I paid $50 for the privilege of having my banner on the main page of Amazon’s Kindle forum – a banner that resulted in no sales whatsoever. Isn’t it equally important to know of my failures, so you can spend your limited budget wisely?
I will use this data to inform you of the best ways to invest your precious, limited advertising budgets. Also, I promise to share my own sales and ad results with you.
You may think that it matters little if you spent $10 on BKnights and sold 5 copies. Yet, this is exactly the kind of data we need. This blog alone is followed by over 1,000 people. With your help, we can reach thousands more – just share, reblog and share some more.
So, please share with me below your results. Share this post with your friends and on social media. Let’s help each other navigate these treacherous waters and make sure we don’t spend another dime in vain!
Karen Inglis, an indie kid lit author in the UK, is unbelievably honest and generous with her numbers, experiences, and strategies. I discovered her blog early in my writing journey, and I was grateful to learn from her stories of the indie road.
Followed! Many thanks for the tip 🙂
She sets an amazing example for indie authors!
This is a great idea. I find some ads work while others are expensive and do nothing. It’s a bewildering mishmash out there and authors need to find out what works so they can spend their money wisely. The ads do make a difference. Bookbub is hard for a new author to get on and is now very expensive. Having a series has helped. I showed you one of my most recent campaign results and look forward to the results of other authors.
Thanks! I’ll post the results in May, as I’m almost done collecting data 🙂
Reblogged this on Thoughts by Mello-Elo.
Thank you Nicholas for sharing your experiences. Since I’m still on the threshold/ scared about taking the next step! I had one children’s book published traditionally,’Lily’s Wish’, which is about to be sold out. ( only 500 printed, I think). Getting the second printed proves much harder. I love writing stories, but I would like to find someone to do the rest, all the difficult steps. I guess I shall just have to become more dedicated and get over my fear, and do it myself. It is good to read your blog and to see things are gradually gaining momentum for you. You are a wonderful inspiration, so thank you for sharing on your blog. <3
Thank you so much for your kind words, they mean the world to me 🙂
All of us dream of doing nothing but writing, but it’s getting increasingly hard to do so. Hopefully, my small contribution will make it easier. 🙂
Well, I filled in one of your questionnaires, sort of. I had no data to hand because I’m in bed ill and only on my iPad. What I do know about my sales is that most of them come from my paperbacks and I have no idea how to check the sales numbers for them until a royalty statement comes in.
Like Helenj0303 commented above, I also did a library talk last year, and am hoping to do another in April or May. I write Contemporary Fiction and the talk was to a reading groups and a writing group. They had come together for my talk. I sold twenty copies afterwards and was thrilled to bits.
The Kindle books sell a few a month at most, I think. Will look that up when able to and happily let you know.
This is a great idea of yours to collate data and help us all to find the best way to advertise our indie books. I have never paid for advertising other than to have cards printed to hand out here and there. No idea how many sales result. A few, I believe.
Oh, and I have had a trailer made for my latest book, but it hasn’t been out long and I need to advertise the trailer in order to advertise the book
Thank you so much for sharing 🙂
If your books are on Amazon, you can check through kdp.amazon.com (just log in using your Amazon login and password). You then click “Reports” and have all the sales data you need 🙂
Hope you feel better soon!
Nicholas, thanks for tackling this subject. I’m very interested in what you learn. I feel very much like a deer in the advertising headlights. I’ve not yet ventured there, and my sales figures reflect that. Sales ebb and flow, but average 17 a month. I’d love to improve that. Hope you feel better soon.
I’ll be sure to share anything I find out! I am already getting all sorts of amazing feedback from people, from a romance author who paid Romance Studio $30 for what they call “Media Blitz” and sold 200 copies at full price, to someone who spent $300 on Riffle /Exposure4all/ Caduceus Magazine display
and sold no copies at all! So, this is really exciting. 🙂
Nicholas, thank you for this informative post. You know I’m far from being a published author, however when I get there, I’ll need to know about ads, marketing & sales. Sorry to hear you have a head cold. Suggest grandma’s remedy, chicken soup! Christine
I hope to have collated all sorts of fascinating insights by then 🙂
Electra’s made me minestrone, and that seems to have worked, as I’m much better today. Thank you! 🙂
I think this is a great idea, Nicholas. I’ve been toying with the idea of contacting other authors at different stages of their career and asking they share their last year’s sales, anonymously if necessary, just to give those authors starting out a truer reflection of what to expect. It’s a sensitive subject (sharing sales data for authors generates feelings akin to walking on stage naked) but so valuable to others, so well done on sharing yours.
