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!
Absolutely amazing post!!! Congrats on your success, and wow, what great advice. Some of these are things I still struggle with after more than 4 years self-publishing, so good job learning them in just one year. It’s refreshing to see the actual numbers and know what’s possible. Thank you so much for sharing in such an honest, straight-forward way.
Thank you, Sarra! I’m glad you thought the advice useful. I know that I’m a baby author compared to you so I’m glad there was something there for you, or just a reminder at any rate 🙂 And these are things I still have to remind myself every single day, too…I’m still learning !
I am so proud of you Brenna! You have truly blossomed. I wish you continued success with your writing.
Laurel Ann, you were one of the very first outside of my little inner circle who really believed in my writing and included my story in your wonderful anthology. I’ll always be so grateful for that amazing chance you gave me and I so appreciate your encouragement and support <3
🙂 Brenna,you are a fantastic writer and all your readers are so appreciative of your hard work and dedication. I for one can’t imagine not having books two and three until next year. I love these books and have loved Adam and Mia. I’m sure your family is so proud of you, as they should be. I look forward to this next year and can’t wait to read what you have planned.
Tina <3 An amazing reader who was kind enough to reach out to me and share your own amazing story. Thank you so much. I'm so glad you're happy that you got the books faster 🙂 I'm more than happy to bring them to you this way. When it comes down to it, it's not about getting my book on a shelf somewhere, it's about people reading and loving the stories, connecting directly with the readers.
I can’t believe it’s been a year! It’s been quite a ride, huh? Congrats!
Minx, doll…one of my self-publishing super-heroines. I will ALWAYS be grateful for your support, kindness, openness, being one helluva fantastic beta reader and an all-around beautiful person on the outside and on the inside. <3 Love you!!! xoxo
Brenna, you deserve every bit of success and recognition you’ve achieved with this trilogy! You’re an incredible storyteller, a giving author, and a role model for taking control of your publishing career. I can’t wait to see what you do next.
Josey!! Thank you so much for your kind words and for your help and support. You are terrific and you’ve put a huge smile on my face for the rest of the week! 😀
So proud of you, Breanna. Glad you didn’t let a group of certain naysayers take you down. You came out swinging and proved once again that self-publishing can in fact be a viable option for those willing to take the risk, who WANT to take that risk. You know, as well as I do, that not everybody wants to try their hand at Self Pubbing.
There is nothing wrong with Traditional publishing, if that’s what you want and if you know just how long it can take to get those books out.
You did what was right for you, what you felt was right for you, and what proved to be right for you. Well done, friend. Well done.
PS. I just finished reading the first book a few weeks ago. Loved it. Gonna be checking out the rest for Christmas for myself.
Thanks, Angel! You’ve been a great encouragement since practically the very beginning. Your support has meant a lot to me 🙂 SO glad you enjoyed AT ANY PRICE <3
Brenna, thank you so much for this post! And congratulations on the success you’ve had – and on the risks you’ve taken. I remember following your story a year ago, and I remember a lot of the backlash you got. It’s not easy to do what you did, and I really admire your faith in your work and your potential — I want to have that faith in myself too! So this is just very inspiring and I’m so happy for you. Here’s to another great year. 🙂
Diana, always glad to pay it forward and share in return for all the great knowledge I gleaned from other, more experience authors. It’s been a wild ride but a really great one, too. Just remember this when you are writing up your own success story ! 😉
A big huge congratulations on the success you worked so hard to EARN for yourself by yourself. I think the worst part about traditional publishing is the inflexibility of the scheduling. Knowing when to make those bumps and tweaks and pacing your releases in a useful way is like jumping rope, the author has to have the ability to decide and make changes on the turn of a dime in order to succeed.
Yes, Bonnie, that flexibility is really the indie author’s strength. We’re definitely more maneuverable. Thank you for the congratulations.
Dude, Brenna. This whole post is awesome. I can’t believe it’s been a year for you. It’s been a crazy whirlwind of a year for me too, and I’m glad you were around for it.
Congrats, lady! <3
awww, Suzan, thank you! What’s been amazing is the opportunities to meet and collaborate with awesome people like you!! xoxo
Thanks for this. I help mostly self-publishing authors navigate through the options for getting into print, including the traditional agent/publisher model, which some still choose, based on their circumstances. As I am neither a traditionally published author nor a registered agent, what I say about the process, though credible, doesn’t have quite the punch that this blog does. Love the “what I’ve learned part, too.” Good balance of author and businessperson.
