How many self-published books sold to date

Posted on June 30, 2011 (Subscribe to Blog)

I've always been interested to know how many books self-published authors are selling. I'm nosy like that. We all know that big name authors sell a bazillion copies of every title, but most self-published "Indie" authors don't sell more than a handful. It's true! So I often browse looking for facts and figures, and there are quite a few authors who are happy to blog about their endeavors and reveal everything, however meager (or spectacular!) their sales might seem. I enjoy reading those blogs. Some authors are doing much worse than I am, which makes me feel good about myself, and then there are those who sell hundreds of books a day, which makes me shake my head in wonder.

So I decided to post my own sales figures. I'm often asked how many I've sold, and I always dodge the question because it's sort of like being asked what my salary is; it just seems like it should be private information. Also, if I say to someone I've sold x amount and he's expecting a much higher figure, he might laugh at me. Or, if he's expecting a much lower figure, then it might seem like I'm bragging. Whether my sales are good or not partly depends on your expectations... but, being completely objective about it, it's safe to say that I'm doing better than some and not as good as others!

SALES FOR ALL THREE BOOKS IN THE ISLAND OF FOG SERIES

These days my books are in print as well as available on Kindle and Nook, but initially I sold only printed editions. Over time, the electronic editions have (slowly) taken over as the majority. But here are the figures to date...

483 printed editions
320 electronics editions:
===================
803 total

Or, going by the different titles regardless of whether they're printed or electronic, the results are pretty much what I'd expect in that the first book sells a lot more than the other two:

456 Island of Fog
196 Labyrinth of Fire
151 Mountain of Whispers
===================
803 total

What should I make of this? I'd prefer to see an equal number of books sold, meaning that those who bought the first book liked it enough to buy the other two. But in reality that doesn't happen. Even those who liked it might not have gotten around to buying the others, or they can't afford them. Still, I can't escape the fact that there are bound to be those who didn't like it and didn't want to buy the others. I try not to think too hard about this, though, and I tell myself that I have several incomplete series on my bookshelf (often the first book only) just because I haven't got as far as buying the others yet.

I should add that, in addition to the above figures, I've "given away" 30-50 books (reviewers, swapsies, various agents, managers and publishers, and so on. I've also got all three books in the local public libraries, and in school libraries as well, and I know they're checked out constantly (from what I've been told) – hopefully by lots of different readers rather than one who hasn't returned them!

PRINTED VS. ELECTRONIC

I've sold more printed editions personally (signed and shipped from my home) than on Amazon. But electronic sales are taking over, and June in particular was a strangely exciting month for me. Recently I've been selling 15-30 Kindle books a month (in the US and UK), but in June I sold 64. Why? What happened? There was a big jump about a week ago, where I sold 10 overnight and then another 10 over the next few nights, and so on... but I can't figure out why. My Google Analytics reveal no sudden noteworthy spikes, so should I assume word-of-mouth recommendation on some forums somewhere? Or just coincidence? Meanwhile, Nook sales show a similar but less pronounced jump, from around 10-15 a month to 29 in June.

I'm not complaining, but this is the problem with Kindle and Nook – all you see are numbers, and there's no way to figure out for sure what causes these numbers to rise and fall. At the beginning of May I dropped the price of the electronic Island of Fog from $2.99 to just $0.99, which is fairly standard. I'd heard that books then end up on "under a dollar" listings and sales typically increase. Well, I didn't notice the slightest difference, unless this sudden spike halfway through June was something to do with that.

Incidentally, of June's 64 Kindle sales, 58 were Island of Fog. I'm hoping that the readers will go on to buy the other two books once they're finished! Then I'll make some money, because those sell at $4.99 each (of which I get 70%).

MAKING PROFIT, OR NOT

I've read many reports of self-published authors who spend thousands of dollars setting up their books. Some of them earn their money back, and some don't. Most would agree that the money isn't really important. It's true – obviously we all want to be rich, but that's only going to happen if we "get lucky" and start selling hundreds a day when word-of-mouth spreads like wildfire across the internet. In the meantime we Indie authors know (or should know) that we just need to get our books out there and never mind about making profit.

That said, making profit is important to me in the sense that I'm able to justify spending my time writing when I should be working. Kindle and Nook pay me money each month (June's total electronic earnings are around $75, for example) and this is money earned while not doing anything whatsoever to promote my books (apart from occasional blog posts). Ongoing monthly residual income of ANY amount is good, right?