Thanks! It’s a silly taboo. Granted, we’re but minnows in a large pond. But it’s silly to stress over how many smaller or bigger fish there’s out there. I, for one, have found the realization that there’s always going to be bigger fish than me, extremely liberating. The only comparison that matters is to my past self 🙂
I shared this across all my social media sites and reblogged.
Thank you so very, very much! 🙂
Always glad to help. 🙂 Have a wonderful day! Would love to have some of that sunshine. At least it’s not snowing again today.
How did you know it’s sunny today over here? 😀
your Facebook comment.
Oh, right! And I thought you’d gotten all psychic on me… 😀
Fingers crossed for an equally great response to your great idea, Nicholas. I’ll re-blog tomorrow because today is all clogged up with boring stuff like the day job. 😀
Lol – clients, who needs ’em, eh? 😀
Many thanks in advance! 🙂
*sigh. We need ’em, Nicholas… We do…
Reblogged this on BOOK CHAT.
I’ve never done any paid advertising, so I can’t offer any useful data.
My sales vary. At my best, around 300 books per month, but as the sheer volume of books keeps growing out there, it has declined so selling 50 a month is doing well. There are so many facets of why books sell or don’t sell and genre is a very poorly understood area.
Thank you for sharing your numbers! Even without the ad info, it helps break the numbers taboo 🙂
Reblogged this on Brainfluff and commented:
Isn’t this an awesome article? Mostly, I reblog and write for the readers among you – but I’m aware many of you are also writers and Indie writers at that… Thank you Nicholas! I shall certainly be sharing my data, certainly regarding promo and ad campaigns, when I launch my books on the unsuspecting public…
Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂
Questionnaire has been answered with a lengthy comment. February was an odd month for me, so I felt like I had to explain a few things. It’s tough when you don’t have a fresh book and already used up a lot of marketing venues. Even tougher when you realize your books don’t stay fresh for longer 2 months due to length of series and genre.
Whatever happened to Amanda Hocking? I remember she was really big news a few years ago, but then I never heard about her again.
No idea re. Amanda, but many thanks for the lengthy comment! 🙂
No problem. It’s really about how February is an infamously rough month unless you have a debut or can connect your book to Valentine’s Day. There are so many slow periods in this business that I wonder if it really is about consistent sales instead of quantity. At least people are still getting into the series and moving through it even if I don’t see triple digits at the end of the month, right?
Good for you for being so transparent! I hate that word ‘failure’. YOU haven’t failed, the book hasn’t produced YET. In my eyes if you’ve authored a book and had the guts to put yourself out there– you’ve already won because you’re way above the others who never do. Failure is never finishing the book, never submitting or publishing, whichever path you choose. Failure is not having the guts to show your work to the world, not your sales numbers. Every author, regardless of publishing path (and I’m not going to mention the crack about trad-pubbed authors. Watching you, Nicholas!) has achieved what most people only dream of. Be proud of that!
I love this comment so much, I’ll print it out and turn it into a poster or something 🙂
All true. Glad you enjoyed it. I thought it complemented your excellent post.
Hi Nicholas – your last few posts have got me thinking a lot about indie authors and some of the problems they have getting their books noticed. While I’m not an author – well I am pretty good at essay writing if some of my grades are an indication – I do know what grabs my attention and makes me buy a book in the first place.
Since I became an Amazon customer I have bought mostly Indie books – probably 90% of the books on my kindle are from Indie authors. I have to say there is a lot of raw talent out there and I am often gob-smacked at how good these authors are. One of the problems that I find is that not enough readers seem to be willing to write a review – I’ve seen some books that have been out for some months and still nobody has written a review. One of the things I try and do is to write a review of each and every book I read – it is one way to support an indie author and it only takes a few minutes. Even if I only give two stars to the author – usually because the book has not had a good editing or the writer may need to improve his writing skills – I will try and look for what has been good. My point is that your average customer needs to buy into writing reviews; the authors need to read the reviews and see what about their book has worked/not worked.