So glad you found the post useful! Learning the business has been a very fascinating, if time-consuming, part of this year. I’ve spent so many years working on craft that learning the business was a refreshing change.
SQUEEE!!! So happy for you! So proud of you!!! I knew you would do great.
“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.”
I agreed with just about everything you said, but THIS ^^^^^^ hit the nail on the head!
Thank you, Bev, for all your encouragement and support from the very beginning! You were one of the very first to read AT ANY PRICE and you told all your friends about it. I am so grateful! <3 And yes, that comment was a shocker, wasn't it? Makes me wonder how long authors have been afraid to believe they deserve to make a living from their writing.
Congrats on all your success! Great post! Wishing you many more positive things in your writing career! 😀
Thank you, Elisabeth! You and I started this crazy roller coaster at almost the same time! I know it’s been a great year for you, too. 😀
Holy Moses, those are some great numbers! Congratulations! What you sold in a year is what I hope to sell in a lifetime 🙂 I have learned (the hard way) that what works for one author does not work for another.
“No, we want to be paid to be read.” I wish more people would say this. I feel like the whole party line of “we’re in it to be read” is what kicks us in the ass, especially considering pirating, low royalties, and advances. I wish more people would acknowledge that we deserve to be paid for what we do. It’s work, and it’s hard! Heck, I don’t even make minimum wage.
Thanks for a great post, Brenna!
Stephanie, you have the business sense and marketing wherewithal to get where you want to go. I’m certain of that! I wish you all the best of luck on your journey.
Thanks for this Brenna. It takes a lot of guts to turn down traditional publishing and to be up front about what you’ve earned and learned. The one thing I’d caution so many new self publishers about however, is that your results are in the top 5% or less of indies out there. I think this whenever I see the “success” stories that are posted about superstar indies. I firmly believe that indie publishing is fast becoming the home of the Midlist Author, and I don’t use that term disparagingly in any way. I consider myself Midlist and I’m super proud of that. It’s something that deserves a hell of a lot more kudos than it gets. However, I think people need to remain aware that earning a six figure income off of indie publishing is very unlikely for most writers, and especially during the first year. It’s even more unlikely in traditional publishing, so I’m not positing that as the alternative, I just can’t ever emphasize to people enough that it’s super hard work, and a good portion of luck, and you have to really be willing to commit everything to it and be in a position where you can withstand the bad times. Because there are and will be bad times. It’s not a stable source of income, nor one that’s completely in your control. But, ultimately, indie publishing is the best way I’ve found to earn decent money doing what I love on my terms, and for me anyway, that’s been worth the rest.
Selena, thank you for your thoughtful comment. You are absolutely right that no author should look at my results and expect the same. My purpose in posting my story here was not to deliver a promise like that but to show that pound for pound, in this instance it made far more sense for me to self publish this book than it would have been to traditionally publish that same book. It was an apples to apples comparison. It’s just as easy to say “If you go on submission with an NA romance you will get a six figure offer.” Even on the traditional side, all things are not equal. It’s all a mixture of luck, for-knowledge, business sense, and having a good book in a hot genre.
My opinion is that indie mid-listers do better financially than their traditionally published counterparts. I hope my results do not discourage other authors in any way or think less of their own sales numbers and I hope that is not the case! You should be proud of your accomplishments–all authors should. So many people only dream about finishing a book and yet published authors have theirs out in the world being read by complete strangers. It’s an amazing thing and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.
Thanks for sharing your experience and all you’ve learned.
hi Janni! So glad you enjoyed the post. Best wishes to you!
Yay, you, for having the courage to jump into the indie pool! And for publicly putting your journey out there. I know you gotten some harsh pushback from some quarters, and I think you’ve taken it all with grace and good will. So woot! on the journey so far, and the amazingness yet to come. 😛
Anthea <3 thank you. You've always been so supportive and kind! I'm so glad to have the opportunity to meet you in person and learn from your experience. You are definitely one of those authors I look up to in terms of craft and level-headed business sense! Thanks for all you do.
Brenna, Such an astounding post–putting the numbers and dollars out there so the rest of us can see what can be done. You stepped out with faith in yourself and your talent a year ago, and here you are, dancing the happy dance.
Just what I needed to see this morning, girlfriend!
Thanks Paula. It helped to know that, in turning down the auction offers, I did have a very marketable book (or at least one that was perceived as marketable by the Big 5). But it did take a lot of faith to hold firm to the belief that keeping my rights and not having to submit to non-competes and auction clauses and surrendering all control of my book once I signed on the dotted line would be worth it!
Wonderful post! Thanks so much for sharing, and HUGE congrats to you!
