Self-Publishing Success 2:
Hard data and some answers

Hard data and partial answers:

Posted on December 27, 2012 by Jim

In the first installment in this series of blogs, I described my surprise when my 4th eBook, Child of the Sword, spontaneously sold almost 12,000 copies in 3½ months near the end of 2012. And that raised the following questions:

  1. What's the typical sales curve—books/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?
  9. What did I do to sell all those books?

So let's dive in and try to answer some of these questions with a look at some hard data.

Typical Sales Curve:

  1. What's the typical sales curve—books/day—and how will it end: by dropping off rapidly or trailing off slowly?

As you read this, keep in mind that this is only one data set, for one book and one author, so there is probably nothing "typical" about it. But since I don't know what constitutes typical, maybe it is typical. Then again, maybe there is no "typical." I'm so confused! The point is, the only way we'll ever know if there is a "typical" is if Amazon published a bucket load of information about hundreds, perhaps thousands, of authors. I'm not holding my breath.

Let's look at a little hard data. US sales of Child of the Sword followed the following curve:

Sales curve for Child of the Sword

  • Out of the gate, over a period of about 3 weeks it rapidly climbed to about 150-160 books/day,
  • it leveled off there for about 4 weeks,
  • then, over the next 9 weeks, it slowly dwindled, in an almost straight line, to about 20 books/day.

This was a total run of just over 10,000 books. During that same 16-week period, UK sales followed a fairly straight line, rising from 0 to about 25 books/day, for a total run of just under 2,000 books.

How does it end?

  1. What's the typical sales curve—books/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?

During the first 3-4 weeks, I was constantly wondering about questions 1 and 2, and I found a couple of comments in the KDP Community Forums along the lines of, "...when it does finally start to decline, it just drops right off a cliff," which, in my case, was totally incorrect. Hence, my earlier comments about a lot of bad information out there.

Maybe the people who wrote those comments had had such an experience, or maybe they were just guessing. But they made their statements as if they were stating a universal truth, and it was very misleading.

Effect on my other books

  1. What effect will it have on my other books?

At the time I published Child, I had three other books already published:

Here is the same curve for the combined sales of those books:

Sales curve for non Child of the Sword books

Combined sales of the other three books I had previously published climbed from nothing to about 35 books/day in about 7 weeks, then declined to about 15 books/day over the next 9 weeks. During that 16-week period they sold a combined total of more than 2,000 books. Compared to their prior performance, that was phenomenal, and clearly a byproduct of the success of Child of the Sword. And...they're not done yet.

Best-seller ranking

  1. What does it take to get on the best-seller lists?

To my knowledge, Amazon does not publish anything on the formulas they use to compute best-seller ranking. However, there are a lot of contributors to the KDP Community Forums who will tell you in great detail exactly what that formula is. And while I'm sure that someone, somewhere has admitted that they're really just pulling a wild-ass guess out of a very deep, dark hole, I have yet to see anyone actually admit that.

I've been told by other authors that the ranking is purely based on the number of units sold, and has nothing to do with price or total revenue generated for Amazon. And still others have told me exactly the opposite, while others took a stance somewhere in between. These are all knowledgeable people for whom I have great respect. But let's face it, we're all guessing.

So what do I know about Amazon's formulas? Answer: absolutely nothing. I have detailed data on one book that had a 12,000 unit run at a price point of $2.99. That's one data point. If I had ten such data points, or better yet, a hundred (don't I wish), being a scientist who, by nature, analyzes numbers, I could probably glean some understanding of some of the parameters that go into Amazon's formulas. So while I can't tell you anything about Amazon's formulas, I can provide a few pieces of hard data and let you draw your own conclusions.

Below is the same sales curve of US sales of Child of the Sword for the same period, but I've superimposed my author rank and the book's sales rank (Paid in Kindle Store):

Sales and Rank curves for Child of the Sword

Note: Amazon was not tracking Author Rank prior to September 29, 2012, so there is no valid data earlier than that.

Über list: "Paid in Kindle Store"

First let's look at Child's ranking on Amazon's über list: "Paid in Kindle Store."

  • As soon as Child started selling, even just 10 units in a day, it's rank rose from the 100,000's to the low 10,000's,
  • After 1½ weeks and 253 units total it ranked #1,906,
  • 3 weeks, 1,055 units total, #690
  • 4 weeks, 2,254 units total, #409
  • for the next 4 weeks, with sales running fairly flat at about 1,100 units/wk, it hovered between #450 and #600.
  • near the beginning of the 8th week, as the sales began to decline in the slow, steady curve previously described, it's rank followed a slow, steady decline until, at the end of week 13, after selling 9,416 units and selling at a steady rate of about 50-60 books/day, it's rank was #1,883.
  • in week 16, selling at a rate of about 25 units/day, with total sales of 10,161 units, it was hovering in the low to mid 4,000's.

Keep in mind this data is only for US sales of Child of the Sword at a price of $2.99 each. UK sales, which ran to a total of about 2,000 units, are ranked separately, so that data is not included here.

Genre list rankings

Besides the über list, Amazon maintains several genre best seller lists. While every book is always rated on the über list, some with rankings in the millions, a book's Amazon page displays it's genre list ranking only when the book makes it into the top 100 in that genre. And it appears, though I don't know this for a fact, that Amazon display's only the top three genre rankings, even if the book is in the top 100 of more than three. I conclude this because, for quite some time, Child was in the top 100 of four genre lists, but only three were ever displayed on its page.

The genre lists on which Child appeared were:

  • Books > Children's Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy & Magic
  • Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Fantasy > Epic
  • Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Children's eBooks > Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror > Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Magic
  • Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Epic

It's progression was as follows:

  • week 2, it was showing up on 2-3 of these lists ranked above 50,
  • week 3, it was on all 4 of these lists, ranked in the top 20 on a couple,
  • week 4, in top 20 of all 4,
  • weeks 5-10, top 10-20 of all 4, and in the top 5 for 2-3 of these rankings,
  • weeks 11+, it began to slip.

Compare this information to the previously detailed data on the sales curve and you'll have a good idea of the sales required to get on these lists.

That's enough for this post. Next week I'll continue with question #5.

Stay tuned for more . . .