One year ago I made two very risky decisions. First, I decided to turn down multiple offers on my manuscript from traditional publishers and publish it myself instead. Second, I openly blogged about that decision and the subsequent short-term results.
To say my life has changed in the past year is an understatement. I’m now considering what I thought would be out of my reach for many years—becoming a full time writer and supporting my family on that income alone. Had I chosen to traditionally publish this trilogy, this would not be true, not this year, at least. Perhaps in the long term.
It seems like a dream—an overnight sensation decades in the making. For years and years I wrote only for my own enjoyment, to explore worlds, characters and stories and share those with my friends. It took me a long time to realize that people outside of my inner circle might enjoy the stories too. And they have. All gratitude to my readers. Without them, none of this would be possible.
Below is a screenshot from an email of one of the offers from a Big 5 publisher. There is no identifying information here, but I thought it would be interesting to include this, especially the bonus structure based on the sales they expected the book to make in its first year.
Book one would have been published last month sometime. Books two and three would have been published in 2015, so I would still be waiting on this money below. And it’s unsure how close I could have come to this bonus structure had I gone the traditional route.
And as a way to compare, here are my actual sales numbers for the first year, across three books, the same trilogy I would have sold to a Big 5 publisher in other circumstances.
My Stats For The First Year As A Self-Published Author:
Date I hit the gross $120,000 advance amount: October 29 (3rd day of sales for Book 3)
Total Number of Books sold from 12/5/13 to 12/4/14: 80,313
Total Number of copies of At Any Price (released officially 12/9/13) sold: 50,011
Total Number of copies of At Any Turn (released 4/30/14) sold: 19,871
Total Number of copies of At Any Moment (released 10/27/14) sold: 10,431
**Note: These numbers are for individual ebook sales only and do not include boxed sets or print copies.
Some Things I’ve learned About The Biz
- The 99 cent price point is a powerful tool and can be used judiciously to push your other books. I’m not convinced that it is worthwhile or productive to launch a new book at 99 cents, though I see authors do it all the time.
- Chasing rank is futile and this seems to be a big motivator for authors to go super cheap on their books. Again, rank is not the end-all be all of visibility. Whether you’re at 200 or 1,000, as long as you are showing up on the Hot New Release lists and even the top 100 in your category, your sales will be good. Spiking high for a brief amount of time is not going to help you maintain visibility in the long run.
- You need to have ice water in your veins and be willing to set aside emotions to look at your work as a business in a rational, calm way. Avoid impulsive, drastic moves based on the heat of the moment.
- Set up your strategy ahead of time using the aforementioned calm rationality. Stick with it even when your palms get sweaty and you get a little nervous. But also…be prepared to be flexible.
- Set up a long term plan and avoid making overarching decisions (such as distribution) based on getting short term gains over the long term benefits.
- Learn from other authors: Watch what they do and the results they get and don’t be afraid to ask why they are doing something a certain way. But, avoid the danger of comparing yourself to them.
- It takes time to get traction at the non-Amazon vendors. Be patient and try to connect with those vendors by setting up marketing plans for your new releases. It took me months to get traction on iBooks but now that I have it, it is so worth it!
- Always tweak and fine tune your process to make it better. Never settle for status quo.
- Take advantage of cross promotion opportunities (e.g. multi-author box sets, themed multiple author promotions on sales, multi-author parties on social media, etc.)
- Be adventurous and willing to fail if it doesn’t work out.
- Always be introspective and evaluate what isn’t working, even if it’s craft. Especially if it’s craft.
- Something I heard at NINC really got me thinking. An editor from a traditional house made the comment, “I know you authors just really want to be read.” To that, astonished authors in the audience replied, “No, we want to be paid to be read.” Do not swallow the line that you should be in this just to be read. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be paid and wanting to earn a living at doing what you love.
- You do not need anyone’s validation but that of the readers. (And the vast majority of readers do not care how a book is published).
- Authors could see their colleagues as allies rather than competition. There is strength in teaming up, sharing information and collaborating!
- Work your hardest to put out the best quality product that you can. It will pay off in the long term.
- Keep your eye on the long tail. A book may have a less than spectacular launch but that doesn’t mean it’s failed because the first 30 days are lackluster. For example, my 2nd book sold many more copies in the month right before launching book 3 than it ever did in its launch month, 4 months earlier.
- You learn new stuff—about craft, about marketing, about publicity—with every book you put out.
- Just because another author did something that worked well for them does not mean it will work well for you. You could emulate another author in every way and have a completely different result. Things that work/don’t work for another author may not have the same results for you!
- There is no formula for success, so you aren’t going to necessarily succeed by mapping out someone else’s career.
- Don’t be afraid of higher price points. Sometimes they have different results than you think they will.
- Nothing can prepare you for sudden notoriety—and it’s not always a good thing.
- There is no good response to random or unfair judgments leveled against you by the Internets. It’s just best not to respond at all and have a good long drink with some close friends while you rant in private.
- Second book syndrome: It exists! Sometimes the writing of a second book can be fettered by the success of the first book. It’s not always easy to meet the readers’ expectations once you’ve set them with the first book and sometimes being adventurous in that area will get you angry readers (My second book was all from my hero’s point of view, which was a risky decision, and I broke up the couple. The third book featured some very controversial subject matter. Most readers responded well but some of the early readers of the first book resented the direction I took with the series. I still feel good about where it went but there’s no way you can do something like that without disappointing someone).
- Everyone has to make the best choices for themselves and their career.
It’s been an amazing, life-changing year and I’ve learned so much. The most important thing I’ve learned is how quickly things change and how much I need to keep on learning. Given this “hindsight is 20/20” look at the decision I’ve made, it’s clear that it was the right one for me. Thanks to all of those of you who believed in me and in this decision. You’ve been a wonderful support throughout this journey! And without the help of the indie community, I could never have had this amount of success.
To celebrate this achievement, At Any Price will be free for the first time ever, for a short time starting on December 9, exactly one year from its official release date.
Edit: The book is now free everywhere!