Thank you so much Ellis! You’re a sweetheart 🙂
Thank you so much for this detailed, candid post. As a newbie who plans to finally take the indie plunge next year, I am so appreciative of your generosity in sharing the wisdom you’ve gained over the past year.
hi Reese. I’m so glad you found some use in the post. This is my “pay it forward” moment and it makes me feel good to be able to do it. I wish you all the best of luck in your journey!
You know what? I would have taken the trad deal. I don’t know how you found the courage to turn that down. My point, and I do have one, is that it takes huge guts and entrepreneurial zeal as well as hard, hard work to succeed in self publishing. Way to go, Brenna. What an amazing year you’ve had!
Here’s to many more. 😛
Thank you, Nancy. It was by no means an easy choice! I was an emotional wreck during that time but I knew it made the best sense for me. I’ve got the 3 novels under my belt and no non-compete to slow me down to put out more. I hope to have 5 novels out in the time that the trad. deal would have allowed me (because of the non compete) to get out 3, plus a far higher royalty rate on every single ebook. It just made sound business sense! And I did have to summon up some of that ice water for my veins 🙂
Brenna- I am so happy for you! And glad you stuck to writing your stories as you wanted to write them. Your courage and your sharing and kindness is a boon to all of us as we find our way on this challenging journey. Congratulations! Best, Pamela
Thank you, Pamela. Glad you found inspiration in the post!
Awesome, Brenna! So happy see this post and your fantastic results. Great job. You rock.
Deanna, another one of my self-publishing super-heroines dropping in to say hi!!! Yay! Thanks for all the wonderful advice and encouragement. I was so happy to get to meet you this summer!!! Hugs.
I’m so proud of you. You took a big risk, jumped off the cliff and FLEW. I’m so glad you got your wings, girl!
Debra, thanks for being there for me since the beginning. A wiser, more giving, caring person I do not know. You’ve been an amazing example for me. xoxo
Brenna! I am so glad this popped up in my FB feed tonight. 🙂 I am so incredibly thrilled for you. I can’t wait to see what your Year Two post looks like!
And that NINC quote? LAWD. There should be a Henry Hill/Goodfellas GIF for that one…
Roxie! Yet another super-heroine come to say hello! I’ve been so glad to be able to meet you this year and hang out. You’re an adorable person with a work ethic beyond what I’ve ever seen in a fellow author. And all for the best of reasons. Yes, you missed that little NINC gem on the first day…aren’t you sad? LOL 😉 Hope to be able to hang out with you again soon!
While there are no magic bullets to making it as a writer of any type, one thing I noticed between the first post and this one…
… you seem to have a solid understanding that this is a business first and foremost.
Excellent job Breanna, here’s to the next 25 years of a solid writing career. You deserve it.
I eat, sleep, dream and breathe the business these days! The wonderful thing is that the information is so freely given and shared and it’s out there for the taking. I’ve applied concepts I’ve learned from other authors, other publishers and other industry folks. It’s been hard work but it’s also a lot of fun!
Wow! That must have been quite a ride for the past year since you made the dcision, congratulation on your success.
I was wondering what you meant by ‘avoid making overarching decisions (such as distribution) based on getting short term gains over the long term benefits.
Hi G.M. What I meant about the distribution decisions was basically based on the decision to pull books from other vendors in order to go “exclusive” with a certain vendor to enjoy some short term benefits that are proving they were VERY short term. It seemed to me a very precipitous decision. Indie authors have much more flexibility and adaptability but sometimes that can be as much as curse as an asset.
Thank you for your encouraging post. As an indie, I understand and appreciate the enormous amount of work that goes into self-publishing. It can be overwhelming, but whenever I read of another successful indie writer who is making it without having to sacrifice control over their work, I get energized about someday achieving my own publishing goals.
Thanks again for re-awakening us to the possibilities that are out there for those willing to work hard enough to turn them into realities.
Yes, no one should ever deny that self publishing is hard work. It really is not for the faint of heart, that is true! Good luck to you on your journey!
Brenna, you are the best. Congrats on all your success. So awesome getting to know you in person at NINC.
Hugh! It’s a huge compliment to be called “the best” coming from you 🙂 It was wonderful to meet you at both RWA and NINC. You are every bit as nice and open in person as you are online. Thanks for being an inspiration!
Love the “ice water in your veins” metaphor. So true!! Actually, the whole advice section about the “biz” applies and I needed to read that today. Thank you.
Congratulations on all your success, but mostly? for being brave enough to put it all out there and give yourself permission to pursue it. Nicely done!