Initially I spent $750 on an editor for Island of Fog. It was a big leap for me, but worth it. I never paid for an editor again because my brother does it for me now (he's a trained proof reader) so really the only expenses are minor fees here and there, plus stocks of books for myself. Oh, and I bought two huge banners for outdoors "event booths" at $108 a couple of years ago. But even including all these expenses, plus shipping materials and so on, to date I'm $785 in profit. Not that I really "see" that money; it's just lost in everything else, and I only have a spreadsheet to tell me the profit exists at all. But it shows me that my efforts are reaping some small, excruciatingly slow rewards in the long term.

PROMOTION, OR LACK OF

Some authors pay money to promote their books. I don't. Sometimes paid promotion reaps huge sales, and sometimes it doesn't. I have neither the time nor the interest to get into that sort of thing. Most authors agree that it's best to "get involved" with social networks and especially Kindle forums, but again, I have neither the time nor the interest. If it was as simple as posting a "Buy My Book" message, I'd do it. But it's not. You have to introduce yourself, sidle in and mingle, make small talk, add to discussions, gain respect and generally become part of the community before anyone will bother looking at your books. But it's not for me; I can't "get involved" when I really just have one ulterior motive.

So I stick to occasional blog posts. I may never sell hundreds of copies a day and become one of those self-published bestselling successes you read about in the news. But I'm doing what I like doing and I never feel like it's a chore. If it becomes a chore to write and promote your own books, then what's the point?

Comment by ROGER ESCHBACHER on Thursday, June 30, 2011...

Great post! Thanks for sharing the info, Keith. Very eye-opening in a "I had no idea at all" kind of way.

Comment by BRIAN B on Thursday, June 30, 2011...

Wow Keith, is that all? This was my first impression. I guess upon reflection that those sales figures make sense. Well, the Universe is out of alignment! Hey, the upshot is we all own a little piece of excellence in a world of mediocrity. It makes it all the more special. I have no doubt that in years to come, this rolling stone will become a marketing snowball and well deserved success will come on chariots of gold. Looking forward to #4 with relish!

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Thursday, June 30, 2011...

Thanks, Roger — and yes, Brian, that's all! There are a lot of blogs and articles on this matter, for instance this one which states, "if a self-published writer can build a fan base of a few hundred rabid fans, this is in itself remarkable," because "selling thousands of books is a nearly-impossible anomaly." This is pretty much the impression I get across the board, although there are exceptions.

More commonly, self-published authors sell to "pocket audiences," which consist of family and friends. I feel like I've gone beyond that, but I'm nowhere near the "hundreds a day" sales that some authors seem to manage.

I like the last paragraph of the article in the link above:

"My experience with self-publishing was putting a book out a book through Lulu. It got reviewed by Poddy Mouth and from there was mentioned in Entertainment Weekly. From that I got a proposal from a top-flight literary agent, without ever having to query. A confession: the book has only sold a few hundred copies. Case in point how difficult it is to sell a self-published novel. Poddy Mouth — the biggest POD reviewer at the time — basically implored people to buy the book, but not a lot of people did. That was pretty clear evidence to me just how hard it is to sell books via online reviews. But overall releasing the book myself was an enormously positive experience and one Iím looking forward to doing again.

Comment by STEVEN M on Thursday, June 30, 2011...

Really interesting post, Keith. Tracking your progress as an indie-author is fascinating! Of course everything is relative, but yet I think that 803 is a VERY respectable number of copies sold, and I'm sure that number is going to continue growing.

Do you think that the total figure would be as large if you didn't offer ebooks? That is to say, do you credit the technology as aiding an increase in sales figures which result solely from the fact that they are available in digital format?

Comment by SHANDA on Friday, July 1, 2011...

And, you actually have more readers than books sold. For example, I've bought all three books - I, my husband, and my mom have all read them and I've passed them onto my cousin in FL to read. We are awaiting the fourth....

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Friday, July 1, 2011...

Brian, I also meant to say thanks for the "little piece of excellence in a world of mediocrity" comment. Hehe. :-)

Steven, considering that nearly 40% of my book sales are for Kindle and Nook, I'd have to agree that the total figure would definitely be lower if it weren't for electronic sales!

That's brilliant, Shanda! Talk about spreading the word! (Although the downside for you is that you don't have copies for yourself anymore.)

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