Secondly, maybe it’s time to form some sort of Indie collective where you can all help each other with advertising tips, writting tips, etc. Better to work together than fail – there is strength in been united. Lol, I know I’ve gone on a bit, but my reading passion has existed for a good 45 years now and I really believe people should have the chance to develop their talents 🙂
You’re an author’s best friend, and I wish more people were like you! You’re absolutely right, of course. Readers need to review and authors need to listen. As for the idea of a collective, there is a number of worthwhile and very helpful organizations and individuals with a focus at helping authors. The Rave Reviews Book Club, the Fantasy and Science Fiction Network, the Independent Authors’ Network are fine example of the former; Chris McMullen and Paul Martin of the SPShow of the latter. There are many, many more, of course. As far as I know, no one has asked to collect and collate data on ad results, though. So, I hope to be able to offer something back to the community in order to, as you so well put it, give people a chance to develop their talents. 🙂
Catherine, thank you for bringing up these good points. It’s so true that most customers do not write a review. They really can mean so much to the author for future success and to the customers looking for good reads. Thank you.
Hi Nicholas – I’ve not yet published as you know, though I’m just a week or so away from doing so. I have however been trying to drum up advance interest. My book is YA so I’ve been meeting with teen reading groups in my region to talk about it, plus printed up cards with the cover art and blurb on to hand out. All the groups so far have been really interested and want me to come back when published, so I’ll be interested to see how this translates into sales. I’ve done it through my regional library so the potential is to reach a lot of people, especially when I return with copies to hand out. I’ve spent about £30 getting the cards done and the talks cost nothing, so I’ll let you know. As for advertising, I’ll be very interested to see what works and what doesn’t, as of course I will be considering that as well.
PS I’m enjoying Rise of the Prince very much so far! Hope you feel better soon 🙂
Thanks for sharing! That’s an excellent idea for promotion – meeting up with interested groups and doing so in person. And thank you for reading Rise. I’m so glad you like it! 🙂
You’re very welcome 🙂 And the talks were quite easy to organise – I simply approached the library’s regional co-ordinator for young people and she was very open to the idea of me coming in to speak about my writing. At one library they’d even made a welcome sign and had pulled books I’d recommended from my blog for us to discuss, so it was a really nice boost to see how engaged they all were already.
What a lovely thing to do! So, those librarians were already following your blog? Did you meet them through that?
I know, it was so nice! My daughter did a reading challenge over the summer holidays and, when she went to pick up her certificate, I spoke the the person running the event and she turned out to be the Regional Library Co-ordinator. I told her I was a local author, writing a YA book that I hoped to publish soon and that I had a blog. She got very excited, took my details (including the blog address) and it all went from there. So it was something of a lucky break, but I think there’s a potential opportunity there for all of us as writers, to approach reading groups or book clubs in our area.
Very inspirational! Thanks for sharing 🙂
You’re very welcome 🙂
Nicholas, I admire you for sharing these numbers, because it is taboo territory. I think it goes something like this: an author puts out their sales numbers and any author who has sold less than that suddenly feels their numbers are indicative of failure and keeps them secret. As for paid advertising, I’ve never bought any so can’t contribute anything useful in that area. My strategy, such as it is, has been to offer the first book of my series of 4 for free. A couple of years ago that book was downloaded thousands of times and there were enough follow-up sales of the other books to make me happy. When I reissued the books (we’re talking ebooks here all along) with new cover images, I changed the price of the first one from free to 0.99 and had fairly good sales for a few months. Then they tapered off, so after 8 months or so I went back to free. The book had paid for its new cover by then so I was OK with that. Everyone has a different way of promoting their books (or not!) and it’s great when those who achieve success share their experiences. Thanks again for doing this.
Thank you so much for sharing this, Audrey! I’ve been wondering about free books and their contribution to a series’ success, so that gives us another great idea for promotion. 🙂