Thank you, Katherine! Glad you found the post useful 🙂 Good luck to you on your own journey.
Many congrats on your success, Brenna, and thanks for sharing all the deets 🙂
Thank you, Maia!
Love what you say here. Continued success!
I hope other writers (the ones obsessed with trad publishing)
wake up before they get trapped & locked in––without a way
Thanks Kirk! Glad you gleaned something from the post! All the best.
Thank you so much for sharing your journey, Brenna. Your post reminded me again how wonderfully adventurous this indie path can be. I wish you all the best for the future.
The path is wonderfully adventurous, both scary and exhilarating at the same time. The more you learn the more you realize how much you need to keep learning!
Congrats! What an uplifting story! I love reading about success stories like yours!
I would love to hear more about what you did to break into ibooks. It’s been a tough nut to crack for a lot of us (in fact, I’m leading a marketing project with several authros focused solely on expanding our sales on that platform).
hey Michelle, a lot of it had to do with cross-promo. The September box set promotion. Also connecting with iBooks reps and conferences, setting up pre-orders on iBooks and the big one that I’ve heard works really well: perma free for the first in the series. 🙂
Congrats on all your success.
I noticed your book is NOT free. It’s 99 cents and it’s only 9 o’clock on December 9th. Shouldn’t it be free for at least one full day???
The book is free everywhere but Amazon. It’s of my control right now. As soon as the price change does go through, it will remain free for a few weeks. I have emails in to KDP and just have to wait for them to respond.
The book is now free at all vendors.
Brenna, congratulations on all you’ve achieved so far. I’m impressed with your “ice water in the veins” business sense. Thank you so much for sharing what you’ve learned. Very inspiring.
Thanks for the vote of confidence, Heidi! Appreciate it. Glad you liked the post.
If you decide to make Book 1 Perma-free, here’s how to do it: http://www.kboards.com/index.php?topic=176572.0 While I cannot guarantee that’s the best way to go for you, if you decide to write more in the same series, making the first one free can be a solid choice.
Thanks for the tip! I did do that earlier and it is now free. I appreciate it. And depending on the results of this free run, it may very well be permanent or long term. I keep lots of data on things like this so I’ll evaluate its effectiveness on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis. 🙂
Great! Now, make sure it’s available in all the English-speaking markets: UK, Canada, and Australia. It took me months before I realized they hadn’t price matched the Aussie market. 🙄 A quick email to customer service got results for me.
Thanks! Got it. The book quickly soared into the top 50 of the free store. I’m so amazed! 🙂
It’s always nice to see success from fellow authors and the advice given here is simply gold. I wish you continued success as I strive to achieve a fraction of what you’ve accomplished.
All the best
Thanks Carl. I’m glad your takeaway from the post was worthwhile 🙂 All the best to you as well! Happy Holidays!
Thank you for sharing both an offer you turned down, and your indie numbers. Congratulations! You bet on yourself and won big time. 😀 I really enjoyed Skyping with you in the beginning of all this. I knew then and we all know now, you made the right choice!!
Thanks Shoshanna! It’s been great getting to know you. Look forward to chatting with you again sometime! Hope you are loving your new home. All best!
First, congrats on all of the success. Secondly, thank you for being so open and honest with your results. Giving us real time numbers is amazing, it really helps illustrate the reality of being a professional writer.
Thanks and good luck, going forward!
Thanks Kelly. Glad you found the post useful! All best to you on your journey 🙂
Excellent post. I have chosen the same route. My work is non-fiction. Fingers crossed. I’d love to know your marketing plan and how you launched! Feel free to private message me, as I’d love to really know how you approached your launches and releases! 🙂
Hey Lisa, glad you enjoyed the post. Congrats on your decision to self publish. My launch was modeled after what other authors were doing in my genre, mainly contacting bloggers and other reviewers who loved books in my genre an distributing as many advance review copies as I could. Marketing and launch for a non fic title would, I imagine, be completely different and depend upon author platform. If I were you, I’d contact authors who write books similar to yours or watch them on the charts and at good reads and observe what their covers look like, their pricing strategies and what their social media platform looks like. Spend a lot of time on the Amazon top 100 charts in your categories to figure out what’s selling and what’s not. Best of luck to you in your journey!
Congrats Brenna on your success. I haven’t read your books but I’ve followed you on Self Publishing Round Table. I loved each interview you gave plus the great advise. I’m so happy to see that SPRT is back and that you will be their guest speaker. My TBR is long but I can’t wait to devour your books. Again, Congrats on you success and I wish you so much more.