Self-Publishing Success 1:
What does it mean?

My story, or, what the heck just happened?

Posted on December 19, 2012 by Jim

Since the release of the first book in The Gods Within in late August, I've had phenomenal success with my eBooks on Amazon, selling over 14,000 books in the last 3 months. The sales peaked in late October and began to decline, but now, with the release of the second book in the series, The SteelMaster of Indwallin, sales are rising again and, as of this writing, easily exceed a hundred books a day. But when it first began to happen, and as it progressed, I felt like a deer in the headlights. I had dozens of questions about what was going to happen, and I quickly learned that there's a lot of bad information out there, including that in the KDP Community Forums. So I thought it might be helpful to others to relate my experience, and a few real facts.

Keep in mind this is just one writer's story. I won't draw broad conclusions; to do so one must have a large ensemble of data, and this is just one, single data point. But I will show what can, and might, happen for others.

About a year and a half ago, after years of writing, and with four novels complete, and four more in the works, I finally got tired of being rejected by every agent and publisher known to mankind. So I decided to self-publish. I contacted Telemachus Press and employed them to publish my books in eBook format. In August, 2011 I published the first book, and over the next year published two more. They trickled along, each selling a few books per month, but nothing to write home about. Then in late August, 2012 I published the fourth, Child of the Sword, book 1 in The Gods Within.

I assumed it would trickle along like the others and sell a few copies here and there. But five days after it went live, I was tweaking my author profile, and decided to see if it had sold any copies, and to my surprise it had sold a little over 70. My wife still recalls me walking into the living room with a dazed look on my face and saying, "Something weird is happening with Child."

In week 1 it sold 85 copies; week 2: 347; and week 3: 772, leveling off at over 1,100 copies per week for the next four weeks. Since going live on Amazon it has sold a total of almost 12,000 copies. My first reaction was denial; I was certain I was going to get an e-mail from Amazon telling me there had been a mistake, and that I really hadn't sold any more than a few copies. "Sorry, Jim, it was a database error." But near the beginning of week 2, as I realized it was real, I was struggling with unanswered questions:

  1. What's the typical sales curve—books per day—and how will it end: by dropping off rapidly or trailing off slowly?
  2. Will I just sell a few hundred, or a few thousand, or tens of thousands of copies?
  3. What effect will it have on my other books?
  4. What does it take to get on the best-seller lists?
  5. Were my books priced right at $2.99, and what is correct pricing?
  6. What was so different about the 4th book that it sold so well and the first 3 didn't?
  7. What is considered success among self-published indie authors, a few hundred, a few thousand, etc.?
  8. What do I do to support the book as it's selling, and encourage additional sales?

The answer to question 1, in my case, was a run of just under 12,000 copies, to date. Regarding the other questions, in those first few weeks I spent hours digging through the KDP Community Forums and got answers to all of them. But it turned out the answers I found were either too vague to be useful, or completely incorrect, at least in my case. What bothered me most was that people gave answers to these questions as statements of fact, basically, "This is the way it is," not, "I'm pulling this answer out of my ass and it's a wild-ass guess." As it turned out, more often than not, the latter was the case. And more often than not, their guess was wrong, at least in my case.

I've also been to a couple of conventions recently, and spoken to other writers, and there I have had better success at getting some answers. But they raised one more question when they kept asking:

  1. What did you do to sell all those books?

So let's add that one to the list.

In subsequent blog posts I'm going to provide some answers to these questions and some real data. But I'm going to be very careful to distinguish between guesswork and hard data. I have a lot of guesswork and only a little data. And remember, this is one writer's experience, so:

  • Don't try this at home,
  • in the event of bleeding or heart palpitations, contact you physician immediately,
  • rated R
  • normal people need not apply

and all the other qualifiers.

Stay tuned for more . . .